Neeman A Sobhan
The next day, mother and son set
out for the Rijks Museum yet again! This time we pause dramatically
before shutting the front door. Then, clutching the house keys
to our bosom, we start out arm in arm, at our chummiest. Half
an hour later, Taimoor and I are not speaking to each other.
We are sitting on a tram heading in the opposite direction from
Rijks and Museumplein, and we can't decide whose fault it was.
At the next stop we alight, kiss and make up. It's too hot to
stay either mad or lost. Never mind Rijks, we have come upon
a lovely bridge with a charming café at the corner of
the cobbled street close to a canal. We settle down and order
a cool drink.
This is what we have been doing most of the
week anyway, and loving it. Taimoor and I have walked the length
and breadth of this city ringed by the Amstel river and its
canals, and we have wiled away our mornings balancing coffee
cups, cakes or pastrami and edam sandwiches on rickety sidewalk
café tables as we watched glass topped boats full of
tourists plying the canals leaving in their wake the shaded
silence of bridges hanging over dappled waters reflecting flickering
trees and gabled windows. Oh! the beauty and heat of Amsterdam's
summer. We observe from the shade of awnings or trees, the drifting
clouds of young people in shorts and backpacks, swigging mineral
water or adjusting their sunglasses, walkmans and cameras; we
get sneaking glimpse of a tidy living room at almost basement
level windows; we dodge from the path of cyclists or pedestrian
Dutchmen or women going about their daily business; we watch
tram loads of passengers in every colour, shape and race; we
peer at the blue and white Delft pottery in store windows and
avoid peering at weird objects in 'adult' shops.
The next day, we start out in silence and not
until we are actually at the doorsteps of the Rijks Museum do
we start laughing: we have made it! We see everything, the old
masters, Vermeer, Van Gogh's self portrait, Rembrandt's 'Night
Watch' (which fails to impress me), as well as the artists hitherto
unknown to me whose paintings take my breath away: Pieter Saenradam's
church interiors, Van de Velde's tinted glasses and bottles,
Breitner's impressionistic oils and Anton Mauve's vegetable
patch with the variegated greens lit up by two tiny dots of
red from a hidden cock's comb and a roof tile. I am impressed
but I know that I will forget these artists as soon as I step
outside. When we walk out into the sunlight, the real world
tingles and throbs like a painting come to life. I will not
forget this canvas, and I am happy to be out of the museum.
As soon as we do the canal tour and Anne Frank's house it will
be the end of the tourist mom.
I remember the canal tour as being more enjoyable
in winter than it is now as we sit dodging the sun's arrows
as it hunts us through the glass roof, and yet the pleasure
of viewing this old city from the river is undeniable. I love
the sight of the interiors of the picture pretty residential
houseboats, with kitchen gardens on deck.
There is a prohibitive queue in front of Prinsengracht
263, Anne Frank's house. I wanted to see the annexe where she
hid for two years with her family and then perished, but it's
too hot to line up. We turn back and instead, walk to an English
bookstore of which there are quite a few, where I buy a copy
of 'Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl', the book I read
and loved when I myself was the author's age. She was a fellow
Gemini who started her diary on her birthday 12 June 1942. In
an early entry she had written: 'Writing in a diary is a strange
experience for someone like me. Not only because I've never
written anything before, but also because it seems to me that
later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the
musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl….'
Dear Diary, I am now free to muse and laze around,
strolling up the colourful flea markets on Albert Cuypstraat
with its stalls brimming with international products, browsing
among the second-hand English book stalls in the bohemian neighbourhood
of Spuy, avoiding the busy Damrak near Centraal Station and
finding anonymous alleys to walk in. Most afternoons Taimoor
and I kidnap Nader from office for lunch as we walk up the shady
Stadhouderskade, strolling along the cobbled, canal hugging
streets to some square close by like the Heinekenplein, Rembrandtplein
or down the Utrechtstraat.
Our evenings have been a series of international
gourmet meals which apart from Indonesian (former Dutch colony)
ranges over Peruvian, Tibetan, Japanese or Turkish cuisine,
followed by films ranging from the elegant yet gruesome 'Ripley's
Game' at the newly refurbished art deco Tuschinski theatre to
a small anonymous hall near Jordaan showing the beautifully
original 'Punch Drunk Love.'
On the last day, the three of us indulge in
delicious pizza-size Dutch pancakes for breakfast and in the
evening after a home cooked Bengali meal complete with pumpkin
and fresh dhoniya pata bought at the Bengali and Asian stores
around the Van Woutsraat and Ceintuurbaan area where we live,
we go out for a stroll and perhaps a last coffee and dessert.
The Dutch have given the world the concept of splitting costs
while eating out; my sons and I do one better on 'going Dutch'
and end up initiating another concept which we call café-squatting
where expenses are zero!
This 'going bengali' proceeds thus: we start
at one picturesque sidewalk café and find ourselves ignored
by the waiters. We not only do not mind this, we welcome it
for we aren't really thirsty, so we order nothing, sit for a
while enjoying the night breeze and the ambience for free, and
then pretending to be a bit put out at not being attended to,
move on. We do this successfully at four different cafes at
four colourful locales including the crowded one at the popular,
glittering Leidesplein where people are busy watching some entertainment
going on in the square. Hardened squatter that I am by now,
I push aside the expensive drink menu (a cup of plain tea or
coffee for 4 euros) and sit back to watch the people around
me watch the fire-eaters and acrobats.
My sons are laughing and chatting beside me,
the sky at ten is still a dark blue, there is music drifting
from somewhere, and it's the mellow end of a hot day and the
happy end to a mother's holiday; and although I'm quite willing
to pay for drinks, we are quenched and happy as we are, and
decide to squat a while, unless a waiter comes upon us. Fifteen
minutes later, I still haven't ordered any coffee but my cup,
nevertheless, is full. I smile as I watch the watchers of this
vibrant Amsterdam night. Sorry, Rembrandt, my 'Night Watch'
is definitely better than yours.