Living alone and travelling in Amsterdam

Ever since I graduated from university, I've been living alone. It isn't so bad. You have all the time in the world to wake up in the morning, to roll out of bed, the re-imagine the cleaning routine, to make as much noise as you like when getting home, to scream "Bullshit" when you read some ridiculous email (or read the news). It is ok to forget to turn the heating on in the bathroom and it is freezing cold when you get in the shower, it is ok when you accidentally set off the alarm on Sunday morning because you had forgotten that it is a weekend. It is ok to not do the shopping and just order in. It is ok to go to bed at 8 pm, wake up at 3 am, and go jogging in the darkness. It is ok read in bed until you have finished that captivating book and it is ok to fall asleep three minutes after that movie had begun. It is ok to invite friends over for dinner whenever you feel like it. It is ok to leave the trash in even after the fruit flies had become unbearable. It is ok to let the empty jars pile on top of each other until you gather the will to carry them outside to the glass-dispensing container. It is ok to let the dust bunnies invade every corner of the house (they aren't all that difficult to get rid of). It is ok to forget to do the laundry (as long as you don't run out of clothes altogether) and it is ok to use the dry rack as a wardrobe.

Living alone for such a long time makes one incapable of imaging what it would be like even to go on vacation. One gets stripped down from all that defined oneself - because one is defined not by what one stands for but by what the others stand for. We are what distiguishes us from everyone else. But when one lives alone, when one's life revolves just around oneself, one loses self-identity and ends up feeling alone and not being able to coexist with anyone else. And that's why when one goes on vacation, one finds it odd.

So, to avoid such feelings of dream, one surrounds oneself with great people in the office, goes home just when one wants to be alone, and enjoys vacations only with friends and family. This time I went on vacation to meet one of my two best friends from university.

2011-11-08 at 12-26-08, people amsterdam.jpg

As I am sitting writing this from Amsterdam, I realize even more tangibly one's need of Another - on night 1, when I was alone, Amsterdam was just another city, but on night 2, when I walked around with my friend, we laughed (at Amstermdam's expense) on every corner. Amsterdam is a city of extremes: elegance and decadence, fashion and chic, crowds and loneliness (otherwise, why the promiscuity - no judgement implied), labyrinths and tall buildings (tall by the standards of the narrow streets they overshadow), no open spaces and small closed spaces, couples (and trisomes) everywhere. Here people rush when they walk alone and stall when they walk together. Here people ride on bikes only in couples (because it is just so much more dangerous to do that alone - you ride safer when you have to make sure the Other survives). Here magic happens from holding hands not to get lost in the crowd. Here magic lasts less than a second because there is another one in line. And yet magic stays with your forever like in a movie. Here the morning fog has a wholly different effect than the London morning fog, and that's a good thing. Here "creativity" is an euphemism and a rainbow is not.

And if one doesn't have the other or just another, one will lose oneself in the depths of the city canals, in the fog of its coffee shops, in the lusciousness of its red seductions, and their meanderings through the soul. One's got to be up for the game.

And maybe that's why people from Amsterdam are who they are - gamers - open, ready to smile at the street photographer, multi-lingual, provocative, creative, liberated and extrovert - they need the constant stimulation, the challenge, the extremes, the energy. They need to show proudly who they are and where they are going. Their honesty is admirable (even if unreal in its schizophrenia) and their schizophrenia is admirably honest.

2011-11-07 at 22-50-36, Amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-08 at 13-11-19, Amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-08 at 14-32-41, Amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-07 at 22-53-55, street amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-07 at 22-54-38, street amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-07 at 09-35-31, Amsterdam.jpg

Would I be able to live here among them and with them and alongside them and in them? The small streets, the noise, the danger on the streets (and I am talking about those crazy cyclist and the trams), the lack of private spaces, the old constructions (not to mention that they are all sinking), the potted energy, the suffocating crowd, the expectation...? Those questions naturally come. We talked about them with Nik but then he had a plane to catch and I was looking for someone to experience the city with.

2011-11-07 at 09-31-51, Amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-07 at 09-27-30, street amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-07 at 09-36-17, street amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-07 at 22-38-15, street amsterdam.jpg

And I found someone. You plan and plan: a small treasure hunt - because you really want to see her. You set up three time slots and, like in the movies, your entire world starts rotating around those time slots. First, you think of lunch but then you don't have time so you content yourself with just some peanuts (literally) - nothing bad in them but you wished for a salad (but she is worth waiting for). Walking a few blocks around - you don't want to seem too desperate (which you probably are if you are thinking in those terms). You arrive early, although your heart already knows that this isn't the time you'll meet her and that the treasure hunt shall continue. Despite this, you actually wait 15 more minutes (of course under the pretext that you can just observe the couples around and take street photographs). After this you give up. Until the next meeting - same place, two hours later. By that time, you know the routine already: walking around almost aimlessly ("almost" because you've got the aim to find a way for time to pass by faster), making a few pictures out of focus to "demonstrate the great patterns the bokeh your lens can do" (which loosely translates to "help time acquire meaning"), you find something else to snack on (this time you wish for something sweet to help offset the gloomy mood) and go for marzipan, and you try to go shopping (but you know perfectly well that nowadays few things are exclusive to that city and you give up to avoid logistics overload). It is in that moment that you realize how much this plays like a movie, perhaps a bit like "Before Sunset", not as much like an Woody Allen as you might wish (because things always end up funny and unexpected in those movies), far from a typical British romantic comedy (no matter how much you'd love to live through one). But it is exactly in the midst of this movie that you feel the optimism so you go for the third appointed time - that one's got to work, right? This time you arrive in time, not too early. And as faith has its way, there is a small temptation on the other side of the street - a street gang playing with the rainbow of soap balloons as big as three people and as colorful as thousands of CoffeeCompany shops with their rainbow menus. You go there and you seem to be more focused, the camera is out, all in manual settings, focusing is quick and determined, and you shoot and shoot and shoot; 5 pictures later, you know you've got it, and maybe she is already waiting. But your heart sinks - there are many people on that square but you don't recognize any of them. You realize that you have fallen for your own overenthusiasm with the hunt. Time seemed to have stopped and your departure tomorrow seems an eternity away. You don't know what else to do, so you walk slowly back to the hotel.

2011-11-08 at 18-22-36, Amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-08 at 18-20-04, Amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-08 at 19-00-56, street amsterdam.jpg
2011-11-08 at 19-01-11, street amsterdam.jpg

The night seems long, you wake up at 5, try to sleep a bit more, go to Starbucks for your drop of caffeine, go back to the hotel, go through with the teleconference for work and you almost flip when you get that message: "konstantin!!!! no!!! oh my god i was just in the middle of writing you a text message  i somehow thought you still had time to meet up today.... i didn't have internet access during the day yesterday at all  i am gonna send you the text message anyways, maybe i'm in luck...". And it is in that moment that you know that this is meant to be like this - an hour and a half is sometimes all that you need. And you don't know if that conversation was going to change your or her life (what a silly idea!) but you know that you needed it, you feel it through and through, you are engulfed in it. You look straight into her eyes and you know that you won't look away. The thought of missing the train on purpose does cross your mind but that would ruin the spontaneity. The thought of picking up the camera and taking a picture of her comes to you but you quickly dismiss it because now matter how unobtrusive, it is still an extra layer and you do want all your shields down. So, you don't. And you enjoy how she plays with the chocolate wrapping, and how she urges you to run so you don't miss that train and how she actually runs with you to the door. And you feel special because you are the only one who runs for that train with someone else by the side.

And so it is on the train that you think again about living alone, visiting the cities alone, and meeting people with open eyes. It is on the train (funnily enough, not earlier) that you manage to connect the dots and to realize that, yes, she did help you define the borders of who you are a little better, and so do you wonder if she sees with greater clarity as well. And you realize that it is not the "living alone" that makes you alone but the treasure hunt - just because you trick yourself into feeling alone when in fact, the world is always with you. And you smile at the sun, because you've finally figured it out.

2011-11-08 at 15-34-12, street amsterdam.jpg