3: Amsterdam

Iva, Liam and I arrived into Amsterdam late on Sunday afternoon. It was only the day before that we had plumped to come through on the short drive from Brussels and so were in the fun position of being around to say yes to whatever opportunity presented itself to us. We were met at the main station in the centre of Amsterdam by our pal Martha that we had met over the weekend in Belgium. She was spending a year studying abroad over here from Edinburgh. She normally lived in the student coop and had just happened to move out on the same day I had moved in all the way back at the beginning of summer. With that we had a huge backlog of friends in common but were only meeting now.

We wandered around and tried to get acclimatised as swiftly as we could. I had only been to Amsterdam once, palling around thankfully with some sound folk, on a university trip organised by people whose idea of a good time was fairly crass and fairly pish. That had kept us contained in a tourist trap of overpriced coffee houses, shite beer and women in glass boxes. Now though, our time in such places was going to be minimal and we began to weave down narrow streets and stretches of canal to somewhere more serene.

We all made it back to Martha’s where we had to conquer a staircase of incomprehensibly steep proportions. It felt like I would need a pick axe for the ascent, but without, I ploughed my strength into the wood and hoisted myself up, feeling dizzy as the air became thinner and vertigo nearly sent me tumbling down a sharp descent. We arrived into the apartment and tumbled into a living room so open and fervent in its layout, all manners of life and activity would pass through it over the course of our stay here. We met Martha’s boyfriend, Adam as he stopped in from work before going back to his shift. We sprawled out and got chatting for a while as we caught up on another night’s chased sleep. From there, we made moves to enter into the Amsterdam night.

With a plethora of options before us, we decided on a funk band playing along the outer reaches of Amsterdam and had to source ways of getting there for all of us. Thanks to Martha’s flatmate, we cobbled together three bikes amongst four and rode off into the night. Surreality and beauty followed us at every turn. The apartment was right across from the city zoo and as we unlocked the bikes, an enclave of flamingoes appeared, poised and in holden across from us. We pedalled with street lights emanating reflections off the water, the beams broken by canal bridges that wove us away into quieter realms. En route we met with a pal of Iva’s called Carlos, a Catalan living in Edinburgh from Barcelona. He was in town for a few nights and joined us for a pedal to this unknown venue. We had to take a short ferry across that would otherwise involve a much longer cycle. From a distance we could see the digital clock marking the count down until departure. We were all staggered along the road as the seconds were dwindling. But in the vein of ease and cool this night would display, we all arrived with time to spare. The perfect balance between getting there in fine time not to rush, but arriving late enough we weren’t hanging around either. Like the river holding the ferry, we were attuned with the pace of the night, dictating it with our current.

We found the place, encamped not too far away from the water. We fiddled around trying to park and lock these bikes that weren’t ours and weaved inside. We opened the door to a cacophony of sound with a makeshift stage comprising of the only bit of floor space not taken over by tables or chairs. Too busy for us, we moved upstairs for a bit of breathing space but decided we were too far removed from the atmosphere and the goings on of the environment. We went back down, nuzzled and muscled into some chairs and got into the night. The band had a good psychedelic waft going on but things were remaining slightly sedated. That was fine, we were blazed and had had about six hours sleep the last three nights.

At that point though Carlos decided he was going to take control of the situation. He said he was going up to dance and asked if we wanted to join him, I was happy to get up with everyone to get down but I couldn’t see how we were going to do it. There wasn’t an inch of dance floor but tentatively we followed him down the side of the venue, sliding by walls and furniture and at that point that was as freaky as I felt we were going to be able to get. We swayed in our own inimitable ways, laid out like animals marching onto Noah’s ark but with our partners running late. At that point I looked up from a well nailed two step shuffle to see Carlos embroiled in words with the keyboardist. He came up to us, glanced at the unclenched microphone and announced he was going up.

He stepped up with complete ease and proceeded to belt into the mic. Suddenly, it was like every decibel of sound oozing out of him was smashing into the rows and stacks of furniture and was knocking them out of his path. Within seconds, every person sat down listening to the music raised themselves and collectively moved their chairs, shoved away the tables and in this parting of the sea, people began flooding through. It was like the entire venue, one hundred people or more had all shared the same feeling but hadn’t been acting and would never have acted upon it. But the individual, unwavering action of one man within seconds brought this staid want to an end and from there the night started. Carlos sang and with the collective will of the people brought the place to life, the band now improvising and jamming together. We kept on moving, lost in the moments, lost in the music. At one point, well into the set, an older jazz singer with a sultry voice who’d been bringing the place closer to raptures approached me and thanked us for turning the night into such a feast. I felt like I was basking in reflective glory. As Carlos’ foot soldiers we had marched up first but everyone had followed and joined the regiment. We kept on dancing, sometimes spilling out with strangers for fresh air before going back in for another round and another round. The tiredness from earlier was no longer of pertinence, the languid thoughts had been distilled into frenetic action. Eventually by the end of it, with the house coming down we burst out of the building and headed back onto our bikes, charging away, racing each other around the winding streets back to the hourly ferry with a lean 20 seconds to spare. We stood out watching the water cut around us with the lights of the city beckoning us to return. At that point we bade farewell to Carlos.

It’s a fortune that Edinburgh is able to be to be home to such a range of deep, interesting, charismatic people from all around Europe and all around the world. Having lived with so many people from all over the place during the last year, I feel like I have noticed a shift in Edinburgh’s makeup. In part through these interactions from one capital to another, it appears to me to be integrating more and more as a multi faceted ‘European’ city, with the mix of its cragged hills, teeming tenements, winding old closes serving as the most romantic of backdrops. Much of wider society and culture on these shores don’t have this over sentimentalised experience though and many feel so abandoned or marginalised that they are marking themselves out against this and fostering an insular rejection of the ‘other’. The reasons for this may be vast but encounters like this make it seem so obvious that these range of cultures, ideas, thinkers coming in should be welcomed, cherished and enabled to allow others to take on life so vibrantly. Clearly it is a privilege to be able to share in this and have the security of lifestyle to revel in it. As tensions mount, seemingly at times in the face of this, how can that be extended to more people who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to it?

We made it back to our heaven like attic, mused on the night and went to sleep. All crunched up and bunched together on the fold out sofa  we went to sleep with the sounds of Jon Hopkins’ Late Night Tales echoing our dream like state.


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