Amsterdam Was a Lifestyle

The First Time I Fell in Love with Europe


In 1602, the Dutch East India Company became the world’s first multinational corporation. Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world. It grew as a European power by brokering trade between Spain and England with the Baltic countries, then expanded into the international spice trade. For two centuries, the Dutch were socio-economic world leaders and their small country realized historic growth.

Burgeoning commerce and population inspired grand municipal planning for the Amsterdam lifestyle. Town fathers needed to increase Amsterdam’s footprint by a factor of five. Four main canals were constructed in concentric semi-circles around the city center. There were three for residential growth, and the outermost for water management and defence. Smaller canals were built to connect the rings.

amsterdam was a lifestyle

Amsterdam Was a Lifestyle

The city became ‘Venice of the North’. As generations passed and cultural fashions shifted, each canal acquired its own unique character and charm enhanced by period architecture and green rows of trees planted to shore up the embankments. Even after the canals were ringed with roads, they remained busy with tourism and recreation, and hundreds of houseboats occupied water-based properties.

The elaborate canal system, narrow gabled homes, and artistic heritage gave the city an air of sophisticated domesticity. But Amsterdam’s well known nightlife and risqué ambience was part of its popularity. Aside from its historic canals and museums, the Dutch capital was world famous for its red-light districts and cannabis coffee shops.

Favorite Attractions

It was safe harbour for me, to be candid. A smooth, low-riding groove that I found easy to get into… a haven from all the places and people I knew in the world. The only place I could get completely away from being actively engaged and immerse myself in passive observation, whether listening to live music or strolling through museums. Laying over in Amsterdam was like taking a vacation, like getting out of town for a few days. I could put the world on hold and relax for a little while.

On the train to Grindelwald
Trains from Holland to All of Europe

It tempted me with my favorite pleasures. After a few years sampling the world’s most exotic offerings, I grew beyond diversity for the sake of it and developed a sensitivity for what I preferred. Not what I was told was cool, but what I learned through experience was cool to me. And the tempting blend of comfortable civility, sultry jazz, and legal smoke made that city a regular stop on my way home from the Middle East. The Amsterdam lifestyle felt like a secret to me.

Gedogen

During the time I spent in the Netherlands, I became acquainted with a kind of sensible tolerance that struck me at the time as unique in the world. A woman I met in a museum described it to me as ‘seeing things through the fingers’… choosing to look past that with which one did not agree. She even had a word for it: ‘gedogen’. I never forgot that word because I equated it with the comfort I felt in Amsterdam. It became a verbal motif for the days I spent admiring the city and its culture.

Gedogen could be used to describe minor situations and major policy positions alike. The Netherland’s legalization of euthanasia for assisted suicide, decriminalization of prostitution, and legalization of soft drug use was described by the use of the term. Those activities were permitted because the Dutch government believed they would occur regardless of their legality. If they were openly tolerated and socially managed rather than relegated to criminal activities in the shadows, they would pose less of a threat to individuals and communities.

Pragmatic tolerance was a deeply embedded trait in the Dutch that revealed itself most dramatically in social matters of religion, artistic expression, and sexual orientation and practice. Gedogen meant Dutch Tolerance and that one word summed up everything I loved about their culture. Amsterdam was a lifestyle for me.

calibrating logging systems for Atlas
Happy Pat the Expat

Finding My Way

On my first trip to Amsterdam, I stayed at the Marriott near Leidseplein. However, I quickly learned to appreciate the quiet residences that lined the canals. The reserved calm of the small, well-appointed apartments and tall houses was most appealing to me, more than the nightlife and red-light districts.

After my initial stay, it became my habit to rent a room at a bed-and-breakfast a few blocks off the main square in the south part of the city. I liked to spend my days in the museums around Leidseplein… to enjoy a smoke and a milkshake after lunch before wafting through the Van Gogh or returning to the Rijksmuseum for another afternoon. The city’s art and general ambience were enough to keep me interested no matter how many times I visited.

Amsterdam put me in a romantic mood. I found peace in solitude there, whether on a busy street or in Café Alto. It gave me time to consider what I’d accomplished and experienced, and what I genuinely wanted in my life. The city, its sensibility, whispered something to me in a language I could feel but not fully understand. A voice calling me down a street I could not find. Loneliness was a feeling of fasting in my heart.

Amsterdam was a lifestyle to me
Kaasouffle at the Febo in Amsterdam

Dutch Tulips

One afternoon, I stood in Febo automatik. It was an unattended snack bar with two walls of small windows that dispensed Dutch fast food and snacks. I enjoyed that part of the Amsterdam lifestyle and was a fan of kaasouffle. I purchased one to eat outside while I admired the nearby stands of tulips, bright and upright in paper sleeves.

“They need hands to gather them,” I thought, “two or three sleeves at a time and deliver them with love to someone as bright as the flowers.”

In my mind, a perfectly romantic solution. The tulips were waiting for their rides, waiting to go home to serve their purpose, to fulfill their reason for being. I understood their plight but could not help. I had no one to present with tulips. My home in Texas was a house; there was no love inside. I had the soul of a romantic but no one to romance. No one with whom to share kaasouffle. No one to present with tulips.

Tulips in Holland
Tulips for Sale in Amsterdam

Imagining Romance

I smiled. It was fun sometimes to languish in comfortable melancholy. I lived my dream, travelled the world and explored its hidden corners. I was happy to pay the price of separateness for that privilege. Maybe I was supposed to meet my soulmate during travel in some remote and exotic location. It seemed somehow appropriate that I discover my female counterpart through adventure. Perhaps I was metaphorically just around the corner from meeting the woman of my dreams; a person who thought along the same lines and sought the same kind of challenges.

I accommodated those thoughts only when I was in the sanctuary of the Amsterdam lifestyle. With all my favorite things in reach, the city teased me with the one thing missing from my life. Free to experience the wonders of the world, I felt fated to go alone.

(Excerpts from “When I Was Cool”)


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One comment

  1. Beautiful story. Your life is a ready script for a movie,

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