Amsterdam Impressions

Written on Saturday 15th October 2011:

When I was last on an aeroplane, watching England recede into abstract swirls of greenery, I was clutching my mother’s ashes tightly, on my way to Cape Town for her memorials. This morning, as Amsterdam grew into sparkling reality below me, with the early morning sun glistening off seemingly endless fields and canals of water, the memories of that trip came flooding back. I realised that, leaving my family behind, I had once again entered a rare, solitary space. Without my children to play with and entertain, or an adult to converse with, I am left in an internal bubble, and I slowly feel my memories and emotions start to ease into the larger space I can now afford to make available to them. Pure tears of loss, of missing my beloved mother, flow again for the first time in a while, uncomplicated by subsequent events or the pain of those around me. I remember powerfully how much more intense, but less cluttered that initial grief was.

The sun is almost too bright on this crisply idyllic autumn day, and I snuggle into my coat and scarf as if they hold the soft safety of homely warmth. Speeding over canals on a train, watching the unfamiliar station names carefully to ensure I don’t miss my stop, I start to let the exhilaration of exploring a foreign city on my own creep over me.  It has been many years since I last had this secret pleasure, and it will continue only a few precious hours before I have the next joy of seeing a beloved friend after what is only a few months, but feels like a lifetime too long.

Amsterdam Canal

There is a song by a South African singer-songwriter, David Goldblum, called ‘Say Africa’, which I love, and has felt deeply appropriate over the past few years. I have indulged myself playing it a few times this morning, feeling sorrow, joy, and nostalgia as I murmur along to the chorus:

‘I may be walking in the streets of a city called Amsterdam
But the dust on my boots and the rhythm of my feet and my heartbeat say Africa.

I may be walking in the streets of a city called London
But the dust on my boots and the rhythm of my feet and my heartbeat say Africa
Say Africa
Say Africa…’

It reminds me that I remain connected to my history, and my experiences, as I continue to explore new corners of the world. I am comforted by that connection even as I am excited by the untold possibilities of each new minute – utterly alive, drinking in the joy of existence, today I am embracing the world’s complex beauty with wonderment.

Amsterdam Canal Inhabitants
Portrait of a Swan

12 thoughts on “Amsterdam Impressions

  1. I was recently in Amsterdam for a couple of days; it seemed like ages ago until I read your evocative post, which brought it all back to me. Wonderfully written. Joy mixed with uncluttered grief; so hard to explain that feeling, but you do it beautifully here.

  2. Laur, I love the way you are able to seek the joy in life, as well as feel your sorrow intensely. I’m so glad you did have this trip for you, even though you were nervous about the run. Well done!
    x E

  3. I remember visiting Amsterdam and loving it. You brought out the pleasure of traveling and new experiences very well. Nice evocative post with a positive mesage. What could be a nicer read than that

  4. Lovely writing, as always, expressing such honest emotion and poetic observation. A phrase like “the sun was almost too bright” says so much more than just about the sunshine…I feel how you linger between your grief and hope…but there is definitely the movement of your life going on, still full of love and wonder and anticipation. Once again I marvel at how you manage to share your sadness and what you are missing in such an uplifting way…or maybe I’m not so surprised, because it is impossible not to feel you are a deeply joyful soul.

    Thanks for sharing the ‘Say Africa’ song…and your impressions, all of them.

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