Some girl friends and I were walking down the street in the Meat Packing District on a Saturday night when a couple burst through a door and flew past us against a parked car. They were all over each other like there was no tomorrow – and no one watching – and fell to the ground while still going at it, and weren’t it for a man who pulled them apart they would have had sex on the sidewalk in front of whomever cared to watch. We were stunned. As for me, it was my first time out in NYC and I wasn’t yet 18, which unfortunately meant I couldn’t get in anywhere – prudish Americans!
That memory will always be with me, along with all the memories from my four years living in Manhattan. As my seventh anniversary of leaving New York approaches, the City is on my mind more than ever and I miss it terribly. New York is a special place and despite the American prudishness I never saw a judgmental cloud hover above New York. There are a lot of crazy people in the City, and a lot of people doing crazy things, and after a while you get used to it. Bra-less lady jogging in a mesh top? Sure, why not. Large bearded dude dressed in a short skirt and heels? Go to town, man. Porn stars, uh, “entertaining” each other at their porn star friend’s birthday party? Everything and anything goes in New York.
Now here I am in Amsterdam, which so many people think is a crazy place for reasons I can’t quite understand. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Amsterdam, but there a permanent judgmental cloud hovers above life here, and it’s impossible not to notice how conservative Dutch society is or to brush off the small-town mentality, even if something like 53% of Amsterdam’s population is foreign. A Dutch saying that goes “Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg” (“act normally, that’s crazy enough”) seems impregnated in the walls of every brown cafe and in the streets. Legalized weed and prostitution? So what. They’re legalized because it’s pragmatic. As one police officer told me, “what are you going to do, just close the hundreds of coffee shops?” In fact, it seems the basis of existence for everything here is pragmatism. Life, relationships, work, whatever. Passion or love don’t factor in. Ever.
The thing is sometimes I try to gather energy to do things, like write or update my business model or whatever, and the only way I can do it is to put myself in a New York state of mind. New York does have that special energy that flows all around and gets into you, and though it did become overwhelming, I miss it! The places where I’ve lived in Europe have their own charm, of course, but sometimes I just feel the lack of a kick in the butt around here – though Paris did feel rather alive. There’s something wonderful about Amsterdam’s laid back atmosphere but at times it feels just a bit too laid back, a bit too provincial really, and of course the mind and the heart start having a conversation and all hell breaks loose, and questions like “why am I here again?” start to pop up. To be fair, this sort of question seems common among those of us who hop countries; 0nce you discover you can move then you feel like you can always move, and that’s one slippery slope. It’s often not where you are physically but in what state of mind you are that makes a difference, so it’s very important to look inward before whipping out the map and starting to pack one’s bags.
Someone said to me that they gave Amsterdam one more summer before returning to their home country, and somehow everything worked out. However, in my case there isn’t even a “home” to go back to, really – New York is as close as it gets but since I never became an American citizen it’s not as easy as going back, which isn’t nearly as bad as having given up my rent stabilized apartment in the Upper West Side, which is, dear reader, the real tragedy. But sometimes we give up everything for love and that has its own merits. In fact, I believe it’s called “living life.” And maybe that’s it: that sort of “go-for-it!” attitude isn’t to be found in the Netherlands and that’s probably what feels like the biggest tragedy here. Pragmatism rules mind and heart and it puts out that fire that makes life worth living, it takes away some of the pleasure of existing. Dealing with so much frigidity towards life can be very difficult for those of us who look around at the world and think, “The world is beautiful and I’m blessed to be alive.”
For now I’ll continue watching back-to-back episodes of “Sex and the City” to replenish my energy levels and inner fabulousness, and continue tapping into memories of times with my fabulous friends, all of whom I miss very, very much.