Persephone Abbott, musician and author, settled in the Netherlands. While living in Gouda, the city center inspired her to write an English language guide book to her neighborhood. Written as part of a collaboration, the guide without ads demonstrates a difference: it leads someplace. In this blog (started in 2007) she posts thoughts of an integrated foreigner and writer living in Amsterdam. Postings only once a week, mainly on Fridays.
Really now, the weather is encouraging the leaves to blend
yellow, red and green, and my dog encourages me to look up and spot the mottled
foliage. We walk through a narrow black brick alley, some Mosterd-Saving’s Pot-or-Mole
pathway, to find ourselves on one of Amsterdam’s wondrous main canal streets, where
the dog sticks her nose in the dirt under a tree and while waiting for her to
come to a watery result, I look up in the early morning.Suddenly seeing the glory of Amsterdam in the
How did I get here? A slow erosion of a relationship had
come to a point of no return. It’s past summer now, and I live elsewhere than
before, month capsules of not too long ago.
The autumn encourages our appetites to seek mushrooms,
cranberries, turkey, pork, nuts, in short all the foods that the earth offers
us to keep warm and well heading towards winter. It’s the first warning sign,
my disinterest in food, of stress hand in hand with rampant self-destructive unpreparedness
making an approach, circling around. All at once I merely wish to eat oatmeal
and apples, or apples and yoghurt. My stomach turns at the sight of sauce, chocolate
and French fries.I can barely hang a
tooth in a rice cracker, unless it is unadorned. Chewing one wondering if I may
need to eat a tad more salt in the future, I picture myself eating Styrofoam standing
in a parking lot outside a fast food joint in America. Of course, in
psychological terms, this has something of a rebound factor in it; the feeling
I hadn’t done as well as I could have I don’t deserve to be fed syndrome. I’m
punishing myself for not being perfect.
I am not a perfectionist, and yet something is getting at me
these days more than in previous months. It’s been a slow move.They say an empty house doesn’t sell well.
Aside from the grand piano and the rug underneath it, I am waiting for a few
more things such as a scratched armchair (the scratch a souvenir of the defunct
cat), an unwieldy mirror and a few paintings, well I like them at least, to be
liberated from my lot to my next lot. Thinness is not familiar to me, it’s not my
body type, and there has never been anywhere in my molecules the disease of
needing to be thin to the point of abusing my body.
Then heavy boxes of books are also waiting transportation,
and yet I am not ready to take them into consideration. I think about throwing
some of paper items out but instead I smear a bitterkoekje with Nutella and
wave it under my nose waiting to see if I’ll want to eat it. I’ll manage; I
juggle other options to try to make myself eat something substantive.
There’s nothing worse than a hungry singer off center
struggling to find breath support. Over lunch after church the three off us,
all imported to Amsterdam, discussed what it is to be a foreigner in the
Netherlands. “You are only accepted to a point. Unless you marry into a
family.” My lunch choice was unfortunate, the contents of my plate nauseated
me. She continued, “I’ve learned to go to a concert alone. I don’t have to go
with anyone.” I have always considered it rather strange that people feel they
must go to a concert or movie together; so odd that one must be alone with
one’s thoughts and coincidentally together with a potage of exchanged images;
therefore, no individual thought is left, unless very brave, in that collective
muck that is supposed to provide reassurance.
“We,” it was concluded, “Are forced to be self-sufficient
and this makes us strong.” My friend’s lunch choice looked better than mine. I really ought to eat more vegetables, but
then not the vacu-packu ones nor the sloppily cooked ones; maybe I should order
a bi-monthly organic grocery bag, but then the Dutch store may joyously deliver
to me overpriced andijvie or boerenkool and I can’t eat either of them in any nationality
of dish. Nor can I really afford the whole idea come to think of it, but the
lovely walks around Amsterdam are free of charge.
The other day I received an email saying that my submission had been accepted as part of a composite multi-poem piece of music commissioned by the Haarlem Studentenkoor. I remember writing the poem before I left Gouda, having drunk all the alcohol out of the cupboards and cold sober contemplating the big bang Creation out of Chaos, a choice topic. I wrote about night. I think I did, but more so I remember sitting in my old dining room trying to distract myself. Who knows what the musical composition will be at the end of the day, but having written three more poems this week sitting in the dark at my office listening to the electricians battle with the electrical meter at 7 am, I figured I might as well post them in celebration of poetry. Of course, I composed all three of them hours beforehand giggling to myself in the shadows waiting for the alarm to sound, worried about oversleeping.
When I fled
I took with
me the jar of peanut butter
And the ten
Euros I possessed.
It would get
me through some
like the vagabond
the steps behind Magna Plaza,
A slice of
floppy brown bread
In his hand,
swiping the inside of the jar
A tinge of
honest repulsion and a bit of awe.
peanut butter was mine
even though you paid for the jar,
I placed the
item in the trolley, to make
Sure we had
emergency food in the larder.
place to place with the jar,
Kloveniersburgwal and finally standing
sandwiches purposely with knife in hand
Spuistraat, ready to eat them waiting for the tram
Full of the aimless
tourists behind the Dam, I gazed into
brown jar, still half filled with goo, astonished
At the alternative
nutrition that had rotated my way,
filling, like those cans of beans in tomato sauce.
butter looked more relaxed, offering itself up
easier times, a rare minute to hour not hour to hard day,
probably last past Christmas.
into the jar with consideration
I felt a
slab of honest repulsion and a smidgen of awe
within my heart, folding over on itself.
to Sugar and Cream
Once again I
stand resolutely before the freezer section
supermarket inspecting the ice-cream.
earlier I purchased a ginger scoop on the Rozengracht,
barely rendered myself to swallow the swank smudge,
my purchase with wanton distaste, frowning in the sunshine.
the cold ball on the Herenstraat revolted me.
How is it I
suspect my heart pleads for ice-cream when my stomach holds
Appeal to communist
taste buds? Eyes down in the blue basket hanging
elbow, I check my groceries again. Just to be sure.
before another unwise decision.
The plain 46
cent beaker of basic yoghurt. Mildly interesting.
grapefruit, on sale, four in a net. More appetizing.
water injected slab of turkey breast. I chose it
someone recently mentioned they’d eaten turkey.
Rarely seen in the country. Nougat flavoured France.
It now lays,
alone, unloved in my freezer, chipped at by two teaspoon nibbles.
about throwing it out, note keeping it perhaps
Just to temper
my unreasonable urges for unhappy bourgeois ice-cream.
practically, I stand in front of my near empty mini freezer,
Weighing up why
I am attracted to hardened sugar and cream with all due disrespect,
Being only pleased
with myself after all to discern the A label:
At first I thought that a new church had set up shop in my Amsterdam
neighborhood. The tune was different.The idea that suddenly a church tower had been erected nearby is, of
course, ludicrous. I just spelled the
rapper’s name right there and became completely confused at the fact that I actually
quasi believed in the alternate spelling of the adjective. It was the capital L
in the spell check that confirmed my suspicions.Anyway, where have I been and where was I?
Bell tunes. It finally occurred to me, walking to yoga one night, that the
Westerkerk bells had been rewired to a different set of chimes.The odd thing was that I recognized one rendition
of the tune immediately and became quite confused. What was it doing hanging
out at the Westerkerk on the hour? It wasn’t Dutch at all. Was this a case of plagiarism?
Years ago, when I was a teenager, my mother decided to join
a church.She hadn’t been a church goer in
years, that is years well before my birth when it was part of her family obligation
and duties. She avoided the Lutherans this time and chose the posh Episcopalian
Church in our area.St. Albans.Of course I then dutifully went with her on
this family bonding moment; my father stayed at home alone without even a
sliver of Christ. It turns out I liked the music at church.Since being introduced to the 1941 red bound
collection I’ve grown inordinately fond of hymns. The Reverend D. was the church pastor at that
time, a tall, vague and childlike figure married to money. A lot of money. In
fact, his wife was a socialite. A well-known socialite. She was tall and horsey
and wore designer togs and heaps of gold jewelry. She looked like she’d whack
plebs with a polo stick from down the slope of her long nose and long legs. She
and her Chanel suit didn’t come to church often, and most of us developed a tendency to avoid her strings
of startlingly devoid of compassion conversations. Father D. and Mrs. D. had obviously
a way of having separate lives and still like each other very much.
Father D.’s favorite hymn was I Sing a Song to the Saints of
God. One verse includes this refrain:
one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild
And there's not any reason, no, not the
Why I shouldn't be one too.
was my favorite part. Perversely alert and aware that it was, well, taking the
mickey out of the glory of Christianity. (Hey, I grew up in Berkeley where hedonism was rampant.) We sang this hymn a lot at church,
every chance he got Father D. would include it in the service. At times I
wondered about his intentions. The words to the song were written by a woman
named Lesbia Scott. What a name. The music by John Hopkins. Maybe Mr. Hopkins lifted
it from a quaint old Dutch folk tune.
suspiciously enough on the half hour the Westerkerk is demonstrating a snippet
of Tis a Gift to be Simple. The last time I heard that in the Netherlands was
when HRH Princess Christina sang it at her father’s funeral. Was there
something going on with the royal family?
mind, lastly a mere two days ago a crowd gathered below my office on the
Westermarkt. A cute van, a pimped DJ mobile, was ready to perform a duo with
the carillon in the Westerkerk. “You can ring my beelllll, ring my bell!” the
two call and response sang to each other while people danced in the street.