Last night I had a conversation with an old friend now living in Denver. In the midst of snowstorms, too long winters, and a struggle with HIV that's lasted since I met him in the '80's he is positive about the future. Positive? Yes, he thinks there is a mass rasing of consciousness and awareness that will change the world. God, I hope so.
Myself, I'm in the midst of my own awareness of chronos that I wouldn't classify as optimistic. In the language of astrology, I am in the midst of a Saturn transit that's touching many of my personal planets. What does that mean? Well, I moved from a workplace of beauty and light to a small room in a hall with a surly staff. I'm saddled with odd bureaucratic rules at work and I'm working more than ever with a salary that seems to get lower. My class is full of "oldsters"- my most recent student is 75 and walks with a cane. My private student, also in her 70's, has become one of my favorite people. After reading my first chapbook, she said she was more optimistic than I am.
So I remembered this essay...
An Awareness of Aging
At what point did I become the eccentric older woman traveller? I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror in an Amsterdam shop which confirmed what I didn´t want to see. I was wearing a big belted secondhand winter coat. It was a Calvin Klein in my size which excited me no end when I found it, but didn´t change the fact it was neither fashionable nor very attractive. I was in a pair of Lands End walking shoes, the very idea of which would usually make me cringe but they couldn´t have been more comfortable. My hat was vaguely reminiscent of something my aunt might have knit, a lumpy black wool creation. But the dead giveaway that I´d changed was I was wearing my glasses.
For years I would never have dreamt of going out in public in glasses. I´d always worn my contacts, morning to night however late that turned out to be. Obviously I´d opted totally for comfort letting my eyes rest from the drying effects of contacts requiring my putting drops in my eyes periodically or else suffering the contacts sticking to my eyeballs. Another telltale sign of aging.
And for this new, or rather older me, Amsterdam wasn´t the right city. Though I love the smell of hash, a coffee shop with its offering of only coffee or pot didn´t quite fit my lifestyle. I wouldn´t be able to manage more than a couple of tokes. The smoke hanging in the air gave me a flash of nostalgia,dorm parties with Cream on the turntable and everyone so high they no longer spoke.
Since I´d visited Amsterdam over twenty years ago, the Red Light district didn´t thrill or impress. It gave me a sense of hard working women which showed on their faces. Yet the contrast of the prostitutes with the matronly figures at the rail information desk and the stiff white collars in the paintings of the Dutch masters makes for a curious juxtaposition.
I must have gotten bigger since my last trip since I just didn´t fit in the tiny staircases in the doll sized houses. But natives were even bigger than I am. How did they manage? I yearned for space and not to bang into chairs in a café or knock something over with my bag.
The herding about of tourists from one museum to the next is the largest industry in Amsterdam. There is little chance to intermingle with natives anymore. Tourists are given a section of a space to befoul while everyone else steers clear. I live in a tourist town myself, Barcelona, so I´m familiar with the disdain one feels towards tourists who have made life more complicated and city streets too crowded. In fact, in Barcelona I rarely venture downtown anymore.
Water was so controlled in Amsterdam I never found its presence overwhelming like with the aqua alta in Venice. Here it served as a picturesque backdrop contained by feats of engineering over the centuries. It wouldn´t dare intrude. I even have faith the Dutch will create another miracle like the one that saved the city centuries ago when global warming threatens. After all, land is reclaimed on a regular basis and even the train station sits on an artificial island.
Food left me puzzled. A visit to a supermarket (a chain called hamster, why, I have no idea) revealed a wealth of fresh fruit and vegetables. Cheese and bread were excellent and apples, the best I had in years. But something happened to the ingredients on their way to the restaurant table. Portions were hearty but nothing was delicious, not even ethnic food and prices were very high. A falafel sandwich was one of my better meals in the city.
Despite the onslaught of tourism, people were pleasant. There was a comforting figure on the train, eating his whole wheat sandwiches and drinking from a thermos of coffee. The desk clerk in our cheap hotel told me he wanted to talk. Children skated on a city pond a la Hans Brinker. A taxi driver drove up to ask if we needed to get somewhere as we were waiting for a tram at 6AM, enabling us to catch our train as the tram never showed up.
Fat sheep barely moved on the patches of grass between canals in the countryside. There was so much solidity in a land built on water. Substance and comfort were what I walked away with, the very qualities I have found in myself over the years.