Late Work

de muziek boot

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in July. I’m sitting on the waterside terrace of the café de Jaren near my home in Amsterdam, drinking bitter coffee and reading A Farewell to Arms. After spending the morning letting the rain lull me in and out of sleep, I brought my computer out with me because I need to write. I know I’ve already begun to forget too many of the details that color my experience, and if I don’t write them down, not only will my friends and family never know of them, I am likely never to think of them again.

So here I sit at this little round table next to the canal, having reluctantly closed my book and opened my computer. The sun is having a dispute with the clouds and I keep taking my jacket off, then putting it on again. It is warm, but only every other moment when the cool wind holds still and the sun has a brief chance to really touch you. The cold air feels nice after a couple weeks of hot, muggy weather that I never thought I’d experience in Holland.

A man wearing a flowered shirt smiles and quietly plays his guitar. Two old women at the table next to me drink tall glasses of cold milk and their friend, older still, drinks white wine. I’ve finished my coffee and ordered a large orange juice.

There is a small boat in the water, elaborately decorated and filled with flowers and ribbons, and inside an eccentric man with a shiny green vest and a hat plays a french horn and a tiny organ. The music lifts up and floats through the sky as he raises a small wooden clog on a fishing pole to the bridge to be filled with the spare change of onlookers. He is a regular Amsterdam attraction. Traffic rolls by behind his crowd of listeners—a man with his daughter sitting on the back of his bike, her curly hair twisting in the wind, a horse-drawn carriage carrying tourists, a woman in a leather jacket pushing a stroller. There is a quiet hum, a melody even, from the chatter on the terrace and the movement of the city steadily trickling over the canal and the street beyond it.

These are the kinds of details I want to remember from the places I go and the things I do. I have some catching up to do from the last few wonderful months and I know I need to write now, but I’m having trouble drawing my attention away from this moment to focus on moments passed.

While I sit here nagging myself the way a teacher might nag a procrastinating student, I have to acknowledge my good fortune in being so often surrounded by interesting things that I struggle to relinquish enough time to write about them. But if I succeed in said struggle (which I can’t promise), you can expect an onslaught of posts about my spring and continuing summer in Europe. Though, they probably won’t appear until the end of the month, as I leave for another trip on Friday, one that will take me over 10 days to Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Morocco.

Happy Summer!


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"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
July 2009
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