06 December 2006

front-row seat

I am posting now from inside a houseboat on the Amstel canal in Amsterdam. I came north yesterday to meet friends who had rented the boat for the week, and it was a wrothy trip. The boat is exactly everything it should be- built in 1890, owned for some years by an artist, and all rustic wood and interesting cupboards. It's tied next to a grand-looking crown-topped bridge and even has its own garden-raft, complete with a resident pair of swans.

After a dinner of Indonesian rice dishes together last night, I took a solitary walk through the streets of the city. Something about being in this city always makes my life feel like such an otherworldly adventure- these crooked buildings, these canals, bicycles, and boats, the humped bridges trimmed with lights that couldn't be more scenic if they tried.

When I returned to the boat, I found everyone sitting round the wood stove in the main room of the boat, where the dark wood and huge skylight created a cozy and restful place in the windy night. A was in the process of knitting mittens, but abandoned it in favor of staring into the fire, and M was reading the Dutch translation of a houseboat book that I remember reading in the library in high school. In the section about Holland, there was even a picture of this boat that I must have looked at almost 10 years ago. Outside, the trams rumbled over the bridge, and passing canal traffic created wakes that made the ropes creak and the shadows from the lights swing with the motion.

The boat is relatively spacious and things are not tied down or behind railings like other boats I have been in, since it does not appear to have moved in decades. It does have a mast but never had engines, so it has spent most of its life tied up in this small section of canal. Still, its boat-y tendencies are undeniable, with the narrow stairs, the hatches and short doors that latch down in several ways, and the gangplank that brings you back to shore. The motion from the wind and water is just slight enough that one can forget you're in a boat until you see the swing of the lantern or hear the mysterious water-sounds that gurgle somewhere along the hull.

We're at the juncture of another canal with a drawbridge over it, so I just interrupted my writing to watch a barge of sorts churn through and swing down the Amstel. Lots of traffic out there this morning, including lots of glass-windowed tourboats, in spite of the rain that sweeps past hastily. I see blue sky out there though, so perhaps the day will clear. Still, there's nothing quite like waking up in a houseboat with rain spattering the skylight, the remains of last night's fire still keeping the room cozy. I'm reminded of my parent's summerhouse- the lovely sleepy quiet of rainy mornings, the odd accumulation of things that don't quite go together but mean something and somehow belong in the place, the tiny rooms, and the smell of summer cottages and water.

I could stay in this boat all day but the whole of Amsterdam awaits across the gangplank so it's time to finish the coffee and go make plans now!


brit said...

It's nice to read your comments on Amsterdam - a city that's not too far from where I live.
I'm usually reading your blog because it's about Reykjavík and Iceland. A place I love and hope to return to one of these days. I was surprised to find out you are in my home country. Enjoy!
You are an excellent writer.

sb said...

Oh, you must go to Amsterdam for April 30th if you can. It's the Konninginendag, or queensday and Amsterdam is a blast. The night before too, as there is music and beer in every single corner you look, especially in Den Haag where the queen lives and I lived.
You could return back to the boat, there is nothing as much fun as a boat on the Amstel on that day!

Professor Batty said...

...you've gone to the top of the list of my vicarious lives with that post. How romantic/exotic/idyllic. (I imagine that your trip isn't all fun- you actually have to do some work while there, right?)

Jade said...

Wow, that sounds cool :). I'm glad you get to enjoy aspects of your work-related trips.

ECS said...

hi brit- I love Holland and enjoy spending time there, particularly since it is such a great contrast to Iceland. Actually this last time I was thinking very hard about whether I'd be happy living there instead of here.

Sirry- If I happen to be going to Holland again around that time, I'll definitely try to stop in and see the festivities! Sounds like fun.

batty- during the rest of the trip I worked so many extra hours that I managed to store up three comp days. I worked all weekend, so the trips are mostly far from idyllic. However, the Amsterdam time has all been totally work-free.

jade- the trips are not usually this interesting, but at least I get to take trains and see new landscapes. I love trains :-)

brit said...

Let's change places! The last time I visited Iceland I have been thinking very hard about whether I'd be happy living there instead of here.