My arrival in Amsterdam is in many ways synonymous to the story of the village man from Luhya Land who got a chance to visit Nairobi, for the first time, after winning millions through a Safaricom competition. As soon as I take my first walk from Amsterdam Centraal (CS) Station to our apartment building, along De Ruyterkade (five-minute walk from CS), I realize that I am a different kind of villager here.
I have seen tall buildings, but not buildings grandiose and sophisticated in form of medieval architecture as Amsterdam’s. I can’t help but stop every five steps, to take pictures of the cityscape always adjacent to canal waters and bridges. This happens every time I am out of the house, all through my 16-day stay in the Netherlands. One time, my friend Sylvia notes, “You are just like Chinese and Japanese tourists” because we spot them (especially men) taking pictures all over town. Only difference between my photography and theirs is how advanced their cameras are. While taking a boat ride once I spot one Japanese tourist with a selfie-stick (look that up).
I have never seen streets and roads so neat, clean and perfect – you could literally lay your picnic on bare ground, and germs wouldn’t be aware. I am fascinated by the fact that during my entire stay, I don’t see even one person littering. Well, maybe that’s because there are mini and huge trucks simultaneously cleaning (washing and drying) city streets, day and night, every hour. Amsterdam saves me from the fury of having to see someone throw banana and orange peals or naked maize combs on the streets, like is such a Kenyan bad habit. Could it be that Amsterdam people don’t eat fruit anyhow? Or maybe they don’t litter anything at all?
What Amsterdam however seems to throw around carelessly is Love. I have never seen so much Public Display of Affection (pda) at one place. There is a couple holding so close at the Rijksmuseum – if I had a man holding me like that while trying to critic a piece of art work, I would have certainly preferred to take our display somewhere else, probably with more life … There is a constant dark veil between lovers and the streets or people. Lovers don’t care if anyone is watching them and people don’t care for couples. Another couple is kissing so passionately by the hundreds of bikes parked by CS. He’s got his hands entangled in her sweater and she let’s go of her bike; its fall nearly messing up the perfect linear parking of the rest of the bikes. The couple stops and start to laugh out loud.
Even elderly couples seem to be deeply in love. By Amsterdam’s famous Dam Square, I spot a couple of oldies holding hands while strolling. Some are kissing and others are leaning on each other while sitting on the stone benches at Dam. One afternoon after a shopping spree so tiresome my back is aching, I decide to take a break and rest on the Dam stones. This way I can also get a central viewing of pda. Funny thing happens. The 40-something year old man sitting next to me starts to talk to the 50-something year old woman. She asks me for a pen and a biro. Obviously no journalist walks without those two. As I reach my handbag I realize that these two just met on this stone and are exchanging contacts. Finally! I play cupid, thanks to Amsterdam.
One time, while sitting with my friend Danny at the patio of a restaurant located on Rembrandt Square (another famous spot in the city); right after an afternoon pour, a couple stops right in front of our view and start to make out, so hungrily. I am afraid he will rip off her clothes right before our eyes. I notice that I am the only one caught in their make-out session. Passersby walk past the scene, and care more for the famed Night Watch (Netherland’s most celebrated painting by the artist Rembrandt van Rijn) sculptures in 3D, a few steps behind the kissing couple. “Is it that couples show more love to each other in Amsterdam or do stuff and visit places, more together, than at home (in Kenya)? Or that people in Amsterdam are in love deeper than love experienced in other places?” I ask my Kenyan friend Danny. Already accustomed to the Dutch lifestyle, having lived at Den Haag (Hague) for more than two years, now, he simply cautions, “You haven’t seen anything yet … you should go to Rome,” adding, “This pda is really nothing as compared to Rome.”
I am convinced that Amsterdam is a city of love because I am here to work and play but most importantly, attend my friends’ Wedding of the Year. If numerous people carrying lovely bouquets of flowers on their bike carriers; almost half the town is kissing and holding and rubbing each other’s butts, really is a sign of Love—I see it everywhere in Amsterdam. On the streets, at restaurants, museums, parks and pretty much anywhere I turn. It’s like a constant scene off a romantic movie filmed in Paris’ famous parks with couples fondling on the benches. Only this is real life. It is baffling why, from outside Amsterdam, I haven’t seen movie makers associate Amsterdam with love and pda, like they do in films shot in Rome, Paris and London.
One time, while in Eindhoven, North of Holland – not even the rain could stop yet another couple from pda-love-games. The dude is pushing her and pulling her hair. The lady runs so fast from him, for a second I start to think that they are not really together. He catches up with her; she kicks him so hard. They have no umbrellas and don’t seem worried by the rain or that they are probably inflicting slight pain on each other. As they fade away from my view, I half-see them laughing and leaning over to share a kiss, while waiting for the traffic lights to turn Green.
It seems like Amsterdam is always All System Go for Love. In one part of town, there’s a lone piece of graffiti in white with the words “Love Me”. Just as I am taking a photo of it, another couple (holding) walk into my shot—a perfect image for the backdrop by the canal waters … I email my sister Emma, who lives in Miami (Florida) my observations. She responds, “You are experiencing some culture shock ..” Maybe I am.
In the continuation of my tales from Netherlands, read Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part II).
BONUS: Read how it went down at my friends’ Wedding of the Year.