Big City, Little


XXX: Any Reason At All
by Stephen Cvengros

When we arrived in the garden of my girlfriend's mother, we were greeted with three kisses and as many small cups of strong koffie. We sat in the garden until it rained, drank wine, and ate a huge meal. At home, Annelies and I speak English. At my schoon moeder's, it's all Dutch--to the best of my ability.

After saying goodbye and exchanging kisses, we walked into Helevoutsluis to check out the blues festival. There was a reggae band playing in the old town square on the harbor and we found some friends. More kisses and beer. The little joint we sat at served tapas and the music was good. The infamous lesbian couple was there we hadn't met yet. One of the girls was with her mother and stepfather. We passed around the pictures of Paris from the weekend before and when it got dark, they invited us to put our bags upstairs so that we could all go dancing.

We started by crossing the bridge on the harbor to go to the old bunkers but it was too crowded. On the way back we stopped at the seaman's book store where a group of men played accordion and sang sea songs. The owner of the place was a captain of a ship and sold books with music and wine as a sort of hobby. We all joined in to the best of our ability.

Back on the cobblestone main square, music blared out of each of the seven or eight cave-like pubs. Good blues, swing, dance music. The street was packed. It seems there's always a festival here. People fill the streets for Queen's Day or a soccer championship or the dance parade. They say in Rotterdam that a fart is a good enough reason for a street party.

In Amsterdam this year during one such event, the train station was so overrun with people that the station locked its gates for crowd control. Thousands of people were trapped inside for two hours and thousands more outside. It took the whole day and evening to get the trains running again. The pub at the end of the street had that feel at first, but we found a back room with a garden where we could still hear the music.

We lost our friends and met up with them again two or three times that evening, but in the end we walked alone to the place where we were to stay. There was no one there. It was almost morning. We called another friend. He was clubbing at a house party in Amsterdam. We couldn't hear anything but dance music coming out of the cell phone. We walked along the coast back into town. It didn't matter. Maybe we would find a taxi or we could stay with the girls.

The sea was shining, the sky was grey. The wet salt wind kissed our faces and flattened our hair. The horizon rushed up to greet us, then stretched back out to eternity. Cities and bars, pot cafés, whorehouses, windmills, tulips, America, everything melted into the sea. It was cleansing: we were everywhere and nowhere; we were alone.

(Originally from Minnesota, Stephen Cvengros lives in Rotterdam. 'XXX' is Amsterdam's official city designation.)