Amsterdam, as with much of northern europe, had a special familiarity for me. The streets and buildings, playing hide and seek in the fog, were built of old stone and brick. Climbing into an old pub or restaurant was like entering a hundreds of years old womb, thick ancient wooden surroundings from trees of even older forests. Handles and hinges of brass. Mugs of clay. My parents spent their early marriage in Europe, and gave birth to me there, and it profoundly affected them. So this, too, is the feel of the childhood home we built together in North America, raking out the foundation in the cold winter, laying the tile floor, installing electricity and plumbing. I’ve returned here to rest and recover from the poison, to return from whence I come, to, as Gabriela Jovanny put it, “be a baby again”.
My head and blood are still in the process of clearing. This place is both comfortable and familiar and subtly strange during the times when my perceptions are slightly off. I’m hoping once the jet lag clears this too will fade. I’ve started small bits of ashtanga yoga to keep the blood flowing and I’m slowly building up work on the elliptical to get my knees back to kung fu.
There are a lot of reminders here, along with the heavy tile and brick and wood, of what has shaped me. There is a pipe organ built into the house, the console completely refinished in oak to match the rest of the house. What seems crazy is so comfortably familiar to us. We carried the pipes out to a rental truck as children. My mother plays it and my father keeps it working. There is now a second pipe organ in the process of being rebuilt and I sleep near its frame in the basement. It, too, is of old wood, extracted from a church. For a hundred years the huge pipes’ deep tones shook the chests of singing faithful. Now the two of us are quiet, resting together, waiting patiently for recovery.
There is a sports car in the garage, but every other thing in the house was bought at a garage sale for less than five dollars or built by my parents by hand. There are stereo systems, some with 8-track cassette players, that cost less than two dollars but are now nestled into custom oak housings and mounted against oak cabinets. There is a 486 computer still being used in the front room to teach my mother’s piano students. It’s attached to a casio keyboard from somewhere in the 1980s. There are curious brass bells tucked around the house and visitors are welcomed by a huge gong, sent by my uncle from Thailand and mounted on a custom wood stand my father built.
Everywhere are reminders of frugality, of hand made things, of old europe. It is a place that speaks of a joy of creation, of novelty, and yet of connection with the past. Before my mother left her library career and started selling them online we had books and oak bookshelves throughout the house. Now there are literally thousands of books filling every space in which we once played. Tucked in the back I can still see the originals, classic books like, “Freedom of the Hills” that taught us rope belays and camping tricks.
Before I return to the earth, before I am clay and brick and old stories, I have another moment to pause. I didn’t plan for it, but no one ever does. It feels like the slow birth of the next round of adventure, a reassuring touch of the sandy bottom of the sea to be sure of its solidity before being carried away by the waves once more. To deepen the appreciation of the ocean’s movements, I’ve been given another glimpse of how lucky I am.