March 28, 2019
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
I thought about Spanish clementines and the juice bar across the street from my sublet, how my mother was always saying I needed more vitamin C, especially when I was traveling. I thumbed through notifications and saw the buzzword online was still nemesis, though the tweets had become self-parody. Overnight, a friend had DM’d me on Instagram to say how much she enjoyed the books I suggested before I left, in “very different ways but both SO good.” The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and The Antipodes by Annie Baker.
My mother FaceTimed me at my noon, before she left for work around 7:30 a.m., breaking the news that my grandmother uses a wheelchair now. I gave my mother a virtual tour of the apartment I’m subletting, which is probably nicer than any place I will ever rent while single in New York. It is the same price as a tiny room on the Upper East Side, but easily six or seven times the size: there’s a living room with a white desk and couch, a bedroom with a teal fireplace, an eat-in kitchen painted lapis blue, and a bathroom that has a ledge to display the sample-size skincare products I promised myself I would try to use over the three months I’m here.
The apartment is tucked away in a hofje, or hof, which translates roughly to “almshouse” or “court.” Starting as early as the Middle Ages, wealthy patrons would build housing complexes around gardens for poor, elderly women as an early form of social housing. I’m not sure how old this hofje is, but to this day, women exclusively hold the leases, even if their partners live with them. Over one of the entryways in the courtyard, a sign reads in blackletter script, “liefde is het fondament,” Dutch for “love is the foundation.”
I filed some final changes on articles, then spent the next several hours working on the novel I came to Amsterdam to finish writing without distraction. I watched the clock because I had an appointment at the local health club at 3 p.m. I had tried running outdoors, but someone told me that jogging along the canals was “ridiculous tourist” and since I did not want to be “ridiculous tourist,” I decided to join a gym.
A nice lady named Angela got me set up for the first month and showed me around the locker room, yoga studio, cardio room, and mixed-gender saunas that I have no intention of using. She gave me a token weighted like a two-euro coin so I would always have a locker.
After locking up my coat, I set the treadmill to my warm-up speed of 4.0, and the belt started moving under my feet. My usual speed was…slower than usual. Then I realized the speed was set to kilometers per hour, not miles per hour. After 15 minutes, I was surprised to see I had only run 1.4 kilometers, because I was running 11.4 kilometers per hour. Then I realized the distance was measured in miles, despite the speed being measured in kilometers. Was this some form of asceticism I didn’t know about? Thinking you’re running fast but going nowhere? I stopped the belt and started over on a preprogrammed 5K that counted down from 3.1 miles, because that seemed closer to what I was used to.
After I left, I heard a clicking sound on the sidewalk and saw that one of the guys from the gym had changed into fancy oxfords, which, paired with basketball shorts, were an unexpected sartorial choice.
I went home and showered and changed into a black silk button-up and jeans, then boarded the tram for Central Station, where I’d switch to a northbound bus. An acquaintance from college had moved here after graduating, and graciously invited me for drinks at her company’s headquarters. When I arrived at the campus, the receptionist at the outermost building directed me to keep walking.
“Go to the space-age building at the end of the block,” she said. “You can’t miss it.”
My friend gave me a tour of her building then led me up a flight of stairs to where the second-floor cafe had been converted into a bar, complete with colored lighting and a couple of DJ’s set up in the corner.
“Do they work here?” I asked, nodding towards the DJs. We picked up two glasses of white wine from the bar.
“That one actually does, but the other one is a professional.” She said something to the effect of his being the DJ-in-residence, which was probably a joke, but I wondered if companies like Google and Facebook had DJs-in-residence, too.
This was the second time I had seen her since coming to Amsterdam, and I was infinitely grateful for how welcoming she’d been. In college, she had always been one of the people I wish I had gotten to know better, one of the older, more confident girls when I was a freshman.
“Have you had bitterballen yet?” she asked. On my second or third night here, someone had described bitterballen as similar to arancini, deep-fried Italian rice-and-cheese balls. I said I hadn’t, and so she ordered a plate of bitterballen for the table. “They’re sort of an acquired taste.”
I took a bite and scalded my entire mouth. It was gooey inside, but tasted nothing like arancini. She told me it was filled with wild boar.
My mouth was burnt and I drank my wine too fast. Another glass appeared, and then a third.
When I got home I was still hungry, so I dropped my tote at the apartment and walked to the nearest grocery store and made a beeline for the smoothie aisle. The last time I went shopping, a very chic girl had filled her leather purse with bottles of pulverized fruit, so it seemed like a good idea. Here, I would be the type of person who took care of her skin, used her gym membership, and drank green juice. My banana allergy tends to eliminate most pre-made smoothie options, so I settled on something green with Avocado, Komkommer, Spinazie, Appel, and Munt. It cost a single euro. I hesitated and wondered if I should go for the framboos instead.
“Sorry,” a voice said, and a stupidly hot guy in a bomber jacket reached across me to grab a bottle of Raw Lemonade. I imagined he would add cayenne pepper to it when he got home. Then I realized he apologized in English, though he was clearly Dutch. Did I give off a non-Dutch vibe?
I walked to the chocolate aisle and picked up a bar of 70% dark, and a tub of cashews.
At the checkout, I realized I left my wallet at the apartment, and all I had were a handful of coins in the pocket of my coat, enough for the smoothie and the chocolate, but not the cashews.
Raw Lemonade appeared next to me, and I handed the cashier all of the coins.
“Did you even count them?” she asked.
“I think that’s right?” I said.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” she said, and handed back a five-cent euro coin. I picked up my groceries and walked to the customer service counter. The person whose apartment I’m subletting told me to sign up for a Bonuskaart so groceries would be even cheaper than they already were. Really, I just wanted to kill time so I might bump into Raw Lemonade on the way out.
The customer service clerk said something in Dutch, then repeated in English: “How can I help you?”
“I just moved here, and I’m told you have a Bonuskaart?”
He reached into a drawer under the counter, withdrew a pamphlet, circled a section on the third page. There was a form to fill out online.
“Now you are a real girl in Holland,” he said.