"To take possession of a city of which you are not a native you must first fall in love there." said mr John Banville. After five months in the Netherlands and being myself an immigrant, I can see what he means.
Immigration and melancholy: a stable relationship
We are immigrants. A whole generation of Greeks well-educated or well-trained young people has fallen under the fire of the economical crisis and has been forced to leave their country. Many of us came here using a masters application as a passport in order to stay permanently-or at least for a very long time in this country.
No matter how carefully we've packed our suitcase, nostalgia and gloom managed to slip next to our Greek university degrees or our inner drive for hope and success. We stopped counting the distance to our homeland by kilometers. We count it by hours. As the time goes by, the line on the map between the two countries seems to get constantly longer and longer; we see ourselves as travelers who walk on an endless road of time. Every day we drift apart from our home a little bit more and we feel our suitcase becoming a little bit heavier.
We carry that burden in our heads. As we walk by the canals, we think of our home. As we cross through the multicultural crowd on the streets or pass by that eccentric biker on the picturesque bridge, our mind is stuck on Monastiraki, Kamara, Gazi or Rotonda. Even the quaintest or funkiest stores and bars fail to attract our attention. Finally, we arrive at the university or at work. End of the day.
Amsterdam: how it will ruin this stable relationship
I've seen many being prisoners of their memories in one of the most liberal, interesting, modern cities of Europe. They live in two parallel worlds; the first one is the external world of the city. For them, the city represents their university or job, in other words their goals. The other one is the internal world of their memories, which feeds them with emotions. It's obvious that this internal world can easily become a dangerous trap, since memories create only negative feelings of nostalgia.
The combination of the two words Amsterdam and nostalgia however could bring to most people's mind only one possible thought; to suffer from nostalgia because you'd have lost Amsterdam, not because you live in it! This city has been adored by singers, filmmakers, artists and writers. And we are the privileged ones who can live and experience the heart of this inspiring world. So just raise your sight at its cozy places, its colorful people, its twisty and vivid atmosphere, its potentials. The city calls to you, not through the inspiration of a filmmaker or a songwriter but directly to you, as it's now your reality. Try to explore it, to be creative in it. Find your favorite places and spots and make them yours; learn how to love it.
Amsterdam and Amsterdammers
Either you are the type who's thirsty for weird/modern galleries, or the one who dances till he drops down at music festivals, or who just finds amazing the fact that many epic bands, for our Greek standards, give concerts twice a year here, you already have a strong motivation to love Amsterdam. Moreover, this city has always been and still is the starting point of every modern, experimental and progressive wave, in every sector. Its name gained mythical dimensions and became synonym with the words fun, creativity, liberalism and unconventional lifestyle. All these elements will be shown to you in several ways easily, since they're absolutely not hidden. At first you'll be curious, then amazed and after some time, you'll look for some more underground and special versions. And then you're not going to stop searching for more and more.
What gives life to a city however, is the citizens. And Amsterdam is definitely one of the most alive cities in the world. As you see this multicultural crazy crowd, you can either ignore it or try to interact with it. In the first option, you just step aside and watch passively all these people from different nationalities, mentalities and cultures as a happy post-card-world separated by invisible but strict boundaries from yours.
It'd be much more interesting however if you see the citizens as part of the city and you choose to try it. In that case you'll find yourself meeting people who you'd never have normally met, and through them you clarify your own identity in the city as well. New stimuli, new interactions, new scenes; How will you react towards them? What will you choose to become? It's definitely a self-challenge.
Falling in love with a city
Amsterdam and Amsterdammers. I remember how these two words intrigued me while I was packing my own personal suitcase before I got to the airport. When I got off that plane, I totally forgot my Greek suitcase and let myself get lost in the city, maybe for months. But then sometimes while coming back home after a walk at the book market at Spui, on the cheerful Chinese street or at artistic Jordaan I remember myself opening slightly my Greek bag of memories. The time I was choosing to do that was a contradiction; with so many fresh beautiful images and still I was looking for at the old ones.
It's interesting how we connect ourselves to places. As we mentally organize and select our "recollection" files, the beauty of a view doesn't always play a big role. It's the emotion which determines whether an image deserves to become a memory or not. If we combine a place with a beloved person, the place becomes automatically important and loved.
From this point of view, falling in love within Amsterdam could be a good solution. Yet, my advice would be to give it a chance and fall in love with Amsterdam itself. The city will conquer you, make you drunk and then make you plead for more like every great lover does. It can't erase your previous ones; you'll always remember them and recall the good old times. What it can, is make you never want to seek for another lover again.
Photo, Endre Tot