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City of Beauty and Decay
by Cassandra Lidgerding
Shaded street in Amsterdam
I am a freelance technical writer from St. Paul, Minnesota who genuinely loves writing technical material. It's such a challenge to create materials that help people use technology to better their lives. I've written all my life and recently decided to delve into the world of personal essay and article writing. When I'm not writing, you can find me out at clubs seeing live music, traveling, chatting online, playing online games, or just playing with my husband, dog, and three cats.
is a city of beauty and decay. You walk with your head up, taking in the
Golden Age gables and quaint flower boxes and you miss most of the decay
– unfortunately, you end up stumbling on a crumbling cobblestone. But
beauty and decay is what makes
An early morning walk through Vondelpark shows a deceptively peaceful city. The golden sunshine streaks through rain-fat clouds and dapples a thin veil of scum on the stream before you. You step up on a little foot bridge with an iron railing that is black, scrolled, delicate, and broken on one side. A hulking drunk lurches up to you and asks for a cigarette in slurred Dutch. When you shake your head and open your hands to indicate you don’t understand, he slips into spit laden English and asks you if you’ve been up all night. You’re not sure if the spit is a remnant of his all night drinking or of his native tongue. Dutch is not so much its own language, as it is a mix of an Englishman clearing his throat and a Swede with a heavy cold. You tell him you haven’t been up all night, but he smiles and says “Ahmsteerdahm eess cchhgreat, eesn’t eet?” and, as he stumbles away with one of your cigarettes, you’re thinking What a nice guy… despite his smell and bloodshot eyes.
The Leidseplein, an open square of grey cobblestone, comes to life by . Tables beckon you to lounge and umbrellas pop up like Coca-Cola mushrooms, warding off the persistent rain showers. The square is hemmed in by pubs and Dutch fast food restaurants on one end and by the glitzy Bulldog Coffeeshop dripping with neon on the other (the locals sneer at the tourists leaving the Bulldog, with its American sports bar feel, thinking Stay home and drink a Bud Light).
As you stand in line for the ATM, with a silent prayer that this time it will work and that this time the instructions will be in English, the crowd swells and swirls around you. They part only for the trams that speed through the center of the square ringing little bells of warning. A gentle, happy sound that means “Out of my way now!” They aren’t kidding, you think as you see a boy of twelve bounces off the unstoppable tram.
A short, greasy man in dirty jeans and a
torn sweatshirt weaves across the tram tracks and starts to howl in
French. Incomprehensible, you’re sure, even to native speakers. In front
of him walks an Italian woman in tight black pants, idly eating some ice
cream and paying no attention to him what-so-ever.
Window box high above the street
You are alone.
You want to delve deeper into this lover’s embrace, so you follow a street you know must lead away from the crowds. Instead, the city turns you around and pushes you back into the tourist area with a gentle laugh. Maybe this lover must keep her secrets to herself. And with a certain sadness you let yourself be swept back into the throng of people looking and laughing and eating.
You want to stop, but you cannot. The crowd pushes and pulls and prods with a pickpocket’s fingers. Paper creeps along the street trying to escape the crushing feet. Dog poop doesn’t stand a chance here, crushed to oblivion a minute after it is excreted.
Flowers bloom from
canal-side stands in garish colors and sad-eyed statues peek from above
the rusting shop signs reminding you that underneath this bustle, the
beauty still radiates...defying the decay. The people, a blur of color and
musky smells, radiate a beauty unknown to you before this moment. You do
stop now and let them slide past you. A thousand languages, a thousand
faces, a thousand stories to tell.
The royal palace stares
down on you like a prison guard, the national monument thrusts his gray
phallus into the air from a base of circling steps. You breathe deep and
Outside a group holding
“Repent Now!” signs to try to stop the weary travelers before they can
enter the den of sin that is
The travelers leave the
great brown hulk of Centraal Station and turn to look with a gasp at how
beautiful the building is on the outside. Because on the inside, it is
cold concrete and ugly remodeling that seems to have been started ten
years past and ended one day when the workers decided not to come back
from their smoke break.
You sigh deeply, toss
your wrapper in the trash, and think,
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