Tuesday, January 22, 2008

After Four Years

Four years ago today, I arrived in Amsterdam with nothing but a suitcase in my hand and a heart full of dreams. Actually, I arrived to be greeted by Fred and came to live in a very nice apartment in a great part of Amsterdam. It's been a wonderful experience, which five years ago, I couldn't have imagined.

I remember sitting in the garden of my friend Bill's apartment on 15th Street in NYC one evening in March or April of 2003 talking about the possibility of moving. I had been "seriously considering" moving, while making no commitment to Fred. There were things to consider. I had just completed an MBA and I was looking for a job, but there was that recession going on and it was difficult. Amsterdam and living in Europe had captured my imagination, but I was 37 and it seemed like an odd, almost irresponsible, move. I was talking about the pros and cons of making a move like that when I suddenly looked at Bill and said, "Oh my God. I'm moving to Amsterdam." I was sort of astonished. Who makes a move like that? I didn't know anyone. Now I am someone who made that move.

Lots has changed in my life since I got here. I speak Dutch now. Not completely proficiently, but I get along and I'm able to carry on a reasonably complex conversation about banking in Dutch over the phone, which I hold up as my greatest Dutch-speaking feat so far. I also speak to Fred's family and his friends in Dutch, which limits our ability to communicate somewhat, but it gives me reason to continue improving my Dutch. I ride my bike almost everywhere, which is I really love. It's generally easy to park a bike and it's quicker than walking and more convenient than riding public transportation. I've also made friends, which I do fairly easily any way, but having arrived here not knowing anyone but Fred, my social circle has expanded amazingly.

I moved to NYC to go to graduate school when I was 24. That was a pretty big change, but it was into the fairly comfortable "holding environment" of a school community. I knew after a few months that I wouldn't go back to Texas to live. Not that there's anything wrong with Texas, but I realized that there was a lot more to see in the world and a lot more to experience. And experience I did.

My point is that the move to NYC made me realize that I am really adaptable. And I like seeing new stuff and doing things that one doesn't get to do when one lives in Texas. Living in NYC sort of ruined me for living in Texas, and living in Europe has ruined me for living in the US. I should write sometime about the people that I know here, especially the Americans. I know people who haven't lived in the US in 30 years. There are people, like Sally, who make me feel really at home and make the whole situation more doable. If it was just me and several million Dutch people, it might drive me nuts. But the intensity of the experience is softened by people who have experienced the same thing, or similar things. (While my basic belief is that none of us ever does anything that hasn't been done before - have a bad break up, get a disease, win a prize, travel to an exotic location - I'm still arrogant enough to think that my particular mix of experiences is different than anyone else's.) And while Sally is gone, there are others who are there to help make this work.

People make this move all the time. It's not like it's the 1800's. People move here and make a life. It's just another place to live, but it feels really good to me. You can email and call and blog and send letters back and forth (as if). It's a struggle in my mind to think about having taken myself out of NYC. It's like that saying about never being able to step in the same stream twice. I could go back, but it would be a different experience. And then I would miss living here. So you make your decision and you live with it. My thinking is always that it's better to do it than to get to the end of the road and say, "I wish I had..." (Moved to Europe when I had the chance would be one thing.)

I'm like Aunt Jenny in the Brady Bunch. That's the episode when Jan sees a picture of a look-alike and finds out that it's her great aunt Jenny, when Jenny was young. Carol contacts Jenny and Jenny (played by Imogene Coca) comes to visit. Of course Jan is horrified because she thinks Aunt Jenny is ugly, but that would never happen to me. The point is that Aunt Jenny has traveled the world and done a lot of really cool things. I'm Uncle Andy who lives in Europe, does cool things and visits every couple of years. I like the mystery of it. I like the "He's off doing cool things" aspect.

So I'll continue living here. Fred's really great. (He's in Frankfurt tonight. Miss him.) I've got my choir. I've got a writer's group. I've got my knitting group. I've got friends. I'm comfortable and happy. It's been four years and things are going just fine. Four more years - at least.


Vicki Knitorious said...

What a wonderful read! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

happy amsterdaming day to you, love Will

Anonymous said...

Andy what a nice post! I also like being the "cool" aunt in the family. Nice photo too. Where was it taken?

Andy Baker said...

I think that was Kinderdijk. In fact I'm almost sure of it.

Anonymous said...

Gefeliciteerd met je 'verjaardag'!