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If Cities Were Books With Titles

Eerie Logan on 12/28/20

After graduating high school during COVID, Nat began her university studies online. Because her professors were in Utrecht, her classes began at 3am. She worked in our sombre sage walled guest room with little natural light, negating the hope of her body achieving any kind of rhythm. So we made a plan to get her to the Netherlands by12/31/20, the day before Brexit became official and her UK citizenship could no longer be converted to EU.

It was a difficult time for us to travel, not only due to COVID, but because by then Philip and I had decided to split up but didn't want to drop that bomb on Nat before she set off for freshman year in a foreign country during a pandemic. So off the three of us went, each isolated and disoriented in our own ways. Nat's housing wasn't available until early February, so Philip stayed for a week and I until she was moved in.

View of empty bike path from the living room of our first house. Today it would be full of bikers, runners and walkers

Crazy steps to the main floor,. Skinny houses abound

Church in Oud Zuilen, across the river from our house, a change of scenery.

Field near our house, one morning after a frost. I did my most committed running there because there was nothing else to do

After Philip left, Nat and I got a little place on the old canal, centrally located near, well, nothing, because there were only grey, shiny cobblestones and a regular pelting rain. The shops were closed except for the supermarket, and there was almost no one on the streets. There was nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no one to talk to, with unknowns about Nat's school and this bad news I was carrying, weighing ever so heavily.

This photograph well illustrates my memories of Utrecht in early 2021

There were bright spots. I was with my favorite child, we had a lot of good one-on-one time before having to say a difficult goodbye. Our flat was sweet, my bedroom was a tiny bit bigger than the twin bed and bedside table it contained, but looked out on the canal and had a window ledge that held a bunch of muscari in a glass, contrasting nicely with the all-white room. And there were the many pretty rooftops to admire as we'd both sit and look out the windows, sometimes drawing, talking, listening to the satisfying clackety clack of the occasional squeaky bike moving over the loose bricks down below. There was also the flower market, once a week, but the damp and cold usually pushed us away quickly. It was in Utrecht that my TV addiction began as we watched New Zealand Survivor under the guise of doing research for some fiction I was going to write about characters in our Brookline neighborhood being stuck on an island with their big and odd personalities. Never did get that started...

There were limited ways to celebrate Nat's birthday, but we decided to go to Amsterdam and stay at the Pulitzer Hotel, where some of Ocean's 12 had been filmed. The bright side of the trip was that the hordes of wasted British stag parties were locked up, the dark side was the lack of bathrooms, as everything was closed. But the hotel was nice and welcoming, four new and different walls.

While I've always found Amsterdam picturesque, even charming, there's something else going on not related to the tulips, bikes and brown bars, an energy that brings me back to New Orleans and what I remember as the smell of raw meat and humid air noisy with crazy juju. Because Amsterdam was empty of tourists on this visit, it was easier to see locals and what I'll call the seamy underbelly of the city. This led me down a reading rabbit hole, starting with the kidnapping of Freddy Heineken, moved to the incarceration of the two thugs, Cor and William, who kidnapped him, Peter de Vries, the Dutch journalist who was then alive and in touch with these characters, then onto the drug trade that comes through Rotterdam, involuntary sex trade, the penal system and Lordy knows what else. So, it was interesting to add a layer and see my views shift.

Getting ready to go back there at a time when tourists have returned, Nat is at home and I'm sane, I've been wondering what message I'll get and how it will change. Then I got to wondering how the messages I receive from cities compare. If cities were books, here are my titles, yours will surely be different:

Amsterdam: Look But Don't Touch

London: Welcome, Welcome

Lisbon: I Weep For All We Have Lost

Valletta: Father Knows Best

Istanbul: Curse You and Your Whorish Mother*

Stockholm: Live Well and Prosper, Citizen

Rio: Only Today

Rome: Ciao. Bella!

Paris: Seriously?

Boston: Mmmm, We Don't Do That

Brattleboro: You Be You, I Be Me

Chicago: Please, Take, It's For You

DC: Sure, You're Important

Los Angeles: The. Best.

Miami: I'd Love Another, Babe

New Orleans: Careful, careful where you go

New York: Do The Hustle

Palm Springs: Adorbs

Portland, ME: Who The Heck Am I?

San Francisco: Do the Right Thing

*I know, not nice, but been there twice, dressed respectfully, harassed mercilessly. Still loved it


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