is the title of a fascinating book by Rudy Kousbroek, which I read in pirate English translations. He’s like a Dutch version of W.G. Sebald, full of old cars, water and the ghostly presences of the animals about which he writes. One of his texts is called The Beyond, “about what has happened and is no longer there. About the change, which is incomprehensible.” Kousbroek – I can say his name correctly because it’s a combination of trousers + stockings, both of which I use to wrap up warm in Holland – writes about his days as a young boy at boarding school. As a child, Kousbroek would always contemplate the possibility that his parents, who lived in another city, had forgotten his face: how could they know whether he was still the same Rudy? He used to wonder whether they would still speak his language when they saw each other again. Perhaps they’d talk to him in Dutch, but the meanings would be different: instead of bread, they would mean dead; how to ensure that words wouldn’t completely change their meaning? Little Kousbroek would draw his father’s face so as not to forget it.
The final phase of the festival, in Antwerp, was a delight. After a few days of frenzy, we entered the gentle zone of familiarity; at some point I realised that the festival organisers, father and son, were with us the whole time. You could see them drinking quietly, chatting around the little tables; they received artists in the way that people open their homes and stick around to chat after dinner if the conversation is good. When the father saw that I had a bag shaped like the rectangle of an old typewriter (where my Mac Air usually travels), he rolled up his white shirt sleeve. His left arm sported a picture of an old-fashioned typewriter, its rounded keys in relief; where a leaf jutted out, part of a beatnik poem was tattooed; below that, the typewriter lost itself in a rose.
On my return to Amsterdam, I was introduced to perhaps the most dangerous, exquisite vice of that city, the home of downfall: the old etchings and maps that inhabit Eduard van Dishoeck’s antiquarian bookshop and the old book markets on the Spui, right underneath my house. And that introduction was nothing compared to the display of wonders awaiting me at the Artis Library, thanks to Hans Mulder and Jip. In these marshes, endowed with the glamour of time, etching is a huge tradition: inspired by the Dutch school, Hobbes met Abraham Bosse and gave him instructions on creating the eternal frontispiece of his Leviathan; here, Linnaeus’s plant illustrations were widely circulated when Amsterdam became aware of his genius with the publication of Systema Naturae in 1735. Certain customs are gradually becoming etched on my mind, like drinking a glass of sherry in Café Luxembourg as the sun goes down, with a touch of melancholy because of the lack of feline company (aside from the Red Light District versions, cats are scarce in A’dam, and it’s unusual to see them frolicking in the streets: the bicycles act like ferocious dogs). I can’t draw these wonders, like Rudy drew his father, or like the father at Crossing Border, but I know they’ll stay with me forever.