When I arrived in Amsterdam two weeks ago, my first purchase was a Frida Kahlo candle. I had my new resolutions in mind, you see. Moving to a city of painters can be quite inspiring, not to mention intimidating. While lighting my candle I promised myself to create daily; to paint my joys and sorrows and to write in coffeeshops pretending that I am Gertrude Stein in exile. The moment I got off the train, Amsterdam wasn’t as welcoming as I imagined it to be. I took a deep breath and whispered to myself: “what am I doing in yet another freezing country?” On a stormy evening, I miserably dragged my overweight suitcase, my guitar, and my yoga mat along the canals. All of this was far too familiar, because in the past four years, my life was all about fighting for survival in London. In a nutshell, my existence in the British capital consisted of saving every penny and avoiding the fact that I was living in that city. I remember trying to move to my university’s library so that I would never have to face the outside world of sweaty businessmen and racist flatmates.
[…] moving to Amsterdam felt like a fresh start
Nevertheless, despite the depressing weather, moving to Amsterdam felt like a fresh start. I am certain that Baudelaire would have loved Amsterdam and would have written great poems about the cosiness that you feel when you are lost in the tiny alleys between the gingerbread houses. The people, apart from almost running you over with their bicycles, are always smiling on the cycle paths. It seems to me that every Amsterdammer is having the time of their lives, no matter what they are doing.
To all my fellow newbies in Amsterdam: besides admiring Vincent’s magnificent paintings and watching the super stylish people of all backgrounds and ages, let yourself be taken away by your own inner happenings. Yes, it is precisely the right time to become existential and ask yourself the all-important question of “who do I want to be?” For my first Master’s class, I had to prepare a brief introduction, explaining who I am and what I identify with. My thoughts went off the rails pretty quickly. “Who am I?” I wondered, while squatting on floor of my friend’s place (that housing shortage is very real). I am the little devil, the feminist, the hippie, the witch, and the three passports that I own. In Europe I am the Eastern European, in Ukraine I am the foreigner, the European. I am a citizen of the world who is a victim in one part of the globe and a predator in the other. Cursed by the original sin, I am Eve, Kali, and Medusa. I am the six languages that I speak and all the countries that I have been to. I am an artist but also a plagiarist of all that I have read, watched and listened to. I say, I am you and you are me and that is all there is. For now, I just defined myself as homeless, walking around Rembrandtplein with a sign saying “Looking for a flatmate or a tenant? I am looking for a home!”
I met a guy at a bar who said that he spent a year being homeless in Amsterdam and that it was the best year of his life. So I started to embrace my homelessness.
I met a guy at a bar who said that he spent a year being homeless in Amsterdam and that it was the best year of his life. So I started to embrace my homelessness. I was thinking of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe and how they too were squatting at their artist friends’ places in New York. I decided that all of us homeless youngsters camping in tents and caravans are part of the second wave of the Lost Generation, making history. I have immersed myself into my new life, allowing myself to reinvent myself while I can. I think of all those who are currently homeless in Amsterdam, of the friends who are freezing in tents or in that former prison that the university calls “student accommodation”. I feel a great solidarity. One day, once we will have a room of our own, these will be stories that we tell and moments that we miss; the in-between existence that some of us are leading is part of the adventure and it is only the beginning.
Kate Ivanova is a Master student in Comparative Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
- Columnist (Fall 2018)