BY JONI TAKANIKOS
April 15, 2015
I am writing this from far afield—although these days we are never too far in terms of communication, are we? I am writing this in a tightly packed alley of backyard garden in a quiet residential neighborhood in Amsterdam.
How did I get here? Am I dreaming? There is a potted rhododendron anchoring the corner of the tiny garden. It’s in a budding state that will see blooms in May, long after I am back with the island rhodies. Next to the rhododendron lies a healthy daphne odora that still has blooms, now only faintly scented, followed by hydrangeas, hellebores..in other words, a very Northwest type garden. The weather here is similar; today we had morning fog that was burned off in the afternoon sun.
I am staying with a cousin of a dear and longtime island friend and Dutch artist, Rob Schouten. Rob and his wife Victory, a poet, are really more like family to me than friends, and so getting to meet and stay with Rob’s cousin Emmy and her daughter Anna is a blessing of wide proportions, giving me a sense of a world without bounds. Emmy and Anna opened their doors to three strangers and now we are strangers no more. In fact, we are probably closer than many people I have known for years.
There is a vulnerability cloak that the traveler wears—being dependent on others to translate a foreign neighborhood. If you are lucky enough to stay with friends, family or friends of friends, they often end up seeing you in the state between waking and sleeping, when the veils are flimsy with the stardust of the evening or the dew of morning.
The Dutch, besides being incredible artists of all mediums and genres, are also wonderful English speakers; they make it easy to navigate this wondrous city of canals and waterways. It’s not an easy city in which to find your way initially—but it is a lovely city to be lost in—and if you have a general sense of the direction you are headed, then a circular route will eventually land you in the neighborhood you are seeking. During your wander you may discover some charming new neighborhood that you would not have known had you not been lost. So allow yourself time and space to get lost now and then—both abroad and at home.
I just heard a teapot whistle in the distance from some neighbor here in the alley where I sit on the garden bench. It prompts me to go have a cup myself so I will join you in a few…
A cup of tea and a poem recollected from a walk I took yesterday in the “oud west” district of Amsterdam. “Oud west” translates to the “old west”…yippee ki yay!
Oud West Canal
The swan on the water
Holds her wings close.
Gliding in measures
Cutting across the canal
in a still yet moving frame.
I see her in the distance
As I stand on the small bridge
Yet she is enlarged by my pupils,
the water, the street, the music
that hangs in the Dutch painting
of the sky.
I imagine I can hear her breath,
Sense the lengthening of her neck
as she glides with a grace
I can only dream of.
But when I close my eyes I am gliding too,
and disappearing into the distance,
and when my eyes reopen she is there—
A white swan, larger than ever,
Still so far away
I have four more days to meander along the streets of Amsterdam and I intend to take my time and let the hours glide slowly and gracefully by. I hope that everywhere I am in this world I can inhabit the space with my whole heart and soul.
To connect with a Dutch artist on Whidbey Island, take a springtime drive to the Greenbank Farm and visit the Rob Schouten Gallery: http://www.robschoutengallery.com
Joni Takanikos is a poet, singer, and yoga teacher at Half Moon Yoga in Langley. She is also a traveler here, there and everywhere.
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