Our man [formally] of Amsterdam


What came first: the exhibitionist or the voyeur?
September 25, 2009, 14:16
Filed under: Amsterdam

Walk down any street at dinner time and a version of this is what you’ll see:

A woman in dark trousers, white shirt and the prime of her fertility is stirring a pot on a gas cooktop, and her partner/husband/spouse pours a glass of wine from one of about six or eight bottles standing on a shelf at eye height above the stainless steel L-shaped kitchen bench. Glass jars with neatly printed labels nestle alongside oil and vinegar bottles and a collection of tongs, spoons, whisks and things dangle neatly from the rim of the rangehood. The antlers, doe-eyed head and half a neck of an unlucky reindeer is mounted above the wine bottles, eerily casting its staged gaze across the room.

22 Binnen Orange straat, the night after and no one at home. Note the bike against the table, the giant portraits overlooking the dining room and the antlers back right.

22 Binnen Orange Straat, the night after and no one at home. Note the bike still leaning against the table, the giant portraits overlooking the dining room at left and the antlers back right.

The couple stand alongside each other in front of the cooktop and take turns stirring.

A few steps away in the open dining area an art-deco chandelier hangs above a large table made from recycled wharf timbers. I think this because the faded stencil markings on the solid six-inch side of the table says something in Dutch that also includes Hoek van Holland, which is the country’s main shipping port. Then again, this could just be a designer’s touch to give the aged woodwork an air of maritime authenticity and a larger price tag, but I can’t be sure? Regardless of the table’s origins, it normally would seat eight or ten, but two or three chairs have had to make way for a rather stylish ‘male’ Gazelle* with white-wall tyres and a striped chain guard.

The table (of unconfirmed origins) is set with two places, side by side, complete with napkins, opposite the Gazelle. Two huge framed pop art portraits, after Lichtenstein and about 2m x 1m, stare out over the dining area, and they don’t look too large, such are the ample dimensions of the space. Combined with the dead reindeer, there are a lot of eyes watching proceedings, not just mine this night.

He, much taller, with perfectly clipped blond hair, and also wearing dark trousers (I wonder if they have matching Gore-Tex anoraks?) and a lilac-coloured business shirt, puts his arm around her. She looks up at him and smiles, but with lips mostly closed, like one of those token smiles of tired couples, before kissing him quickly and turning back to the stirring.

Any one of the scores of pedestrians passing down Binnen Orange Straat could see the same thing as I do at number 22. Yet no Dutch person would dream of looking in, which is why the couple conduct this ode to domesticity completely oblivious to the outside world. For those of us unaccustomed to such openness however, it’s hard not to stare, at least for an uncomfortably long few seconds^. The Dutch don’t because they are open about everything. They build homes with huge double-glazed windows and do not draw curtains at night, even in those rooms that open directly to the street. I have yet to open my slimline venetians in the entire month I’ve been here. The volume and clarity of the noise on the street right outside sounds like it’s happening in my cell anyway, so why the need to let them see me, I ask?

And this ‘openness’ begets tidiness; there are no children in the household at number 24, yet, because the place in its natural state looks like a scene from a Vogue Interiors photo shoot.

The couple plate the meal together and sit together and talk occasionally, he more animated than her, even making a point with his left hand while still holding his fork, which my mum told me was rude to do but I’m not sure why unless you poke out someone’s eye?

Having made and consumed dinner in full view of the public, they piled the pots and plates in the dishwasher and went upstairs to make love in private.

* See post about acquiring a bike for explanation.
^ I was able to document this at length from the relative anonymity of an outside table at Cafe d’Orangerie directly opposite number 22.

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