Quite a few times this week I was in the situation of crossing the city from one side to the other, from East to West, and backward. Riding a tram for 30 minutes can only be a treat in Amsterdam. I get a seat by the window, the sun hitting my face, and my head leaning in a palm contemplatively. Sometimes I am in the mood for music, other times I prefer the sounds of the city.
It is during such rides, more than on any other occasion, that I am reminded Amsterdam and I have a history. The city has seen me arriving here, getting lost on the streets in my first days, settling in my first home, getting my first job, being in love then breaking up, feeling lonely and confused then finding love again, bonding with the city, exploring its every corner, having no friends then meeting amazing people, moving from West to Center to East, wanting to change job, feeling homesick and dreaming of moving back to Romania, being happy to return to the city from holidays abroad then wanting to stay away as much as possible. Amsterdam has seen me and put up with me throughout these moods, throughout the years. All I need to do is look around and see the traces. It is all there.
I remember when my grandmother visited Bucharest, long before I moved to the Netherlands. We were walking along Victory Avenue when she stopped in front of the CEC building, gazing at its sumptuous architecture. “This is where I came when I was young to deposit my first savings,” she said with nostalgia in her voice. “That was so long ago, yet it feels like yesterday.” We resumed our walk.
The other day, sliding along the Postjesweg in the tram, I saw the Municipality locket where I registered as an Amsterdammer back to 2010. On the same street, new cafes popped up, while the Albert Heijn where I used to buy my groceries was under renovation. As the tram turned to Hoofdweg – another recent change, as tram 7 had a slightly different route back then – I saw the bus stop where my ex told me he was not sure he loved me anymore. I reached Mercatorplein and I remembered chilling there with a beer after my first job interview in spring 2011. It was quite some time ago, yet it felt like yesterday. I, too, made my own deposits here, in Amsterdam – in the currency of heartbeats.
The CEC building is still standing at one end of Victory Avenue in Bucharest. My first school in Amsterdam, where I studied Dutch soon after my move, is being torn down. Torn down for some years now is the entire row of apartment buildings on Donaudreef, in Utrecht, my first address in the Netherlands. I almost burst into tears when, on the internet, I saw the images with the rubble resulted from the demolition. “They built some really nice new apartments there,” my ex said when I brought this up. He was missing the point.
The city is changing, just as we are changing. The process is normal. Normal, I guess, is also this profound nostalgia that gets a hold of me whenever I am in a then-and-now, before-and-after situation. It’s the way I am. This is how I see things. All I need is a tram ride and my history with the city comes back to life – over and over again. Amsterdam knows.