Two recurring questions / requests have recently been posed by a number of friends. They are 1) do I miss Amsterdam; and 2) could I please post some more of my own writing on the blog. This post covers both requests, I hope. I wrote the following snippet in late 2006 when I visited Amsterdam for the first time since leaving Europe in 2001.
The Dichotomy of Shampoo
In my friend Denise’s shower I lather my hair with shampoo, “Sebastian collection”, which exhorts itself as “a shampoo that uses expanding texturizers to make the hair's fiber feel bigger: fluff it up!”. I follow that with “Xtah raw sensuality” a “hydration conditioner” designed to “tame the frizz and generate those sleek locks”.
Do they cancel each other out, I wonder; like some mathematical formulae of negatives and positives, leaving my external demeanour one of mild confusion; a marketed smoothie of contrasting objectives; a feminine concoction of illogical mood swings.
I turn to the back of the conditioner bottle for some deeper insights. “Raw hydration, daily sensual conditioner for hair. Penetrating amino acids derived from botanical sources plus body-enhancing proteins to help promote optimal condition. The slippery feel creates a unique experience while vanilla spice & orange blossom entice and calm the senses. Color safe. For all hair types.”
For all that the text itself would be rated M-for-mature-audiences if showed on the wide screen, I am none the wiser. Indeed, if I go by the label my senses are both enticed and calmed at the same time. I run my hands over my body: is it a unique experience? My body feels quite ordinary in its own contrasts: soft from childbearing in some places, lean and taut from the rough and tumble of farm life in others; a scar here, a blemish there, the oft-charted shores of familiarity. As I later stand by the window, wrapped in a towel, my wet hair dripping trickles down my back, I consider whether I am separately enticed and calmed or whether these colours, safely or unsafely, mix to a plasticine grey. I don’t know.
Outside, the sky is heavy with dark grey clouds. The Amsterdam harbour stretches its windscuffed water to the far bank where the neon, freon and halogen lights of the factories, shipyards and refineries proclaim the industriousness of the Dutch nation. Seven stories down below on the grey quayside a man cycles past with his dog trotting alongside. Under the streetlamps the rainslicked wet concrete reflects them so precisely, so clearly, that the dog, mirrored on its paws, seems to be trotting on an echo of itself; while the man, seemingly precariously; cycles on the narrow reflection of his own tyres.
Maybe that’s what it’s like. Perhaps in all of us there is this dichotomy of emotion, the contradiction of desires, as we trot on the shadowy mirror image of our own paws through life; as we teeter precariously on the narrow tyres of our choices. For me, right now, it’s the ambivalence of my feelings towards the Netherlands – there is the joy of seeing my much loved friends, my adored brother; the delight in skirling bicycle wheels over cobbled canals; the thrill of the band’s live music weaving through my body and striking gentle chords of regret that I no longer am part of this scene. These feelings are counterbalanced by the gusts of cold wind ruffling the equivocal harbour of my heart as I look over the water: and I yearn for the rolling green hills of my farm; the subtropical trees silhouetted on the high ridge; the susurrating chuckles of the kookaburras heralding a new blue-skied day easing over the red earth of my great south land. Against the reminiscence of these vibrant hues my feelings for the Netherlands are not “color safe” as they blend and merge to a muddled grey, and I feel disloyal to this city so genuine in its valiant attempt at liveability, throwing its defiant architecture at the winter dark.