From January to April 2002, I worked on my dissertation continuously in 20-30 hour shifts breaking for 5-6 hours sleep before starting another 20-30 hour shift…writing, revising/rewriting, and smoking up the last couple pounds of pot I had grown in the basement of our little ghetto house outside Athens–breaking this routine only for a hernia operation, a few therapeutic runs, discussions with my research adviser, and occasional meals. I defended the dissertation two days after turning in the all-but-corrections final version and two days after that we boarded the plane to Amsterdam with our cat and a couple of suitcases arriving finally in the Bijlmer (pronounced BILE-murr). My new boss had met us at Schiphol, dropped us off in a driving hailstorm commenting, “hey, weird weather, eh,” and we were left in a typical new Dutch rental: no lighting fixtures (the tenant buys and installs their own) and though called a house because it has an entrance on the street and two floors it was only as much a house as the one we shared walls with or the one upstairs (which you had to climb two flights of steep dutch stairs to reach from the front door). We had no euros, no litter box or cat food, and no idea really where we were.
Heading out into the street, I encountered the market full of Africans (mine was an almost exclusively Ghanaian and Surinamese buurt) one of whom was very drunk and urinating on the sidewalk near a couple of coppers. I asked them (the police) where to find a cash machine and the one with the elaborate neck tattoo and the copious facial piercings told me I needed to go to Kraaienest which I found out in the ensuing interrogation is a shopping facility in the K-buurt (but I was in the G-buurt, so it would be a hike). She said the easiest way would be to take the Metro one stop down and when I said I didn’t yet have any cash to buy my ticket the other one, an enormous and unusually tall fellow, looked annoyed and said dismissively, “no one ever pays around here anyway…you will be fine.” Not wishing to take the chance my first few hours in the country, I walked to Station Ganzenhoef and followed the elevated rail line through some threatening looking high-rise tenements (including a section that was hit by an El Al 747 freight transport a few years earlier killing a bunch of illegal immigrants and resulting in the urban renewal efforts that culminated in housing such as that we were then moving into), passed several especially friendly (in my — erm — limited experience) heroin and crack dealers, and noted some of the funniest graffiti I had ever seen.
Without realising it, we had moved into what was then still thought of as the most dangerous neighbourhood in the Netherlands (although it turned out to be, easily, the safest place we had lived since about ten years before we met one another) and I was instantly and absolutely in love with the place. I still am, for that matter, so on this short visit we stayed in a B&B not ten minutes stroll away just beyond the Gouden Leeuw.
We cleared Baggage Claim, Dutch Customs and Passport Control in a matter of minutes and picked up our OV-Chipkaart, the Oyster Card for the whole of Dutch public transport (replaced the Strippenkaart and is replacing the paper tickets on intercity trains) and were standing at our B&B front door an hour after landing. It was an incredibly sunny afternoon, 30 degrees Celsius, and I just had one other duty besides walking around our old neighbourhood and going to the city centre for a coffeeshop break and some Chinese food: the pipe hunt.
The day before we left for America in 2004, I took an old clay pipe and stashed it in a memorable place and then, because I have no memory (left it all in pipes over the last 50 years) sketched out the location in a running journal. The place that seemed most obvious was in an area protected from new construction by the need to have floodable areas to control the water. In southernmost part of this old wooded area called the Bijlmerweide I chose a tree with three trunks, each just small enough that I could touch thumb-to-thumb and forefinger-to-forefinger whilst throttling the trunk. The roots were rigid but separate from one another and the soil was soft enough to lodge the pipe under one of the roots pointing magnetic south by my compass. I had hidden a pipe and a gram of hash near the Berlage monument at Victorieplein in October 2001 and picked it back up on my return in May 2002, so this should probably have worked as well.
Things have changed a lot but the only real disappointment on this trip turned out to be the effects of eight years growth on the hiding tree. Each of the trunks was larger than the entire tree was before and the roots were absolutely massive. The pipe is almost certainly now an integral part of the plants vascular system and I only hope that years from now the roots are burnt away in some area renewal effort and this item is once more revealed to the world.
We rented some bikes and headed out toward the Hoge Dijk and further afield to an area flooded this time of year as much for the agricultural benefits as the fact that it provides a brief Spring sanctuary for migratory birds. It is very rural out that way but a head turn of no more than 60 degrees will always show the near proximity of Amsterdam, Amstelveen, or Duivendrecht. Stopping for a beer in Abcoude was another good trip down memory lane and we returned to the B&B by following the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal then passing through the Telegraafbos (an another managed forest adjacent) then around the Bijlmer to see what has become of some of the old high-rise apartments (now mostly low houses like our old one).