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Aaron Soto-Karlin

In a once-grand-but-now-forgotten city, a city that stretched up between a grand

bay at its bottom and a grand university at its hilltop, lived two brothers who called

themselves the fool and the dog. Now, they were not blood brothers but referred to each

other as such--a situation that often proved confusing to themselves, and to those sly

university students they knew who, through the thorough observation they had cultivated

over books, attempted to divine the nature and history of their relationship. But let us

return to that particular place where their fraternity blossomed, 19 years after it would

have, were it one bound of blood.

Before the two arrived, separately but in unison, at the university standing at the

summit of that city's hill--three years prior to this tale's telling--they drove up the long

steady incline from the harbor to the university. They took the time to admire the

structures built by god and man that lined their path. Both had known only places where

each building, like people, commanded a certain amount of personal space to keep its

peace and allow for transformation. So when they rode up the hill in their separate cars,

driven by their respective parents, each remarked to himself that the rows of stone houses

connected, each one long block, seemed piled together like pancakes placed horizontal on

bookshelves. The uniformity of their facade and structure, variant only in color and often

not, made the newly arrived brothers-to-be imagine that the whole city must have been

fashioned in a factory and dropped into place by helicopter or perhaps by giant crane.

When, in their fourth year of university, the two took daily to climbing whatever

buildings they could spy, the dog asked the fool, as they stood 16 stories high, if all the

tiny buildings, rows of boxes and poles, didn't seem like letters in a giant tale that told the

story of the city. During that sunset, they related for the first time, one to the other, their

initial impressions of the first ride from grand bay to grand hilltop, their spiritual frenzy
cloaked in the soothing calm of their voices. They consulted that perhaps their

childhoods, accustomed to the visual and symbolic poetics of fields of corn and wheat,

had lead them to err in their initial conception of the layout of this land, that those houses

that seemed pancakes horizontal, were in truth, books lined upon their shelves.

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I walked out of Centraal Station and gazed again the Damrak road, wide yet

hemmed in by identical 3-story buildings like a maze. That look set my leg muscles to

their familiar churn and my mind to the natural percolation that accompanies walking.

As I set out south down the Damrak, I gave an almost unconscious chuckle as I

remembered at once how quickly I came upon some state of anxious ecstasy at sight of

any well-defined path into an unknown whose end remained obscured in the twists and

turns of topography, human or natural. I moved freely through the brisk air and sparse

crowd. The space of this foreign country--that I had previously known only during

warmer times swelling of the marijuana and eager giddiness of student travelers, and the

stale avarice of that set of guides and vendors who prey upon them--seemed empty. As I

walked along the central canal-loop, down a medieval lane, a tiny kernel of a warm grin

began to grow within me. At the end of the first block I came face to face with the

beginning of the next block of buildings and noticed that the entire block jut out into the

lane at eighty-five degrees. As I continued south I noted that these buildings that I'd

discovered as leaning arches, gave the impression of huddling over the inhabitants of the

city. Each floor of each and every building was tall and narrow and seemed stretched to

my sensibilities raised in the New World. The glass windows traversed the expanse from

street level to roof with only tiny pauses to lay the brick between each floor. In a matter

of blocks I became accustomed to gazing in, from the street's distance of centimeters, on
families holding all manners of what I would have called private audience. My spirits

rose each time I came to the end of a block at which point I was keen to mount an arched

bridge across another canal. At each bridge's apex I felt like at the edge of a clearing.

The wobbly buildings that mapped the city into paths hovered below elegant spires and

clocks that surrounded me at all different directions and distances. Each spire and clock

claimed its space, jutting diagonal into the air at different angles towards and away from

me. I paused at one of these bridge clearings, eyes tracking a path amongst the spires,

and the sun emerged out of the black clouds that veiled the day like fingers of steam. As

I descended the bridge I wondered about how people went about their daily business

when everything seemed to be hovering and swaying and seeping this way and that,

buildings into cloud, land into water. I followed the curve of the lane until I turned a

corner and stood before the Rijksmuseum, an imposing castle tiled in mosaic. I mused

that perhaps the Dutch people had grown into the rigid sturdiness with which they

walked, in reaction to their buoyed earth. I walked around the great castle and came upon

the Museumplein, a vast clearing hemmed at its horizon by the great and gold-gilded

theatres of a past era. As I gathered my vision the sun appeared with the rain. It seemed

to turn my body porous and transparent with its force, beads of rain glistened through this

gateway of light. As my vision receded from the spiritual plane, veiled in sun and water,

a structure that I had never seen before came into view:

AM

STERDAM

I thought it was a fine joke, though I couldn't be sure that I understood it.

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