It’s a sunny Thursday morning and I’m sitting outside, trying to tame an impending hangover. There’s a light breeze, making the air crisp and cool – reminding me of the perpetually mild days of San Francisco. A young woman, dressed head to toe in tangerine, whizzes by on a black, single-gear bicycle, which I recognize because I’ve seen a hundred just like it since I landed. The vintage-style frame and large wheels compliment her own long, lean frame perfectly. And then, like clockwork, the residents of the Pijp begin to pour out of their lofted apartments – arms full with a year’s worth of undesired acquisitions.
Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day, is a national holiday in the Netherlands that is typically celebrated on the 30th of April every year. If you’re Dutch (rather than an American tourist posing as Dutch for a few days), you’d probably do something like this: Several weeks before, I imagine, you go through those boxes of things sitting in the back of your coat closet and ready the items that you don’t want anymore. Maybe this means polishing the karate medal you won when you were twelve, or picking gum off of the soles of the shoes you don’t want anymore. Or maybe you do nothing, I don’t know. You place these things in a corner of your apartment and stare longingly at them, counting down the days until Queen’s Day finally arrives.
On the morning of the big day, you dress yourself head to toe in that bright, almost obnoxious hue of orange for which the Dutch are famous for. And being Dutch, this isn’t a problem because there’s a small section of your closet devoted to Dutch pride related gear. It might also include a tangerine colored boa or an orange and blue striped pair of knee socks. You might even paint your face red and white and blue. And then, you find an old, ratty blanket and place it on the cobblestone steps in front of your beautiful, perfectly lit, European apartment. With precision usually reserved for the Germans, you lay all of your unwanted goods on the blanket, crack open a Heineken and strike up conversation with your neighbors and haggle with the people passing by who might be interested in buying your old stuff.
As I had no beautiful Dutch apartment and no unwanted goods to sell, I made my way through the meandering streets of the Pijp, combing through the unwanted things of people I would likely never see again. It was wonderful – like a giant yard sale in which strangers also sometimes handed you a free beer. I wish I had saved some empty space in my suitcase.
As I meandered through the cluttered streets, making new friends with each pit stop, I heard music in the distance, which I decided to follow. The unmistakably consistent sound of European techno music growing louder, I soon found myself in the middle of a pulsing Square, which was overflowing with dancing, laughing, wonderful drunk people. I finished my beer, grabbed another from an old lady selling Amstel Light and Heineken out of a cooler outside of her apartment and joined the party. On one end of the square, a thin DJ played European club music and a crowd of hundreds of people, young and old, surrounded him, dancing.
I struck up conversation with a guy who skillfully drank beer out of a plastic cup with an American flag printed boxing glove covering his hand. Finding my American accent “endearing,” he and his friends quickly befriended me and my friend. Along with a sweating plastic bag filled with bright green cans of Heineken, the group carried with them a menagerie of things that they bought earlier in the day at one of the neighborhood flea markets. In addition to the American flag printed boxing gloves, a pair of blow-up tennis rackets, several books, a pair of ice skates and some cookware sat in a pile next to the DJ booth, around which we all congregated. I passed the rest of the afternoon, dancing and laughing and drinking and wondering what an amazing place America would be if we could let go just enough to enjoy something like this on our own soil.
By: Attiya Abdulghany