Stefan Hertmans

√Cities, Stefan Hartmans…


“A city becomes a world when you love one of its inhabitants”- Lawrence Darrell.

I just wanted to remind you of this chapter that compares two cities like Brussels and Amsterdam…

The Flemish writer reminds us of the maps of cities that we draw towards the body of a loved one and often bond with that city by becoming a kind of second home or sanctuary “only if we love someone in it”!? Maybe yes, maybe not… 

We love cities simply because we find ourselves in the reflection of these cities, such as beauty in the eye of the beholder. There are clichés by which some cities can be defined from Vienna, Belgrade, Rome, Trieste, Athens or Jerusalem. Any city in the world has its own paradigm or pattern but our life is too wasted and short to always find someone in one of the cities. 

There is sympathy, antipathy, love and resentment towards some cities. This is recognized perhaps on the first or second step in some cities, towns, countries just as India likes or dislikes. India, as I wrote a long time ago, is a lover in a colorful vest. Europe is something else entirely, a small continent that builds on Asia but which has spawned a lot of things.

It is true that in European cities, certain days drink coffee and tea in some cafes or museums; as in Amsterdam on Sundays at the Museum of Contemporary Art. But also, the trick to remember the order with which the canals are lined up: “Prinsengracht, Kaisersgracht, Herengracht, Single.” It was taken to learn to navigate bridges and canals so you wouldn’t get lost. The point is, you don’t get trampled by psychopaths on bicycles, as a colleague philosopher named Daniel, born in Amsterdam, said, but an obvious opponent of two-wheelers. 

Hertmans says there’s something more Jewish in this town than anywhere else: “something that makes me feel at home and still not a part of it.” For him it’s a language, for me it’s something completely unidentified. I agree that this sense of continuity that has made a small settlement of 12, 000 citizens that grew after the colonial coup has made today’s city cosmopolitan. A lot of things are allowed and some things not. Of course, you’ll feel it on your skin with all the unconventionality. It happens, we’re all sinners.

But confidence is visible on every corner, and it’s no wonder Peter Greenway decided to stay in the city forever. A cinema icon, a conceptual artist, a director who works in opera today. For the Dutch… I think Norma was on the program those days while I was in that city during the early September. As Hartmanns says, in Amsterdam we quickly find out where we are, who we are or what we are — or what we are not a part of. Other cities like London will fool you, but here at some insane corner, a misplaced sign or a misplaced house will show you where you belong. Although a very welcome guest, it is just for a little while.

The fact that the city has 300,000 students from all over the world and from Netherlands 🇳🇱 itself is impressive. The city is full of youth and blossoming.

There are also some of the loves you always come back to, not for the Dutch Golden Age, but because of countless canals. There are different smells, among other things, like the smell of coffee and beer (the latter I don’t particularly like) … but their coffee is digested. Maybe it’s only in Rome and Milan that it’s better than apple pie like my mom’s pie, a little kosher, but it’s not kosher.

So if God allows opportunities, I’ll see you next year at the same time. And in the meantime, read the aforementioned book.


Stefan Hertmans,

From English and French translated:

Jelena Stakic and Goran Kapetanovic,

KARPOS, 2016.

PS — About Brussels I didn’t write even though it’s related to the painting of Flanders in neighboring Belgium and it’s connected by Intercity train because it’s the city of Bel Epoque. Amsterdam, after all, is like Copenhagen, Oslo or some Nordic Calvinist city. Because if it wasn’t for the rise of Protestantism, there wouldn’t have been a golden development of this city.

Belgrade has been demolished XY times, Amsterdam not. But this drama of the city cannot be compared, just as we cannot compare two individuals. Besides, I’ve already written about this book, you’re about to pay attention. Read and enjoy because life is beautiful when we dream and while we can fantasize and books are there to bring us closer to reality.

Stefan Hertmans https://g.co/kgs/hiz63N

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