The fiery autumn in the folds of the Vondelpark. Still water making a pillow for the wind-axed tree. A small flock of geese. No: just a reflection. Timber preserved in its arboreal form. Nothing can touch Nature here. Alexander and Stephen. Unconsummated lovers. Not lovers: friends till the sun does them part. Five-year friendship now. “Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.” Epicurus.
Alexander is a poet. Published in magazines under the sky. Great smoker, too, cigars, mostly, phallic Cubans. Favourite verse he has ever writ: Take away the waltzing Baroque of beer/ And give me the Gothic fugue of whisky. Thinks he will one day slough off the plough of work and recline in the radiance of poem-fuelled dough.
Stephen. Stephen is an artist. Painter. Descendent of Lascaux. A modern Impressionist sans moustache. Likes to swirl his oils so viewers crane their necks. You can swim in his paintings: his strokes are thick like foaming waves. Great swimmer too. Has had: exhibitions and interviews. Is now grinning on his meandering pilgrimage to Van Gogh’s Amsterdam.
They both came to the libertarian heart of Europa to cleanse Amsterdam of clichés. Whores to beauty not to the District – smoking lilting hedonism nothing else. No children: don’t do drugs. Create drugs. Stephen: don’t do drugs create your own drugs. Art. Fifth thrifty offspring that aroused the Nine Muses. Rain that doesn’t fall to the ground just elucidates.
The Vondelpark is a volatile theatre of vehement virility. People recline like drooping vines. Friends and lovers victorious in the vernacular of liberty. Vivid clear waters vaccinate the volatile mind. All that’s visible is the veering weariness of venerable minds. There is peace in the Vondelpark. Alexander and Stephen vest away the hours of silence and indulge in the vegetal velvet crawling under their splayed feet. One smokes vowels the other varnishes views. But then it is not long before a she of the species walks before them.
She sits beside them by the water’s edge. She smiles. She looks out towards the lake and they look with her. Expansive waters unceasing reflecting the hubris of life. Green swirls brown leaves drifting trees rippling in the grey azure and the haze of moist distances.
“What are you guys up to?” She asks like an owl hooting, modulating distinctly Dutch phonemes.
“Poemizing!” She laughs frog-like ribbiting sensually.
“He’s a writer he can do with words what he pleases.” Stephen stephens.
“And you, what can you do?” She asks squatting to look at his sketch.
“I can make anything immortal.” Stephen replies, relishing the sound of his rehearsed voice.
“Can you make me immortal, sir?” She lies down on the grass. Legs splayed like pincers. Blonde hair shaking off the sunlight. Eyes: azure. Azure: Oh those eyes!
“I shall try.”
Stephen takes out another piece of paper. Angles it portrait-wise. Gets out his lighter pencil and begins to make lines. Make lines that will eventually make…
“Cloe. I’m from Amsterdam.”
Make lines that will eventually make Cloe from Amsterdam. Grey accents of lead: how can you a human being make? When we see an image do we see its constituencies? To gaze upon Cloe is to gaze upon her. What matter her skin her DNA her bones her blonde downs. And to make Cloe into a sketch what matter the pencil lines the cross-hatching the finger-rubbed details. The Cloe I sketch is the Cloe I see. Art is the artist: the artist is the gods of yore. And when Stephen said let there be Cloe, then there was Cloe.
Alexander watched the ménage-a-bleugh with resentment. He sighed like a bitch submitting to the pimp. He leaned his head back and exposed his Adam’s apple like an undigested hand-axe. Go deep: Alexander saw the depths of his envy like a seafloor. There is the wreck of the first girl he loved rotting because he never made her his – he couldn’t. In a deep-blue alcove there is his older sister who could attract attention and worship from a river-travelling pebble. And as his breath runs short he feels the vertigo of defeat: ascend ascend but to what end?
“Cloe, if I may.” He asked whilst holding up his pen and notebook. She nodded, unmoving, not daring to confuse Cloe the sketch with Cloe the Cloe. Things could go bad then. Like the wife of Lot turning into stone. (For looking back! Harsh masochistic little God of old, new, any bloody testament!)
The trickle trickling down your nape
Exudes muses draped in ethereal waves;
Let your flower be tossed to the seven corners
On the winds of words writ of Cloe’s wonders.
“Cloe, its ready.” Alexander, like a hearse pulling up a child, passed the notebook to the church that was the woman.
“No!” She held out her hand fuhrering through the air. “I don’t want to read it.”
Stephen looked up from his universal re-design and wore the sore gaze of a puppy on Christmas day.
“Even yours. I don’t want to see it. Tonight. We will meet. At the Café ‘t Smalle in the Jordaan. Show me then.”
Stephen finished his sketch and tucked it into his sketchbook leaving it to its somnambulant hibernation. Cloe left them, smiling at one and the other. They looked at each other: suspicious minds. When she left the Vondelpark had lost some of its joie de vivre and became a nature reserve – full of ghostly wildebeests and dead rotters. They left the Serengeti-Park and went back to their hotel. Walking along the bike-fortified canals they discovered the slippery slope of silence. Stephen took endless photographs of the red houses floating like fairies atop the ethereal still waves. Alexander smoked his cigar the smoke taken by the winds poked and puckered by the North Sea. Both of them thought of Cloe.
Alexander stopped. The smoke pulled back like a lassoed bull suffering from whiplash. “I don’t feel like going back to the hotel! A bar – now.”
Krom Boomssloot. Mad Twins Café. Looking out onto canal. Aryans walking outside on cobbled bridges. The city feels as if it will either sink or fly. Tick tock tick tock the tides are on the knock. Enter. Come in. Aryan waitress. Indian barman. East India. Dutch. Stephen keeping Alexander company. They order Heineken because they’re in Amsterdam. They would order red soil from Mars. Ice-ring on Saturn. What cocktails would they make on Saturn? Sex on the Rings. Jupiter: Eye of the Storm. Uranus: Let Me See Uranus. They order from the Aryan waitress. Come on, let’s see it.
“The sketch you did of Cloe.”
He’s going to refuse. I am a bull and he is red. But we’re both horny.
“You can wait until she sees it. Thank you.” Heineken arrives. Expensive. You always think, when you order a round: this will be the drinking session that will never end. It will go on ad infinitum like Saturn’s rings.
“What are you hiding it for, it’s just a sketch.”
“It was made for her. Not fair if someone else sees it first. Like someone cutting someone else’s birthday cake.”
“It’s not fair.”
“Art. It plays on vanity. When she sees that, she’ll think: I look good. When she hears my poem she’ll think: he’s good with words. Meh.”
“Self-pity from a poet? That’s why kids think you’re all depressed.”
Stephen laughed laughter that crashed into the soft wallpapered walls. Redundant. But inside he felt dark. He is good-looking like his art. Oh: pain the pain. He hurts others too much with his conquests. A William the Conqueror conquering his own clan. Remember Valerie: sleeping with her estranged him from Christopher. Or when Amelie was attracted to him: isn’t that when he hurt his brother most. I didn’t mean it! Anyway she wasn’t his girl. She would’ve been if I hadn’t come along. Smug. Smug bastard that won some botched lottery at the uteral exit. Fireworks for you as you left the birth canal. Why can’t death be a re-entering the womb to start again? Recycling reincarnation. Organic too. Don’t forget Cristina: Miss! Miss! Was all the German broad could say at the pool table. Her husband nearly knocked your block off. Who would that have upset: mother’s loins. Dear Mama and her beaten-up pulp of a son. I don’t want Cloe – but she wants me! To turn down a Dutch woman is to insult her womanhood. I am a Feminist. If she wants me it is her First Amendment right to have me.
“Anyone can sketch and paint.” Alexander said sulking from behind his shimmering beer glass.
“So why don’t you?” Stephen replied tapping the touch-wood table top.
“Because I am a man. I speak therefore I am sapiens. To mould language into verse and re-verse it into irony – that is to be a Zeus among ants.”
“But poetry is too internalized. Poetry is masturbation. Art is sex.”
“Dear prudishness. You are a prude. What is wrong with masturbation you poorly-lapsed Catholic!”
“Nothing, nothing at all; but it is gay.”
“Masturbation is gay?”
“Man loving the male organ. No, no: art is sex and sex is art. Look at Altamira. It is man wishing to control the world through art. The painters of the bulls procreated like bulls. They were powerful – shamans – demigods. Poets are storytellers. Make people think fine and all: but to live one needs be an artist.”
“Telling stories is a rational act. It is a scientific endeavour. It seeks to explain the world thus make it more graspable and less likely to eat you. Art is religion. It imposes magic unto the world. The artist of Altamira stayed in the cave to fuck and be worshipped. The storyteller was out in the fields teaching his children how to hunt.”
“What story can your poem tell Cloe that she doesn’t already know? You’re going to tell her she’s beautiful? She knows. That she’s desirable? She knows. That she is more desirable than a rose? She knows. The time for stories and elucidation is past. We know everything.”
“She knows it all. And we might know everything. But the imagination is a drug even the well are addicted to. To tell her that she is desirable by comparing her to the very jaws of desire will tantalize her. Because she’s human. Words paint images in people’s mind. Send them on journeys. Painting is merely one-dimensional.”
“Painting shows people what they want to see: the truth portrayed by hands more skilled than theirs. It is the pool of Narcissus. It is the Medusa’s mirror. It is the truth made manifest. You could explain the entirety of human knowledge in one painting. I will give Cloe what she wants and she will desire me for it.”
At the hotel, showering, preparing, perfuming, lathering;
Outside the window the stars glisten over the brittle Amsterdam skyline. Starry Night flowing in the water. The lights in the crimson houses are like candles from an eerie era of ethereal harmony. Stephen is wearing a long-sleeved shirt. Well-fitting, smart. Alexander – the poet – puts on a polo-shirt and hikes up the collar. Perfume whiffing the air made by celebrities that are damned to money-making stupidity. Deodorant too – it used to kill the Ozone. Now that’s fixed: now it kills the art of advertising. Television plays MTV because it has to. Television is our slave. The remote its bonds. No, no, be a hip-hipster: we are the slaves to television. Fuck: off. Outside, sketches and notebooks in their hands:
Outside Alexander and Stephen make their way to the Jordaan.
Both of them are thinking of what’s at stake. To win: Cloe’s petite perky breasts pink and blonde like her lips and skin her navel perpetually breathing in maybe some abs too and her lily-white cheeks taut and capricious ready to bend and open the keys to heaven – heaven and the moistness – Kama Sutra with a Dutch girl: now that’s a Dutch East India Company!
Both of them are thinking of reasons why they would lose. Lose to each other to their best-friend in this competition that never had a beginning and can have only one end. To lose: No amount of poetry can make me the kind of wild card wild Cloe would run ragged with. I don’t want to come off as arrogant I’m confident but Cloe can afford to choose so give her reasons to choose me not to run a bed-and-blessed mile.
White sofas outside dangling on the spangling edge of the canal whilst bridges flicker like fireflies. A hustle and bustle of collegiate rustling through this Mecca of modernity: a city that fulfills the innermost fantasies of Spinoza (the Dutch Jew) and Locke and De Sade. A bastard child of hedonism and liberal politics. A beacon to America. To Amerika. Let them come here to learn what a life without star-spangled religion looks like. We are Gomorrah and we are proud. No Gods that brews up entire universes in his brewery will ever be too depressed to care about the lives of men. Don’t have sex, have it when I decree it, in this position, finishing without killing your gifts. No God is that petty. He has left us alone – and what we get from a purpose-less universe is precisely Amsterdam. It’s mathematics, really.
Café ‘t Smalle: table and chairs outside. Skeletal branches lap-dancing against the façade. Even branches are hookers. The place is cozy but the streets are balmy so Cloe is sat outside. They greet: Heineken, no, Amstel. It’s only sweet and proper. Dulce et decorum est Amstel. Neither Stephen nor Alexander have the social prowess and temerity to whoosh take out their respective artworks. How do they, you know, go about it. Awkwardness. Tumbleweed. The evening sails along upon the still waters of time’s arrow.
Conversation stalls. Eject. No, let the robins make their migration first. Handel composed a piece of music for the world’s first fireworks display. King George II. 18th century. If the sparrow’s arrow leaps and bounds like hounds in the night sky. Only then. Cloe!
Booming night a sad sight: Stephen and Alexander. Cloe is the madame-mistres of ennui. What was it Baudelaire wrote: He is Ennui! Finally, Cloe brings her scimitar to bear. Oh, you haven’t shown me your artwork, guys. Midnight salute. Ring ding.
Stephen goes first. He takes out a sketch Caravaggio would have been proud of. Melancholic beauty and photorealistic – no pixels, cross-hatching and shading. Cloe gasps and coos like a cuckoo about to rue the day it had been born a parasite. “My God it’s like looking at my twin.”
“It’s like I’m living outside myself.” She continued, gasping like a nephew who received a Christmas present from an aunt who still thinks he’s eight.
“(Clears throat) And here, cher Cloe, is what I’ve written for you.” Alexander the Poet took out his neat velvet notebook opened it on the page that sings her up-raises and she read with funereal seriousness.
The trickle trickling down your nape
Exudes muses draped in ethereal waves;
Let your flower be tossed to the seven corners
On the winds of words writ of Cloe’s wonders.
“I feel so honoured, so privileged. Like a Shakespearean Muse.” She laughed throwing her head back with the same talent and guile she brings forth to throwing back shots of Jenevel.
Dear Reader, what would you choose?
Imagine thyself as young and as good porn-fodder as Cloe: to which sire would you bequeath your thigh-bound lyre? Think on before you read on.
Both of them wanted to ask bluntly and like frank: what do you prefer. But it would be rude. We are rivers not torrents. Mountains not avalanches. So the night went on. A beautiful starry, starry night. There can be no greater night than a night in the veins of Amsterdam. Like a dream fulfilled. To hell with Red-lit hookers and hallucinogenic cafes: a night in Amsterdam with friends and star-lit drinking buddies is a drug like no other.
But still: all night long while Cloe laughed and mixed drinks: Alexander and Stephen were too preoccupied with each other to move in for the k-k-kill. They managed to steer the conversation towards art and poetry by claiming they were-full time artists and writers. A communal confabulation worthy of any confraternity. But they didn’t speak much: let the mare marinate in our genius.
“I love art. How can I not. I grew up here with the Van Gogh and Rembrandt museum down the road. It’s crazy. Poetry I never understood.”
Stephen pricked up his ears and arched his shoulders forward. Alexander slithered into a den of loathing.
“But I do love the effect words have. I don’t know what poems mean but I like how they sounds. Like good music, really.”
“Do you have a favourite poem?” Alexander asked askance.
“Oh yes. How does it go? Ah yes:
In wilderness, in woods, on streets or moors,
I have no care, wherever I may roam.”
“Beautiful,” Alexander applauded camply. “Who wrote that?”
“One of our own. Slauerhoff. It fills me up with courage just listening to that couplet. Like I’m invincible, right?”
Now Alexander gleamed like the sheen off a polished boot.
Back at the hotel. Three o’clock in the morning. Alexander and Stephen undressing. Silent. Alone. They get into bed and both are soothed into belonging by the vapours of their dreams. Nightmares too, they’re real like all the rest. Alexander dreamed of a thousand women weeping genuine verse at his funeral. And Stephen dreamed of his exhibition opening alongside Van Gogh and raucous Gauguin. Look at them, these sleeping artists:
Don’t they suffer beautifully, like monks preparing their soul for fragrant martyrdom? Whilst they sleep life beats on around them.
Cloe is in an underground club in the Jordaan dancing to red-black-white-dark music with the arms of a tall blonde Robin around her waist. She knew him from work. But only from a distance. He ran into her at a place called the Café ‘t Smalle. She looked bored. Told her him and some friends were going clubbing. She asked her companions if they wanted to join. For a time they did. But what can artists and writers know of the lascivious underground neonhood of dancing with a stranger with pink petite blonde breasts?
With them, she danced. Danced back with her, they did. Intimately, too. Else, how?
But Robin was aggressive. A trebuchet catapulting a battering ram. Built-up like disused land and bulky like a council block. He had the confidence being the owner of more than six-feet worth of body naturally endows one. Cloe could not resist. He corsaired her away. He was licensed. Alexander and Stephen, both sulkingly sullen and gloomy like a virtuoso funereal aria, excused themselves to Cloe and walked back overground, into the fresh tuliping air of the canals. They didn’t even ask for her email. Or number. They would never see her again. Dead. To them. If a tree falls in a wood with no one to hear it does it really fall? So: if Cloe should have sex with Robin tonight where Alexander and Stephen couldn’t see them, then she didn’t really have sex with him.
But she did. And he wasn’t an artist or a poet. Robin: frugal man. Spends money on beer and gym equipment. Works as a travel agent. Flexible hours for a flexible life. He’s Dutch too. A native Amsterdamer. He doesn’t create life. He creates living. He doesn’t do drugs. He is a drug. What does Robin know of the correlation between universe and lust or the truth as manifested by manifest hands? Personifications are metaphors to him and chiaroscuro is a café he vaguely heard of once. The man is stupidly full of life. Cloe is full of him too. She did have sex with him. Not with Alexander and Stephen although they are both declarers of their own genius. Ta-da! I’m camp I’m wonderful.
But what is genius worth if it doesn’t know how to go mad every once in a while?
The greatest poem of Amsterdam is its nightlife. Its best artwork is itself. Alexander and Stephen: cut the rope.