I first began to feel like Amsterdam, or at least, the Oost, was my home whilst sitting down for late lunches at Mondo Mediterraneo Ristorante & Traiteur. They kept strange hours. If memory serves me right, dining in their homely quarters on Czaar Peterstraat was only possible between 15:00 and 18:00hrs from Thursdays to Saturdays.
Or was it that they only opened for dinner on some days, but also offered lunch on others?
Often with my young family in tow - the baby girl was not even a thought at the time - I would take what seemed like an eternity to order simple dishes of herbed chicken, roasted potatoes, julienned carrots and the like, in something vaguely resembling the native tongue. The proprietress would always smile politely and do me the honour of continuing the exchange at a very measured pace without reflexively flipping into English.
We continued in this way each time I passed by: me with a Trini-accented toddler Dutch, she with extreme patience and the odd compliment whenever I remembered to use the guttural, phlegmy 'g' sound on goedenavond, for example.
Most afternoons, I would stand in the cold wind outside the traiteur, nodding at the other regulars as we all waited for the doors to open.
There was the woman who parked the red bromobil right below the train tracks across the street; the elderly couple who always held hands and kissed with obscenely audible sounds; the man with the shaved head and bright suspenders who worked around the corner at Volskrant...
Occasionally, they would tell me about the better days to shop the nieghbourhood markets. When to go to the Amsterdam 'beaches.' Where to picnic in the area, and at what time of the day. The better kruipclubs and parks to take my then 10-month-old son. Which bars were good for enjoying a proper Belgian beer. Which doctors were worth visiting, and all the dentists to avoid. The conversations were always brief, never too involved. But they were essential and life-giving at a time when the everyday seemed so far removed from everything I was accustomed to.
I still don't know some of their names, but those are my people.
We all found a community here.
Images from Au Courant Vol. 01
Published Oct/Nov 2014 - ISSN 9 772352 729007
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