A Day in the Life of… Alehandra, in Oud-West

This Saturday, I let Alehandra, the happy inhabitant of my former loft in Amsterdam West, show me around her side of town. Alehandra and I first met on a cold day in November 2012, when I handed the keys over to her, and continued to see each other ever since. Some friendships start like that.

I am not at all surprised when she suggests we meet at The Breakfast Club, behind the Food Hallen. She is a big fan of pancakes – and of food, in general – and they surely have good pancakes at The Breakfast Club! It’s a warm Saturday afternoon and Alehandra is “recovering” after a week with her relatives from Romania, who visited and stayed at her place in Amsterdam. “I wish I looked like that when I’m 50,” she says as we are brunching on the terrace, pointing at a neatly dressed blonde lady at a table nearby. If only pancakes could help!

After a long, unrushed meal, I follow Alehandra on what she calls her Saturday afternoon ritual. First stop is Ten Katemarkt. As colourful and ethnically diverse as I can remember it from the times when I used to go there to supply on fruits and vegetables, this market is an accurate mirror of the city area where it is located – the West. From a stand with mouth-watering Middle Eastern delicacies Alehandra gets some hummus with fried onions, and some dates. The air smells, at turns, like caramelised nuts, fresh baked bread, fried dough, cheese, melon, fish, and flowers.

“Now I’m going to show you one of my favourite streets in Amsterdam,” Alehandra says as we turn left of Ten Katestraat and on to Bellamystraat. I realise never before have I walked along Bellamystraat – not all the way to its end, at least. Trees and flowers have grown wild, apparently with no human intervention, and they are now a green lining between the slightly worn-out house façades – a rare sight in polished Amsterdam – and the street itself, where buildings spread on both sides. The abundant vegetation creates mystery and decadence, and I can see why Alehandra likes this street so much. “It reminds me of that place in Great Expectations, where the old woman lives,” she says. “Paradiso Perduto!” I say and instantly agree. The lost paradise on Bellamystraat. I cannot believe I have been living in Amsterdam for seven years without ever seeing it. The atmosphere is idyllic: children playing with the ball in front of the houses, a young mother with her baby sitting on a bench in the sun, sidewalks painted in chalk – blue, yellow, and pink. Living in Amsterdam does feel like paradise sometimes.

We leave the labyrinth of peaceful streets behind as we find our way to Tweede Kostverlorenkade. Across the water, a mosque is shining in the sun. We continue to Postjesweg and stop at the flower shop at the intersection with Witte de Withstraat, right by the bridge. It’s where I used to buy flowers when living in the area. “Today I’m for sunflowers,” Alehandra says, disappearing inside. She returns with a large bouquet, which I offer to carry for her. One more stop – at the Albert Heijn, to get some drinks – and we’re almost home.

“Hummus, dates, beer, and sunflowers,” she says smiling, making an inventory of the bike’s crane. At that point we are already walking down Antillenstraat, only a few blocks away from her place. I tell Alehandra how much I like this street I once lived on, she tells me how she hopes to own an apartment here one day. She parks her bike next to the playground and goes upstairs. I realise I forgot to buy cigarettes – I am an occasional smoker, and being in Alehandra’s loft is definitely an occasion -, so I go get some from the small supermarket on the corner. “How are you?” the man behind the counter – the owner – greets me, visibly surprised and, at the same time, happy to see me. “Do you remember me?” I say just as surprised and happy. I used to shop there sometimes, true, but that was more than five years ago. It suddenly feels as if time stood still on Antillenstraat. When I climb the stairs to Alehandra’s place I see the calendar on the second floor agrees – it is stuck at June 2012.

In the loft I am welcome by a warm, familiar light. The blissful sun rays pouring through the windows make the two kittens lounge and be lazy, and have absolutely no remorse about that. The first thing getting my attention are the prints hanging – or waiting to be hanged – on the walls. I get an explanatory tour of them, ending with Alehandra’s favourite – a portrait of herself shot on film by a friend in London.

In the loft I am welcome by a warm, familiar light. The blissful sun rays pouring through the windows make the two kittens lounge and be lazy, and have absolutely no remorse about that. The first thing getting my attention are the prints hanging – or waiting to be hanged – on the walls. I get an explanatory tour of them, ending with Alehandra’s favourite – a portrait of herself shot on film by a friend in London.

Time flies when in good company. I realise it’s been hours since our brunch. Yet, I am not ready to leave until we have one last beer – this time on the roof terrace. The terrace goes around the building and there used to be no real obstacles to walk from one apartment to the other – not that anyone was ever into that. The lack of borders and the view of the sky could make you feel on top of the world – if you wanted to. In the recent years, however, fences were raised to delimitate property. Alehandra’s landlord made no exception. With or without limitations, the loft’s terrace remains a special place to be. The chimney pipes, painted like mushrooms by a former resident, create a surreal feeling interrupted only by the domestic sounds coming, every now and then, from the other apartments.

I let Alehandra with her two cats in the loft, and I find my way back down the stairs, to Antillenstraat, and finally to Surinameplein, where a tram is waiting to get me back home. As she pointed out, her staying in the loft is the longest of all previous residents. Yet, it only takes a moment to fall in love, and even less than that is necessary when it comes to the loft on Antillenstraat.

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in August 2017 >>