NADIA DE VRIES
A. In New York City, people are jaded and cruel and I love it. I love cities that are filled with the violence of wanting something very badly, like wanting to become a writer or an artist or an actor, and cities that don’t have this energy feel meek by comparison, at least to me. In Amsterdam, where I’m from, people are a little bit too comfortable. Everything is within walking distance, you can walk by yourself at night like a character in a children’s book, the streets are lined with picturesque canals and townhouses, vegetables are cheap, especially on market days. Survival is not very hard in Amsterdam, even if you’re poor, and I know from experience.
B. When I was eleven years old, I decided that the only durable form of human existence was to become a star. Fame, I thought, could make a human life truly memorable. I’d like to say that I’m wiser than that now, but I’m not sure if it’s true.
C. The first time I went to New York, I was twenty-three years old. I had decided I wanted to become a famous poet and the only way to become one, I felt, was to go to New York. I soon learned that becoming a famous poet in New York is not very easy, especially if you don’t know anyone in the city. I remember being involved in my very first poet drama at someone else’s book launch. I was sitting on the floor of the venue with a box of communion wafers in my lap, having a discussion with a curator at whose gallery I was supposed to perform with said communion wafers, only the performance had gotten cancelled, and now me and my communion wafers had nowhere to go. I ate them in bed at the hostel later, in lieu of dinner. Later, I had a hot toddy at Flowers for All Occasions and sulked for hours.
D. In the past two months I’ve performed my poetry in Amsterdam, London, Vienna, and New York.
E. I love the energy in New York for the same reason I love the energy in Los Angeles, only I prefer the former because I cannot drive. I also love London, though I somehow feel more judged for my funny accent there. I don’t care whether I look or sound funny at all when I’m in Amsterdam and I dress like it too. I wear long, colorful dresses every day and a big pair of sunglasses, and when I walk down the street I say ‘how do you do?’ to the street vendors, the book sellers, the babysitters, only in Dutch we don’t say ‘how do you do?’ but ‘hoe is het?’
F. I’m so sick from the past that I cannot do anything but write, write, write and, sometimes, go on very long walks by myself with my earphones in.
G. I love flying because it makes me feel a bit braver than everyone else. When someone with a fear of flying sits next to me, cowering a little, I feel very powerful, because unlike these people I am no longer afraid of grand catastrophe. When the plane lifts off and there is a little turbulence and everyone holds their breath in fear, that is when I am happiest.
H. “We do not fund Dutch writers who do not write in Dutch,” the Dutch Foundation of Letters tells me.
I. Dutch tourists are notorious for their arrogance. The worst thing about traveling with Dutch people is their relentless entitlement to whatever space they find themselves in. They will put their stuff everywhere and change seats five-hundred times and talk loudly, and peel tangerines in their laps. When I’m abroad and find myself sharing a train car with other Dutch people, I somehow can’t help but feel embarrassed, with one exception: young women traveling alone. I am touched when I see young Dutch women traveling by themselves, photographing everything that’s new to them with big eyes and bigger smiles. I know that, like me, these women are yearning for something more extraordinary than home, and in that regard they feel like sisters.
J. Someone recently told me to “choose both evils.”
K. On planes, I have a coffee and a water if it’s before 11 AM, and a red wine and water if it’s after 11 AM. I always reject the sandwich, but I accept the peanuts if they are unsalted. I take the ear plugs and the sleeping masks and give them to my friends when I’m back on the ground. The cities we live in are very loud, even at night.
L. One of the best friends I’ve made on my travels is David. David is an art critic in London. I visit him quite often and when I do, we go see art shows together in the city center. Afterwards, we go to a Boots or WH Smiths to get a meal deal, and as we eat our sandwiches we talk about the artworks that we did and did not like. Sometimes we disagree, and when this happens we continue our conversation on the subway -oh, sorry, tube- until we are back in Tottenham, where David lives. Hanging out with David always makes me very happy. If I hadn’t been stubborn and stuck to writing in English, I would’ve never met him.
M. I ruin at least two hundred tourist photographs by walking from my flat in the Red Light District to my office behind Dam Square. My everyday life is someone else’s holiday.
N. When I was twenty, I was very poor. I slept on a blanket on the floor because I could not afford a mattress, let alone a bed. There was a lot of reverberation in the apartment I lived in because there wasn’t enough furniture to hold the sound. My daily diet consisted of a can of corn (25 cents), a tin of tomato puree (10 cents) that I mixed with the corn, and a tin of pineapple slices (40 cents) for vitamin C and dessert. I often slept at strangers’ houses for the comfortable bed and the free breakfast. On nights that I was alone, at home, and I couldn’t sleep because my sides were too sore from the floorboards, I prayed to god for him to be merciful, and to make my life decadent.
O. At airports, I swathe myself in Dior perfumes and stick my finger in the big sample pot of Crème de la Mer, and when I do this my heart goes ahhhhh.
P. That same person also said that “everything will get worse over time.”
Q. I buy all my shampoos, soaps, perfumes, toothpastes and contact lens fluids in miniature sizes because I like treating everyday life as temporary, a vacation from whatever comes next.
R. On planes, I am the calmest person in the world. I like it when there’s nothing else to do but watch the clouds pass by and wait for airline travel to happen. I like the anonymity that comes with being a seat number and not a name. I like it when my phone is out of service and I’m completely out of reach.
S. At Heathrow airport, an elderly man comments on my bright red dress. “That’s a very dramatic dress!” he exclaims. “That’s because I’m a very dramatic person!” I reply.
T. I, too, am guilty of tourist arrogance. I once gave the Pacific Ocean a one-star review on Google Maps because there was an oil spill in it that stained my feet for days.
U. There is nothing more decadent than being uprooted as a voluntary act, rather than as an inevitable one.
V. When I didn’t have a home I wanted to have one very badly, and now that I have one I can’t stand to be there.
W. Luxury is superficial and temporary. It’s almost hilarious, which makes it seem harmless somehow. But memories of austerity pervade everything. I keep putting myself in violent situations because I believe turbulence equals ordinary life, a default mode.
X. When I leave the airport terminal, everything feels strangely hollow.
Y. Wake, dress, walk, eat, write, talk, think, write, yearn, walk, eat, undress, wallow.
Z. Write, write, write.