Revisiting birdman

June 3rd, 2014, 11pm

It was 12°C with few clouds. There was moderate breeze.

The sun was setting over Amsterdam. I’d arrived to this city for the first time just hours before to meet up, no, to reunite with three dear old friends; a girl I’ve known since highschool (“L”), a friend of hers that I’ve met and travelled with once before (“J”) and the third a friend from my university days (“Birdman”). Birdman was guiding us through the city he’d made his own during the last few years, pointing out famous places and favorite hang-outs of his, commenting on their history, pronouncing their (to me) unfamiliar names, when, for no apparent reason, one of those moods crept up on me. I don’t really know where it came from. We’d had great beer and good food at a bar that Birdman had recommended. It was a little off the beaten path. “There are never any tourists here”, Birdman proudly exclaimed a few times as he looked at the interior and the other guests. “There’s three right here”, I said, smirking, and took a mouthful of beer.

I hadn’t seen Birdman for years. Meeting him like this with two other un-related friends made for an interesting mix of nostalgia and curiosity. I watched them get to know each other, while we talked memories and caught up on recent life events. He told us how he found life in Amsterdam, and how it was different from his years in Sweden. He hasn’t returned to his own country in a while. He is a strange bird, I thought to myself. A migrating bird that rarely returns home.

We left. Birdman led us over boat filled canals and bridges with railing partly hidden by bikes in heavy chains. Following his lead, we pushed through crowds and danced through traffic, we walked past strong-smelling coffee shops and little roadside gardens (so many hydrangeas). Birdman took us through Chinatown, pointing out the restaurants that earned a visit and warned us from those that didn’t. Outside a crowded gay bar by a canal we came across a few of his (quite inebriated) friends and acquaintances. As we waited for Birdman who’d disappeared in the crowd, someone told me the story of what he called the “gay street”. “There”, he pointed towards the street while in vain trying to focus his eyes on me, “a bar was opened in the early twentieth century by a woman who was the first to be openly lesbian. It’s still open. It’s the kitschy one with the dolls in the window… [pause] There is so much history in this city.”

It sounds like you like this city, I said. He hesitated and looked over the canal and the rainbow-flags that waved from nearly every window. “Yeah. I guess I do. But Vienna, now that’s a city that I love.

We continued as soon as Birdman managed to extract himself from the crowd. We passed old houses with beautiful facades and a famous statute of a man with glasses reclining on a bench. L & J started taking pictures infront of a canal that was particularly picturesque. In the red light district a prostitute tapped on the glass with her green-lacquered nail for attention, while her neighbor was sitting with legs crossed, checking her cell phone. I was going numb from the onslaught of impressions and emotions. I felt like I’d disappear. Despair. The only sound I heard was the repetitive sound of my own footsteps against the cobblestone and my field of vision was filled with my own dirty shoes, faithfully taking one step in front of the other. Then, an abrupt halt. We’d arrived. The entrance was narrow, as was the pub. Narrow and dark and crowded. Just an orange light from the door and the mind numbing volume of the music that was being played told that there was something going on there. By some strike of luck we managed to get seats just a couple of steps away from the stage (the place was so small that everything was close anyway). L & J disappeared to get us drinks, and as I sat beside Birdman with no choice but to listen to that heavy, gritty, beautiful blues (no point in trying to talk), I felt my own blues slowly go away, felt the tension leave my neck and shoulders. It’ll be all right. Yeah, I thought. It’ll be all right.

Philippe, Aaron, Shu and Ken said thanks.

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Sanna Karlsson

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