I’ve been sitting in the heart of the Amsterdam tourist centre for the past two days, a place where tourists gather and mill around. It’s so interesting, actually, to sit in a business meeting while observing the silent language of tourists wandering around on a warm sunny Tuesday with absolutely no obligation or agenda. Glam grown-ups rolling up in convertibles. Groups of slightly stoned boys lounging on benches. Newly coupled pairs unable to detach themselves from each others’ mouths. Lonely stragglers watching the crowds out of the corner of their eye while pretending to read their phones. Ordinary people just standing alone in the middle of the street, listening to music and staring blankly into space. Groups on tours. Friends eating. Girls taking pictures. Picture-perfect groups of millennials strolling through. Busy locals zipping through on bikes. Smokers. Dogs. Scooters. Suitcases. Multicoloured hair. Questionable fashion choices.
Of all the useless activities that tourists engage in, the couples are the hardest to watch. It’s not so much that I wish I belonged to one of them, it’s more that any demonstration of ‘in-lovedness’ seems to me as something so utterly doomed. So fragile and so fleeting. It feels like I’m observing an ephemera, something so gentle and fundamentally unprepared to exist in this hard, vicious world – a veritable kitten of a thing. Because the next couple that walks by is marching along with two-people’s distance between them. They split up to walk around the new couple’s bench. Their fantasy is already dead.
Meanwhile he’s stroking her hair. She’s brushing his arm. She turns around and lays her head in his lap, he cradles it like it’s the most precious thing he’s ever touched. If they weren’t so still and quiet I’d assume they were under the influence of heavy party drugs.
And all I can think is: doomed.
But what soothes my sharp discomfort is seeing an elderly couple sitting together on the same bench 4 hours later, in the sun, side by side, watching the world go by together. Their body language is identical. They are totally at ease with each other. They sit without talking, because they don’t need to prattle to be entertained. They are content. She strokes his arm. He fixes a twist in her collar. He carries her shopping bag. They walk away, in step, together.