By Ellie Levin
When I think of summer I dream of boating and swimming and lazy days in Maine sitting on a terrace gazing at the sound at Fireside, Falmouth, with so many sailboats looking like white birds resting; I also think of the artificial lake, glassy calm, blue-grey, or mud colored other days, fed by cold springs, in Forestburgh, New York. This summer I added the canals of Amsterdam and the Amstel River. My photographs are of the water of the Amstel in its many moods. In one image it is green and rippled on one side of trays of floating gardens. And on the other side, a delicate blue, made of many colors like an impressionist painting.
The odor of flowers, water plants, and occasionally some decay permeates the air. By the drawbridge the water turns dark and still with images of upside down houses and trees that line the river. In another photograph there are the trees above reflected in a darker shade of green and light green leaves floating on the surface.
I feel at home in Amsterdam’s port. The water in my photograph looks murky like New York waters. As the light shifts, a tall ship floats in bright blue. I and my Dutch friend climb from deck to an upper deck of a three masted schooner that belongs to the Scheepvaart Museum. Just a few years ago, when my Dutch friend was living on Roosevelt Island, tall ships like this one sailed from Amsterdam to New Amsterdam to remind New Yorkers of their Dutch origins. I joined my Dutch friend on Governors Island to see the ships on a beautiful day, but the ships were barely visible. They were already on their way home.
In the smaller town of Edam the canals seem smaller in proportion to the houses lining the path to the sea beyond, and the church of Saint Nicholas looms immense with its ten commandments written on the wall. How well the Dutch of old must have understood the Jews’ flight across the Red Sea. I wish we had walked out to the Edam harbor where the central canal flows out to the Zee predating the Amsterdam harbor. Does it look like the Atlantic Ocean seen from an Ocean liner, endlessly grey? It was more than sixty years ago that I traveled ten days across the ocean to Amsterdam from New York. Those unreal days of flirting on the deck watching the sea, hanging over the rail and looking into the endless distance, all came back to me as I wandered back and forth along the canals and the river in my all too short visit to Amsterdam and smaller neighboring towns this past June.
I leave these happy memories of water remembering rough water thirty years ago, when my mother was in her eighties as I am now, on the lake at my family’s country home, the small rowboat and I in it unable to row to shore. I attempt to wait out the storm, forced on go on to a small deserted Island, scared and cold, until I realize the water is not over my head between the island and where my mother waits for me. On calmer days I have seen deer running from shore to shore. I push and pull the boat across, walking through slime and algae hoping not to meet a snake.
When water is angry we are frightened. We wonder do people who lose their homes, their possessions, and sometimes a family member to flood ever recover? When water’s presence is planned and well contained as in Holland we think living beside it or on a flat bottomed house boats must be delightful.