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E-PUB Õ Amsterdam Stories Ç No one has written feelingly and beautifully than Nescio about the madness and sadness, courage and vulnerability of youth its big plans, and vague longings, not to mention the binges, crashes, and marathon walks and talks No one, for that matter, has written with such pristine clarity about the radiating canals of Amsterdam and the cloud swept landscape of the Netherlands Who was Nescio Nescio Latin for I don t know was the pen name of JHF Groenloh, the highly successful director of the Holland Bombay Trading Company and a father of four someone who knew than enough about respectable maturity Only in his spare time and under the cover of a pseudonym, as if commemorating a lost self, did he let himself go, producing over the course of his lifetime a handful of utterly original stories that contain some of the most luminous pages in modern literature This is the first English translation of Nescio s storiesContents The freeloaderWhen we were titansThe writing on the wallOut along the IJLittle poetFrom an unfinished novelThe valley of obligationsThe endInsula dei Why did God ever make anyone a little poet October is especially beautiful this year, we live in a golden city, and not for any amount of money, not for a hundred thousand rijksdollar bills would I want to be respectable I d rather just stay who I am, a piece of humanity like this walking right at the edge of the embankment, beyond the trees, stopping and turning around every time, like someone a little confused And it has stopped raining, it hasn t rained for days and I m no longer dreamin Why did God ever make anyone a little poet October is especially beautiful this year, we live in a golden city, and not for any amount of money, not for a hundred thousand rijksdollar bills would I want to be respectable I d rather just stay who I am, a piece of humanity like this walking right at the edge of the embankment, beyond the trees, stopping and turning around every time, like someone a little confused And it has stopped raining, it hasn t rained for days and I m no longer dreaming about wet feet, I m wide awake And definitely confused After twenty years I went back to Castricum and The Resting Hunter was still there but I couldn t see it at first, it was so surrounded by everything The main street looked like a bad haircut and then those darling little apartments everywhere, dear God Where can you still find a nice slender bridge They need to be wide, for the traffic, much too wide for such short bridges Abominations And then artistic too sometimes I ask you As long as they can drive fast What do they know of God s slenderness Do As if I haven t had enough pointless doing Oh they have nothing else, they only are when they do I want to be, and for me to do is not to be I stood on the little bridge on the edge of nothingness, enveloped in infinity The unbridled aspirations of youth are like a fiery golden sunrise, headstrong and self assured to light the world ablaze with midday brilliance and pushing aside the inevitability of the purple twilight that is to come Amsterdam Stories, a slim yet surprisingly substantial collection from the life s work of Nescio the Latin pseudonym of Dutch businessman and director of the Holland Bombay Trading Company Jan Hend I stood on the little bridge on the edge of nothingness, enveloped in infinity The unbridled aspirations of youth are like a fiery golden sunrise, headstrong and self assured to light the world ablaze with midday brilliance and pushing aside the inevitability of the purple twilight that is to come Amsterdam Stories, a slim yet surprisingly substantial collection from the life s work of Nescio the Latin pseudonym of Dutch businessman and director of the Holland Bombay Trading Company Jan Hendrik Frederik Gr nloh meaning I Don t Know beautifully bottles the passions and endeavours of youth in pristine prose Focusing on a cavalcade of young artists who passively watch the world turn while assured of their own importance and coming fame, Nescio s stories read like amatured and polished Beat novel coming alive in the streets of Amsterdam and the artistic expressions of his characters The natural world reigns supreme with Nescio as his artists attempt to harness it for personal glory while inevitably succumbing to the passage of time that leaves them only dust and the world churning on.Perhaps the enjoyment of Nescio hinges on one s tolerance for youthful nostalgia performed through long walks and talks, drunken binges and the occasional art of otherwise unproductive young men in society However, even those disenchanted with Beat Generation style antics are sure to find solace in the muchmatured insight through the gorgeously polished prose of Nescio For me, the nostalgia is like being seated around a warm fire on a vast summer s night with friends now long gone the stories made me feel the heart within my chest throb in all its abstract and emotional qualities and overflow my senses with nearly forgotten stimuli as if I were suddenly transported to the basements and bars of my early twenties Readinglike a memoir than short stories as the majority contain the same characters in a circle of friends, Nescio refrains from adding much concrete detail to character descriptions and the reader is sure to naturally fill the gaps in with their own adolescent friends many of these stories read like experiencing your own past as Nescio bestows a universality to his characters that make you believe you somehow know them We would shock the world, unimpressive as we were, sitting calmly there with our legs pulled up and our eight hands clasping our eight knees Nescio instills that youthful feeling of infinitude and importance, where the world is just a test, and obstacle, that can easily be overcome for one to find themselves reigning supreme The hatred for the privileged that skate through life on their last names, the disgust towards bleeding out your life as a bound and tied slave to corporate servitude, all the aspects of maturity and adulthood that youth despises despite doing nothing to the contrary come alive in each story Nescio returns you to the feeling that nothing is impossible, the wonderful feeling that you are unique, special and bound for greatness a greatness that grows exponentially with each drink and smoke as you chatter away with your friends into the endless numbered nights Oh, we took our revenge, we learned languages they had never even heard of and we read books they couldn t even begin to understand, we experienced feelings they never knew existed Each story perfectly captures the emotions of young life The Freeloader he always knew how to have a damned good time spending money while other people earned it , seemingly a acute observation of an author with a business bent on his artistic friends and lifestyle features a friend we all know and initially loved for their carefree manner and ability to enjoy life to the fullest without suffering the yellow dawn existential angst and regret that typically permeate each hangover and smoked out morning breath Young Titans, my personal favorite, exquisitely examines the group of artists on a lifelong timeline, from sunrise to sunset, first loves and dreams towards a lifetime of mediocrity and defeat, and rings true to the point of jabbing its emotional knife into the soul of every reader The Little Poet in particular manages to assess love, particularly impossible love and the sleeplessness of love pangs, in a world where God and the Devil toy with their creations for sport These are stories of white hot emotion and ambition, of burning the candle at both ends just to see it blaze, and dying in the afterglow I sit there aimlessly, God s will is aimless.But to keep this awareness always is granted to no man Nescio s prose is full of vibrant life and color While his characters go relatively undescribed, except the beautiful women of Holland each with intoxicating knowing eyes that even leads God Himself to wonder if he had seen ten thousand girls or one girl ten thousand time , the Dutch landscapes are described in lavish language The natural world and it s impenetrable mysteries and unharnessed beauty enlivens each page and inspires the characters as they trade in their lives in artistic servitude to capture nature through their paintings and poetry It is no surprise then that in Insula Dei the most disconcerting aspect of the Nazi occupation to the focal character is the destruction of trees and nature, as mankind is acknowledged as disposable to God s plan and nature the everlasting truth Nescio gives a sobering reminder that we are finite in an infinite universe, yet avoids melancholy and accepts this truth in a manner that feels all theempowering and beautiful for it Two thousand years, that s nothing, the earth has existed for thousands and thousandsyears than that and will probably exist for thousandsThe water will probably flow thousands of years , without him seeing it And even if the world did end, that still didn t really mean anything There would be so muchtime afterwards, time would never end And all that time, he would be dead There is something so freeing in accepting one s fate, in acknowledging that time eats all and outlasts all Through Nescio, we watch the goals of youth shattered on the shores of adulthood, either crushed by the world, sunk into mediocrity working for a paycheck hounded and oppressed by people and by necessity, just like everyone else, or disintegrating and disappearing forever as time takes it s course Despite the typically morose endings to the stories, Nescio manages to avoid burdening the reader with sadness but instead a sly smile at the irony of existence A new age would dawn, we could still do great things I did my best to believe it, my very, very best These stories really struck a chord with me They returned me to my youth in decrepit college apartments with former roommates as we passed long nights laughing, talking, smoking, and dreaming as we welcomed the stars with wine and guitars Nescio rings true into the depths of the human soul and his message is just as valuable and digestible now as it was when first written While this seems a meager offering of translated stories, a large chunk of the included works being unfinished drafts, the culmination of work still steals the heart and allows the reader to watch the progression of the author through the years Amsterdam Stories leaves the reader wishing there was , however, this is preferable to a collection having the reader overstimulated, overwhelmed and beyond ready for completion Nescio captures the essence of youth in all its fiery glory and one is sure to feel empowered by his words.4 5 A new batch of little Titans are still busy piling up little boulders so that they can topple God down off his heights and arrange the world the way they think it should be He only laughs, and thinks That s good, boys You may be crazy but I still like you better than the proper, sensible gentlemen I m sorry you have to break your necks and I have to let the gentlemen thrive, but I m only God And so everything takes its little course, and woe to those who ask Why Engagement Alienation To appreciate Nescio, I suggest it s helpful to compare him with his English near contemporary, Henry Green Nescio might well be considered the Dutch Henry Green orprecisely Jan Hendrik Frederik Gr nloh is the Dutch Henry Vincent Yorke Both were businessmen who were also authors of some remarkable prose beginning in the 1910 s and 1920 s Although Green was farprolific, Nescio like Green was a stylist interested in the perplexing details of everyday life Engagement Alienation To appreciate Nescio, I suggest it s helpful to compare him with his English near contemporary, Henry Green Nescio might well be considered the Dutch Henry Green orprecisely Jan Hendrik Frederik Gr nloh is the Dutch Henry Vincent Yorke Both were businessmen who were also authors of some remarkable prose beginning in the 1910 s and 1920 s Although Green was farprolific, Nescio like Green was a stylist interested in the perplexing details of everyday life Both, perhaps because of their dichotomous lives, are primarily concerned with the idea of duty, that is the implicit obligations orplichtenthat most of us respond to or are trapped in, depending on mood Nescio and Green both use dialect extensively, which is unfortunately untranslatable in either direction Green writes about the s of the English country house, upper class snobbery and working class woes Nescio isnarrowly focused on the bourgeois smugness of a muchcompacted class structure in Holland This he finds as tedious as the orderly and unvarying Dutch landscapeAnd the tide came in and the tide went out the water rose and fell Every night the limping harbormaster came and first he lit the green light on Noorderhoofd, the breakwater, then he came back down and then he had to go around the whole harbor and then you saw him by the tower again and then he opened the wooden gate and climbed the wooden steps and lit the light in that tower too And then Japi said Another day, bossGreen tends toward description not evaluation His characters aren t trying to prove anything They may be eccentric, but they are aren t counter cultural Nescio s, on the other hand, could be proto hippies a taste perhaps of what Amsterdam would become famous for a half century laterNo, Japi said, I am nothing and I do nothing Actually I do much too much I m busy overcoming the body The best thing is to just sit still going places and thinking are only for stupid people I don t think either He had just one wish to overcome the body, to no longer feel hunger or exhaustion, cold or rain His characters agonise over their apparent conformity to the ethic of work, responsibility and achievement One way or another society wins, however.Youth is consequently not a happy time in Nescio s Amsterdam Perhaps it never is anywhere Society is oppressive, unlike in Green where it simply is Dutch youth are portrayed as frustrated idealists who aren t sure about their idealsWe were on top of the world and the world was on top of us, weighing down heavily As office workers, they resent the wealth they see around them and the authority it exerts over them For Green, young Birmingham factory workers are realists who recognise the world is changing, but largely without their help They have no ambition to be other than they are except respected by authority and paid decently Unlike the Dutch, they are comfortable with their social status.The Dutch and the English seem woke to use the latest term for social awareness in entirely different ways in the works of the two writers The Dutch are remarkably modern their conversations might be perceived as taking place today rather than a century ago Although they are poor, they are cosmopolitain, travelling from one end of the Dutch speaking world to the other and speaking other languages as if in defiance of their own culture The English are parochial and provincial regardless of class Except for some gentry, they do not travel, not even around their own country They are entirely unaware of events outside their cultural world.If I were fifty years younger, I might want to pursue this further As things stand though, I think I ll let the suggestion lie fallow Perhaps some young aggressive scholar might pick it up Let s start our walk with crocuses, shall weI think back to last year s crocuses in the parks in Groningen, in the gardens of the villas on the way to Haren, and farther Spring was late last year The crocuses were in full bloom in mid April Yellow, purple, and white, the vanguard of spring And how about weeping willowsShe saw the weeping willow turn yellow, its branches hung down and they reached for the water, they hung in deathly silent yellow adoration over the pond and they saw their Let s start our walk with crocuses, shall weI think back to last year s crocuses in the parks in Groningen, in the gardens of the villas on the way to Haren, and farther Spring was late last year The crocuses were in full bloom in mid April Yellow, purple, and white, the vanguard of spring And how about weeping willowsShe saw the weeping willow turn yellow, its branches hung down and they reached for the water, they hung in deathly silent yellow adoration over the pond and they saw their own yellow light in the water.You are probably surprised that I am starting my review of Amsterdam Stories by Nescio 1882 1962 with flowers and trees The nature and the city Believe me, I was also startled by such a vivid presence of plants Amsterdam, Leidsestraat, 1910.I ve never been to Amsterdam, we haven t met in person yet I ve always imagined the capital of Holland as a picturesque combination of buildings and canals Similar to Venice but slightlysolid and palpable, as if Venice has been painted with watercolours and Amsterdam with oil colours Nescio s sublime descriptions of flowers and trees make the city evenirresistible, though he worries about the inadequacy of words compared to the breathtaking beauty of natureThe birch trunks were silvery white, but prettier than silver Language is poor, fatally poor Who was Nescio His real name was Jan Hendrik Frederik Gr nloh I have never heard before about this Dutch writer who published only three books in his lifetime Amsterdam Stories New York Review of Books, 2012 is a collection of his novellas and short stories, written between 1909 and 1942 We will see in the future if I can recall many details of Nescio s plots but I will surely remember the melancholy and nostalgia which enveloped me all over like a soft, misty cloak The author calls itthe longing, without knowing what forThis cloak has a silver lining though it s Nescio s inimitable sense of humour which helps him to be at peace with the constantly changing world Nescio s philosophy reminded me of the Stoics Like Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus, Nescio encourages us to feel satisfied with who we are and what we have and to observe the world carefully Nescio s characters are similar to fl neurs but instead of walking they sit and contemplate Watching the nature turns out to be especially reassuring and helpful Amsterdam, 1900 1930.Nescio s sadness wasn t a guest from nowhere It had probably fermented in him for years He was a typical idealist, a promising young writer, who buried his dreams to become a businessman He kept writing anyway but used a Latin pen name Nescio means I don t know as he preferred not to risk his career The form of Nescio s works, especially the last ones, is open, even fluid If you like to feel the spine of the story under your fingertips, you might feel disappointed These stories have been woven with loosely connected fragments, glimpses, observations The directions, which his characters thoughts follow, often intersect and some images or phrases are repeated like a chorus, for example Insula Dei or It s thawing The narrator goes round in circles around some topics, at times comes back to those he s already abandoned The capricious and delicate structure of these short stories and novellas reminded me of a cobweb seen against the light Amsterdam, May 11, 1940.Get ready to meet a wide range of characters in Nescio s stories from a teenage wannabe writer to the God of the Netherlands The Amsterdammish freeloaders seem to be an especially intriguing species and you will meet quite a fewThe freeloader you found lying in your bed with his dirty shoes on when you came home late the freeloader who smoked your cigars and filled his pipe with your tobacco and burned your coal and peered into your cupboards and borrowed your money and wore out your shoes and took your coat when he had to go home in the rainThe type might sound familiar Even episodic characters, who appear just for a few seconds, are remarkable, like the old man, wearing a pince nez and a bowler hat, who says There are only five things worth bothering about, and I list them here in order of importance Amsterdam, early spring, the last ten or fourteen days of August, women, and the incomprehensibility of God From most to least importantNumber one on this list, Amsterdam, is not just a mere setting of Nescio s novellas and stories It seems to be like a protagonist itself reflects characters moods and provokes musings.In the preface to Above the Valley the author saysit would please me greatly to think that you too can t get enough of AmsterdamNow I wantof Amsterdam, Mr Nescio I wantAmsterdam, 1900 1930.