Yesterday was a beautiful spring day in Melbourne. A sunny day for my sunny friend, Linda, who had passed away a few days earlier and whose colourful life was celebrated in a service at midday.
I’m no good at funerals. I suppose most of us with a Western, ‘let’s not talk about death’ disposition, aren’t. A friend had mentioned on the morning of the funeral that her being half-Greek ensures she spends the whole service crying. As a fellow halfie I can relate (add the other half, Española, and I don’t really stand a chance). The Greeks have certainly perfected the art of expressing emotion, however in these services I have sometimes felt that this vast outpouring has overridden any celebration of the person that was. I understand that it is almost impossible to capture all of the facets of one person – all of their exploits, loves, losses, annoyances, contributions and idiosyncrasies – in a one-hour tribute to their time here on Earth. I guess that’s what each one of us sitting in that room yesterday silently brought with us – our own little piece of the Linda puzzle.
So here is my little piece.
Linda, a vivacious and adventurous Dutch woman born in Indonesia, knew me in a rather intimate way. For 8 years she tweezed and waxed me into hairlessness. It didn’t take long for us to share our innermost thoughts (these situations of great vulnerability can lend themselves to this kind of intimacy, especially when there is hot wax involved) and establish that we were similar Piscean creatures. When I left the suburban terrain of south-eastern Melbourne a few years later, I continued to make the trek from the woody wilds of my new home in order to see my friend and her beautiful daughter and colleague, Aylin. I was always welcomed with hugs, photos of Linda’s granddaughter in Amsterdam, and the goss. Linda, the great listener, was always keen to hear of my tales; however she also happened to be a great teller of tales of her own extraordinary life, which I rapturously gleaned from her. This diminutive, tweezer-wielding lady with her spirited ways, refreshingly never once preached to me about life and love, as so many often do.
Through her stories only I came to understand that there was nothing to fear in leading a life where one loved hard and with gusto, and took off at a moment’s notice to see new lands. Linda loved in Amsterdam, in Turkey, and here in Australia. Her loves took her on journeys around the world, and from them came much-cherished children. She spoke several languages, had firm ideas about the people (particularly men) of different nations, had had experiences through which she had acquired a knowingness about life, but never in an arrogant way, and gave, often detrimentally, to all whom she loved. She ran successful businesses wherever she hung her hat, never fearing a language barrier or that she was a single mum in a land ruled by men. I so did love to listen to her. Perhaps selfishly, but also because her tale-telling filled her with such pleasure. She could laugh hysterically at herself.
Last year, in Amsterdam for a short time, I thought of Linda often. I imagine meeting her there now for a whirlwind trip, and the great fun we would have together … two twisted sisters on the loose in a rather liberal part of the world. I don’t know how she would feel about the tulips or Van Gogh, the works of whom I had spent much of my time there admiring. I do know she would spend her time in the centre of a crowd at a bar, laughing until she cried, cheekily telling me who she thought was cute, and having a thoroughly good time.
Together we would dine on poffertjes, appeltaart, oliebollen and krokets. I would take her to the charming Café de Sluyswacht, where a friend and I drank beer and talked to the local boys. At Vondelpark she would point out the ‘nutters’, and then seek them out for a chat, while I would loiter about admiring the tulips and non-human wildlife. We would hire bikes and ride around the narrow streets, shouting at people so as not to hit them and stopping for coffees (in cafés … and perhaps those special Dutch coffee houses) and chats with randoms. In the red light district she would drag me to a show, despite my protests. She would talk to a group of men from London, there for a stag night, and convince them the show was rubbish. She would take me wherever there was fun to be had.
I will be sure to do all of these things without you, my effervescent friend, when I am next in the wonderful city of Amsterdam, where you once lived and loved.