Emotional Geography

[ Lees dit in het Engels ]

On its way to Leiden Lammenschans station, the slow train to Alphen passes a crossing. It’s a fairly unappealing place, where the ugly housing developments of northern Leiden crowd up to an uninspired business district and an empty lot. At first, therefore, it was hard to explain the rush of satisfaction I felt when I passed the crossing that morning.

Only when I remembered a work night a few weeks back was I able to explain that rush. It had been a day of hard work to meet a project deadline. At about 8pm, deadline met and our work completed, my colleague and I had looked at each other and wordlessly agreed that it was time for a fancy dinner at our boss’s expense. The Internet gave us the location of an Indonesian place in downtown Leiden, and we drove there in his convertible for what turned out to be an excellent rice table.

Over this railroad crossing.

And of course, this wasn’t the only time a completely anonymous railroad crossing, street, square, or intersection had suddenly acquired an emotional charge as a result of an event in my personal life. It’s happened to me countless times: after visiting a new friend in a neighborhood previously unfamiliar to me, that particular neighborhood acquires a strong but somehow unspecific positive charge. There is a table at Winkel Café that will always be special to me because I met Her there for the first time. But this effect is not limited to positive events. A bridge in eastern Amsterdam was the venue for an apocalyptic fight with my ex. And the A9 on ramp at Krommenie was witness to the totalling of my first car.

amsterdamcenteroftheworld And so I envision a map of the world where proportions are not determined by the reality of sattelite images and surveyors, but by my own emotional landscape. A map where a table at Winkel Café takes up more space than the country of Hungary; where that bridge in eastern Amsterdam looks more ominous than Iraq; where my primary school, Het Wespennest, seems huger than Oxford and Harvard taken together.

And on that map, Amsterdam will finally appear as the center of the world I know it to be…