My Room

In november 2013 gaf schrijver en essayist Matthew Stadler de Benno Premsela lezing in de Portugese Synagoge in Amsterdam. Nu werkt hij een periode in Rotterdam en in de onderstaande tekst observeert hij op scherpzinnige wijze zijn onderkomen in de Agniesebuurt. Vandaag deel 1: My Room.

I live in Rotterdam, in a narrow old building with four apartments opening off a steep stairway. It's small, a 19th-century house divided up, and sits exactly at the northern edge of the bombing that destroyed the city's center, in an area called Agniesebuurt. I adore the clicking and clacking of the other three doors, and the loud slam of the front door whenever it closes. I'm sure we all hear it when anyone enters our steep stairway. It's a welcome sound that reassures me someone is home, or else they're leaving.

I cannot picture who they are. Of my neighbors, I know just one, Erik, a young African who has the other half of the attic. He came from Ghana and fell in love with a Dutch girl. His door faces mine. Our windows open onto brilliant cloudy skies, marine air blowing through tree tops, a view onto slab towers. I suspect the downstairs apartments of being much bigger. Upstairs, we have a bare minimum of space, Erik and his girlfriend in the front, and me in back. We each have a single room that contains only the necessities. Downstairs, I surmise, must be opulent. It sounds that way, from the many voices that rise through the floor, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, when I think there must be an entire desert clan directly beneath me. I love hearing the interplay of voices that comes from my neighbor's huge apartment downstairs.

The run-down house makes our differences interesting. We're like mice in an attic, strangers shipwrecked together. In a modern slab tower, I think I would envy, loathe, or fear my neighbors. Why? Modernism's efficiencies beckon my worst attitudes. Economy and optimization invite me to want convenience, rate the services, guess the market, rate my neighbors. Sheer numbers would abstract my slab-tower neighbors into every nightmare I could associate with human being. But in the small confines of our old building, I empathize with whoever has washed up here. It's nice to hear their voices.

I especially like Erik and his girlfriend. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that a man can only walk three paces in the space we've each rented before hitting a wall. Truly! I admire them because their love is so strong. They are always laughing and singing, and they can never be more than three-meters away from one another.

I live alone with my work. In the same way that Erik is happy to bump up against his Juliet with every errant turn of his body, I am glad to find my work at every turn. I also have a stove, where I cook, a chair where I sit and read, and my bed, sweet with sleep. And so, the top floor is secure. We've all made our choices.