Friday, 1 May 2015

For May first: a memory of singing The International.

The time: between three and four in the morning of March 26, 1969. 
The place: a small apartment behind the upper row of 3 windows in the house you see here, Westerstraat 191, Amsterdam. At the time it was used for housing  married student couples. We had been assigned a flat in September 1965. It was incredible good luck and I was very happy there.

The picture dates from 2009. By this time the gentrification of the Jordaan neighbourhood had been under way for decades, as had the wave of privatisations. We were a very fortunate generation. Did we even know it? Not really. We were too busy identifying with every oppressed group around.
Being oppressed was status. We digress.

Later that day we would board the plane that would take us to Canada. We had celebrated the last night there with the two other couples who had apartments in the building. In the mainly empty flat we sat around on the floor with bottles of booze. At some point the need for coffee arose. The grinder had been sold, the small espresso thingy packed. Chris had the brilliant idea of grinding coffee beans with an empty coke bottle and boiling it in a saucepan, coffee Tobruk style.

And, for whatever reason, we ended up drunkenly singing the International, in several languages. One of our housemates had spent time in Italy and sang that version. Somehow the name Togliatti featured in it. His lovely wife was Danish by origin and sang it in Danish. Not that any of us knew the whole text. We mainly roused the wretched of the earth. Was it the straight laced student of economy from the top floor who sang in French? "Debout, vous damnés de la terre!" Memory fizzles out there. 

Anyway, it was a grand time, and I think of it every time I either hear The International or have to improvise a way to grind coffee.

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