August 29, 2015: I was cruising on my bike on a rare sunny day in Amsterdam, weaving in and out of pockets of confused tourists, when I rode past an orange and white sign that read “A’DAM INT’L ART FAIR.” Just two weeks into my four-month long journey of self-discovery in Amsterdam, my one-item agenda on this particular day consisted solely of exploring my new city. In that moment, my explorations led me to Berus van Berlage, a medieval looking building in the city center where the art fair was slated to take place. I secured my bike to a nearby pole and headed inside having neither the intentions of purchasing art, nor the expectations of what fascinating people I might meet inside.
I took my time strolling up and down each aisle, attempting to take in all of the photographs, sculptures, and paintings hanging on the walls of Berus van Berlage amidst the mixed crowd of intrigued passersbys and veteran art collectors. Eventually I found myself in the far right corner of the hall, where I came across a row of ceramic necklaces next to a sculpture of what appeared to be a naked woman with a severed torso. Nervously, I approached the woman standing next to the display and inquired if she was the artist who created the necklaces. She told me she was not, but the artist who did make the necklaces would be back from lunch in just a few minutes. I wandered aimlessly for a couple of minutes before returning to the far right corner to solicit information from the artist herself about the necklaces.
Upon my return to the far right corner, I was greeted by a beautiful blonde woman who introduced herself to me as Mirjam (Miriam). Originally born in Turkey, Mirjam had immigrated to The Netherlands at the age of 5, living in different places throughout the country until settling in The Hague, a small city southwest of Amsterdam. From inside her apartment on the beach in Scheveningen, Mirjam creates all different types of art—pottery, paintings, and nearly everything in between—which she then sells at regional art fairs. The only piece she does not sell, but brings to every art show, is her most prized creation: a sculpture she calls “A Tribute to Every Woman in the World,” the woman with the severed torso.
I then introduced myself as Allie, an American college student studying in Amsterdam for the semester, and asked if I could purchase one of the ceramic necklaces on display. In an exchange that lasted no more than 5 minutes, Mirjam wrapped up the necklace, handed me her card, and invited me to have coffee with her in The Hague should I ever found myself there. I then left the fair, not thinking too much about the encounter I just had with Mirjam.
The following Wednesday I boarded a train from Amsterdam to The Hague. Mirjam was going to meet me and my friends at the train station, share a bite to eat with us, and then we would be on our separate ways; or at least, that is how I envisioned the day going. When I arrived in The Hague, Mirjam greeted me with a hug so tight you may have thought we had known each other for years having no prior knowledge of our relationship. She treated me and my friends to lunch, showed us the ins and outs of town, and then brought us back to her beachside apartment for snacks and drinks. Before heading back home to Amsterdam, we strolled along the ocean just as the sun was setting and I thanked her for an unforgettable day. On the ride home I replayed moments from the day over and over again in my mind, finding it difficult to process the bond I had just formed with a woman I met at an art fair that I hadn’t even planned on going to. Though we had just gotten acquainted with one another, Miriam believed that our souls had met one another prior to our first physical encounter, and I could not help but think that she was right.
Miriam and I kept in touch throughout the remainder of my stay in Amsterdam. Each month we met in a different city in Holland: Rotterdam in October, Amsterdam in November (where she met my family while they were visiting me), and Delft in December. Seeing all of these new places from her perspective made me appreciate them that much more. Every time I met up with her became adventures that I will never forget. When I return to Amsterdam next month, we will surely add another adventure to our list.
Traveling or spending any significant period of time abroad presents one with unique opportunities to meet people they more than likely would not have met otherwise. While I could have never anticipated meeting Miriam where I did or forming the relationship I have since formed with her, being open to new experiences and meeting new people definitely lends itself to the possibility of forming relationships like the one I have with Miriam. So next time you find yourself at an art fair in Amsterdam, strike up a conversation with an artist you meet; perhaps she’ll become your Dutch mother just like Miriam became for me.
Born and raised just outside of Philadelphia, PA, Allie's love for travel has led her to find that you can call many places "home." While she is primarily based in New Orleans, LA, where she will be completing her undergraduate studies this coming May, Allie has spent significant periods of time traversing the continental US (mostly by car) and Europe, and parts of the Middle East. Allie hopes that her curiosity to understand other cultures will bring her to every continent over the course of her lifetime. When she's not studying or planning her next trip, Allie loves to read, write, and make playlists on Spotify.