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  • Astrid H. Roemer Meets Alice Walker in Amsterdam
  • Astrid H. Roemer (bio)

I. The Dream

It’s on a day when it’s pretty hard for me to get out of the city; my friend and I were on extremely good terms with each other, my work as a city council member and author was moving along incredibly, and my mother was within heart’s reach.

However, persistent and charming as my publisher Jos Knipscheer can be, he managed by way of my answering machine of all things to make me feel sensitive about his reception in honor of Alice Walker. Obviously, I’d received the invitation weeks before, but I couldn’t find any reason to place myself in the throng around the writer.

While we are busy dividing the tasks—my friend, her son and I—my mother calls to say that she’d finally made some moksi-alesi again and that she’s coming over with a helping for me.

She sounded a little disappointed when I made it clear to her that I was just about to leave for Amsterdam—and that I’d very much appreciate her delivering three helpings to my address, because my beloved plus a family member were staying there, to make my yard presentable again, as it happened.

After some contention of a practical nature, I hung up—and while I’m already anticipating my enjoyment of the Creole stew with which, late in the evening, I will finish Friday, I take cordial leave of my friend in the hallway.

On the train I let my thoughts as well as my feelings loose on Alice Walker—and the receptions arranged on her behalf. It makes me think of my own reluctance when I receive invitations from abroad, and of my longing sometime to be able and willing to indulge them.

Compelling is the sorrow the instant Orsyla Meinzak flashes into my mind—this Surinamese woman of the theater who had pretty much imposed on me to write her a monologue for the personage that Alice Walker had rendered so engagingly, Sister Shug.

Night after night Orsyla M. was on the move to bring this character to life on various stages throughout The Netherlands. She had even flown down to Paramaribo (Suriname) to perform Purple Blues.

One evening, while Shug was caught in the stage lights, absorbed in a retrospective, Orsyla Meinzak collapsed onstage in Amsterdam, deathly ill. A day later she [End Page 242] died in a hospital in her town, alone.

Thinking of the success Ms. Meinzak had had with her favorite character, and the recognition it is to be hoped she had brought with her beyond Life, I approach Amsterdam. Always, always something happens to me; a vexing sense of excitement, comparable only to the vibrations of being in love. For, I love The Hague, where I live, and Amsterdam and I have something beautiful together.

In this emotional state I let myself be driven to my destination on the Singel canal. Chance would have it that I end up with a black cab driver who wasn’t in the mood to heed even the most basic rules of propriety. He keeps belching beer stench with no apologies, and at the slightest provocation slings obscene language at fellow travelers on the road.

So, upon arriving at the Publishing house In de Knipscheer, I paid the fare in a hurry and made my way from the taxi to the canal-front building in somewhat of a daze.

Ms. Walker had just arrived by water, and although I first met with acquaintances and friends, paying them proper and fitting attention, I set course for the spot where I kept seeing bright flashes light up momentarily.

There she stood. She isn’t the girl on the book jackets; and she isn’t all glamour and chic like Toni Morrison; and she isn’t provocative and flashy like Buchi Emecheta; and she didn’t lose herself in all her American dollars.

She is there, extremely soberly dressed, and only her most alert gaze betrays her affluence.

Although she appears to be listening attentively to still more compliments, she is taking in her surroundings...

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pp. 242-247
Launched on MUSE
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