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Her would-haves are our possibilities

November 23, 2016

I’d been warned.  One must buy a ticket for the Anne Frank Huis well in advance or subject one’s self to a several hour wait in line.  My ticket was for 10:30 Tuesday morning.  I knew it wasn’t far from the hotel, but I left with plenty of time, following the street signs towards the large church which Anne wrote about and where Rembrandt is buried in an unmarked grave.  The vendors outside were opening up the kiosks selling tulip bulbs and herring.  The Gay Memorial is there, and there were several Gay in A’Dam tourist info booths.

The line had begun long before I got to the Huis, and my time stamped internet print out allowed me to wiz past it into the museum.  While I read her diary when I was a young teenager and her story is so familiar, being there was unexpectedly moving.  The building was the former office of a jam manufacturer where her father worked.  A line of visitors wound through the rooms with displays and archival photos.  Quotes from Anne’s diary were printed on the walls.  On the ground floor we saw were the factory workers toiled, unaware of the families living upstairs.  Upstairs were the offices including what was once Otto Frank’s.  The line of visitors slowed and as I rounded a corner we saw a very steep narrow staircase.  There, one by one, we entered the first of two attic floors where Anne, her parents and sisters, another family of three and a single man all lived for two years in total darkness.  My first reaction was “wow, it’s a lot bigger than I pictured” but the space became claustrophobic quickly.  I was only there for 15 minutes and I found myself pulling at the blackout curtains trying toe let light in.   Otto had asked that the rooms remain bare with no furnishings, but there were tender reminders of the lives there.  Light pencil marks on the wall, marked Anne and Margot’s growth and Anne’s room was covered with newspaper photos of movie stars glued to the walls.  One of the quotes in the kitchen space (which doubled as the bedroom of the other family) was about Anne’s disdain for kale.

As we passed out of the rooms and back into the museum area, there were photos and video of the concentration camps.  There were Auschwitz identity cards for Anne and the other attic inhabitants and a thick book listing the names of the thousands of Dutch citizens who perished in the camps.  Video showed Anne’s childhood friend talking about  the mixed blessing of seeing her again at Auschwitz after having been separated for so long (she was thrilled to have her friend with her, but despaired that she too would suffer life in the camp).

As you leave there is a book to sign.  This is the infamous book in which Justin Beiber wondered if Anne would be a fan of his work.  Person after person, from around the world, had added NEVER AGAIN next to their signatures.  As I picked up the pen and shakily signed, I found myself tearing up over the global situation and my fear that never again is a more urgent refrain than it used to be.  It used to feel impossible that it would happen again.  It doesn’t feel impossible now.

In the gift shop I learned that her diary was once the most purchased book, but had been over taken by 50 shades of gray.  Since I once downloaded 50 Shades, it felt like my duty to buy two copies of Anne’s writing to counter that.

There is a video as one exits the Huis of celebrities talking about Anne Frank.  The video ends with Emma Thompson saying “her would-haves are our possibilities.  Our opportunities.”   Who Anne might have been, what she might have accomplished, we’ll never know, but Emma is right, she was bubbling with potential.

On the street, and in the light, I walked and walked.   I’m in the midst of a very aggressive fit bit step challenge and I considered heading back to the hotel to get my fitbit, left forgotten in the charger as I ran out, but instead just lingered in around the canals.  The Amsterdam Tulip Museum drew me into its tiny rooms with over blown photos of tulip varietals and cardboard  shadow boxes.

After retrieving the fitbit, I headed to the museum district by way of the flower market- rows of stalls jammed with hot-house tulips alongside wooden shoe key chains and all sorts of marijuana themed nicknack.  A doorway off a narrow alley way had a sign reading “Amsterdam’s Number 1 popup restaurant” with instructions to walk the dark corridor to an elevator around a corner and head to the top where one would be surprised and pleased.  The hallway was covered in graffiti and littered with building materials, the elevator wall was covered by a face vaguely resembling Andy Warhol with a lobster leg in his teeth. But when the elevator opened, there was a shiny hip restaurant where I got a ceviche that rivaled those from South America!

Refueled I wandered through the Rijksmuseum (briefly embarrassing myself when I asked where I could find The Girl with the Pearl Earring and the guard replied “The Hague”).  The Van Gogh Museum next door was a treat and between the two, I have added a dozen or more of my favorite works of art to the “I saw it  with my own eyes and not in a book” list.

Back at the hotel, I opted for a dinner of traditional Dutch food – a casserole of mashed potato, sauerkraut, and sausages, and beer.  Now I’ve done that.  I don’t have to do it again. Then I joined the luminous director of Joe’s Violin, Kahane, at her hotel for a nightcap, some cheese and a long midnight walk along the canals.

We marveled at how far this project had come since we’d met more than two years ago.  We talked about being in Europe at such a confusing time for America.  We talked about our mutual connection, though for different reasons, to Anne Frank.

I hugged her goodbye and walked back to my hotel feeling grateful for so much and hearing Emma Thompson’s words in my head.  Emma had it a bit wrong though, I think.  I don’t know that Anne’s would-haves are our possibilities, I think they are our responsibility.  We owe it to her, to everyone who has come before and soldiered through adversity that we don’t have to face, to be what Anne dreamed of being.




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