The west coast of the United States, and to some degree British Columbia, Canada, has developed a houseboat culture. Living on the water in something other than a sail or motorboat isn’t all that unusual. Back in the 50s a floating home movement developed in south Florida, too. Remember the t.v. show Surfside 6 set along the Indian Creek? When I lived on my Nancy Dawson at Marina Bay the marina’s hotel consisted of several large floating homes, each one consisting of four one-bedroom apartments.
But if there’s one place in the world that has embraced a houseboat culture it has to be Amsterdam. It shouldn’t be a surprise in a country that probably has no more than five or six square feet of land that acutally exists above sea level. Amsterdam is a city filled with canals crammed with all kinds of craft with people living aboard. When I visited Amsterdam in ’91, (I know I was there because it’s stamped in my old passport but other than that it was all rather hazy) I was enthralled by the number and variety of craft that people were living on.
A Google search of “Houseboats in Holland” will yield about 211,000 links and “Houseboats in Amsterdam” returns 36,300. Most of these are links to boats being used as hotels and hostels while many others are rented out as full-time apartments.
It was in Amsterdam that I first fully appreciated being able to speak another language than English. I’d been living in France and had become fairly proficient in the language. But I was, at that moment, pretty fed up with the natives to such an extent that I called the States and quit the job. They didn’t want to lose me and insisted that I take a vacation and charge it to the boat.
Well, I’d always wanted to visit Amsterdam for the experience of being able to purchase my favorite mind-altering substance without worrying about having to do jail time PLUS I wouldn’t have to deal with the French or be forced to listen to or speak their bastard language. It was a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon and I stopped by a coffee house that was set up on a large, enginless converted barge. I bought some beautiful sticky bud and was sitting comfortably on the open upper deck watching the passing scene while I twisted up a fatty when a young man tapped me on the shoulder and said something to me in German.
“I’m sorry,” I said in my native tongue, “I don’t speak German.”
“Parlez vous, Francais?”
Eeeeeyewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! I think I threw up in my mouth a little bit then.
“Peux j’avoir une feuille de papie? he asked.
He wanted to know if he could have a leaf of rolling paper which I happily gave him.
We spent the next hour or so in conversation commenting on the attractive women we spotted in the passing parade. He was from Algeria and spoke Arabic, French and German since he worked at the Mercedes Benz factory there. It was a pleasant afternoon before we went out separate ways and it wouldn’t have been possible without being able to speak French.
With the whole houseboat culture and the relaxed attitude to the ingestion of dried plants I knew that if palm trees lined the canals of Amsterdam they’d need a mighty big gun to make me leave.