In november 2013 gaf schrijver en essayist Matthew Stadler de Benno Premsela lezing in de Portugese Synagoge in Amsterdam. Nu werkt hij een periode in Rotterdam en in de onderstaande tekst observeert hij op scherpzinnige wijze Rotterdam. Vandaag deel 2: Charm.
I want to praise Rotterdam's complete lack of charm. It is utterly lacking in charm, a rare achievement that should not go unnoticed. Where Amsterdam bombards the local and visitor alike with its nearly 1000-year old arsenal of charm, Rotterdam is entirely stripped of it.
Rotterdam's charmlessness is impersonal. The city has no interest in charming anyone. I leave my small room and walk through the streets unmolested. Nothing beckons nor hectors me; nothing begs for my attention. Even what is remarkable here (the awesome Grote Handelsgebouw; the beautiful new train station; the small gem that is Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, the boats on the river) projects an indifference I am grateful for. I can go anywhere, make a complete day of the market, the library, the harbor, the exquisitely charmless and poorly-funded war resistance museum, the public swimming pool, and never once encounter charm's demanding siren call.
The same is not possible in Amsterdam. Just peering one's head out the door immediately exposes you to charming canals, interesting neighbors, quaint, unique small shops, echte oude bruine cafeetjes, picturesque vistas, and an avalanche of historic cobblestones, phallic stanchions, and crooked, narrow buildings that line the charming canals. Even a place so plain as the Sarphatistraat could not be left alone. They gilded it with literature. Amsterdam is an engine of charm, ceaselessly churning, night and day.
Especially for a writer, the chance to live in a charmless place is very welcome. Rotterdam reminds me, in this way, of Los Angeles. LA has charm, but it is so vast and patternless that one can easily escape charm's vector. LA is a great "writer's city" because literary writing is so completely out-of-the-spotlight. Go ahead, write your important avant-garde novel. Who cares? In Rotterdam the stakes are exactly that low—as they should be.