Tom Lanoye

Tom Lanoye (b.1958) is known as a novelist, theatre
author, poet, scriptwriter and performer. His publications
include bestsellers such as Cardboard Boxes,
At War and Fortunate Slaves. In 2012, he wrote the
Book Week Gift Clear Sky. In 2014, he was awarded
the Constantijn Huygens Prize for his oeuvre.

Pied-à-Terre

How many Belgians would dream of a pied-à-terre in Amsterdam? To be honest: very few. Most Belgians dream of Paris, they swear by Berlin, they laud London for its shops and Barcelona for its Ramblas. The snobs generally get moist for Venice. And what Belgian wasn’t born to be a snob and stay a snob — beneath a layer of politeness known as slyness?

Take me, for instance. I laugh at all the Belgians I note above, and I amaze them by stating that there is no better place in Europe than Amsterdam to eat and wander and squander, and visit museums and party and visit theatre and sleep. Certainly in Corona times, because all the other tourists have finally kept away in droves, so all those ridiculous cheese ball and Nutella chocolate paste shops will hopefully go bankrupt. I’ve never said that Amsterdam is perfect.

From another perspective, my mother-in-law was born here, my publisher is housed in the finest building on the Herengracht, and my Amsterdam pied-à-terre is also on that splendid canal. I feel at home there without having to rob a couple of banks first. Because the house prices will never improve again, not anywhere above the Moerdijk down south. I’ve never said that the whole of the Netherlands is perfect. What I have said lately — watching the non-forming government in The Hague — is that the Netherlands is transforming into Belgium at a rapid speed. So, as a Belgian, you should certainly make tracks for Amsterdam as fast as possible, before it’s transformed into Antwerp or Brussels. Believe me, they are both even further from perfect.

If they do travel to Amsterdam, these curious Belgians, then I hope they’ll pass by my pied-à-terre. For years, I’ve felt so at home in the Hotel Ambassade that I sometimes want to call the police to have the other guests expelled for violation of domestic privacy. The phrase sounds even better in Flemish: Woonstschennis, or home invasion.

You never used to see Dutch authors in the Hotel Ambassade. Perhaps that’s where the name comes from. You had to be a foreigner to be let in. Then, Arnon Grunberg started writing. And so, travelling too. People used to travel to learn; since Grunberg, you travel to write. He’s not always perfect either, but he does have taste. Otherwise, he’d have chosen another hotel as a pied-à-terre in the city of his birth. At the moment, he’s here more than I am.

Sometimes, I see him at breakfast and then we wave at each other. I’ll admit, that’s the advantage of a hotel versus a real pied-à-terre. In a real pied-à-terre, you seldom find yourself waving at Arnon Grunberg over breakfast. I have, in the past, waved at Sandro Veronesi and Donna Tartt, but they didn’t wave back. That’s how it is with foreigners. They look away from other foreigners.

A real pied-à-terre should have a family. With the Ambassade, this is a sort of African extended family. I truly don’t know any other hotel in the world — yes, I confess: I do sometimes travel to other cities — where I’m greeted so warmly by people who know my name and whose names I know too. During my first post-Corona stay, this was one of the highlights, no irony. The Slavery exhibition in the Rijksmuseum and the guided tour of the Hermitage were great, of course, but I equally enjoyed having a nice chat with Claudia and Wim and Eelco and Tamara e tutti quanti. With us complaining that we’d had to miss each other for two years. And counting on our fingers how many years it must have been since me and my guy first spent the night here.

That was on the occasion of a Book Ball during a Book Week, when they were spotlighting Flemish letters. So, a very long time ago. Hugo Claus and Harry Mulisch were still alive. They were standing next to each other in the beautiful lobby of the Stadsschouwburg Theatre, like a regal couple who were offering audiences and hands to kiss to the plebs. We, the plebs, preferred to go off and dance and drink on the stage in the theatre auditorium.

That night, my man couldn’t find one of his contact lenses in the bathroom of our future pied-à-terre. Although he’d only just taken them out, both of them. In my recollection, we crawled around on our knees for an hour, searching and swearing, until we finally turned in.

We did find the lens again, just before breakfast. In a crack between the washbasin and the wall. You won’t hear me say that my pied-à-terre is perfect. For a writers’ hotel, there are an awful lot of paintings around. But the library is even bigger. And, apart from one crack, I’ve had few other complaints in all these years.

 

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!

Schrijvershotel Maartje Wortel

Maartje Wortel

Maartje Wortel (b.1982) was born in Eemnes.
She was expelled from the School of Journalism
because she ‘invented too much’. Meanwhile, she
has grown into one of the most distinctive writers
of her generation. She has written numerous books,
including Ice Age and Dennie is a Star. Her latest is
The Groove.

Schrijvershotel Maartje Wortel

Pleasure, Prestige, Pennies

A writer I’m friends with told me that if he was offered a commission, he asked himself whether two of the three Ps could be ticked off. Sorry? I asked. I love language and the individual letters and even DADA, too, but I wanted to understand exactly what he was getting at in such uncertain times.

Haven’t you heard of that principle? he asked. I shook my head, no. I felt an immediate sense of guilt about everything in the world that I still didn’t know. Not to mention everything that I’d never get to know in the future. I’ve never heard of the three Ps, I said softly.

The friend tapped one index finger against the other, to lend force to his Ps. Pleasure, Prestige, Pennies. He said that two of these ‘conditions’ had to be met before he’d say yes to a client. Otherwise, it was no use to you, he said.

I looked at him wide-eyed. I always say yes. To everything. Clarice Lispector wrote: ‘Everything in the world started with a yes.’ And that’s the truth of it. Sometimes I forget that things don’t have to start at all. Not everything that’s possible actually needs to exist. Though I’m not sure that this is the moment I’d like to see mentioned in the history books as the one when I realised I could lay claim to a couple of the Ps. This is a privilege that almost no one can allow themselves now. Unless you’re organising the Grand Prix in Zandvoort, then you can ask others to make an appearance for less than one P. As long as you have enough pleasure, prestige and pennies yourself… Anyway, the Grand Prix has been discussed enough.

The friend and I were having a mug of coffee on his balcony. I find that with girls, I said. Now, he was the one looking at me, questioningly. I told him that for years I’d had three Cs in my head, if I liked someone: Cheese, Camping and Cats.

The friend looked at me in disbelief. Really, he said. But, at the moment, I’ve had to let go of that golden triangle, more or less out of necessity. So now, you’re left with hotels, hounds and hunks of meat, he asked? Something like that, I said. I told him that my love and I had been invited to spend the night at the Ambassade Hotel. That we’d been there just an hour when the telephone rang. I didn’t know that telephones could ring in the hotel, I said.

Who was it? he asked. I said it wasn’t important, only that I was so startled by the telephone ringing in the room that I realised I was someone who said yes to everything purely for pleasure.

That’s enviable, the friend said. I looked at his cat, which was balancing on the edge of the balcony. Yes, I said.

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!

Bette Westera Schrijvershotel Ambassade Hotel

Bette Westera

Bette Westera (b.1958) writes poems, songs, stories
and informative books for children about various
subjects. She has received numerous prizes, including
the Woutertje Pieterse Prize twice, six Silver Pencils,
two Golden Pencils, two Golden Poetry Medals and
a Book Lion. In 2021, she wrote the children’s Book
Week Gift.

Bette Westera Schrijvershotel Ambassade Hotel

All is Shut

All gives way, all gives up
All is split, all is shut
All sings, and all plays
All is shut, all split up

On Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March 2020, I visit the Münchner Bücherschau Junior, at the invitation of my German publisher, Susanna Rieder Verlag. By way of greeting, I hug my German publisher friends, Susanna and Johannes, without reserve. I have a busy schedule, but we soon hear that various schools have cancelled. They don’t want their pupils to travel by public transport to the location of the Bücherschau. The schools that are able to walk the distance are still coming.

When we say goodbye on the Friday, we hug each other again; it would have felt strange not to. Luckily, the train is still running, although it’s remarkably empty for a Friday afternoon. Two days later, all of the hospitality venues in the Netherlands hastily have to close their doors.

The months that follow feel like as an oasis of peace. Suddenly, I have time to walk, to read and to try out new recipes. Requests come in for films of me reading, and other digital alternatives for contact with my readership. I say yes a few times, but all too soon, I’m fed up with the reading selfies. Why not just accept that some things aren’t possible for the moment?

I write poems about the good sense and nonsense of hoarding toilet paper, soft toy drums, holidaying in the back yard, and closed zoos. Barbara de Wolf illustrates these and we use them to make cheerful Corona cards, which we send digitally and by ordinary post. I enjoy the solidarity I can feel all around me, and which has now transformed into division. I cherish the social contacts that are possible: walking in the fresh air (often, because it’s lovely weather) and Zoom drinks parties with friends (occasionally, with white wine and vegetarian deep-fried ragout balls). I swim in seas of time and feel the space that this gives me in my mind. Meanwhile, my diary is filling up again. Good? I’m not entirely sure…

The elephant’s bored and the lion’s yawning lazily.
The spider monkey hangs half-hearted from a thick
rubber band.
The warthogs are asleep, and the badgers are catching
up on their zzzs.
The lynxes stroll listlessly, shuffling through the sand.
Through the bars of their cage, the tigers peer pitifully.
The polar bear sticks to his lair, while the hare runs
aimlessly.
The baboon is languidly picking fleas off her mate.
The rooster’s slept late and the owl has nothing to say.
The fox, feeling down, says: ‘No chickens around.
No boys, or girls, not a one
On shoulder or cart, with their apple juice or a bun.
No kids with peanuts for the chimps, or lollies on their
breath.
They’ve got to open the zoo, because this is boring us
to death’

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!

Schrijvershotel Ambassade Hotel Susan Smit

Susan Smit

Susan Smit (b.1974) is a writer and columnist. She
debuted in 2001 with Witch and currently has eighteen
successful books to her name, including the bestsellers
Gisèle, Bride of the Tropics and The Witch of
Limbricht.

Schrijvershotel Ambassade Hotel Susan Smit

Six Years Stuck in the Jungle

If you’re as nostalgically disposed as I am, the renovation of a place on the street, or a building that you often visit, can feel like a personal offence. The desire for renewal feels like a satirical mocking of all the experiences that you’ve had there, and which are preserved between the woollen threads of the carpet, and the crannies of the window frames. They escape and evaporate with the sanding of the wood, the vanishing of the furnishings and the plastering of the walls. Doomed are the melancholics, because everything falls apart and acquires a new form. Each attempt to hold on only leads to cramped hands.

The old tea salon on the first floor of the Ambassade Hotel. Writers were once interviewed there about their latest book; now hotel guests dine and breakfast there — like me, today. I can remember the trolley filled with tea and delicacies that was wheeled in, and the pendulum of the grandfather clock that was standing there, and which someone had held to prevent its ticking in the TV recordings. The chandelier is still there, as I see to my relief.

The nicest meeting I ever had in the tea salon was twenty years ago with the Colombian presidential candidate, Íngrid Betancourt, who had published an autobiography. I can still see her sitting on the velvet settee by the high windows, with her fragile form, gentle radiance and an iron determination to bring an end to the corruption in her country. She described anger as her primary source of strength. Bodyguards were posted everywhere, and yet she still stiffened when a door banged shut.

Three days after our conversation, she was dragged from her car and kidnapped by the FARC. She spent six years in the Colombian jungle. During those years, I couldn’t cycle past the hotel without seeing her before me for a moment. Could she still be alive? Would she still have her fighting spirit?

Betancourt escaped from the hands of her captors, made a hellish journey through the jungle and reunited with her family. After she had written a book about her abduction, I met her again, on the same settee. The combination of gentleness and combativeness that she had radiated remained, but this time it was lived. Re-won. She’d learned to understand her captives, she said, not because she agreed with them, but because she’d grown conscious of the complexity of being human. ‘I saw compassion in a new light,’ she said, ‘as an essential value.’ It turned out to no longer be anger that kept her going, but compassion.

Everything falls apart, acquires a new form. Then it falls apart again.

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!

Auke Hulst Schrijvershotel

Auke Hulst

Auke Hulst (b.1975) had his breakthrough with
the autobiographical Children of the Savage Land, and
has written prize-winning novels such as Brotherland
and Searchlight on the Lawn. He was awarded the
Bob den Uyl Prize for his travel book Motel Songs.
His latest novel is The Mitsukoshi Consolation Baby
Company. Hulst is also a songwriter and literary critic.

Auke Hulst Schrijvershotel

The Bear and the Bride

Ask Google who I am, and the digital encyclopaedia will tell you: writer/writer-musician. But the only thing I’ve had a little training in is photography, in the form of two chaotic years at the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen. Occasionally, that Ausbildung comes in handy; for example, when there’s no budget to send a photographer to some distant destination,
or the day of my first experience of the Ambassade Hotel, in 2009.

My good friend and former housemate, Stefan Kuiper, was supposed to interview a celebrity there for the weekly magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, and he said it would be Frank Boeijen. Sadly, the photographer was unable to come to provide their services. Could I please dust off my camera posthaste? Once I’d arrived, it turned out not to be the singer from Nijmegen, but the Australian writer and art critic Robert Hughes, an infamous grouch.

Mister Hughes was substantial of brain and belly, he had difficulty walking and was not very forthcoming. He’d just had breakfast and was not inclined to make much of an effort. Move to a more photogenic room? How far did we think he could walk, actually? Just put a lounge chair out in front of the hotel, he could just about manage to walk there from the lobby.

Hughes sat down, his walking stick propped between his legs, his glasses in his hand, and with a bellicose expression. Five minutes, that had to be enough. ‘We’re not going to make this into a Richard Avedon session now, are we?’ Then after a few hurried shots: ‘Okay, boys, cripple time is over.’ But precisely because of his contrariness, the man let himself be captured as he was. I cherish that photo, all the more so because Hughes died a few years later.

Since then, I have often been back to interview writers myself. But I’d never been a guest. And why? I live close by.

Until Corona came along. On New Year’s Eve, 2020, the stroke of midnight, I asked my beloved Revka to marry me, but we immediately knew it would take quite a while before the world had normalised enough for the party we had in mind. In the meantime, we decided to celebrate our engagement every last day of the month. And so it was that on 31 January, a highpoint of the lockdown, we spent a night at the Ambassade Hotel, so that Revka, who’d booked the room, could feel ‘what it’s like to live on a canal’ for a little while. You could actually dine — not in the room that we’d booked, but in a genuine suite, which we were upgraded to without asking. The hotel is no longer the hotel from the photoshoot with Robert Hughes, but the hotel where we could briefly escape the dark times and celebrate something beautiful.

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!

 

Marente de Moor Schrijvershotel

Marente de Moor

Marente de Moor (b.1972) lived in Russia for eight
years, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Her books have won prizes such as the AKO Literature
Prize, the European Union Prize for Literature
and the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize. Her work has been
translated into more than ten languages.

 

Marente de Moor

The Craving for Nest Renewal Behind the Dikes

When the restaurants closed, the Dutch got rid of their kitchens. Before the lockdown, the mattresses of rapidly departing expats could still be found among the garbage heaps outside; now it was floor cabinets, wall cabinets, kitchen worktops, the whole caboodle that any other people would be satisfied with. Get rid of it — time for something different. The craving for nest renewal is not only something of the present age per se — my grandparents also had their home re-wallpapered every five years — but the Corona crisis has added a desperate twist. If you’re digging in, do it well, as the people behind the dikes would say.

Six months later, I joined the lockdown refurbishers, too, with my sixth house move in ten years. Yes, it’s a neurosis. I move between the one book and the next, or I write between the one house move and the next — I can no longer say for sure because once the plaster has settled and the boxes have been unpacked, amnesia strikes, I can no longer remember anything of the misery; let-downs, backaches, leaks: gone. Rotten phrases like ‘extra work’ and ‘delivery time’ are out of your system. With every new renovation, I’m amazed. Because of the quotes and the bastards that draw them up. The Netherlands struggles with a great scarcity of handy-types. The bumbling plasterers, the plodding plumbers and the crass painters know this all too well. You could fill up a Suske and Wiske story with those people who come into your house, when you call construction workers in this market. My plasterer used Corona twice as an excuse to leave the mess of all messes, and to finally stop coming at all. The roofers, who drove 200 kilometres to take a look at my house, were familiar from TV. Quickly googling while they were still there, it turned out that there was an entire episode of Defrauded?! dedicated to them. Apparently, you can just carry on under the same company name in this country.

When I arrived dead-tired at the Ambassade Hotel, I remembered where I can always write well: on reading trips abroad, in the orderly comfort of a hotel room. Twenty square metres of refurbished four stars is everything that a writer needs, just ask Nabokov. Nothing is superfluous and everything works. The dust is wiped away for you; you can get straight to work. And now I noticed the perfect sealing, the installation of the bathroom facilities, I saw how the curtains hung, and I wondered why I could never manage that. I stumbled across a man downstairs,
built like a nail, wearing the black livery of the hotel. Toolbox, everything under control. So he’s the one I needed! But he wouldn’t work for me. He was part of the golden-section interior of the hotel. And, as always, I took the writing stuff with the logo in my case, hopefully. But, once home, the pen no longer worked.

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!

Annelies Verbeke

Annelies Verbeke

Annelies Verbeke (b. Belgium, 1976) debuted with
the international bestseller Sleep! (2003). Her work
has been published in twenty-five countries and has
frequently won prizes, including the F. Bordewijk
Prize, the NRC Readers’ Prize, the Opzij Literature
Prize (for her novel Thirty Days), the J.M.A. Biesheuvel
Prize, the Cutting Edge Award (for her short
story collection, Hallelujah), the Flemish Debut
Prize and the Golden Dog-Ear.

Annelies Verbeke

What Remains

In March 2020, I was supposed to be a guest at the Cairo Literature Festival, together with my colleague, Ali Bader, and my first Arabic translation. The festival was postponed, and then cancelled — like so many.

It was a consolation that my Thirty Days was recommended on the main table at one of the
best bookstores in New York. But immediately after — Trump, super-spreaders, exponential growth, leaking loading spaces — the bookstore had to close its doors. But, before I could start to grumble about that, I lost my favourite New Yorker: my eighty-fiveyear- old mentor and friend, Milena Jelinek was struck down by the virus, and five days later, she was no longer here. We saw each other almost every year on a Greek island, and I visited her twice at home. Her sense of humour, her intelligence, her melancholy, her light, her sensational life. When I was twenty-five, she saw that I could do something, that I was someone, and she continued reading me in English and Czech. We recognised each other as ‘lone ants’ — her words. We never said goodbye.

After that, one of my best Belgian friends died. It wasn’t a good time to go into hospital for those who were already seriously weakened. He was so sensitive and dark, I still used to meet up with him, we often phoned. His voice. Grief frequently springs upon me like a wild animal.

I finished off my Trains and Rooms, suppressed my panic about four months without any income, enjoyed the time that I crossed over the Dutch border, semi-clandestine, to see the editor, Ad, a friend and colleague, Inge, and the people from Wunderbaum, the actors’ collective that I often write for, people that I travelled with. I saw their Work Harder, and by the end, I was floored with emotion: Wine Dierickx, in a clown’s nose, rides the ‘horse’ Matijs Jansen — slow, heroic, splendidly lit: the arts and their power, their courage in barren times.

It was disconcerting that an actual border had suddenly arisen between Belgium and the Netherlands. And yet, new Dutch friendships began within my walls — long live WhatsApp. Together with the writers’ collective Fixdit, we decided to raise the profile of the work of female authors in the canon and the literary field. During my stay at the Ambassade Hotel, Jannah Loontjens and I recorded two Fixdit podcasts, one canal further along. I’m so happy to have got to know her and the other Fixdit women (better). There are times for standing still or moving, ending or beginning — that remains.

And while I enjoy my dessert that’s brought by room service, and listen to the voices on a little boat in the canal, I think of something that Ali Bader once told me about our lifestyle: ‘We are poor people who live like rich people.’ Today, yes. Tomorrow, we’ll see.

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!

Adriaan van Dis Schrijvershotel

Adriaan van Dis

Adriaan van Dis (b.1946) grew up in Bergen, amid
half-sisters and parents with an Indonesian (war)
history. In February 2021, KliFi (CliFi) was published,
a bitterly cheerful narration about walking
out of step, about our tendency to conform and
to simulate, and about difficult friendships. In
November 2021, his short story collection, Vijf
vrolijke verhalen (Five Happy Stories), was published.

Adriaan van Dis Schrijvershotel

The Best Place for You to Stay is Ultimately a Book

Pampered in the briefest of nights, woken by birds along the canal… Rhyme flowing towards me in the Hotel Ambassade, after an intense reconnoitring of the minibar: cognac, Johnnie Walker… yes, that’s when the muses play up. And the recollections: how many writers will Ellen Jens and I have visited here over the last forty years? Guests who were invited for our Dutch television book programme Here is… Maya Angelou, Roald Dahl, Elfriede Jelinek, Martin Amis, David Grossman, Annie Cohen-Solal, Hilary Mantel… Their books signed and housed in the hotel library, their signatures in the guest books: See you next book, Amos Oz wrote.

We never held preliminary conversations (the recipe for tedium), we became acquainted over a glass, or we slurped an oyster along with Umberto Eco, who ordered dish after dish. And now, I was a guest myself, and I was sleeping at walking distance from my own house. The traveller in me would love to live in a hotel: clean sheets each day, breakfast in bed, lots of staff and the comforts of the minibar. Vladimir Nabokov occupied a suite in Le Montreux Palace, Arthur Miller and Patti Smith wrote in the Chelsea in New York, and Oscar Wilde died in the Hôtel d’Alsace in Paris — tormented by the ugly wallpaper: ‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.’

To live in many countries, and not to be at home anywhere — that’s still my ideal. Once, it almost threatened to happen, when I had to re-sit a year at school once again, and most of all wanted to leave home. Hotel Management Studies in The Hague struck me as a good escape. ‘On one condition,’ my mother said, ‘first get some hotel experience to see if you like it.’ I chose the grandest and dearest: Chateau De Hooge Vuursche in Baarn. A lodging house for royal guests and stars of broadcasting. Although the post-war prime minister, the socialist Willem Drees, wasn’t recognised or served there during his holiday, as cyclists weren’t welcome. I trained to be a waiter there. Salary: twenty-seven guilders a week. I was measured for a cropped, white jacket, with gold epaulettes. It was one big initiation: flambéing peaches in Grand Marnier, filleting sole with a spoon, uncorking wines. At home, we’d drink a bottle of mulled wine once a year at Christmas (and after one glass, my mother would lament, ‘Oh dear, I’m tipsy’), and now for the first time in my life, I was seeing heavily inebriated men in dinner jackets and women in décolletage.

After obtaining the certificate of Ambulatory Waiter A, I did the entrance exam for the Hotel School in The Hague. Failed. ‘Adriaan is more of a practical boy.’ Thus, too stupid. So, in wretchedness, I just finished school and started to read a lot. The best place for you to stay is ultimately a book.

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!

Aaf Brandt Corstius

Aaf Brandt Corstius

Aaf Brandt Corstius (b.1975) is a columnist for
publications such as de Volkskrant, Margriet and
Flow. She has previously published books including
The Year that I Turned 30, Handbook for the Modern
Woman and Finally 40. She writes plays for mugmetdegoudentand,
and is currently performing the solo
performance Welcome to My Pitiful Youth. She is
married and has two children and two step-children.

Aaf Brandt Corstius

Bicycle Bells

I travelled to the writers’ hotel, a trip that’s twenty minutes by bike. But with two bags and a yoga mat hanging from the handlebars and in a sultry thirty degrees, it felt like a real journey. Just before, I’d read an interview with the famous American thriller writer David Baldacci. Coincidentally, he disclosed what had happened to him in that same writers’ hotel.

David Baldacci had stayed there in 2001, just after September 11th. The world was teetering, he felt fearful; Baldacci lay awake at night, tormented by those thoughts and the jet lag, I’d imagine, when he heard someone on the canal outside, ringing a bicycle bell.

That prosaic sound made Baldacci suddenly realise that the world was still turning, everything would perhaps work out all right, because bicycle bells were still ringing, etcetera. ‘Someone rides a bike and rings a bell. All is well. Life goes on. That tiny bell ringing in Amsterdam gave me a little hope again.’

I’d never read anything of David Baldacci’s, but the story won me over. I also immediately knew for sure that he was a good writer, even if he perhaps didn’t write the sort of books I’d buy (his latest book was called A Gambling Man and was about ‘A corrupt politician, a femme fatale and a private eye who didn’t back down for anything or anyone’). The fact that you hear a bicycle bell and then conclude that life will go on is very beautiful.

It was sometimes rather difficult to hear a bicycle bell during Corona.

While a pandemic like this at first seemed to be quite a source of inspiration for a columnist like me (Excitement! Sensation! Virologists! Face masks! Covid crazies! Vaccine! — the story wrote itself), at a certain point I really very badly wanted to hear a bicycle bell ring, and to incorporate that into a piece.

To really write something hopeful, that’s what I was longing for, and not in the sense of ‘This is the big re-set’, or ‘We are all going to learn so much from this’ (we already know that isn’t true), but just to write something in an original way that gives you a lift. That was pretty difficult.

Now, I was lying in the same hotel as Baldacci, maybe even in the same room, because I was looking out onto the canal, and I was also awake in the middle of the night. Actually, I was suffering from such an acute form of hay fever that I’d just googled ‘Can you die of hay fever?’

Outside, life had finally started up again. The terraces were open, people were watching football together.

A sloop drifted by on the canal; judging by the sound of it, it was ferrying ten or so heatedly talking drunken people, who were playing loud, pumping music. It would usually have irritated me.

But now they were my bicycle bell.

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!

Hanna Bervoets Column Schrijvershotel

Hanna Bervoets

Hanna Bervoets (b.1984) has written seven novels
that have been awarded prizes on a number of
occasions, and have been translated into various
languages.
In 2017, she won the Frans Kellendonk
Prize for her oeuvre. Her first collection of stories,
A Modern Desire, was published in 2021.

Hanna Bervoets Column Schrijvershotel

Contract

So what’s going to happen with fiction, I wondered, when the pandemic broke out last year. It was a luxury question from a luxury position; while others saw their lives changing drastically, I did what I’ve always done: I sat at home writing.

But what to do about Covid? What role would the pandemic play in the modern works of scriptwriters, advertisers, and writers like me?

The question aroused both fear and excitement.

Because we, story makers in the widest sense, once made an agreement, signed an invisible contract with our audience. If the story represents the present, we must more or less portray the present faithfully for the sake of the credibility of the story. If my character walks over the Mercatorplein, I’m thereby implying that we are in Amsterdam. Here, ‘the present’ is a broad concept. It could be today, but also tomorrow, last week, or roughly two years ago; every narration is contemporary until the opposite is proven true.

My excitement of last year derived from the idea that this could now be over and done with. Anyone who wrote about a world without face masks and press conferences was writing about a past (but which one?), or about a future (but when?) — at least according to the terms of the invisible contract that states that the present in fiction represents our own present.

But meanwhile, I see story makers more and more frequently break this contract.

A new, parallel present then.

In the series Good Times, Bad Times, Ludo and Janine are always busy in December, faithfully hanging up Christmas decorations. It’s our Christmas, too, is what they are telling us: we share a present!

But last year, I didn’t see Janine make any effort at all to keep one and a half metres away from Laura — who is, after all, in a high-risk category. Suddenly, the soap series wasn’t representing a past, or a future, but an entirely new parallel present, a ‘now’ without Covid.

Not every series chose to do this. There is a scene in the new police series, Mare of Easttown, in which the detective Mare is looking at the pixilated video images of an interrogation. Towards the top of the monitor screen, I noticed a date: February 2020.

Suddenly, I saw the director panic: which date should the screen show, it was impossible for his series to take place after March 2020 — okay then, February 2020 it is, that’s just about believable, right?

Yes and no. This date gave the series an unintended extra pregnancy. I already knew as a viewer that in about another month, these characters would be busy with entirely different things. A murder case? Whatever. The end of the world was approaching. Because of the subtle time stamp, their daily worries suddenly felt relative, maybe even futile.

So, they understood things better at Good Times, Bad Times. The contract that was once agreed between the story maker and the audience ran out halfway through the pandemic. Maybe that took place so quietly because its foundations were never that strong: it condemned us to the lie that stories are about the now, while, without exception, they are always made in an utterly naive past.

View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.

What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.

Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.

Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!