Thomas Heerma van Voss

Thomas Heerma van Voss (b.1990) is the writer
of the widely acclaimed novels The Everything Table
and Stern. His short story collection The Third
Person was nominated for the Biesheuvel Prize; his
essay collection Surrogates was nominated for the
Jan Hanlo Essay Prize. He also writes for publications
such as De Groene Amsterdammer magazine.

Shaken Awake

Below the bridge that runs from the Prins Hendrikkade across the Singel canal, there is a sentence by Belle van Zuylen, painted on a brick wall: Returning isn’t the same as staying. These six words always draw my attention as I walk from Central Station into the city, on my way home through that urine-reeking tunnel, where a couple of homeless people have been living since the Corona outbreak — and each time I think that Belle van Zuylen was right.

Maybe that’s what I found personally the most difficult thing about the Corona waves; the lack of variety, or any relief in the days, so that even the sensation of returning disappeared. Never again did I take in what I already knew with a fresh perspective; each day passed more or less the same. Now and then, I checked my diary, and it wasn’t a day that had passed, but a month.

For some writers, this is an ideal situation: rest, a regular routine, and above all, few distractions. I personally fare best when my perspective is shaken up every now and then, and if I have a reason to leave my writing room. When the time came for my temporary stay at the Ambassade Hotel, I immediately felt that Amsterdam had finally been given new hues and colours. A different starting point ensured that I saw different places, I heard new sounds, extra bustle around me. I browsed through the hotel’s illustrious library, abandoned myself to each dish that the hotel chef cooked, slept at night in a bed that was so big I kept losing my love. How I’d missed being in a semi-public space like this: the mixing of the other guests and one’s own privacy, the compactness and luxury of your own room, which you didn’t have to decorate yourself, the discretion of the staff who never arrived unannounced, but were always there at the ready.

With the Ambassade Hotel as my new mooring, I wandered through the city; the sun was shining, the café terraces were being set up for the first time in months. On the far side of the canal, they were shooting the excellent American TV series, Atlanta; I walked up to the set, lied to security that I lived a little further along, passed Donald Glover and the other lead actors, just half a metre away — another experience that I hadn’t had in ages: pleasant, being a little nervously surprised by what you come across,that delightful tingling in your belly, not knowing
precisely where and what to look at.

Once I was back in my hotel room, I felt as if I’d been shaken awake, as if I’d finally returned from somewhere. And I experienced something I hadn’t in ages: I felt like being alone again for a little while, to search in seclusion for the right words, because that was finally a choice again, not something that was forced upon me by circumstance.

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!