|Feature by Willard Manus|
first time I met Tine S., she was wearing a bikini and had a parrot perched
on her shoulder. That was in the mid-60s, when she came down from Holland
to work as an au pair for a British family summering in Lindos. She was
19, tall, blond, gorgeous and emancipated to the max, a firebrand feminist
who not only talked the sexual revolution but lived it. When she wrote her
hippie memoir a few years later, it was dedicated to all the men she had
slept with. Tine named them all, too, in chronological order. I was 26th
on the list.
The next time I saw Tine was in Amsterdam five years later. She had published her book, become a local celebrity, given birth out of wedlock to a son, and turned spiritual. She was preparing to leave for India to commune with her guru; consequently, she had no time for me, not even enough to go for dinner. She didn't like eating out anyway, she said, because as a vegetarian it was difficult to find a restaurant capable of satisfying her dietary needs.
Over the following years I lost touch with Tine, though I heard about her from time to time through mutual friends. They reported that she was still her usual free-spirited, militant self: writing a column for a lesbian magazine, leading anti-nuke demonstrations, fighting for the rights of single mothers.
Then I gave up Europe and the expatriate life and returned to the States. More years went by and during that time I heard nothing from Tine or her friends. I had just about forgotten all about her--until I decided to spend a couple of weeks in Holland. On the flight from LAX to Amsterdam I sat next to a handsome, smartly dressed woman with a pile of business magazines in her lap. It took me a while to realize that the woman was Tine.
Tine as a management consultant? The shock and disbelief was stunning, akin to what I felt on hearing that Eldridge Cleaver was designing women's clothing.
I got the whole story of her transformation the next day in Amsterdam, first over drinks in her charming, newly refurbished canal house on Singel Strasse, later as we walked along the waterway to a restaurant. Houseboats lined the canal, whose dark water was dappled with rain and reflected the soft yellow smear of the street lamps.
Tine said that her son's addiction to heroin had motivated her to change the way she lived, reassess her values and beliefs. Now she felt too much freedom and experimentation was a tricky, even dangerous thing, especially where children were concerned. She blamed herself for bringing drugs into the house and giving Karel the impression that it was cool to get stoned.
Out of guilt and remorse, she cut herself off from her old, free-swinging life and friends; went back to school, got a business degree and, finally, a job. She liked the job, too. Her firm was one of the biggest in Europe and she traveled all over the world to meet and work with clients. Yikes! The girl with the bikini and parrot had become a frequent flyer.
"Sometimes I can't believe the way things have worked out," she said with a wan smile. "Look at me--I'm such a fucking square!" But remnants of her fiery self flared up when it began to rain so hard that I suggested taking a cab. "Okay," she replied, "but it must be driven by a woman!" Tine was proud that of the 650 cabs in Amsterdam (a number fixed by law to keep the narrow streets and lanes from overcrowding), 30 were now being driven by women.
Tine also showed her old rebelliousness in her choice of boyfriend. Hubrecht was waiting for us at the restaurant, a 45-year-old, bearded, soft-spoken carpenter, a member of the welfare state's underclass. Although he had not been officially employed for the last 15 years, Hubrecht still received between 600 and 700 guilders per month from the Dutch government, enough to live on when supplemented by odd jobs.
"He likes to be free," Tine said boastfully about her layabout lover. Yet, in truth, Hubrecht's freedom was largely illusory. He couldn't leave the country, she admitted, not until he settled up with the tax man. He was a bird in a guildered cage.
Tine, however, could come and go as she pleased, and there were times when she thought she might like to emigrate to the United States or Canada. But in the end, Amsterdam held her.
"There's no city like it," she explained. "It's really a small town with a Mediterranean lifestyle."
That became evident as the night went on and the bars, restaurants and coffee houses in Amsterdam's inner city filled up with people spending the hours together, eating and drinking, talking and laughing. And smoking generous amounts of weed.
At midnight I walked Tine and Hubrecht to the Central Station, where she hoped to catch a glimpse of her son, who sometimes hung out there with his fellow-junkies. Outside, people in sleeping bags were stretched out on every ledge and niche in sight. Inside, packs of youths loitered here and there--punks, bikers, pushers, runaways. Tine searched for Karel in every corner of the station, but couldn't find him.
As we walked back to Singel Strasse, Tine was silent, but I saw that she was weeping, her tears mixing with the rain that fell softly on her face.