Friday, December 24, 2004

A Familar Tune on a Foreign Street

Walking along the Dam on cold April night last year, I heard a flutist playing a familiar melody. The Dam is one of Amsterdam's main boulevards. Centuries old, it harkens back to the halcyon days when the Dutch ruled the world of commerce. On this particular night, the chill winds had chased the tourist indoors and the street was nearly deserted by early evening. I found myself alone in a foreign city, listening to this street musician's song as it echoed off the walls of the commercial district. The musician occupied the alcove of a shuttered department store entrance. The instrument he played wasn't a modern flute with valves and levers, but a wooden one of some ancient design. His improvised version of the Star Spangled Banner lacked the bravado and jingoism that I've come to associate with the American national anthem. Instead, this version of the song sounded mournful and filled with lament.