In the late nineteenth century the city of Amsterdam jumped the bounds of its age-old ramparts and began to encroach the surrounding countryside.
The wealthy denizens of the inner city sought their escape from the daily bustle and reeking canals and built their villas along the southern edge of William’s Park, a newly laid out greening for strolling and horse riding, later to become the Vondelpark.
Within the span of three decades an area of roughly a square mile crisscrossed with ditches and patched with old industries, lumber yards, windmills and vegetable gardens, was transformed into a spacious square with two musea1 and a concert hall2 and a grid of adjacent streets, which was bound to grow into a district called ‘Amsterdam South’.
In one of the earliest streets, Palestrina3 Street4, just behind the concert hall, I lived for several decades. Around the year 2000 it was a century old and one of my neighbours decided it deserved a memorial book, which was published in 2004.
I ran a street blog in those days and in the wake of the book the editor and I kept up a lively exchange of posts on the inhabitants of what seems to be the last house of our little street but, actually, is part of the sidewall of a house around the corner.
Our neighbours enjoyed our ‘investigations’ knowing them full well for wholly imaginary.
In the course of our correspondence I invented a find of a bundle of scruffy papers in the trash in front of this spurious dwelling. Peeling them apart I happened on a tale of an enigmatic disappearance of two children.
Part I – The Promise
We were staying with our aunt in Amsterdam. We were seven and nine then, my little sister and I. One day, aunt had to do some shopping and she told us:
“Li’l brother, li’l sister, come and listen to me. Aunt has to go out this afternoon to fit a new dress. There’ll be a gala, shortly, and she’s nothing apt to wear. You two must stay home, but promise aunt one thing: you shall not leave the house or you may go astray and never be able to find your way back again.”
We sincerely promised her to remain inside and after serving us tea and cookies aunt kissed us both and left, locking the frontdoor on the outside.
1 The National Gallery (1876-1885), in Dutch, ‘Het Rijksmuseum’, and
the Municipal Museum (1891–1895), in Dutch, ‘het Stedelijk Museum’, its new wing a.k.a. ‘the Tub’ (2012).
2 The Concert Building (1883–1888), in Dutch, ‘Het Concertgebouw’.
3 Named after the Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi (c. 1525–1594) from Palestrina, Italy, the ancient Praeneste.
4 The last house on Palestrina Street as seen with Google Street View.