I’d just had a dream where a tarot wielding magician told me to go to Amsterdam. With $2,000 saved up, I bought a one-way AirTran ticket for “anywhere in Europe” and landed in Paris ready for my grand tour.
Following the advice of an Ouija board, I arrived in Madrid on Halloween where I had a whirlwind romance with an astonishingly good-looking 18-year-old Spaniard.
Initially we’d met on the street when I was trying to find the Plaza Mayor. Then, two days later I ran into him at an obscure dive restaurant on the other side of town.
I’d been in desperate search for churros con chocolate. If you’ve ever had that thick, hot, Spanish chocolate with crispy salty churros, you’ll know why I was so dedicated. I’d already been to at least five other restaurants with no luck.
Finally, I was so hungry I decided that the next restaurant I saw, churros or no churros, I would stay.
And there he was.
My Spaniard had randomly decided to take that day off school and was sitting at the counter of the restaurant. As I went up to order – disappointed to find that the restaurant was in fact churro-less – he pointed at me and said, “I know you”.
We spent the day at the Prado. He kissed me beneath Titian’s “Salome”, recited Garcia Lorca poems to me on a balcony, then stood me up at a Tapas bar a few days later.
At the time, he was only a student who wanted to be an actor. He was under the thumb of his strict father who wanted him to be in the oil business. Now he’s a star on Spanish soaps.
Moral of the Story: Don’t trust Ouija boards. Or Spaniards. (See “The Princess Bride” for more details).
A few other travel highlights, I:
- Shaved my head in on my 20th birthday in Rome
- Ate roast chestnuts and watched “Out of Africa” in Prague
- Was locked in a mud hut in Essouira, Morocco, barely escaping with my life
- Stayed in an old factory in Berlin, watching the snow fall in the early morning light, as I lay, the only human in a room with a hundred empty beds.
By the time I arrived in Amsterdam it was winter, the coldest they’d had in 20 years. Icy knives of wind blasted the narrow streets, as people on skates shot along the canals, all frozen solid.
I had $200 left to my name. No ticket home. No way to get more money. And when I went in search of the School For New Dance Development, the very reason I was even in the city, all I found was an empty building with boards on the doors.
I checked myself into a dorm at Bob’s Youth hostel on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal for 12 gilders a night, and that’s where shit started getting weird.
I had enough money to last another two weeks, at best. Sitting in the hostel cafeteria one morning, writing in my journal, I wrote, “I don’t have enough money to stay here, I wish…”
Before I could even finish the sentence, the owner of the hostel came up and asked if I wanted to work the breakfast shift for free board. The room was packed with other backpackers. I’d never spoken to him before. I had no idea why he chose me.
What I didn’t know then, but which I now understand, is that during volatile times, you can create powerful spells unintentionally. My emotions were strong, my magnetic fields running high; all my chaos and upheaval made for potent magic.
When everything’s stable in our lives, it’s hard for magic to happen. Everything’s locked tight, like the ice in the canals of Amsterdam. Not much room for movement or change.
Even, and perhaps especially, the most cynical politicians know that times of chaos also offer the most opportunity.
Trouble for me was, as a 20-year-old, alone, broke and desperate, I wasn’t a Master of Chaos yet.
I still had a lot to learn. And over the next 9 months in A’dam, there’d be many opportunities.
In the next episode you’ll hear about my work in the Red Light District (not what you think); my prayers answered; my greatest fears realized; holes punched through doors; piss frozen solid; and why everyone at my new job thought I was from West Africa.
If you don’t want to miss all the juicy bits, or you just want to get some tips on turning your own chaotic experiences into magical opportunities, I’m going to be offering an online course on how to do just that very soon. Make sure you stay up to date by signing up for my mailing list here.