On The Prinsengracht

Bettie Ringma, Marc Miller, and Gerard Pas on Bettie’s houseboat, Amsterdam, © 1980. Photo by Gerard Pas.
Bettie Ringma, Marc Miller, and Gerard Pas on Bettie’s houseboat, Amsterdam, © 1980. Photo by Gerard Pas.

In Spring 1979 Bettie Ringma and I relocated from the loft on the Bowery to a houseboat in Amsterdam. Bettie grew up in the Netherlands and was eager to reestablish a Dutch residence. From her small savings she purchased the boat, sight unseen, from her less than reputable brother-in-law. It was a long flatboat minimally modified for living. The ceilings were so low that we often had to stoop, it was cold, and in such disrepair that it sank just a few years later. But it was ideally docked on the Prinsengracht directly opposite the Anne Frank house in one of Amsterdam’s most picturesque areas. I am still amazed by the birds eye photograph taken from the church tower of the nearby Westerkerk showing the boat in its Jordaan neighborhood.

View of the Jordaan from the tower of the Westerkerk. The red boat to the right was where Bettie and I lived in Amsterdam.
View of the Jordaan from the tower of the Westerkerk. The red boat to the right was where Bettie and I lived in Amsterdam.

The year and a half I spent in Amsterdam was an exciting time. Amsterdam was a lively place with a bohemian tradition that dated back to the 1960s when it was a central stopping place on the mythic hippie trail. Its liberal government tolerated squats and marijuana coffee houses. It subsidized youth-oriented gathering spots like the Melkweg and Paradiso where all the new bands from England and America played. Contemporary art was also on the government’s agenda. Non-profit spaces like Art and Project, de Appel, and Other Books & So made Amsterdam a mecca for every avant-garde direction including Fluxus, Conceptual, performance, art, artists books, underground film, sound works, and the spoken word. During the time we were there, Amsterdam was filled with an international array of artists in semi-permanent residence that included Lawrence Weiner, Ira Cohen, and Marina Abramovic and her partner Ulay.