Notitieboekje Gedachten/Notebook Thoughts 

Shanela Ranaraja
September 28, 2019
The Sky Lights Up

How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook. I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagining that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed. See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write — on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there…” - Joan Didion, On Keeping a Notebook, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968.

onder de bloemen/among the flowers

maybe September is departing, but Cornelis Vermuydenstraat is in full bloom. Bloemen crowd every space between the curb and the window-curtains; fruits spill from vines that submerge the narrow doors. Leaves lace themselves across an ornamental pond; ivy blankets high fences. groen/groeiend- green/growing. At the quiet end of Kraijenhoffstraat, blood roses unfurl against pastel walls. rood en roos. red and rose. Higher up, a blauw glass lampshade, framed by living things. To me, every day that the leaves stay on the trees is a victory. Hier is iets wilds. Something wild is here. 

All The Bikes

alle kleuren van alle fietsen/all the colours of all the bikes

once you’ve first noticed a Swapfiets, it’s hard to stop seeing those cheerful rented tickets to freedom. blauw (blue) front wheel, unpredictable back wheel. I collect the colours. rood (red) wheel, zwarte (black) wheel, grijs (gray) wheel, oranje (orange) wheel. The OV-fiets are ochre-blue, a rarer sight, easier to spot. The colours recall my home school banner; Van Gogh’s Starry Night; the official Sri Lanka cricket jersey. Sometimes, the solid bruin of a Bakfiets, parent-pedalled, carrying or not carrying child-shaped cargo. And then all the rest, the constant zwarte-grijs-blauw-silber stream of metal and rubber and human that spiderwebs through the city, almost a solid thing that can knock you off your feet, steal away your bearings and demolish your fear of death.   


on the days when it’s harder than usual to be one of the only people of colour in the room, when the picturesque trappings of the city don’t quite compensate for the distance from home, when I miss the tribe of miracle people I left at college, I walk out of the room and towards Javastraat. The moment I turn the corner I am among people who look like me. The spaces are full and lively - the halal butcher shops, the fresh fruit stalls, the phone repair stores, the restaurants. Words that trail scents that trail tastes - falafel, kebab, roti. Names are bright, unapologetic, elegantly scripted - Mirchi, Nour, Tigris En Eufraat. Women in hijab are in the stores, teenagers are hanging out in the street, old men are sitting on benches in the watery sun. I walk up one side and down the other, breathe it all in, store up the warmth and the chatter and the belonging, think mijn (my), think ons (us). Never once check Google Maps to see if I’m headed in the right direction. 


de lucht licht op/the sky lights up

in a flat country, the sky is scenery, drama, change. I am always looking up, tripping over loose cobblestones, remembering at the last moment to check for trams approaching. the rain-wolken (clouds) can tell you what Buienradar or Accuweather might not; sometimes clouds and technology will contradict each other and you will pack a regenjas (raincoat) and paraplu (umbrella) and hope for the best. Some mornings there is fog and the sky closes over the city like a net; some mornings turn the skyscrapers into blocks of gold. The cranes of gentrification multiply by day; the planes of globalization are made visible by night, blinking out of the stratosphere towards Schiphol. Most evenings there are sunsets; some are brighter than vijf (five) cent coins. One day there is a rainbow, rood-oranje-geel-groen-blauw-indigo-violet, one corner anchored behind the Roeterseiland campus, the other out of sight somewhere noord (north). 

nacht stad/night city

I am standing at the bushalte (bus stop) at 10.43 pm. The figures on the screen glow yellow through the rain: my next bus will be here in 12 minuten. It’s the first time I’ve ever left my apartment after dark, the first time I’ve ever seen Amsterdam by night. But I’m fresh from a first self-defense class, alive and adrenaline-filled and nearly giddy with the realization that I’m justified in protecting myself in whatever way I can. I alternate between watching the straatlamp-lined road and reading second-wave Dutch feminism. In between, I send voice notes to a friend six thousand kilometers away. I’m okay, I say. Alles goed. When I get home, it’s past eleven and there’s studying to be done for tomorrow, but I brew tea, take it to the desk, pull my notitieboekje towards me. It must be written. It must be chronicled. Schrijf het op (write it down). The lit windows of the nacht stad (night city), the reflections left by straatlampen, the licht (light) still left in the sky. The notitieboekje holds it all. 

The Night City


“A new notebook, clean, it smells new, yellow cover. The book grows nearly constantly now. At night I wake, whole fragments write themselves for me, complete with commas. It happens almost outside me, I am the medium. ” - Anja Meulenbelt, The Shame Is Over: A Political Life Story, 1980.

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Shanela Ranaraja

<p>My name is Lalini Shanela Ranaraja. I grew up in Sri Lanka, a tropical island-nation blessed with perpetual summer, and yet I ended up going to college nine thousand miles away, in Rock Island, Illinois! I’m studying anthropology, journalism and creative writing because I couldn’t pick just one. In my spare time, I dabble in languages (I speak four), browse art supply stores, and people-watch. I require at least one long, rambling walk a day, even if there’s eight inches of snow on the ground.</p>

Home University:
Augustana College - Rock Island IL
Katugastota, Sri Lanka
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