Waiting for the train to Amsterdam and praying for Yvonne to still be alive, I am thinking back to the time when Yosht and I and Yvonne first met. Until a few years ago, the two of us were dedicated urban explorers and that hobby started with our first encounter in the early sixties in an abandoned house right in the middle of the red light district in Amsterdam. We were horny adolescents with unbounded fantasies to compensate our total lack of experience. Curious as I was, I had forced my way through a wooden fence and entered a desolate courtyard surrounded by some very old houses, a few modern ones that had just been put up, and a large 18th century villa. Many of the windows were smashed, doors were removed or kicked in. The place was empty except for a huge chandelier that was probably too big and too high up to be removed. That's where I found Yosht, looking up at the chandelier as if figuring out a way to bring it down and take it home.
Together we searched the house, every room and nook and cranny, for something to take home with us as a souvenir. We became friends for life.
At the back of the house we came to a door that looked relatively new and turned out to be locked. We tried to open it, banging it with our shoulders, when suddenly the door was opened from the other side. An old woman appeared, dressed in flashy underwear and nothing else. With one hand on her hip and in the other a burning cigarette, she looked us over.
'My clients usually come through the front door,' she said. 'What do you kids want? The time of your life?'
We were speechless, Yosht and I. We'd seen pictures in dirty magazines, but we had never seen a woman in underwear, not even our mothers or sisters.
'I am sorry, ma'am,' I stammered, 'we were just...' I looked at Yosht.
'Exploring,' Yosht added. 'You know, just curious. This empty house...,' Yosht had taken the lead. 'We didn't think someone was living here.'
'You better come in,' the lady said. 'I can't stand the draught.'
Her name was Yvonne and she plied her trade in the front of the house, behind a window facing the canal. She sat us down in her tiny kitchen, put on a robe and served us hot chocolate and apple pie.
'Believe it or not,' she said, 'but I am duchess. True nobility, blue blood and all that. Without money, though. All gone, you know how it goes. Well, you probably don't, but all I have left is this house. It has been in my family for centuries and I can assure you that I, like my ancestors before me, will never sell.' She sounded very resolute and we were enthralled by her stories. Yvonne pointed out that her house at the front, the canal side, was very narrow and tiny, but that it opened up like a flower towards the back. We nodded, we had seen it with our own eyes.
A few years later, Yosht rented a room in that amazing mansion and Yvonne became his landlady and his confidante. Over the years they kept in touch and that's how I know Yvonne in the end did sell the house, with the provision she could live there until her death. If she is still alive she'd be over a hundred years old and she'd know where to look for Yosht.