Monday, September 28, 2009

That Cool Kid From High School

Marijuana smoke wafts through the streets like a London fog; but, a modern London fog, not one of those yellow, thick, pollution enhanced ones from T.S. Eliot's days. And sure, half naked girls dance in windows, but there are more Chinese restaurants than there are enticing prostitutes.

Remember that cool kid from high school? That one that all the girls wanted to be with, and the one who all the guys looked up to? That's kind of what Amsterdam is like. But let us walk a little bit farther into this extended metaphor, shall we? Look back with a critical eye – did all the girls want to be with him? Did all the guys look up to him? Well you didn't, I'm going to assume. Not that I'm type-casting the people who sit around and read blogs all day, but, you know – I kind of am. And was he really that cool? Sure he bragged about having sex when he was thirteen years old, and he smoked before anyone else. And yeah, he even knew how to crack a beer using a lighter, instead of an opener by the end of grade nine. But lets be honest, did that make him a cool cat, or just a product of poor child rearing?

And look at him now – odds are he's got the pot belly, the sagging muscles, and is forever living off of reputation, and brief glimpses of his former glory. Seriously – that's Amsterdam.

It's pretty alright, with its canals running through a network of pedestrian streets, and delightful architecture. It has its share of tourist shops, but those are outdone by the number of actual stores selling products that one might actually have use for (unless it's a sticker to put on your laptop, in which all stores will leave you wanting.) And the number of museums? There are more per square mile here than anywhere else in the world.

If this was any other city, it would be a dream (to use a term Marty McFly's mother might have used when she was in her high school days – just as an aside, has anyone ever really thought about the end of that movie? You know when George McFly hires Biff to wax his car – I get that that's supposed to show that their roles have completely reversed. But, doesn't anyone think it's weird that George hires the person who tried to rape his now-wife to help him out? And that his wife seems to be o.k. with that arrangement? Seriously. Ponder that for a moment, will you?)

But this is not any other city. This is Amster-effing-dam! And there is only one reason people come here. It's for the coffee shops, and it's for the red light district. That's what Amsterdam is about – right? It's about half naked window in every window, and the smell of legalized Marijuana on every corner.

Here's the thing though. Marijuana is not legal here. I don't care how many people tell you that it is, or how many times you've watched Harlod and Kumar. It is not legal in Amsterdam. I tell you what, you come here, walk by a police officer with a spliff hanging out of your mouth, and you see what happens. Enjoy international prison my friends.

But, the coffee shops will sell you weed, and you can smoke it – free from fear – within those buildings. One again, it's not free, but it's accepted here. Also, the weed you get there is said to be some of the best in the world, and some of the purest. My tourist guide told me so. Just don't buy from street dealers. They are a wee bit more shady. Like that guy in the trench coat who hangs around outside your school during lunch break.

So yes – there are a lot of perma-stoned people here walking around. But is that a fantastic and magical thing? Not from what I've seen. From my own impressions, it leads to twenty five year old male tourists pointing at your beard, and slurring words that I don't think would have meaning in any language. And it leads to shop keepers being sexually harassed, and some female customers being groped, by the fifty year olds who don't know which way is up, who stumbled in from the coffee shop next door. (Do you think these coffee shops actually sell coffee? Where do you think one can get a good Cup o' Joe here?)

This world where marijuana is legal everywhere – let me tell you, I've seen that side, and it's less than fantastic during the day. At night it's better. It's a different crowd. And it's more relaxed, and suitable. Think of it like you would the bar scene. Sure you get more drunken youths wandering the street at night, but you're ready for that. It's the aging alcoholics during the day that are the real annoyance.

So we've established that the who coffee shop scene is no different than your friends shag-carpeted basement, complete with – i don't know – Phish record, and black lights. It's alright, but it's nothing to write home about. So now let us explore the red light district shall we?

Yeah, I get it, the lights are red. That's cute. If you want to see half naked girls (anywhere from the legal age of consent – 16 – and up) just look for the lights, and wander towards the windows. There they'll be gyrating around, knocking on glass, motioning for you to come over, and drop your forty to fifty euros for fifteen minutes of sex (numbers, again, taken from my guide book. Remember – the worst souvenir you can come home with is an STD. Sure, these girls get tested four times a year. But I'm sure prostitutes that pay two hundred euros for an eight hour window rental have sex with a lot of different people in those three months between testings.)

So there you are, in the district, walking the streets surrounded by lots of other tourists, and oh my god is that a family of tourists, with their eight year old children?! Oh never mind, there's another, and another. Huh. If anything points towards that fact that the red light district is not what you've been led to believe it is this. And look, there's a tour group of twenty Asians, aged forty to sixty following a man holding an umbrella on a guided tour through the entire area.

Forget all that for a moment, shall we? Let us walk up to one of these windows, and take a peek inside. There you will find a girl who looks either like the most beautiful angel you've ever seen (it has to be said, these are probably some of the most attractive prostitutes you'll ever be able to afford, unless you have one of those jobs where you work comps you them for an overtime project well done.) Or – like one of the most beautiful women you've ever seen, whose face got all mixed up in the blender that is the birth canal. I honestly don't know how else to explain it. Eyes point in strange directions, located high on cheekbones that aren't quite right. And noses that have – you know what, lets just forget their noses. Still – the bodies are after market pride and joys (like an Japanese drift racing car.)

So there she is in front of you, through a pane of glass on street level, gyrating around – wait – no she's not. She's just sitting back smoking, looking completely disinterested. Alright next window – there's the blender face. Skip. Next window. (I'll give you this, you choices are seemingly endless.) Alright, there she is wiggling around, tapping on the window, calling you forward, trying to start negotiation. But you're not here for that. You're here for the voyeuristic tourist purpose. So you look her up and down, and then it strikes you: she's wearing a metallic bikini that covers up more than most of your friends cover up at a backyard pool party. You know you're hyperbolic when you think it, but you can almost recall pictures from your grandmothers era that show more.

The more you look at her, the more the uncanny valley works in reverse. She becomes removed from that of a living being, and seems more like an image from a magazine (so perfect is her skin, that you'd swear she was photoshopped.) The more you look at it, the knocking becomes nothing but an animatronic response to programming, and as you walk the street you see the same thing over and over and over. Sure they're pretty girls – but you've seen pretty girls before. There's nothing sexual about these girls (until you pay your fee, and walk through their glass door, closing the curtain behind you, I'm sure.) These streets are less titillating than that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue that you found when you were eight years old.

With the invent of the internet, and the sheer number of topless and nude beaches within Europe, and even my hometown of Toronto, there is more to see there than you would ever find here. The red light district becomes more like the fast food auto-mat down the street, where you insert your coins, open a window, and take your hamburger.

Did I just compare a woman to a piece of meat? Absolutely I did. And I would compare any other person who presents themselves in a giant vending machine the same way. Because that's all the red light district is. It's a giant vending machine that lasts for three or four blocks. Put in your money, open the door, and take your product. When you're done with it, the window closes, and the machine becomes restocked.

I understand the importance of the profession, I understand the need for it, and I definitely believe in the legalization of it for the protection of users, and workers. But that doesn't change anything about how it works here.

Get out of the way, eight year old kid. This is my standing spot! And that's what's wrong with this place. It's so tame. And sure they have sex shows for thirty euros, but for that price I'm told it's better to watch someone play ping pong in Bangkok. At least that way you'll see something you couldn't watch on late night television.

The porn DVD sales are staggering in this city. My final point on the red light district is this: Five men were talking about what new DVD they wanted to buy, looking them all over, one after the other, while right behind them four women (two together) were trying to call them over for some more fleshy fun. They'd have none of it.

That cool kid from high school. That's what Amsterdam is. It's a city living off a past reputation, trying to rekindle moments of former glory. And thinking back, you realize that he probably wasn't that great. And you're almost positive his life is without now. But, there was something about him, wasn't there? Some reason why you still know his name. A reason why, when it comes to gossiping, his name is still thrown around the circle. And that's what Amsterdam is.

It's a city you need to come see, even if you realize that it can never live up to its greatest of promises. There's still something about it. Something that calls to you. Something that says, come on – just check it out, if only for a little while.

Plus, you know, it has the Anne Frank House, and that's a fantastically historical and powerful sight to see. Bet that guy from back in the day never had that!

A final note on prostitution:
Half the clients are female. One of the most fantastic things about Amsterdam is how pro-homosexual it is. There is a statue to homosexuality (three pink triangles) that was erected over twenty years ago here. The city had (has?) an openly homosexual mayor. 10% of all marriages are same sex. The gay clubs have high numbers of straight people, and are some of the trendiest, and the straight clubs are not empty of homosexuals. Imagine that, a city of tolerance hidden between hookers, lax laws, and clouds of smoke. Or maybe it exists because of that? There's your reason for legalization right there.

Editors Notes:
The author was a little bit cranky when he wrote this. Any piece written on the first day in a city, before a big breakfast, and after a god awful train ride, may not be viewed through the same eyes as a refreshed individual. Stay tuned for tomorrows re-review of the cities night life, and everything that it has to offer.

Also, the author just “doesn't want to be cool” and refuses to use drugs. Who comes to Amsterdam if they don't want to smoke weed (or, more commonly, inhale through a vaporizer) or take 'shrooms, on sale at oh so many well marked shops.

Finally, you'll not find pictures of the red light district, or the girls in the windows, because you will get beaten up, and have your camera smashed if you foolishly take a picture. So get on a plane, and come see it for yourself. It's worth the trip.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All original text and photographs Copyright © 2009 one.year.trip / previously.bitten | Theme Design by previously.bitten | Entries and Comments.Powered by Blogger