Thursday, May 17, 2007

Of The Truly Most Righteous Bud

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Prostitute Hotness: Smokin’

April 25

We’re up and out of Bruges at our traditional early hour. So early, in fact, that the 24-hour reception desk has yet to open. Yeah, wrap your head around that one. I’ll wait. It’s a bit of a thing about ‘can we check out and get our key deposit back in time to get to the train,’ which is solved when the receptionist shows up for a job that by definition he must never leave. And so it goes.

Training to Amsterdam involves staring at a countryside that’s irrepressibly cute in that “little girl with blond pigtails singing on top of a windmill” kind of way. As befit’s a country that’s largely below sea level, it’s flat as a freakin’ pancake and green enough to make a leprauchaun scream in ecstatic pain, oh the pain. Pretty, yeah.

I think the best way I can describe the appearance of Amsterdam is to say that it’s halfway between Paris and Bruges, which is kind of like saying that it’s halfway between New York and the lair of Lolth, Spider Queen of the Underdark. That is to say, the comparison may not make the most sense at all times. The fact of the matter remains, though, that Amsterdam has all the infrastructure and economic schtick of a major metropolis, including a frightfully efficient though unfortunately staffed tram line, yet I don’t think I laid eyes on one building that looked even remotely like another. It almost appears as if they took all the rejected set models from the movie “Casanova” and stuck them together out of order, then exclaimed with great salivating fervor, “Look, it’s a city!”

Our first hit upon rolling into town is quite naturally the hostel, which is conveniently served by three of the Cossack-spirited tramlines that spider-web there way through the city (coincidentally, I think the motto of their tram service actually is, “the greatest battle lies within.”). The Rembrandt Square Hotel is everything you’d expect from a budget hotel in Amsterdam, right down to the strangely buzzed, aging proprietor and the fact that it is literally built upon a hash bar (or “coffee house,” in the lingo of the town). Outside is an interesting piece of artwork that deserves mention: a larger-than-life-sized sculpture rendering of Rembrandt’s “The Nightwatch,” erected by a couple of Rembrandt fan boys with way too much time on their hands. It looks pretty neat, though, to just have a bunch of Renaissance-era soldiers standing in the middle of the square for apparently no reason while a giant gold Rembrandt himself gazes down on them with malice aforethought.

Mom’s got this hankering to see the Anne Frank House, and I indulge her because she’s paying for the whole damn thing and because it’s literally been months since I’ve walked through a monument to mankind’s greatest tragedy. To do so, however, we have to secure tickets in advance, as we had been forewarned us by bloody, raving madmen who had at one time been tourists like ourselves until they attempted to just show up to the Anne Frank House and were confronted not only by winged demons and the spiritual reliving of their darkest regrets, but by very long lines, such terrible long lines.

Thus we walk to Leidesplein, dodging fruit vendors and impeccably-muscled homosexual couples along the way and effortlessly acquire tickets for that evening. While there we need food, and plop down at an Irish pub for sandwiches that, while delicious, don’t really fill us up. There was a truly bangin’ accordian player there working his way through Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” which helped a lot with the atmosphere. In wake of the continuing hunger we saunter down the street to an Argentinian steak house (ok, we place bets right now… who thinks that The Netherlands is a good place to get your Argentinian food on?). The food there is quite good, but once again, pathetic portions are presented.

Here I must offer a bit of Mom’s infinite wisdom, with which I concur completely. It’s no secret that American restaurants often go balls-nuts with portions, creating what politically correct folk label an “obesity problem,” and what I label a “horde of fatasses.” In this light, the European standard of offering less food is commendable, but for one very gaping problem: the prices. This seems very simple to me; if you’re going to give less food, charge less money. On the contrary, though. To get even the most meager helping of decent restaurant food, one must pay through the nose so forcefully that even keeping one’s septum becomes an issue in gravest doubt. This is a problem that must be dealt with. Offer less food for less money and let people build up to how much they want. This business of either shoving wagonloads of food at a person - that they then feel obliged to eat - for a decent price or giving them the correct amount of food in exchange for three vital organs must stop. Or all is lost.

So, now somewhat satiated, we find that we have just enough time to walk at a leisurely pace and arrive at the Anne Frank House in time for our tickets, or perhaps a little early. And God knows we want to get there early to avoid the mongrel swarm of Frankophiles that is sure to be clustered there in mute anticipation. We stop twice along the way, once to duck into an English-language bookstore so that I could stock up on sci-fi travel entertainment (David Weber rocks my world), and the second so that Mom could trip while dodging a tram and take a header onto the sidewalk. She ended up with only a mangled pinky finger, though (which I now understand has healed completely), so we move on with more tram-related caution.

The Anne Frank House was, predictably… well, I don’t want to say ‘deserted,’ but, ok, let’s just say that the aforementioned mongrel swarm was nowhere in sight. We waltzed in there easily, continually emphasizing our lack of jack boots so as not to frighten the locals, and proceed through the museum in good order.

As the name suggests, the Anne Frank House is the house - the actual physical structure - in which the Frank family et al huddled in secret against the scourge of the Nazi regime, and its effect as a grim testament to how messed up things were surround that whole Holocaust thing is naturally quite potent. It’s a strange thing to be able to say, “Look, there is where an innocent 16-year-old girl slept immediately before being betrayed, hauled off into the night, and sent to her death… and check it, there’s her picture on the wall.” It’s much as you would expect it to be, really. At Mom’s request I refrain from voicing the majority of my terrible, terrible Holocaust jokes or from talking about how Anne Frank has a dumb face that I just want to smack, and we more or less slide through without incident. I did have to give the finger to the Diary, though.

After that we’re hungry AGAIN (this will make three meals in the last 5 hours), so we pop across the street for some Indian food. Now that’s the ticket, Indian food never fails to disappoint, and this was no different. The food was delicious, plentiful, and barely overpriced at all, served by a very cheerful staff in a pleasant, vermillion setting. That’ll do us for the night, I think, and we head home to sleep off the travel and prepare for our main day of exploring tomorrow.

April 26

We’ve got a late start today, mainly due to travel fatigue and general laziness. First stop is the hotel breakfast, which is not contained within the hotel itself, but rather in its partnership bar/restaurant downstairs (bearing the ever-classy name “Smokey’s”). There’s a bit of a mix-up at first since the place is actually split in two halves. First, the part that serves booze and food, and second, the place that serves organic juices, coffee, and weed. This is fairly common practice across Amsterdam, as it turns out. I’m not sure what ancient blood curse would be invoked if an establishment sold both alcohol and marijuana, but I’m certain I’d rather not find out.

Breakfast is delicious and we leave full well satisfied. There’s not a whole lot on the agenda for today since Amsterdam’s main attractions are its museums (which we’ve about had enough of lately) and its hedonism (which is a night time activity, even assuming that Mom wanted to take part in any). As such we head for the Vondelpark, which is the greatest of Amsterdam’s green spaces and, I’m led to believe, the largest park in The Netherlands.

Ok, I can’t ignore this any more…. This place is called “The Netherlands.” What in the hell. Honestly. Yes, Holland, too, but The Netherlands is just as common if not more so. This has got to be the only country in the world that could have gotten its name from the pages of a C-grade fantasy novel. “You, Agrath, must travel over the Swordspine Mountains, outwit the Dragons of Eternity, and journey deep into the heart of the Netherlands. There you shall find your brother’s soul, clad in wooden shoes. Only there can he be restored to his former blitzed self.” No part of this sounds more out of place than any other, I think. On that note, is there actually a place on this earth housing the Spear of a Million Unsung Warriors? If so, that’s where my next excursion must lead me.

By the time that we hike halfway across town towards the park - a lovely walk in the Dutchy sunshine - we’re getting kind of hungry again, which has the added beast of financial burden thanks to our multitude of meals yesterday. The problem, we reason, is that one never knows if the food is going to be tasty or plentiful in proportion with the price one pays. Or does one? This is when we spy a Hard Rock café and realize that they operate on a standard that we know to be favorable. And, would you look at that, there are still spots open on their canal side patio. An hour and a couple of delicious burger/sandwiches later, we’re moving on.

The Vondelpark is what the handy-dandy Lonely Planet guide describes as “an English-style garden.” I’m not sure how that’s true, though, in light of the utter lack of croquet games in progress and the fact that the sun was allowed to shine. Nevertheless we enjoy it immensely, walking along tree-lined ponds and watching storks hunting in the rushes (by the way, watching a stork grab and devour whole a fish is pretty badass, even if it is a freakin’ stork). There are a few people chucking a Frisbee around (Americans, as it happens), and they graciously allow me to join in while Mom sits and reads. I toss around with them for about half an hour or so, long enough for me to determine hat I’m the best player there (mmmm, ego stroke), but not long enough for Mom to get too bored, then we move on.

After the park it’s shopping time. I need new socks, Mom wants new sandals, it’s this whole consumer thing. The socks shopping goes well, not so much for the sandals. At the shoe store they have a bowl of foam rubber armadillos near the cash register, which the clerk says are kind of seat belt cozies to get kids to buckle up. They’re free if you give them your name and email address, which I gleefully do because, hey, free armadillo.

On the way out of the shoe store we cross the street right in front of a van full of clowns, who I jovially exchange waves with. I don’t know what the deal is with this town, but I kind of like it.

After dropping our purchases (there was some food shopping as well), I decide that it’s time for a little hedonism. After all, what’s a trip to Amsterdam without getting a little wrecked. Fortunately there is a coffee house right downstairs, and I pop in for a couple glasses of juice and some weed. Oh, and if you’re the kind of person who is shocked that I would partake in legal weed when it was available, maybe you shouldn’t be fucking reading this blog. That said, I waltzed up to the counter and ordered a couple joints, one of White Widow and the other of some type of hash I can’t pronounce (judging by the names of everything else around here, I’m gonna go with “Hash of Giant Strength +7) then sat down with a few people to smoke them. And yes, there is something strange about buying weed straight over the counter of a bar. It’s a little like the first time you order a legal beer after turning 21, but much more sticky. After two of these fatty bad boys I’m pretty lit up, so I part ways with my company and head to the Red Light District.

The Red Light District of Amsterdam has reached such storied acclaim that it is actually a recognized zoning district of town now; no longer is it defined by the hazy area that streetwalkers tend to frequent, but rather it can be looked up in one - nay, many - volumes of city ordnance, as though proscribing the exact boundaries of purchased poontang is a natural part of the day for any municipal paper pusher. Thus, it’s not hard to find. It’s very strange. No, I need to emphasize that more.

The Red Light District of Amsterdam is one of the single most bizarre things I have ever encountered. Period.

First off, it’s not like a dark, twisty catacomb of alleys preyed upon by cutthroats and women of loose virtue. It’s like a fucking carnival. Or Carnavale, more like. For the most part it involves wide streets, at least once with a canal running down the center, brightly lit up by neon signs and wrapped in the blanket of really good bar music, feeding the eyes and ears of hundreds of people traipsing up and down gawking at the scenery, if the word can apply to such mangled meat husks that were once, but once, human. Most of the people wandering around want nothing to do with the whores or the drugs or any of it… they’re just there because it’s a part of Amsterdam you need to see, and it is not at all unheard of to see a married couple in their seventies pointing at a window and cooing, “Look, honey, I think that one wants you to stick it to her… Yes, she definitely needs to ride you like an animal. How quaint!”

The ladies themselves are not out on the street hawking their wares. Rather, they rent out floor-to-ceiling windows in the buildings that line the street, which they pose in, illuminated by strips of red neon lighting that frame the window (at this point, teacher asks the class if they know there the name “Red Light District” came from). If you see something you like, you merely approach, they open up the window and let you in. Bing, bang, boom.

It’s a very odd thing to walk amongst the working ladies. In the kind of cultures that we run around in, the vast majority of women play their sexual cards very close to the chest and, though they may not want to admit it, they are very keen about the fact that they hold the sexual power and are thus quite judicious about how they muscle it around. Hence the complicated game of cat and mouse that is modern courtship, or dating, or cock teasing, or whatever you want to call it. These women, however, are the exact opposite. They pose, wearing the absolute bare minimum of clothing, and entice all comers (pun) with the knowledge that, yes, they are only objects and, yes, they exist only to please your genitalia. Naturally this represents a complete reversal from the conventional wisdom in which we operate (though it might be seen as a slightly more pure exercise in “You ordered the lobster, now you owe me this,” with which we are so familiar) and is thus more than a little amusing to see.

I do question how happy they are. I know there’s this whole believe that no woman could possibly be happy in that line of work, which there is a valid argument for, but if that’s true, the Amsterdam whores contain some of the finest actors in our modern world (bear in mind, this is coming from a guy who’s not actually partaking, so I think I can avoid most of the ‘see what you want to believe’ bias). I don’t mean to suggest that these girls wake up every morning (afternoon?) and say “Hooray, I get to sell my body today!” I just mean to say that it would be an interesting study to see, in a therapeutic context, how they felt about their vocation. It is my hypothesis that you would get much the same response as you do from modern office workers asked the same question.

Fun prostitute fact: contrary to the image one has of old, broken down, world weary whores with syphilis sores riddling their shattered bodies like bullet holes in John Dillinger, the majority of these women are hot. I don’t know why it feels a little dirty even to admit that Dutch whores are attractive, but the fact of the matter is that they looked good, which is not unfathomable that sexual attraction is their stock in trade. Though it makes sense, I was a bit floored by it, as well as by my own instinctual desire that bubbled to the surface. I wouldn’t go for a prostitute (I share the common distaste for the practice) even if I wasn’t in a loving committed relationship, and yet as I walked along I found myself musing, “Hey, it wouldn’t be that bad,” as though my Y-chromosome was leaping forward at this very clear opportunity to spread my seed and insisting to the brain to move over, it’s my turn, pal.

I didn’t, though. I swear I didn’t. Ask anybody.

Ok, that’s all I’ve got on prostitutes. And all I've got on Amsterdam.


Anonymous Cara said...

Maybe you were hungry all the time because of a constant contact high?

5:07 PM  

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