By: bienesrobados

Jul 16 2010

Category: Uncategorized

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After a few days in Brussels where we had been very kindly received by the locals (thank you Marie-Pauline, Julien, and friends!), we took a bus to Amsterdam.  Upon arrival at the metro station in Amsterdam we had trouble buying a ticket from the automated machine so we just walked through the open turnstile and took the first train to downtown Amsterdam.  Coming from Brussels where payment for the metro system appears to work primarily on the honor system (there are no barriers to entry or exit), we thought perhaps Amsterdam’s system worked on the same principle.  As we walked towards the exit to the station the turnstiles were closed.   We eyed each other and fell into step behind the person ahead of us as they swiped their card.  Feeling like pro fare shirkers we slipped through behind them before the sliding glass barrier closed, two others behind us following suit.  An alarm went off and a yellow clad security guard rushed out of his cabin, shouting in Dutch.  We headed for the stairs as he caught up to the two behind us and scolded them.  Exiting the station we made a few swift turns and then eased up our pace.  After a few blocks we came to a large open air cafe showing the Germany-Spain world cup semifinal where we settled in to watch the game with a couple pints.  A crowd gathered to watch the large screen display and the waitress brought beers to passersby who stood watching the finish with their bikes.

The next few days we spent wandering the city, picnicking in the Vondelpark on Italian sandwiches and sipping cold prosecco from plastic cups, people watching, and visiting farmer’s markets, various cafés, coffeeshops, and restaurants.  We switched hotels twice to find a cheaper room but as the big day of the World Cup final grew closer prices began to skyrocket. Three days before the game we went down to the reception at our hotel to ask if we could stay another day and they said sure but that the price for our room had changed because it was the weekend and our humble double on the 5th floor of a walkup was now nearly double the price.  We paid grudgingly and not without some grumbling but with nearly all the hotels in the city proper booked up we didn’t have much choice.

That night we headed out to see the red light district.  It’s a bizarre spectacle.  Coming from San Francisco I’ve seen a lot of weird shit (a man buttfucking a George Bush blowup doll at the Folsom Street Fair, for one) and it was still somewhat shocking.  The sight of nearly naked women gyrating on chairs in windows, grabbing their crotch like MJ back in the day or plumping their breasts with both hands and hefting suggestively as you pass by was part of it but more shocking was the bizarre spectacle of the tourist hordes filling the streets, a riotous crowd of drunken and stoned voyeurs, feeding on the weird, malignant energy of the place.  There were tour groups of old people, tottering down the street and holding each others’ hands like kindergarteners crossing a street.  There were quite a few couples, some looking bemused or attempting to film the windows with their iPhones, others looking uncomfortable.  There was a large group of white clad college frat boys, drinking tall cans of Heineken, jostling each other and pointing at windows and shouting, waiting to see who would work up the courage to go inside.  In front of a large garish building emblazoned with a neon sign reading SEX PALACE a group of boys loitered about, ogling the posters, their eyes wide and bright with excitement.  At another building down the block advertising LIVE SEX SHOWS 30€, an orderly line of well dressed older couples waited for admittance.  Scattered throughout the crowd were a few more traditional perverts; lone men roaming from window to window, usually on the edge of the crowd, leaning in close to the glass to inspect the women like a butcher examining steaks for a picky customer.

The next day we picnicked in the Vondelpark again and man sat down next to us to bum a light for his cigarette.  We struck up a conversation and talked at length about Dutch politics, healthcare, pot laws, and traveling.  He was English but had become a Dutch national and was a 20 year veteran employee of TNT Post, the Netherlands equivalent of the US Post Office, whose slogan is “Sure we can”, a phrase which sounded a bit flippant to my ear but is apparently meant to instill confidence.  We offered him a puff but he declined, saying he had a head back to work.  “I know a few postmen who smoke before they do their rounds but not me.  If you get in an accident they test you and if you test positive they won’t cover your costs.”  He paused for a moment, then continued “ I do sometimes take mail home though, if I’m tired or the weather is bad I’ll clock out, take it home, and deliver it the next day.”  Sure we can, indeed.  He was married to a Peruvian woman who didn’t have residency and he spoke at length about her immigration troubles and healthcare woes.  We moved on to discussing Dutch society in general.  Holland, he said, had become more conservative in recent years.  “You used to be able to walk down the street in Amsterdam smoking a joint and walk right by a police officer and he wouldn’t say a thing.  Now if you do that he’ll stop you and tell you to put it out.”  He spoke about the recent economic troubles and how the public had shifted increasingly to the right.  “There is a very nasty anti-immigrant sentiment in the country right now.  The Dutch may seem open, but inside they have cold hearts.”

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