Amsterdam. What do I have to say about Amsterdam? We arrived as the sun was setting and took a long walk over a few canal bridges to the Sofitel. The Sofitel in Amsterdam is luxurious and fitting. The hotel is set into what was once a palace, with it’s own courtyard that would presumably in most places be for that convenient U-Turn when being dropped off by some shiny black car of importance, but in Amsterdam there are no cars. At least, no real cars. Amsterdam has these sort of half sized Smart cars for people who need to haul things to their stores, but these cars have no right of way so they actually park on the sidewalk. But if you dare step off the sidewalk to go around these small mounds of so-called vehicle, you’ll likely be taken out by a dozen cyclists in less than a minute who give you a repeated warning with the same sort of ringing bell I had on my tricycle as a kid – the one with Donald Duck on it. Yea. You hear that sound quickly 3 or 4 times and before you could turn around, someone has zipped by you at a speed that would seriously mangle you if you stepped off in the wrong direction and their always mad about it. Stark informed me that of the 750,000 people squatting in the ‘Dam, there are 800,000 bicycles. Yes, that is accurate information folks.
The reason there are so many bikes is because of the canal system in Amsterdam. There really are no roads that any of the shops, restaurants or “koffeeshops” access. There are walking paths and bicycle baths. The next best alternative would be a boat of some kind but although the canal allows for each access, there are not any easy access points to the canal. Your boat has to already have a deck that is high enough for that step-on, step-off ease. But I like the whole idea of everyone being on bicycles. I like the idea of getting all dressed up for a date and having to cycle myself to the restaurant with my knees bent awkwardly so no one can see up my skirt. At least, that’s what the majority of the professional women I have seen in Europe have been doing. You can certainly always tell a professional woman by her knees and I’m already naturally knocked-kneed so it seems fitting. I also like the idea that a place like Amsterdam, known for the legalization of a variety of drugs including Europe’s ecstasy and marjiuana, should put people on bicycles rather than behind the wheel of a car. The tourist areas of Amsterdam, albeit not even on a weekend, seemed to be a constant party. I love Europe’s obsession with the 90’s. Every song you hear coming over a sound system at club-deafening levels is either techno, which European’s spawned the best of, or it is a variation of a popular American song from the 90’s. Think, Goo Goo Dolls.
We had dinner at the Oester Bar (yes, that’s how it is spelled there) on the recommendation of the concierge. All I wanted to do in Amsterdam was have some oysters. I had they were to die for. Brussels is for mussels and Amsterdam is for oysters. There is something about that cool, North Sea. So we ordered their smorgasbord of crustaceans which was a dozen different types of things that you don’t normally find on an upscale fish platter in the States. I mean there were a handful of sea snails (way too chewy and the aftertaste of dirty socks, no thanks, I’ll take them raw), a pile of crill (impossible to shell those suckers), some prawn, half a pound of fresh lobster and half a dozen oyster shells. The dish had more than that, but that’s the variety that I personally had. I ordered a local, white fish on top of basil risotto which was to die for. Stark and I shared, as we do everything and he chose an amazing citrus-white wine to go with dinner. For the first time ever, we practically fought over who had the privilege of pouring the wine which is funny since no matter how much we like something, we always have the attitude of sharing things equally. But this was all we had to eat that entire day and we were through half the bottle of wine between the two of us before our dinner even came. As a result, we were a giggly bunch who became fascinated by the salt water fish tank to the side of our table. We decided to name each fish in the tank after a Winnie the Pooh character. I’m not quite sure why we chose Pooh characters except that the blowfish was so entirely hyper, swimming from one end to the tank to the other as if he were repeatedly surprised to find the end of it, that it made complete sense to refer to this little fella as Tigger.
The dinner was delightful and basil-infused foods have become our new thing on this trip. After dinner we walked by many street parties across five canals to get home. This is understandable the Venice of the North with so much water. The canals are really very beautiful and I have a sort of unspoken connection with water. I love water although you will rarely, if ever, see me in it anymore (because I loathe cold things). In Amsterdam, you have to really get to know Amsterdam and their culture. So we walked by “Koffeeshops.” Any place named a Koffeeshop in Amsterdam (one word) will legally sell drugs alongside your choice of beers and basic, bar style food. Rest assured though, we nearly walked by. Just the smell of it alone can make me sick and the whole idea of it is not really my scene. I’m far too much of a motivated person to get involved with things I know would slow me down. But there were many of these shops which was intriguing to me.
What was even more intriguing was the peculiarity of the Red Light District in Amsterdam and how our hotel was located within the Red District zone although nothing could be seen from our central palace. Sex has no shame in many European countries, but it especially has no shame here. Even in the luxury of our hotel there were two dozen (at least) statues of naked women, couples, kisses, and displays of sensuality from a variety of artistic opinions. But the hotel was artistic and beautiful. There was nothing vulgar about it and I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Red Light District, so we visited.
This is real life education, and to be honest the imagination of anyone who really has no idea is going to be far worse than it actually seems. For blocks there are girls who stand in windows with red lights around them. These girls are stacked two and three stories high. They move back and forth and sometimes make tempting gestures to men passing by, but they never leave their glass windows unless they are “busy.” Some are fully clothed in various outfits for a variety of fetishes whether that be someone who obsesses over a girl in gym attire (yea, I saw it) or a girl with tights. But they are all dressed to the point of at least being covered. Half of them have fake appearances – extensions, collagen, boob jobs – while the rest are every day girls. Only one of them was even remotely attractive while the majority of them are not very pretty at all. Most of them are not very thin even. Rather, this is what they do and this is their job. They are protected by the “state” they are in, licensed, tested, and given homes paid for by the government if they attract a disease.
As we walked through, I didn’t find the girls alarming in any way. I was merely surprised by how unattractive they were as I watched a variety of men, without discomfort or shyness, walk up to their doors. The women would open them only slightly, enough to let words be audible as they determined the price for whatever was being requested. But I still felt very sad for them. Different culture or not, any girl can turn tricks to make 1,000 of any currency in one given day. I am pretty sure no one cares whether it is legal or not, it exists in some way in every place I’ve ever lived. But, it seems to take a certain degree of desperation and the belief that there is “nothing else” for a girl to choose that. Even if these girls don’t feel that way, I couldn’t even fathom how they couldn’t take it personally when hundreds of people simply walked by – shaking their hands at them as if to say, “No no, not you.” Drunk bachelor parties walked by with absolutely no shame in yelling to some, “Oh HELL no!” How could this not be degrading? How could they not take it personally?
When running your own business, regardless of what it is, you’re always counting pennies to determine what you can cover versus what you can afford. So how can these women stand there, knowing their rent is due and that they’d spent the cash with the expectation of making more, and not feel like being passed up was because of how they looked? This is a business where everyone comes to shop for women. They aren’t shopping for the best material, a brand name, or even the best overall deal. Quality comes down to only a few things – different for everyone there.
So that is how I got my Amsterdam education. I thought many things about the differences in the world, which is the purpose of these sort of outings and realities. Then again, I thought nothing of it. It’s no big deal to me and it certainly isn’t anything that I think should be stopped. Everyone in the situation has a choice and is being protected. No one is being used or abused in any way. If anything, these girls have the last say and this might be the only profession in existence where it’s their way or the highway, for women. I respect them. It’s just not something I could do.
With that, it was another night of working with Internet slow enough that I swear I could deliver the messages myself from one end of the world to the other. But when I was done, the teeth-gritting ceased and it was time for another night of sleep and a little bit of sleeping in just in time for Berlin.