October 1-4, 1998
The skies have finally parted, leaving behind a dark cloak of starry nights and endless horizons. Easy to spot the major sights albeit it a full moon evening with Jupiter eager to reflect some sunshine.
Helsinki once again. After a three evening sojourn in Amsterdam. The city on the canals. Crowded monstrosity with its eager faces and peoples distributing leaflets about impending sales in the local shoppes.
An international city with its flavor for international cuisine. And in the morning, when the streets are only filled with the sounds of Heineken trucks making the runs between nightclubs, you can hear the slow bustle of the global scene just before lunchtime. The hum is low at first. Voices speaking a multitude of languages. Spanish, French, Dutch, English, German, Belgian, Luxembourgian…
Amsterdam. A place to visit. A place not to live.
Thursday AM. Arrival at Schiphol. A lovely port with many tax-free goodies. Train to Central Station 6.5fl 15 minute ride. The best thing to do is leave your big bags at CS in their handy dandy lockers. 4fl for sure security. Nevermind the guards or information personnel sipping their coffees and not caring about a thing in the world.
The haze of overcast. Shapeless metamorphosized hints at a being’s existence. A land of no shadows. Beware the trams with screaming brakes and taxis galore. Signage everywhere. This fresh sea air. The sun never to be seen throughout the trip except for on television. And since when can the weatherman predict the weather. Yes Friday was to be partly cloudy.
Walking along with red totebag, camera with 5 rolls of film, a couple books on the city, a book by Charles Bukowsky entitled Post Office and Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans. Anything to add some sort of demented pleasure to the stiff plane ride and serious passengers abounding.
Seeing the typical tourist trap post card nemeses, never to be seen again. Visiting a small cafe on a side alley street. Grabbing a coffee. Relaxing. Viewing the slow-packed chilled-aired residents begin their slow morning parade. Episodes of strangeness and sincerity.
The first stop as an American tourist. Anne Frank’s house. 1020AM. long line. 15 fl. a journey into the past. The only place in the world that bears an incredible sadness within yet holds the spirit of dreams beneath the surface. Deep melancholic joy.
The visitors within the secret annex varied in ages. The walls still held the magazine cut-outs of Ginger Rogers plus others. There were marks on the wall where Otto used to measure his daughters.
Heaviness. The sensation of it all. The feeling of helplessness. The paranoia. The confinement of two families. The coursing of the veins when the sounds of boots came close. The struggle within. The powerlessness of being taken away and living within the camps. The hopelessness. The sensation of being truly alone. The death of the soul before the body. The diary left behind in the annex to be found by Anne’s father.
People outside looking in. Waiting in line, hearing the roar of the bulldozer at it neared the front door and began to dig one layer after another of decades old road and dirt.
A fitting allegory. Loud, modern, mechanized destruction next to the past that hatred built. A yellow machine working hard next to Ms Frank’s Foundation of Hope.
Time for a break. Walking towards the dam plaza. Beware the pigeons seeking food. Even climbing on tourists with the goal of eating or shitting.
“Sure they’ll take a picture. Just relax and let your bowels move before they shrug you off their shoulders.”
Red Light District. The morning after. The red lights gone. A Guinness beer next to a barking dog and the morning clientel at the Temple Bar. A nice place to relax and feel the chill within your bones.
A heavy morning dose of the past’s reality can urge anyone to make the proper visit to the Red Light District. The streets are uncrowded. The morning mist is fuel to my lungs. The humorous greetings by the AM shift of red-light prostitutes eager to show their wares to any visitor from anyplace. A slight smile and a wave hello satisfies them for just a moment. Time to move on.
But of course, the first stop should always be a coffeeshop of some kind. Right across from the small Police station annex. The Greenhouse Effect. Coffeeshop and hotel combined. Walk in and it’s a narrow hall leading to the small bar in back that serves alko as well as goods from the coffeeshop dealer. A large Heineken 7fl. 1 gram of Silver Haze, 14fl. 25fl deposit for the houka. Sitting at the wall with electronic organizer in hand, typing in notes. Sipping at the beer. Listening to the quiet mumblings of Greenhouse clientele. Spark the lighter and cruise elsewhere.
My mind is dancing. Thoughts, ideas, similarities of the past present and future. Statements that define the current epoque. Who are these men coming in? They’ve followed me. Two older men sit down table beside.
“Maybe it’s self service,” one of them says.
In their 60s, perhaps they are tourists too. Perhaps the police sent them over to check me out. Find out where I’m from. One gets up to get coffee.
Inhale and sip. What to do. What to do. The words of the Bukowski book come off the page. No, that’s another trip. Mellow buzz. Smooth hydroponic herbs of natural consistency. Writings galore. Mr. any thoughts. Laziness. Not wanting to do, but focusing on how to do the things I’ve no energy for.
Early Thursday madness. –that police car is still out front. Must be a raid coming. Paranoia at its finest. One of the many drawbacks of the shrubbery.
Amsterdam. With her many bicycles painted black or yellow. So no one will steal them. But most are stolen anyway. Reminds me of what my friend, Carlos, told me once after his World Cup 1994 soccer trip. Germany vs. Holland. The Dutch still remember the occupation.
They chanted to the Germans, “We want out bicycles back!”
It’s not easy to forget the moments of history that change a people’s daily habits.
I venture out. Good morning hookers awake and eager for their first catch. I show them a smile and give them a hello as I walk on by. Not today, sugar.
The Quentin Hotel. Perhaps owned by Mr. Tarantino himself on the edge of the heart of Amsterdam’s night-life sector of town. Leidseplein. Room with three twin beds (no others were available). 95fl. Cable TV. Shared bathroom and shower on the same floor. Clean sheets. Water and snacks at the front desk. A mere 5 minute walk to the doctor’s Park Hotel. She has 4 star accommodations. I’m on the verge of one and a half. But the scenery fits the mood and the idea to be stoned beyond comprehension. To forget and to explore. See with the critical eyes of an analytical traveller.
Thursday Night. The Rookies Bar, more beer, more herb. The Greenhouse Effect (the main coffeeshop near the Red Light), more beer, more herb. Different classes. The evening is set. One man. Alone in his own thoughts yet surrounded by many. Late lunch at a pizza joint. Nothing special. Asking for ice water is like pulling teeth.
“Will that be with or without bubbles?” –Forget bubbles, what about the ice?
Something about Dutch water. It’s not as clean as Helsinki water. Maybe something to do with the water in the canals or something.
Narrow streets, endless streams of shoppers with eyes open peering into the windows dressed with prostituted mannequins showing their latest goods. Vibrant colors of the era, high heeled moonboots, wigs of platinum and pink erotica. Dim-witted brainless slaves ignorant of the crowds inability to part with its money. Nowadays, even we plastic men and women have to show some self-control at times.
The Rijksmuseum. Friday 1009AM. Rembrandt’s Nightwatch among others. Beautiful eye-catching historic objects of Holland. Something every visitor should do — see what is kept in large rooms, behind glass cases, and held in high regard for generations to come. One of the most enticing paintings beyond those of detailed warships in battle is Ferdinand Bol’s Allegory on Education. Catch a glimpse of it and you’ll recognize the humor.
When it comes to visiting national museums it always seems to be on an overcast day. Like the sun staying behind the clouds just begging you to go inside and see the visuals of a modern civilization. Even in Madrid, February 1993, El Prado had smooth corners underneath the diffused light of the sky. And within the spaciousness held a beauty unto itself. You can spend hours perhaps days watching the different kinds of people who visit museums. But the real truth lies flat against the walls. Hung by an unseen force. Waiting for eyes to stop and stare. Even the Dutch had their wares on display in Espana.
Friday Night. The doctor sneaks away from the rest of the doctor colleagues. 82 of them. Hosted by an arm of Jerck, a major source of drugs on the planet. One for hypertension, one for diarrhea, one for eternal erections. Upon sneaking away and later in the evening the guilt begins.
“They’ll never invite me back,” she says. –“Well, we’re already here. Let’s have fun,” I say.
We walk over to the Rookies Bar. One of my favorite places away from the Leidseplein hustle and bustle targeted towards the unwary tourists. The real world of local clientel begins on a city’s sidestreets. The ones that are dirty and stink a bit of beer and urine. A genuine appeal to someone who doesn’ t ask for much. Inside, the locals are mellow. Heineken and herb in the air. One billiard table is collecting change. We sit and chat. So good to see her. To smell her hair and feel her skin. Our second foreign city together. Stockholm last May.
Dinner at Caprise Italiano was next. I took the mellow route. She the garlic and hot. We mixed them both together and made an excellent dish. Afterwards, we made our way to the Red Light. Another beer here and there. Then a nice tasteful sex show at Casa Rossa. It was a kick in the pants. We never did make it to see the London Calling music festival at Paradiso later in the evening that was featuring a favorite Swedish band named Kent. The line was too long. The tired cells were beg inning to ache and the high was coming down strong. Time for a nap.
Saturday morning. Flea market madness. Waterlooplein. The cheeziness of Indonesian goods for sale. All markets are the same around the world. We bought a nice leather jacket. It weighs more than 12 kilos. A heavy s.o.b. My new shield agains the world. Armor for the traveling explorer. Big bad leather mad.
The evening thoughts and episodes of strange talk led to a separation for a while. She needed time alone. All I could do was continue onward, walking amongst the shops, missing her from time to time. Every second in fact, once again alone. As if she was merely a dream.
Reunification early evening, time for a slow canal cruise with the setting sun lighting up the dressing-less window apartments above our heads. Paintings on walls, candles on sills, dripping wax upon the slow somber Dutch Saturday evenings that you only read in musty dusty books resting in peace on an antique bookstore’s shelves.
After the cruise, time to part once again. Tiredness. The onset of evening and recuperation of the previous battles with wakeful eyes and alcohol induced upside-down stomach.
I go back to the Quentin Hotel with many options, the entire city lay before me, every nightclub, every coffeeshop, every restaurant, every corner yet explored beckons my eyes to come nearer — finger extended and pulling me elsewhere. I go back to my room. Without a date and without a reason, I stay there all night smoking the remains of my hash and herb setting the alarm so I wouldn’t be late at her hotel in the morning for the bus ride back to the airport.
End of Amsterdam. Time to go back home and walk the dog.
I post this now since today Miep Gies passed away at 100 years. http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/01/11/obit.miep.gies/index.html