Act 3, Scene 1

Amsterdam patch

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

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OK, you’ve had a whole act of Italia, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the adventure! Please stow your carry-on luggage under the seat in front of you, or in the overhead compartment. Be warned, the contents of the overhead compartments may shift during flight.

Here's an interesting day: I had breakfast in Venezia (Venice) with a little last-minute shopping afterward. Then I hopped a plane and met Lena in Bruxelles (Brussels) for lunch and a wonderful Belgian waffle. We wandered around the city a bit before getting on a train.
A nap later I woke up in Amsterdam, had dinner then wandered into the red light district for window shopping and gawking. Some days cannot be believed.
But I’m jumping ahead.

Brussles

Lena had neglected to make reservations for a hotel or hostel so we hit the Amsterdam information office and got one of the last rooms in town. It was Amsterdam’s annual cultural festival and everywhere was booked solid. We ended up at one of the priciest hotels in town, Victoria Hotel. At least it was conveniently right across from the train station. I complained until we walked in the room - television.
I’d forgotten my oldest friend! There the Cyclops sat, eying the room, awaiting animation. I awoke the beast and its gaze instantly turned me to stone. I can hardly resist a TV when I have a steady diet of it, but here I’d been denied for 9 weeks and the addiction, forgotten during its absence, came on like a heroin high. Lena had to pull me away.
I got a hot shower. I enjoyed it even more than the TV. Things just kept getting better - after my shower I looked out the window and saw a rainbow arching over the whole city, no shit.
Map of Amsterdam

I stopped complaining about the expensive room.

We had dinner and wandered around, eventually stumbling into the red-light district. Lena and I bar-hopped in the district for hours, passing between the rows and rows of professional ladies advertising their assets in the red lit windows. I was impressed with the bold displays of flesh and the variety of the aesthetics. You can find someone to suit any fancy, for a price.

Let’s Go Europe 1996 says it well:
"The red-light district, bounded by Warmoestr., Gelderskade, and Oude Doelenstr., is the vice sink of Europe; it will either repulse you or fulfill your wettest dreams. Pushers, porn shops, and live sex theaters do a brisk business. Red neon marks houses of legal, if ill, repute. Unlike the illegal streetwalkers, these prostitutes have regular gynecological exams - but keep in mind that HIV/AIDS takes 6 months to detect. During the day, the red-light district is comparatively flaccid, with tourists milling about, consulting their maps, even bringing their children. As the sun goes down, the people get braver, and the area much more stimulating."

It had been a long day so we called it a night relatively early. More on the oldest profession shortly.

Rainbow over Amsterdam


This penis sculpture has balls that rotate on a column of water. You'd have a hard time displaying this in a gallery in the US, but in Amsterdam it's on a public street.

The first full day in the Mecca of sin was superb. The town is fabulous in every way and Lena may be right - you can just walk around and enjoy the beautiful city. The people are amazingly friendly, speak perfect English and are often gorgeous. The canals are practically drinkable compared to their Venetian counterparts and the mass transit system is a joy. The place is filled with art, something like 42 museums (I'm not sure if that includes the Sex Museums or the Cannabis Museums) and more than 20 performance theaters (I'm sure that doesn't include the live sex shows!) The whole place has a feeling of elegance, distinction, and intelligence.

Were it not fucking freezing I'd move there permanently. Nowhere is heard a discouraging word, though the skies are cloudy and rainy all day. "Welcome to Northern Europe!" said Lena while I purchased a sweater - in September! Back home I’d be jumping in the river to cool off. In Amsterdam I was wishing I’d brought a coat.
Advertising in Amsterdam is far more sarcastic than back in the states. One store had the windows filled with the usual "50% off” signs but mixed in, unnoticeable unless you were paying attention, were a few "Now up to 70% profit" signs. There's a fast food joint named "Fat City" but it was a hostel that had the best advertising campaign in town. On the tram it said "Hans Brinkel - no bellboy, no pool, no minibar, no airco, no second bathroom, no bidet, no whirlpool, no midget golf..." and on and on. They had posters pasted on trashcans that read "Now 5 more watts in every light bulb at Hans Brinkel Hotel!" When we decided to find cheaper accommodations the next morning Hans Brinkel was top of my list. It turned out to be cheap, spotlessly clean and very friendly.
We hit a Sex Museum, silly and not really worth the money but it did provide to this funny interlude: Lena and I walked past a six-foot plastic penis sculpture. I pointed and asked her "So is that anything like your fiancée?"
"Unfor-...” then a long pause, “no."
I laughed for the rest of the tour.

To get the strongest contrast we headed to the The Van Gogh museum. His work hadn’t impressed me much in the books I’d studied, but in person it’s, well, stunning. I saw “Wheatfield of Crows” and literally had to sit down, breathless. I sat on a bench and gawked for a full 20 minutes, silent - a record for my remote-control, MTV attention span.
“You bastard,” I finally said.
And there is row after row of the monstrosities.
“Monstrosities?!?” you ask?
Yes, they’re a fucking menace to anyone that’s ever picked up a brush. Why bother picking it up again? It’s all been said. I'll never paint again. In his works he says what I feel. I do a poor version of saying it aloud or in print, but at least I can get my meaning across. In paint I can't even approach reality, much less the effect of reality on my psyche.
The next day we hit the Rembrandt museum. Unfortunately it only contains the Dutch master’s prints. His paintings are scattered far and wide. The museum does have some interesting works, but nothing as awe-inspiring as the Van Gogh museum.

The big cultural fest coincides with the beginning of the theater season. There are performances and live music and film festivals and stuff going on everywhere we go. But you've heard enough of breathtaking views, important/impressive works of art, and magnificent churches - time to leave the nave, head out into the street and down into the gutter.

Quentin Tarantino writes some hilarious dialogue. This bit, from Pulp Fiction, is appropriate:
Jules: Okay, so tell me again about the hash bars
Vincent: Okay, watcha wanna know?
Jules: Hash is legal now right?
Vincent: Yeah, it's legal, but it ain't 100% legal. I mean, you can't just walk into a...restaurant, roll a joint, and start puffing away. I mean, they want you to smoke it in your home or certain designated places.
Jules: And those are hash bars.
Vincent: Yeah, it breaks down like this, okay, it's legal to buy it, it's legal to own it, and if you're the proprietor of a hash bars, it's legal to sell it. It's legal to carry it, but but, that doesn't matter, because...get a load of this, alright, if you get stopped by a cop in Amsterdam, it's illegal for them to search you. I mean, that's the right the cops in Amsterdam DON'T have.
Jules: Oh man, I'm going, that's all it is to it, I'm fuckin' going.
Vincent: I know baby, you dig it the most.....but you know the funniest thing about Europe is?
Jules: What?
Vincent: It's the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it's just, it's just there's a little different.
Jules: Example?
Vincent: Alright, well you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam, and buy a beer. And I don't mean just like no paper cup, I'm talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer in McDonald's. And you know what they call uh...a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system, they wouldn't know what the fuck a quarter pounder is.
Jules: Then what do they call it?
Vincent: They call it, uh, Royale with Cheese.
Jules: Royale with Cheese?
Vincent: That's right.
Jules: What do they call a Big Mac?
Vincent: A Big Mac is a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac
Jules: Le Big Mac, (laughs) what do they call a Whopper?
Vincent: I don't know, I didn't go into Burger King...

Don’t quote me on this, but here’s how I understand the drug trade in Amsterdam:
Marijuana is technically illegal in Amsterdam but it's not enforced. Instead, there's some kind of certificate you must get to run an established drug outlet. You can purchase it in about 1 in 5 bars or cafes in town and you'll see and smell it everywhere. I decided to check out a few places before deciding where to spend my dough. I thumbed through the "menu" at one place. It's a notebook full of baggies containing examples, with descriptions and prices. It was overwhelming. In the States you'd have one or two choices from your local dealer, if you can find it at all. But here you've got so many choices of cannabis derivatives it was impossible for a relative novice like myself to chose.
But it didn't matter. By day two I was already sick of the smell. It's everywhere, and thick. It got nauseating after a while and I didn't want to waste an evening stoned out of my mind when I could be paying for sex so I cruised through a couple of places but never actually participated. I realize that disappoints a lot of my readers but you gotta have your priorities.
Again, don’t quote me on this, but here’s how I understand the flesh trade works:
Prostitution is also technically illegal (I heard they’re trying to make it fully legal so they can regulate it easier) but, like the marijuana, it’s tolerated. Instead they enforce mandatory STD tests and you cannot work without a clean bill of health, and proof of it.
In addition to that, there are live sex shows. From all reports, most of them reliable, the shows are a complete waste of money. For $50 to $100 you get to see an extremely mechanical sexual act performed on stage by one or more extremely bored people.
For about half that you could have sex yourself just next door - why bother just watching?

Lena and I took a break from cruising the options for exotic sin and ended up in some bar packed with an English soccer team chanting along to that damned CD by Oasis. If I ever hear Champagne Supernova again I'll hurl. The soccer team had the jukebox jammed with money playing the album over and over. Many of them were falling down drunk, stupid drunk, probably-going-to-hurl-soon drunk. Lena found it amusing and giggled every time one of them fell off his bar stool or when their chants got so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think. I thought it was funny at first, but after the fifth or thousandth time Champagne Supernova came on, with the whole lot singing along incoherently, I was less amused. Then one of the soccer guys climbed the steps to the balcony overlooking his mates, pulled down his shorts and peed on his friends.
No, I’m not making this up.
Had it been me that had been pissed on I'd have been pissed off and that piss-drunk Englishman would have hit the floor in a puddle of his own piss. I figured his friends would be thinking along the same lines and was prepared to duck, watching for flying beer bottles. However, his buddies just laughed, wiped off the recycled beer and partied on. Lena thought it was hilarious.
Another of the team took his pants down to piss on his friends, but then decided it would be funnier if he ran out into the street, semi-nude. I was hoping the authorities would spot him and pummel him into submission in the street, Rodney King style, or maybe drown him in the canal, or at least take him to the pokey for the night, but the passing police just waved him back toward the bar. He returned, slowly pulling his shorts back on.
And to think the Europeans look down on Americans as slobs and party animals. Even my most lunatic redneck buddies couldn’t hold a candle to these guys.
OK, they probably could, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a display.
Not in public anyway.

We continued window shopping. On average, I'd say the ladies for rent average about 4.5 on a scale of 1-10, but there are numerous exceptions at both ends. Some were so beautiful that we just stopped and stared. Almost all wear predictable lingerie or bikinis. They sit on stools and watch the potential clients pass by. Most have perfected some quick flirt technique, tapping on the window and winking or something even more provocative.
In the afternoon and early evening it's mostly tourists wandering the district just out of curiosity, with an occasional businessman slipping in inconspicuously for a quickie during the lunch break. Even whole tour groups pass through, though nobody is supposed to take photos of the ladies. Someone will break the rule and the woman will barge out yelling and screaming while the rule-breaker jogs away, but other than these rare disturbances the scene is quiet, clean and civilized.
Later the drunks come out and you'll see packs of males trying to talk their buddies into the act, and fewer and fewer tour groups or couples. The ladies get bolder and the harder drug dealers come out. (The only annoyance in the entire town is the guys at the edges of the district whispering “Coke, ecstasy?” over and over. You’d have to be stupid, desperate, or more likely both to trust these guys. Why on earth, in a town where you can buy sex, alcohol, pot, shrooms and other intoxicants at your corner bar there would still be a market for harder substances I can’t understand, but everyone has their own interests.)

I slowly worked on Lena’s attitude toward casual sex, in a blatant attempt to corrupt her. No, not seduce her, just corrupt her. Back at the hostel she admitted one of our roommates was cute. After some goading she even admitted interest in sex with him on a purely non-emotional level. It was a small victory, but she still couldn’t even understand why I’d want to pay for sex or why Heather would just smile at the idea.
But later when we returned to window shopping, and Lena had a few beers in her, she surprised me by pointing out a very pretty prostitute and saying, "You could do her!"
I giggled a bit before agreeing with her selection.
However, too much staring, drinking and sisterly Lena presence got the better of me and I decided to put it off another day. Lena was headed home in the morning so she could get back to school, leaving me in Amsterdam to party on alone.

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