My week-long Dutch tour is over. I had a wondeful time, but my pro-Dutch bias is well-known. Last Friday, Jod and Brother joined me, on a strictly non-professional basis. We had a grand time. Some textual (and photographic) snapshots follow.
This was my third time there, the second on business. Both previous times I had really not appreciated what a pretty place it is, although I did this time.
I actually had a good time there, to which the fact that I had good company contributed a lot; one of them, a nonchalant (in the good sense) Dutchman, complained that what distinguishes Compatridos from everyone else is their constant discussing of what it means to be a Compatrido; still, he is blithe enough to be learning Compatridese for six months now and talented enough to already be speaking it fluently.
Moving to Amsterdam, Athenaeum must be my favourite bookshop, although I can hardly read most of the stuff in there. What makes it so different (apart from its great atmosphere, artfully balancing between the cavernous academic and the supermarket sheer ends of the spectrum) is that it always looks like every single book in there has been carefully chosen. Far from having everything, Athenaeum stocks a lot of stuff that looks like it matters. Their magazine and comic section (not shown on the picture) is simply stellar.
There is nothing fabulously unique about this café, except that it is not inundated with tourists, that it makes good cakes, that its inside is ideal to read a book or your paper in adverse weather and that its outdoor seating, facing the Spui (the picture above was actually taken from Luxembourg), gives a view to gorgeous Amsterdammers passing by, on foot or on their bikes, when they are not seated next to you.
Matters of taste
A thing that once more became clear to me during my trip to Holland was that taste goes a very long way. Let me explain.
On the second day of my trip I met a Norwegian colleague hailing from Tromsø, home of the northernmost brewery (unless the one in Murmansk finally beat them), university, launderette etc. in the world. He was extolling his home town, of a population of 60,000 but “as vibrant and as dynamic as New York”, as everyone is into some creative enterprise or another — an antidote to long winter nights, endless summer days and the general absence of clemency in the weather. I rhetorically wondered whether alcohol substitutes for ‘creativity’ in the case of most Tromsøers and what good is a New York of 60,000 on the edge of the world. It became obvious in a while that the discussion would not be going anywhere, as it was a conflict in tastes, and de gustibus non disputantur; because neither of us had any intention to appear too contentious, we eventually switched topic.
The issue of taste popped up again and again during the trip. Another example can be drawn from looking at the women behind the (in)famous windows. Many of those on display looked just right to me for the kind of work they were engaged in but a lot of them made me wonder how someone could have sex with them there and then: not necessarily because they were scary or ugly, but because they looked like the kind of person you would probably like to get to know a bit before having sex with. I am obviously one of those who believe that there are people to have one-night stands with (for exposition, let’s equate prostitution to a one night stand, although, um, well, more on this below) and people to get to know a bit before getting in bed with. This is incomprehensible for some, either the very feeling or the precise kind of women that create it in me: but then, what turns you on and how is surely a matter of taste.
Violence and rowdiness
Prostitution is nothing like one-night stands, of course. I witnessed a trio of butt-ugly Englishmen harrassing and verbally abusing a sex worker. Why? Because they could. Not only was she a woman (i.e. a by definition soft target), but also an “immoral” one, so their asinine behaviour was justified on the basis of their standing on higher moral ground, too. They were rude to her, made her open the window pretending they were punters and then called her names and went on to sneer at her. When she told them to get the hell out of there, one of them assumed a mock-righteous tone and reminded her to watch her language as she had not known him for that long, and so on.
Slightly more terrifying was the case of a Latin American who got a sex worker to open the window. Once, probably from her accent, he realised they both came from Ecuador (that’s the bit of conversation I got), he produced a camera and started shooting pictures of her. The poor woman started wailing and went for his left hand, this being by far the most disturbing incident I witnessed while I was in Amsterdam, but the Ecuadorian guy would go on laughing and shooting with his free hand.
Speaking of rowdy foreigners, Amsterdam is a good specimen of how orderly a free place can be, when individual freedoms are compounded with (mostly) effective protection of individual rights. It is most telling that in a city attracting more tourists than its population, tourists going there to get drunk and laid and high or stoned (again, a matter of taste), only a handful of them get away with being pigs. Amsterdammers believe most of these pigs are English, they are mainly right: I witnessed the Dutch celebrating the World Cup victory of the Oranje against Serbia-Montenegro: it was a jubilant and pretty party-like affair.
The equivalent English reactions are considerably more thuggish and distinctly smell of piss and vomit. Which made me wonder: with all this drinking and smoking, why is central Amsterdam on a Saturday night such a better-smelling place than central London? Anyway.
Diversity and freedom make Amsterdam a more fascinating place than the other pretty Dutch towns and cities. Speaking of (my) tastes again, I would move to Amsterdam, the Regio 20 of this post’s title, any time. Where can you find a place where there is a Capoeira street contest on one pavement
while the street and the opposite pavement is crammed with military police, waiting outside a University building while the Queen is inside attending a graduation ceremony?
Again, anyway. A last picture is of people dressed up as superheroes (and Scooby Doo, who is not super-anything), waiting for the tram: probably of the Super Dad movement