An Anonymous American in Amsterdam

For those who read my original itinerary in Europe, posted here in June, I should first explain why I ended up in Amsterdam instead of Florence and Rome. There are several reasons, one geographic, another economic, and a third intuitive. The geographic has to do with my being unable to switch my flight back to the States out of Rome instead of London. I decided to save time and money by staying closer to my port of departure. I can’t be entirely sure what I won’t see in Italy, but after a few days here in Amsterdam, I feel I made the right choice by coming north to Hell instead of going south to Heaven.

The first observation I’ve made probably holds true of every city, but especially this one: you cannot live here. You can definitely find, for a price, a bed to sleep in (and, for a price, someone to sleep with). There are plenty of places to chill, drink, toke, and trip. But you can’t stay anywhere too long before the air gets stale. The whole city is for passing through, for window shopping. Sure, people will also stop and buy, but its over before they know it and then its on to the next thing a little lighter in the pocket and heavy in the soul.

The red light district centers around the oldest church in Amsterdam, Oude Kerk, originally built in 1306, and steadily renovated ever since. Across the narrow cobbled alley running along its back wall are a dozen glass doors leading up a red carpet stairway or through a red curtain. At dusk, women of every age, shape, and color take up temporary residence. Until the Reformation of 1578, priests would sell writs of indulgence to sailors and prostitutes who wanted to be absolved of sin. Nowadays you just buy a beer at the cafe.

Amsterdam is perhaps the first city to support a global economy. Its 17th century golden age saw the birth of the first stock exchange and central bank. Money still rules this city. It can buy you almost anything, legally.

It is about as international as they come. I’ve never heard so many languages at once. English (at least in the more tourist-oriented places) is the bridge language, the common denominator. Street performers speak it. All the cafe and coffeeshop people speak it. Most of the signs are written in it.

That’s it for now, time to find some pancakes.