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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Amsterdam - Room With A View 15 July 2017

Room With A View

It is small, but enough. I pack light, the bed is good, and there is a desk. What else does one need for five days in a place like this Dutch Mardi gras. Free breakfast, same as what I eat at home. The staff knows and looks out for me. $350 for five days. The highlight is the window that looks out on the canal and Rossos live sex show. I have never been. I always think about it as a sort of science project, a Jane Goodall thing. But I just can’t bring myself to do it—Been there. Done that.

It was the later 1960’s. I was forty something, on my own and curious in Bangkok, Pat Pong Street. One of three avenues open to any kind of sex you might imagine.I went to one of the ‘Live Sex’ shows, but don’t remember much of it. A woman shot some ping pong balls into the air, then later some snakes were brought out and at the same time I heard to door lock at the entrance of the place. I get claustrophobic behind closed doors and had seen enough. A thing like that changes you. I got up to leave and was stopped by a guy standing at the door.

“No no. Is okay,” he assured me. “No problem.”
“Out.” I just said, out, and he could see I meant it.

That’s the only show I ever saw—part of, but I’ve been curious about Rosso’s. What do they do? I can’t help but wonder. There are lines waiting to get in the place by early evening. Thirty or forty tourists, some in tour groups. Some all female groups. Women giggle in the queue. From inside the show I often hear laughter echoing over the canal.

I got some information today as I was walking behind a pair of middle age tourists. As we passed Casa Rosso a tout standing at the entrance approached them and I stopped to listen as he made his pitch with a heavy Russian accent.

“Four Four couple make sex,” he says. “Smoke cigarette with pussy. Girls write with pussy. 6 p.m. night show is 55 Euros.”

Last year it was 40 Euros. 50 Euros was the listed price for fifteen minuets with one of the window prostitutes, but their prices may have gone up.The couple tells him, maybe later. They will be coming back, but there’s no lack of customers. The show is now on both sides of the canal. The second one is smaller and takes care of overflow, a constant problem. There is a string of colored lights across the canal, from the big show to the smaller one. There is some place selling tickets farther up the canal, and when the lights are green it signals sellers to keep pushing tickets. When the light is red it means, Full Up. The lights are almost always red.



I can’t imagine what they make. 300 people a day, minimum — times 55 . . .  Fifteen thousand?  More I think.

There are four hooker window to the left of Russo's. I’ve never seen anyone go in, but men are tricky about it. Most kind of loiter around, then jump in, real fast, when they think no one is looking. This is the first year I have seen any of the four windows empty.

There's a for rent sign on the glass. Eighty Euros for the day shift. Prostitutes have to be licensed, and as licenses expire they’re not renewed. There are fewer every year, but still a couple hundred window workers here.

Last year a wise guy at the hotel bar asked Anna how she could compete sexually with so many professionals around.
She said, “I give my boyfriend more than fifteen minutes.” They never see her comin’.
Sex is the other big draw here. There are dozens of sex shops, for gay and straight, all kinds of devices—costumes.

There are tattoo shops, and piercing shops with all kinds of silver adornments, fast food places, coffee shops where you can smoke, but cannot buy.

Sports bars and places offering organic drugs, truffles, seeds, and stuff that will improve your sex life— ‘Natural Elements.’ There’s a place selling CBD juice.

This started last year, but is more out front now. I don’t know anything about it. The word is nobody really knows that much about it.

                                                                     CBD Oil
Oils with a high CBD content have enjoyed a rise in popularity in the European market. As long as the THC content is no higher than 0.2% in most (but not all) European member states, CBD oil is legal. The surge in awareness and demand has created a large-and unregulated-industry. 

 *          *          *

There are several paraphernalia shops selling bongs that can cost up to a thousand bucks. Who buys these things? I’m talking about businesses on Warmoesstraat, the main drag.

There are no places selling pot on Warmoesstraat. The only two I noticed in the entire Red Light area were the Bulldog, and Feels Good. Both of them out of the way enough to be almost out of sight, and making millions. Both shops have two dealers, side by side—like bank tellers. There is always a queue of at least three or four customers waiting, often more, and no purchase less that twenty Euros. Transactions take about four minutes. One does not ask questions, like, What’s good? If you don’t know what you want, get out of the way. Both places crowded, twelve hours a day. 2 dealers X 15 customers X 20 Euros, about 900 Euros an hour X 12 hours…. Something like ten thousand bucks a night.
This is getting too long. More on drugs next post.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Amsterdam – Observing the Red Light Day 3— Part 1

It’s my third day here. I’m kind of settled in. I love my room at the Torenzicht. I’ve had the same one every year, for five years — all except the last. There was some kind of booking confusion and I got transferred to another hotel.

The first time I had this room was the most interesting. I’d come back from an afternoon walkabout, charting a cognitive map of things on my first day. The Oude Kirk (Old Church) makes an excellent landmark, it’s very big and everyone knows where it is.

Only problem is there are about five of these structures, all of them old and look about the same. One is called, ‘The New Old Church’, I‘ve no idea what the names of others are, but only one is in the center of the Red Light Distinct.

I was standing at the railing of a small porch outside the hotel bar with a guy from England, watching the endless parade of tourists.

We fell into an easy conversation: Where ya from? How long have you been here? Stuff like that. He was smoking a joint.  You can’t smoke inside, so people come out here to have a puff or two.

“You want?” He held the blunt out to me. “Good stuff,” he says without breathing.

“Sure, why not.” We talk for ten or fifteen minutes, time enough to take a few drags before going up to my room. The “good stuff” didn’t seem to affect me very much, though I realized I had been more chatty than I usually am. We had gotten down to wives, and pets, and kids before the conversation ended—a standard sort of pot experience.

My room was adequate, if Spartan. Just the bare essentials, two reasonably comfortable single beds and a sink— bathroom and shower down the hall. I start to throw my backpack down on the nearest bed where I’d left the clothes I’d changed from after checking in last night.

I notice the mattress is wet and dump the backpack on the floor, then take a closer look. It’s very wet. In fact, there is a puddle . . . of water. OMG! I'm tripping. This can't be, I tell myself. I did not do this, and no one has been here. I'm only occupant, and the sink is on the other side of the room. Jesus, what have I been smoking? Keep calm, I tell myself. You’ll be okay. Relax. Close your eyes. When you open them things will be back to normal. Things did not go back to normal. I put my hand in the puddle. This is water. This is real water. How did it get here?

At last, a drop splashed in the puddle, coming from the ceiling. Pipe leak in the room above. Thank God. I am still sane. I go down to the bartender and tell him what happened. He says I can get another room and they will pay to launder the wet clothes I’d left on the bed. Seeing an opportunity for free rent I said I would spend the rest of my stay in the ‘wet bed room’ if they would give me two days rent free. He happily agreed.

The Torenzicht’s rooms have been updated since that first year, 2013. My room has been divided into two rooms, each with a single bed, TV, and Wi-Fi. Rent is just a little more than what I paid five years ago. View from my window’s still the best in Amsterdam, in my opinion.

View From My Window

Friday, June 30, 2017

Amsterdam Sidebar - Tattoos

I have a question about tattoos. I often see people, sometimes acquaintances, with tattooed letters spelling words I can’t decipher. Is it okay to ask what it says? I spoke with a woman in Amsterdam last year, curious about a hexagram tattooed on her arm, one of those I Ching - - & — things, 6 lines. She had no idea what it meant, something about ‘good fortune,’ she thought. I suspect there are a lot of people wearing tattoos that mean something other than what they think.
I asked some guy at my gym in Sweden where he got his ink—good question, hip. I watch tattoo shows on TV. He seemed pleased to explain.

The whole tattoo thing seems weird to me. What is it when people are convinced ripped jeans are cool, and piercings? I’m eighty this year, maybe it’s my age. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only one without tattoos. Wife doesn’t have one, but our dog does, in her ear.

I’m in Amsterdam tonight; at the Torenczicht Hotel’s bar, watching people, which seems half of what I do here, watching people, noticing tattoos. I’m watching Anna, tend the bar. She’s got the best tattoos I’ve ever seen, these kind of smoky things that go up her arms and disappear into short sleeves. Skulls, strange beings and shapes I can never quite make out— words in script around her neck. I can only see a few of the letters, but they appear to be in English.

Anna’s Romanian, by way of Hungary somehow—but lived here in Amsterdam for years. She speaks 7 languages, English, of course, and Dutch, German, Spanish, Portuguese . I forget the others. I have never seen her fail to communicate with anyone wanting the get a room, or a drink, or how to get to some location. She rides a motorcycle bigger than I am, and wears the best in leather gear, first class, expensive helmet.

It’s 12:30 p.m. and the place is crammed, standing room only and no standing room left. I count over 50 people. Bars open to the public close close at 2. Anna is working alone. I watch impressed as phantom shadowed arms blur into motion, washing glasses, making change, bantering wisecracks, pouring beer, mixing drinks, checking people in, and telling them how to get someplace. She’s poetry in motion, like Tai Chi, but faster.

In the mist of this there’s now a problem with someone’s change, something about how many beers his table had had—a guy in his middle 20’s giving her a hard time, in a friendly, teasing way.
“Ahh, I’m just messin’ with you,” he finally says. “I have a complicated brain.”

“No, I think it's very simple,” she responds. Those close enough to hear crack up.

I’m laughing before she even speaks. You don't tread on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off the Lone Ranger, and you do not mess around with Anna. She has heard it all. Every quip, pickup line, and ‘Oh I forgot to pay,’ line—drunks and stoners. She handles it all with charming expertise born from years of experience.

“I’m going for a nice long ride after work tonight,” she tells me when her shift is near an end. “Then tomorrow do the same thing all over again.”

At 1 a.m. her replacement arrives. She heads upstairs to get her motorcycle gear. Before she leaves I have to ask, ‘What does that say, around your neck?”
“Been here, Done That,” she tells me. We both laugh.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Amsterdam Red Light – 2017 Wednesday – Part 2

Garden Tour

Terry was right. Garden tours listed in the brochure are open to the public at any time—if one knows where they are. I was a bit disappointed having expected something a bit more spectacular. They were nice, quiet, peaceful places to get away from it all, but nothing to write home about.

I only made it to three of them before my bad leg started giving me trouble and I had to give it up. Will try again next year now that I have a list of the addresses.

Saw these on my way home. There are a lot these colorful surprises along the sidewalks of Amsterdam.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Amsterdam Red Light – 2017 Tuesday – Part 1

First day: 

I got my favorite room back at the Torenzicht, overlooking a canal that once hosted a never ending parade of small boats filled with happy tourists and locals having a good time, but no more. The circled window is my room. You can see a temporary, steel retaining wall in the canal at the bottom of the photo.


Reconstruction began in 2014, a major project replacing the canal’s  hundred year old walls. It was supposed to take two years, but is still unfinished.
There has always been a problem with buildings along the canal having a tendency to list. The structures rest on pilings (usually about 16 of them) driven into the ocean floor over a century ago.


Some are very slowly sinking into the sand—have been for years. The pilings can be replaced, but the work is expensive, around 50,000 Euros to repair one piling. Much to everyone’s surprise the buildings started leaning faster as work on the canal progressed. To make a long story short, the construction company went bankrupt and work has come to a dead stop. Boats can no longer pass.
There have been many changes in the Red Light district, not all for the best, in my opinion. There has been rampant commercialization and a ‘clean up’ on Warmoesstraat where a string of world famous coffee houses once hosted thousands of happy vacationers. As leases expired they were not renewed. Some were allowed to become bars where alcohol is sold. Most of the coffee houses have gone out of business or relocated to surrounding neighborhoods where they are allowed to exist.
The Baba was a world class favorite, now moved so far away I’ve never had the energy to go and check it out. I have a problem walking for long distances— bad knee, a 1960s motorcycle accident.


 BABA 2013

   BABA 2015


        What Was BABA – 2017

Now The Grizzly  –  Food & Liquor Company

The Red Light feels uncomfortably commercial now—some good times gone forever, replaced with fast food places, bars, and sex shops. Streets remodeling to make room for tourists who have deeper pockets. An X rated Disneyland promoted by nostalgia for a time and place that was.
My good friend Terry works at one of several Hunter’s coffee shops. What was the best one, here on Warmoesstraat, is now a bar, but Terry works at one in Rembrandtplein, an outlaying neighborhood where marijuana is permitted.



Drugs are not legal in Amsterdam, they are permitted.  A sort of ‘don’t ask-don’t tell’ thing. Should be a fifteen minute walk from where I am, I’m told, but I’m not into walking. I attempt to take a pedicab and learn the cost is 15 euros. This exact same trip cost 4 Euros last year. The pedalers and their rigs are now a company—set rates and rules for what was not so long ago, independent and individual operations with negotiable prices.


15 Euros is a little over 16 U.S. dollars, for what I’m told is a 15 minute walk. But I got lost. Streets here are not in grids. They’ve been laid out in rings with crooked turns and twists between. I arrive at Hunter’s 80 minutes later. My leg is killing me—damned knee.

“So what you up to this time, mate?” Terry asks me.

“I don’t know for sure. I thought I’d go and see the Open Tuinen Dagen, Open Garden Days. A tour. Costs 20 Euros.”

“It’s a rip-off man. You can see all those places free. This place has gone commercial. All about the money. Tourists pay outrageous prices for most ordinary things.”

“I know, but don’t know where any of these gardens are. The tour guide’s being sold by Amnesty International, so maybe not such a bad thing.

End Of Part 1

Part 2 – Wednesday Next

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Amsterdam Red Light – 2017 Sunday – Part 1

The Happiness Project

Went to see Body Worlds today.    €18.oo

Fantastic display on six floors of one of those traditionally narrow Amsterdam buildings, each floor with a different subject. One starts at the top and works their way down. The theme was “Happiness.” A clever idea as the show could easily be a bit morbid, after all these are real, dry frozen bodies of very dead people. There were a lot of teenagers passing though, having an excellent educational moment.

Dry frozen, plastic covered bones, each floor dedicate to a particular area: muscle, organs, etc. Some of the displays were a bit embarrassing. Young girls giggled. Do women always giggle when embarrassed? There is a woman’s tour that goes to the Casa Rosso live sex show across the canal from my hotel window. The lines waiting to get in to the one hour show are long. Giggles echo between the buildings on either side of the canal as tourists wait for admission. I often hear laughter and female screams and shouts coming from inside the show. I have never seen it myself, maybe someday – or not.

A girl called her boyfriend over to look at cut away parts of a vagina and I recalled a line from Cormack McCarthy’s, The Counselor.  “Seeing a thing like that changes you.”
I took special interest in the body parts that worry me, knees, and back, arthritis—all that stuff that happens to us as we age. A prostate gland was on display. It seemed so tiny and fragile to be able to cause so much trouble. I learned its original purpose was to help create sperm. After that it spends its days making men miserable. A number of displays dealt with injuries and illnesses. Alzheimer’s for instance – plaque happens. Scary.  There was a sliced-in-half, long ways penis with a prosthetic implant. Ak! Another of a broken bone with one of those metal plates screwed into it—almost a foot long with 13 screws to hold it. Ouch. An opened up pair of smoker’s lungs was scary.

There were ongoing movies —blood rushing through veins and arteries—clots.  There were free blood pressure test machines. I scored 86/135, a bid high but in the acceptable range.  It was that kind of a week.

One various floors there were sidebar comments on happiness, and what causes or prevents it. ‘50% of our availability is hereditary,’ one display read, ‘40% based on decisions we make, and 10% by environment.’ Interesting.

The bottom floor display was a series of photos, 15 international families posed before a table holding a week’s worth of groceries. A placard below informed viewers of the cost. 12 Euros in India, €275 in Netherlands. America was near the top, but not the most expensive.

Sunday Part 2 Next – I think.