Say hey?

Me: I always ate the crust like I was told. It wasn’t until last year I realized “that’s where all the vitamins are” was a lie.
Erin: I rather like the crust. The only time I don’t is on the little cucumber sandwiches at tea parties.
Me: …and how many of those do you go to?
Erin: Quite a lot, actually. I really like them.

Erin just left. I’m officially traveling solo again, and I’m not sure where I’m going tomorrow yet.

So sad. She’s terrific. She says “hey?” instead of “what?” – I miss it already.

We had an awesome last day, starting with laughing at Erin because she’d found out she’d been sleeping in bed four rather that three the prior two nights, severely irritating the woman that checked in late to find her bed occupied.

We were in a nearly empty massive dorm room. The “debacle” created was totally unnecessary.

We ran around the city today – the Amsterdam sign, she went to the Van Gogh Museum, I went to Vondelpark, and both to the Anne Frank Museum, built around the site of the Frank residence the family hid in for two years. I have now stepped through the door hidden by the bookcase.

This trip amazes me.

We ended our time together at a place recommended to us by our tour guide. We only remembered the directions of walking to the right way down toward a church where there’s a cafe nearby where you’ll see a hundred and fifty people outside eating apple pie.

Which is really easy to do, if it’s outdoor eating weather. Which it is not.

But we’re smart, we followed our noses, and we ended up at Winkels.

And now she’s gone. Off to mourn.

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With hurried steps I cross the streets / they’re keeping pace with quick heartbeats / a thought a moment on the mind / to look both ways I just declined / I see their wheels cross without cares
/ I hear their bells don’t see their glares / a gutter runs I ran right through / the quickest route to being two / now rain-soaked prints a path they mark / so you’ll find me here in Vondelpark.

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“Do we have to cross the river to get to a peep show?”

If there were two things I learned this summer, it was buy lattes and hold eye contact.

So here we go.

Tonight
Erin and I are set to leave the hostel at 9p.m. We have ideas, fantasies, of going big in Amsterdam. We’re hopefully meeting our friend Cody at the National Monument to have a third partner in crime (or in case one of us, eh, me, wussed out).

Our roommate is an older woman from San Francisco. Silent all day, suddenly chatty, she offers Erin, who has been traveling for three months now, advice.

Roommate: yeah, you want to know the best way to meet people anywhere? I’ll tell you.
Erin: yeah sure!
Roommate: just go to a coffee shop… and…. buy a coffee, and just… sit down.
Erin: Oh. Okay. I’ll be sure to tell Janae that.

You don’t say.

Unfortunately, Cody wasn’t at the monument. Crap, we have to do this by ourselves?

We stroll into the Red Light District. We walk by a few coffeehouses. It dawns on us, whatever moral, immoral, career finding versus fun finding internal dilemmas I’m having about smoking… A glance at each other. One simple, idiotic logistical point will plague us.

Hey… do you know how to roll a joint?

No folks, the answer is no. But we’re going to go to the coffeehouses anyway, and we’re going to pretend at least like we’re doing this, because dammit we’re in Amsterdam. We arrived at The Bulldog. The original coffeehouse. You can go right in there and get coffee and up to five grams, if you want.

Except Erin and I still don’t know how to roll a joint. And the menu shows things like filters on it, too. This is hard. I know how to eat a brownie. Can’t I?

But now we look like idiots, standing outside The Bulldog. Make moves. Make moves.

So I marched in. Do something. What do I know how to do.

“Hi! Can I have two lattes please?”

And so we sat at the most famous Amsterdam coffeehouse… Drinking coffee.

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But the night was young, and Amsterdam is famous for other things, too.

We’d laughed at the thought of going to a peep show. They’re really expensive. 35 to 50 euro. Also, this should come to no one’s surprise, that’s not my scene. I’m a really uncomfortable person anyway – not prude, I just get awkward. Also, I’ve never watched porn. Unless you count “pterodactyl porn,” the funniest College Humor video you never want in your Internet history.

And the moral dilemmas – ages of the sex workers, what are their reasons for doing it, their stories – gosh I’m such a buzzkill.

But it’d be really funny to go watch the 2euro video porn with Erin. Girls, guys, whatever. We see the signs everywhere – “video cabinets,” “now playing”… We picture going in to the same room just to have a really good laugh at a movie. Girls? Girl guy? Who knows, we’ll run out laughing in four seconds.

Except it’s a booth. And we can’t go in together. Separate stalls. We shake hands. It’s 2 euro for 2 minutes. See you in 2 minutes, if not before.

I walked into the booth, close and lock the door behind me. I put the coin in, like I’m about to play
Pinball.

A window opens. It’s a real, live naked woman, on a red bed rotating in front of me.

I’m not going to comment on what the woman looked like- neither here nor there, disrespectful to her. Let me just stress woman – had it been a teen-to-my-age-looking girl, I would have gotten out immediately.

So the surroundings. It’s a red velvet, rotating bed, with booths facing in all around. I notice the man in the window across from me and cringe, thinking I really hope I don’t see any activity on his part. This two minutes will go fast, right?

And I watch. And I see.

And I think about how Erin is doing in the next booth.

I really should leave. But I don’t.

The woman rises and walks to me, rubbing her breasts. Stands in front of me, continuing to do so.

I don’t know where to look.

I’m in a booth wearing a duck scarf and a beanie in front of this woman.

I’m also suddenly very aware I’m chewing bubble gum.

I don’t know where to look.

I still don’t know where to look.

So I default to my standard.

And I hold eye contact.

The entire time.

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Oh, Amsterdam. Anyone questioning my judgment and/or morals, just remember the story could be worse. It’s not like I just blogged “Once upon a time, I spent two minutes killing a guy.”

It’s good once you get past the fact it’s still mooing.

Oh, Amsterdam.

Yesterday
Erin and I landed ourselves at the one “safe Christian” hostel in Amsterdam, where drugs and alcohol are banned. Not that we rage with either, but of all places to choose the holy hostel.

After my day spent on trains, we finally met up at seven. Erin had already been here a day and knew her way around, so we set out to find dinner. Amsterdam – fries, pancakes, pot, sex workers. So everyone giving me crap about not trying the local things enough… Here we go.

I’m in Amsterdam with pretty awesome timing – there is a festival outside the royal palace, and Occupy Amsterdam is happening nearby.

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My friend Katie had said we had to go to Wok to Walk. Erin and I happened to stumble upon it – we wok to walked until we were stuffed and then some. Feeling gross about ourselves afterward, we set out for the Red Light District, because there’s nothing that makes you feel better about your Chinese food bloat than seeing hundreds of prostitutes.

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If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s legal prostitution – red lights over the windows, women in lingerie posing in them. Closed red curtains mean they’re in there with someone. Blue light windows, Erin explained as “they have something we don’t have.”

I’m a moron – I really thought it was male prostitutes, say, for my sake in an alternate universe. So when blue lights meant men dressed as women, I needed clarification. “Well, then what light are they? I’m just lookin’ to chat with one.”

Walking through the red light district as a girl, it’s really hard to tell what to do. Look straight ahead? Look at the girls? Get lingerie ideas? Do you smile or keep a straight face?

I walked the red light district licking an ice cream cone.

Erin and I got back to the hostel giggly. Hadn’t smoked, hadn’t drank, just giggly. Nobody in our dorm room talks either, so when Erin pulled my beanie over my face and I started zombie walking, the blank stares we got sent us running to the hall to explode with laughter. Tears of laughter.

We went to bed with ideas of smoking and peep shows the following night. How silly and memorable would that be – and it would be on our last night together. Hmm..

Today
Free walking tour day. So we walked for free plus tip once again, all around town. We got a better idea of Amsterdam’s culture and tolerance. Two big things:

Prostitution: Accepted here since the beginning of time, four companies now rent out windows to the women for 8-12hr shifts, charging them 75-100euro per shift. Generally, it costs the visitor about 50euros for fifteen minutes of time, the price going up as you get more, picky? Complicated? The women are independent contractors – they hold the same license as the free tour guides – the license requires they be 18 or older, though some of the companies and peep shows require you be 21. The city as a whole is considering raising the minimum age to 23. Random facts, Amsterdam sex workers have the same rate of STD’s as any other person in the city. The oldest sex worker is 82 and she has a two week waiting list. The oldest working a window is 72.

Coffeehouses: Pot smoking is illegal, but tolerated. Freedom is celebrated in Amsterdam. Coffeehouses are allowed to have 500grams on the premises at any one time- the most popular get hourly deliveries, if not more often.

It was during this lecture my rebellious not-actually-going-to-happen-fantasy of eating a pot brownie (space cake) was crushed. If you eat a brownie, you consume 100% of the marijuana in it (and you don’t know how much that is). Now, you roll a joint, have a few puffs, half of it goes up in smoke. Not so bad. Also, if you overdo it, and lose your basic ability to function, the coffeehouse people call the cops who buy you orange juice to raise your blood sugar and then give you a 400 euro ticket.

Ugh. I can’t afford that. And I’m pretty sure I could get super stoned. You should see me after the dentist.

After the tour, Erin and I went to a pancake house with four people we met on the tour. Oh my, and I thought I could be friends with anyone. This was the worst lunch conversation of my life. I never, ever thought I’d say that. It’s so mean, it’s so unlike me… Ugh it was so bad.

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We walked, we toured, we chatted. Erin treated us to our final dinner together, and her final good dinner in Europe. She’s from Australia, but tomorrow takes a night bus to Paris, from where she’s off to Canada to live with family for the next few years. She’ll probably visit, if I do something cool like get married or buy a puppy or a lamp or something.

We got steak, fries and salad for 7.90 each. It was pretty darn rare, and for someone who spent nine years of her life not eating red meat, another new experience.

Erin: “It’s good once you get past the fact it’s still mooing.”

I’m going to miss her.

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22:59:50

At midnight I searched “Berlin rail” to find the schedule for trains to Amsterdam. Has anyone read the news lately? At least 16 undetonated firebombs have been found on Berlin rail lines this week, care of an extremist group. Scary stuff. I had just commented to Erin how the Hauptbahnnof station is the largest, neatest one I’ve seen. Regardless, I was there at 8:45 this morning. Upon arrival I watched a kid wearing a hoodie exit, look both ways and bolt across the street – slightly unsettling. He was just catching a bus.

All is fine. At least, I think. I got to Amsterdam two hours late. A train on the tracks ahead of mine caught fire as it was carrying “dangerous goods.”

On that note, something for a day spent on trains.

22:59:50

[[somewhere back hung a neon sign]] – [[flashing yelling you were mine]]
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[[but somewhere back I redirected]] – [[lost track of the connection unexpected]]
[[I’d closed my eyes and missed the views]] – [[blind to having nothing to have but all to lose]]
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4
[[that spot with you I left unreserved]] – [[seems it was a first class ticket unobserved]]
[[but again at the station with the baggage I carry]] – [[the thoughts I’ve inked on old stationery]]
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[[for on these rails I’ve learned a bit]] – [[about the legs in our story I’d left unwrit]]
[[tonight I wish to catch you again]] – [[so I close my eyes and I count to ten]]
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[[but at eleven I sit I’ll stay I’ll wait]] – [[alone between platforms seven and eight]]

Janae DeRusso. Copyright 2011. Sharing is caring but stealing is really crappy.