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This week I visited Amsterdam for the second time and I’m about to confirm all those things you’ve heard about the European Sex Capital.
Apparently, cameras are not allowed inside the red-light district itself; i.e. the network of alleyways lined with floor-to-roof windows providing a continuous peepshow into individual sultry red upholstered display cases. Inside, real-life barbie dolls of various ages and measurements bravely stare you in the face and beg you into their secret world behind the glass doors and beaded curtains that separate the streets from the world’s oldest profession.
As someone who has never set foot into a strip club (not even at the wee hours of the morning), this sunny mid-afternoon experience was somewhat unsettling. You could relate it to the sort of expedition that leaves you longing for a drive through car wash, but one that is adapted for human cleansing.
Of curious note, the normalcy surrounding the relatively small foot-print of the red-light district is entirely intact… Perfect for minimising the distance of your walk-of-shame and for getting over that buyer’s remorse. Maybe the quick snap back to reality is meant to relieve the racing thoughts of why you felt it was rude to ask for that photocopy of her latest HIV screening. By now you’re scanning the streets for a human car wash (see above) and the murky piss-filled canal taunts you.
The surrounding is so normal in fact that the real-estate in and around the red-light district is actually ‘prime’. [Not unlike the neighbours.] Sort of a bittersweet, I guess…
Congratulations! You’re neighbour’s a prostitute.
Okay, that may be extreme. But in reality this city wears its taboo affiliation with sex like a badge of honour. Sex shops are not tucked away in off-street side roads. They are prominently featured even in the nicest parts of town.
Sex is not the only taboo that this city sports openly. ‘Stimulants’ are all the rave too (get it?). In particular, marijuana which is sold in both small operations and chains of “Coffee Shops” – “Coffee shop” is dutch for pusher man. More accurately, an establishment with a legal right to distribute marijuana.
Not unlike your local M.D. in California.
A sunny and comfortable 22ºC meant that all the tourist stoners were out in full force, providing the necessary aroma to stimulate the final sense in what some will undoubtedly call a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. Everywhere from the streets lining the many canals to Amsterdam’s mementos and postcards, this City advertises the taboos that the rest of the world struggles to cope with. But you know what? Freedom to choose means that you don’t have to be a degenerate (by conventional western standards) unless you want to be, and spending good quality time in Amsterdam won’t make you a degenerate either. Puff, puff, pass, or pass, pass, pass. It’s up to you. The laid back approach is actually both refreshing and relaxing.
Or maybe that’s just what happens when you hot-box an entire city