Published: January 4th 2012December 28th 2011
I don’t remember the last time that I went anywhere with my mother. So when the idea of taking a road trip entered our minds, not much could be done to get it out – not our lack of a car, nor our limited funds. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and the next day, we set out on Germany’s infamous Autobahn, in a thick mist. I thought our 120 km/h bordered of reckless for the conditions, but other cars tore past us, rocking our little Chevy Shark with the displaced air. Eight uneventful hours later, an über-modern, architectural dreamscape of weirdly-shaped, glass buildings appeared out of farmland. We had arrived in the outskirts of Amsterdam. With only one day to explore all of its wonders, my commentary is little more than a laundry list of first impressions and generalizations, but I’ll share it anyway.
The first things I noticed about Amsterdam were its profusion of people, the break-neck speed at which they moved, and the lack of signals to help them safely negotiate traffic. To cross a street, I watched everyone around me for the slightest twitch, a sign that they were going to make a break for
the other side. It wasn’t so much the cars or trams I feared running me over, but rather the bikes in the hands of cyclists who weren’t about to stop or swerve for anyone. It didn’t take too much longer to see that Amsterdam has too much built in too little space. Living quarters and shops have occupied literally every available area. I saw one building wrapped around a church like a piece of bacon wrapped around a baked potato. As a result, houses are narrow, rooms are cramped, and staircases are steep. How the tall Dutch, with legs up to their chins, fit inside these little cupboard homes will forever be a mystery to me.
A walk through Amsterdam’s historic downtown is like taking a stroll through Alice’s Wonderland. Roofs that resemble the hookah-smoking caterpillar top houses that lean out into the street. Buildings come to points on corners and windows line up in rakish angles. The developers of old Amsterdam must have foreseen that the city would legalize psychedelic drugs and accordingly designed the city to mess with the minds of its future inhabitants. “Hey… Dude… Is it just me, or is that house… tilting
are everywhere, but curtains are not. As such, passersby can fill their evenings with reality shows, a series of domestic scenes unfolding behind glass. In the Red Light District, windows offer a different kind of view, one of women (and men with breasts) displaying their bodily wares.
The Red Light District is unlike anything I’d seen before. It’s fluorescent lights and crowds lined up for sex shows. It’s rows of stores whose plastic members mirror the conspicuously phallic shape of the city’s clock towers. It’s women on display in individual glass cages beckoning to passing men with curling fingers and puckering lips. It’s fascinating and gut-wrenching at the same time, like a car accident that you don’t want to see, but can’t stop looking at. Yet, I have a lot of respect for the city’s open attitude towards sex and drugs. Instead of breeding a strung-out society of sex-fiend criminals, the crime rate is actually lower in Amsterdam than in cities of equal size where those activities are illegal.
Far more than the opportunity to ogle at nudity and duck into coffee shops, this trip gave me the chance to see my future. I will be my mother.
It’s inevitable, I already am. We’ve always had the same face, but now I see that we even have the same manic obsession with cleaning and organizing the refrigerator. We wear threadbare and mismatched clothes outside our front doors. We cry while watching Animal Planet and we sing while washing the dishes. And, we both have the tendency to drift into lalaland. The most common side effect of this habit is that we often run into things (walls, furniture, trees, people), but it has also been known to put us into more mortal danger (with me lost in the wilderness of Swaziland and her almost going over Kakabeka Falls). There are a few differences, however, that set us apart. I’m not afraid of spiders and I eat everything, even onions. I’d like to think of myself as my mother: New And Improved.
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