Adventures of a foreigner in the south of Brazil.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Amsterdam, city of the god of weed, of crazed cyclists and of canals. Trust me on the canals. I will be lying to you about everything else shortly.

And now look back, to the city, and some weeks into the past. There I was, ambling along on a sunny morning. To my left, a cyclist was chasing pedestrians. To my right, someone was getting not stoned, but more stoned.

Wandering on, enjoying the sun, looking at the houses and canals, and taking photos, as is a tourist's due, I finally arrived at the Nieuwmarkt, the new market. It is in the middle of the oldest part of Amsterdam, a wide square with something like a tiny fortress in it. Only the fortress is really a café, and it has no cannons. It was getting past noon, and I was getting hungry. On my map I found the market, bordering on the red light district, which in turn spills over into an area with restaurants. So, hungry but hopeful, I set out to cross the red light district, which I presumed would be empty at noon.

There were crowds in the streets branching off from the market, students, tourists, and whoever else walks around the city in the light of the day. A Buddhist temple, Chinese takeaways. I turned left, and the red light district with the first big windows appeared, the crowds thinning. Amsterdam is famous for those windows, and how justly I had not before understood.

It was a veritable menagerie of the bizarre that I came to, Mr. Hyde at his most inventive and terrible. There was count Dracula's elderly aunt, in a layer of cracked face paint, and black lace panties.There was a fairy, full like the moon, her skin the colour of ivory. And she was wearing not much in pale orange, smiling seductively over all her plentiful cheeks. There was Mama Bear, without her fur. And there was the jolly bouncer, in a doorway, and he did cry out: "Wanna come in lads, or are you just window-shopping?" And he did not wear a top hat, or a tail-coat with velvet sleeves.

I leave you to contemplate those sights in all the depth they deserve, while I walk on and take a right turn along a canal.

Picture a peaceful canal on a sunny day, a street of slightly seedy clubs and bars, facing an old church on the other side of the canal. The church is called "Old Church", and the name of the street I know not. There is a tourist standing by a bridge gazing over the water, still slightly shaken. His back is turned to the creatures of the morning, and a jolly bouncer is standing in a doorway behind him.

The tourist crosses the bridge and leaves the picture, and the sun glitters on the water.