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Damlog, Stardate 051309

After an uncomfortable overnight slightly drunken flight that wielded little sleep but a virtual a-list of movies, I landed in Amsterdam at 9am. Waltzed through the non-existent ‘Nothing To Declare’ customs queue and found the exchange office where I redeemed my Holland Pass. I was clever enough to think ahead on this one – I knew there was a distinct possibility that I would spend the next five days sitting on my ass and not get around to seeing any of the touristo sites here in Amsterdam, so I prepaid for a pass that gave me entrance to several attractions. I’m too cheap of a tourist to let it go to waste.

I hopped the train to central station and took the tram to Liedesplien where I had a hotel room booked through priceline. A five star for under $100cdn a night, split between two turns out to be not much more than a hostel would cost. The NH Amsterdam Centre is a nice looking place with an amazing location, and I was happy to find I could check in immediately, though my request for a smoking room dictated an hour and-a-half wait. No problem, checked my luggage and stepped into the sunny day.

I had pre-arranged one of two meeting places and settled on plan B, which had me sitting in front of Rookies Coffeeshop. As a first-timer, I was overjoyed when presented with a smoking menu. I bought a hash joint and a coffee. Enjoyed that on that patio and immediately ordered the same again. Halfway through my second joint the narrow streetscape became utterly two-dimensional. People grew large as they walked towards me and seemed to shrink as they walked away. I felt completely at ease and was quite sure I was unable to stand. A guy pulled up and delivered two trees and a large box, which by the sound of it contained a monkey and perhaps a cannonball, improbably pulling it all out of the tiniest little car. They took the box inside the coffeeshop and set up the two trees outside, one right next to my table. Soon the tree fell on me and I found I could indeed stand up, so I took this as a sign to check the plan A meeting place on the way back to the hotel. Did so just before noon and found no Bradm, so I checked in, drank a hundred duty-free rye and cokes, and around 2pm Bradm arrived after missing me by minutes and waiting at plan B.

We cheersed to a good vacation over several rye and cokes and a few joints he had found along the way and headed out to a coffeeshop for beer, snacks, and hoolies. Found all this at the Bulldog, where you buy your smoke from a desk downstairs marked by a sign that says: “Officer On Duty.†Turns out the place was a police station for about eighty years before becoming a coffeeshop several decades ago. We got pretty loaded and stumbled around looking for dinner. Got even more loaded over a burger and fries and found our way to Paradiso.

The Paradiso is a very well run venue in a converted church. We arrived just as PJ Harvey was ending her show in the large, main room. We battled our way in against the out crowd and up to the room upstairs, where the opening band was just overcoming amp issues before starting their set. Sleepy Sun is from San Francisco. They have two great lead vocalists, one of each gender, and they sludged their way brilliantly through a swampy, tectonic set that touched on the Doors and The Allmman Bros., with a ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ Zeppelin-like attitude. I kept pounding the Heinekens and they kept pounding my ears with harmonica inflected trance rock. Even when they played fast, they sounded slow.

The headliner was Pink Mountaintops, the solo project for one of the dudes in British Columbia’s Black Mountain. He had assembled a co-ed quintet to back him up, with keyboards/ percussion and violin in addition to the standard rock fare. They played an hour and-a-half of two chord vamps occasionally punctuated with a contrasting four chord chorus. It was vibey and very drunk, but not overwhelming. Pink Mountaintop’s set blended well with Sleepy Sun’s, but frankly I liked Sleepy Sun’s two chords better. I escaped the ear-splitting but otherwise great sounding room (I stood under a digital decibel reader that was often cruising at 106db) for a smoke halfway through the set, and was reminded of the old Whipping Post days. This is definitely as things should be.

Hammered and pleased with my first day, I staggered back to the hotel (I guess), wolfed down some food purchased earlier at the grocery (I guess), and went to sleep.

Quote of the day: “When in Rome, buy a plane ticket to Amsterdam.â€

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Damlog, Stardate 051409

I woke up well after noon to find I had spent a pretty astonishing amount of cash on day one, but I did have a pocketful of weed, papers and pre-rolled joints and a mini-fridge full of waning cold cuts and cheese, supplemented by the obligatory jar of peanut butter, there was plenty of duty-free CC left and I was pretty set. I went out and watched Bradm eat lunch before hitting my new favourite coffee shop.

We walked to the Van Gogh museum where I cashed in one of my pre-purchased touristo tickets. We spent the next hour bombarding our senses with an astonishing collection of work by one of the world’s greatest artists. In the history of art there are few stories that parallel Van Gogh’s; certainly few artists devoted their existence to their craft as fully as he did. From the time he decided to become an artist to his death (eight years), he created 1,100 paintings and many more drawings and sketches, which is basically a painting every two days or so. And despite the fact that his brother was one of Europe’s big art dealers and tried to push Vincent’s stuff, he never sold a piece. Not a single commercial validation of his poverty-stricken devotion to art. And still he went on, painting through insanity. He said stars reminded him of dots on a map. When he saw dots on a map he imagined all the things there were to see in the world, and when he saw the stars he imagined all the things there were to see in the heavens. Horses got you to the dots on the map, and death got you to the stars in the sky. Shortly after painting Starry Night, he shot himself and died from the wounds two days later.

There’s a photograph of his grave, taken in the fifties. In the background is a worker ploughing through a farmer’s field. I think that’s fitting for a guy who spent much of his art capturing the hard-working common person toiling at their tasks.

We stopped into the hotel afterwards (this place is a total bonus location-wise – we haven’t walked more than 500 metres from our hotel yet) and drank heavily, debating whether or not to call it an early night. Good sense finally rose to the occasion and we headed out, pointing our drunken noses downtown, after one more joint at the coffeeshop.

We walked past alley after alley of revelry. At every turn, this city just vibrates with energy. We ended up, surprise surprise, in the Red Light District.

The reason I finally came to Amsterdam is because I read a few months ago that they are closing down the Red Light District. After 600 years of a worldwide centre of vice, the standing government has enacted a law that will make ‘special’ establishments unable to renew their licences if they are too close to a school, and the Red Light District falls in one of the restricted zones. So, the area will gradually fade into just a memory of its present self. I’ve always thought that Amsterdam seemed to be hosting a unique urban social experiment, and I wanted to see it before it faded away.

Well no surprise, it’s quite remarkable. Certainly something to write home about, depending on your home situation, of course. For several blocks of the standard spectacular Amsterdam architecture with a canal or two thrown in, coffeeshops and bars share store frontage with windows displaying live sex mannequins who do their best to catch your eye and beckon you in. It’s very weird, if only in how closely it mimics about six of my top-ten high school sex fantasies. It’s almost surreal, somewhat uncomfortable, and completely fascinating. The girls are sit in a small, narrow, storefront room furnished with a bed and a curtain, and when a customer comes up, she opens the door, in walks the dude, they draw the curtain and then…well, I don’t know. But it sure looks naughty. I am not the kind of guy who goes to strip bars or that sort of thing, but I found the situation quite fascinating.

We bounced between bars and coffeeshops (last year a new law forbade selling alcohol and drugs in the same place, but you can smoke in bars, which often have small coffeshops conveniently located in the basement) and whiled away the evening windowshopping. The whole shebang closes down at 1am (those prudish Dutch), and we staggered back to our luxurious accommodations by 1:30 and smoked and drank our way through three episodes of South Park with extra-humourous Dutch sub-titles before turning in and competing to snore one another awake.

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Damlog, Stardate 051509

I intended on an early start and was unaware of the time when I dragged my ass out of bed. Bradm was still asleep so I assumed it was early enough. I was sitting on the can with a coffee and a morning joint when housekeeping called. I answered the bathroom phone (love this hotel) and found out it was almost 3pm. I had to drag Bradm out of bed, which proved a struggle, and we eventually went off in search of a 5pm breakfast. We started at Rookies for a series of hash joints, of course. Given the surprise late start, my touristo plans for the day were out the window so I compensated by walking the 600 metres to the Heineken Brewery for a tour. I never noticed the “e†was slanted. They call it a “smiley e.†I learned all that and got two beers besides. Second ticket torn.

I remet up with Bradm at Rookies, smoked some joints and headed out to seek nourishment. One of the restaurant barkers nailed us by offering us our first drink free. We ate a good thick meal and washed it down with our tiny, little free Heinekens. They looked like normal beers, only far away. Perspective got weird, we found a joint for the walk, and headed back to the Red Light District. We started at The Old Church, or some such place, smoking singles bought at the desk. We found the front table available upstairs and stared from droopy eyelids at the courtyard below. Again, the place bustles with life, and it’s so pleasant to sit with a nice little coffee and a large, pre-rolled cannon and watch it all go by. After an extended sit up there in the window it was more of the same: staggering between coffeeshops and bars and ogling the girls and their patrons in between.

We spent much of the walk home deciding whether to walk or take the tram. This city is small, but it’s anything but a grid. You can walk anywhere to anywhere but never in a straight line. Home safe and sound, I willed myself to stay awake until Bradm started snoring. His turn to sleep tonight.

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Damlog, Stardate 051609

With hardly any sleep in my body it was all I could do to get to Rookies for a morning joint before I segued into a quick burst of afternoon joints. Today was touristo day, and as I was gonna be heading around the city a fair bit I thought I’d use one of my touristo tickets for a 24 hour metro pass. With a bit of investigation I found that I had to get all the way down to central station to do so, which is a touch ironic. Once you get the pass it doesn’t kick in until you use it for the first time, so here’s a tip for anyone coming to Amsterdam who may purchase the Holland Pass touristo package: it’s definitely worth it to use your ‘D’ ticket for a 24 hour metro pass, but you should pick up the pass immediately upon arriving at the central station. You get it in the metro office right out front of the station (take a number – it goes quickly).

Grabbed a joint for the road and strolled downtown. Along the way I used up a touristo ticket on the Vodka Museum. It’s essentially the upper two and-a-half floors of a souvenir shop, and though it was slightly interesting and informative I’d say give it a miss unless you have a fairly intense vodka fetish. They did have a Faberge egg that was presented to Peter the Great by Faberge himself (or some such thing), and the giant egg opened up to hold a vodka bottle and four shot glasses, which was fairly impressive. At the end of the private guided tour you get to choose a vodka flavour (I selected Russian coffee/caramel) and they pour a pretty healthy shot. Definitely not worth the eight euros it would cost without the touristo ticket, but a good primer.

I sidled over to the Red Light District for a coffee and a smoke and noticed that while subdued, the place is still happening during the daytime. Smoked a few and chatted up some Brits. I started getting lazy and was seriously considering giving Anne Franks house a miss when it occurred to me that however much I might not really feel like going to see the attic where she spent all those months in hiding, well, Anne Frank probably liked it even less, and with a least-I-could-do attitude, I hopped the tram and found the place. As I had been warned, there was a lineup around the block, but with the carillon ringing from the church next door the twenty-five minute wait went by pretty quickly.

I had read the diary about a decade ago, and remember being struck by the poignant maturity of her writing, and how easy reading she made of two years hiding in an attic. I also remember always being baffled when trying to picture the space she was forced to live in. Though she describes the attic area in detail, the odd configuration of the two-level multi-room space kept me brain from picturing it, so I’ve always said if I was in Amsterdam I would check it out.

When I walked in the door I immediately sat down and read the supplied pamphlet cover to cover. It refreshed my memory about the whole ordeal; like who was hiding there and how they came to all be there, and it also let me know what to expect in each room I’d be visiting. I thought that was pretty good because it allowed me to cruise through the different rooms without having to stop and read the pamphlet. It also gave me a jolt of wet-eye, and allowed me to brace myself a little to help keep me from openly weeping while on the tour proper. I’m a bit of a crier.

When the Nazis busted them and took them away they emptied the place of furniture, and when Anne’s father revisited the spot and determined to preserve it as a museum he insisted it remain bare of furniture, although the things attached to the walls (his map marking the invading Nazis progress, Anne’s movie starlet pinups) are still on the walls. I like that there was no furniture; it allows one to walk freely through the space. One thing that I couldn’t help but to constantly notice as we all walked through the attic was how squeaky the floor was. Of course, Anne and the others had to basically stay on their beds all day so people working in the warehouse below wouldn’t hear them – if they had to move around they had to do so very carefully, as a single squeaking floorboard could be a death sentence.

Near the end of the tour is the diary itself. It sits there under glass as a million visitors a year walk by. On the wall is a quote from Nelson Mandela, telling how he and his fellow prisoners read Anne’s diary and found inspiration in the young girl’s words. For a half a century (so far) people around the world have read this book and found courage in it, and there it sits. A bunch of blank pages that might very well have stayed blank, had this young lady not decided to start writing down her thoughts. I gaped at the tiny tome for some time, and came back to stare again before I left. That little red diary is a dramatic symbol of the power and possibility that hides in the empty page, and it left me in awe.

I left very glad to have visited and hopped a tram back to the hotel where I enjoyed the last of my duty-free CC and ran into Bradm. We went for dinner and I had an exceptionally good burger and even tipped the friendly waitress. We retired to Rookies for aperitifs where we concocted a strategy for the evening that had us seek out live music. Went back to the hotel for a few beers in hopes of saving a few euros on sobriety and off we went, heading in a downtownerly direction. We got off the tram halfway to the Red Light District in hopes of finding a live music spot we had stumbled upon a few nights previous, found it and found that it wasn’t hosting our cup of musical tea so we meandered until it started raining. We found shelter under a large canopy and shared a couple of joints with a couple of local young’uns. They were both musicians and they directed us to a place very close to our hotel called Drinkhole (I believe). The cover was one euro for two bands. Nazca Lines opened and they were rockin’. Really good tunes and good presentation. They were a lot of fun and we pounded beers and bounced back and forth between the bar and the bar’s smoking room with our new companion, a friendly roly-poly German. The headliner played strictly cheesy covers so I stayed in the smoking room for the bulk of their set talking to the guys in the opening band. They insist that the Amsterdam original music scene is small and financially unrewarding, and if their assertion that this was one of the main venues to play in town, well then I’d have to agree; two bands splitting a less-than-$2 cover on a Saturday night in a major party town. It seems that things are tough all over.

Anyways, we had just the greatest night there – it’s a good thing we didn’t find the place the first night – we never woulda seen anything else! It was a quick stagger back to the hotel where we made a pact for an 8am breakfast on my last day. Amazing what you’ll agree to in the wee hours when you’re loaded.

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Damlog, Stardate 051709

It was a really hard wakeup when 8am rolled around but it was my last day and it was going to be a short one. I had to leave for the airport before 1pm and I’m a trouper so I dragged my carcass out of bed to make the most of my last hours in the ‘Dam. Bradm and I went to the place where I had the exceptionally good burger the other night and found it closed. We were too early for most of the restaurants in the area and we ended up at the sports bar for breakfast. At the last minute I changed my mind from the omelette to the BLT, and it proved to be a mistake. The waiter raised his eyebrows, said “That’s a new item, very good,†and eventually brought me a mountain of half-cooked bacon on a piece of toast. It was bacon, a mountain of bacon no less, and yet I still couldn’t get through it. Killed enough time watching Bradm eat to catch Rookies for opening hour where I smoked hash and drank coffee until I had to go back to the hotel and pack. I bought two more hash joints for the road as I left Rookies for the last time.

I gotta say, after spending a few days here I’m convinced of what I always thought was true. (Defacto) legalisation of vice doesn’t seem to have any obvious detrimental effects – I saw literally zero panhandlers, I felt safe wherever I went, I only saw one person puking in the street, I saw not a single fight or argument. I didn’t see kids smoking or creepy weirdos, nor did it seem like all the locals were walking around stoned all the time, quite the contrary. There seemed to be several positive effects, many of which can be seen in the huge number of happy, free-spending tourists contributing to a unique bustling economy. It surprises me that not a single other city has copied the model. Canada has gotten close at times, closer than most countries I think, and I hope we move more in the Dutch direction.

It amazes me that the Dutch government is strategizing to shut most of it down. I admit I was here merely as a tourist and obviously know nothing about local issues and politics, but there can be no question that the elimination of the Red Light District and the restrictions on the coffee shops are going to have a major impact on tourism. I was thrilled to go to the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank’s house, but I ain’t booking a flight and four nights hotel for museums, and even if I did, well, lots of cities have amazing museums. Sure, the fact that those attractions are here in Amsterdam helped convince me to come, but they weren’t my primary focus, and I can say most of the friendly folk I talked to in the coffeeshops seemed to agree.

I packed everything up with meticulous border-crossing care and smoked my last two joints with Bradm. Hopped in the shower and tried to make myself drug-test clean. I wasn’t sure if I was to deal with US customs at the Amsterdam airport or upon landing in Detroit so I decided against eating a space cake just before leaving for the airport. I bid Bradm farewell (he was staying an extra day and then flying to London for some shows), and strolled my wheelie suitcase out of that wonderful hotel, hopped on the consistently convenient tram on the tail end of my 24 hour metro pass and rode through the streets as the throngs of cyclists weaved through the light traffic. At the central station I skipped over to the train and in twenty minutes or so I was at the airport, in time for my flight which I found was leaving 40 minutes early. It turns out I could have had the space cake – US customs is in the US.

On the airplane I drank free rye and cokes, had a heck of a meal and watched the end of Frost/Nixon (which I had been robbed of twice), Yes Man, Slumdog Millionaire, the first twenty minutes or so of Benjamin Button until I could stand it no longer, and the Wrestler. Hit the duty free and McDonalds in Detroit and it was home free when I landed back home with my lovely there to meet me at the airport.

I spent wildly on pot and hash and coffee and relatively moderately on beer, bought a few things in the grocery store but ate mostly in restaurants, bought a few souveniers and spent 400 euros in four nights/five days. I scored the hotel for just under $100cdn a night which got split two ways, and if you look around and don’t mind connections, you can find flights for around $800-900.

Maybe it’s the haze in my brain, but I can’t think of a better way to spend $1,600 and if I manage to scrape up a spare pile of cash I could easily be talked into going to Amsterdam again sometime soon.

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Just catching up here - read the first post - again great reads - thanks Velvet.

Especially liked.....

"A guy pulled up and delivered two trees and a large box, which by the sound of it contained a monkey and perhaps a cannonball"

and,

"They (Pink Mountaintops) played an hour and-a-half of two chord vamps occasionally punctuated with a contrasting four chord chorus.......Pink Mountaintop’s set blended well with Sleepy Sun’s, but frankly I liked Sleepy Sun’s two chords better."

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