For The Extraordinary Sex District Of Amsterdam
15.11.2012 - 20.11.2012
Day 1 of Holland and the sky is dark in a cold, late Amsterdam afternoon. I am here to visit my brother and dutch friends, as well as celebrate my 22nd Birthday and like many others who visit Holland am firstly drawn to the famous Red Light District. After seeing numerous sex districts throughout Asia and Eastern Europe i had a certain number of expectations about what was in store. After all, society and, i must admit, personal experience so far, scream oppression, lost beings, corruption and sadness. There are few institutions more stigmatised and universally critisised than prostitution, and yet few that have so consistently remained present throughout the world.
Amsterdam at night is a different place altogether. The rivers shine like polished metal below the beautifully clean streets. Canal boats line the water beneath street lights, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and houses. It is a place of undying energy and soul; yet so calm and controlled in its mannerisms. I wander through the streets and alleys towards the numerous red lights dotted ahead. Every building has a different story, different inhabitants equally as diverse; each with a tale to tell of their migration to, obsession of, or lifestyle in Holland's famous capital. The themes continue as the red lights start to surround me. Ben, my brother, has become fairly accustomed to these sights but for me it is a fresh lens, like every new place you visit but especially so during the particular magic of the place.
Red lights beam above the numerous doors that line the alleyways, some of which remain empty or hidden from sight by equally bright red curtains. There is always a certain excitement in any young man when in the presence of new female company; especially when such company is likely wearing few clothes and wanting to be enjoyed. It is human instinct, and more relevantly 'male instinct' in our current world. I look forward to the day when females are also able to so publicly display their inevitable desires towards the sexualised male body; i believe that that is when true equality can be reached. As bodies finally appear through the subsequent doors i am transfixed. I look into their eyes and over their bodies. We wander further through the maze as Ben notices my unusually strong interest in the subjects at hand.
"I don't think i would ever get my moneys worth to be honest" i say to Ben, "I think i would want to spend most of the time asking them questions". Ben laughs as we go into the first bar of the night. It was still very early and we laugh ecstatically when we realise just HOW early it is. It was half past 7 and yet the subdued atmosphere was more like a late Sunday night. That would explain why many of the curtains were still closed. Not many open for business at this unusually early hour. It was still a nice taster of things to come though.
Our first bar turned out to be a small little room filled only with an accordion player, way too many photos of frank sinatra and more different bottles of spirits that i even knew had been invented. We sit and enjoy our first floucher (sorry to all the dutch readers - that is probably spelt very wrong), as the bar gradually fills with very dutch looking people. Its strange how u can just tell that someone is from a certain place, without hearing them talk or asking them any questions what so ever. Dutch people are particularly like that i feel. They have the 'dutch look' (the way i explained my theory to Ben also at the time).
We then leave for the 'beer temple' - a holy place in no way of the religious sense of the term, but equally as compelling. The bar man has the 'dutch look' (surprise surprise) and knows everything about every beer that has ever made its way to Holland. Turns out there are very many. I ask him for something special. He laughs and explains in his 'dutch way' that basicly thats like walking into a sweet shop and asking for something sweet. Ben orders a Leffe blonde and i get jealous of how much nicer it is than my random selection i chose on the board of a million beers. These are the kind of places that make me love Holland. There is surely little financial sense in the current market for such a range of obscure drinks, and sure the novelty value will win you some customers, but widely speaking it is not there to make money. It is there for one reason and that is because it is cool and it is loved by those who discover its coolness. Whatever happened to doing something because it was cool, or because you just enjoy the idea of it. To me that is what life SHOULD be about i think to myself. It also reminds me of 'the social network' too - 'the facebook is cool' and all that jazz. What a great film... Would be even better if it was set in Amsterdam.
After feeling slightly merry in my semi-drunk state (remember im a lightweight) we bounce away back towards the red light district, continuing the random small chat about anything and everything. Talking openly about random rubbish is so underrated. Its only a special kind of person that you can do such things with, and i am lucky enough for my brother to be one of those people. When two people respect and love each other enough then judgement goes out of the window and all that is left is all the good stuff. As we walk towards the red light area once again for the busier second period of window shopping Ben suggests that we: "get a double espresso and start f***ing charging". I reply with confusion and extreme laughter for the best part of 5 minutes as we stumble over the bridge towards the main hub of the district.
A heavily made up woman with potentially very fake breasts, overly carved eyebrows and a relentless sexual gaze bends over to the groups of onlooking men. It is these such women that people naively associate with the sex districts (among others which i will come too). Any man reading will understand the inevitable lack of attraction towards such a woman, but will also appreciate the persistent appeal and curiosity of the type also. Women, and people in general, are different things for different people at different times of their lives. It sounds stupid and simple but its true. This girl was not my, or perhaps most people's dream girl, but for some that night it probably very much was.
As we continue to stroll round, a narrow alley greets us with potentially 3 of the most beautiful women i have ever seen. One appeared to be Dutch, one eastern european and one from maybe Bedfordshire. I challenge Ben as to whether he thought any of Bedford's finest could be here and he gives me a simple 'no' to shut me up. I didnt speak to any of these girls so i will never know but im guessing they probably werent from Bedfordshire. Maybe Luton though . A strange sense of jealousy occupies me as we walk back down the alley again to find one of the gorgeous 3 occupied with another guy. Oh how i would love to be in there, questioning her and jotting down her answers on a little notepad. Its strange how men have an innate sense of competition and battle regarding women. As if a girl is a prize to be fought for, and if you fail to win then you shoud feel incompetent and unworthy of your alpha male status. I do not confess to being especially like this but i think every guy has a small amount of this feeling inside of them. Some have it just slightly deeper than others.
Next we come to an interesting section of women who appear to be of African origin and very large indeed. Me and Ben discuss how much business we predict such women have compared to the girls that i guess we would label as what society says is attractive. Even attraction is socially constructed and the very slim, well proportioned, white ladies are a larger part of the media and what we are told is currently 'hot'. Just look at Marilyn Monroe and the divas from years before and it is clear to see how men change what they see as attractive as society changes its intended mediated messages. Of course, it is largely down to people caring about the aesthetic appearance of who they are seen with which makes it an important factor, otherwise, there would be no motivation towards getting a 'socially desirable' girl as appose to one you happen to like yourself. We agree that every man (or woman) has their own taste still to an extent, and the stigma behind prostitution means they have no social exposure with the woman of their choice. So therefore guys who have such taste in women may well come here to enjoy what they desire. I suggest that men have egos and therefore some may want to choose a girl of lesser aesthetic value than themselves in order for the sex to be an ego boost as well an orgasm. The same can be said with the chosen girl's age too - older men perhaps feeling more comfortable or desirable when choosing a lady of similar age to himself.
After our detailed, overly excited (on my part) and slightly drunk (also on my part) discussion, we head to the last part of the area. It is also closed off and yet very popular with the men. As we turn the corner i see a blonde haired girl wearing trousers and a vest top. She is very naturally beautiful, wearing little make up and showing very little skin. But what is even more strange is that i feel like we have something in common. Like she is the same as me, and as Ben. Like she knows what she is doing, is doing it for a constructive reason and is happy to do so. Moreover, i felt like i could talk to her, like there was little cultural or communicative boundary between us. I tell Ben multiple times that i wanted to talk to her but never do it. There were many people around and plus i still had the whole weekend. Didnt want to explode with intrigue straight away did i! We make eye contact many times and i smile as we walk away to explore what is left of the remaining district. The cold night carries on as we eventually relax in our last bar of the night; a middle eastern themed, relaxed little place with floor cushions and, shisha and good beer. As we absorb the passers by we reflect on our night and continue with our beloved small talk.
During the night we had seen many different types of women and the very shell of many different lives on separate sides of their windows. I saw a few that i am certain were english, a few that were perhaps irish or scottish, many europeans, asians and Africans. Im sure there were people from all over the world to be honest. But what is so definitely clear is that, on the whole, these women are in control of their lives. It is a legal practice in Amsterdam (for those who didnt know already), and so they have regular health checks, great security in case anything violent or abusive happens, freedom of times, rooms and who they do and dont accept for sex. They rent the room and recieve the money themselves, not some big-time boss who only has his own interests in mind. Not one appeared to be on drugs or especially miserable to the point of serious concern. Not one has any other apparent force holding them there. This is what can be achieved if prositution is legalised. After all, in an apparently democratic world where you can buy anything else, why shouldnt you be able to buy sex?
People will probably hear more about prostitution and/or read this blog, and they will say "what about if this ... happens". People are critical of things that are stigmatised and yet they are not about their own lives, or of the lives that society has decided are 'okay'. I ask you to question whether in an industry with a LOT of money to be made, a healthy, secure, social and sexually rewarding work environment, and the freedom and control of your own work-related decisions should people not do it? Of course, as is life, i do not doubt that there are still instances that are sad and still give a bad name to the industry, but what choice of employment doesnt? Think of the caged hens in office buildings across every major city in the world - people treated like guinea pigs doing a job that has no meaningful end, ridiculous working hours and unsociable, unhealthy (physically and mentally) implications on such peoples lives. Think about the many dead end jobs that people put themselves through in order to get by, but what society tells you is still great because you 'are making a difference'. Think of the long term health implications of athletes. These are perhaps the most idolised role models and yet you ask any sportsman at any level if they have had a serious, long term injury. 90% will say yes... a number far greater than such health risks experienced with the girls under the red lights. Ask yourself if such work is ANY worse than the jobs we currently put ourselves through. If we are able to put our socially-constructed morals aside (of which they most certainly are socially constructed) then i believe the red lights paint a very different picture.
One more final beer and a ridiculously over priced cream cake later and my first day of Holland is over. The walk back to the train station brings me small reminders of the wonderful first night i shared in the company of my brother and the district girls. 4 more days to come and i am sure to bring a notepad for the next one.
More blogs on my time in Holland coming soon...