Sunday, September 02, 2007

I’m certainly no design maven, but Amsterdam’s airport was impressive – clean, modern lines, sort of like whatever a high-end secret IKEA devotee would put together. Yeah, IKEA. (By the way, Europe's airports are so much more accommodating to international travelers. O'Hare's international section sucks. Even Cairo's airport beats the crap out of it.) The airport has a casino, an art museum, a meditation room, plenty of overpriced “duty-free” shops, lounges, and a food court. And lots of natural light, telling us that yes, indeed, there was an outside world. And we had a 13-hour layover, so we went to it. Passport control consisted of a nod and a stamp, no questions. Just like in December when we were stuck in London, we re-discovered the sad little exchange rate between Euro-cash and Ameri-cash as we purchased our train tickets, which translated to about $20 apiece for a ten minute ride to downtown. We had plans, see? The Van Gogh museum, Madame Tussaud’s, a healthy bite to eat, a glimpse of the Red Light district. Couldn’t wait! On the train beside us sat some American boys who were complaining about how the world looks the same everywhere. Shut up.

We burst into a world of bicycles, pedestrians, and canals.

It was eight in the morning, so the street cleaners were just coming out to take care of the previous night’s refuse. There were cats hanging around in front of the shops, but most had collars with bells and Pantene Pro-V coats. Aw, kitties. Madame Tussaud’s wax museum sat on one side of the city square. A waxen Christina Aguilera preened behind glass. Impressive enough, we said, as we parked ourselves on a pigeon-covered bench in lieu of standing in the winding line to the museum. Musicians played in the square, and a man in a skintight blue suit covered with metal (meant to suggest that he had spent a little too much time in brine) sat on a bucket, which was decorated the same as he was, and slowly put a mask over his head. I think he was Neptune or Poseidon, but I have no idea. He had a trident. Some little kids tried to talk to him, and he shooed them away when they wouldn’t dispense money into a little hat he left on the sidewalk. He was really adamant about people giving him money, like he would come over and stomp your camera if you dare try not to pay him for the privilege. J totally got his picture taken with Neptune. You know it's true. But neither one of us likes to have our jetlagged faces advertised.

Once we realized that our butts would be planted to the benches if we didn’t get moving, we quickly came upon the infamous coffee shops, where you can enjoy your hash in public and in peace. Because of the strange nature of jetlag, in which you feel at times quite lucid while simultaneously as if your muscles have atrophied even as you continue to walk around, we didn’t need the hash. Plus, who wants to walk into Egypt reeking of pot? Not me. On the street, people ate paper cones of French fries slathered – no, gooped – with mayonnaise. Because I like to eat, I gravitated toward the restaurant menus posted on windows. A few Indian restaurants looked good, but they appeared to be advertising services that went beyond the food. That’s because hand in hand with the coffee shops we were passing were the sex shops, which gave onto the Red Light district. Plate glass windows lined the street, some covered with red velvet curtains, and others opened to reveal bikini-clad ladies ready for business. They would eyeball us with the gaze we see in the most supposedly benign of TV, ads, films. None of them were the same, though. At least they all had a persona. I never saw a man hawking his wares, but maybe I didn’t search long enough.

Lots of things in that spot struck me, but the most interesting was that this section of the city was not physically cut off from the rest. Men and women pushed strollers down the street and held toddlers’ hands. Lovely apartments spilled flowers from windowboxes just above many prostitutes’ working spaces. On corners, construction workers unearthed pavement. Suitcases were rolled down the street. Shopkeepers washed windows. Shiny cats flicked their tails as they peered at the canal water. In front of one shop, a group of tourists scratched their chins at the seed selections. In the next window over from a glaring prostitute’s space, a placid man painted a wall.

Later, we found ourselves in front of Rembrandt’s house, a small museum of exorbitant price. We eschewed the museum for its next-door tourist bar, Rembrandt Corner, where I got a yogurt, honey, and granola breakfast. The ceiling fans were on a rotating pulley system, and the food served by the surly waitress emerged from a dumbwaiter.

It had been about 5 hours. I dealt out the idea of the Van Gogh museum, and we looked at each other, and we shook our heads, and we made our way back through a street fair (where one used-ware shop was selling a "Let's Roll!" plate), onto the train, and into the airport, where we skimmed by passport control and promptly found the lounge with the reclining chairs. I began my week of Poor Decisions About Sleeping or Not Sleeping by nodding off about 45 minutes, waking up, envying J’s slackened jaw, and heading to the airport museum, where I learned something about minor Dutch artists from the 1700s. I didn’t sleep on the plane, either, because Babel is a good film. Brad Pitt probably should have been nominated for that. But I’ve found out a little something about the arbitrary nature of the Oscars, after tearing through all the old issues of Entertainment Weekly that J’s mom sent back with me. I love that magazine. I would like to say it’s because they review quality books, which they do, but I love me a fashion do and don’t, which I got in the Oscar issue. Of course, I’m sitting here wearing a pink shirt with a longhorn on it that says: “Tough as…Texas.” My gift from J’s summer jaunt into the Lone Star state.



moonlight ambulette said...

Please tell me you bought the "Let's Roll" plate

A said...

Sadly, I didn't buy it. I actually bought nothing in Amsterdam except a train ticket and a yogurt meal. it was kind of fun in that way.