Saturday, December 8, 2012

Red Light District

It was my birthday. I hopped on a flight at EWR on a certain evening in March, and awoke on the morning of my life anniversary in Amsterdam. Amy, my idiosyncratic and brilliant friend, had invited me, or rather I had invited myself and she did not decline. She was in the Netherlands on business, training consultants for the telecommunications company her parents owned. I was a woman of leisure. I arrived promptly at 10:15am to a quaint boutique hotel de Filosoof, where a key was waiting for me and a plethora of guidebooks, maps, tourist paraphenalia that Amy had prepared. I might add that at this point, I actually didn't know Amy well. We were acquaintances in the same bible study small group, where Amy was silent and mysterious and I was vocal and controversial. (A Lone Catholic in the midst of Protestants is bound to be interesting, no matter how pacifist we all were) All I knew was that she was very sensitive to cell phones.

Jetlagged, I decided to walk and become familiar with the city. I was particularly curious to see the ConcertGebow, world famous music hall and acoustics where the most accomplished symphonies and composers had reigned. Of course I was lost, my sense of direction was pathetic and it was very cold besides. I inquired after my destination in abbreviated form "Where is the Gebow?" and got strange stares. Apparently, Gebow is a general term for building, and I was actually asking "Where is the building?" in a streetful of buildings. No wonder I seemed confused.

I got to the ConcertGebow at around noon, where there were free concerts every Wednesday, a 30 minute rehearsal open to the public. Listening to the lilting instrumentals resound throughout the high ceilings seemed to open up a new world of possibilities to me. I was on fire, inspired by music, by creation, by ideas that somehow found their way through this labyrinth of human frailty to exist in the fiber of our world. I realized it was no accident, that beauty comes into being by sacrifice, threats of judgment and failure hang over the head of every artist like a noose and to stray into that tempting circle means certain death.

I continued walking, tracing the path of sunlight by my footsteps since it was so frigid that I could only endure the weather by the additional warmth of the sun. Entranced by the canals, the elegant and minimalist three-storied house with fronts facing the water, I wandered the city, watching the rooftops as much as streets. I approached a busy area, close to the train station and lots of people were milling around. Colored banners highlighted one of the streets, so I diverted to more serene side streets sporting that same lovely architecture.

I passed a row of glass windows peeking out from an alley, all empty except one with a particularly voluptuous mannequin. However, she seemed a bit too fleshy for a mannequin, her goods all but falling out of a flimsy black and pink negligee, and then I assumed she was a poster. Then I thought I saw a flicker of movement so I stopped and did a double-take. She was definitely alive. She caught my eye and peremptorily pulled open the glass door, pulling at my sleeve with amazing strength. I jumped, stumbled on my buttocks, and ran out of there with more speed than I thought my short legs were capable of. It was pure adrenaline, and the shock at the prospect of being sexually propositioned by another woman, one who was selling herself. Didn't she know I was female? Perhaps I looked like a skinny, androgynous boy. Perhaps it didn't matter. "Well, you know," Olivier told me later, "business was slow."

Welcome to the Red Light District.

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