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Worldwide Ace » Double Dutch and Collared Greens

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Double Dutch and Collared Greens

26 October, 2008 (10:35) | Travelogue

A statue looks over a canal in Amsterdam.
For more watery photos of Holland, click here.

How can it not seem like paradise? It’s progressive, safe, a high level of education. Its food is wonderful and everything is so… green.

To a certain extent, Amsterdam delivers. Its streets are lovely, lined with thin brownstone style buildings that appear to lazily lean over the canals they line. The streets are clean and there are more bikes on the road than cars, plus a very nice tram system making it easy to get around. The museums are chock full of brilliant works, from the Van Gogh museum to the National Gallery to the Jewish Museum.

But the true allure-what draws many people my age here-is the progressiveness. Holland has an amazing culture of openness.

The Red Light District is open and welcoming. Corner stores and restaurants mingle with brothels and porn theaters. Scantily clad women stare out from windows, looking like mannequins until they move, beckoning from the corner of my eye and causing me to start. The bright neon casts strange orange shadows across the canals right next to classy buildings which might well be someone’s home. I pass a family, including two small children, wandering through and smiling, pointing and laughing. The smell of a Chinese restaurant wafts across, the steamed pork buns making my mouth water as I glance at a picture of people porking tacked to a telephone pole.

It’s glorious and unmitigated honesty for an industry relegated to the backstreets and behind closed doors. And it bothers me.

It’s a strange feeling. For years, I’ve been an absolutist when it came to freedom of speech, including pornography. I’ve wished that people could openly discuss sexuality without the stigmas attached. And through I’ve never even considered paying for sex, I firmly argued that prostitution should be legal and regulated, protected the men and women involved as well as their right to do what they will with their bodies.

Confronted with that reality here, I can only wonder about that family. Is it right for their parents to bring them here? Is it ok that hardcore, fully realized money shots are flaunted on the corkboard outside theaters? The sex shops selling toys and tools don’t faze me, but the rest does. I can’t imagine walking by one of these glass door booths and hearing cries and moans of pleasure from within, while my kids stand by.

Sex isn’t the only thing Amsterdam has embraced. After all, this is High Times’s favorite place. The coffee shops, which sell marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms, feature a steady clientele coming and going throughout the day. Often, the scent of pot can be smelled as you walk by. And the posted menus list a plethora of tasty breeds grown especially for the edification and entertainment of your brain.

This is ultimately what I really wanted to see. I’ve done my stint as a serious stoner, building bongs out of common household items and teaching the ways of pot to those less experienced. I’ve learned to roll a good joint, though I’ll never be able to roll a perfect one, and I can explain the difference between a joint, a spliff, and a blunt, though doobies will always be a mystery. I’ve bought pot in nickel bags, dime bags, eighths and quarters and I’ve split and weighed a pound among friends. I’ve tried schwag and kind bud and taste tested a sampling from the 2000 World Weed Championships (though I couldn’t tell the difference after the second strain). I’ve smoked and done nothing, gotten stoned and played sports, baked and cooked, vaped and found inspiration, gotten high and riffed. I’ve had friends who were dealers and dealers who were friends, and I even dabbled at dealing myself, though I failed before I even began.

Through it all, one thing persisted: the people I met through pot were far more friendly and happy than any other group I’ve ever dealt with.

In Amsterdam, it’s not like that. It’s business. The clerks seem cold. They explain with a roll of the eyes. “Don’t you already know? What the fuck are you doing here wasting my time?” The clients are private, huddling into their corner booth and looking at me protectively as I watch them take another hit.

I know it’s worse now than a year or two ago. When they banned tobacco from all public places, the coffee shops suffered the most. Europeans prefer their pot mixed with tobacco; it provides a smoother burn in joints (in the US, a spliff always mixes tobacco in, but joints more often do not) and adds a different flavor as well as providing a buzz before the high.

These days the clientele buy their merchandise and then flee to their private haunts while drug tourists, usually traveling in insular packs, line the tables. There are tables outside for those who still want their tobacco, but smoking in public is a social faux pas here. It happens, of course, but no one seems pleased when it does, except perhaps the smoker.

I step up to the counter and ask for advice, getting a spiel about the types of pot as if I’m a first time smoker. The man glares at me. I pick my poison and he pushes me aside to help the next person. Suddenly I’m struck with a desire for dealers and backroom smoking sessions. I miss sitting down with Katy and having her tell me about her week, playing with her dogs, and chatting. Pot isn’t a cottage industry. I hate it.

Despite being just as people described it, Amsterdam’s not what I had hoped for. I’m embarrassed and angry that I wish drugs were sold in backroom dealings and that the Red Light District didn’t strut its stuff in front of families. It’s antithetical to the perfect society I envisioned.

Perhaps that’s the moral here: reality is never what you wish it were. I guess I’ll have to be content with that.