Some Parts of the World Pt. 5
BettySoo continues her road diary from Amsterdam
8:46AM, Fri. Jun. 10, 2011
“Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice,” Doug murmured as my expectant expression turned to disappointment at the great guitar shop De Plug in Amsterdam. It was here in late 2009 I found my East German Brasilia guitar, and I guess I was still hoping to find an affordable European gem among the high-priced vintage Gretsches, Gibsons, and Guilds.
Our friend Patrick told us his favorite shop, from which he has yet to leave empty-handed, is Palm Guitars, but we didn’t stop by since it’s usually closed Mondays. While at De Plug, we did try out a very cool Vox-Humana lap steel, made in the Netherlands, but the price was a bit steep, so we wished it a happy life filled with the music of someone else’s songs.
Amsterdam is darker than I remember. Not different, really, but I think I let myself feel the sadness of the city more this time around. It has echoes of a grand past: imposing church buildings, impressive museums, beautiful canal crossings, an impressively grand central metro station. It has the feel of a place whose grandness started to decline a long time ago, without much effort to reverse the trend. It’s a city that caters to tourists and to humanity’s seediest interests – literally. You can hardly walk down a narrow street without finding Amsterdam’s infamous coffee shops (hash bars) and seed shops for those who want to grow their own.
The signs and posted menus for restaurants and cafes are printed in four languages for the tourists, and the rough-faced men in suits standing in the doorways of the live sex clubs pose their invitations in English. They call out to teenage American boys (why are they always in pairs?) staring gape-mouthed into windows displaying bikini-clad Slavic-faced women who are, oddly enough, busy texting on their cell phones.
It’s strange to think this is the city where Anne Frank penned her journal. When wandering aimlessly from street to street, it almost fails to cross my mind that this is the home of some of the greatest art collections at the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Hermitage. There are grand theaters here, along with bustling retail traffic, a major financial center, and some great graffiti art.
But for me, this time around, the grandness of what Amsterdam has to offer is diminished by tributes to Jim Morrison, bumbling tourists gawking at prostitutes, and sour expressions on the faces of the people working here – a stark contrast from our experience this past week traveling through the rest of the Netherlands countryside.
When I was here in 2009, I brushed past the red light district as a funny if embarrassing accidental discovery. Like this time, we had wandered in and through it without realizing quite where we were going. My first visit here, I was struck full of awe and wonder at the architecture, the canals, the millions of bicycles, and the fashionably-dressed citizens.
It was like lightning.
BettySoo and Doug Cox are touring through Europe this spring and in the UK for several weeks in September. Both musicians tour year-round in North America and abroad to promote their project, Across the Borderline. Their new album, Lie to Me, comes out this summer.