Jottings of Amsterdam, Centraal to Rusland

By: | Post date: March 22, 2009 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Countries

Here at opɯdʒɯlɯklɑr, we’re all about the heterochronicity. So as I sit in the foyer of Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen, waiting for a taxi to launch me on the path back to Amsterdam…

and in the plane over the Western Desert returning to Australia…

… I will continue blogging about what I saw when I was already in Amsterdam on Sunday.

And insert some comparisons with what I saw when I was back in Amsterdam Thursday into Friday.

Here at opɯdʒɯlɯklɑr, we’re also all about the resentment at not having become an academic linguist. OK, not all about it; but with MPI an elite linguist hangout, with longstanding ties to University of Melbourne Linguistics, and complete with memorialised linguists’ busts (and psychologists—it’s the Institute for Psycholinguistics after all),

… regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too abstruse to mention. The PhD students at the next table are picking through their good fortunes at being in Nijmegen. I hope they don’t get disillusioned like I did, really I do.

No, focus. When last blogged, I had just rocked up to Centraal station, and been sore astonished at the multiplicity of bikes. I then wandered south, to see what I could see.

What’s south of Centraal? The Red Light District. I swore I wouldn’t bother going there, because I wanted a better sense of the soul of Amsterdam than AMSTERDAM XXX BY NIGHT would provide. But bang, there I was. I didn’t immediately stumble across the brothel windows—that was a street down; but I did come across the sex shops that I’m declining to photograph in this shot—

—not because I’m above that kind of thing, dear reader, but because I dare surmise you might be.

The Red Light District, I found rather puzzling. There was a lot of incongruity to process here. (I mean, you’re showing that video cover right on the street window? Really?) I did find it funny that two shops down from said video covers, there was a Greek restaurant dedicated to the Virgin Mary:

and an Italian restaurant dedicated to the Virgin Mary:

in a losing battle. Not least because they were faced off by one of the innumerable aromatic-smelling coffeeshops that blanket the precinct, even unto Rusland St (where my hotel was, 1 km further down):

The battle is in fact to represented by a T-shirt. I’ll refrain from republishing gratuitous blasphemy in a public blog, so since someone else has encountered the T-shirt, I’ll link off site.

But you know, sex shops and aromatic coffeeshops, and prostitutes in lingerie incongruously tapping on the window as you walk past (Lady, I’m lugging a suitcase halfway across Centrum, and it needs A Good Time right now even less than I do)—do not convey the frisson of risk and edge that they might. I chose the word tacky rather than dodgy, and there was a reason for that. Sebastian (who I was visiting in Nijmegen) crystallised it for me when I expressed my disappointment to him: it’s a clean, sanitised, manicured experience of sex and drugs and souvenir T-shirts. It’s a tourist theme park, really.

To my relief, when I came back and got intentionally lost walking around town, I saw the flipside to Centrum. (I had a couple of destinations, but got gloriously lost by following the ring structure of the roads bordering Centrum.) I didn’t get a sense of the soul of Amsterdam—in the end, how could I in a couple of hours; but I saw that the flipside is a town that still has too many bikes, but also a place here people get work done, go out to dinner, and get home by 10. Not a particularly striking looking town, but lived-in. (This is not Vienna, which had a point to prove in its architecture; Amsterdam ran the world as a business, and was satisfied with individual affluence.) By the Plantage district, which was parkland until past the Golden Age, the town even loosens its belt a little, and allows for some greenery, and mansions that aren’t single file.

What other superficial impressions of Centrum? Nieuwendijk was a jumble of souvenir shops and garishness; the fashion stores wedged amongst them tried to look classy, and failed. I didn’t even want to take photos as I went down it; just a dismissive look back when I got to the Dam:

I was more forgiving when I went back: Nieuwendijk at 10 pm was defanged and normal for where it was, and Nieuwendijk on a Friday morning actually made some sense, as a street tourists would happen upon.

The Dam was more my style: I approve of the stateliness of the Koninklijk Paleis

although I have to wonder how they filmed that scene in public where… oh, “above that kind of thing”. Right.

The Nieuwe Kerk is also suitably commanding:

That’s the New Church in the Nieuwe Zidje: New as in 1408, as opposed to 1306, and the Oude Kerk in the Oude Zidje.

It’s an old town. Even the post-1945 monuments at the Dam look suitably in place—the marble lions don’t have their innards deconstructed or their manes braided or anything.

Even the Madame Tussaud’s and department stores look dignified here.

(I can’t say the same about the hot dog stand, but the town planners can’t take responsibility for everything.)

And in comparison to Nieuewendijk, the Damrak… well, it’s a step up:

Not a complete staircase up, mind you—

—but somewhat more orderly. The Damrak also hosted one of my proudest linguistic moments, when I worked out what a Dutch cigarette packet said on a bin (proudly emblazoned with the city symbols, XXX):

Roken is dodelijk. Reeking is deadlike. OK, ok, I worked it out via German, Rauchen is tödlich, Smoking is deadly. As Sebastian told me later (I dont just bore you, dear blog readers, with this crap; I also bore anyone I’m visiting), the German packs say that Rauchen kann tödlich sein: they are reluctant to assert a 100% fatality rate. No such caution in the Netherlands or the Anglosphere: there’s lives to save, don’t you know.

Those XXX’s? They’re meant to be St Andrews’ crosses. They’re everywhere:

And while they long predate the use of XXX as a Google searchword, the similarity has not gone unnoticed in the Red Light District. (I won’t even mention what they do with their depiction of Amsterdam traffic bollards.) This is just about the only Red Light District use of XXX I could find that would not itself attract an XXX rating:


  • John Cowan says:

    Found this again, three years later, googling for Scungry.

    Even the deadliest diseases don't usually kill everyone who catches them.

    Today's captcha:"werven dersurn", very Germaic.

  • John Cowan says:

    Can we say “praeteritio”? I thought we could!

    Amsterdam isn’t only about commerce, but it’s never been an imperial capital either, for suitable values of $EMPIRE. Think Dublin, only (as you say) older.

    Lovely CAPTCHA today: squinv. I’m still waiting for And Rosta’s Scungry to show up.

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