diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Low life

The official symbol for the city of Amsterdam is three white crosses. You'll find them everywhere, on flags, on buildings, even on the bollards along the street. Looked at another way, the official symbol for the city of Amsterdam is XXX. This, somehow feels far more appropriate. There are whole areas of Amsterdam devoted purely to impurity. There's sex for sale, and it's in your face. Along the streets and canals of the red light district you'll find a large number of shops selling toys not stocked by Hamleys, cinemas showing films never screened at your local Odeon and live shows where none of the performers have any lines to learn. All this attracts hordes of blokes to the area, some gay but mostly straight, where they then in proceed to spend most of their time and money in the nearby bars rather than on anything else. The one thing you won't find on the streets around here are any women, except for those in the windows of course.

The red light district here is justly famous, with women plying the oldest profession 24 hours a day. Whereas most buildings in Amsterdam have a door out onto the street, prostitutes work in buildings with opening windows. The windows are all identical, as if all the pimps in town went down to IKEA and ordered a bulk batch. The women are fairly identical too, many of them rather on the over-large side. They sit in their doorways, backlit in various states of undress and tapping loudly on the glass to attract any passers by. This, presumably, is why these places are called knocking shops. The women have a broad smile, carefully calculated to attract all the passing lager louts. Conveniently, the entire Maidenhead and Salisbury rugby teams were in the area this weekend, so business may have been brisk. Every now and again some punter stops to talk, the window opens, there's a bit of haggling and then they disappear very rapidly inside. Unlike normal theatre, here when the curtain closes the performance begins. It's a sobering to think that behind every closed curtain there lies... well, let's not even go there. Soon, in fact after a disappointingly short period of time, a shadowy figure emerges back out onto the pavement. If a punter has been particularly overcome by the heat of the moment, the prostitute will then yell after them up the street that they've left their mobile phone behind and they then have to return, even more red-faced than when they left, to collect it. A few minutes later, after the traditional rubdown with a damp cloth, there's a cheery fat smile sitting back in the window and the whole cycle starts again.

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