Lust and gluttony, the only two deadly sins worth the trouble...
Isabel Allende

Dispatches from our european correspondent...

2002.08.21

Amsterdam. The air is as thick as the culture that surrounds this city by
the sea. After 15 hours of travel time starting at 1:00pm florida time,
catnaps at best on the transatlantic flight, and hour of wandering around
this foreign airport, getting my bags, and a train ride to Central station,
I am dumped unceremonially into the heart of the city jetlagged and weary at
high noon Amsterdam time under (which, I am told, I am lucky to see) a very
hot and beating sun. I am too tired, and out of it to make any sense of the
somewhat overwhelming map of the city transit. Take which train to where?
Tramlines 1-42 didn't seem to get me where I needed to go. One of the 24
metros seemed to go near the unpronounceable street that my hotel was
supposedly on. The busses seemed the most confusing. There were no
apparent scheduled times that they ran. Asking a couple of fellows proved
fruitless since they were from spain and knew little to no english, and
although I know a few words in spanish(didnt I just take some class? Seems
so long ago), my psychedelic state(is the city starting to affect me
already?) compounded by the fact that I could pronounce nothing from
Amsterdam in English, much less in a spanish sounding tongue, MUCH less in
any sense of the dutch pronunciation. I thanked my well meaning smilling
Spaniards, and hefted my bags once again (why did I pack SO much? I know a
lot of this was for A friend, but geez...) and wandered off in a random
direction towards one of the many metro stops in front of central station.
The first metro that came by, got on and attempted to communicate.
"St/o/d-HOOTER-skod?" I asked hopefully? The operator looked at me like I
was a martian. "huh?" "Stadhouderskade?" I asked again, butchering it
once again. I got a blank stare. "Amsterdam Center Hotel" I tried a new
tactic. "Oh, Stadhouderskade" the operater relied saying the street name as
if it were one or two syllables half caught in his throat "9 stops down the
line." he finished in perfect english. Ok, don't forget that these people
speak english better than I do. I sat on top of my pack since all the seats
were filled and tried to get out of the way of all the people that I kept
from entering the metro while I made a fool of my self. 9 stops later, I
stumble off the metro and ask someone where my hotel might be. I get
another blank stare as I wonder if this will be happening alot. Did I find
the one dutch person who doesn't speak english? After a little hand waving
and grunting, this fellow communicated to my aching sunburnt jetlagged mind
that he was deaf. I smiled weakly and opened my map. This he got very
excited about and started waving his hands about and smiling grandly. I
pointed on the map and he pointed down a street and made some vague hand
signals in a circular motion. "Ok, thanks" I said, while trying to make a
retreat. We parted waving and laughing. 45 minutes later, I show up at my
hotel, clothes soaked with sweat, me trying not to look like I just walked
across a desert tripping without any water. I got some incredible deal on
this hotel and had no idea what I was getting into when I booked it online.
This was a five star establishment. Gold trim on everything, a red coated
bell hop and all. After a shower and a lot of water, I look at my watch. 7
am. I set my watch to the local time and set outside since sleep is still
out of the question now that I am curious about the city. I find another
tram stop and make my way down to the red light without to much difficulty.
Getting off that tram was like stepping into a different world. Kind of
like Mardi Gras, but not similar at all. The first thing that hit me was
the smell. Chinese food wafted in the air. I could also smell the reek of
burnt tobacco and urine. But the hashish smell is what wrinkled my nose the
way I like. I wandered towards the smell drifting past all the bleary red
eyed kids looking up from their tables out in front of the cafes on this
small street. I fit right in and I haven't even smoked anything yet... The
people looked like they were from all over the world. The goth kids look
familiar to those in the states, but that was about it. I man with a
handlebar mustache that looked so impressive walked by that I thought his
facial hair resembled a perfect wave that crested off his shoulder
somewhere. I half expected to see little surfers following him down the
street... I found my first coffee shop which of course the name I forgot
the moment I left it. I sat down and bought a gram of Jack Herrer and a
peach mango juice. Ahh... I have been here and hour and I already know I am
gonna love it here. After that shop, I wandered to the Dam square. Now
with a heightened perception of the city through my still very weary eyes,
the city seemed to literally breathe whispers of temptations, of
commercialism, and of vice. Beneath that there was visibly some old sea
faring culture that was apparent every time you transversed one of the many,
many canals. The next few hours were a haze I can not begin to verbalize.
The mix of people was exhilarating. People, shops, coffee shops all floated
by as if I was on a slow train. Red-eyed people would glance up lazily
from some partially rolled spiff in front of them. Giggling girls with
short shorts so tight I wondered if they were working girls had they not
looked 14. Some Korean named George asked me about my life, and quality
experiences in the good 'ol us of A. I told him a couple of short pieces
of my life and he drew me a map to go to some shop and try this 'skuff'
"Man, if you really need to just go straight to the top, you need this shit.
They say it is what is swept off the floor and shook through a screen and
pressed, but I think is is a little goodness from heaven, sweeter than that
first taste of your school sweetheart, kinder than than that first aspirin
the morning after." my Korean salesman said with a broken english dramatic
flair. Actually his english was damn good for being born in SE Asia and
growing up in Europe. Anyway, I found this Abraxus place and tried this
skuff stuff. An hour later, I sat sipping my juice trying not to drool on
myself looking out the window at all the people without actually focusing on
any of them when a soft young female voice brought me slowly back to
reality. A woman who worked there, had now put her hand on my shoulder
since I did not answer her first few calls (I think it was only a few).
"Can I interest you in a hashish milkshake?" she said with a bright cheery
smile. She obviously had not drunken any of these hashish milkshakes any
time recently judging by how chipper she was. "No thanks," I mumbled, "I am
already dead" I barely remember leaving, I dont remember walking back to
the hotel, or even falling asleep. when I awoke, I was still clothed lying
face down on a bed in the darkness. Took me a long moment to remember that
I was in Europe, no AMSTERDAM, and that was why I was too stoned to realize
I was still too stoned. I ambled into the bathroom, spotted my stuff and
was relieved to see that I had indeed made it back to the correct room.
The second time I went out, It was 3 o'clock in the morning and
everything was closed. I couldnt believe it! Amsterdam, one of the most
famous cities. Closed! It was thursday night, so I wandered a while, got
tired off all the drug dealers approaching me to sell something, then ask
for spare change, so I went back to bed for a couple of hours. More later
when Erica caught up with me and we went to Utrect.

2002.08.23

So here I am in Germany, home of the bratwurst and streudel. Also home to the stereotype of the big bellied man in overalls carrying a toolbox, the quintesential handyman. Most things over here are handy. But just a minute ago, well actually, he is still in the cafe I am typing in, I saw a man in thick black leather overalls with a big harley davidson shirt on and a hog parked outside. Ahhh... the beauty of cross culture. I wonder if the harley's are more reliable over here...I have seen a few R6's over here but they seem oddly out of place parked next to a 1000 year old cathedral. I also walked around Erfurt's version of a shopping mall. Smaller with no food court, but lots of restarants, 5 stories tall in a 200-300 year old building that looked like it might have once been a jail or something. This town got its city rights from the pope somewhere around 742 AD and was on the spice road to the East Indies for a while before that. Hitler also resided in the area during the third Reich so this place didn't see much if any bombing thankfully. The architecture here is as beautifull as the town is quiet after dark. This is definitely a sleepy place aside from the club or two that are lax enough to let kids take bong hits in the corner while sipping on some luke warm beer or another. I introduced some kids to the concept of Irish Car Bombs and they absolutely loved it. I think it might have been the seeming competition of drinking quicker than the others or the loud clank of the shot glass hitting the bottom of the stein or maybe the comraderie of toasting all together. Or maybe it was just the idea of having a dring that gets you stupid drunk quick being so aptly named. Those silly Irish. The cappucino here is absolutely fabulous, as is almost everything that is blessed by the divine grace of sugar and an oven. I have also learned that more people in bookstores speak english than in bakeries. Maybe it has something to do with all the english words on the covers of all the American magazines translated to German. I never knew that America made more magazines than the rest of the world combined. I feel so wastefull somehow... I also saw some Scottish Punks. One with a mohawk, the other with short blonde hair with black spots, like a leopard, both with the trade mark red plaid quilt and black army boots. I am told that there are even more Scottish punks in Hamburg, where I go next week. More English speaking bakers as well, I presume. Yes, this has been a most relaxing time here in Erfurt. Erica has been a most gracious host, her apartment is luxourious, and aside from the always amusing visits from her multiple suitors, we have the place to ourselves. She works during the day and at night we eat, I beat her in scrabble (me, an uneducated, beating an English teacher!) then we go out for a beer somewhere and poor Erica usually is too tired to continue by this point since she gets up early. She goes home, and I wander around at night. I feel absolutely safe here at night beyond a shadow(in which there are many) of a doubt. I like to look at the huge churches and all the other building surrounding the plazas here at night and imagine torches lighting up their walls and wonder what it would have been like to travel weeks by horse or foot and arrive in a citadel like this. Now the horses have been replaced by sport bikes and smart cars (little itty bitty things that resemble a futuristic washing machine with windows and wheels), the caravans by trams and trains, and the market by the market. At least somethings never change. This is by far, the oldest city I have ever been to. The oldest streets I have ever graced with my spit, the oldest gutter which I have graced with my.... well you get the idea. You can run with it as the novelty of pissing in a 500 year old urinal is alomst too much to pass up. Only thing that is missing is the horse shit in the streets. No animals around at all that I can see in the plaza.

My haze that was Amsterdam is lifted and now I want to go back, convinced that I can make it and actually SEE those sights that I forgot about as soon as I sat down in a coffee shop everyday. Van Gogh, here I come! Well, maybe after I work a little in Hamburg at a biergarten for a few days and make some €uros. I plan on staying here another week, but no longer. This is a place easily sucked into. Very, very laid back atmosphere, too laid back for some of the younger inhabitants, but good for a vacationer trying to get away from himself and his own demons for a little bit. I suppose ones demons follow him about anywhere he goes, but they lose power as one gains strength, striding out into the unkown not looking back or having regrets. Traveling can do that to someone. Here, in uncharted territory, you can look at your demons and tell them" ´Not now, back to bed you bitch, Get back in that room and on the ceiling where you will wait for me till later when I am lusting for sleep gazing on you looking down on me in bed, my heart beating, not conscious of my breating waiting for the world to release me for one more night into another so that I might recall and grok the days events. Traveling will also make someone wax philisophical on the fly. So will loads of cappucino and reading Heinlein all night. It is almost two here in the afternoon and a beautifull day. It is 8am on the eastern seaboard and I immagine that some of you are beginning to stir and wonder what you are doing up at such an hour... love you all, please write back since I wander around all day here with nothing to do but think, read, eat bratwurst, and check my email.

2002.08.25

This is a little rewind to the last night I spent in Amsterdam (so far since I will definitely go back) and I had to take a little time to digest the events before I could regurgitate them since it was such a traumatic night. After the first day, night, and part of the next day, Erica caught up with me at my hotel, which was a glorious sanctuary of pampering I would soon miss. Erica and I rejoiced in seeing each other after such a long time and rejoiced that we were seeing each other for the first time in a while in Amsterdam of all places! After walking around in the heat for a couple of hours barely cognizant of the noise and grime of another busy day in the district, we decided to go to Utrecht to visit Marc's family, Sini and Gurt. (I hope I spelled them right). They were most gracious hosts and beat our pants off in a game of Risk after stuffing us with a wonderful vegetarian meal. The next day, we wandered around the Market in Utrecht for a while and said our goodbye's and left back for Amsterdam. Most hotels were booked and the only one we could find available was hotel Linda which wanted €125 a night. 125 a night!! Without even air conditioning. The lady at the desk informed us that 95 percent of the time air conditioning wasnt even an issue, but a lot of good this did us this particular night... None of the accoutrements of my last hotel and the same price. I was realizing all the time what a deal I scored while still in the states on my room. Still not swayed from enjoying a night together in Amsterdam, my comrade and I opened the window to let the room cool with the night and set out into the town. After walking around looking at all the sights, which there are many, we decided we must do something so touristy that we could safely come away from A'dam knowing we had been swindled proper. This meant, as the guide book so eloquently put, "To accidentally see a sex show on your first visit is as guaranteed as a hookers wink when you walk by." To see a show like this you must be in the proper mindset. Now I have heard many many stories about the famous sex shows here, I have heard that they were for the most part disturbing and often hilarious. We searched all the three venues whilst putting ourselves into 'the proper mindset' and decided on one that promised a good attempt at making it somewhat sexy. After 4 gram and a half spliffs, a half dozen choking hits from some apparatus in some coffee shop and a hash milkshake later, we felt we had attained the proper mindset. What were we gonna do? Oh yeah, see a sex show... far out man, very righteous mission indeed. Where were we going? After stumbling back to the chosen venue, we paid our entrance and got our drink coupons (four, good for anything the house has) and walked up the dark stairs. We happened to come in just as the show was beginning to repeat itself with all the pseudo sexy buildup stuff. We found some seats on the second row in this theater with a three foot stage that put the action a few feet from us at eye level. The place was packed with people from all over the world. Everyone was loud and drunk, but behaving themselves and quite amiable with everyone else. Probably from a little help from the bald tattooed bouncer who resembled a whiskey barrel and stood aver 6'6. We were so blazed that we were once again trippin and beginning to wonder about the wisdom of our investment in the cover charge. Well at least you get some drinks. After getting us a round and making our way back to our seats, I find Erica chatting with a fellow from the first row asking her where she is from and why she is here. I didnt get a chance to hear her response since the curtain began to rise and the crowd roared. The first few acts went by quickly enough, just a girl dancing and stripping, followed by two girls doing the same and then making out then going down on each other for a quick minute before the curtain closed. The next act was an audience participation for the 'banana show' A blonde amazon of a woman came out and in perfect american asked for three boys. She chose one then made eye contact with me and Erica nudged me. "Come one man, we will have some fun!" I staunchly refused, my eyes felt like they were about to pop from my head with embarrassment, and her eyes thankfully moved elsewhere. After she had chosen her three boys, she made them dance on stage (one boy was obviously loaded on some mushrooms or something similar, he kept waving his hands in front of his face and faintly smiling, seemingly oblivious to the theater) and strip to their underwear. Then she made them stand facing the back wall with their hands over their head. About this time a gorilla with high heels got on stage. I suddenly was immensely grateful I was not up there. The amazon then laid down, unpeeled the banana halfway, put it in the (un)appropriate place and had each boy in turn get on their hands and knees with their pants still around the ankles and crawl over and take a bite out of the fruit. This is where the gorilla would jump up, rip their shorts down and pretend to take them from behind. That wouldnt have been so bad had she not been wearing a foot long strap on. Egads! The curtain came down and everyone laughed lots. I glanced at my companion and she was still entranced that all this was happening so close to us and everyone seemed to be enjoying it to the fullest. The next show had a man and woman. The man was an average looking black man wearing a lab coat like he was a doctor. The woman was close to being obese and ´looked American Indian or something. I groaned and sincerely hoped that the inevitable would not happen. They did the most horrid of acts, used a lube that resembled runny mayonnaise and used it everywhere. I hid my eyes sometimes and other times, I wished I was hiding them. I will spare you, my friends, the worst of the details as I am sure you can put it all together. Right after that show, we got up and hurried out the door. We walked in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Something was wrong. Something was horribly horribly wrong. That wasnt a sex show, it was a torture show of the macabre. Erica and I had few words for each other as we were completely shell-shocked. There was something beautiful about sex I had always held dear and sacred. The people involved didnt have to be Victoria secret models, it was the beauty of the act which I held dear and sacred. But this, this was beyond reproach, this was barbaric. Something was welling inside me as if I needed to retch but couldnt since my stomach was not the problem. Erica and I would steal glances at each other then shy away as the other person would scare us way or something. We were in dire need of a mommy to hug us and tell us that what we saw was not real but just a mass hypnosis and nobody would ever do that in private, much less on stage in front of strangers for money! But alas, no hug came and we knew the terrible truth. Such is life now and then. We slowly made our way back to the hotel and smoke a few. No matter how much we smoked, we could not run away from what we saw, it haunts you worse than lying to a friend at their expense. When we got to the hotel, we found that the ceiling was covered in mosquitoes. They apparently came in to get out of the mugginess. All night our sleep was restless. Be it from the heat, constantly attacked from the barbarians overhead, or the ghastly vision that kept crawling through my cerebrum like an evil primordial ooze thats seeps through American politics this very day, I can not be sure. All I can be sure of is this piece of advice. SAVE YOURSELVES, SAVE YOUR FRIENDS!! DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT SEE A SEX SHOW IN AMSTERDAM!!! Unless, of course, you are in the proper mindset, which, I think, we missed. That is all I can think of right now. Of course I will go back to the town, but damn, I will shiver every time I pass that theater...

2002.08.27

Ok, I have holding on to the opinion that all german kids knew about the masterful german engineering and of the surrounding areas with the newest from Mercedes, Porche, Audi, BMW, VW, and the list goes on. Just the other day, this foundation of myth was rocked violently when we came out of Erfurt's version of Home Depot and spied quite a sight. At first, I was reminescent of home. There in the parking lot was a group of 20 or so kids. German boys with wife beaters and beanies. Their cute little Brittany wannabe girlfriends with the tight stretch pants and the tops designed to make things spill out. But when I looked past the kids, I noticed, to my shock and horror, that all the cars were Fords!! Fucking FORDS!! Now I am not against Ford trucks, they are built ford tough, whatever that means, but there are no Ford trucks in Germany, just way too big. No these were closer to their pimped out Japenese counterparts. A long row of tricked out (almost all wagons) and painted up Escorts, Tauruses, a Mustang that looked like a four-banger, and was that an old Pinto? How the hell.... I looked to our Guide, one of Erica's projects for an explanation, a reason, something to let me know that the world was not sideways, that the heavens were not about to open up and lay waste to us just for witnessing this travesty, this abomination. Ok, ok, so maybe I over reacted just a little bit, but for crying out loud, for the money that one of these kids spent tricking out a Ford Escort wagon, he could buy a nice BMW. I myself saw a nice BMW from 1998 for 1500 Euro which is about $1550 US. Maybe there is just no accounting for taste... Anyway, our trusty guide told us "Oh, yes, that must be the E-town Ford Car Club." The E-town Ford Car Club, eh? Why not Datsun, or... well anything other than ford. Where in the hell would someone get a ford Pinto these days? They dont really have salvage yards over here, the real estate is too pricey. Maybe there was an old volvo frame under that body. Hopefully for the owners sake. Then, just this morning, I saw one of the kids from the parking lot showing off his car to some friends. This was one of the Escort wagons, but now he had all the doors and hood open showing everything off. The bass was thumpin and the chrome under the hood was shiny. As I was waling by, the front end started bouncing off the ground. Oh no, this was too much. All this in front of the Dam Platz, an 800 year old church. There was much irony in here somewhere. I dont know, I am just an egg, I must sit and think on this. It is starting to rain outside and I must be getting on my way home. Wouldnt want to miss our nightly ritual during the week of beer and Scrabble. I brought Erica Monopoly, Risk, and Scrabble along with some pie tins to remind her of the States. The beer here is, well, saintly! less than a buck for a litre of the creamiest, nicest beer from all over Europe. We usually go through one each in the first game then another one each in the second game which takes about twice as long and we score far less ponts. Also, apears that Germany doesnt know what a pie is. Darndest thing, but I have yet to see an apple pie here. Well, Erica is making one tonight, but besides that, no pie here. They make up for it in other ways, with their expertise in baking, but damn, you just get a hankering now and then for some good 'ol apple pie. Hope this finds you all well and dry. I will be leaving Erfurt morning after tomorrow for the big West German city of Hamburg. I am excited. I have heard many stories of this huge party town, the host of the Love Parade every year. At least I think they host it. Anyway, it is one big city, much different than this quiet little place in the East.
goodnight, Rafael