Thursday, January 12, 2012

European Beauty Contests

Where is the prettiest place in Europe?

I have not been to every country in Europe, not yet anyway, though I am working my way through the atlas, bit by bit.

This intersession I have been in the so-called Low Countries -- the Netherlands and Belgium.  (As a side note, I know of other faculty who this intersession are in Costa Rica, London, Israel, and Thailand --- ambassadors for AVC in each case I hope.)  To my eye, while each of these other sites has something great to offer, for me, I think I picked the best itinerary of all --- Holland has to be one of the most "picture postcard perfect" countries in all of Europe.

Most people start with Amsterdam, hub of international arrivals from all over the globe. 

And let's get the sleaze over with first.  As Pulp Fiction made famous, yes, dope is legal in Amsterdam, and one can go into a "coffee shop" and order the grades of marijuana the way one picks out one's favorite coffee size at Starbucks.  And yes, there's a sex museum with items going back to Roman times, and a well-regulated sex trade that allows prostitutes to rent store fronts and sit in them dressed like Victoria Secret models as they solicit their clients from the passersby.

And it IS big business: the same Dutch tolerance that allowed our American pilgrim ancestors to hang out there before leaving for the New World does allow for people to express themselves sexually in a variety of (safe sex) ways.  But they also know that for crowds of young men, they do come over to hire out these "women of the night," and while here they will buy  dinners and use taxis and need hotel rooms.  As Las Vegas proves, vice is profitable.  It has been this way for a hundred years.  This painting in the Amsterdam City Museum shows women waiting for customers in 1900.

 Ah yes, but what to wear?  If you want a custom-made $200 latex corset, Amsterdam is the place to come.

But none of that interests me; despite my allegiance to the Beats, I don't do hash at home and so I am not interested in squandering my time doing hash abroad.  I come to Amsterdam for the Vermeers and the van Goghs (the Vincent van Gogh museum and study center has 200 paintings out of his 800).  I come for the history, whether it is 100-year-old wallpaper....

...200 hundred kinds of haircuts....

...or a 400-year-old merchant ship.

In Amsterdam tulips are just coming into bloom in the parks, and even a sleazy bar might have a beautiful flower display.  Here are some tulips that have come outside for a smoke break.

Amsterdam is of course famous for the canals, waterways to help reclaim solid land from oceans and marshes; many of these canals have been present for hundreds of years, and you can see them in the background of sketches and paintings going back to the 1600s.  This tower saw thousands of sailors sign up to go to the Dutch East Indies and try to make their fortune in the spice trade.

My hotel room looked out over Herrengracht, a very exclusive canal in what has been, historically, one the prettiest, most affluent streets of the "Golden Age."  This is the view from my room the night that I arrived:

So is Amsterdam already the winner?  Maybe not.  What about Den Haag, known in English as "The Hague" ("the hedge")?  Let's grab a streetcar to the train station and find out.

No comments:

Post a Comment