I walk down a cobbled street when I notice a beautiful woman winking at me. She smiles and beckons me over. Another woman, more beautiful than the last, is also enamored with me, she too winks and smiles. I should probably mention that they are both standing in storefront windows and wearing only their underwear. Being from the Midwest, I give a short, embarrassed wave and look anywhere but at her body because that’s how we roll.
Welcome to a small part of Amsterdam and watch out for the vomit ahead. It looks like banana vomit, which makes sense, across the street, is a bar called The Banana Bar where 45 euros buys you 1 hour of drinks served by naked women. You can, if the fetish is within you, pay extra to have a banana served in any way you’d like.
Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. Each woman is her own small business. She rents the storefront and is probably a member of the Red Thread Union. She pays taxes and is heavily monitored by the government and health officials. Even with the seemingly legitimate feel of prostitution one still thinks, “Surely, there’s something else these women could be doing.” But the simple truth is that there is money in sex. A good prostitute can earn 500 euros a night, which is about 10 clients. If we assume a 5 day work week, that’s 130,000 euros ($208,000) per year. The down side is…well, you’re a whore. The other downside is the guys shelling money out aren’t Robert Redford in An Indecent Proposal, but shaven-headed drunken English hooligans that probably just vomited up a banana.
Amsterdam is so much more than the Red Light District for which it is so well known. It is probably one of the most beautiful European cities that I have visited. It is quiet cafés along tree lined canals. It is friendly, approachable people and a laid back atmosphere. There are 100,000 Dutch Elm and Lime trees, 1,200 small bridges that cross 100 canals. It is winding streets, bicycles and electric trams.
Late in the evening I stood on a bridge admiring the view and catching the breeze that makes its way down the canal. I commented to Dutchman near me about the marked different between the majority of Amsterdam and the Red Light District. He had to think about it for a moment- the Red Light District seems to be almost an afterthought for him. “The drunk hooligans come for 2 weeks and never stray from a three block radius, they never see the real Amsterdam and that’s fine with us.”
I sit at the cafe enjoying a late night espresso and watch the bikes go by. The caffeine is a bad idea at 10 in the evening but even after many miles of walking aimlessly through the city I have no interest in sleeping, that's the life of the flaneur. Let the drunken tourists have the their three blocks, I'll take this particular corner at this particular time.