Chilly Days in Amsterdam

((Hello, this is my section man. Doobies section. This is High Rantings with Doobie Oh Dayum. A psychedelic carnival of great ideas and exciting characters that I think I met. I probably did. Or maybe not. This one’s about a trip to Amsterdam.))

PROLOGUE

 

Chilly days in the port of Amsterdam, I can faintly recall poured beers in small, curved glasses – calling to earlier days of innocence, and the sweet taste of nostalgia beneath the drunken, inconsolable stoned haze. And the Dutch women – oh, the Dutch women: dressed so easily in their summer dresses and torn denim jackets, cycling care-freely through the tidy cobbled lanes, blonde tresses tossing and whirling in the wind like proud flags to their stern, but playful national character.

This journey started at an end of another, and oh how it has carried so far. The endless walloping of a trio: so different but yet so utterly, irrevocably the same. We have the ramblings of an Indian man, a man consumed by his confusion, deeply lost in his own indirections. He smiles a mysterious smile, a playful understanding smirk with eyes wracked with sadness, a personal serenade to a lover so close but much too far.

Then, there is the Englishman standing at the crossroads. A true-born Brit, a man of charisma and strong accentuated voice. He struggles to break out from his imperialist world, seeking the road less travelled with a curious, wacky grin on his face. He revels in being what he really is – an extremely annoying horse.

Now, as I slowly work through this last paragraph, the hazy euphoria of the weed has almost flew the nest, leaving behind the tugging sleeplessness of a raging cocaine high. This is the time I begin writing a recollection – no, a tribute to the days of Amsterdam. Some of it’s probably true.

 ONE

I can’t find the need to introduce myself, I really can’t. It really doesn’t matter if I’m Black, White, Asian, sixteen or twenty-six. There’s much better things to ponder about besides age and colour. All you need to know is that I’m a student at a remote, cold Welsh university on top of a very cold hill, in a very, very cold seaside town.

Cold, cold Aberystywth, it looked like paradise in the pictures.

Anyway, we met in this miserable college town, the three of us. I was smoking pot to death then, the Indian a bit more casually – the Englishman in moderation. It didn’t really matter though, we all justified it well, and thought ourselves and each other to be decent people. And half the stuff coming from their mouths wasn’t half garbage either.

In fact, the Englishman used to sing, and he still does I suppose. I reckon he sung louder in misery, and loudest in that bleak, collegiate existence. Sometimes, on a good night, I try to sing along. But my voice doesn’t seem to carry as far.

We spent useless nights in that semester; stoning, watching Family Guy till three in the morning, laughing at the previous day’s events till the sun peeped up from the horizon. You do get sun in Wales, well, you just have to look past the stormy clouds and the horrific weather. I was your typical drop-out: mentally prepared to take on the good grades but too deeply entrenched in drugs and alcohol to give one decent, hard-working fuck. I was, and still am, a living dedicated orifice to the dizzy world of narcotics. And now, with the bitter drip of cocaine slowly bring me closer and closer to the peak, I know I’ve done most, or if not a considerable array of them.

Except Heroin, never Heroin.

Grand thing is, Aberystwyth’s a bustling stockpile of uppers and downers. What else do students do in their free time? Study? Nope. Arcade? Nope. Go to coffee shops and sip English tea and smoke cigarettes? Occasionally. What they really do is drag themselves and forty others down to the beach with their weed grinders and barbecue grills and listen to the sound of waves hitting the shore like they’ve lived and breathed the sea for a good, long portion of their short, youthful lives. They collect driftwood from the tide and build a bonfire while they drench their brains thoroughly with cheap, cheap lager. One downside to the beach though, you don’t get many crabs. But I guess there’s always a downside to everything – even crazy Welsh towns.

Back to the point, I’d probably write more books than Dickens if I tried to describe the half-year I spent in that hell hole. Let’s pack away the adventures of Aberystwyth, there’s too much to tell, and only so much ink left – there’s Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Amsterdam

It all sounds brilliant to me as I mouth it out silently to myself, but it’s probably just the coke feeding my mind with false enthusiasm. It’s good enthusiasm though. You know what, I’m going to stop now for a bit, and roll myself a joint to calm my nerves.

Fact: Did you know weed is legal in Amsterdam?

A little less known fact is that we decided on going there right at the last minute. It was either that or a trip to the South Coast to visit a cute Chinese girl with a bright disposition in bubbly beach side Brighton. I chose the pot.

We settled on a twenty pound price difference between sea and air travel and rode a cruiser seven hours long to Dutch shores. We drank ourselves tipsy off cheap jugs of Heineken and stumbled around the ship, only to end up sleeping soundly on its cold, windy deck. Occasionally, one of us would break out of slumber on that rocky top to roll a cigarette, and bask under the imaginary, tropical sun.

Otherwise, there was nothing much of note on that fine ferry trip. Just a lot of Dutch explorers with thick, Stalin moustaches and English breakfast that tasted reasonably disgusting. Oh, and a budding black-haired Brit lass who had dyed her hair a platinum blonde. Why did she do it? Well, who knows? Maybe she will someday.

We arrived at Rotterdam, and it stayed the same. It felt the same as we waited impatiently in a queue for a mixed couple to pass immigration and it was very much rooted in said sameness as the train passed from another miserable port into the green range cow-riddled flatland of Holland. Gray changed to a white cow, a white cow with black spots and occasionally, a warm brown cow. This is the exact moment I realised I was in Deutschland, and not in sheep county.

Excitement coursed electricity through our blood and the lust for a good smoke eventually led us astray, into the town of Haarlem. Or maybe it was Helstead, I can’t really remember. I do remembering seeing a bird on a bike though, my very first Dutch bird. She breezed comfortably through the street, a beauty that blended so uncannily with the fair weather of the day. Sit on a bench on a nice, windy afternoon and you might even catch the scent of her perfume, dancing off her slight shoulders, leaving memories of first love and frisky kisses in her vanilla wake.

We stumbled off the train at Haarlem/Helstead, waded into a white bus half-full of South-East Asians and asked for directions to Amsterdam from a straight faced Dutch man in a suave leather jacket who seemed in terrible need to meet someone. One moment, it was Haarlem/Helstead and suddenly, twenty minutes later, it was Amsterdam.

TWO

I’ve had an epiphany recently, I reckon it could change the world, albeit in an utterly useless manner. Just hear me out for a bit, what if some of our dreams are fragments of the future? Maybe the average man dreams his entire future but struggles to remember it and spends his entire life wandering aimlessly, searching for those lost reams. Maybe Deja Vu is a step into the future, a constant fateful nudge informing the everyday man, “Hey man, everything’s doing just fine! You’re on the right path, just go straight down there… and go fuck yourself.”

Maybe I’m just ranting. I’ve experienced a great deal of Deja Vu in the past few months.

I’ve been in many cities but first arrivals in foreign capitals never cease to amaze me. When I went to Bangkok, I was greeted with a trio of brown skinned, hazel-eyed Thai beauties fighting to put a hoop of flowers around my neck. Once, in Sydney, I saw a man wrestling with his pet kangaroo in the airport. Sydney isn’t even a capital city.

When I first arrived in Amsterdam, I caught a fever, no, the feverish desire for everything lovely and solely good. It spreads like wildfire, love; and in Amsterdam it travelled as far as the green haze could float. Which was in fact, everywhere: down every canal, through every small street – even the churches smelt of it. It’s natural co-operation at it’s finest that city is. Love runs Amsterdam and Amsterdam tends to love like a caring mother, feeding it drugs and rocking it slowly in it’s ample bosom of sex and debauchery.

We found a nice hostel to stay in, the “Hotel Mevlana”. It consisted mainly of double decked post beds, shared bathrooms and a jackass owner who refuses to pay off booking deposits and charges ten Euro for a fucking adapter. Upside is, you get a really decent window with a nice view and the food served downstairs is tolerable in the murderous depths of a munchies binge. So, to sum it up, a relatively O.K. Dump. If you stretch out the “Mev” really well you could even fit the name of the hostel into an Eagles track. But you’d be struggling with reason and everyone would hate you, terribly.

We stayed on the second floor in a four bunk bedroom. I didn’t even notice the Canadian chick sleeping in the fourth, I caught a glimpse of her as she left the following day. A quick glance as she stepped out the room and I was suddenly frighteningly aware that the only thing I had on was a pair of very small, torn boxers. But she never returned, and the worry slipped away.

By the time we settled down in the Mevlana it was evening and my companions and I were growing ever so restless. We’ve only had a tulip joint the night before you see, and none on the ferry. Bud frenzy was definitely picking up and only the harsh tickle of weed and hash could save our hungry souls. We dove straight into the lot of it.

Sunday night in Amsterdam was a strange night. But I suppose every night in that port was a strange night. We went drinking and smoking later into the night, fooling around, feeling the old days of Aberystwyth in the new days of free, liberal Holland. We jumped coffee shops, constantly lighting doobs through the streets, celebrating a freedom that wasn’t ours, but we so dearly loved and treasured.

We got out late and very soon, Midnight was upon us like a wet blanket and our options were running thin. We found a small pub with a group of French mademoiselles sitting by the front. There were staring at a Shisha bong on their table with soft glazed eyes, whispering to each other in short, animated flutters of French, smiling and blushing through the dreary twilight.

We sat down at the bar of that pub, also known as “Lost in Amsterdam”. My English friend started idle conversation with a Black American who was slouched over the bar, minding his own beer. I started on some hash we bought recently, burning it and rolling small brown sticky masses into small, neat little darts. How about the Indian? Well, he sat there, silent – waiting for something that never came that night. He was sad, he must be pretty sad still.

The barmaid was a petite, French-speaking la belle with brown hair tied up into a ponytail and an accent that danced nimbly between highs and lows. I lit the hash and listened to her as she cursed her dead-end job and talked of a holiday over the weekend, to Italy perhaps. Maybe there she can finally sip her espressos in peace and fall in love with everything again. I smiled at this, and told her I liked her ear piercing, which was a long, elegant spiral that dangled close to her pale neck. She smiled back coquettishly and said she liked mine as well, which wasn’t as nice as hers I reckon. We traded playful glances and didn’t mind each others company at all.

I tried the same pub again two days later, only to find the bartmaid gone, replaced by a fat old Italian man who grinned too widely and cracked weird jokes that everyone laughed at but secretly loathed and despised. I felt disappointed of course and I’ve never met her since, but what a fucking lovely French girl. She looked equal parts serious and off her tits.

We eventually left that pub, we left with that American by the bar, a down-to-earth, lanky black man who had laughter tied to the tip of his tongue. He was bald, wore a cap and watched Nirvana live back in the insanity of 1991 – what a man. We rolled a few joints by the canals and smoked the night away, while talking and searching for sense within the nonsense. He was thirty-seven, and he told us about his son, and his son’s mother, and Courtney Love’s post-Cobain era, the turbid chaos when prospective alternative queen fell to the dreadful title of dead man’s wife.

We traded numbers, said our goodbyes and never talked again. I tried calling him the next morning but the line claimed that his number didn’t exist.

Maybe, just maybe, he didn’t exist at all.

Maybe we were babbling with the shadows of ourselves, the ample rantings of minds aching from the weight of extreme drug abuse and useless, philosophical thoughts.

All I know is next time I’m in New York, I’ll be looking out for that casual Long Island swagger – that curve in the back and the confident sway of the arms – and I would think back to the days when I met a black man named “Sean” in a pub in Central Amsterdam. I hope he’s doing good somewhere out there. I hope Courtney Love’s doing better, but yeah, she probably isn’t.

We got lost, so Sean guided us smoothly through the canals like a well-versed local, pointing at random structures, commenting on the stoic, imposing nature of our Dutch hosts. And their impractically steep staircases, you literally had to go on all fours to climb them while high. Those were painful.

Farewells were made and we dragged our ragged, road-worn husks back to the Mevlana. The eager June sun was popping it’s head over the tall terraces and cathedrals as I slipped silently into the top bunk.

Despite the night’s events, I couldn’t get much sleep. My mind wandered to a beau back home. Memories of passion in soft, dew spewn grass. I wondered what she was doing then – chasing another movie role perhaps? Drawing another terrible portrait with a cup of coffee in one hand, clove cigarette in the other? Her lips used to taste like fields of fresh clover, and from those lips, a husky voice that used to shuffle a mix of crappy pop songs and cool, chic indie tunes.

Is loving a memory very much the same as loving the girl who lives within it? Well, you don’t have to answer that, it’s all much too confusing anyway: I’m starting to sound like a certain Indian friend. Maybe I’ll buy a pack of cloves when I touch the city of London, and remember her with every crack and pop of that sweet, sweet cigarette. I won’t finish it anyway, I hate clovers.Facebooktwitter


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