Friday, November 8, 2019

Amsterdam Journal: 101

When you think of Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, the Red Light District (De Wallen), and Anne Frank’s House all come to mind. The trio which represent art, sex and humanity are strange bedfellows. The sites which attract tourism are always telling, but what is it that visitors seek in this European capital? What’s the attraction? Rembrandt, half-undressed women seated in windows or a famous victim of the Holocaust? Canals run through the city like Boulevard Haussmann and Oxford Street in Paris and London. They’re lined with picturesque three and four story dwellings whose warm lighted interiors are tantalizingly out of reach to the tourist. The port city is the bastion of the freedoms that long derived from mercantilism, an ethos predicated upon the facilitation of commerce in all its forms. Prostitution and marijuana both taboo in most major capitals are legal in Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s freedom is legislated yet it's hard to grasp. The furor over the renovation of The Rijksmuseum, portrayed in the film about the project, reminsicent in some ways of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, gives some sense of undercurrents which belie Amsterdam's surface of tolerance and equanimity. The city has some qualities that are reminiscent of Scandinavia, but the language may be telling. It’s more guttural and lacks the lilting sound of say Swedish. There’s a brusqueness that’s neither reminiscent of Nordic aloofness nor southern European ebullience. Disinhibition doesn’t adequately describe a populace who can appear reserved and even buttoned up to a casual observer. Amsterdam is like a permissive though domineering parent. Its liberties exemplify a controlled economics experiment whose data, after centuries, has yet to be analyzed. 

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