Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Red Light District

We arrived at 9pm on a Thursday night. By this point we had been travelling for over 36 hours. During that time period we had slept only in 1-2 hour increments, and of those, only stolen the kind of sleep from which days spent travelling by train and bus into lands where you do not speak the language will get you.

The Red Light District is neon and flashing lights. It's the spiritual home of all individuals who have ever had a case of the munchies, fast food joints perched on every corner like Starbucks in NYC. The streets are dark and wet, littered with wrappers from artery-clogging delicacies. Sex shops, their front windows rife with bullwhips, handcuffs, and sporting signs like, "the most vibrating store in Amsterdam," stand proudly next to Indonesian restaurants.

The air is continually tainted with the smell of marajuana, enough to give you a contact high when you decide to take a stroll. Coffeeshops (these do NOT sell coffee) dot each street like splatter paint, oozing lazy coils of smoke from their beckoning doors. The partons sit inside the light-dimmed cafes, eyes opened to half slits, blood shot and drowsy. They talk about the meaning of life and the universe and existentialism and then always loops back around to where you can get the best weed.

I never knew what a peep show truly was until I set foot in the Red Light District. In my mind I tried to discern meaning from denotation...figuring that it was much like the way we used mannequins in the States to lure people into our stores. Only, instead of mannequins they were real women, and instead of wearing clothes, they were mostly nude. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk inside the head of the person in charge of making one of those online sex sites? The ones that pop up on the screen at the worst of times with blinking bold faced letters, advertising every fetish imaginable, and some you never knew existed? That was what being on the streets felt like.

Each street catered to a different fetish. One of the streets sported heavy set women, poised in front of their windows, fleshy stomachs bared, heavy breasts hanging low on their chests. Another street catered to the more S&M style patron, women decked out in leather straps and spiked collars, whips in hand, black boots riding high on their thighs.

They stood garbed in skimpy bikinis and lingerie, striking poses as the tourists passed by. Most wouldn't meet your eyes, but some were brazen, attempting to single out clients by tapping on the glass partition. Behind them you could see into a tiny room, just big enough to fit a single cot. If the patron was interested, he would enter their room, either by the front door or around the back. The deal would be struck, the curtains closed, and anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour later he'd be back out on the street. Strangely, or not so strangely enough, there were no streets that I saw which catered to a female patron. Then again, these would probably have to entail fancy hotel rooms with a thousand thread count sheets where the guy takes you out for dinner and a movie before you make sweet yet tender love and then cuddle.

I always thought I believed in the legalization of prostitution. I thought it was something akin to providing kids with sexual education that covered more than abstinence; it was going to happen anyway so we might as well make sure it was as safe as possible. I believe that a woman can make the choice to be a stripper and that it isn't anything to be ashamed of. However, after seeing these women working the peep shows I'm just not sure where I stand anymore. They just looked like they wanted to be anywhere but there.

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