Saturday, June 21, 2008

City of the Future

"We don't have any bears, but watch out for the trolleys. They kill tourists every year."First morning in Amsterdam. Two-stroke scooters buzz outside the window along with trucks and all sorts of traffic. This city is more cosmopolitian than I remember. Part of the difference is how different I am. Twenty-year-old males get lost in the tolerance of the city and miss out on what else it has to offer.

The first thing one notices are the bikes. Bikes against fences, trees, lampposts, street signs, bikes against bikes. Stacks and stacks of bikes. And of course bikes moving through the city. Men with raincoats billowing behind pedal with traffic. Old women with paniers and baskets and big brimmed hats mingle with teen scooter drivers. Women with knee high leather boots and vinyl jackets criss cross past pedalers with denim mini skirts. Parents hold small children(never with training wheels or helmets) as they pedal side by side through higher traffic intersections. Mothers have babies or small children sitting on seats mounted to the handlebars, often with a wind screen that can be flipped down when riding solo.Friends converse as they ride side by side until saying in motion goodbyes before their routes diverge.

One million bikes, 750,000 residents, more than a bike for everyone. A constant stream of bikes, a few scooters, the rare automobile, and the trolleys flow constantly through the city.The city is quiet and the air is clear, due to the bikes and an ocean breeze. People are stylishly dressed. Men in Italian suits zip past on scooters. Women tuck crisp jeans into green leather boots and carry oversized bags slung across the shouder if biking.The scooter drivers wear fashionable helmets, usually half-face with the google cut visor up.

The sinks are deep welled and motion activated. Paper towels do not exist and the hand driers blow unheated air. Light is fluerescent or candle. Stairways are lit enough to be safe but still quite dim. Ditto with hotel rooms, restrooms, hallways. Parking is expensive and foot/bike power is encouraged, in fact, bikes have the right of way over autos or peds. It feels like the way all cities should/will have to be. The population appears healthy and in shape. Huge parks provide green space amidst the brick. Asphalt is not common in the city centre and is a reddish tone where it does occur to blend with the clay of the bricks. The most crowded country on the planet (473 people/kilometer squared) doesn't feel crowded at all.

Amsterdam is full of parks and museums. We had a look at most of the parks when we rented bikes. What better way to wind down from motorbikes than to pedal awhile in the city of bikes? Bike traffic was intimidating at first but we figured it out quickly because as the Dutch say, "It's just common sense."

The only museum we hit was the Rijksmuseum. We went on Father's day and were given free passes for being male. Most of the Rijks was closed for rennovations, we were only allowed in about 35 of the more than 500 rooms.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is the most famous artist whose works are housed in the Rijks. His most well-known painting is "The Dutch Masters," you know, from the cigar box. He differs from most artists in that he had success as a young man. Rembrandt became well-known for his portraits and as a result, ended up teaching nearly every Dutch artist of any import that lived in his time.

The works of Rembrandt and his students are considered, "The Dutch Golden Age." Because Rembrandt was a realist, walking through the exhibit one felt like the pieces on the wall were photos not paintings. People with eyes that followed me around the room, flys on the counter I wanted to swat, a man praying over bread and a bowl of soup that I swore I could smell.

It was great to come back to Amsterdam. The city has done a lot of work on its image with great results. The city is much cleaner than it was fourteen years ago. They seem to have toned down the blantantcy of their tolerance image. There are still coffeeshops where one can buy marijuana or hash on every street, but they no longer hang Rasta flags outside the shops for all to see.

The Netherlands has zero tolerance on hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, but taxes and tolerates others. What I find most interesting about their tolerance policies is that they decriminalized cannibids and some hallucigens the same year that Nixon declared a "War on drugs" in the USA, 1971.

It seems to me that honesty is the way we should approach drug use. Aspirin is the gateway drug, "Take this, you'll feel better," and it habituates Americans to a lifetime of drug use, from children's chewables to the blue ones that give the old men boners and everything inbetween. We like drugs so much that we put up with listed side-affects like, "oily discharge." Rather than outlaw all but three(alcohol, caffiene, tobacco), why not educate honestly? Kids try coke because nothing bad happens to them when they smoke pot and they figure people have lied to them about coke, too.

Don't get me started on the way the Dutch teach sex-ed, give away condoms and oral contraceptives, have the highest average virginity age in Europe, and teen pregnancy is virtually non-existent. Honesty.

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