Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cigars and Bananas

After a day doing wholesome family-suitable activities at the zoo, what better way to average out our activities than heading to the red light district? Voyeuristic curiosities draw us there, and keep us there awhile.

Courtney couldn’t come to Amsterdam and not see a live sex show. Because curiosities prevail, and there are not that many places in the world where this is normal, an acceptable profession. 50 Euros it costs us, including 4 free drinks, to go inside Casa Rosso. We sit in rows of seating facing a stage as if it’s just a play we’re about to watch, and we can stay as long as we want, although eventually the same choreographed acts will replay as the various themed acts rotate.

The audience is mixed, with old and young, couples, friends, a few singles. A side is reserved for Contiki tour groups which ensures this show is more about the spectacle and the fun of being in Amsterdam and not a smoky, seedy, sweaty basement in a back alley. Occasionally the talent shouts from the stage and the announcer repeats over the microphone that no phones or cameras are allowed. Occasionally the talent is more relaxed and instead wink and shout orders at the barman who waits the rows. He is less than friendly, barking at customers and ignoring others.

Meanwhile, the show goes on. Lesbians, a bondage couple, an apparently married and definitely more intimate couple, a policeman who gets Contiki girls to strip him. The boys get a turn for the famous banana show and a very young looking girl does things with a cigar that left us wondering what her parents dreamed for her when she was even younger. Small and natural, big and natural, natural and saggy! Good fakes, very bad fakes. Piercings, beads, all manner of toys… we saw it all.

It’s definitely one of those when-in-Amsterdam things. I heard a girl outside saying to her friend ‘I know it’s really not your thing but…’. After the show, we strolled the streets, window shopping, judging. A majority of amazing looking girls rent the windows of the red light district and display themselves. The good ones wink and beckon, the bad ones text, smoke and talk amongst themselves. We found out afterwards that the ones with blue lights instead of the normal red, are transsexual, but I don’t recall any blue lights.

It’s definitely an experience. The powers that be are buying window spaces and filling them with art and fashion in an attempt to clean up the area but the red glow that takes over the whole area is ingrained. The main street of the area is a lot less seedy than the alleys, or even than the entire districts of other cities. It really is just part of Amsterdam, it’s not seedy because it’s just what they do. Guys don’t hide their faces when they step out the door, they carry on as if they just left a shop with a newspaper under arm.

I try to imagine living in a city with a red light district as prominent and at first I react against it, but in Amsterdam it doesn’t feel like a downfall of the city. Like everything else you really shouldn’t do, Amsterdam embraces and accepts the area and the profession and so it loses its stigma. The night of voyeurism becomes less naughty and more like just another night with a few drinks – and a few extras.

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