WEEKLY ARTICLES Through The Looking Glass; A native straatschoffie looks back

I was born in 1963 on Rusland, just around the corner from the Nieuwmarkt. Today, of course, thereís a coffeeshop called Rusland where there used to be a ‘kruidenier’, an extremely small Dirk van de Broek owned by a big woman with rosy cheeks.

Amsterdam seemed huge to me as child, and back then I probably wondered if I would ever get around to seeing it all. Three times a week my Ma would take me to Artis to hang out with all the animals. Around this time I must have developed my taste for remembering utterly useless things. ‘okapi’ was one of the first words I said.

Life was great even though playing in the street was difficult, even dangerous. But everybody knew everybody. The hookers were nice ladies who gave you candy. The Chinese came across as eternal aliens who sold each other an inexplicable array of goods that no one else seemed to want. The Surinamers, who had revolutionised the fine art of walking down the streets, were the coolest looking bunch and some of them even played in a band! I loved my neighbourhood.

My parents however decided that I needed more space to play in, so one day we moved to Mars. Or so it seemed.

Nieuw West had arisen. It was an absurdly positive sounding name for this cross between Legoland and a bomb crater. In those days, city planning was done by evil blind people–mad scientistsówho were curious about what would happen if we take thousands of young couples and their millions of children and dump them in one spot. They should have known better. They could have just read Lord of the Flies.

Yeah, it was spacey all right. The four-storied buildings were brand new and behind them lay the wastelands that would one day become Rembrandtpark. As children, we rampaged through these wetlands and taught ourselves what we needed to know in this brave new world: arson, lying, fighting, running away, theft and frankensteining innocent mopeds into Messerschmitts. Nieuw West naturally evolved into one of the nastiest neighbourhoods imaginable for a child–unless you felt strongly about becoming a criminal of the violent persuasion. (The experience numbed me enough to later work the doors of the Melkweg for over a decade.)

At school we picked up enough chemistry lessons to make a bomb, but not enough to blow up the main building that night. No one that I know actually made it to graduation. We roamed the streets with astonishing amounts of disrespect. We called everybody else fascists while efficiently disposing ourselves of our teenage brain cells in huge, but happy, quantities. Many of my old friends are dead, crazy or in prison. One zombiefied homie even managed to die in a police cell.

Make no mistake. This city is in my blood.

My Mokum could never be a list of pleasant eateries where small bits of food are stacked up by domino freaks. My Mokum is not about dead art museums or other non-smoking areas. Itís not about over-rated architecture. Itís not about scenic reflections in the murky waters of the Styx–I actually see faces in those canals. My Mokum is not even about the bars and brothels, although Iím sure they help.

I could never be a decent tour guide. I donít have a list. Amsterdam is inside me, and every stone and every corner has pieces of me in them. I feel whole, as one, when I walk these streets. My Amsterdam is all the beautiful and ugly people that cross my path. Itís the squares, the bridges, the building–including the hideous ones. Itís total acceptance. I donít judge this city any more. I love her too much.

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