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Amsterdam.  The High, High Price of Curiosity.



That's what I get for not listening to my grandmother.  It isn't like I wasn't raised right.  As a little kid just becoming aware what was expected of me by my elders--mom, grandmom, dad and granddad--I took to the obvious and general values of my family right away with no problems.  I knew the difference between right and wrong and the value of hard work.  I wanted to make my family proud as I stood on the shoulders of the efforts of those before me.  I got it.  


But along with a sense of that heady responsibility was a voracious curiosity about everything, but especially things newly discovered.  Every now and then, my grandmother would warn me about being too curious, asking too many questions and not practicing the fine art of minding my own business.  It's a mix that has been known to cause a speed bump or two in my life, but to no serious avail.  It's only natural that I love of travel--what's better than jetting off to some foreign land where you don't speak the language and learning about other people and their lifestyles?


There I am in Amsterdam and my very best friend is too, for a work conference.   It's perfect because I have the days to wander and explore and someone to share my adventures with in the evenings.  During those days, I walked the narrow streets and along the canals, soaked up the architecture, both quaint and ancient looking, and learned the ways of the tram.  And like many international cities, I was amused by the influx of fast American culture in the form of McDonald's restaurants in or near every tourist district.  


One evening, my friend invited me to attend dinner with her boss and several co-workers at a local chinese restaurant.  Chinese food in Amsterdam?  Of course I'd love to go, I told her, in a sweet and quiet manner to let her know that I would not embarrass her in front of her colleagues.  Didn't I tell you I was raised right?  


So after a delicious meal and lively conversation, her boss asked if anyone wanted to go to the red light district, which was a short walk from the restaurant. Though it was a pretty lively group, only half opted in, myself and my friend included.  I got my camera out and got ready, thinking night shots in Amsterdam would be great.  I didn't know what was waiting for us.  I guess I was imagining a cross between the french quarter in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and the viagra triangle, an area filled with bars known for being places to meet and greet the opposite sex for sex,  in Chicago.  Weird, a little rowdy but nothing I couldn't handle.


We make a sharp right turn down a walk way exactly wide enough for two opposing lanes of mostly male populated foot traffic.  There were individual windows, about three meters high, with bright pink neon lights framing them, which gave the whole scene a beautiful if tainted glow.  As we approached the first window, I was uncomfortably eye to eye with a woman scantilly clad in what I gathered was a swimsuit designed in the mid 1980s.   Her stiff blonde hair, riding crop and thigh-high patent leather boots notwithstanding, it was an unnerving moment to be sure, but I marched on.   Passing one window after another, each one with a different woman and a different set up, I noticed shelves filled with various whips, numerous vibrators and jars of unidentifiable liquids.  Wow.


After working our way through a couple of rows, with men engaged in heavy negotiations with these ladies, we hit a clearing which allowed us to step back and take it all in.  I raised my camera above my head, thinking I'd get a general shot of the area, just to give a sense of what it was like to my friends and family when I got home.  I was immediately spotted by one of the women in the windows who promptly and loudly told me that I should not take pictures of them and that I should instead  take a picture of an extremely private part of my own anatomy.  Frankly, I had that coming.  There were numerous clues that I missed or ignored, that warned me not to do it but I did anyway.  That's what I get for not listening to my grandmother.  I lowered my camera and waved in a gesture I hoped would ring as an apology.  My friend and her coworkers laughed, I turned a couple of shades of red but in the end, it was worth it and I'd do it again.  Sorry, grandmom.

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