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March/2006 * 03/29/06
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I recently experienced a wonderful European river cruise with my mother to celebrate her 60th birthday. Our last day on the trip landed us in Amsterdam. Excited about exploring this city known for its loose lifestyles and debauchery, I knew that my adventures would be somewhat tempered by Mom. Little did I realize how many opportunities for embarrassment would arise!
We went on a city tour in the morning by bus and canal boat. The streets were crowded and overrun with people; the canals lined with boats. My guess is that Amsterdam is usually a bustling city, but there was a huge Gay Pride festival that weekend increasing the tourists like fish in a biblical story.
During the past two weeks Mom and I had often separated to explore different facets and interests in various German cities. Mom would head for the shops, while I climbed a hill to view castle ruins up close. However, with large crowds and pickpocket announcements everywhere, my mother looked at me and said, “I think we’ll stay together today. There are too many people and I don’t want to get lost.” Oh well, how bad could it be? I did want to see Anne Frank’s House, but I knew I was doomed not to get my special brownies.
Walking past the train station and onto one of the main boulevards, mom started gesturing wildly and pointing. As if I couldn’t tell what was going on, she announced loudly to everyone in the area, “Those men are going to the bathroom right in front of us!” Sure enough, we saw no in-and-out urinals such as those in Paris, only receptacles to pee in, and nothing blocking or providing any discretion.
My only problem with the public urination issue was: Where are the ones for women? Why do I always have to sneak into a McDonald’s and pretend I’m going to buy something as I make a dash for the toilets?
Just as we narrowly escaped the urinating men, we passed a rather risqué bar/eating establishment. The waitresses were wearing dominatrix type outfits. At least this time my mother loudly whispered instead of shouting, “Did you see what they’re wearing? What kind of place is that?” Strangely, in Amsterdam, she thought my powers of sight had left me. And I am sure the waitresses get stared at all the time by senior citizens from America.
We made it to Anne Frank’s house without further incident. By this time the Gay Pride parade was running along the canal right next to the house. Fortunately, we were unable to see any of the boats since the crowds in front of us blocked our view. I breathed a sigh of relief, no embarrassment at this stop.
As we toured the house and went upstairs, we entered a room with a window showing a full unblocked view of the floats. Mom only got one look at one float – on this boat all the participants had giant fake penises. With a dozen people in the room my mother pointed out to everyone, “Those aren’t real. And even the women have them.” I couldn’t believe that I had allowed Mom to sign up for the Red Light tour that evening. Right about now I really did need a brownie!
After the house tour we were hungry. I located a festival booth selling hot Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. Offering to treat Mom, I handed over a five Euro coin. Imagine my chagrin when the guy questioned, “Don’t you want two waffles?” and informed me that the price was nine Euros (over $11). Now I was the shocked woman in Amsterdam as I asked Mom for a loan. We were flying home the next day and I was down to my last coin.
Looking around for a place to eat, we found an open table and sat down. I was nervous and apprehensive looking at the other tables filled with gay pot smokers adorned with multiple piercings and tattoos. What would Mom say now? And would they threaten us if they heard her?
Surprise of all surprises! My mother’s only comments referred to how delicious the waffles were, but so expensive. I was amazed. Mom must have overcome her Midwestern naivety. She was beginning to realize that Amsterdam was different and to just observe and soak in the atmosphere.
On second thought, it might just have been all that second hand smoke we were breathing in!
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