Amsterdam Holiday, Part 2
by Darren Delmore, October 6, 2011
Conveniently enough there's a Wijn bar on Rustenburgerstraat now where you head left for the frazzled Bed and Coffee. By frazzled, I mean things have changed considerably at the cheap little non-hostel hostel in the Latin Quarter of Amsterdam called de Pijp, and I was about to see how much so.
The pony tailed Brit named Theo who showed me in a year and a half ago is, um, no longer with the organization. I came upon this knowledge by way of the Russian owner Alexandra, who sobbed the complete, dodgy story within minutes of meeting me to let me into my booked room. Dreadlocked with graying thatches here and there, booze and cig stained grill, and wearing a kimono that showed off her boobs, long legs and heels, I'd perhaps said four sentences by the time she'd rolled and chain smoked three cigarettes and chased her horrid alcoholic breath with a dodgy, plastic machine-brewed coffee in the entry room of the place. I sat on a chair with my two bags at my feet by the guest computer, wondering if I made the worst choice ever in booking five nights here. She cried, talked about the mistress, or more appropriately, the “Scottish Witch” that she hired to help clean Bed and Coffee and whom her husband Theo once said, “She's too anorexic and Gothic for me,” but soon fell in love with and was caught in the worst possible way.
Alexandra had a meeting with her divorce lawyer at 1:30 about it, she said, so she'd only be able to clean the room I'd be staying in for now, and the shared bathroom later.
It'd been a long time since I'd gotten the fuck-me vibe from an older woman. Alexandra's body was decent, but as she talked for a good hour and a half about her unfaithful husband who was up to four or five grams of cocaine a day before he left, and more recently the 26-year old painter that she'd let crash here for sex and minor painting work and who robbed her of $700 and played around like he thought it was stolen —offering to help find the thief, then ultimately bailing too — everything about this woman just seemed to spell out the abbreviation STD.
“You are a silly cow!” her ex husband had kept calling her through it all. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a room with this sympathetic, trying-to-be-upbeat, listening face on, wondering if this woman was a former whore and if my luggage was going to get stolen here. Or if she was going to blatantly come on to me even more. After all, I was younger, divorced, alone, fit, dressed in Kenneth Cole from head to toe, and had landed in her tumultuous web. Alexandra was 42, betrayed, drunk and on other things at one in the afternoon on a Tuesday, and openly flashing her breasts while talking to me.
Bed and Coffee is a two bedroom ground level apartment converted into a hostel of sorts. No one else was there from what I could tell. The place had no opening windows. The air was heavy with vodka and bad creamed-up coffee on a heartbroken woman's breath. “But I'll shut up now,” she claimed for the fifth time at least. “You use the computer. I will just have another cigarette and then I'll start cleaning.” Sounded good, till she'd start up on the subject again.
I'd had a lively little exchange of emails with her regarding booking my nights here. All the while I assumed the cool older guy who checked me in last time was still her husband. This was a perfect place for me to stay last time around, which was a divorce gift to me, but chaos has rained upon Alexandra since then, and you know the saying.
“See this,” she said, emerging from cleaning the bedroom with a thank you card from a Canadian couple that had just stayed here. It read: “Sending much love and positivity your way.” Obviously they'd gotten the same ordeal upon their check-in. “See, this makes me feel happier,” Alexandra said.
“Do you save these?” I asked, handing it back to her.
She didn't, but she did keep a leather bound guest book in which she asked for your name, address, and passport number. “Here fill this out,” she advised me with a pen. I purposely screwed up my passport number, but everything else was legit. Maybe she needed such information to prove that her place was really an actual hostel and not a chickenhead brothel.
“You can move in now,” Alexandra announced. She'd changed the beds and swept “the Space Room.” I entered it fearfully as opposed to the last time, and she and I were standing inside there between the two beds. There was a foul humanly odor emanating off something in this wood floored room. She grabbed an odor spray canister that was sitting on the ground and sprayed it around. “Do not sleep on that bed.” She pointed at the other bed. “If I were you I would be sleeping on this bed.” At a distance it smelled like some obese man had kicked a major cocaine addiction strapped onto the suspect one. She showed me how the heater worked. Then she showed me how tan she got the day before in the park, flashing her chest and pelvis again.
“Yeah, thee uh, the forecast for weather looked good,” I said, totally red and embarrassed.
“Are you the guy that asked where the liquor stores all were?” she asked and laughed.
“No, wine shops. Not liq-”
“With that and that joke about the marijuana separating your neck from your head last time you were here! Ha! I knew you belonged here!”
She got out a city map and made trippy inconsistent symbols and marks, highlighting her picks of de Pijp and the rest of the city.
“Here's the red light district,” she began. “Then there's a locals' red light district along the canal here,” she said, marking it on the map for me. “Like two streets over.”
“I am not pushing this on anyone but most people only know of the red light district in the Dam, but this one is quieter. I hear it's only 50 Euro too!” She laughed. Was she gauging me? I must've looked like a beefsteak tomato in a collared shirt. “And for smoke,” she continued, “the shop across the street has very fair prices. Good smoke. I like thee uh hash. I only smoke hash so I don't know how the rest is, yah? And here! Here...” she circled a city block by a major point of interest for her, “here is a nice coffeeshop because it is right next to the church. So you can sit outside and smoke and blow your smoke at the church! Like this!” She mimicked blowing out hits from a joint at something. “Haha it's great!”
I quickly and rather homosexually changed the subject to “Oh, and where's the Botanic Gardens?”
“Ah yes! The Botanical Gardens! It's lovely!” She drew a block around it on the map. “And I think only three-fifty to get in.”
I'd been in Amsterdam for two hours by then, wearing the same clothes I initially flew out of SFO in, with teeth unbrushed, wearing that hippie deodorant that somehow magnified body odor rather than suppressed it, and a mind feeling like it's 4 AM.
As Alexandra offered her dining suggestions, she mentioned this South African restaurant on a side street a block away. She demanded that the owner put escargot on the menu awhile back. “I am a frequent customer. So now you can get six or twelve. We will go together.” Uh oh. She was making plans with me already, and dinner ones no less.
What brings a Russian woman to Amsterdam, I wondered. Work, most likely. Quite a big sex trade in these parts.
I decided to pay her in full to bring some closure to this scene, even though she kept insisting I pay later. “So after Amsterdam, where you go?” she asked me.
“Oh to France. To Biarritz.”
“Biarritz? Biarritz?! Oh how I love Biarritz! It is so beautiful in Biarritz. You have friends there expecting you?”
I nearly embellished the situation and said some gay lover was meeting me there, but I didn't. There was something kindred about Alexandra and me, as weird as it seemed. She and I had a big ugly universal thing in common: betrayal. I knew how it felt, and I told her that, without going into detail. Love hurts, especially when you put love on the payroll. She took the 150 Euros in cash and left me the map, saying, “I'll see you. If not later then tomorrow.” It wasn't final. I pondered what was in store for me at Bed and Coffee this time. Was she going to invade my itinerary here? Not like it was a complex one by any means. Would she attempt to seduce me? Could she believe that I wasn't here for sex but only to legally smoke weed?