Getting Ready To Skip Town

Sunday was low-key. I was supposed to go out Saturday night with one of the staff to a tekkno party, but timing failed and it didn’t happen. So instead I got vegetative and stayed home so to speak. I spent the majority of the day thinking about my next move and eventually decided that I would need to leave the Pig’s employ soon. The working schedule was making it hard to look for IT work, since I didn’t really get done until 3pm and needed to clean up if I was to do anything face to face.

Since getting in contact with the local job net was a monumental pain in the ass, I figured it was time to focus effort on that for a few days and then see what, if anything, landed. So Sunday afternoon I told the relevant people that I would stop working after Monday. It was short notice, and I wasn’t happy with doing it, but frankly in this affair my own time is more important to me, since it’s rather harder for me to get here than it is for them to replace me on short notice.

Sunday afternoon was a really pretty day. Another clear blue sky with the occasional puffy cloud, humid but not badly, hot but not unpleasant. A cool breeze kept things temperate. I went to visit a friend from the Pig. He lives in a squat, which is an abandoned house, in the southern-central part of downtown. It’s a funky neighborhood near the Rembrandtplein (square), with some emphasis on “funky” in the olfactory sense.

We hung out on the sidewalk and drank beer, doing really nothing significant. Most of this crowd (it was several of his friends) was exhausted from an all night party they’d gone to on Saturday evening. It’s pretty common amongst the party crowd here to go out for the duration of the weekend and make it a 2-day party. They don’t feel the least bit guilty about it, since that’s just how they want to spend their time. I figure they’re having fun; who am I to say? I’m not exactly a stay-at-home anymore either.

The place is, as I said, an abandoned building in which about 20 people live. It’s a rabbit warren and a fire waiting to happen, but it has power and water. I don’t know the details but apparently in most of West Europe you can’t evict people who take possession of an abandoned building or location. Whereas in the US we would teargas them and pull them out by their hair, or the landlord would pay somebody to quietly torch the place, the prevailing philosophy here is that you can’t do anything that would endanger someone in the process. So once someone moves in, it’s a long and slow process to get rid of them.

This is severely impacted by the housing shortage in Holland. People can’t find a place to live, so if you’re willing to put up with sometimes scary conditions you might find yourself a squat to live in, rent-free. My guess is that this might be a mixed blessing if in the long term it slows the building of new housing, but I can see why you’d do it.

This neighborhood is partly tourist, partly local and partly gay. It looks like a cross between Capitol Hill and the CD in Seattle. A tattoo parlor nearby enhances the view considerably. People wander in and out, many of them looking (as my friend does when he isn’t recovering from 16 hours of dancing) quite normal, others less so. I end up having a good conversation with several of my buddy’s housemates and friends; all cool people.

I also find out that I’ve had some misconceptions about Amsterdam and Europe in general. My feeling so far is that Amsterdam is a pretty safe city, and indeed everything I’ve seen reinforces that. But apparently it’s still a place where you can get in serious trouble, and there is a surprising degree of general street violence. More surprising is how much of it is gun related.

Now my impression, reinforced heavily by US media and politicians (on both sides of the issue) is that guns are 1) extremely hard to find and unavailable to the general public in Europe, and 2) gun-related crime is nearly non-existent in Europe. From what I’m he aring, from more than one source, both of these assumptions are wrong.

First, according to my friend and his associates, you can purchase firearms in Belgium quite easily. They claimed that this was legal as it would be in the US, but I’m not going to be sure of that until I check it out. My guess is that you can likely purchase hunting and possibly hand guns, but not the plethora that we have available in the US. I know I have seen Guns&Ammo type periodicals all over in the bookstores here.

Regardless, I believe them when they say the in terms of actual availability you can get most of what you want. As to gun related crime, it’s sadly common. Anecdotally I’m hearing that Amsterdam averages 2 incidents per week. Non-gun related violence runs even more frequent; around one per night or more, mostly with knives. Just goes to show that people will find ways and reasons to hurt one another no matter where you are.

Again anecdotally, the consensus is that little of this violence is directly related to one source (like drugs). The slant I got was that it was more social than business, though my guess is that you could learn more by digging than I did by the limited investigation I did undertake.

I don’t know how this compares to the rest of Western Europe, but since violence and economics tend to be closely related, and since Holland is in good shape overall, I’ll be surprised if Holland is worse than, say, Germany or Italy. Keep in mind that aside from an incident in The Hague I’ve seen nothing bothersome; most of the problems are localized into some neighborhoods, as they would be in the US.

One thing that occurs to me is that the theory that making guns “illegal” eliminates violence, gun or otherwise. I suspect that you’d find that violence is more severe given the relative GNP of the nations in question in the US, but what I’m hearing indicates that it is much more human nature than the result of the availability of some types of weapons than we would like to believe, or than our media and politicians would like us to believe. Any way you cut it this image contrasts with what both the gun control and NRA reps tell us in different ways.

After I’d gotten a nice tan and chatted for a couple hours I decided to take the rest of the afternoon and wander.

For this trip I took some moderate (not too strong) pot that I’d bought and smoked a bowl before heading out. For relaxed meandering in a contemplative mode, sometimes pot is perfect. I headed west of downtown, into an area I later learned was the Jordaan. I walked for about 30 minutes before I turned left and headed along a working-class neighborhood.

Eventually I found a small park near the juncture of a couple of canals and camped out on the bench for a while. I sat so that the setting sun hit me (it was around 7 pm, so the sun was still left with a ways to go). When I get stoned I get cold, so the sun felt wonderful. One bench over, an older gentleman wearing what looked like Muslim robes and cap was reading something in Arabic out loud, just too quiet for me to hear. I watched the small personal boats go by for another half hour before I moved on.

Eventually I was cold enough I decided to go, so I started walking. I headed back east towards the center of town and passed through the heart of the Jordaan. The neighborhoods were residential and in good condition, with canals every couple of blocks and trees along the canals. Little Cafes were on every corner and the locals were camped out in front of the Cafes talking. A Cafe here is like a neighborhood pub back home, but even more oriented towards “neighborhood,” and many Dutch spend many evenings there chatting and talking.

Because the sun was out you could see people sprawled on towels, often reading, or sitting at a small table with a few chairs in front of their homes along the canal. It’s an artist neighborhood among other things, so most of the people I saw were in their twenties and thirties, and not many were tourists.

Eventually I got back to The Pig and grabbed my bag. Inside were my walkman and headphones plus CD’s. I headed out towards the Leidsplein.

This was closer to the area I started out in when I first got to Amsterdam. Lots of little shops, more trees, and the ever-present canals. Go far enough and you end up in the museum district, but I spent most of my time just meandering between the canals. I put on my headphones and turned on Ekova, then wandered around listening to the music as the sun slowly set. It was one hell of an evening.

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