Cities of Ghosts

"Go to Amsterdam, just for a weekend; and return home with one thousand new sights and stories: about meeting lunatics in the coffee shops, about watching madmen snort speed on the train, about hysterical nutters hanging off the lazy trams screaming, about chemically crazed kids in the bare intense clubs dancing faster than you thought possible, and the fools floundering in the canals each night, the tourists taking photos on the canals all day, about the grinning jibberers skinning up on street corners, about the shaky stumbling addicts snorting drugs against blank walls.

"Expect stories about taking drugs: what-happened-on-super-skunk, about sitting still, quietly, for a very very long time, a long time, very very, somewhere, with someone, else, and forgetting, forgetting everything, what was that last bit, don’t know, forgotten, about sex-shows and bizarre magazine images, about hours of giggles, about what and who fell into a canal, about seeing Jesus on the pool table thanks to magic mushrooms, legal and sold over the counter don’t you know, about having a smoke on a street stood next to a smiling mellow copper. About crack-heads on every corner making you feel paranoid along with the dealers left-right-and-centre, about avoiding pick-pockets despite being battered, about the police station in the red-light district: on one side of it a brothel, on the other a coffee shop, about getting clattered and stealing bikes at 4am. About cunningly using the public transport system without paying, about the hotel slept in from 8 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, about the culinary nirvana of McDonalds, which never tasted so good.

"Or instead do the whole thing properly: go to the vast Dutch port and city of Rotterdam, not for a weekend, but for three months, for January and February and March. That’s twenty times longer than a weekend. And there’s half-again more coffee shops in Rotterdam than in Amsterdam, so roughly double the available quantity of drugs. And there’s no tourists: making Rotterdam skunk half the price of Amsterdam skunk, and double the quality. Treble.

"Rotterdam, a real world city, a town without tourists, not like that little vice cul-de-sac up the coast (which is only a train-ride away anyway); Rotterdam, not just a city sating the simple desires of foreigners for escapism and vice, but a real part of Holland, not just a cauldron conjuring sights and stories for tourists, with whores for witches and drugs for broth. So: go for six weeks, and after quick multiplication, you can expect to return home with … about a million stories about drugs, about nutcases, about the Dutch, about the sex, and some truths about another country. About a million stories to be expected from three months in Rotterdam, rent-free, admittedly on a shoestring budget, but staying there with your best mate from school in the student flats. Perfect. About a million stories about mad people and taking drugs and both. Sat in a cold waiting room, you must be excited for the first time in months.

"Rotterdam, Rotterdam. Rotterdam: town without tourists, place without a trail of photo opportunities provided by neat maps sold by fake friendly locals on corners, a stretch of land without people there for the banal excitement of having a holiday memory consisting of ‘something different’ now found in a photo album under a coffee table; place of people living daily lives, same routine, same street, not visiting some quick and easy gallery for foreigners with video cameras after a cultural fix to talk about in distant dinner parties, but ordinary Dutch people sitting in the same places, places of routine, meaningful repetition, rounding the same bend most days, boarding the same tram and paying the same fare, muttering at the same stuff and spreading jokes amongst each other. Not for tourists, not for travellers, not for nothing but normal life, hardcore Dutch life. And life that starts anew."

Remember that? I, Fist, asked him this afternoon. Remember that? He'll get back to you tomorrow.