I’ve visited Amsterdam many times. One time I went with a work colleague in his fifties who had heard of its dual personality but never witnessed it. For three days we crossed the line between its biscuit-tin prettiness and dark underbelly. I prefer the creak and squeak of bicycles, trundling trams and puff of river boats as much as the smoky cafes, street-corner drug dealers and red-light-decked alleys lined with beckoning prostitutes.
When my friend said (on the flight over), “What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam” I should have known he was in pursuit of the odd misadventure. I knew he wasn’t the faithful type as I’d been shopping once and was walking up a side street back to my car I bumped into him with a strange woman (he was in his mid-fifties and looked as ridiculous in a denim suit as he looked sheepish to see me.)
Anyway he was undemanding company so I went with him to Amsterdam. I can’t describe the detail but one night we stalked the outer ring of streets were he found a woman half his age and an eighth the size of his wife. She stood behind a barn door with the bottom half closed and agreed a price. These women petrify me so when another one appeared behind the barn door and said, “You coming in too? You could screw us together yes!” I was out of there faster than sound. I told my friend (Mr X) that I’d meet him at a large cafe where we’d had some food off Dam Square. It was not late only about nine pm.
Earlier the café had been buzzing with families but now it had taken on a noir complexion and was a dimly-lit bar. There was a cavernous feeling but there were a few couples in it having snacks and drinks. The tables were bolted to the floor though the chairs weren’t. There were gingham tablecloths like we had at home once.
Suddenly the volume of the music increased and two women appeared from a doorway near the bar. They wore skimpy silken dresses with sequined tassels offering a light curtain of modesty. They were like mountain goats the way they mounted the tables and started dancing. They seemed to be in a world of their own with glazed-over expressions as though not to meet the eye of anyone in the place. The occupants didn’t seem to take much notice and just went on eating and smoking.
“Oh my word,” I thought, “I’ve got to get out of here.” I didn’t know where to look or put myself....well, I did, I put myself outside. I lasted about ten minutes, drained the glass (I can remember the slice of lemon almost sticking in the back of my throat) and got myself outside. Is it any wonder the tables were screwed into the floor. It was all a bit of a blur but I made sure I was stood outside when a sweaty red-faced Mr X appeared.
Anyway, here is painting of a table dancer with tassels twirling. The viewpoint is looking up as this is how it had been in the café. One of the women had a pony tail which she used to good affect so I’ve shown it here.
For some reason I didn’t take any photos of this painting in the early stages. I just got on with it and got carried away. As there’re no faces or fingers I painted it quickly in about three hours.
I’ve made a mistake though. Tassels weighted with sequins are quite robust whereas the onces I’ve painted here are light and give the effect of a Caribbean ra ra skirt.
The blurry background is in keeping with the blurry memory.