Today I went on a 3 hour walking tour of Amsterdam. My guide, Frank Kramer, (www.holland2go.nl) was terrific and gave me a little bit of Amsterdam history along the way, peppered with some information on Dutch customs, and spiced with some folklore.
Part of the tour was the equivalent of a “drive by” in the Red Light District. I got to see some of the ladies in the windows for the first time. Frank said they tend to be organized throughout the district by “type”. We seemed to be in the melon section today.
We specifically walked down the oldest part of the Red Light District, De Wallen which is located behind a church, Amsterdam’s Old Church (Oude Kerk) to be exact, a former Catholic church, formerly known as the Church of St. Nicholas until it had its insides gutted during the Reformation and became Protestant. No matter what it is today, in mid-March each year, Catholics arrive at the Old Church to celebrate the Miracle of Amsterdam (Stille Omgang) that occurred in 1345.
The Miracle of Amsterdam goes something like this. Apparently, after taking communion, a dying man vomited the Host. When his vomit was thrown on the fire, the Host did not burn and was proclaimed a miracle. What? Really? I have no words for this one, however this celebration occurs on March 17th this year and I am absolutely going to go. How can I not?
Both the Red Light District and the Church of St. Nicholas were established at around the same time. Sailors would come in droves to see the ladies and then afterward pop in next door to repent for their sins. Brilliant site planning by the Catholics, the original Mad Men of marketing!
Right on the pavement next to the Old Church, an anonymous artist laid this sculpture in the middle of the night:
It is located right near another sculpture named Belle. Belle, is a statue of a prostitute that was commissioned by Mariska Major, a former prostitute who in 1994 started the Prostitute Information Center (www.pic-amsterdam.com/picgb.html) or The PIC.
The PIC provides information, guidance and advice regarding prostitution in the broadest sense, to anyone who needs it. The PIC is a freely accessible place where almost all questions can be answered or referred to other organizations. The PIC receives no subsidy and is entirely self supporting through The Wall Shop. I am waiting to hear if I can have a meeting with Mariska to see if whether or not she can help me with my work. They offer a simulated window experience for tourists, but I am interested in pursuing a more authentic site.
Thursday, I will be taking a more extensive tour that covers the entire Red Light District. Tomorrow, I go the Sandberg to begin preparations for my lecture next week and to meet with philosopher and art critic, Aaron Shuster.