Archive for January, 2015

7957 Amsterdam 2

“A lost weekend in a hotel in Amsterdam…” – February 3, 2007

This is the seediest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. To make matters worse, I’ve stayed there on no less than three occasions. The first two times were excusable – travelling through Europe in 1996, arriving and exiting via Amsterdam, it was cheap and functional for a couple of budget backpackers and we made do with it just fine. Returning to Amsterdam in 2007 and being silly enough to take mushrooms at 0830 in the morning after a night of no sleep – before organising a hotel – I found myself walking through their doors once again in the hope of a quick solution.

That was a very long day and something of a strange one  – soaring highs and spirit-sapping lows. Originally planning to spend the night in Haarlem, on arrival in Amsterdam I ate some splendidly potent Venezuelan mushrooms and set off for the Van Gogh museum. The world before my eyes soon started its customary psilocybin dance and before long I was not only lost, but entirely unable to focus on my map nor read any of the street signs. Realising that I was significantly impaired, I made a snap decision to head straight for the central train station and take a train to Haarlem. I’d visited Van Gogh before and I figured that by the time I arrived in Haarlem I’d be sufficiently on top of things to find my way to the Frans Hals gallery. The late Renaissance and early Baroque was hardly a compromise, and the shrooms would offer enough in the way of impressionism.

Surprisingly, I was right, and had a wonderful afternoon wandering around Haarlem and looking at what seemed to be freshly painted Dutch Masters. The weather was stunning  – a few degrees above, sunshine and wide blue skies. It was crisp and refreshing and there were windmills – enough said. Finding a hotel, however, proved more complicated than expected and as the day drew to a close, I left sweet Haarlem and made my way back to Amsterdam, a mere twenty minutes away by train. Now only interested in a quick solution, I headed straight for this hotel, whose location I remembered all too well. When they showed me this really rather disgusting room, I resigned myself to taking it.

This photo can only hint at the true seediness of the place. Note the cigarette burns on the sink, the broken cabinet door and the general crappiness of the fittings. The room is also only as wide as the wall to the right side of frame and the other side of the single bed – out of frame. It was tiny, a cupboard, and depressingly ugly. Consequently, in the mirror, I have something of a desperate, hunted look about me – whilst being, admittedly, rather ripped from carrying a pack all day : )

It was a night to get through and not to remember, yet here I am remembering it. Indeed, after that trip around The Netherlands I wrote a poem, which was never finished, about the experience. I include it here below, perhaps the most appropriate home for it.


Wet Oils

They came on like a tepid pronouncement

on surrealism. In the freezing, clean

sun I saw the road-stones soften

to cactus skin; saw the house-fronts boxed

like pine-forests; saw the sky close on the upper

storeys, all about flattening

to a single plane.

I saw the cycles chained

along the bridges, curved and prodding

from the rounded rails; saw the countless

imperfections (blooms of moss and rust and

blackened chewing gums); saw locks and leaning

gables down the quaint and wobbly symmetry

of concentric, radial canals.


They came on like a weakened blessing

cowering behind its disguise; as a song

one decides one does not like, while remaining

tantalisingly inaudible. On the shifting

succulents I walked through the windows

of women. They smiled and showed a working

thigh, and, gathered up, their creamy breasts

cost nothing more than money. Banging

on the glass to lure me, banging harder still,

the old ones grimaced. I took a turn and came

upon a crowd of aspirating men

lined up for a beauty shining

sex like jiggling sunbeams.


They came on like a rainbow siege

across my sleepless battlement; eyes

grew cataracts of winter sun bled through

the iron channels, ice blue sky distilled

the bronzed canals to spirit essence.

I took a train to Haarlem, saw the flower

market blossoms, humble brick, the towering

rooves and lost myself in painted Delftware.

In the shifting oils

of masters newly wet, the mushrooms crept up

glistening whilst treading parquet gallery floors

in a stealthy, growing complexity.

That first day ended smokily

in a hotel that stank of suicide.


I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe

windmills on fire across the Binnen Spaarn;

high-lit tassels of the proud Nightwatchman

glitter in the Rijksmuseum; skaters racing

through the lowland’s frozen veins, and the sunset

blaze on the weteringen, smashed in the Kinderdijk polders.

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0551 Hanoi 2

Hanoi, July 4, 2009

On most roads, however busy, the traffic usually stops at some point.. Not so in downtown Hanoi on a Saturday night, where it flows as relentlessly as a torrential river. I stood staring at this constant run of light, colour and noise for just under ten minutes, hoping to make it across to the ATM and ice-cream shop, before finally giving up and trying to find another way across. There was never a break in the traffic, and if there were lights somewhere along the road, nobody was paying them any heed. It seemed such a short distance – three narrow lanes – yet the vehicles simply never stopped coming and despite a rather cavalier attitude to traffic, I wasn’t about to make a foolhardy dash for it.

There is, no doubt, a method to this madness. The flow of traffic in busy Asian cities is astonishing in its intensity and density, yet no one ever seems to crash. Of course, the statistics indicate that many people do indeed crash, often fatally, yet the vast bulk of the time cars, auto-rickshaws, motorbikes, trucks, vans and bicycles weave through and whizz around each other like mosquitoes on speed, without blinking, and, seemingly, without thinking. It is as though they are mathematically repelled by each other and each finds their own crooked path.

When I did finally make it to the ice-cream shop, it felt curiously like Christmas. The pavement on the street corner, off the left-hand side of this image, was so littered with wrappers from ice-blocks that it was like the lounge-room floor after a bumper present-exchange, or some artificial autumn. I watched, amused, refusing to be disappointed by the complete nonchalance with which people simply threw their wrapper on the ground, without even looking for a bin, as though they couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. Having bought my ice-cream, I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and whereas in Australia I might discard something into a bin with pride, feeling like a good citizen, on this occasion, when I did find a bin in which to put my wrapper, I felt strangely like a fugitive.

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