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.
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.