Sunday, October 29, 2006

Amsterdam on the Diagonal (A Miswalk)

(Hotel Amsterdam from the Amstel canal)

Yesterday I did our class assignment of going on a "miswalk" of Amsterdam. A "miswalk" consists of creating a new way to walk and explore the city in an interesting or off-kilter manner. The goal of this assignment was essentially too get lost in Amsterdam and encounter unexpected things (you know, psychogeography and all that).

My miswalk of Amsterdam consisted of traveling across the city in a diagonal line of sorts. The pattern that I created alternated between walking one block north and one block west. While this pattern was pretty fun to follow, it was sometimes not very exacting; I was thrown off course several times by canals, dead ends, and the event of walking in squares (this occurred when the block on which I walked curved too far back in the direction from which I had just come).

I began my walk at Leidseplein Square because I figured that its bustling surroundings would provide more interesting things to see than those of the residential neighborhood in which we are staying. After witnessing the crowds, tourists, and neon signs of Leidesplein Square, I walked into a more typical, residential neighborhood. The most exciting things that I saw in this area were a Yellow Bike tour, and a piece of metal that flew off of another bike that rode past me. After this little residential lull, I approached Dam Square, as well as complete change of setting. The increase in the noise level alone was, to me, the most noticeable change as it signaled an entirely different environment, one filled with people shopping, milling around, and speaking in different languages. After I had become a bit frustrated by walking around in two successive squares, I entered a narrow shopping alley, and just as I thought I couldn’t handle seeing another loud tourist, I emerged from the alley, and was directly across from Centraal Station. This was a nice confirmation of my pattern, as I had originally assumed that I would come out somewhere near the Station.

From Centraal Station, I began to follow the same pattern of walking one block “up” and one block left, this time going south and east. The most interesting/disturbing part of my miswalk occurred during this second half in, where else, the Red Light District. I actually had no idea that I was heading directly towards it, but I knew where I was as soon as I reached it by the crowds of people of all ethnicities walking slowly and looking from one sex shop to the next. At first I felt a bit odd walking by myself in this area, but once I realized that there were other women walking around-granted, they were all in groups with other people-I felt comforted in some way by the female presence.

As the time for me to make a cube approached, I was still very much in the heart of the Red Light District. I remembered that some people in our program said that you couldn’t take pictures of prostitutes in the District, but I didn’t see any, at least as far as I could tell, so I figured it would be okay to take pictures. I was about to stop at an intersection and make my cube when I noticed a rather shady looking man standing there, watching me. Needless to say, I kept walking, but did not feel any more comfortable stopping in front of any of the various sex shops to take pictures. It was at this point that I noticed that some of the men I passed were looking at me in a fairly disquieting way; the fact that I was a young female walking alone in the Red Light District set in, and I no longer felt comfortable. As my discomfort with the situation increased, a man came up to me, grabbed my arm, and said something along the lines of, “Hello beautiful miss. Can I ask you something?” I immediately pulled my arm away, said “no,” and walked up the block as fast as I could. I didn’t stop until I was several blocks away, and only after I gathered myself did I make my cube. Thus, one side of cube number seven of my miswalk features the Red Light District, from a distance (it is the side with neon lights).

After this encounter, the rest of my miswalk will probably seem fairly uneventful, unless you count admiring the beauty of canals and bridges as excitement, which I certainly do! I don’t know how many canals I passed, crossed over, and looked at during my miswalk, but each one seemed unique and noteworthy in some way. I think one reason why the canals interest me so much is because each one creates a small division in the city, yet it also feels like the city is united by the presence of the canals, and thus also by these divisions. You can also feel the incredible, historical significance of the bridges and canals when you walk across or even see them, and I very much like the idea of being able to walk through and thus access history on a more personal level. The end of my walk occurred at such a point, or at least I felt that it was important because it was a fairly large intersection of two different canals, and presented an amazing view of four different directions one could take to explore Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, ik vind je erg aardig.


Blogger Vienna Waits said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:45 AM

Blogger Vienna Waits said...

How terrifying! It seems fundamentally unfair that as a young woman you can't walk through certain parts of the city without people assuming that you're a sex worker.

Although, in that particular area I don't know that you can walk through it as a man without people assuming you're looking for sex workers.


3:33 AM


Post a Comment

<< Home