"'Cause everybody hates a tourist."
Pulp, Common People, 1995, Album: Different Class / Deluxe Edition
Sidenote: This piece was written as a direct address to an article authored by Teresa Machan in The Guardian´s travel section.
Sometime in July, you visited Amsterdam, coming from Brighton via London on a quest to not just travel but also to write what I’m imagining was a commissioned piece for the Guardian on the joys of post-lockdown mobility.
While in Amsterdam, you mused on the beauty of the city, it's feeling of quiet and calm courtesy of the current global pandemic.
You came to see the contemporary classics: Rijksmuseum, Haarlemmerdijk, the Conscious Hotel (?), Tropenmuseum, and to stroll through the Dappermarkt and Albert Cuyp market.
You came to bike through, have a weekend ice cream cone, and stare at a pair of chocolate high heeled shoes covered in sugar sprinkles which seemed to have revealed to you the new meaning of existence, like in some bizarro diabetic version of Sex and the City.
And I quote:
"There are many things I’ve missed about traveling in recent months, but it took a chocolate shoe rolled, high heel to toe, in hundreds-and-thousands to remind me of the simple pleasures to be found inside a European chocolaterie.”
In any other time, your short travel piece would have gone under the radar. But given that tourism is becoming some sort of emblem of what life after lock-down can be, I felt it my duty as an Amsterdammer to point out a few things in light of your revelations.
I´ll make a brief note about why praising the city of Amsterdam for chocolate, which it doesn’t have much renown for, to the detriment of what is relevant to it, gives future tourists the wrong idea. But the chocolate is one thing. What strikes me in your piece is the profile of the idealized future tourists and the type of commercial offers that they’re expected to find once we all get the heck out of this global lockdown for real. And here I´ll refer to another statement you borrowed in your article from Marco Lemmers, the CEO of the hotel you lodged at:
“The city has become like Disneyland. It’s time to be brave and get rid of the coffee shops and the red light district.”
While I was writing about the city during March, one of the first things that became quite obvious was how deserted the center ended up being once no tourists were allowed into the country. Now, far be it from me to deny the fact that Amsterdam has become unappealing to those living there because it has focused on monoculture in the city center, over the past decades. The Damrak, Rokin, and de Wallen have unfortunately been allowed to become an assortment of the same icecream-bakery-wrapped-into-souvenir-shops throughout, but… the quote you use from Lemmers is confusing. Disneyland doesn’t have sex workers and it most surely does not sell weed. A thing which I’m certain both you and Lemmers are very much aware of even regardless of whether you´ve ever set foot in the place.
What Disney does have is empty-shell consumerism and bland entertainment.
And if one is to look back at the core of Sex and the City, an analogy which your piece triggered for me by the high heeled shoes and by you, the in her 40s woman staring at them, I’m guessing the meaning of life after visiting Amsterdam would be exemplified by something not that far from an environmentally conscious Disneyland. You might think you mean well, but the image of tourism you trigger is pretty much artisanal consumerism, some self-awareness in terms of environmental impact, and easily digestible art (which means anything made by uncontroversial dead folks).
As Amsterdam is opening up, and its center is being taken over once again by weekend tourists ready to get shitfaced, it´s maybe easy to fall for the idea that what can change the city for the better is more expensive tourism.
People that can afford to rent starting at 99-Euros-per-night rooms in eco-friendly establishments, and buy overly designed chocolate off of narrow shopping streets while not engaging in such questionable activities as – God forbid – light drugs and prostitution. But it’s not light drugs and prostitution that have messed with the affordability of Amsterdam, or with its central commercial landscape. It’s, in fact, fancy chocolate and a drive for luxury accommodation, luxury consumption, and superficial tourism that only focuses on dead white folks art, to the detriment of the living breathing local artistic community.
I guess what I wanted to say is that you might have some good intentions, but variations on conscious consumerism are not what Amsterdam needs as it´s looking towards the future.
And, you know, that Sex and the City reference that I kept insisting on?. Turns out I wasn’t that far off. I read how in 2004 you visited New York and wrote a little piece about taking a… Sex and the City tour of its neighborhoods, some sort of shoes, cocktails, cupcakes, and rabbit vibrators extravaganza.
But while 2004 was a year in which one could still blissfully indulge in city hopping for the sake of reenacting their favorite chick flick, 2020 needs to find its grounding in more awareness of the actual beating heart of a city while traveling.
So what is Amsterdam all about?
Well, it’s quiet and boring, and people rarely eat poffertjes and chocolate shoes. For a wide selection of daily Dutch lunches, the Internet provides handy documentation.
And you can smoke weed from time to time in Amsterdam, or every day, depending on your preference.
And its locals rarely live in the center because they can’t afford it, heck, even living in its periphery is a giant financial problem.
And locals also rarely go visit the Rijksmuseum.
And they’re environmentally conscious, but they have a huge plastic use problem which becomes apparent if you enter most supermarkets.
And part of those locals are sex workers, and they need more support in protecting their rights, rather than unfriendly quips from CEO´s wanting to tear down their workplaces.
And most locals are also decidedly not Dutch and not tourists either, so even without tourism the city is a mix and match of languages and cultures.
And with tens of art galleries, an art school, two postgrad institutions, a contemporary art museum, off spaces, and broedplaatsen which charge way too much for rather little there’s plenty of artistic output from living breathing artists.
All in all, while there’s no real ethical consumption possible under capitalism, I’m sure you can learn, if you take a bit more time, to get to know the city of Amsterdam. You can do this less as a consumer and more as a person genuinely curious about the complexities of life in another geographical location.
I know it´s hard, but I trust you can achieve it.
Looking forward to introducing you to the city on your next visit.
All my very best,
Our New Normal is made possible in part by AFK (Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst).