Greetings from Ho-Land, Part Two

It was a quiet evening, and I was in the middle of performing a spirited concert of Cheap Trick covers (thanks to my new purchases at the flea market this morning) when I noticed that no less than four of my elderly neighbors across the street were curiously watching me rock out in my underpants.

I just can’t get used to how close we all are here. My social life here is…limited. Mainly this is due to laziness, but I have found that freed from the demands of friends, acquaintances, and familial obligations, I genuinely enjoy my own company. Only when totally alone can one indulge in the pleasure previously so hard to come by—eating strange combinations of food, such as pickles, gummy bears, and tomato sauce direct from the jar, reading pornographic novels out loud in a thick Slavic accent to one’s childhood teddy bear, and yes, wildly lip-synching “Surrender” into a stick of deodorant in front of an open window. If I committed myself to staying sequestered in my apartment for a month, and had a video camera, I’m certain the Whitney would be interested. Whitney people, if you’re reading this and you’re interested, don’t hesitate to e-mail.

I sat at a café a few nights ago, attempting an impossible crossword puzzle culled from the English newspaper and eating some kind of food-pod that was truly atrocious and vaguely Mexican, when the tentative clip-clop of white platform sandals caught my attention. The sandals housed large feet attached to compact, muscular legs, which in turn gave way to black and white floral miniskirt, a bright orange fanny pack, a short sleeved aqua blouson, an enormous knapsack, a smooth black pageboy wig, and the face of what was unmistakably a Japanese male tourist, blinking excitedly behind gold rimmed aviator glasses. He brushed his hair back from his carefully made-up face with turquoise fingernails and looked excitedly at the canal in front of him—here in Holland, the Promised Land where he could finally feel pretty without the scorn of his compatriots. Here in Holland, anything goes. He was proud, titillated, like a teenage girl wearing untried lip-gloss at her first boy-girl party. I hoped desperately, for his sake that some tall Dutchman would right then and there throw down his bicycle and request a slow dance to “Everything I Do, I Do It For You” as the rest of us looked on with nostalgia and envy. He stood for a long time at the intersection, the Japanese trannie, enjoying the attention, until finally, he consulted his map and moved on into the Jordaan. I wondered what lucky combination of stars had brought him and me together in the same city on the same street at the same time and then it occurred to me. This weekend was Amsterdam Gay Pride.

Amsterdam Pride is different than Pride in New York, in part because it is entirely sponsored by the government (no pesky ordinances to get in the way of a good time; not here!) but mainly because it’s something the whole city participates in. Tiny children run around with deep tans and eyeliner, ancient grandmothers in motorcycle boots and sleeveless flannel shirts. As everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, on Gay Day everyone is gay. A special gay police squad watches over the entire thing, pink badges hanging on strings around their otherwise civilian necks. Disco music throbs on every street of the major canal ring. Condoms, bubbles, foam and hot pink ticker tape pour from the Amsterdam skies like rain. Everyone is really, really, really high. And really happy. Really, really…well…gay. Gay like as in how why gay people are called gay. Because they were mirthful.

During the entire weekend of Gay Pride, I heard not one word about AIDS. I heard not one word about intolerance. I heard lots and lots of Donna Summer.

The closing event of Amsterdam Pride is a free outdoor concert headlined by Willeke Alberti, a grandmotherly gay icon in the Netherlands. I went, accompanied by my friend Martijn, a venerable Dutch gay icon in his own right. The concert area was packed with people, mainly men, who all seemed to be bald, tanned, bare-chested, and gigantic, and a smattering of lesbians—many of whom were beautiful but the majority of which were the spiky haired, sandaled, cargo-shorted, stout variety. “I’m so jealous of the lesbians,” wailed Mark, a friend of Martijn’s to me plaintively. “They get to eat whatever they want.”

“Yes,” said his boyfriend, a buff, pierced, giant. “But they don’t get any cock.” They kissed, looking deeply into each other’s eyes. I was moved.

The entertainment was spotty at first, featuring mainly runners-up from the Dutch version of “American Idol” singing incompetent Christina Aguilera covers, followed by the actual Dutch “Idol”, a baby faced nineteen-year-old called Jamai, who has recently revealed to the world that he is in love with one of his current back-up dancers, a lithe youth called Boris wearing a faux-hawk and a t-shirt reading “Thank You, Cum Again.”

Every Dutch person, unless they are of Indonesian descent, looks somewhat like an Old Masters portrait of some wealthy Rotterdam merchant in the 1600’s that you see in the less-visited sections of the Metropolitan Museum, their shrewd faces and clear blue eyes framed by an enormous ruff. It’s odd to see these same faces attached to nipple piercings and bodies clad in leather bondage vests. You’ll never look at a Rembrandt quite the same way again.

The Dutch Divas, a trio of incredibly preserved middle-aged women in matching evening gowns, one bearing a passing resemblance to Joanna Lumley, one a willowy Asian, and one an interesting cross between Mary Travers, Janice the Muppet, and my father’s friend Susan (all of whom I confused with the others in my early childhood) took the stage with a delightfully campy medley of disco and Eurovision favorites, and one truly show-stopping version of Air Supply’s “I’m All Out of Love.” They were great performers, and wonderfully terrifying, but I may have just loved them because they sang in English. It’s hard to tell sometimes. Sometimes, things like that happen abroad. Sometimes, you even think you’re in love with someone you would hate if you met in the States, but he knows who the Fraggles are, so you figure that you’re soul mates.

And then Willeke. I was, based on description, prepared for a sort of Dutch Liza Minnelli, a bedazzled boozy aberration decked out in feathers and wigs. Nothing prepared me for the sweet, grandmotherly woman in an age-appropriate pink trouser suit with her horn rimmed glasses pushed up on the top of her blond-bobbed head. This is a gay icon? I thought. She looks like a nice midwestern lady going to synagogue. Like my mom in fifteen years. Just so normal. She’s so normal. So sane. So SANE.

It’s sane here. People are sane. What does that mean? What does it mean to live in a country where people are secure, insured, and not crazy? The auburn-maned transsexual standing next to me grasped my hand in one of her huge ones and blinked back tears, smiling at me from pink lips framed by a slight five-o-clock shadow. I smiled back, whole-heartedly, and she gave me a bone-crushing hug. Willeke, with a kind of charming self-deprecation that you would NEVER see from Barbra Streisand, accepted a giant bunch of flowers from a skinny boy with a green Mohawk and made her final bows. I skipped off to the snack cart, to buy an immense cone of disgustingly greasy French fries drenched in peanut sauce. If I got to be a lesbian for a day, I was going to eat whatever I damn well wanted, too.

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