Browsing Tag

Amsterdam

2021 Margaret Price Pandemic Pandemic Staff Contributors Poetry

With the Band

Written by Margaret Price

One bar, or two, or maybe even three.
You sit and beat on barstools keeping time
To jazz or blues or even bad Bad Company
Drink beer and smile to say: “I’m here. I’m fine.”

“My boyfriend’s there. The drummer with the band.”
That charm you use to keep lost souls at bay.
Most times it works, but still will they demand
Concession that the world still spins their way?

Unwelcome? Yes! And almost never meant.
Be gracious, girl, it’s just a compliment.


Margaret Price is a mother, lawyer, and occasional scribbler.

2021 Margaret Price Pandemic Prose

When did I first see you?

Written by Margaret Price

There was a time when I walked around this city flayed. Synesthesia of breath and pain.  An overstatement? Maybe but it was bad enough to deserve a little overstating.

Anyway, everything was impossible and every day I had to walk by your gallery and see my abraded face reflected in the glass. A gut-punch of tears.  I don’t remember seeing you then though. You came later.

Next were the numb months. No more twisting up of sensations, just no sensations at all.  But then Prince died and D’Angelo sang Snow in April on TV and I cried for 3 hours in the grey chair. After that, I could listen to music again.

So was it then I first saw you? No I don’t think so. Not that spring. That was the spring I was falling in love with the old friend. Although perhaps it wasn’t love. More like the inflatable mattress acrobats use when they are learning to vault. The inflatable infatuation.  Regardless, I was preoccupied fantasising a bright new future with him.

I wonder why now but, as I said: infatuation. Also, I have the depth of imagination necessary to imbue a person with qualities he has completely failed to demonstrate in the last 2 decades for no other reason than a combination of proximity and gratitude. Luckily he has no imagination at all so we were saved, despite my best efforts. I do remember thinking I should buy that black and white photograph you had in the window at the time  that might have been a sand dune or might have been a human shoulder but in either event was definitely in keeping with our imagined minimalist couple-aesthetic.

After my emotions deflated I started running again. Early northern european mornings before the solstice. Light so clean you see the pollen rising as the dew dries on the grass. I ran the streets past the 4am girls who were all eyeliner and unlined skin. Sometimes they would wave. Often they were crying. Always, they were with each other.  I ran the parks, one to another, like a string of green beads through the city. In the end, I ran the river all the way to Ouderkerk and got lost in the polder.  Sunrise with the cows and a confusion of boats that looked like strange sproutings amongst the tulips.  A time of germination. 

20km instead of the planned 10 meant running back home in the morning rush hour, in the wrong direction. Bike dodging, pedestrian swerving, creative swearing , 60  minutes late.  Someone was opening the gallery door. I remember because I nearly ran into it. I also remember this was the first time I realized people worked in the gallery.  Before that, it had really only been the window.

Anyway, I kept running. I ran every day. I ran every direction. I gathered my runs like a child gathers stones, hiding them in pockets of time between one thing and another.  In time,  I was sure I could outrun anything.  Anything, that is, except the anger. 

You know how in all the movies the protagonist in emotional crises heads out for a run, usually in particularly hideous weather? He or she runs faster and faster,  the tears blend with the rain, the hill gets steeper, the music crescendos and eventually he or she trips over a log or slips or simply collapses in a sobbing, yet attractive heap and screams his or her rage to the unforgiving sky before finally surrendering and walking home drained yet somehow more at peace and ready to [fill in next step in character arc here]. Yeah, not so much for me.

Running brought the rage. The rage at unfairness. The rage at stupidity.  The rage at the limits of my abilities and the brain I could not trust.  I wasn’t running with the devil on my heels; the devil was in my legs.  It was my moving spirit. Every foot strike, every push off, every contraction and flexion, the impetus was anger.

To be fair it was an angry year for the whole world; but those early mornings when the sun burned up from the water and blinded me as I ran past, reflecting from your window, I felt like the rage was mine alone.

What was the outcome of all this running and all this rage? Well I ran a marathon but that was just something I did on a Sunday morning in October. More important were the books.

The rage needed to be fed if it wasn’t going to consume me between runs; and so I began to read again. And the books, well the books eventually brought back poetry and poetry found me reading Carver’s “Late Fragment” in a bar in the afternoon and that led to drinking with the American.

I can’t remember how we started talking but he used the word “ineffable” and talked about building stories, bone to skin. He was small, and all his lines were clean. He said that poetry was a physical act. That the sound you make when you read it aloud – and you always do read it aloud – resonates in your body’s echo chambers and takes shape in your breath. Every word you’ve ever said is still speaking inside you. The effanineffable. He was leaving the next day.

Walking home that evening, the light was on in the gallery. There was a golden portrait in the window and you were looking through a ring binder. That was when I first saw you and I thought you were beautiful.

Yeah, I could write all this. Or maybe it’s better to start simple.

“Hi. Thanks for the match. How’s your day going?”


Margaret Price is a mother, lawyer, and occasional scribbler.

2020 Pandemic Phillip Morris Prose

The Autopsy of Donald J. Trump

Written by Phillip Morris

After years of the media rarely mentioning his name, the 45th President of the United States was once again in global headlines, “Donald Trump Dead!” 

Trump was found dead in his cell while awaiting trial in New York. No official cause of death was given in the early articles, but reports of a bluish hue to his body suggested asphyxiation. Video surveillance of the hall outside his cell only showed guard patrols in the time between when his dinner tray was retrieved and when his body was found at breakfast. 

The Trump Re-election Campaign Committee called for an investigation into the prison kitchen staff. 

“Everyone knows kitchens are filled with Mexicans and radical-left Democrats,” Donald Trump Jr. said from the campaign’s headquarters in Costa Rica. He went on to spread suspicion among everyone with access to the former President, including the medical staff that attended to him during his bout of stomach flu and weeks earlier, and several Democratic members of Congress that never interacted with the President.

“Did they poison him?” Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani asked from his own cell in the prison’s psychiatric ward. “Did they hide needles in his diapers? I don’t know. You don’t know. There are a lot of questions about emails.”

Prison and DOJ officials were quick to rebuke claims of foul play and urged the nation to remain calm. They promised a quick and thorough investigation into the cause of death expressing confidence that if it wasn’t natural: “Then he did it to himself.”

Photos of Trump’s corpse spread like California wildfire online. His supporters scrutinized every pixel so even the most mundane details were woven into keystones of grand conspiracies. One theory that rose to prominence early was that he had been poisoned during a court appearance weeks earlier, but that his body was so strong that his only symptom was a lack of bladder control. Despite video footage from outside of the cell showing otherwise, the theory concluded with the assertion that a Soros backed assassin was hired to finish the job by strangling him..  

Trump’s opponents amused themselves by parodying the memes his supporters produced as evidence for their theories. A comparison of Trump’s trademark orange tan juxtaposed with his post-mortem blue was re-imagined as an action movie poster that was shared over one million times. 

The Trump autopsy was completed in less than a week. In a muted press conference it was announced that Trump’s official cause of death was a fungal infection that had gone unnoticed in earlier exams. The medical team that performed the autopsy quickly left the stage without taking any questions after stating the body would be cremated as a precaution. 

The mundane explanation did little to stifle the public’s curiosity. Just a few hours after the press conference an anonymous post appeared online claiming to be from someone who worked with the county coroner. 

“It was aliens that killed him,” the poster claimed. “I saw the body. They were crawling out of him. He was on his stomach so his butt was in the air and these yellow tendrils were coming out of his anus and moving in the air like vines looking for a hold. I didn’t see what they did to the body but they kept calling in more and more experts to examine it.”

What should have been dismissed as the ravings of an internet troll got picked up by the mainstream media and amplified. Leading another anonymous individual to publish an article in the New York Times that offered further details on Trump’s bodily invader. The Times verified the author was an investigator involved with the Mueller Report. 

As the author saw it, if Mueller’s focus was less narrow and his approach less conservative Trump’s infection could have been discovered years earlier. Misconduct by Trump from before the start of the campaign was all but ignored unless it was directly relevant to later criminal actions, which caused a lot of now pertinent details to be overlooked. 

An extensive investigation into Trump’s trips to Russia was whittled down to bare bones in the final report because failed business deals and evenings with sex workers were not considered relevant without explicit evidence that Russia was using them to blackmail him. 

“We couldn’t verify the existence of The Pee-Pee Tape, so we had to proceed as if it didn’t exist. However, we all believed its existence was likely, and we were certain the acts rumored to have happened, actually happened.”

According to the article’s author, that certainty came from the story of a housekeeper who worked at the hotel Trump stayed at in Moscow. She was not a witness to the events of Trump’s romp with the sex workers but she did clean up the aftermath. 

Initially the suite seemed to be in the standard state of disarray for travelling businessmen. The bedding needed to be laundered, there were roomservice hamburgers to be tossed, and left over drugs to be resold. What stood out as unique was that the chaise lounge was “absolutely drenched in piss.”

The housekeeper recommended the chair be sent for a professional cleaning, but her manager ordered that she clean it the best she could and mask the scent with perfume.

She did as she was told and thought nothing of it until the next week when she was again cleaning the suite. She noticed the chaise lounge had developed a yellowish tint and immediately panicked thinking the cleaners she used had damaged the expensive piece of furniture. 

She began scrubbing it again using only water and found that the cushions had also changed to be uncomfortably stiff instead of luxuriously soft. 

The housekeeper told the interviewer that she felt movement in the cushions, but she ignored it thinking it was only her imagination. Then a thin yellow tendril emerged from the fabric wiggling in the air like it was looking for her hand. 

She ran out of the room screaming that the chaise had to be burned. Her request was ignored until the entire cleaning staff one by one refused to clean the suite. When finally the hotel’s management inspected the suite with their own eyes the lounge was removed from the hotel less than an hour later. 

The anonymous author ended his article by speculating that the fungus was purely terrestrial in origin. Nothing the investigators uncovered could be related to alien visitors. To support his reasoning he cited numerous examples of strange fungi, including several fast moving varieties and even some that could control the behavior of small animals as part of their reproductive cycles. 

Unfortunately for the curious, Trump’s remains can no longer be studied directly because the day the New York Times article was published his body was hastily cremated. 


Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Amsterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions booklets, he’s likely writing colorful short fiction. When he tweets it’s @lephillipmorris.

Article Jonas Guigonnat MICRO CHANGES - JAN/FEB 2019

A Pragmatic War On Drugs

Written by Jonas Guigonnat

To the irritation of most locals, and of Dutch people in general, if you drop the name Amsterdam anywhere in the world, weed and coffeeshops will pop-up almost surely.

For decades Amsterdam has been considered a symbol of tolerance and freedom, mostly in left-winged communities, but as far as the right is concerned, it is a place of dangerous pragmatism. The Dutch media would say, “that’s typical ‘Nederlandse politiek.’”

If You’re Going To Amsterdam…

Amsterdam of the 60s, 70s, and 80s is often considered the city of hippy dreams, lost souls could wander around for ages, sleep everywhere in the city center, take their hits in the bright warmth of a summer day, while greeting tourist with an orgasmic flash. Yes, yes, yes (read in Dutch “ja, ja, ja”), there were a lot of alternative communities in the Netherlands in the 1970s with every recreational “visitor” sleeping in the Vondelpark. Fine.

Those stories of freedom were told over and over again to a whole generation of (then) youngsters, and some of the locals love to keep the myth alive. The reality that Dutch politicians saw in front of them was less romantic.

The heroin epidemic that began at the same time, that we nowadays consider past history, was sowing chaos in the streets. In some areas of the city center of Amsterdam, such as Nieuwmarkt, it wasn’t safe for anyone – not even for the residents. The other problem was the “cost” of those thousands of addicts.

Other places all around the country had to manage the same kind of circumstances. The Netherlands, which was at the time just crawling out of an economic crisis, wasn’t prepared, and politicians weren’t eager to take action.

Mellow Yellow by Michael Delaney

Fuck Authority

The friction between the political sphere and civil society wasn’t only one of economics. In the 1960s some movements that saw themselves as apolitical, were criticizing the dichotomous choice between democracy and communism. Both were equally authoritarian to them.

The Dutch politicians, who first tried to respond with force, were quickly put under pressure as new parties made their appearance, but most vanished in the decades thereafter. The D66 with Hans van Mierlo (created indeed in 1966) was among the few to remain. This “Democrats 66” was created in a period of confrontation, but they used a moderate and “reasonable” tone. Their values were based on liberalism, with an extended place for freedom of choice that included choosing to do drugs.

The motivations behind their wish for a legalization policy, instead of repression, were practically dictated by the dominant ideology. It was to keep the democratic values safe that some drugs needed to be legalized, not because taking drugs was an important issue in and of itself to them.

In 1976, the “Opium-law” (Opiumwet), mostly a repressive tool of 1928, was opened up and extended with a new distinction: hard and soft drugs. Coffeeshops, such as the famous and now closed Mellow Yellow in Amsterdam, were already open in the early 1970s, and because they were exclusively handling what are considered soft drugs they continue to exist durably – a contrast to the old-time speakeasy’s, where all kinds of substances could be purchased and consumed.

Instead of the romantic idea of a typical Dutch “way of life,” the coffeeshop appears to have been a pragmatic solution born out of circumstantial needs. People getting stoned inside designated areas, were less of a burden than junkies in the street. Still, to Dutch politicians, the drug culture was already becoming a shameful particularity, one which they tried at all costs to silence rather than defend in front of the international community.

The Netherlands: Tulips, Cheese & Compromises

Without trying to cover the political system of the Netherlands in its entirety, it is necessary to know a few things.

Since the creation of the Dutch House of representatives in 1848, power has been decentralized in the government. One hundred and seventy-one years later, the Dutch prime minister – ‘minister president’ or ‘premier’ –  consequently doesn’t have the power of other global leaders today, such as May, Macron, or Trump.

VVD, CDA, CU, and D66. Those are the four factions governing the Netherlands for just over a year now sharing ministries, political responsibility, and decisions. Only one of them is the “great architect” behind the Dutch drug policy.

The VVD (liberal right) party of the prime minister Mark Rutte, with 33 seats in the parliament (“second chamber”) ate the once great party of the country, along with the CDA (center/right-winged Christian democrats) with only 19 seats, they are traditionally against a regulated drug policy. For them, prohibition and repression are the best answer to the situation. The CU (center/left-winged Christian democrats) are also against it, but with only 5 seats in the chamber, they represent a small (but not negligible) political force. D66 (center liberal democrats) is thus the single ruling party then and now in favor of regulating drugs.

Parties in the House of representatives, their number of seats and their attitudes toward drugs (the parties mentioned previously are starred):

Party Political orientation(s) Seats Attitude toward drugs policy
VVD* Liberals/right 33 Repression, prohibition
PVV Populists/far right 20 Repression, prohibition
CDA* Christian democrats/centre-right 19 Pragmatic (soft) prohibition
D66* Democrat-liberals/centre 19 Legalization, liberalization
Groen Links Green social democrats 14 Pragmatic liberalization
SP Radical social democrats 14 Pragmatic liberalization
PVDA Social democrats 9 Pragmatic liberalization
CU* Christian democrats/centre-left 5 Pragmatic prohibition
PVDD Radical ecologists, animal activists 5 Pragmatic legalization
50Plus Party for older people 4 Pragmatic prohibition
SGP Orthodox protestants 3 Repression, prohibition
Denk Multicultural social democrats 3 Pragmatic liberalization
FvD Nationalist conservatives 2 Repression, prohibition

* Parties forming the government since 26 October 2017. They have altogether a total of 76 seats.

Is The Netherlands A Friend Or Foe In The War On Drugs?

The 1970s and 80s were surely not the right moments for “western” countries to liberalize their drugs policy. The biggest global players at the time were the US, the European Economic Community (the predecessor of the EU, which the Netherlands was already a member of), and the UN. In 1961 in New York, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was signed, including by the Netherlands, and prohibition became the international standard.

The heroin epidemic, which was raging throughout the west and somewhat more acutely in the US, was creating an atmosphere of panic. After the “war on drugs” was declared by President Nixon in 1971, the Netherlands was at risk of becoming an enemy with its lax policy. Politicians in The Hague were well aware of that but still developed a durable attitude of turning a blind eye to some drugs.

Aside from narco-tourism, this tactic seemed to be successful for a while. Even though many addicts were still on the loose, the “drug areas” were slowly becoming cleaner and safer. Coffeeshops were opening everywhere. Amsterdam was saturated, with a peak of 450 coffeeshops in 1995, pleasing thousands of Belgian, French and German tourists living nearby.

Officially, the rule was always 5 grams of weed per person, but nobody was actually enforcing it. Some coffeeshops were selling large quantities, helping the black market develop in other countries. Fortunately, the Dutch government was also profiting from the situation and using that money to invest in society thanks to all the tax money that came in.

Just kidding, it didn’t and still doesn’t tax the weed industry.

No Money, More Guns

That’s the whole magic of the “we don’t know anything about it” policy chosen by Dutch politicians. They changed the law in 1976 to make their cities safer, spare health care costs and ultimately obstruct the development of drug-related criminality, but refused to make a fully functioning policy out of it. Eventually, the first two objectives were met, however, when it comes to criminality, it is tempting to speak of a total failure. But what does the law say about coffeeshops exactly?

Establishments with a special license are allowed to sell small quantities, up to 5 grams per person, but the production is illegal. They are allowed to have a stash, but only up until a certain amount. Officially, the law forbids all purchasing of weed, which essentially gives coffeeshops free reign to choose their illegal suppliers, as the production isn’t regulated either. The objective is to allow the product to be processed without legally recognizing its existence, making taxes impossible.

The stash still had to be produced, and here shows how naively policy was built. No income taxes and a free pass for criminals.  Illegal activities didn’t disappear but instead became even more organized.

Small dealers, since the end of the 2010s, are almost nonexistent, but organizations – such as different local, Eastern-European and Asian mafia groups – have been well established since the 1980s. Thanks to the Dutch policy those groups are also the ones providing coffeeshops with their stash. Some coffeeshops do keep control over the whole process, becoming important suppliers and blending into the creme of international criminality.

The region in the south of the country, North-Brabant, also plays an important part in this story. Most of the weed production is situated in this agricultural region. Farmers are forced to lease their barns to criminal organizations, family houses are used as warehouses; the whole area became, and still is, an industrial pole for the cannabis industry. In total illegality.

Ivo Opstelten (VVD) former mayor of Rotterdam and Minister of Security and Justice

Please Mr. Opstelten, Lead The Dance

In 2010 the government was composed of the VVD and the CDA, but because they had a minority, they were backed by Geert Wilders’ PVV of (populist, far right). Beside the post of minister-president, the VVD also had important ministries, most fondly the Ministry of Security and Justice.

The Ministry of Security and Justice is not only one of the most important government organs, it is also the place where most of the political decisions on drugs take place. Under its VVD minister Ivo Opstelten, repression had to once again become the main vision on drugs policy.

Opstelten and the VVD tried to introduce the infamous “weed pass,” which was intended as a first step to preventing tourists from buying weed in coffeeshops. The municipalities and coffeeshops refused to introduce the pass, arguing that it would ultimately disturb public order. Together with the courts, the parliament backed the municipalities and asked Opstelten for better guarantees than his own political opinion before voting on anything else related to drugs policy. Independent research institutes had to produce reports on the subject.

Conveniently, the conclusion of those reports confirmed the vision of the minister: further liberalization of the Dutch drug policy would be detrimental to social safety and health. A repressive system was the only solution.

Under newly mandated Opstelten, coffeeshops were closing quicker than they were being built. First in Maastricht and Rozendaal in the south, then everywhere else even in Amsterdam, where the number of coffeeshops went down to less than 200 after 2015.

Falling And Rising In The Drug-Political Realm

Fortunately (or not), things can go wrong in political schemes. A few words will be written about it in the next issue of Pandemic, but still, ask Theresa May.

Opstelten, this warrior of law and order (as he used to present himself) was beaten at his own game, and ultimately forced to step down in 2015. Turns out he was covering up a money laundering deal between the state prosecution and a drug dealer dating back to the mid-90s. In the years that followed, some information leaked about the famous drug policy reports that the minister presented to the parliament. Although every parliamentary report is meant to be independent of any political influence, the minister gifted himself the privilege of deciding on the cannabis reports’ conclusions and hence could influence the whole policy.

In the meantime, the international situation changed too starting in 2012 when two US states legalized weed for recreational use.  Uruguay was the first country to legalize weed for recreational use, while countries like Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, and Germany liberalized their drug policy, pushing even further what the Netherlands had started. As of 2018, Canada has also joined the list.

In North America, cannabis-entrepreneurs are incentivized to commercialize the whole chain; from production to sales. There are also limitations, mostly due to the ambiguity of the federal US policy, which is officially against any kind of weed legalization. But still, in just a matter of 4-5 years, both Canada and the US are far ahead of the Netherlands when it comes to cannabusiness.

Rushing Solves Nothing

We may say that the Dutch take their time. For the impatient ones among us, it would be better to consider the political game in The Hague as one of compromise and, thus, patience. D66, which participated in many coalition governments within which, even with opposition stacked against them, they had some influence in the lawmaking process.

In 2017 one of their parliamentarians, Vera Bergkamp, introduced a legal proposition for an “experiment” with the municipalities, to see how production could be regulated. At the same moment, D66 was participating in the formation of the actual government, which meant that they had the possibility of “winning” on some subjects, and, of course, of losing on others. Bergkamp’s proposition, having been approved by the parliament, left open the question of how the government would implement this.

From the beginning of 2019, some chosen municipalities will let coffeeshops experiment with production. Everything will be organized and monitored from The Hague, but nobody knows what the results will be.

The first problems are already being discussed. For example, how can coffeeshops continue to sell if they have to change from illegal to legal suppliers overnight? And what of the criminals, who is going to take care of them? Who is going to control everything, the state, the municipalities, or independents organizations? Those questions need to be answered adequately. Otherwise, future governments may turn the machine of impractical pragmatism back on again.

Change Grows Slowly

Changes that aren’t wanted, but needed, might have to go slowly, sometimes almost invisibly. Whether it comes to pragmatic or idealistic choice, the Dutch cannabis policy demonstrates how institutions tend to handle issues only when confronted.

First denial and then reaction – mostly quite late. Maybe this is caused by the suddenness of change, a sensation that surprises the lawmaker.

As far as coffeeshops are concerned, time will tell how complex this cultural, social, economic and political transformation really is, and how society will react to the next emergent political reality. For now, let’s enjoy a chalice of delicious hashish on this late winter day.