Can you tell me the way to …? City Gardening 2

Looking after a garden in the middle of the busiest part of a very busy city has its interesting moments. There you are, bum in the air, nose to the earth while a horde of tourists and Amsterdammers dawdle or rush by.

There is a bike hire shop in the alley, and two caf├ęs. And the alley is quite a nice place to walk through now that there is no longer a steaming heap of rubbish that you have to sidle past. It is, in any case, a very visited area, and we get our fair share of traffic through our little alley now.

Sometimes a big tour group (30+ big) comes through. There you are: kneeling over the gardens (bum => air, nose => earth). Occupying space. And they don’t see you until the very last moment (groups of people are very stupid), and you wonder when you will be trodden upon.

And because you seem to be an obvious part of the furniture, you often get asked the way to such-and-such: Central Station, the nearest pizza joint, the Red Light District, the closest Smart Shop, a specific street.

I had a rather surreal experience recently: a sweet looking young woman with long brown hair asked me the way to the Prostitute Information Centre (PIC). She called it something else, but I figured that’s what she meant.

I vaguely pointed a few streets further up. But she insisted on showing me her map. As she spread it out on the ground in front of me she explained, rather apologetically, that it was in Hebrew.

Mmm. Interesting. A map that you recognise but with funny little squiggles for street names. I puzzled it out, and found the PIC. I said triumphantly, “That’s where it is!” And very enthusiastically she agreed, “Yes, that’s what it says!”, pointing to some curly characters near my finger.

Oh. So what are you actually asking me?

I decided that she needed clearer instructions. “Look, you are here [stabbing at the Oudezijds Armsteeg]. Just keep walking up here [pointing left to the Warmoesstraat], and keep looking to the left. It’s only a few streets further. When you see the church, go into that alley. That’s where the PIC is.”

She looked at me rather doubtfully.

I was a bit confused by her reaction.

I explained it again, and added, “You can’t miss the church. It’s really big. Look for a garden.” (Gardens are sparse in this part of the city.) I repeated everything again…maybe it would make sense the fourth time.

She nodded, thanked me, and started to go. Then she turned back and smiled, and said, “It’s nice that you are doing this!”, waving an arm at the gardens.

I’m not sure she did understand my instructions, but by the time that she had turned the corner I had already put my nose back to the earth.


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