In the breezy sunlit spring morning I walked across Amsterdam in slow search of The Gray Area coffeeshop on Oude Leliestraat. Didn't come up on it right away, but I passed the Anne Frank Huis, and remembered going on a tour there when I was 20. I bought an apple and forgot that you have to scan produce first then take it to the register. Traipsing alongside a glassy canal led me to a wijn shop with a friendly owner who recommended a wijn bar called Vine that sells flights of wine after four o’clock. Ultimately I made it to The Gray Area and walked in to find an open table and three open stools.
The place is tiny, claustrophobic really, but world renown. Lou Reed was even a known customer, according to city mythology. Just as I pulled out a stool, the door opened and the place got fucking packed with a party of six. I hadn't even ordered yet. Stickers were plastered everywhere. A convoy of cluttered bongs in all shapes and sizes were available to use. The place had the rep but not the space for it at all. Maybe that was the appeal? After a significant wait I ordered a gram of “Chocolate”: a recent High Times Cannabis Cup winner as noted on the menu and 13.50 Euro a gram. The owner was a cool, personable American guy. I asked him about the old US Government 4077 strain that I'd bought two years ago here and he smiled in sweet reverie over that one. “My friend grows it up north but he'll only sell it to me if I buy all of it,” he said. Other items were “Gray Haze” and some new ones I didn't recognize.
Everything was expensive. Alexandra from Bed and Coffee was right about prices over here near the center of the city. I asked to use one of the Gray Area's bongs and was able to pick out which one. I chose a really clean short one and didn't choke too much. The Chocolate started kicking in deeply. An older guy with a beard blazed up next to me. More bodies crammed inside. It got too packed in the place and I headed out.
The restaurant next door called Foodism was open for lunch. It was a chill, bright green walled, spacey place with a good vibe and good instrumental music playing. I sat down at a little table alongside the wall and the server handed me a paper menu. An older mother and her son (I presumed) that had been in Gray Area came in. Was everybody stoned in here? I ordered a nice Chicken avocado panini, tomato soup with barista art on top, and a dank shot of espresso. I got online and received the sugary news that two of the 30 literary agents I sent query letters to regarding my book wanted to see the manuscript. This was a major first. I tried and failed in motivating myself to edit it the night before in the Space Room amid paranoid scratches at imaginary linen-derived crabs I was sure I was catching from the unwashed comforter and pillowcase. The book really should get finished while I'm over here. If it can't I truly am scattered as fuck.
The couple eating behind me was talking about the sex trade. The American girl mentioned that her porn star friend Matt “can go forever because he's like a machine. He can do it so well.” It was like she was interviewing the Dutch guy over the hum of the Foodism refrigerators for a potential sexual partnership.
After lunch I spent some time at Yo-Yo coffeeshop. The scraggly white haired older lady was hurriedly measuring out some serious chronic weight and seemed annoyed in general. I ordered water and espresso which confused her, then went to set up my computer at the nearest table. As I pulled my two gram bags out she said “No no. If you are smoking you are smoking in the front room.”
“Oh sure. No problem.”
This coffeeshop reminded me of a lazy café back home in San Luis Obispo, but if I've ever bought subpar marijuana in this city it was here. The guide books even mention that: cool place with mediocre smoke. I smoked a joint out of my Chocolate and White Widow remains and worked on the book. Strangely enough, a man wheeled his motorcycle into the café and started doing some light engine repair on it while conversing with the owner. School let out nearby with all these uniformed kids taking over the mellow streetside.
I walked over to Boulan Wijn bar when the sky took on the orange red tint of a worthy rosé. Firing hot women were working the place which had a decent by the glass list. I ordered a Saint Véran, but they were out of it. A gorgeous blonde came out with a bottle and she attempted to speak to me in Dutch. I interrupted her with “Hello I'm sorry.” She quickly transitioned to English with ease and said “Hi, we are all out of thee San-Vare-ahn, but I just got in this Rew-yee, would you like to taste? It's the same price.”
She could have been offering me Beringer White Zinfandel and I would've nodded and said bring it on. The power of a beautiful woman. Christ. The Rully was good and lemony enough to be a cotton mouth killer, but oaky enough to appeal to my Californian Chardonnay sensibilities. There was nobody at this wijn bar aside from me and the staff, yet across the square the cafe-bar was mobbed. I wrote in my diary, finished my glass of wine, dropped eight Euros, and walked to the center of town to Andalucia Coffeeshop to smoke a joint of Chocolate. The strain had Pinot Noir-like meaty funk aromatics that reminded me of a bottle of Handley, and it was easy to roll dense joints with.
Soon my hungry wanted Falafels and my legs were trashed from walking the entire city. I bought a sack of dirty, B.O.-smellin’ fried fare from a take away spot and brought it back to Bed and Coffee. I set out a spread that Hunter S. Thompson would have been down with: a diary, a cracked bottle of French wine, a Gouda sampler and oily Greek cuisine. I smoked a joint of “Desert Bud” from the place across the street and turned my little room into a den of hedonism. Lord, how it smelled like an anxious Afghani soldier’s underpants in there.
Somewhere in that dense incomprehensible fog, I had uninvited company. Alexandra and a dude with a tattooed hand knocked on my door. Most of my falafel and cheese madness was consumed by then, but I was puffing on that joint and the room was embarrassingly wined out and smoky. I nervously opened the door and Alexandra and the guy were there. She laughed at me and the smoke and extended her hand, then introduced “my friend” so I shook his as well. I was so high. My God. He smiled and stared at me while she asked me if I would go over a menu proposal for the restaurant down the street that she liked and was trying to help out (and sell me on).
“Because you have the restaurant!” She looked at her friend then and said, “His family has a restaurant. Darren, my friend is from India. You know, I tell you about him earlier? He is back. He is from India and he is still depressed!”
“You are British?” he asked me with a shady smile going.
“I'm from California,” I said, which does sound better than “I'm American.” The joint was still burning. I passed it to Alexandra.
“Darren is going to Biarritz, the lucky bastard!” Her eyes were glazed and she was mellow and in far better spirits than the day I checked in.
“I see you like the coffeeshops of Amsterdam,” he smirked.
“Yes, he smokes,” Alexandra said.
“Yeah I tried the place across the street finally,” I said.
“Yes, and what'd you think?” she asked, passing the joint to her friend.
“Good. Good prices,. I saw some expensive prices today.”
“Yeah? How much?”
“Thirteen fifty a gram.”
“Thirteen fifty for a gram?” she asked, shocked.
“Yeah at the Gray Area.”
I didn't know if I should have invited them all the way in or offered them wine or what, so I just stood there. I wonder what they saw and smelled in that room. I suppose I really didn't even care if it smelled like a combination of a tasting room, hash bar and a Moroccan man's testicles. Fuck it.
She brought up that white-widow-separating-my-head-from-my-neck comment I’d made to the guy and cracked up, then said she'd bring me a sample copy of the menu to write comments on. “Have you met the Russians?” she asked me. “They are staying tonight too.”
“No I haven't.”
“Very sweet quiet couple. Also into the smoke.”
I was relieved that she had another man's arm around her as she said good night.
I listened to Hank Mobley, drank a killer 2004 Coteaux du Languedoc and read myself to sleep.