I stared at an old woman
took note of her nasolabial folds, the creases forming an accordion on her upper lip, the stab marks of her frown and remembered something that happened to me sometime ago.
I’m not supposed to call it a wrinkle.
My girlfriend, a Botox/derma-fillers/fat-transfer/implant veteran tells me it’s called the nasolabial fold.
“You have a fold not a wrinkle,” she tells me as she stretches the right side of my face. When she does, the wrinkle disappears and I’m young again.
“See? Folds are reversible. Two shots of Juvederm and you’ll be like new.”
This particular day, we are afflicted by a sort of Latin melancholy and decide to hit a salsa club nearby. I have second thoughts as I look at myself in her bathroom mirror. The skin in my face wasn’t sagging yesterday, I'm sure; it started sagging five minutes ago as I watched her struggle to tuck her brand new breasts into a tiny bustier. Her skin is flawless and the Botox has paralyzed some muscles just enough to keep her face looking natural. Her body is taut from cosmetic surgery and long hours in the gym. She’s older than I’m and wrinkle-free.
"You don't have to look like crap just because you are old," she says and I wonder if she means that I look like crap. She hands me a business card.
Botox Parties When you Want Them, Where you Need them.
“Repeat after me,” she says. “I don’t have a wrinkle. I have a fold.”
Tonight, all the beautiful women in the world show up at the club, a dizzying parade of rock solid bodies, cheeks bursting with collagen, curves and dimples. No nasolabial folds in sight. I tap on my newly found wrinkle after the first mojito, follow its crease all the way from the tip of my nose to the corner of my mouth. It’s not so bad, I think and I treat myself to a second drink. By the third mojito I’m definitely digging the wrinkle. It separates my cheek from my upper lip. It’s got purpose. I need this wrinkle, I say to myself. Then I order another mojito. -------- -------------
I hope this beautiful old woman doesn't use euphemisms to describe the evolution of her skin. I hope she looks at her nasolabial folds and says, I've earned you wrinkles; I hope she doesn't freeze the deep stabs of her frown with botox. I hope she goes to some Amsterdam centrum bar and has many mojitos, not to forget how old she is, but to celebrate it.
I visited the Red Light District.
Walking down the dimly lit alleys, getting puffs of mind-dulling Moroccan weed as one passes Amsterdam coffee shops, window shopping adult stores, stealing glances inside brothels, tasting pale lagers at the many bars overlooking the canals, being invited by bouncers to walk into a peep show ….that’s a night anywhere in old Amsterdam Centrum. But at The Wallen, the Red Light District, there is something else: about 250 shop windows behind which approximately 6000 prostitutes from all over the world, especially Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia (in that order) entice passersby with gyrating hips, lacy underwear, whips, feathers, and the promise of a disease-free encounter.
Of course I was curious.
Of course I had to go.
Of course I felt compelled to see with my own eyes this flesh market set against the backdrop of 14th century buildings and history. This is what I found. That legalizing prostitution in the Netherlands has not eliminated the existence of pimps nor has it been a deterrent for human traffickers. As we walked down the canal, an African man followed us, offered the both of us first, later my husband alone, anything my husband wanted: the best night of his life, the man assured him. And as we walked down the red-lit window cabins, some girls offered threesomes, invited us both to the back of their painfully sad workplace we could see from the street: behind her tiny cabin and separated by a curtain was a cement bed with a thin mattress. Rolls of toilet paper piled up against the wall. My heart sank.
Down the same block we found a beautiful young girl: porcelain skin, black shiny hair, fake eye lashes, diminutive black leather bikini, and a set of glossy eyes deep, blue and high. She struggled to stand up. She swayed her body and blinked heavily as if commanding herself to remain on her feet. I felt a feral desire to run inside and give her some water, ask her what was wrong with her and what the hell she’d smoked, inhaled or injected to make her look this sick. But she was on the clock and she smiled a jagged smiled, licked her lips and dispatched me with an obscene gesture. By now, I was a lot less curious, less interested, more disgusted. Less the tourist and more the woman. I thought these were free sex workers, women who had chosen to use their bodies as their livelihood, adult women who had made educated decisions about the risks inherent to selling their bodies. Some of them were old and seemed cunningly savvy, like old dogs who knew every corner of their neighborhood. Some were less attractive than others, some overweight, some black, some Latinas, some ridiculously gorgeous with perfect bodies, others out of shape and warped with stretch marks, moles, scars, life. Then there was the school girl. She seemed to be just out of Amsterdam Middle School: pony tails, goofy reading glasses, flat chest and bony legs. She was impossibly young. Too young to be a legal prostitute. I squeezed my husband’s hand and he squeezed me back. She has to be of legal age, he said as if he could read my mind. But she was there in front of us, looking like she could use my help to finish her homework, like the never-before-kissed girl I once was, younger than my daughter, younger than everyone around us in The Wallen. I wanted to walk inside and save her, from herself, from her Johns, from predatory eyes, from Amsterdam’s jaws. Instead I hid my face from her behind my husband’s shoulder, I asked her to forgive me for not doing anything, and we walked away until the night devoured me whole.
I wept at Prinsengracht 263, the canalside house where Anne Frank, her sister Margot, their parents and four other Jews hid for two years during World War II. I wept because her story is a testimony to what families are all about: sticking together and jumping over obstacles as a unit. Because they were sustained by friends who risked everything to help them and their loyalty made me appreciate even more my friends back in the USA and Colombia. I wept because the bookcase disguising the entrance to their hiding place has left marks on the floor and wall like a freshly scraped knee. I wept because all of them were arrested and transported to concentration camps, where Anne died with Margot and their mother. And I wept because Anne Frank was a writer. Because bearing witness to that tragic journey thanks to the diary of a young girl encapsulates, to me, the power of words; it validates what I do as a nonfiction writer, only and mercifully, we are not at war and I merely document my own mundane life.
I marveled at these whimsical street urinals.
So fabulously SEXIST.
Maybe their construction was based on the known fact that women never need to pee once they leave their house.
I giggled delighted at the sight of the pot cafes. I walked around, wondering, double-daring myself to walk into one, trying to envision what a younger version of me would do, then I pondered some more. Anyway. I learned that the pot cafes are not allowed to sell alcohol. Hallucinogenic mushrooms? Of course. Cannabis, marihuana lollipops, ecstasy-looking little candy thingies? Hell yeah. Happy brownies, hashish, and a three-page long weed menu? Absolutely! But don’t you dare ask for a Heniken, an Amstel or a Grolsch…you’ll be slapped on the hand by a busty bartender for being an irresponsible ignoramous. Geez! What kind of idiotic tourist am I?
I witnessed a feathery gang war outside the Red Light District. The swans and the ducks were out to get each other. These two gangs are nothing like the swans and ducks cohabiting in harmony in my home lakes in Florida. These Amsterdammer birds launched mean beak attacks on each other, they had full-on standoffs, during which, both gangs fluttered and flapped their wings around in such an aggressive yet beautiful way, that each attack looked like a courtship dance. Who knows. Maybe people dumped some happy mushrooms into the canal that day.