It’s not like I come from a relatively unknown country with a neutral reputation like Latvia. If you say you’re from Holland, the obvious reaction is ‘Amsterdam!’, which means – depending on the speaker – Marco van Basten, prostitution or marijuana.
Fans of AC Milan absolutely love Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, the trio club owner Silvio Berlusconi bought in the late eighties, and they won’t stop telling you how they admire especially Van Basten. During the last European Championships, when he was the Dutch team manager, the woman from the butcher shop with her rosary and her little prayer book practically embraced me each time the Dutch did well.
In Cosenza we’ve had the strangest of conversations during lunch. Imagine this: I am eating my lagana e ceci (a local beans and pasta dish) in one of the better restaurants of the city when the manager strikes up a conversation with us. Upon hearing that I’m from Holland, he starts to talk about his trip to Amsterdam and how he tried – in vain – to find the red light district. Absolutely without a trace of shame, and while I dig into my beans I am imagining some poor prostitute with this overweight, balding and ageing guy – damn it, I am eating! Must we discuss this?
And the marijuana, well, everybody knows that. Young people will tell you proudly that they went to The Bulldog, a strictly-for-tourists megacoffeeshop, but one must never forget that marijuana is highly illegal here. I have yet to present my Dutch ID card to an Italian policeman and to be honest, I dread the moment. When they think ‘Amsterdam’ it’s not going to be a talk about football or prostitutes – it may well be a thorough search. Especially when they find the lighter I picked up yesterday in a hurry, without noticing what’s pictured on it. Jah Spirit – Smoking Music? I’m looking at months of investigations, at the very least…