Staalstraat, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In the grim future of Hello Kitty there is only fashion war!

Orange haired girl with blue eyeshadow and sparklepink hair slides gets tangled in her monster grey elephant flares, dropping her purple poncho along the cigarette scattered street. Tiny girl with six hair bunches walks a spider monkey toy along the road yelling, "wait! wait! tired monkey!" at her frazzled looking grandmother. Shaved head pinstriped man walks hand in hand with a woman with dark tan tights under her white skirt. Striped knickers shine through cheap pale linen. Shimmering pantsuits stretched across middle aged spread. Tinted eyeglasses with curlicues of gold around the frames: little birds edging around the octogon corners.

A mop-headed little boy stops dead in front of me, his eyes opening wide. His mother nudges him as he points to me, gabbling excitedly. I don't understand. he's speaking Dutch. She rolls her eyes and makes apologetic noises as he struggles a Pokémon magazine from his backpage and fumbles through with rushed paws to the page he wants, holding it up to his mother. She laughs. The boy turns the magazine around to show me, stabbing a finger at a drawing of a purple-haired anime chick, and beams madly. I grin with delight, and tell his mother that it's OK. I don't have a gun like that. They walk off over the bridge, the kid hanging back from their clutched hands, waving at me.

Later that day, I hear other three children whispering "Pokémon!" as I pass. I like having anime hair though I get funny looks in Eastern Europe.

I have bought a bag that says "for hip extra-terrestrials only." It's ugly, but it amuses me.

A woman in high heels and white and gold clothes minces past. She and her minature poodle have identical walks. A couple of beeded boys slouch past, blinking through blue-glassed lennon shades to see if any of the girls have noticed their rich kid hippy chic. Next year, when they are old enough, they will go to Nepal and discuss Amsterdam coffeeshops with all the other backpackers they meet on mountains.

I talk with the art bookshop man, telling him about Winsor McKay, as he tells a papoose-wrapped woman that the only Nemo he has heard of was 20,000 leagues under the sea. Her has seen "Gertie" but never the Wonderland strips, he says as he wraps my books in Kraft paper and places a sticker just so in the corner. I forget to ask him about comic shops in the area.

I watch slow clouds reflecting in a glass cube. The heron has gone, fluttering off in disgust after two children flapped arms at it, and yelled. the girl in the crocheted sunflower shirt has walked past four times in the last half hour. Each time she looks into the café with surprise, and turns to her boyfriend. "This looks like a nice one!" But he shrugs, distracted, and suggests they keep walking for a while. I don't think they have noticed that they are walking in circles.

There are muscled tans wrapped in tight white tshirts, pale nightkids in drooping band tshirts, clusters of grey-heads in loud plaids. Three children, identical and wearing matching grey camoflague pants. Noisy blonde girls with plastic tortoiseshell sunglasses park themselves at my table, unpack box after box of Marlboro Lights and cross fake tan streaked legs awkwardly in the corner space. A leonine beauty stalks past in purple tights. A shockingly elegant couple amble past, long limbed, lean, linen draped. But their eyes are sparkle-gleaming to break their chilly style. They must both be over seventy, but they are walking hand in hand like they mean it. Two fat Brit boys in football shirts and clumsy tattoos, pink-necked and sweating, stagger around on the back of a tour boat. Tangles of old bicycles are bound against the railings. Bored teenagers traipse behind earnest parents, making grand displays of practiced ennui.

I wandered into the edges of tacky tourist Amsterdam by accident--all overpriced crap cafés and sun-burned Australians, garish neon signs and countless bureaux de changes, and fastfood stands. It amazes me how little of that I have seen, on all these visits here. Even the Red Light District, filled with gawpers and thrillseekers, has more style. We have walked with residents, and with luck, choosing corners that lead us beneath trees' shade and into tiny bars. I am insufferable. I sneer and snarl at the gawpers, the gigglers, the stag parties and the beered up Brits. I fear calling work people, to arrange to go out this evening, in case they choose to escort me into this land of tack. I cannot connect to the tourist sheen of a strange city anymore than I can imagine hanging out in Leicester Sqaure and applauding the over-amplified buskers.

A timid, lanky intellectual type cycles past and cuddenly bursts into a snatch of 'Don Giovanni" at boisterous volume. It beats ringing the bell as a warning. I have heard others moo at the gaggles of drifting pedestrians who leap out of the way at the chance of being trampled by a cow. Others find broken rhythms and compressed patterns of alarm.

A wedding party walks across the small bridge towards me, with straw hats and baskets of flowers. The children are wriggling in their smartness. When the crowd of them flowed into the café, in an ascending babble of congratulations and kisses, i left, and walked off in the baking sun to another part of the city, looking for books, for beer, for another place to sit and watch.

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