|Statue on bridge crossing Singel Canal|
In December of 1999, I was invited to attend the 50th birthday of Luc Sala, Dutch businessman, publisher, TV producer and seeker after the mysteries. See here
. I was housed in the tower room of Luc's TV studio, bookstore and mystery salon.
From my tower window I could look across the Singel Canal to the floating flower markets on the other side and just catch sight of a colorful storefront announcing "Magic Mushrooms". On the afternoon of Luc's party I decided to check out one of Amsterdam's most innovative policies--allowing the open sale (and taxation) of psychedelic mushrooms in selected shops. I descended from my tower, crossed the Heiligeweg (Holy Way) bridge and entered the store. There were no mushrooms in sight--only colorful posters for rock concerts at the "Melkweg" (Milky Way) and other Amsterdam music venues. On the counter were a variety of smoking accessories and behind the counter were a young Dutch couple in their 20s.
"Do you sell mushrooms here?" I asked. "Certainly," they replied and handed me a menu which described the varieties which they had on hand. While I read over the menu, they explained that, due to a recent change in the law, only live mushrooms were allowed to be sold. They seemed to be content with the way such decisions were made in the city council, aiming for harm reduction rather than blanket prohibition of all drugs. If the evidence showed that Amsterdamers could safely use some drugs but not others, the laws were crafted accordingly. Lately Amsterdam's famous decades-long experiment in tolerance for "soft drugs" seems to be losing momentum. In 2007, mushrooms (which the natives call "paddos") were made illegal
; and the city is moving to reduce the number of "coffee houses" where cannabis products can be purchased and consumed.
I could not resist the name "Philosopher's Stones". "What do these look like?" I asked. The girl reached under the counter and pulled out a small white cardboard box that looked exactly like a container for a prom corsage complete with transparent cellophane top. Thru the top I could see what looked like small round pieces of gravel scattered over a culture base. They looked more like lightly peppered truffles than mushrooms. And indeed, the philosopher's stone is classified as a psychedelic truffle not a mushroom. "How much of this is a good dose?" I asked. "The whole box," they replied.
Back in my tower, I separated the tiny truffle globes from the soil and put them all together in a saucer. There didn't seem to be a lot of mushroom there after all the dirt was cleaned off. I slowly ingested them, washing the pieces down with water. Not a bad taste--would go good in a salad.
Almost immediately I could feel the effects. It was growing dark and my plan was to follow the Singel Canal back and forth so I would not get lost. And to witness the sights of the "Venice of the North" on shrooms.
I decided to exit thru Luc's bookstore but there was some sort of ruckus going on. The two women who worked there were having trouble getting an Arab to leave so they could close up shop. No common language. I went up to him waving my hands and urged him towards the door. He did not act aggressively, merely confused. Perhaps he was on mushrooms too and had been attracted by the cute girls and the flashing gadgets in Luc's shop. I steered him out the door and into the entrance of a large covered mall. Then I re-entered the bookstore, took the elevator down to ground level and began my night tour of the Singel Canal. I moved along the bank occasionally crossing a bridge to the other side. There were lights everywhere--on the streets, in the houses, and in boats docked or moving along the canal. A light rain was falling which made everything sparkle. I felt like I was walking inside some big bright Dutch landscape painting. I practiced catching the eyes of people in the street and wondered what kinds of energy are transmitted by the human gaze.
The overall impression was one of IMMENSE BEAUTY. A beauty that is here all the time and cries out wordlessly for appreciation. I was reminded of the Muslim verse: "I was a Hidden Treasure and desired to be known."
I was completely wallowing in the Beauty Way when I turned onto a bridge and ran into a larger than life bronze statue of Albert Einstein Being Shot From a Cannon. Or perhaps, as he was glistening with rain, it was Einstein Being Born into the World, coated with amnionic fluid. What was going on? I could not find a category in which to place this particular vision. The caption on the marble cube from which "Einstein" was emerging was not much help. It read simply "Multatuli". I pulled a notebook out of my pocket and carefully copied down this cryptic caption. I would save this mystery for another day.
Just as I was about to turn around and retrace my steps a young woman on a bike slipped on the wet tram rails and fell down on the street directly in front of me. I helped her up, asked if she was all right. "I'm fine," she said and pedaled off into the night. Lovely young Dutch girl on a bicycle, I still remember you, your natural beauty magnified by the magic of the philosopher's stones.
I retraced my path back along the Singel Canal--missed the Einstein Explosion this time by crossing some different bridges. When I finally reached the Myster Tower, the guests were beginning to arrive for Luc's birthday. Luc celebrating with his friends--another brand of beauty to be witnessed thru the appreciative lenses of the philosopher's stones.