The first time I saw her was in the Enge Kerk Steeg, the Scary Church Alley, in the walletjes, in the ouwehoerenbuurt, in the red-light district of Amsterdam.
They call it the Enge Kerk Steeg because the Old Church at the end of the alley really is frightening in its way, a massive hulk of filthy stone looming ominously over the twisting alleyways and canals of the ouwehoerenbuurt. It’s not only scary, the church, it’s also one of the most incongruous sights I’ve ever seen in my life, and I love it for that, this once-majestic house of worship now ringed by a three-quarters circle of dismal storefronts, each with its red fluorescent bulb glowing softly over a picture window streaked with grime, and behind each window a bored female on display, te koop, for sale – from young to old, from anorexic to grotesquely fat, from pasty-white to midnight black, from fully dressed to clad only in the wispiest bits of see-through lingerie – always bored, usually perched langorously on a cheap leatherette stool and surrounded by the tools of her trade (a camp bed, a sink, a towel), sometimes working a crossword puzzle, filing her nails, knitting a sweater, stroking a tiny lap dog that seemed better cared for than its mistress, often strung out on heroin, yet ever alert to the passing window shoppers and the possibility of doing business.
American author Josh Pachter teaches communication studies and film appreciation at a two-year college in Virginia. From 1980 to 1991, he taught on US military bases in Europe and the Middle East, including stints in the Cambridge area and London. He writes crime fiction, edits genre anthologies, and translates fiction and nonfiction from Dutch and Flemish into English, such as Tessa de Loo’s The Sweet Factory Girls (Litro 100: Dutch issue).