New Year in Amsterdam

We saw the first fireworks from an airplane window. Dozens of them here and there, silent and toylike splashes, tiny sparks on a gleaming body of a city. We arrived to the Amsterdam Centraal Station by 8 p.m. Groups of 20-somethings, armed with beer cans, were marching out of the building to claim their ownership of the streets. Tonight people were the law, and the output of their reign looked like anarchy.

Petards were constantly blowing up on the ground covered with glass bottles and plastic utensils. An extremely unpleasant rain was pouring in. The smell of weed was omnipresent. Coffeeshops were packed, people crowded outside waiting to get in.

Chinese snack-bar serving noodles, asian man toiling intense evening hours in a non-stop cooking session: oil, noodles, shrimps, sauce, more oil… Several black guys waiting for their order while he cooks with no emotion whatsoever.

Wildly colored street lights, fluorescent marijuana leafs, inevitable Red Lights district, violet shop windows with naked women shifting from one foot to another, slowly showing their hips and stiff nipples — must be freezing inside. They lure with their fingers those who look deliberate and solvent while avoiding looking into the eyes of everyone else.

It’s around 12, we are cold, we need to go back to the airport. We see the do-it-yourself fireworks we were told about on our way to the railway station. It’s moving in an unpredictable tempo, like an orchestra without a conductor. Dozens of shots popping up in the sky, forming a noisy crescendo, than suddenly fading out to an almost complete silence disturbed by a mere couple of crackers, and returning to a more steady, albeit attenuated and still chaotic rhythm. Like an improvised play with no beginning and no planned ending.

The station is closed, there’s a huge queue for taxi. We chat in English to a small group of young folks ahead of us, a minute later we realize they speak Russian, they are Ukrainians. They ask us if we’ve tried anything. We forget to ask them about Maidan. A couple of senior men in a uniform are assigning people from the crowd to the approaching taxis. An italian family doesn’t want to stand in a line and requests a priority, but the taxi manager asks them to go away. Looks like this is not the process that can be self-organized.

It’s our turn, we get into the car. “Airport please.” Fifteen minutes into the trip the driver says in a calm voice: “Now it is officially 2014. Happy New Year.”

“Happy New Year” — we respond.