May 12, 2009

student fraternity party

day 5: it was around 9 pm when i was going in for groceries to the larger albert heijn (next to magna plaza). two young men sitting on the stairs with bottles accosted me - they were inviting general passersby to a drink. both were in tie and jacket, but appeared to have been drinking quite heavily. later, as i was leaving the store they were still there and we fell talking. i declined their vodka, but opened a small bottle of wine I had just purchased. i also shared a baguette i'd just bought; one of them, aleksandr, was hungry and had happy to have a bite. he was studying business economics at uva; the other, thomas, was in sociology. they then invited me to come with them to a party with "free beer"...

i thought - what can happen - let me swing on life's ropes...

that's how i ended up in the molass-smelling wooden hall of the ASC (amsterdamsch studenten corps), a student fraternity housed deep inside a building on warmoestraat. on our way here, while crossing the damrak with scant regard for hurtling traffic, a mercedes targeting aleksandr braked very reluctantly at the last minute. i then got to hear some terrific sounding dutch epithets.

once inside, i was introduced to many youngsters, who promptly plied me with lots of beer. there were several "taps" around the room, and apparently each belonged to a different subgroup. a number of elderly people were also there - someone said the parents of the women members had been invited today - several women's groups ran their own taps. they were happy to welcome a visiting professor at uvA, though they were from the campuses downtown or from VU. some of them had been to india and came up to share their experiences. two of them, amar and mandu, had indian parentage; amar knew some hindi words, prominent among them being "bhanchot" (sister-fucker). katrina, aleksandr's girlfriend of six years, said hello - they were "almost married" - but they weren't going to have a baby, they would rather adopt. another woman, eleena, was interested in knowing what was in my large-ish backpack (groceries). the word students comes from "study" i guess, but as everywhere, studying seemed hardly their priority... but i also met the tall and sober chris, who was in his first year economics at uva; he was now concentrating on his studies, but he was going to start serious partying by joining ASC the next year. many students in the gathering, including aleksandr and thomas were not really members, but had just gatecrashed. there is a party here every day, they said. someone said that the members were "elite"; presumably the costs of the establishment had to be covered...

at one point, they stacked up some six or seven crates and someone scrambled onto the tottering top, from which he was to make a speech. the first one up faltered and came down, followed by another man who wobbled his way through a sentence or two. apparently the tradition was for him to then jump down into a web of friends below. he dutifully dropped into the interlinked arms but what with all that beer sloshing around, everyone fell to the floor anyway.

a number of people were also on a balcony upstairs that surrounded the central open area.

after about an hour there, it was getting close to eleven and i was hoping to get back home, when a waiter came up and asked me if i was a member. i said i wasn't but i had been invited. but i was about to leave anyway, and so there was a lengthy round of farewells, with more beer offered, which i declined. as i was leaving i noticed some other waiter-like people shooing off gatecrashers outside.

the night air of warmoestraat was refreshing after the alcohol bonhomie of the wood-paneled interior. there were stars out, and the lights on the canal twinkled my way home.

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