If Gay Pride is New Years Eve for Gay People, Then Amsterdam…

…must be the Gay-equivalent of Times Square. Seriously, 400,000 people turned out on Saturday for the final day of Gay Pride in Amsterdam. That’s, like, five or six Super Bowls all in one. But gay. Because the NFL is totally not at all gay, am I right?

This past weekend marked my first trip to a Gay Pride event here in Europe. It’s also a big deal back in my hometown of Portland. I was curious to see how the Dutch version would stack up against the Oregonian version.

It should go without saying that Amsterdam’s Gay Pride dwarfs the one in Portland. It seemed like EVERYONE in Holland was lined up along the city’s canals on Saturday afternoon. Gay people, straight people, families, American college kids, Rosario Dawson….

…uh, yeah. At one point, I found myself standing next to a woman who looked and sounded A LOT like her. She was wearing a pink wig. Could it have been?

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Unlike in the states, Gay Pride here looked and felt more along the lines of Mardis Gras. More than anything, it seemed like an excuse for everyone, regardless of race, creed, age, sexual persuasion or preference for street clothes over tight, pink spandex undies, to gather together and get rip roaring drunk. Amsterdam’s week-long Gay Pride festival culminates in a large parade with literal floats that putter through the city’s canals and down the Amstel River. Thousands upon thousands of people from all over the world turn out for this.

It all makes for a spectacle worthy of New Orleans. Every inch of cobblestone along the parade route is covered with people in pink hats chugging Heineken.  Canal-side house owners host BBQs or set up chairs on their stoops. Some create makeshift bars and sell drinks or open their bathroom doors to desperate attendees for 50 cents a pop. Others break out food carts, complete with pink, phallic signs.

It’s almost impossible to get a proper vantage of the parade unless you arrive early. Despite all the drunkenness and male flesh on display, it’s considered a family affair. You’ll spot kids on their parents’ shoulders or merrily eating Popsicles as dozens of dudes in skimpy pirate outfits float past.

Altogether, it’s enough to make Rick Santorum’s head explode, pull itself back together and explode again.

I arrived late and hiked along the route, taking in the ambiance along the way, pausing occasionally to people watch. One highlight: seeing a mystified 4 year old nervously approach four guys dressed up like Marie Antoinette so her mother could take a photo. At another point, a salacious young couple got “frisky” on a canal-side boat before deciding to take their passion behind closed doors. This earned them cheers from the crowd.

This being Europe, you might envision a spectacular orgy of wanton vice. Sorry to disappoint but if Amsterdam’s Gay Pride parade was a movie, based on what I witnessed, it would probably qualify for a PG-13 rating. I spotted more “scandalous” behavior at last year’s parade in Portland than I did here.

It’s amazing that the city and the festival’s participants are able to pull off this parade, which featured 80 floats this year. The most impressive among them? The “Gay Mobile” pirate ship, complete with a cannon that shot confetti. Honorable Mention: the hard working guys on the “SS Amsterdam Musketeer.”

Around 4 PM, I was standing on a bridge over the Amstel. I received a text message from my girlfriend, who was tied up with errands down in Leiden. “It’s pissing rain here and the storm’s heading your way. Watch out!” I sent back “the only thing it’s raining in Amsterdam is men!” Sure enough, ten minutes later, the sky overhead turned dark and unleashed a torrential downpour. As the crowd searched for their umbrellas, the crew of the Musketeer kept on dancing without skipping a beat.

Unfortunately, the float sponsored by the Amsterdam Police Department didn’t fare so well. It featured a series of large balloons, which popped as the float made its way down the final stretch of the river. The cops on board quickly dug themselves out from underneath a deflated stack of vinyl. It wasn’t a good day for inflatable objects. Another float fought to keep its giant cactus upright.

Rainwater and confetti created temporary streams in the streets as I went off in search of shelter from the storm.

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