THE NETHERLANDS: The Girls from De Walletjes

In front of the 14th century Old Church in Amsterdam lies a half-mile-square district of gabled houses, narrow streets and tree-shaded canals known as De Walletjes (little walls). An evening stroller, glancing into ground-floor rooms, sees what appears to be a succession of genre pictures by Vermeer: in each, a glowing, red-shaded lamp throws its light on one or two girls sitting by the window, staring blankly at the street. Their skirts are invariably hiked above their knees; their transparent blouses are pulled low. Occasionally a girl will indolently stretch out her leg, or touch her hair with a...

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