Monday, November 26, 2001

Delft and Audrey At Last

Delft and Audrey At Last

It was with great determination that we were not going to miss our station today to meet Audrey, the daughter of Ron’s friend. Although, I did nod off on the train, I woke up at each stop and knew that our stop was the one after The Hague. The day tickets were sixty-nine guilders and we weren’t spending more for overrunning our mark and having Audrey waiting for us. We arrived an hour early and walked around the town hunting down caffeine like a hound sniffs out a fox. Who would have expected all of the stores, restaurants, and other establishments to be closed until noon or later? Block after block the hunt was on and it did not seem like success was imminent, but at last I noticed an open sign in Dutch. Signaling Ron to move faster before I go into a decaffeinated coma, in we went. In we went into a pot smoking, pot selling coffee shop. There sitting at the bar, were four men already lit and lit up smoking away. The woman behind the bar looked like someone just told her that she won the lottery, but working in those conditions who wouldn’t look happy? Times were tough and the coffee was cheap, so we stayed. One man had his dog with him. The poor pooch looked stoned and obviously had the munchies as he begged for the cookie we each received with our coffee. He needed the cookie more than we did; the fumes had not kicked in for us yet, so we fed our cookies to Fido.

Back at the station, we waited for Audrey who was coming from The Hague on the tram. She and her husband are living in The Hague after her husband Mike earned a post-doctoral fellowship in Biophysics. They will be here for thirty months with a possibility for longer. Audrey is pregnant with their first child and is due on December 5th, but was gracious enough to come meet us to show us around Delft.

Audrey was right on time. We hit if off immediately as I had never met her before and Ron had not seen her since she was a child. Our talking was so continual at times it was difficult to talk and walk, so we stood on a corner, finished our topic of conversation, looked at the buildings and then moved on with the conversation starting immediately again. Audrey is a very bright and charming young woman and since she has a Masters degree in English as a Second Language with Linguistics, we had common interests to start with. Then we quizzed her about living in Holland, my life dream plus her Dutch lessons and a dozen other topics. We were more interested in our conversation than we were in seeing museums, but Delft was the home and workplace of the painter Vermeer. Since reading “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”, Delft being the setting, we were interested in the Vermeer connection. Delft is a small city and the University of Delft is the only reason the population swells as much as it does. As a small city, it is tourist friendly by having wonderful signs throughout the city with information panels of history on them.

After an hour of walking, Audrey told us about a bagel restaurant she especially liked and we suggested having coffee there. It was closed. We did find another quaint restaurant with dark wood walls, an old fashioned potbelly stove, and heavy, dark wood chairs and tables. We each had a piece of apple or cherry cake with whipped cream and the portions were so generous, only Ron could finish his portion. There was never a lull in the conversation as we found dozens of topics to cover and share ideas and opinions, plus asking questions. Feeling that Audrey had rested and she herself was ready to move again we ventured over to look through the New Church, a name, which is a misnomer since the church, dates back to the early 1500’s. It was once Catholic, but changed to Dutch Reformed during the Reformation. The church was colder by about ten degrees than it was outside, so we retreated to the outdoors just to warm up.

We continued to walk the city. We kept questioning Audrey’s stamina, but she assured us she was fine for continued exercise and would let us know when we had her limits. We had wanted to go to the famous Delft china and pottery factory and Mr. Map had it located on the map he purchased at the Tourist Bureau. We walked along to the outskirts of the town, but took a wrong term and we were at the end of a canal. The only outlet was to climb a flight of stairs to get back to the street. We walked a few blocks, but missed our turn off and had overshot where we needed to make our next turn. Almost without realizing it, we found the factory in a small unassuming building. The factory and shop closes at 4:30, but we made it there by 4:05 and they gave us a tour. Our private guide told us how the clay is imported from England and Germany since Dutch clay has too much yellow in it. We were shown the molds, the firing process and were able to watch the painters paint the work by hand. There are six artists in the factory and fifteen work from home. All true Delftwares have one of four marks on the bottom that show their authenticity to the process that was started in the 17th century. Two of the marks have been retired, so if you have an older piece, it may have the earlier marks. Although the word Delft cannot be copyrighted, there are many pieces of blue and white china and porcelain pieces that say Delft, Delftware, or hand painted in Delft on the bottom and some with confusing symbols, but they are really cheap imitations of the original. To see some Delftware products, you can surf over to or for the other company for a preview. Not all of the Delftware products are blue and white. They produce multicolor and one factory did a series in black and gold.

Mothers-to-be can wear out two no chance of ever becoming pregnant tourists, so after five hours, we hopped a tram to the train station and waited together for the train. We said our good-byes when the train pulled into the station and thanks for a delightful day filled with lively and intelligent conversation and returned to Amsterdam.

It would seem remiss if I did not give you some information on Delft, before leaving the topic behind. Delft is believed to date back to 1070 when a community sprung up around a castle built by Duke Godfrey of Lorraine, after he conquered the county of Holland. There was some historical event just about every year to the present from that time, but given that this is not a history text, I will jump to the present. The city boasts more than six hundred official national monuments constructed in an assortment of styles. Over sixty bridges are also protected monuments. The population is 95,000 of which 13,000 are students. Audrey shared with us that they wanted to live in Delft since this is where her husband is working, but the rent for a simple apartment was over $2,000. a month. That is in dollars, not guilders. According to the tourist bureau, Delft is an internationally renowned center for technology and science. It has a high concentration of high tech businesses and modern research institutes.

Some of the famous former residents of Delft included Carel Fabritius, Pieter de Hoogh, Willem van Aelst, Jan Steen, and Michiel van Mierevelt. All are artists that emerged from the Delft school of painting. The most famous has to be Johannes Vermeer, who was born in Delft in 1632 and buried in the Old Church in 1675. Once again, if you have not read “Girl With a Pearl Earring”, I highly recommend it. Although the story is fictional, it is a great story with a depth of research done on this painter and it made Delft come alive for me prior to returning and certainly while here.

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