Wednesday, November 28, 2001

More Museums

More Museums
Thinking that we had more than plenty of time to see all that we wanted in Holland and especially Amsterdam in two weeks, we still feel rushed. The weather is slowing down our momentum also. We seem to be having a more difficult time dragging out of bed in the morning and them making a decision about what to do each day.
Just by chance, there is a small neighborhood bookstore across the street from where we have our breakfast. In the window was a children’s book on Sinter Klaas and his politically incorrect helper Pete. When we looked through it, it was perfect for what we think that Ron’s sister-in-law wants for her collection. It is has beautiful pictures on each right hand side page with the text in Dutch on the left. The pictures are so expressive one could almost tell the story without the words. Almost! Ron flipped through the book and asked the shopkeeper for a synopsis of the story. She was more than willing to oblige, but it was a brief description, not enough to satisfy curious minds.
We pushed ourselves to go to the Museum Amstelkring, or otherwise know as “Our Lord in the Attic”. Although it was raining, we wove our way through the canals enjoying the glorious architecture of this magnificent city. We wandered through the China Town area on our way and passed the University of Amsterdam. Our tram pass has expired and we bought a stripkaart, but it is just as easy to walk and enjoy the city when the distances are not unbearable.
At the museum, we had a discount coupon from our Amsterdam pass booklet. The museum is quite unusual in that it was a private residence at one time, but had a full Catholic church in the three attic floors, hence “Our Lord in the Attic”. During the Reformation in 1578, Catholic churches were all turned to Protestant churches. The Catholics were still allowed to have churches, but the rules were strict. They had to be off of major transportation routes or roads, could not have any signs displaying what they were, were not allowed to advertise, and were virtually pushed underground. This continued for over two hundred years and so the rich people of the time would open their homes for worship services and some created churches in their homes. One of these persons was Jan Hartman, the owner of this house who in 1661, renovated the house to its current stature. It is the only house church left in existence in Amsterdam.
The church is still fully intact. Since Amsterdam houses are narrow, there was little room a congregation, so the two floors above the church were converted into surrounding balconies to add more pews. The second level also has an organ, which is still used today for organ concerts. The church is used for weddings and some masses, like Christmas Eve. Part of the collection includes numerous pieces of precious antique liturgical vessels.
One room had a special exhibit dedicated to memorabilia of Sinter Klaas. It is one person’s private collection on loan for the season. On display were books, toys, games, puzzles, statues, and anything else imaginable that related to Sinter Klaas or Pete. Of course, this just created more curiosity with Ron, not being able to read any of the commentary in the cases and the newly purchased children’s book in hand. Fortunately, there were a couple of Dutch women who were touring the museum with their Australian friend. Ron questioned them about the tradition. Sinter Klaas comes from Spain on a boat to Holland on December 5th and brings the gifts to the children who have set their shoes out under the chimney. Children that are not well behaved get dumped into his sack and are taken back to Spain with Sinter Klaas. It did not sound like an unfortunate situation to us, but for a child, kidnapping would be pretty serious. Ron went on to question the role of Pete. They explained that it is an age old tradition, that Pete assists Sinter. He is thought to be of Moorish extraction and from the south of Spain where there are many Africans living. It seems that in the political climate as it is, Pete is just as controversial in Holland as he would be in the States. There has been talk of using a Caucasian or women in Pete’s role. They did not seem to draw pause at the suggestion of using a woman for the task. Satisfied for the moment, we were able to move on to the rest of the house. These women added that the man that played Sinter Klaas in the parade we attended, does so every year. He feels it is important to him and the children to have consistency and plans on continuing for as long as his health allows. In addition, he travels all over Holland to play the same role, so that children in other parts of the country do not feel rebuffed.
The house was decorated in the latest fashion of the 17th century, Dutch Classicist style, which was high fashion at this time. Dutch Classicist style requires that everything be symmetrical. To this end, in the living room or sael as it was called then, had to have a fake door on the left side of the wall to match the door on the right, from where you enter the room. The fireplace is perfectly centered. Molding on each section of the wall on either side has to be identical and if there is a painting on one side, a matching sized painting has to be on the other. The house remains intact from this period with period furniture decorating the house. It seems that bed closets were common amongst the rich also. This house had two of them. It also had one room that was rather atypical, a priest’s room, which was a tiny little room for the church priest to live and sleep.
In our post-museum mode, we went hunting for a teashop for our break with a warm cuppa between our hands to get the chill out. A few days ago, we had noticed a new age shop and café that overlooked the canal, so we ventured in. Other than a full-time astrologer that sits at a table waiting for the next client, it was a perfectly normal café with a full line new age store in the back. I have often wondered if these storefront psychics know when the next client is going to show up and eliminate sitting around waiting for no reason. Obviously this doesn’t work for astrologers, since this one sat alone for the duration of our tea and energy ball. Just because we are in Amsterdam is no reason to read into an energy ball, though I must admit I had second thoughts myself when I saw it on the counter. It was only grains and honey with sesame seeds decorating the outside.
A young woman at the next table targeted Ron for a cigarette. She apologized and said she did not think you could smoke here, so she left hers outside. Ron decided to take advantage of being owed a favor. He pulled out the children’s book again and asked the woman to read him a page from it. It was the page opposite the picture of the child being stuffed into Sinter’s burlap bag. Graciously, she read the page to him and gave some explanation. She added that she was from Austria and therefore did not grow up with the same tradition.
Onward soldiers of tourism, move forward and conquer museums. By now it was 3:00 and still drizzling. The New Amsterdam Historic Museum was close and became our next agenda item. It seems to me that I had visited a museum without the word New in the title once before about nine years ago, but this building wasn’t even close to seeming the same. According to the brochure, the museum underwent a complete renovation in 1999. I would say so it is now magnificent. We only had two hours before closing time, so we were under the crunch of time, our own doing, being such late starters.
Technology was used to make this an exciting museum. As you enter, the history of Amsterdam is shown geographically. It was interesting to see that the city sits on two layers of sand. All buildings have to have poles sunk thirty meters down into the sand as a support for the foundation of the building. For tall buildings, like hotels, poles are sunk even farther down into the second and lower layer of sand. Some of the older buildings, those over four hundred years show the results as the wood poles are disintegrating. These buildings lean in one way or another.
Using a computer model city plan, one could watch the city grow from its founding to the current plan. With each segment of time, you could see the population increase, the city grow, the canals being dug, the Metro and tram system being put in and of course the airport. It was very impressive and mesmerizing to watch.
Many of the pieces of art or collections of coins, stamps or clothes were willed to the city by early wealthy families that stipulated the city put the collection in a museum. This spurred the beginning of this museum over a hundred years ago, and it has grown since.
One of the most impressive areas for me was the children’s area. Ten children of different races, economic levels, and eras in history were chosen to have their stories told in pictures, toys and books of their time period and when possible what the rest of their life held in store for them. The range went from pathetic where one young girl and her siblings were sent to an orphanage, to celebrated cases of parents becoming part of the school system to create a Montessori type education. One child highlighted that was especially poignant was the little girl who was a friend of Anne Frank’s. She did not survive as long as Anne did, she was taken away early on in the Nazi movement.
Coincidently, the room close to the children’s history was the room that put on display the role that Amsterdam held in the Nazi movement. It was heart wrenching! It seemed like we were only there a few minutes when the closing bell rang and then a ten-minute warning was announced. Conversely, as tired as we are when we start our quest of touring, most of these sites are so enthralling; we forget our dreary feelings and become captivated once again. Well, the exception would be the Museum of Modern Art for me, but that was another story.
Right next to EasyEverything, there is a wonderful deli with a difference. It is actually two delicatessens in one building and they face each other. Both sell different foods that compliment each other’s fare. On one side, we bought barbequed chicken and on the other we decided on a Mediterranean salad. We brought it back to the hotel for our dinner. One thing that I am looking forward to in the near future is to be able to prepare meals, however simple at ‘home’ and not having to eat out all of the time. It gets wearing.
With a full evening ahead of us and not knowing what to do, we just walked. We walked in neighborhoods we were familiar with and some that we had never been through before. Sometimes, the evenings are warmer than the daytime, so it is very pleasant to stroll the canals. We walked for over an hour, looking at the lights, looking in people’s homes and watching the people that passed us by. The Dutch are very open people. It is rare that you will find windows with curtains that are not sheer. Most homes leave their windows open and revealing to the passersby. As Audrey had explained to us on Monday, when we were in Delft, the Dutch do not believe in trying to outdo each other. They have this attitude of ‘this is our life and you can view it if you want’ and they prove this by their visibility. Bedrooms are usually in the back of the building, so privacy is not totally negated.
We finally settled at this little out of the way bar. We had noticed it once before on a walk, but they did not open until ten at night on that day. The bar was small and had only two other patrons when we entered. Art nouveau lamps were hung from the walls and ceiling. The primary wall over the tables had old posters of American movies, yet another wall had photos of previous and I suppose current regular clients. As we were leaving a group of three strolled in and one of the men started talking to us. When we told him we were from California, he lit up and told us with pride that he was going to visit San Francisco for three months next August. Sure hope he is saving his guilders, since it will take 2.49 guilders to equal one dollar, but by the time he goes, he will need his Euros.
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