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the expected and the unexpected

Last Sunday I finally held the first “Sundial Still Life Sunday”.  (Sundial is part of the name because Sundial Wire is the name of the business Jim and I run –see www.sundialwire.com — and because it is the venue for the group since my “studio” is the sunroom at home, about 8′ x 10′ and doubling as the home paperwork-processing center as well — not even big enough for one.)

It has taken me over a year to go from having the idea to actually sending out an email and inviting people.  There were four of us, including one who hadn’t drawn in ages and one who whips lovely paintings out in a flash with seemingly no effort.

I was quite nervous about doing this.  Why?  If it were a knitting club, I would not have been nervous.  And I wanted the sessions to be much like knit nights, just talking, getting to know each other or knowing each other better, giving an opportunity to hang out that was pre-arranged and didn’t require the effort and inertia-banishing of setting up a particular lunch or whatever.  I wanted it to just be relaxing and social and fun.  I did not want it to be like a class, nor have an agenda or incentives for people to push themselves or any instruction or critiques.  And I really didn’t want any more responsibility besides offering a venue and email coordination — I’ve got more responsibility than I want with running a company, employing people, etc.  But I kept feeling like I had to somehow make it enticing and fabulous, which made me anxious.

So I was over-prepared in terms of bringing objects for people to draw and moving tables around and just plain fretting.  I could have/should have just relaxed.

What was interesting to me later was to realize how much more I got from the experience than I had been expecting.  I did get what I was expecting, time to hang out with people I really like.  But there were so many bonuses.  For example, one of the attendees recommended a book by Cat Bennett, The Drawing Club of Improbable Dreams: How to Create a Club for Art.  The book’s format for a drawing club is very different from what I’m aiming for, but interesting, and made me look at her other books on creativity and an art practice.  So I bought them and have gotten a bit of a boost in getting closer to not doubting my abilities and creativity as a result.  Not a bad bonus!

Another one of the attendees and I were talking about how she has a page that she maintains on a well-known publication’s web site, which led to us talking about getting seen on the Internet.  I was recalling Mandy Len Catron’s first TED talk, which I had seen ages ago, which is about her having written an article for the Modern Love column for the NY Times (edited by a neighbor, by the way).  She was interested to see it, so I looked it up and ended up watching it again after I got home and watching her next TED talk, which I had never seen.  And going to her blog, The Love Story Project, which is fantastic.  And a post there, “smart and humble” had links to  an article by Rebecca Solnit, who I had just learned about from Isabel, on the Literary Hub site, which looks amazing.  And more links to other really great literary sites.  That one snippet of conversation led into lots of branches of enjoyment and interest.

Another person brought marbles, which made me remember a gorgeous pastel she’s done that includes some marbles.  I realized I want to find some marbles and draw them, with all their shine and swirl and color, as just pure fun.  Anyone want to go marble shopping?

Watching as one attendee cranked out a completely finished and lovely painting in a couple of hours while I barely managed to put out this 2.5″ x 4.5″scribble, really made me determined to be more free and experimental in my drawing. tiny chickens And watching one person just draw away when she hadn’t done any drawing for ages and ages really encouraged me to not feel so self-conscious about my drawings and just get out there and do it.  So here’s me actually posting a drawing I don’t love, because why not?

So a big thank-you to the people who came on Sunday, and I really mean that.  You brought gifts I imagine you don’t even know you brought.  I just hope you took home some gifts of your own.

 

Amsterdam, Day 10, Wandering, House Boat Museum, Canal Boat Ride

Our last day.  We were in a quandary about what to do.  We hadn’t shopped at all, hadn’t gone to the Resistance Museum or Het Schip, the Amsterdam School museum.  Ten days just isn’t enough!

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We ended up going to a shopping area, passed the famous dental store (click on the picture to see the toothbrushes riding the Ferris wheel), had delicious burgers for lunch at Burger Meister, and then went to an antiques market.   I spent time on the bridge from which the view is pictured below while Jim did some shopping at the antiques market.  image

Then we visited the Houseboat Museum, which was really great.  I had been wondering about what the deal is with houseboats since we arrived and was able to get all my questions answered by the woman running the museum.

Houseboat living started in the ’40s, when there was a housing shortage.  It went on unregulated until the ’60s, when it completely took off.  Now there are no free moorings.  If you want to live on a houseboat, you have to buy an existing boat, which comes with a mooring.  If you want a different boat, that’s fine, but you have to buy the boat that comes with the mooring and then replace it.  As you can see in the houseboats-for-sale listings pictured below, each sale comes with an annual mooring fee.  The mooring fees and the prices of the boats vary according to neighborhood.

Until the ’80s, houseboats were able to just pump their sewage into the canals.  The canals are flushed three times a week, so it’s not quite as disgusting as it could be, but the houseboats are now required to be hooked up to the city sewer system.imageimageimageimageThe boat was far more spacious than I would have thought, quite roomy.  On our boat ride later, we passed many with their curtains open and could see all kinds of interiors.
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After the Houseboat Museum, we walked to a canal boat stop near the Anne Frank Museum and went around the north of the city and back to Waterlooplein.  We realized that we hadn’t made a reservation and it was Friday night, around 7:00.  We stopped in a few places on Utrechsestraat with no luck at all.  Finally we thought we’d try Harmsen again, even though we were slightly embarrassed to be going back a third time.  A woman who had waited on us once before at first said that they had no room.  Then she worked on the owner to let us sit at a table that they normally use to hold bottles of wine and other things the waiters use on the upper level.  We both had a third lovely meal at this great restaurant.

Finally, we walked across the Magere Brug, the skinny bridge, the most famous of the Dutch-style drawbridges over the Amstel river.imageimageimage

Amsterdam, Day 9, Haarlem and Droog

We went to out Waterlooplein Metro stop this morning, near the “Stopera”, combination state house and opera. Jim had read about this line in the sidewalk outlining the perimeter of an orphanage for Jewish children, which was emptied by the Nazis, all the children sent to camps.  Another sobering reminder.  When we were in Paris in 2007, there were many plaques showing where people had been killed during the war.  While sad and disturbing, it is good to see these kinds of commemorations and reminders.

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We ended up taking the tram to Central Station to go to Haarlem, only two train stops away.  The tram system is just fantastic.  Except for this morning we kept taking the subway to the station, but the trams are fast, because they don’t have to deal with traffic, and you get to ride through the city, which is beautiful wherever you go.

In the Haarlem train station, part of my gyros-around-the-world series:

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The train station is gorgeous, once you get off the gyros level.

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imageimageimage image image imageHaarlem is a nice, quiet Medieval city for the most part, but the shopping was somewhat cheesy.  There were a few interesting things we passed.

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We stopped in a cheese shop for cow’s cheese for me, goat cheese for Jim, and fennel sausage to share, which we ate in Haarlem’s main square.

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Then we headed out for the Frans Hals Museum.

Notice the the bucket on the front of the bike. The bike becomes a wheelbarrow/bike. Great way to transport children and anything else.

The Frans Hals Museum has six or seven gorgeous still lives, none of which are featured in post cards.  What is it that is more fascinating about a person in a ridiculous ruffled collar than a glass, a tankard, a lemon, and a piece of bread.  Really?  A ruffled collar?  I don’t get it. OK, I appreciate Frans Hals, but it is frustrating that it’s so hard to find a lot of still life’s together and impossible to find good reproductions.  There aren’t even books in print on Coorte or Heda.

We did buy this funny vase, which will have to do since I can’t afford the Delft flower towers we saw in the museum.  It is Delft, but we opted for the non-painted one.  Jim bought some flowers when we got home to show it off.

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Back in Amsterdam, we went to find another thing Jim had read about, an exhibit about water levels in Amsterdam imageimageimageimagehoused in an office building right next to our subway stop.  Note the subway in the display of the water levels in the city.

After that we went to a housewares/design store called Droog, very high-end, some of it very imaginative.  We also stopped at a really great antiques store just down the street.imageimageimage

We hadn’t try to eat in Haarlem since nothing we passed seemed all that interesting, so we went back to Utrechtsestraat in Amsterdam, where we had seen a restaurant that served mussels, Sluizer.  Delicious.
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Amsterdam, Day 8, Van Gogh Museum and Concert Gebouw

We spent from 10:00 to 3:30 at the Van Gogh Museum. It is very nicely laid out, with his work going chonologically. There were sufficient descriptions, but not too many. What’s really lovely is that no photography is allowed (and we saw only two people taking illegal pictures). So there are people listening to their audio tours who will stand in a prime viewing spot for a painting for what seems way too long, but no jockeying for position for the best angle to take a photo, no selfie sticks, and while it was crowded, not nearly as crowded as New York museums seem to be without exception all the time now.

I learned quite a bit about Van Gogh, that he only drew and painted for ten years, for one thing.  I had known that he started drawing and painting as an adult and struggled at first, but I didn’t know just how short a time he did draw and paint.  One nice feature of the museum was readings of his letters, with a choice of English or Dutch, to which you could listen with an earpiece.   Most of the letters were from Van Gogh, but there was a terribly sad letter by Emile Bernard about Van Gogh’s funeral. Not only did I leave in awe of Van Gogh’s productivity and the number of stellar works on display, but with a profound sense of sadness that he was so tortured.  And a renewed desire to read The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.  He was very eloquent and thoughtful in the letters in the exhibit.  Jim and I also are curious to know how and why Theo’s widow was able, rather quickly, to successfully promote Van Gogh’s work into prominence when Theo, although he tried, was not.  Was it just timing?  I would love to know more about it.

If Van Gogh only knew that he could have turned out dog coats and umbrellas with his flower paintings on them, think what he could have achieved. Such a plethora of merchandisable paintings!

The Van Gogh Museum is next door to the Stedelijk Museum, which has the newer “bathtub” wing attached to its conventional building.

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We had dinner at Harmsen on Utrechtstraat for the second time. The lamb hash is superb, although I had fish tonight because I needed a break from red meat.  Afterwards we walked back to where the Van Gogh Museum is, past the Rijksmuseum, to the Concert Gebouw.

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imageThe concert started with a Tchaikovsky piano concerto in G, op. 44, played by Veju Wang. It was amazingly hot and stuffy and very hard to stay awake for both me and Jim.  Plus, I was not terribly impressed by the pianist.  I’m certainly not qualified to critique, and she has a lot of critical acclaim, it appears, but, while it was dazzlingly fast, the playing of the first violinist was far more interesting, far more emotional.

During intermission, they offer free drinks, which seemed very civilized, friendly.  The audience had that warmth with each other that we saw everywhere.

The second piece was Scheherazade, which was really enjoyable.  Scherezade offers many opportunities for various instruments to shine, and the playing of each performer was outstanding. The conductor had each of the major players, oboe, clarinet, harp, cello, as well as first violin, take a bow. We then had a lovely stroll back to the hotel.

Amsterdam, Day 7, Utrecht

We took the train to Utrecht, only about a half hour away. There were several windmills along the train route, and cows and sheep. The animals are not fenced in. They seem to stay in their fields because of small canals bordering the fields, although I think I might have seen an electric fence along one of the bordering canals.

When you get to the Utrecht train station, the way out is through a giant, cheesy mall. The guidebook has a very funny description of it and also says they are fixing it so that you won’t have to go through dozens of tacky shops before being spit out into the medieval streets.

Utrecht is a university town, has been for hundreds of years. It has two-level canals, with the bottom level originally having wharves that connected to tunnels under the businesses that occupied the higher level. Very ingenious. I wonder why all canal cities don’t have such a system.

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imageWe headed first for the Catarijnen Convent Museum, which had an exhibit on Breughel and witches. It had only five or six Breughel works, but it went through the history of identifying witches and then their representation, for which Breughel was very much responsible: riding brooms, cauldrons, and black cats, but also oil from dead unbaptized babies’ fat and bones put on witches to allow them to fly, their entrance in and out of houses via the fireplace.  And, the Main de Gloire, the hand of a hanged man, preferably the left or the one that perpetrated the crime, with candles made from the dead man’s fat inserted into the fingers.  There were also beautifully drawn manuscript pages of witches and other Satanic things, including several of people kissing goats’ butts, which one does, apparently, if one is a Satan worshiper.  Perhaps television and video games are not such a bad thing.  It doesn’t seem like a great idea letting people sit around in the dark coming up with stuff on their own, does it?

Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page on Hand of Glory, recipe included, in case you’re of need:

The 1722 Petit Albert describes in detail how to make a Hand of Glory, as cited from him by Grillot De Givry:[9]

Take the right or left hand of a felon who is hanging from a gibbet beside a highway; wrap it in part of a funeral pall and so wrapped squeeze it well. Then put it into an earthenware vessel with zimat, nitre, salt and long peppers, the whole well powdered. Leave it in this vessel for a fortnight, then take it out and expose it to full sunlight during the dog-days until it becomes quite dry. If the sun is not strong enough put it in an oven with fern and vervain. Next make a kind of candle from the fat of a gibbeted felon, virgin wax, sesame, and ponie, and use the Hand of Glory as a candlestick to hold this candle when lighted, and then those in every place into which you go with this baneful instrument shall remain motionless.

There were many paintings of witches being daubed with oil as they went up fireplaces, naked on their brooms, with a Main de Gloire on the mantle.  It seems there was an adequate supply of hanged men’s hands and dead unbaptized babies!

One part of the exhibit described how women have been blamed for evils of many kinds, starting with the Adam and Eve story, and including disasters such as floods and terrible cold. That is what prompted a lot of burnings of witches, starting in 1430.  In this part of the exhibition, they had a pillory cloak, a wooden thing shaped like a cloak, covered in snakes and toads and with a seat inside to which the woman is chained and carried through the streets to be shamed before exile, usually for lust.  Oddly no pillory cloak for the other participant of such lust….

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There was also a metal broom/bicycle with a 3D movie running in front of it. You put on the 3D glasses and felt the wind in your face as you rode above a Harry Potter-like Utrecht.

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We had fries for lunch.  They had special tables to hold the cones of fries.  Fry shops are the fast food of The Netherlands, apparently.  They are everywhere.

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Then we walked to the outskirts of one side of town to see a museum about “Area C”, a poor neighborhood in the beginning part of the 1900s.

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Then we walked all the way to the outskirts of the city on the other side to see, first, the train museum, which had a lovely old interior.  We passed many lovely areas along the way, a beautiful town.

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There were some interesting trains from pre- and post-war, including a car that was used to transport people to a concentration camp. All the films about it were in Dutch, so I don’t know which one. It was really, really eerie being in it.

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In stark contrast was the royal family’s train from the 30s, with kitchen, bed-sitting rooms, offices, etc. All beautifully decorated in a modern, Northern European style.

Then we rushed to the Rietveld-Schroder House, built in 1924 (the same year as our Sears Dutch Colonial!) designed by the furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schroeder, for whom the house was built. Very spare, very spacious given that it’s not a huge house, with some very ingenious attributes, like the walls rolling out of the way to open up almost the entire upstairs from two bedrooms and a dining room to one big room.  No photography was allowed inside, so we just have pictures of the exterior.


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After that, we went back into the center of the town and had a really good dinner, including a wild boar appetizer and duck as an entree for both of us, but it took them over two hours to serve the whole thing.  I was so tired by the time I got the entree that I could have easily done without it.  Waiting that long completely ruins a meal.

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The walk back was lovely, in spite of how tired I was and how badly my feet and legs hurt.

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Amsterdam, Day 6, Oude Kirk and The Church in the AtticB

We didn’t hurry this morning, but got out about noon.  (It’s wonderful but also exhausting taking in so much all day!)  It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we decided to do a lot of walking.  We started out towards the Oude Kirk (Old Church).

We wandered past Amsterdam University, a really lovely corner of the city, even more lovely with the yellow autumn leaves in the canals.

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The neighborhood degenerates into the Red Light District, where we passed the notorious women in windows.  The other times we’d been in the Red Light District, we’d been on main streets, but we happened through some of the narrower streets on the way to the church, and so witnessed the windows.  It was very strange going past them.  Curiosity made me want to see what I’d heard about for so long, but I definitely felt like a voyeuristic, crass, American tourist looking at the women, as if by looking I was participating and, therefore, validating; and I definitely felt sorry for them that they had to do that, because there is no way anyone would choose that as a way to make a living, being on display as a product being the least of it.  Especially when you see the people on the street who are their customers.  Ugh.  It seems that Amsterdam is where the Brits, especially, come to get amazingly drunk and stoned and visit the Red Light District

What keeps coming back to me is how the women looked back at me.  The two that we saw made eye contact with me, and the look from both seemed to say, “You have a problem with this, bitch?”  And I found myself thinking, ‘I’m not a prude, legalizing prostitution solves a lot of problems,’ etc., etc.  But I realize that it is society, world-wides society, that would accuse me of being a prude because I’m far, far from OK with the fact that these women are in windows.  They do it, presumably, because they can’t do anything else, at least not for the same money.  But their customers are fine with treating them as non-persons.  And the legalization seems to give validation to that.  “Boys will be boys.  What can you do?”  Obviously, it is going to happen anyway, but should it be validated?  Should Amsterdam be a Mecca for sleazes?  (Yes, I am judging the customers.)  Another aspect of it is that these women pay rent for the windows, an hourly rate.  So these women have to have a few hundred Euros to start or have a backer.  You can bet this is still a form of slavery to pimps.  OK, I’m not saying anything new or earth-shattering here.  But I feel the need to say it.

Ironically, the Oude Kirk is in the middle of the Red Light District, with tattoo parlors and sex shops built right up against its walls.  However, there was a really sweet cafe built into the back of it with a lovely outdoor seating area.  And the people working there didn’t look askance at all that I ordered a sandwich without the bread.

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The Oude Kirk is the oldest building in Amsterdam, built in 1306.  It is quite spare inside due to the Protestants’ “Alteration” in 1566, when all “superstitious images” were purged from the churches.  But the light and space is just lovely.

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The choir stalls have carvings when the seats are folded up, many humorous, some bawdy.  Here is a guy hitting his head against a brick wall, a dog, and a man who can’t sit because he can’t choose between two identical chairs.

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From there we threaded our way past more women in windows to the Church in the Attic.  For some time, public worship of anything but Protestantism was banned, but private observance was fine.  So there were several houses with churches in the attic.  This house is a 17th century house, which was mostly preserved as it had been, but has been restored as well.  It was quite remarkable.

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The attic of the house, above and behind the church, showed a great pulley system to haul bales of linen, the house owner’s business, up to the storage part of the house.  It was very clever.  imageIt used the hoisting hook on the front of the house, ubiquitous in Amsterdam, with a roller so that a wheel could be turned to hoist or lower.  There was also a lovely view of the city from the attic.imageimageAfter that museum, we made our way to Wyand and Fockink, a genever-tasting bar.  (Jim gets all the credit for finding all these odd little museums, merchants, memorials, etc.  I never found time to do any research, but he did masses of it.)  We discovered genever (pronounced ya-nay-vfer, we were told today) our first day.  It is a type of gin produced only in Amsterdam, served in tiny tulip-shaped glasses.  I love it.  Wyand and Fockink has no seats.  You belly up to a counter where there is a bath for the glasses.  Take a glass from one customer, swish it in the bath for a few seconds, shake, fill, and serve to the next customer.  I told Jim that my dad would have been out of there with one look at that! image (It did give me pause, I have to admit, but I got over it. 🙂 )  We had been drinking junge (young) and oude (old) genever in restaurants, the old having a bite, the young smooth.  imageBut we tried the oldest of W&F’s genevers, the superior, aged in bourbon barrels, and it was really, really good.  So we bought a smaller bottle to drink here and a larger one to take home.  Jim’s smile is worthy of Frans Hals in this picture, don’t you think?image

We wandered around, looking in shop windows and checking out restaurants, ending up in the Jordaan district.  We had dinner at Lucius,  a seafood restaurant highly recommended by Zagat, but where the waitstaff were extremely snotty.  However, the fish was  amazingly good.  I had three sole, served whole and skinless, fried in butter.