Van Gogh, and the search for Mountain Dew

19 Jan

(I was looking through our notes recently preparing another post. At this point we’re 12 days into our trip. At the end of each day we’d usually sit down and look through the day’s pictures together. Between our 2 phones and the 35mm digital SLR we’d taken 1,980 photographs by the end of the day described in this post!)

I got to try out the kitchen in The Collector the morning of our second day in Amsterdam after a brilliant night’s sleep. Well, ok… I tried out the kitchen after walking a mile or so in ever-widening circles trying to find a grocery to see if I could buy Julia a bottle of Mountain Dew. I found a bakery or two, but I kid you not gentle reader… aerospace companies were thicker on the ground than grocery stores in the area immediately around The Collector. I went back sans Mountain Dew and made omelets in the kitchen. We gathered ourselves and headed out to the Van Gogh museum.

A word on the photos on this blog. As a rule I try to make sure that I personally generate everything that appears in these (figurative) pages. I’m going to stretch that just a bit for this entry. There is no photography allowed inside the Van Gogh museum. Soooo… I took photographs of poscards we purchased of paintings we found interesting.

Our innkeeper Karel booked our entry to the museum online the previous day. The entry price for the museum is currently €15 for adults, with kids under 18 admitted free. On April 1, 2015 it will go up to €17. Check out the museum website here. There isn’t an online discount but you can select an entry time and walk past the queue. We left The Collector and made it to the museum in about 10 minutes on foot, during which time it started to rain, and walked directly inside without pause.

The museum in Amsterdam houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work in the world. At the time of our visit the pieces were arranged in roughly chronological order against neutral wall colors. The museum has recently undergone a 7 month renovation and much of the collection has been re-arranged. Additionally, several works are now displayed against backdrops of vivid colors, or even enlarged images of the paintings themselves.

SkullOfASkeletonWithBurningCigarette

Obviously I don’t hold the copyright on this one

Julia found a new favorite Van Gogh during our trip. Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette was likely painted sometime in 1886 while Van Gogh was studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He was bored with the classes and would later claim that he learned nothing. Julia finds this painting hilarious.

The image produced in a painting is really only half the story. Seeing a Van Gogh (Or most any painting really) in a book is like listening to music with only one headphone and the bass turned off. In person you can see the size of the piece, which may carry with it a message about the artist’s intention or circumstances. The Mona Lisa, for example, is tiny and by way of contrast is displayed opposite The Wedding at Cana, which is the size of a house. When you’re standing inches from the painting you can see the medium, observe the artist’s attack in the brush strokes (“Attack” is a particularly apropos term with Van Gogh’s work). At the d’Orsay in Paris and at the Van Gogh museum I learned that you don’t really look at a Van Gogh so much as experience it. This entire trip was chock full of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. I find I appreciate them much more now and I am very glad that Julia insisted we make the trip to Amsterdam.

We left the museum and began to simply wander. It was still raining off and on and I was still looking for Mountain Dew for Julia. We’d visited the two major attractions we’d come to see and so decided to simply soak up a little of the atmosphere. It was at this point that Julia decided she could speak Dutch.

Here’s the thing. It entered Julia’s head that if she simply put “-en” on the end of any random English word it became the equivalent word in Dutch. Problem is, it kind of worked. “En” is a plural form in Dutch and there ARE a number of words that are much the same, so everywhere we looked she was being proved right. She found this all manner of amusing.

Rivieren= rivers

Prinsen= princes

Armen= arms

Doctoren= doctors

Handen= hands

Amerikanen= Americans

See what I’m up against here?

We walked north and east, meandering along the canals and peeking into shops here and there. Amsterdam was founded in about 1250 around the dam that gave the town its name. “Aeme Stelle Redamme” translates from old Dutch to “Dam in a watery area.” Successive moats dug for protection wound up inside the city as it grew and were re-purposed for local transportation. Canal-building began in earnest in the 1600’s and swept in a great arc from west to east. When I asked Karel about the cleanliness of the water he informed me that it was his understanding that the water authority opened gates that allowed fresh water in from the IJ and Amstel rivers at night.  Before you get any bright ideas you should be aware that swimming in the canals is prohibited except for during two annual charity events. We saw purpose-built tourist boats on the canals making incredible precision turns in spaces I didn’t think possible and squeezing through channels and under bridges only inches wider or taller than their hulls.Day.12 (13)

Also, for what many in America would consider a European “Nanny” state, I noticed a marked lack of railings around the canals.

Parallel parking with CONSEQUENCES

Parallel parking with CONSEQUENCES

A number of people asked if we hit the Red Light district or one of the drug bars. Neither of these held any appeal for us really. Alcohol is our drug of choice and a pint of cider or a glass of wine or whiskey is quite enough. Our student tryouts for the varsity binge-drinking team are many many years in our past. Although we did find a shop that sold the most intriguing vases…

The National Monument

The National Monument

After ducking into the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch (Average food. I had a burger and Julia had chicken. We ended up there because it began to pour as we were passing, and a friend of mine collects the pins) we eventually found ourselves in Dam Square, where there was a carnival going on, complete with “Spuk House.” Yes, that means haunted house. The dam for which the city is named was built on this site in the 1200’s. As the dam was expanded over the years it grew large enough for a market square. It was for a long time the center of commerce and eventually government. The Netherlands National Monument also sits in the square.

We made our way back toward our B&B walking along the Rokin looking at the buildings and stopping in at P.G.C. Hajenius for a gift for a friend. The clerk offered to let me sample a few of their cigars in their smoking lounge, but I was still recovering from a near-miss with bronchitis and so declined (Although back in the states our friend Drew graciously let me have one of the cut tobacco cigars we’d given him for his birthday and it was quite good).

Oh yes, I nearly forgot…. the bicycles. The Dutch, at least the sampling of the population I was able to observe in Amsterdam, make great use of the bicycle for everyday transportation. Bikes are everywhere in their hundreds and thousands. In England I worried that I would step off a curb and get hit by a car after looking the wrong way before crossing. In Amsterdam I worried that I’d be hit by a bicycle. Anywhere. No matter which way I looked.

    We saw every manner of bike employed for every purpose imaginable. My particular favorites were the multi-passenger child transport models. Imagine a standard bicycle frame with a front fork that extended down and then out in front several feet with a wooden barrow equipped with rows of bench seats with straight backs and ending with the front wheel at its tip. They came in sizes from single, to three-seaters arranged bobsled style, and (Parked outside a kindergarten) a couple that could seat perhaps as many as five children.

I saw these last examples while out searching for Julia’s morning Mountain Dew. Sadly I did not think to take a picture and while I saw several others in use it is not advisable in any culture to photograph a stranger’s children without obtaining their permission ahead of time. Do an image search for bakfiets (“Tricycle” in Dutch) and you will see several examples of both the two-wheel and three-wheel varieties. You can also check out Work Cycles

Any activity you’ve ever witnessed a driver engaged in while behind the wheel of an automobile in America we observed a cyclist doing the same on the streets and sidewalks of Amsterdam. We saw men and women peddling along at speed while eating, smoking, talking on the phone, texting and yes, even putting on makeup. Bikes make up such a large proportion of the traffic on the city streets that they have not only their own lanes but their own traffic signals, which all the riders I happened to see ignored vigorously.

This is not grape Fanta. Ooooooh no... this is redcurrant Fanta.

This is not grape Fanta. Ooooooh no… this is redcurrant Fanta.

We walked across the Museumplein and stopped in at the grocery located under the southwest end of the park (Says “Supermarket” in huge blue letters above the door. Not sure how I missed it.). We picked up some fruit and meat for supper and some ice cream bars and went back to the Collector to write postcards and get ready to fly out the next morning. We’d intended to each have one of the ice cream bars after supper and leave the rest in the freezer for other guests. Turns out the refrigerator at The Collector doesn’t HAVE a freezer. That a full-size fridge wouldn’t have a freezer didn’t even cross my mind. I posted the cards from a silent square a block or so away. 

    

I never did find any Mountain Dew. 

Take good care.

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

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