David Pierce // Matematik (Mathematics) // M.S.G.S.Ü.


Nijmegen & Amsterdam, 2006


photo of St. Albans School The sixth grade of St. Albans School for Boys was divided into two classes. Each class spent time studying a particular country. Mr Bernard's class studied England, their teacher's native land. My own teacher, Mr Green, was a born American, but he had rediscovered his Dutch roots, and we spent our time with him studying The Netherlands.

Rembrandt self-portrait, 1659 Each boy in our class had to write a report on some Dutch topic, chosen from a list. I decided to write on a painter. (We were discouraged from picking philosophers.) Another boy beat me to Rembrandt, so I chose Van Gogh. I knew almost nothing about either one, although my father must have pointed out Rembrandts to me during visits to the National Gallery of Art. He could have pointed out Van Goghs also, but Rembrandt seemed more familiar to me. In any case, in writing my report, I learned a lot about Van Gogh, and Mr Green gave me a couple of Van Gogh reproductions from Dutch collections, which I still have. I didn't otherwise remember much about the country that we spent so much time studying that year, except that “God made the world, and the Dutch made The Netherlands”—that, and the Dutch National Anthem, which we learned to play on recorder.

That year was 1977. Twenty years later, my future spouse was finishing her doctorate in Manchester, England, and I was visiting her. We were invited to a wedding in a small town in Belgium. We decided to combine the wedding with a visit to Brussels or Amsterdam. We chose Brussels, on the basis that we would be more likely to visit Amsterdam in the future.

Now the future has happened. On Wednesday, July 19, Ayşe and I travelled to the Dutch city of Nijmegen, in the province of Gelderland. I had not heard of the city, though it claims to descend from a Roman camp. But this year, Nijmegen was the site of the Logic Colloquium. We took a train there from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. A week later, we took the train back to Amsterdam, where we stayed for four more nights, returning to Ankara on Sunday, August 6.

Excitement in the air

photo of Efes Pilsen bottle We flew on Turkish Airlines, via İstanbul. On July 19, we had taken off from Atatürk Airport there, and we were within an hour of Amsterdam; the flight attendents were serving a last round of drinks. Having asked for beer, I was given an Efes Pilsen. Efes is the Turkish spelling of Ephesus; the beer is good. Ayşe asked for beer too. When the attendent got out a can of Tuborg, Ayşe asked for Efes instead, and the attendent hunted for one.

Suddenly the plane shook violently. The attendent raised the tray-table of the empty seat next to me, and she sat down in that seat. I wondered what I should do. I couldn't very well raise my own tray-table while I had a can of beer in one hand and a plastic cup of beer in the other.

Then the beer from the cup was hanging in the air in front of my face. Without a seat-belt, I might have been hanging as well. The engines made the whine that, from movies, I associate with a plane going down. Some passengers screamed. I just said something like “Oh my!” or “Well!” It was hard to believe that this was not all a joke,—that we were not really on the ground being shaken in some amusement-park ride. In any case, I claim that I did not feel much fear. The situation was so strange that I was not prepared with a particular emotional response. Or perhaps I just knew that, if the plane really were breaking up, or we were otherwise going down, I could do nothing but sit tight and let it happen.

My response then was somewhat reassuring. Ayşe and I had been talking about how we liked flying less and less. The slightest bounce in the air, and we seemed to start thinking, “Oh no!” But when the big bounce came, we were not among the screamers.

The event ended quickly. The attendents cleared away the drinks cart. (Later they did bring Ayşe her Efes, after we had shared what was left of mine.) I looked around for my book; another passenger picked it up out of the aisle and handed it to me. Ahead of us, somebody wiped wine from the panel above his head. (The beer from my cup was soaked up by my pants-leg.) Strangers seated together started chatting with one other. I suggested to Ayşe that, having survived such a violent shaking, we would not in future be fazed by a little aerial turbulence.

I was wrong. The return flight to İstanbul was pretty smooth, but not relaxing. We did not fly through clear blue skies above the clouds, but through the same haze in which our outbound disaster had occurred. So we kept waiting for the next exciting experience.

The short hop between İstanbul and Ankara is usually not very pleasant. Going out, I thought the unpleasantness was because the 45-minute flight consists of nothing but take-off and landing. But our return flight seemed worse than these two combined events should require. A plane's descent can be so gentle that you hardly notice it. But when we were still half an hour from Ankara, we could see from the window that our plane was diving, and the engines sounded as if they were trying to take us down as soon as possible. The flight attendents franticly handed out sandwiches and salads, and then collected the remains. It had been hard to eat while one felt the need to brace for impact.

Soon we were on the ground safely, as usual, only to begin the most dangerous part of the journey: a road trip through Ankara. But there was nothing unnerving about that.

So was man meant to drive?


Leaving that question aside, I return to Nijmegen, where the bicycle is the best means of transportation. The colloquium organizers had provided a list of bed-and-breakfasts there, but they were all full by the time I called them. I had already tried to reserve a room through the website of the Nijmegen VVV, but I had received no response. The cheapest hotel where the conference agent would reserve a room was the Hotel Erica, outside Nijmegen proper in the bedroom community of Berg en Dal. We reserved a room there independently with Bookings.nl for a lower rate.

We got to Hotel Erica by taking a bus from the Nijmegen train station. First, from a shop in the station, we bought a strippenkaart of fifteen strips. With his stamp, our bus driver cancelled three strips for each of us: one for getting on the bus, one for getting off, and one for crossing a border. I was surprised not to be using a card with a magnetic strip. The driver would have sold us three-strip cards, at a higher cost per strip. As it was, with our fifteen strips, if we didn't use up our remaining nine strips in Nijmegen, we could use them in Amsterdam.

Our conference started at Radboud University on Thursday. There were busses arranged between the hotels and the university, but we didn't use the morning bus after the first day. We could walk to the university in an hour or so,—less, once we got a map showing how we could walk straight through the forest instead of following the bicycle path that paralleled the car road around the forest. In the evenings, not wanting to eat in the hotel restaurant, we took the conference bus to the city center.

We walked to the city center on Thursday afternoon. We visited Museum Het Valkhof. The most impressive holdings to me were in archeologie, associated mainly with the Roman camp of Novio Magus that was the beginning of the city. There were also sections for oude kunst and moderne kunst.

Each of us bought at the museum, for € 35, a Museumkaart, giving free entrance for a year to museums all over The Netherlands, including the museums in Amsterdam that we would want to see. It turned out to be a great deal, which is perhaps why the card is not advertised to foreign tourists, and all literature associated with the card is in Dutch. The application form in particular was in Dutch, but the woman at the museum told us how to fill this out. She then gave us our cards, and we used them to enter the museum.

The woman also gave us a book of English translations for all of the texts on the walls of the museum. Nijmegen perhaps does not attract many foreign tourists. In the War, both sides destroyed most of the city, so there is not much that is old. The guests at our hotel seemed to be Dutch, except for the other conference participants.

The Kröller-Müller Museum

Van Gogh's Evening landscape with haycocks: rising moon The conference organized an excursion on Sunday to National Park De Hoge Veluwe. I wish we could have arrived in the morning, instead of lunchtime. The park is 55 square kilometers of grass, dunes, and forest. A thousand bicycles are available free to visitors. But we didn't have time to take advantage of these, since the park is also home to the Kröller-Müller Museum, with its large collection of Van Goghs, and its enormous sculpture garden.

Van Gogh's Potato Eaters Mr Kröller had bought the land for hunting, though we didn't have time to see his hunting lodge either. His wife, née Müller, was buying Van Goghs and others as early as the 1920s (as I recall from the labels in the museum). There were too many Van Goghs to display at once in the museum. Probably that is why we did not see Evening landscape with haycocks: rising moon, which was on one of the posters that Mr Green had given me. The Potato-eaters was on display; so we were confused when we saw it again in Amsterdam. The Kröller-Müller painting seems to be a preliminary version. There was also a colorful erotic Van Gogh nude from a recent bequest; I had never known that such paintings existed.

I enjoyed also a room of works of Mondrian, showing the development of his style from an early landscape. A group of women conversing loudly entered the room as I was first enjoying the paintings; I left and came back later. But the whole museum was crowded. The crowds were remarkable for a place far from any great population center. Then again, one can visit the museum on a day-trip from Amsterdam or just about anywhere else in the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of Germany.

Rodin's Burghers of Calais We might possibly have done better to spend some of our time enjoying the open spaces of the park. We did tour the sculpture garden, though even it was too big for a complete tour. Some of the works there are recent additions, made expressly for the garden. These tend to be minimalist; hence they can make one wonder what kind of scam the artist is working. But much of the Kröller-Müller sculpture garden is more like a sculpture forest, where minimalism seems to fit. It might not make much sense to stick a grand figurative work, such as one of the world's twelve copies of Rodin's Burghers of Calais, in the middle of the woods.

Christo, 56 barrels The Kröller-Müller does have a Rodin, according to its website; but I do not remember seeing it, and it is not one of the 34 large works indicated on the map in the museum brochure. The museum has a large reclining nude, L'Air, by Aristide Maillol; she is not in the woods, but is out on a lawn. Among the trees were the simpler works, such as a sort of small castle called Brick sculpture for Kröller-Müller, 1988, by Per Kirkby. This work has columns at its base, and I walked through these. I copy the title, year, and artist from the museum brochure. The Brick sculpture is not one of the seventy-odd sculptures from the Kröller-Müller photographed at the Public Art Research Archive of Sheffield Hallam University. Neither is the Maillol or the Rodin. The illustration that I borrow from this archive is a pile of barrels by Christo.


The night before the last day of the conference, Ayşe and I went to a small gathering at the house of one of the organizers. On the map, the house seemed close to our hotel; but the house was closer to the river than our hotel was, which meant that the house was down a hill. There are indeed hills in the eastern Netherlands. We took a bus from the train station to reach the house. At the end of the evening, we could have walked home through the woods, but it was dark, there was no moon, and we didn't know the way. Our host offered us a lantern, but I didn't want to take responsibility for it. We stuck to the paved roads, but made a couple of false turns into cul-de-sacs or loops not shown on our small map. We eventually reached the right road and slogged up the hill in the drizzle. At the top, we were soaked through by a downpour.

At least the land would welcome the rain. When had we arrived in Nijmegen, all of the trim lawns that we saw were brown, and the bushes beneath the trees on the university campus were wilted. Locals confirmed that the country was in the midst of a drought. So the drought broke, at least partially, while we were there. After another soaking later in Amsterdam, we saw some ponchos on display and we bought them, but there was no more rain after that.


We were glad in Amsterdam to have the Museumkaart. It meant we could bypass the queue for tickets at the Van Gogh Museum. We did this soon after arrival on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 2.


We had first tried to bypass the long queue at the Rijksmuseum, but were told that this was not allowed. Next morning, we learned why. The original building of the Rijksmuseum is closed for renovation. In a new wing are being displayed some Dutch masterpieces of the 17th century—the Golden Age. There is not room in the new wing for all of the tourists who want to enter.

Rembrandt's Night Watch More precisely, there is not room, late in the morning. The Rijksmuseum now opens at nine. But guidebooks (like ours, The Rough Guide to The Netherlands) say it opens at 10. So we sailed into the galleries at 9.30 on Thursday morning. Once inside, we took our time with the works on display; when we did eventually reach the Rembrandt galleries, they were too crowded for appreciation of the paintings. And there was a queue for getting in to see the so-called Night Watch.

I make two recommendations to museum directors:

—Forbid all photography at crowded times. Tourist, if the painting does not inspire you just to look at it when it is sitting in front of your eyeballs, what are you going to do with the image you make with your camera-phone? At the Kröller-Müller, somebody had been methodically photographing each of the Van Goghs one by one: a hand holding an electronic camera would appear in my field of vision as I tried to look at the pictures. Jeez, Buddy, why don't you go to the shop and spend a few euros on a book of reproductions? Are you going to use your electronic photos to illustrate a webpage where you tell everybody how great it was to be in the presence of all of those great paintings, even though all of your time there was spent looking at your camera? (All of the images on this webpage come from existing websites, belonging to others.)

—In the Rijksmuseum, get rid of the Peter Greenaway Nightwatching room and the lights dancing over The Night Watch itself. It seems Greenaway has a theory that The Night Watch is a murder indictment, in retaliation for which, Rembrandt lost his commissions and went bankrupt. In one whole room at the Rijksmuseum, the visitor hears a voice stating this theory, without justification, while images from various Rembrandt paintings are flashed all around, along with what may be images from Greenaway's upcoming movie. The text from which the voice is reading fits on a card, available in the room. So keep the card and ditch the sound and light show. In the next room is The Night Watch itself, filling one wall. On the opposite wall are banks of seats. The room starts to darken, the guards tell you to sit, and then the canvas is illuminated in various ways, to highlight key figures, or to give the appearance of a searchlight sweeping the scene. Is this all supposed to be an aid to visitors who grew up watching TV? Is there really no better way to raise interest in the Rijksmuseum collection? If some visitors would otherwise pass by The Night Watch in a few seconds, why not just let them, leaving more space for the rest of us?

Until my recommendations are implemented—soon after this page goes on line, surely—you should buy a Museumkaart and visit the Rijksmuseum as soon after nine as you can, as many mornings as you can. We did this for three mornings.

Rembrandt's Mill An exercise that I use in art museums is to ask which of the works on a wall or in a room is the best, and why. Making this now an intercontinental exercise, I confess that, as far as Rembrandts are concerned, I prefer those of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The Night Watch is a grand display of talent, the work of a virtuoso. I remember a young Canadian violinist in concert at the Phillips Collection in Washington, doing amazing things with his fingers as he played Paganini; he grinned at the audience as he acknowledged our applause. Amazement over the skill displayed distracted from simple enjoyment of the music. So it seems with The Night Watch. The National Gallery's Mill invites you into itself only as far as you wish to go. In the Gallery's Self-portrait of 1659 (above), Rembrandt just lays himself bare, for ridicule or sympathy.

Vermeer's Kitchen Maid My favorite paintings in the Rijksmuseum were the Vermeers, in particular The Kitchen Maid and The Little Street. (I must have seen these in Washington too, in an exhibit too full of people.)

Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance Vermeer has this trick of using little white dots to make objects gleam. Looking at some of his pictures, one can think that all the artist is doing is using this trick. See for example the pearls in the Woman Holding a Balance—in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Those dots are all over the bread in the Rijksmuseum's Kitchen Maid too, but they have more than a visual effect: they make me feel and hear the crunch of the crusts. I appreciate also that Vermeer is paying attention even to nails in the wall.

Vermeer's Little Street The Little Street is odd because at its center is a boundary between a façade and space. In painting that façade, Vermeer could have been following the advice found in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There, Robert Pirsig's alter ego Phaedrus talks to a student in his university rhetoric class:

[Phaedrus had] been innovating extensively. He'd been having trouble with students who had nothing to say. At first he thought it was laziness but later it became apparent that it wasn't. They just couldn't think of anything to say.

One of them…wanted to write a five-hundred-word essay about the United States. He was used to the sinking feeling that comes from statements like this, and suggested without disparagement that she narrow it down to just Bozeman.

When the paper came due she didn't have it and was quite upset. She had tried and tried but she just couldn't think of anything to say…

It just stumped him. Now he couldn't think of anything to say. A silence occurred, and then a peculiar answer: "Narrow it down to the main street of Bozeman." It was a stroke of insight.

She nodded dutifully and went out. But just before her next class she came back in real distress, tears this time, distress that had obviously been there for a long time. She still couldn't think of anything to say…

He was furious. "You're not looking!" he said…

He told her angrily, "Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick."

Her eyes…opened wide. She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana.

Mother's Duty Bedroom Let me finish with the Rijksmuseum by contrasting one of its Pieter de Hooch paintings, Mother's Duty, with the National Gallery of Art's Bedroom. They are paintings of the same room, at different times of day, with different shutters open. I prefer the Bedroom. Is it because the soft reflection on the floor of the rear room is superior to anything in the other painting? Is it because nit-picking, though a mother's duty, is not a particularly moving subject? The mother and child in the other painting seem to share something more mysterious. Anyway, I grew up seeing the Bedroom in a children's book (one of the Childcraft volumes) that pointed out the golden rectangle formed by elements of the doorway.

Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum had a special entrance for holders of the Museumkaart, but beyond the ticket-counter, everybody had to queue up together to pass through the metal detectors. (I think these were the only metal detectors we saw in the city.) I had forgotten to put my Swiss Army knive in the backpack I had checked, but a guard said it didn't matter, as long as I didn't plan on using the knife in the museum. So we entered the display area, to find that we must enter another queue if we wanted a close look at the paintings.

The Cottage Most of the Van Goghs in the museum are arranged in a continuous chronological line, from one room to the next. In the first room, the crowd of people looking at the paintings was so dense that one could not skip ahead in the chronological order. Well, that was OK; we wanted to see all of the paintings anyway. But one did notice tourists who were taking up space without looking at anything. We saw the original&mdashThe Cottage—for the other poster that Mr Green had given me: the poster that had helped me understand the dark period that came before the light.

We have now at home the book from an exhibition in Washington of paintings from the Van Gogh Museum. From the dates printed there, I gather I saw the exhibit after I had come from Turkey in December of 1998, and before I moved to Hamilton, Ontario, in January, 1999. Looking at the book now, I don't recognize a lot of the paintings. Did I have museum fatigue that day in Amsterdam, so that the paintings didn't make much impression?

Boulevard de Clichy A founding principle of the National Gallery of Art is that it can display only great paintings. Its few Van Goghs are gems, except for one that they don't display much. The Van Gogh Museum has the paintings that were never sold. One then sees that some of the man's early attempts at a new colorful style of painting were not very successful. I thought the Boulevard de Clichy was an example, but it looks pretty good now in electronic reproduction.

Landscape at Twilight Further along in the chronological order, there were more definitely successful works like Landscape at Twilight, whose glowing golden sky does not seem to show so well in preproduction. But my favorite in the collection, remembered from the Washington exhibit, was to be found in our second visit to the museum on Saturday, in a newer building reached by underground concourse, in an exhibit of Japanese Meiji objets d'art.

Almond Blossom
On Saturday, the guard made me check my knife.


Our hotel in Amsterdam was the Janson, near to the Museumplein and hence to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. (Also the Stedelijk Museum, but it was closed for renovation.) Each day, we walked from the hotel further north into the old city. On Thursday, after the Rijksmuseum, we visited two seventeenth-century houses, on the Emperor's and Gentlemen's Canals respectively: they are open to the public (freely to Museumkaart holders) as the Museums Van Loon and Willet-Holthuysen. The former was lived in more recently and retains more of the feeling of a house. The latter is in part a place to display art. Mr Willet was an aesthete who lost his first art-collection, then married Miss Holthuysen and used her money to buy a new collection. The wife outlived the husband. Her will gave the house and the collection to the city, provided they be kept together. This may have been an inconvenient requirement to follow, since the collection contains, for example, stacks of matching dinner plates. The collection also contains some paintings of peasant women; I liked seeing these. I was a bit disturbed by the caption to a painting featuring cattle and a woman: the caption suggested discreetly that Mrs Willet used the word "beasts" to refer to people, or to peasants, rather than the cattle.

The Van Loon is “just” a house. It has odd features, like a false doorway in a wall opposite a true one, for “symmetry”. In one bedroom, when you close the door, then the door appears to be right in the middle of one wall, directly opposite the fireplace. But the true door is shifted over a bit; you can trace out its lines. Symmetry—appearance—rules again.

The coach-house behind the Willet-Holthuysen house is gone; the one behind the Van Loon is still there, but in other hands than the museum's. The façade seen from the house garden maintains the appearance of a temple of Jupiter (if I remember the god correctly). One sees curtains through the upper windows…We had to go look again after learning that those curtains were merely painted on—that the Van Loons had blacked out the windows so that servants could not observe assignations in the garden. According to the Rough Guide, high-ranking Nazi officials were entertained in the house during the Occupation. The video narrated by the last resident does not discuss this.

Shoes and potatoes

Between visits to the Museums Van Loon and Willet-Holthuysen, we stopped by De Appel, which to us was no more than a labelled spot on the map in the Rough Guide and an item on the list of places that the Museumkaart gave access to. It was a space for contemporary projects. Our entrance triggered a recording in Dutch and English; no human seemed to be about. We found an exhibit involving the Brinco shoes of Judi Werthein, designed to be useful to people sneaking into the United States from the south. (They come with a compass and a map of the border.)

The ticket booth was upstairs. I think the regular entrance fee was € 6, but our Museumkaarts were accepted. Then the woman asked us what she should charge the next visitors: Should it be € 6, 4, 2, or 0? We could only say things like “People should pay as they wish” or “The museum should be supported, but everybody should be able to see what's here.” These answers were not acceptable. I decided that this was the museum's game, and I was not going to tell people what they had to pay; I said “Zero.” The woman didn't seem to like that, but she replaced the card of prices with a new card showing € 0 as the regular entrance fee.

Beyond the booth, there was an exhibit about some sort of homemade flying machine. Out on a terrace were some potted potato plants, all of different varieties. The artist had been inspired by learning that some traditional potato varieties could not be sold in the E.U. because they had not been properly registered; other varieties could be sold only after payment of royalties to an owner.

When we left the museum, we saw that the entrance fee was now € 2; the woman said that another visitor (unseen by us) had made the change. She also swore that we had not been videotaped as part of a new art project.

Hermitage Amsterdam

Writing box of Stadholder William III of Orange Our last museum for that day was the Hermitage Amsterdam. A Nijmegen conference participant from Bombay had tipped me off to its existence: it seems to be too new for our 2003 edition of the Rough Guide. What a brilliant idea, I thought: Let Russia earn some money by sharing some of the fantastic treasures of the Hermitage with people who can't make it all the way to St Petersburg. But all that's in Amsterdam now is silver filigree from the czars' collections. “All that's in Amsterdam now”! They are rich treasures, and the delicate construction of those boxes and bowls is certainly fascinating. They just don't do much for the proletariat.

The café at the Hermitage was nice; we sat there having coffee or cake, hoping that the rain outside the window would stop. It was a quarter hour till closing time, and the rain didn't look like stopping, so I urged us just to go. We did and we got soaked. But Amsterdammers in nice clothes rode their bicycles along and got soaked as well. The rain let up as we got near our hotel and we found ourselves passing through a street bazaar that was just about over for the day.

Historical Museum

On Friday, after that day's visit to the Rijksmuseum, we headed up to Amsterdams Historisch Museum. Its first room explained why people would settle on land below sea level. They didn't, but the land subsided (I think because the peat in the land decayed when plowed and exposed to air). There are two layers of sand beneath Amsterdam: the piles on which older houses are built reach the upper layer, while the piles for newer, taller buildings reach down to the lower layer—where the new subway line is being built.

So much for the first room. Later rooms had more and more works of art, too much for us to digest before lunch. We saw the Rembrandt of a dissection of a man's head. We planned to return later, to see things more thoroughly, but we didn't have a chance. It's too bad; back in Ankara, a friend in the history department praised the museum.

Rembrandt's House

After lunch, we visited the Rembrandt House Museum. From the introductory video there, we learned that the interior of the house had been completely remade around the turn of the nineteenth century. A few years ago, the house was restored to what it must have been like when Rembrandt lived there. The man's own sketches were used as a guide. The turn-of-the-century interior was given to another museum, which specialized in that period.

The video is shown in the building next door. Then one enters the ground floor of Rembrandt's house, where the kitchen is, and proceeds upwards. The paintings on the wall are from Rembrandt's collection, or could have been. The catalogue listed some paintings by the man himself, but they didn't seem to be on display. Some that looked like Rembrandts were attributed to his pupils. We saw the studio, whose northern light had been emphasized by the video; and we saw the room full of artefacts and natural curiosities (pieces of armor, tortoise shells) that might have been used in some paintings.

In the attic begins an etching exhibit that continues over to the new building next door. One learns a lot about the ways that Rembrandt could use copper plates to achieve the effects he wanted. The exhibit is informative, but specialized. I suppose etching was a way to mass-produce images (although the exhibit discusses how each image is still different). Now we have more ways. Portrait of a Woman, 1634 I don't know whether anybody today tries to cultivate the etching skill that Rembrandt had. Maybe somebody does; but it might be like studying smithing or coopering. Painting like Rembrandt might be similarly obsolescent; but it shouldn't be. With what other medium can one create a person on canvas, as Rembrandt could? Again I go to the New World for my example. While the National Gallery of Art shows only the best, other museums cannot. The Speed Museum in Louisville has a number of run-of-the-mill Dutch portraits—and this one Rembrandt, Portrait of a Woman (recently identified as Marretje Cornelisdr. van Grotewal), who ought to be in a room by herself, except that, juxtaposed with the other works, she helps show how special Rembrandt is. The Rembrandt House etching exhibit shows the man's craftsmanship; I'm not sure that anything we saw in Amsterdam really showed Rembrandt as an artist.

Old and New

Leaving Rembrandt's house, we continued further uptown, into the old center. Beyond Nieuwmarkt, we found ourselves in the Chinatown, and we had a look inside a Buddhist temple there. Some candles were burning, with tags attached; some of the tags appeared to name something that somebody wanted, like “an apartment in Groningen”. Around the Oude Kerk, we found large windows facing the church; inside, if one looked, one might see women in underwear. “What? Why are they exposing themselves in that way? Oh yeah, this is the Red Light District!” At a café nearby, some skinheads were drinking beer and perhaps smoking joints. Surmising why they were there, I thought that prostitution was not such a great career choice, even in Amsterdam.

In The Netherlands, it appears, one buys one's marijuana in a “coffeehouse”; for coffee only, you could look for a koffiehuis. The Rough Guide advises you to avoid the coffeehouses in touristy areas, but it does recommend some good places for a spliff or too. So does the brochure for Mike's Bike Tours that we picked up at the hotel. Outside one coffeehouse that we passed, the members of what appeared to be a cleancut family with teenage children were sitting around smoking handrolled cigarettes; Ayşe noted the sign in the window, saying “Please roll your joints inside!”

Some tourists that we saw were white boys with dreadlocks. I fancied I knew why they were in town, although if somebody fancied the same about me, he would be wrong. Usually, at the Logic Colloquium—in Athens last year, for example—, the local organizers prepare a few pages about things to do in town. I had been curious to see whether the Nijmegen organizers would provide any advice on coffeeshops. I asked some other conference participants whether they knew anything about coffeeshops, but they didn't know what I was talking about. I decided to drop this line of enquiry, lest anybody got the wrong idea.

After leaving our last museum for this visit, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we heard loud disco music. We wondered what it was, until we remembered the gay festival that was supposed to be taking place. We had seen a gay pride parade in Washington a few weeks before, but had wondered where in Amsterdam a good parade could be held, since the streets were so narrow. Well, duh. In Amsterdam, with its canals, parade floats can really be that. The disco music was coming from canal boats.

Earlier in the day, we had seen some beer-tables being set up, with open-air doorless urinals nearby (designed for men only, it seemed). We passed among a lot of beer-drinkers in the afternoon. On the tram the next morning, as we were heading to the station to catch a train to the airport, when the tram doors opened, I could smell stale beer. Amsterdammers can party as they always have.

David Teniers, Peasants Celebrating Twelfth Night, 1635
For the record, I observe that, claims in the Rough Guide notwithstanding, I did not find Heineken to taste better in its country of origin. I preferred Grolsch.

On Friday, after passing through the Red Light District, we entered the Nieuwe Kerk, which had an exhibit on fashion. A vacuous subject for a vacuous place. I thought the church might be abandoned as such, but a sign somewhere mentioned that it was used for royal functions. Beneath the altar are the remains of a war hero.

Two more museums

On Saturday, before the festival, but after visiting the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum for the last time, we went to the Jewish Historical Museum. It is apparently built in a number of contiguous old synagogues. One of these was being renovated, so perhaps the exhibit space was curtailed. There were exhibits on Judaism itself, with videos available on demand featuring interviews with Jews about what they do for Purim, say, or Passover. One woman said her life was so busy, she had to start cleaning house a month and a half in advance to be ready for Passover. Her husband appeared in the video too, dusting the blades of a ceiling fan. A review of the history of Jews in Amsterdam told of Ashkenazi Jews fleeing pogroms, and Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.

The historical exhibits ended before the War. But then we went to the Dutch Resistance Museum. It was engrossing, even if not all Dutch texts on display were translated into English. The Nazis wanted the Dutch to accept them as blood brothers; when that didn't happen much, they grew harsher. Exhibits invited visitors to consider whether they would take the risk of sheltering Jews, or young men who refused to go to work in Germany. One exhibit pointed out that some Protestants were not sure whether it was moral to resist, so they wrote to Karl Barth in Switzerland, who told them that resistance was not only moral, but obligatory. I thought, “Doesn't being Protestant mean making up your own mind about these things?”

There were displays on counterfeiting identity papers. Fake documents could not be completely effective when the original records were still available in the archives; so some resisters set about destroying these. Some resisters went to the level of murdering collaborators. After the ultimate failure of Operation Market Garden (initially successful at Nijmegen) in September, 1944, the Dutch endured a winter of starvation before liberation. At the end of the exhibit, the Dutch national anthem played; recognizing it, and knowing what it must have meant then, I fought back tears.

Another exhibit concerned the Dutch Empire. We thought its purpose might be to show resistance to Dutch domination. It mainly concerned the brutality of Japanese occupation, and we didn't give it much time.

We flew home to Ankara, to contemplate our Netherlands visit in tranquility. I pored over the 17th-century Dutch paintings in the National Gallery of Art book. I prepared this web page.

Son değişiklik: Tuesday, 12 June 2012, 14:47:21 EEST