Thursday, October 2, 2008

Oost, West, Thuis Best

I'm home. We managed to get into Charlotte yesterday, a little after 4pm. It was a loooooooong flight home-- around 10 hours or so. Lots of turbulence made it even longer. I like turbulence but standing in the plane rather resembled surfing. Thank god that I developed some sense of balance due to standing on trams and trains or going to the bathroom on the plane would have been impossible!!!!

ANYWAY....sorry that I skipped out on the last few days of the trip. We stayed in Leiden and Dutch's sister didn't have wireless internet. The post I made from Leiden was done on a stolen connection-- hey, I didn't know it wasn't THEIR network!!!!! I did make it to the Hague to see Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring". Incredible. She commands so much attention. But I have to admit it was "The Goldfinch" by Carel Fabritius that captivated me completely. Dutch's sister also felt I should see the Hague's Municipal Museum. And she was right. It was gorgeous. The building was built by Berlage (Dutch's favorite architect and famed for his creation of the "Amsterdam School" of architecture design) and is a work of art in its own right. But inside the collection is modern but not in the pretentious, artsy way. Best of all were the works of Piet Mondrian. I definitely gained a new appreciation for his work. Like the Van Gogh museum, the works are laid out chronologically so that you can see the progression of the artist. The earlier works are darker and appeal to me a bit more but they're all great. Most surprising to me was the deterioration of the canvases, especially those painted later, in New York. They are frayed at the edges, with the paint "yellowing" a bit. Amazing that the works of Frans Hals and others from much earlier periods should survive in such grand condition. Oh, there was also a fantastic exhibit of the works of the father and son painters, Jozef and Isaac Israƫls. It was in this exhibit that Dutch's sister and I kept walking into the rooms and moving towards the same painting. Evidently, she has the same exquisite taste that I have!! One piece in particular caught our eye-- "Amsterdam Girl". I've got a picture of it-- if I can finally get around to posting it.

Friday was the funeral. Cultural anthropologists sometimes say that to understand a culture, you need to understand their death rituals. I think that's probably true. The funeral was very short. We actually rode with the family as honored guests. It's most likely the only time I'll ever be in a stretch Mercedes limo! We left the funeral home and a man in top hat and full mourning garb walked in front of the limo. But he only walked about 100 yards before he got in the car carrying the coffin. He got out again when we arrived at the chapel and walked the last 100 yards or so. Weird. The family was ushered in, greeted the "guests" and then we filed into a room where the coffin was placed. The deceased brother spoke a few words. Carly Simon's "Coming Around Again" was played (it was her favorite). Finally, the family walked past the coffin and said their final farewell before the rest of the gathering did the same. Then everyone went out into the lobby and had coffee, tea, cake and cookies. It was rather like blah, blah, blah, let's eat! Not to say it wasn't somber-- it just felt so VERY different and very, very Dutch. Oh, and the family sends out death notices to all friends and family immediately following the death-- the day of or the day after at the latest. Who the HECK can think well enough to do that so soon after losing a loved one?? It also speaks to the practicality of the Dutch that they only bury their dead for 15 years. You can "renew" the grave for longer if you're willing to pay for it. But most people just allow their loved ones to be dug up and disposed of. It's not a matter of respect but a matter of space.

Enough on such gruesome matters-- time to move on!! Saturday, we went to Delft for a quick trip around a beautiful town. Dutch's mother was raised in Delft and he was excited to visit again after a number of years away. Dutch spoke fondly of time spent with his Opa, aunts, uncles and cousins and showed me where he played when he was young, as well as the place his mother grew up. I also made a pilgrimage there because of the town's connection to Vermeer. We went to OudeKerk and saw the original grave marker of Vermeer (his body was moved long, long ago to his mother-in-laws family crypt). We ventured to Nieuwe Kerk and saw the royal tomb of William of Orange, who was assassinated in Delft, and the marker for the entrance to the royal crypt for the "royals" of House of Orange-Nassau. I wanted to spend more time there, but we had to get back for a trip to Katwijk. That's right, we went to the beach!! Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!!! How many times have I used that word??? We had dinner at Key West, a restaurant right on the beach. (I had Schnitzel Key West-- chicken pounded very thin and lightly breaded, topped with warm brie and tomato.) We watched the sun go down over the North Sea before heading home for coffee, tea and cake.

Sunday we went with Dutch's sister's family to Panbos, near Katwijk but it's a completely different feel than the beach. It's a heavily wooded area that felt like being home, walking a trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Except that there's a tank wall built by the Germans-- a massive wall used as a line of defense against the allies that might try to land at Katwijk and come inland. It would have been a huge job to knock down this wall but the Dutch also keep these fortifications as a reminder. As I said before, it's these reminders that make the war and everything I've studied, real.

Monday, it was raining but that didn't stop us from returning to Haarlem for one last look around. We walked to St. Bavokerk to see the grave of another favorite painter of mine, Frans Hals. But I hadn't done my research (shocking, I know!!!) and we couldn't get close to it. We were only able to look through the locked gate of the chapel and see it. It's only opened on special occasions. Oh, well. What I hadn't anticipated was seeing one of the most beautiful pipe organs imaginable! It's said that this organ is one of the most beautiful in the world-- well, at least sound-wise. So beautiful in fact that Handel made a pilgrimage just to play on it. As did a young Mozart. I can't attest to the sound, no one was playing it for lowly tourists, but it is a work of art. After that trip, it was home again to pack and say final farewells before leaving on Tuesday.

Someday, I'll tell about our trip to Frankfurt and the odyssey of finding our hotel, but this post is already way too long! That's it. Except for the promised pictures. I'm working on those, too. Maybe tomorrow. Or Saturday. Or Sunday.

Right now, I just want to SLEEP.

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