Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Second Day: Amsterdam, the Hague and Environs

Second day: We oversleep till 10 AM, awakened, this time, by a young man wanting to refresh our room. We stave him off, have
a hurried B&B breakfast of fruit, cheese and cold cuts, then we’re off, by tram, to Amsterdam Centraal train station for the 50 minute journey to Den Haag (the Hague, Part Two of Frank’s Vision Quest), home of the Mauritshuis museum, in turn home to Vermeer’s “View of Delft”,
said by some to be the greatest landscape ever painted, and his “Girl with a Pearl Earring." Frank is in “painting hog heaven”; I am cranky and hungry and still smarting from having had bike-bells dinged angrily at me and loud abuse shouted in my ear when all I was doing was walking down what seemed to be a perfectly ordinary sidewalk made of cobblestones with no odd markings or warning signs. I guess you just have to know. However, I settle in and find some of the paintings I use in my art history lectures, like the marvelous Claesz still life showing the dully gleaming skull with bad teeth which is so "all is vanity and striving after wind" and I educate Frank to the differences between Protestant and Catholic skies, one full of clouds, one full of naked babies. We discover Pieter Paulus who did a huge painting of a half-grown bull (in a pose that nicely shows off his large dangling parts) with a shiny green bullfrog sitting proudly in the foreground. The bull itself does not seem to be touching the ground—it appears that Paulus inexplicibly omitted the little shadows under his hooves that would tie him to the earth. I must note here that I took none of these pictures of artwork as none of the Amsterdam museums allow photography - the nerve of them not wanting people to be obsessively framing their smartphones in front of Dutch masterpieces! This is the only picture I took at the Hague, in the lady's loo, rather puts me in mind of the Paulus bull:Another museum rule we pay strict attention to is the one prohibiting visitors from intentionally preventing others from looking at the paintings, or, in other words "Bezoekers mogen anderen niet opzettelijk en langdurig de weg versperren of het zicht op de tentoongestelde schilderigen belemmeren." Although others seem to have no problem with standing in our way, do they?

As soon as one leaves Amsterdam proper, large glass and concrete buildings spring up like mushrooms in a moist and featureless plain riddled with canals.
Amsterdam appears to resemble Paris with its ring of bleak suburbs around the charming core. However, Frank is delighted to see young men playing American baseball, in uniforms yet, and some high spots in this misty landscape are the “trailer” parks, except the trailers are actually tiny wooden houses tucked into neat gardens full of blooming flowers, and we see the odd traditional Dutch windmill out the train window. Graffiti blurs by looking like it came straight out of Brooklyn.
The farms are laid out neatly between straight canals, giving the appearance of boats floating in the middle of green fields.

Returning to Amsterdam, Frank wants to go to a hash bar but can’t work up his nerve—I support his lack of nerve, not wanting to see him dissolve into nothing but a big cheesy smile. Or is that opium? To me, the high point in the day is finding an Istore and buying a special plug and cable for my Mac that will hopefully work in Spain also (but NOT in Britain, the trendy young Apple-man at the counter scoffs). After a luncheon of pre-packaged sausage (for Frank) and old broccoli and spotty cauliflower (for me) consumed on the train, we have dinner at a very good, but slow and spendy, seafood place. The oysters are excellent, however, and do not make Frank drive the porcelain bus all night as a similar meal did in Paris years ago. They seat us at an oddly placed table behind a huge vase of flowers and next to a large silver bowl of open wine bottles. Frank takes his revenge by pouring himself a glass of red "on the house" - even I didn't seem him do it! On the walk home we watch more giant chess. We note that the red light guy looks rather thuggish, and the green "walk" guy rather sluggish, probably demoralized by all the aggressive bikers. I myself have begun to twitch and flinch and swivel my head like a nervous bird every time I step away from our hotel door.

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