Friday. Walked to Nine Streets, looking in the windows at things I things I can’t afford, but enjoy admiring. Stopped for apple pie and coffee (it’s a Dutch thing) and drew a couple of postcards. Cranked up a Rick Steves’ audio guide of the Red Light district. It’s a hoot, like having your pastor show you around. The guide discussed the church while prostitutes tapped on the glass to attract customers; a different kind of window shopping.
Inside the church, I visited Saskia’s grave (the first Mrs. Rembrandt). An art installation was in progress in a side room, involving embroidery on church chair cushions. In another alcove, a black & white animated movie explored the effect of religion on the artist’s ancestors. Just outside the Lady Chapel, another film ran; a heavily pregnant, naked, brunette woman leaned forward and collapsed in slo-mo, falling out of the frame, the film maker’s response to the Virgin of the chapel.
Following that, I had lunch in the church’s café, out in the garden. A note on my plate informed me that my soup was made by (formerly) sex-trafficked women. Amsterdam seems to relish contradiction and thrive on containing multitudes.
More walking, and I nearly stumbled over the bronze breasts and hand underfoot. Such is Amsterdam that I can’t tell what the artist’s intention might be. Shame? Pride? Weighing fair measure for money paid?
Crowds increased, testosterone rose. Walked into the New Church to use the bathroom, stayed for an exhibition of the top photographs of 2014. http://www.worldpressphoto.org/ The impact was the emotional equivalent of a punch in the stomach. I felt gutted by the fifth image, but kept going until it was done. Soldiers under fire, a man making IED bombs, domestic violence, collapsed building victims, cancer-riddled athlete, Boston marathon bombing, tsunami aftermath. There’s a lighter side; nudists, a subsistence farmer stirring plum jam, hermits in rakish leaf hats, bonobos. My favorite; a man bringing a sheep home for a festival dinner. The ewe sits calmly in his car’s passenger seat. The image captures the moment the man behind the wheel lights his cigarette and you think, eh, that’s a really awkward blind date.
“Occupied Pleasures” photo by Tanya Habjuqua
Walk back to the B&B past men unloading and setting up scaffolding, barricades, and port-a-potties, gearing up for the first King’s Day in 129 years.
King’s Day, Saturday. In orange socks and my orange polka dot scarf, I walked toward the museum through the Vondelpark, which Amsterdam sets aside on this holiday for children and their families. It’s a cross between a PTA bake sale, a yard sale of outworn clothes and toys, and kids playing violins or guitars, with a hat for tips. Not bad at 9am, but inside of an hour even this park on the fringes geared up from busy to crowded to crushed. I skedaddled to the Rijks. Lucky for me, it meant the museum was not slammed and I had a great morning there.
Since I was here the other day, oversized yellow post-its have popped up. They are a commentary on a common response to the art, and what it might mean looked at from another angle. I start following these because so many of them echo what I’m thinking, then give it a spin. It feels subversive, and I like the way it jostles my thinking. Here’s an example.
When I walked back to the B&B around 2pm, there was blasting music from boats packed to capacity riding low in the canal, drunks everywhere, a sea of orange people. Population on the sidewalks was at capacity. Enterprising people are selling access to their toilet for 1 Euro a pee.
Welcome to the orange jungle.
Depending on your point of view the atmosphere was either enthusiastically festive or borderline mob. I got pushed into the street a few times by the oblivious throng. And this isn’t where the party is – that’s in the center.
I called it a day, lazed around in my room, read a book and wished King Willem-Alexander many happy returns of the day.