Rijksmuseum

October 4th, 2014

Amsterdam2014-1893

Until the Dutch introduced art that depicted real people doing real things in the 17th century, painting consisted of insipid religious topics with unearthly looking malproportioned people. I struggle to generate any enthusiasm for suffering saints, and precociously wise infants.

Helst: Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster

I’ve been to Amsterdam multiple times during the last ten years, but its huge art museum was closed for an extensive renovation. After 10 years of interior and exterior upgrades, the Rijksmuseum reopened last year, and Elizabeth and I had a short afternoon to enjoy the paintings from the Dutch Golden Age.

 Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster

My favorite was a very wide environmental portrait, with the equally wide title Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster, painted by Bartholomeus van der Helst in 1648, it was one of several similar paintings we saw that had been commissioned by a town self-defense guild to hang on the wall of their club house.

 Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster

These are clearly real people, with all their whiskers and warts, some staring directly at the camera, others chatting with each other, and some preoccupied with dinner. All the little details are fantastic, and its such a compelling tableau, I could stare at it for hours.

Rembrandt's The Night Watch

If you are going to spend a couple hours in a museum like this, you might as well take in a Rembrandt or two. His version of the club room wall poster, The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out (more colloquially and conveniently referred to as The Night Watch) attracted huge crowds, but it wasn’t our favorite. Rembrandt isn’t necessarily…..a Rembrandt.

The Merry Drinkers

Another one of my favorites was Frans Hals’ The Merry Drinker. A long string of somewhat dour but competent wedding portraits seem to have been his bread and butter, but he broke out with a series of genre paintings, many of them humorous.  Its as if Hals had attracted the militiaman’s attention and quickly snapped the shutter (about 1/800) while the subject was in mid motion and not yet fully posed. Tilting glass in one hand, apparently emphasizing a point in a bawdy joke with the other, and with a cheerful, slightly surprised expression on his face, the image oozes life.  The composition is actually quite sophisticated.  Shot from a low angle, with one hand holding down each lower corner, the arms lead up to the face, with his torso forming a triangle centered in the lower half of the painting.  An oval shape tops this triangle. The face is powerfully located at the crossing point of an X formed by diagonals connecting opposite corners.  He did a terrific job with foreshortening, gracefully handling the significant horizontal distance and perspective challenge of maintaining correct proportions between the Berkemeyer glass in the foreground, and the drinkholder’s face.  The awkward task of depicting the obscured left arm is deftly accomplished, and perfectly believable.

Still Life with Cheese

As a younger man, I was totally unimpressed by the idea of a still life, but at this point in my aesthetic evolution, I found many of the static depictions of natural and man made objects quite compelling.  Floris Claesz van Dijck’s Still Life with Cheese is a surprisingly interesting painting in which the painter demonstrates a phenomenal ability to depict shape and texture. Just as every decade draws me closer to the complex flavors of aged cheese and whisky, I find myself increasingly able to spend time relishing the subtleties of a skillfully executed painting of food or flower (and what better evidence for Divine Providence than the simultaneous existence of aged Dutch Beemster and single barrel American Bourbon?).

Pieter Claesz: Vanitas Still Life with the Spinario

Pieter Claesz could certainly paint food with the best of them, but I was more interested in his vanitas still life. These moody still lives wallowed in symbolism, warning the viewer of the transience of earthly existence.

Judith Leyster: The Serenade   Van Gogh self-portrait

Judith Leyster has been accused of being an imitator of Hals, but I thought her portrait of a lutist in The Serenade had a surprisingly modern composition.  Shot upwards and to the left from a very low angle, her off-center subject’s relatively small face is adventurously looking outside of the frame.  Like many of the paintings from this period, her subject’s nose has a bright highlight. In my own photographs, I tend to Photoshop that out, but I’m revisiting that idea.

We didn’t get much time to explore the rest of the museum, other than taking a brisk 1 hour tour that swung past an 1887 van Gogh. Its interesting that in this self portrait, he also depicted the subject from a low camera angle.  I thought it was a nice picture, but maybe a bit too heavily Photoshopped. 

Beer in the Bar   Biking Through The Rijksmuseum

While Elizabeth visited the shop, I found a table in the café at one end of the bright and open new Atrium, created by glassing over the original Courtyard.  Visible one level up and spanning the center of the Atrium is the Passage, an externally open corridor popular with cyclists, who could be seen speeding past on their evening commute.

West Facade from Museumplein

Fiets Don’t Fail Me Now

September 27th, 2014

Aalsmeer2014-1967

I’ve always wanted to try biking in Amsterdam, and last week I borrowed a single speed bike from the Amsterdam CitizenM and took it for a mid-day trip to nearby Aalsmeer.  Designed for slow and comfortable urban use, upright bikes are an entirely different experience than the multi-speed road bikes I grew up with.  This design is hugely popular in northern Europe, and used by people of all ages for commuting, shopping, visiting, and otherwise enjoying the sophisticated network of bike paths.

Aalsmeer2014-1946

Starting from the hotel near Amsterdam-Zuid rail station, I headed south on one of Amsterdam’s ubiquitous dedicated bike lanes, headed west, and then followed a bike lane along the #5 tram line until I found one of the red and white bikers signposts that pointed me towards Aalsmeer.  

Aalsmeer2014-1998

Outside of one wrong turn at a point where the dedicated bike path was under construction, an error quickly corrected, I was easily able to make the 17km ride to Aalsmeer without the need for a map, let alone GPS.

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Surrounded by greenhouses and polders (reclaimed marshland), Aalsmeer is a lakeside town with an intimate relationship to water.  I rode through the town, and rode for several kilometers through a neighborhood that had countless boat yards and yacht basins, on both sides of the road.

Aalsmeer2014-1956

When I the road dead ended, I turned around to look for lunch.  I chose a lakeside café restaurant, In de Zotte Wilg (In the Crazy Willows), which had outdoor seating looking across the water.

In de Zotte Wilg

The ubiquitous fries.  With mayo.

In de Zotte Wilg

After lunch, I headed back through town and country. The bike trails north of Aalsmeer follow the top of the dikes that form the polders, providing a good view from a slow bike of fields and houses, some of which are below the level of the path. Noticing a windmill in the distance,  I decided to ride down a path on top of a different dike and check it out.

Aalsmeer2014-1972_3_4

Built in 1742, Stommeermolen (Stom Lake Mill)  is a poldermolen (polder mill), which used windpower to pump water from the polders, low lying reclaimed swampland that are often below sea level. The polder is the area to the left in the photo above. A paved bike and walking path follows the top of the dike, and the drainage canal lies just under the sedge along the right side, almost disconcertingly higher than the rooftops of the houses within the polder. The modern polder pumphouse is out of site behind the windmill.

Aalsmeer2014-1971

The neatly restored mill is now a residence, so it wasn’t open for visit, but a sign provides a cross section of the mill, illustrating how the wind drove a water screw to raise water from polder to canal level.

Aalsmeer2014-2005

My original plan was to do my original route backwards, but I was enjoying a fietspad (bike path) that follows a tramline that was shut in 1950, so I continued down the path along the edge of the Amsterdamse Bose (Amsterdam Wood), back into Amsterdam (with another short sidetrip to look at a windmill that is now a restaurant), and past an old station that houses a florist.

Aalsmeer2014-2007

After the dedicated path ended, I followed the northbound bike lanes along the Amstelveenseweg, an increasingly urban boulevard that skirted the edge of several green parks.

Aalsmeer2014-2012

I rode back under the Ringweg and railroad tracks, reentering Amsterdam about 1.5km west of the CitizenM.  I continued north until I crossed a canal, and then zigzagged through residential and commercial neighborhoods back to the hotel.  After a sunny 4 hours in Dutch city, suburb, polder, and park, I reluctantly applied my coaster brake for the last time, locked the heavy city bike, and turned in the key to the front desk.

Check in desk at CitizenM Hotel Amsterdam

The CitizenM is a sort of luxury 3-star hotel, an oxymoronic concept that works out pretty well if you are looking to save money on a trip, without compromising on hygiene or safety.

Our Hallway at CitizenM Hotel Amsterdam

We chose the one near the Amsterdam Zuid rail station, about 25 minutes to the Central Station on the #5 rail line.  We arrived at a high-tech self check-in counter, and a helpful young multi-national staffer walked us through the process.   Taking a pair of electronic room keys that double as bar tabs and luggage tags, we headed up to our room.  Walking down the hallway, you get a feel for the high-density approach that characterizes this innovative new hotel chain.

Back half of our room

The rooms are on the spartan side, with a high-tech euro-hip look that apparently doesn’t require closets. The back half of the room is dominated by the bedcouchthing, a wall to wall mattress topped with a duvet and a pair of pillows.  A small night stand with lamp is attached to the left front, and a small blog-writing desk with lamp is attached to the right front. A chair under the desk is the room’s only movable furniture.

Shower Cell CitizenM Hotel Amsterdam

The front half of the room is dominated by a pair of pods that look like transporters from a sci-fi movie. One of these is the shower cell, which only operates when the round glass doors are fully shut.

Throne Room CitizenM Hotel Amsterdam

The other pod serves as the throne room.  It actually does function without the necessity of fully shutting the doors.  But you might want to. A small sink stands close to the two cells with power sockets in three languages, a mirror, and room for a hairbrush and deodorant.  A curtain can be drawn between the plumbing section of the room, and the sleeping section.  Its small, but hip and efficient.

Bar and Food at CitizenM Hotel Amsterdam

 

The CitizenM doesn’t offer room service, but it has a lively bar with a food area that is available around the clock.  It has a small breakfast bar that runs almost until noon.  Evening always has one hot meal choice, and a set of prepared Japanese and Indian meals that can be microwaved.  The prepacked sushi doesn’t need heating.  The bar is well stocked.  And they’ve got free loaner bikes.

 

The Colors of Music

September 19th, 2014

Dirk's 'Instrument'

I had a very interesting encounter today with a synaesthetic Friesien.  After a long ride on a loaner bike from our Amsterdam hotel, I decided to cool off in Beatrixpark.  On the way in,  I’d noticed some obscure signage about an art project, so on the way back, I decided to investigate.

"The Colors of Music"

I first noticed a sort of modern Stonehenge, of upright white panels, each dated on what appeared to be the rear.   Entering the circle, I was confronted with a series of brightly colored panels, staggered in 3 concentric rings, but at first, the view just wasn’t coherent.

Off Center View

I recognized the artist, Dirk Halze, from the picture, still wearing the same hat, and he came over from his easel of plastic paint pots to chat.   He explained that when you were standing in the center of the circle, indicated by an orange plastic upright that was suitable for leaning on, that the panels became a contiguous panorama.  Moving to the center, the panels suddenly popped into alignment.

View from the Center

Dirk further explained that he had synaesthesia, and when he heard music, he sees it in color.  He’s a fan of Mahler, and this not-yet-finished project is a visual depiction of that composer’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major.  He also told me that he was from Friesland, apologized for being able to understand English better than he could speak it, and mentioned that he’d spent a lot of time in Germany.  I offered to speak in German, and that’s mostly how we worked it out.

Dirk Hakze at his easel

In 2012, Dirk premiered “The Colors of Music”  on the beach in Harlingen.  The current project, which is described as the 14th edition, was started on July 24 and will run until October 14.  An interesting experiment in the connection between the visual arts and music, I’m not sure the current location, sandwiched between a school, a parking lot, and a construction site, is as favorable, let alone noticeable to passers by, as a North Sea beach.  He’ll be performing further editions of “The Colors of Music” in Germany, and then in Austria, completing his tour in Vienna.

Barrel Racing

September 5th, 2014

 

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Elizabeth tells me that every girl in Texas wants to be a barrel racer.

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It had more competitors than any other event at this year’s Holmes County fair rodeo.

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Calf Roping

September 1st, 2014

Calf Roping

The Calf Roping was the best part of the rodeo at this year’s Holmes County fair.  There were a lot of contestants in an event that demands multiple cowboy skills.

Calf Roping

He’s got to lasso the calf from the saddle of a galloping quarter horse, which has to be well trained enough to instantly stop on a signal from the rider.

Calf Roping

and keep enough pressure on the lariat to keep the calf relatively constrained, but without pulling it over.

Calf Roping

Once the cowboy reaches the upright calf, he has to wrestle him down to the ground.

Calf Roping

Most of the contestants carried their piggen’ string in their teeth.

Calf Roping

Assisted by the horse, which is backing up to keep the lariat tight, the cowboy quickly ties together three of the calf’s legs. 

Calf Roping

Once he’s finished tying off the calf, the contestant signals with his arms to stop the clock.

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The cowboy has to remount his horse and wait for 6 seconds to demonstrate to the judges that the calf is completely immobilized.

Calf Roping

And then another calf shoots out the chute.