Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Rotterdam is a very new-looking city in the southern half of the country.  You'll find no cobbled streets or old canal houses, and that's because the Germans carpet bombed it to get the Dutch to surrender in WW2.  It feels very different from the other Dutch cities I've visited, but it has a lot of quirky public sculptures and a very good art museum:  Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.  Despite the rather horrible name, I enjoyed this place immensely.  We went for a van Eyck exhibit, but also saw multiple drawings of the Spanish Civil War by Goya, a large painting by Han van Meegeren (more on that later), and a mirrored room that reminded me of an installation I saw in the Pittsburgh Mattress Factory a long time ago.

But before I found all that, I became enamored with the coat check system in the lobby.  By means of locks and pulleys you lowered a hanger from the ceiling, hung your coat on it, pulled the rope attached to the central cage to hoist it back up, and then locked it in place.  I've never had a fun and physics-filled way to hang up my coat before.  It was fantastic!  Inside the round cage were lockers to put additional bags--though those were just your standard locker.  But the whole experience felt like a participatory installation, and I really hope someday I find a museum in the states that does something like this.

But back to the art.  Han van Meegeren was an art forger whose chemistry was good, but whose ability was, well, crap.  Nevertheless, he fooled art historians into believing he had found lost Vermeer paintings, and he made buckets of money selling his forgeries to people leading up to and during WW2.  Including Hermann Goring.  After the war, when one of his paintings was found in Goring's possession, van Meegeren was charged with collaboration, and he chose to come clean.  Nowadays you look at one of his paintings and you think there's no possible way so many people were taken in by this guy, that it must be a joke, his paintings look NOTHING like Vermeer.  But I never expected a museum to own the fact that they purchased a van Meegeren.  I was floored when I turned the corner at this world renown art museum and found The Men at Emmaus, complete with a kiosk explaining in multiple languages the entirety of the van Meegeren fiasco.  But what I laughed at the most was the text panel that proved the museum had a sense of humor about the whole thing.  Art museums in particular need to work on the ability to laugh at themselves.

I mean how fantastic is that??  Anyway, if you want to learn more about the master forger, there are several books written about him, but I really enjoyed The Forger's Spell.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Amsterdam Jewish Quarter: Portuguese Synagogue

The building that defined the Jewish Quarter for centuries was the very large, blocky Portuguese Synagogue.  The design was based on the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.  It was built in 1670-5, and amazingly enough lasted through the centuries and the second world war intact.*  And we were able to go inside and look around.  I think it was the first temple I've ever been in.

*The building had already been given protected status by the city before the German invasion, which helped a bit, and during the occupation evidently the Gentile fire fighters who lived in the area were watching out for the synagogue.

Why Portuguese?  The Spanish Inquisition in the late 1400's forced the Jews living in Spain and Portugal to either convert, or leave.  Amsterdam was the ultimate settling place for a lot of them, almost a century later.  And as the Dutch were at war with the Spanish, all the immigrants called themselves Portuguese.

The Ark that houses the Torah scrolls.

In every synagogue there's a deliberate imperfection in
memory of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem .
Here it's a gouge in the beam next to the top of the column.

The women's galleries.  In all orthodox
synagogues, the women sit apart.

Crochet: Christmas Present for Liz

I haven't been sewing much lately, but I have been crocheting.  A lot.  I currently average 2 hours per day at it, as I'm trying to finish something for my grandmother's 95th birthday.  But this is a simple project I made for my mother-in-law for Christmas.  Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of her wearing it, but maybe next time.

Yarn: Manos del Uruguay silk blend fino.  30% silk, 70% wool.  Really soft feeling, definitely hand spun and dyed (the thread sometimes varies in thickness and skeins of the same dye lot may be a bit different in shade).

Pattern: Thistle and Beads Shawl by Charlotte Burton; found on Ravelry.

Alterations:  I followed the advice of KenyonNewbie and started my foundation row with 21 chain stitches instead of 3.  This made for a much less pointy top.  Also, when I felt the shawl was wide enough, but wasn't yet long enough, I switched to the instructions for the Thistle Stitch Scarf, creating several more rows without increasing the width.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Amsterdam Jewish Quarter

This past Sunday Dan and I explored the old Jewish quarter of Amsterdam.  One of the buildings we visited was the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a theater from 1892-1942 when it became a deportation place.  On the ground floor was a monument to all the people who didn't return.  Mostly, it was a list of names--6700 last names representing the 104,000 who were killed.  And as I do here, I looked for my last name.  And I found it.  I also found each of the last names of my three other grandparents.

Using the computer they had there, I did a bit more digging and found that 159 Slagers, approx. 300 Kleins, 21 Posts, and 1 van__  did not survive the Holocaust.

There's a really good chance I'm not related to any of them, but we share something fundamental.  And I don't think I had ever thought before about how the Jews living in the Netherlands were just as Dutch as I have ever been.  Their families had been in the Netherlands since 1811 when Napoleon forced the Dutch to take last names.  They were Dutch.  They were also Jewish, but they were Dutch, until they were just Jews.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Learning Dutch: vuilnis

There are some Dutch words that I particularly enjoy.  This was also true when I was learning German.  There was a time in college when I was seriously considering giving the middle name Schnurrbart to any future child.  For reference, it means 'mustache'.

Today's word is vuilnis.  It means garbage or trash.  While not a contender for future child humiliation, I like it because when you pronounce that strange combination of letters, it sounds like fowl-ness.  Which is an apt word for garbage.