Sunday, June 24, 2007
But this, naturally, is not the whole truth. In fact, just five minutes after seeing Amber off at Schipol airport, I had in my hand a 3 euro trian ticket to Leiden, a twix bar, and a baguette. I spent four hours in Leiden walking along its canals, which are of varying sizes and shoot through the city at various angles. Their market was strung out along both sides of one of the main canals, and it was the largest market I have yet seen. I could not resist ordering a giant stroopwafel, but I was actually dissapointed, because the syrup was more of a molasses than a caramel. I was forced to discard over half of it in a little trashcan along the main shopping pedestrian zone, just as the sky broke into a short rain.
Particularly impressive are the 15th century Hooglandse Kerk and the 14th century Pieterskerk. The former church is now largely empty inside and very plain, but its gothic style allows for a breathtaking elevation as light pierces the emptiness in a way the generates a feeling of peace and clean. The latter church was not open due to major restoration. Its massive size is impressive and it is knotted into a neighborhood that has grown up around it, even onto it like barnacles on a hulking anchor. One could almost hear the echo of the way the community must have pulsed around this church - but even now in such a secular age it seemed yet alive and essential - if you were to pull it away, the whole sweater of Leiden would come unraveled.
Also of note in Leiden are the poems painted on the sides of buildings in all sorts of languages - Japanese, Russian, Spanish, French, Latin, and even Dutch. The city is home to a great university founded in 1575 by William the Silent (William of Orange) as a reward for the city's heroic defenses against the Catholic Spanish the year before.
Hugo de Groot lectured at Leiden University. He was a key figure in the development of modern philosophic liberalism - developing the principles that he hoped would put to rest the religious wars ravaging Europe (it is about such matters that William was said to be "silent" - a position that would come to be known as modern liberal democracy) as well as grease the cogs of a budding international commerce led by the Dutch East India Company. Hugo de Groot foreshadowed the radical Thomas Hobbes, who finally let slip the shiny blade of modernity across the throat of the old world. And it was here as well that the old world catapulted itself into the new. In the early 17th century, some of the Pilgrims congregated in Leiden prior to their crossing over to America. I was especially struck by this, because at that very moment as I was standing at a plaque commemorating the deaths of some of the Pilgrims, my Mom was in Plymouth, MA for a meeting. And Amber was in an airplane over the Atlantic.
The next day, Stu and I did an abbreviated "a bridge too far" tour, by visiting the towns of Nijmegen and Arnhem. The 1944 allied Operation Market Garden proceeded through Eindhoven up to Nijmegen and on to Arnhem in hopes of capturing the three bridges in those towns in order to secure a pathway for a final offensive into Germany. At Nijmegen it was getting hairy. Soldiers were forced to paddle frail boats in open water - many were picked off like sitting ducks. But with unimaginable bravery they prevailed and took that bridge. It was, however, taking too long, and the unmatched courage of the British first airborne could no longer hold out. At Arnhem they were eventually swallowed under by the Germans. The town was obliterated. On that bridge stands a plaque honoring their sacrifice. There is also a very small and humble monument in a patch of grass in the middle of a traffic roundabout.
If there is one thing Europe can teach an American it is that the present must live with its past. It is often so jarring to my sensibility, but I come from a place that is still biting into virgin land. Here, there is no choice but to build atop the bones, to drink, to wed, to live like almost weightless flies atop thick layers of sedimented humanity.
Friday, June 15, 2007
We first had a cool drink at one of the cafes on the main square, where they had the market set up. Camille actually bought some cheese at the Gouda market, which I think eventually put her bags over the weight limit, but I am sure it was worth it. One memorable note is that a waitress came around with a tray of free chicken wings while Camille and Amber were in the bathroom. I took one and must say it was lekker. We also ordered a couple of tostis, which reminds me that a few days earlier we had ordered a tosti in Deventer but they were not the right kind. Here, fortunately, they were right...and unusually large for Dutch tosti standards.
We then lugged our bags over to the Grote Kerk, which is a sprawling church just off of the main square. There was a wedding in progress (or so it seemed to us) and we were not dressed very well, so we did not go inside. We did, however, have a lovely little break in a shady little park just behind the church.
We also got a picture of the famous waag or weighing house, which has engravings of people weighing cheese. Cheese and trade are two of the essentials of Dutch history and culture, so it was cool to see that symbolized in one place.
We then sat down at a restaurant on the other side of the main market square to eat dinner. But we decided not to eat there and instead go into Amsterdam together and catch dinner there. That way, I could help them get their bags to their hotel- which turned out to be a great little place just off of the Leidseplein. We met up with Valerie, a friend from Amber's church who lives in Amsterdam, and ate at a Wagamama, which is a trendy Japanese noodle restaurant where you can get a giant wooden spoon with your dish if you order the right thing. I was hoping to catch a red light district tour with Valerie, but time was running out for the last train home to Hengelo. So, I left them to their own devices and caught a tram back to the station. While waiting, I heard an American couple talking to each other about the Spui, which is a location in Amsterdam with its own tram stop. They were pronouncing it, as I did at first, "spoo-eee," which is way off...but what the heck, this language is tough. I got myself the usual little something from the bakery and a fruit juice at the Albert Heijn in the train station and was home by around 1:30.
In addition to Amber, Adam, Joe, J.J., and Camille, Stu (my American friend and colleague from work at the University) and Juanba were also in attendance. I met Juanba when he was working for Carl Mitcham at the Colorado School of Mines a couple of years ago. He is now back in his homeland of the Basque Country, an autonomous community within Spain. But at the time of this daytrip he was spending a month at my university as a guest researcher.
When you arrive at Utrecht Centraal train station, you are immediately ensconced in the Hoog Catharijne, an enormous indoor shopping mall. It never fails that we get lost before we even step foot outdoors. We wandered toward the Dom through Utrecht's quaint streets until somehow me and all the guys were stopped by a quasi-misogynist French Israeli ex-pat who spoke Dutch and English. We had a rambling, culturally ambivalent and altogether unproductive exchange, though it was amicable enough due to his inexplicable Americaphily.
We stopped at one point along the canal at a little cafe to have a drink, in this photo of me below, you can see the Dom.
To wrap up the evening, we went to the other side of the canal and found a very tiny bar with just some chairs lined up in a row waiting for us to sit and admire the canal. There was a nice bartender who stood in the doorway behind us and brought us our beer, cassis, wine, spa rood, etc. Amber thought it would be a good idea to play telephone, which was fun until Joe ruined it all by censoring Camille's dirty joke about miss piggy and kermit. Even after his studies in the big east-coast cities he is still a decent midwesterner.
Amber took some lovely photos of us having our drinks. I especially like the bicycles in the foreground - it does not get anymore typically Dutch.
Joe and J.J. ordered some fries at the trainstation while I noticed the next train left in three minutes. We ran frantically in the wrong direction at first, but just barely made it. Amber had to hold the door open so that it would not close before Joe, bearer of the all important french fries, could get on board. We met a nice woman on board thanks to Camille's outgoing nature and so we taught her how to play go fish.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
We then packed up a picnic basket (that Amber bought in Bordeaux) with some fruit, cheese, bread, and tasty beverages. The train runs direct to Delden for less than 2 euros. From the Delden station, we strolled through a bit of that quaint little village, still flush with old money from the days of textiles and trade. We picked up cold sodas at a little corner store as it was warming up. Then, we dropped into a bakery that Amber and I had visited once before when my folks were in town. J.J. picked out some monstrously decadent dessert, which prompted Amber and Camille to up the anty with a towering strawberry cream sugar bomb. I ordered us a lekker loaf of brood.
After lounging for a bit on the grass, short as a golfcourse green, we needed to head home in time for Amber's massages that evening. Joe, J.J., Camille and I spent a couple of hours walking through Hengelo and sitting at a bar outside on their "plicker" (plastic wicker) furniture. Camille ordered a screwdriver and got screwed instead (no alcohol was detectable). There was some running race in town and runners were just finishing up in the Marktplein as we walked toward dinner. We ate at my favorite Italian joint, outside, and by good fortune Amber was able to join us as one of her clients had to cancel at the last minute. This was followed by some icecream for the girls and some philosophical chatting for the guys. Oh, but there was more to come for our visitors in the near future...
fortunately, our house is ginormous, so there was more than enough beds, room, food, and love to go around. we gave camille the spare guest room up in the attic since she would be here the longest, and then picked up an air mattress at a camping store for jj and joe. they slept in the spare bedroom that will eventually be the baby's room when we have one. i got vases for both rooms so that guests could have flowers: roses in camille's room, peonies in joe and jj's room.
(by the way, we know joe and jj from college. joe and adam were in the same freshman symposium class, as well as took part in a men's spirituality group together. joe and jj started dating their freshman year, and i started dating adam his freshman year, and so we've all known each other for about 10 years if you can believe it. as for camille, i know her because right after i graduated from the college of st. benedict, http://www.csbsju.edu/ i joined the lutheran volunteer corps http://www.lutheranvolunteercorps.org/ in milwaukee, working as a full time volunteer at a nature center, teaching inner city kids about trees and bugs and the water cycle and stuff. camille also did LVC the same year as me -- she was the science teacher at an alternative high school for primarily hispanic students -- and we lived in the same house together along with 4 other LVC volunteers. and we've been best friends ever since.)
so since camille was sadly going to miss out on the magnificent tulips, i decided to show her something else that was echt nederlands ("completely/genuinely dutch"): windmills! her flight was arriving in amsterdam in the morning, so jj, joe, and i all took the train out to meet her and along the way i gave them a list of things to do in amsterdam, and let them take along a travel guide that we had of holland. we all met camille at schiphol airport and after stashing her bags in the lockers there, we got on a train to see the windmills which were only about 20 minutes northwest of amsterdam. the mills at koog-zanddijk are quite famous in holland and there are all these cool exhibits/shops there that show you how to make cheese and how the mills grind pigment for paint and apparently there was supposed to be a clog making booth but we never found it. it seemed like the perfect activity to do on a sunny day when everyone is all jet lagged. standing inside an old museum, having to be quiet while you absorb all the culture, seemed like an activity that would only make someone even MORE tired after getting off an international flight. but being outside in the sun and wind, with dutch molen turning in the breeze, eating cheese and mustard and bread, and being able to climb up things and walk through pastures and past canals seemed like a much more energizing activity. so that's what we did!
joe and jj took off before camille and i did, because it was their only opportunity to see amsterdam while they were out here. so they saw the mills for about an hour or so and then caught the train back to centraal station. i'm not quite sure what they did out there (maybe they'd be willing to be guest-bloggers sometime and they can tell us all about their adventures) but they couldn't have rocked the party too hard because they were back by dinner time. i think they had a good time, though. amsterdam really is much more than coffee shops and prostitutes. it's a really beautiful, historic, cultural city, and it's always fun just to walk around and sit at the cafes.
and that's basically it. stay tuned for more great adventures!
ps -- i posted two videos of the mills moving: one of the outside with the sails, and one of the inside with the cogs. here are the links: