Thursday, July 31, 2008


I don't know what they are selling, but I know that it's not pants.
(A shop window in Delft.)

Summer in the City

The Netherlands is currently having its once-a-year one-week heat wave.  I've been eating popsicles multiple times each day.  The Dutch version of a Creamsicle is fantastic - it is lighter than the American one.  

Yesterday at work, around 4:00, Clara ran out to a convenience store to pick up some popsicles for us.  (FYI, My hours are 10:00 to 7:00.)  So we all took an afternoon break, (Clara, Hans, Jochem, and me) standing in a corner away from the objects, positioning ourselves to catch the draft between the door and the full-length open windows, eating popsicles.  

I could have used another popsicle break today, that's for sure and certain.  Inpainting, using gelatin as a binder, so I had to have a small double boiler set up next to me while I worked. 

This was taken on a cooler day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Endpapers and Zeppelins

I've been spending the beginning of this week continuing to treat the Kaiser Wilhelm's photo albums.  (Or as Grandma Elva would say, "His albins.")  The subjects are usually one of the three categories:
1). War Games
2). State Visits
3). Ships

There have been a few notable exceptions, namely one album entitled German Children in Norway, which seems to detail an event in which a ship full of German children sailed to Norway in order to play summer-time outdoor games with Norwegian children.  The best page was as follows: on top a large landscape photograph of Norwegian mountains, below two smaller photographs, one of two boys wresting to the death, the other of the same boys with their arms around each other's shoulders smiling.  The caption was something like, "German and Norwegian children are friends."

Occasionally there are singular gems within an album.  Like the album with a table of contents.  My favorite listing was something like Luftballon, which I assumed to mean War Balloon, the idea of which is hysterical unto itself, but exciting because it mean there would probably be a photograph of a German War Zeppelin!

Oh boy!  A zeppelin!

Apart from these occasional treasures, I can always count on the albums themselves having some fabulous endpapers.  Endpapers, for ye who are not familiar with them, are the leaves in a book in the front before the title page and in the back after the text.  One half is pasted to the inside cover (a pastedown) and the other is free (a flyleaf).  They are what you see right when you open a book cover.  Historical endpapers are fab - below you can check out a selection of the Kaiser's albums' endpapers.

Note: the second one down is currently my favorite of the bunch.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chimney Sweeps View

Early evening, the view from my room.  I sleep up in the Nest, and Lou down in the Batcave.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Belgium: Art Objects

Bruges was merely the first, abet longest, stop on our whirlwind tour through Belgium.  While in Bruges we visited two museums.  The first was the Memling Museum.  Housed in the medieval hospital of St. John, the museum had a extensive collection of paintings by Hans Memling (1430-1494).  Memling was a pupil of Rogier van der Weyden, and several critics have stated that Memling's work is highly derivative of van der Weyden's.  I say, who cares, Memling was a great colorist, and everything is derivative (see Freakish Vase and My Teapot Idea).  An interesting side note: the hospital wanted to cover all of their bases, so John the Baptist and John the Apostle were both patrons.

This image doesn't really do it justice, especially not John the Apostle's vision, pictured in the right panel.  It is different images of his vision of the apocalypse, most surrounded by a rainbow bubble.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding across a series of gigantic lily-pads in the sky.  What's not to love?

After the Memling Museum, we headed to the Groeninge Museum. Where I got to see multiple paintings by Hieronymus Bosch!   Pictued below is Christ Carrying the Cross, a straightforward enough subject.  But look at all the crazy figures Bosch has painted around Christ!  Apart from Veronica (pictured holding the cloth she used to wipe Jesus' face, on which a portrait of Jesus miraculously appeared) and Jesus, everyone else looks terrifying and crazy.

I also got to see Bosch's The Last Judgement, which, as I'm sure you can image, was total madness.  Unfortunately I cannot find a picture which does the insanity justice online, you'll just have to image.  I had the audio guide, which described the left panel, picturing the Elect frolicking merrily in Paradise, by saying, "And Bosch's vision of Heaven is just as bizarre as his visions of Hell and the Debauchery on Earth.  However, the peaceful expressions of the denizens of Heaven indicate that whatever is going on is pleasant."  One of the figures in Heaven was riding a unicorn.

We saw all these sights in Bruges on Saturday.  On Sunday, after another Belgian Belgian waffle, we caught a train for Gent.  In Gent I went to the contemporary art museum.  Contemporary art museums are hit-and-miss.  There is always some pile of junk of the floor that is a sculpture, a room full of stereos whispering things are you, large sculptures made out of found pieces of crap, lots of explanatory essays full of run-on sentences about the art.  I can't even read those run-on essays; they make my brain want to explode.  Scattered among these items are usually a couple awesome things.  However, the ratio of awesome to crap is skewed pretty far toward crap.  So, after a short tour through contemporary art, I ran over to the fine arts museum and got to see another Bosch(!) and other Early Netherlandish painters.

The older city center of Gent is really lovely.  Gent is a large city, so the city center is the only medieval part, unlike Bruges.

This store was full of wallpaper that was obviously designed in the 1970s.  Something like, behangingpapier in Dutch.  Harvest gold and burnt orange - yes please!  One wall of this stuff would be completely overwhelming.  Too bad it was closed.

This was a castle situated in the old center of Gent.  I like how there were obviously no objections to running the tram cables all over the place in this square.  And check out the huge contemporary sculpture of a spider web attached to the castle.  Classy.

A huge arbor was in the public park near the contemporary museum and fine art museum.

More of Gent.

When Louise and I were planning this trip, a week or so ago, she said, "I feel like there is something important in Gent we need to see."

I said, "The Gent Altarpiece?"


Our main reason for stopping in Gent was the Gent Altarpiece.  This is a masterpiece by Jan van Eyck (1395-1441).  Vasari credits van Eyck with inventing oil painting (sorry kids, you'll have to look up Vasari yourself...).  Western easel painting before the advent of synthetics can be roughly divided into two broad categories, tempera and oil.  Tempera uses eggs as a binding material, oil obviously uses drying oils.  Van Eyck didn't invent oil painting, people had been experimenting with it as a binder for years before, but he really mastered oils.

The Gent Altarpiece is housed in the Cathedral of St. Bavo.  St. Bavo or Baaf, as he is known in Dutch, is the patron saint of Gent and Belgium.  It was hard to find, in kind of a ridiculous way, as there are four gigantic Gothic cathedrals all in a row in the middle of Gent.  We went into two before we found the right one.

Cathedral interior.

I lit a candle for the little brother at the Saint Joseph.  Specifically the candle in the lower right.

The Gent Altarpiece, alternately known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.  This is gigantic and really is a masterpiece.  Easily ten feet tall.  Wikipedia actually has a really great page on the Gent Altarpiece - check it out if you have some time.

After Gent it was on to Antwerp!  I went to the Fotomuseum Antwerpen and Louise went to the Museum of Fine Arts.  The Fotomuseum was pretty cool; I often feel awkward in photo museums and galleries because they attract a hipster crowd.  I'm usually like, "Whatever hipsters.  Just because you wear tight pants doesn't mean you know anything about this stuff."

It was really warm, so after the museums we got ice cream and hopped on the train back to Amsterdam.  It was a really great train ride, semi-sleeping, windows open, warm/cool breezes blowing in, and the hay fields outside smelling like summer.

Trains make nice canvases.  In the Antwerp central station.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Belgium: Iconic Items

Belgian traditional crafts are heavily textile-oriented: Belgium has been, since the Middle Ages, a center of tapestry weaving and lacemaking.  Bobbin lace, to be specific.  

Bobbin lace is a type of woven lace.  My classmate Cindy learned how to make bobbin lace during our first year of conservation school (it was an assignment - learnt a specific embroidery technique - we all did something different, made samples, and shared).  Multiple bobbins are wound with thread and are twisted and woven together in order to make a piece of lace.  Beginners use something like 24 bobbins, and the real masters can easily use 40 or more.  While we were in Bruges, we saw two small girls who were sitting outside what was likely their family's lace shop, practicing their bobbin lace and collecting coins in exchange for a photograph.

Belgian cuisine is known for several specific items.

1). Belgian waffles.  Belgian waffles in Belgium are quite different than Belgian waffles in the States.  They are smaller and do not have heavy fruit-in-jars-filled-with-preservatives/sugars.  They are also much lighter and, where thinner, are crunchy.  Apparently they always come covered in powdered sugar.  Also really good on Belgian waffles - a little butter and whipped cream.  Lou and I asked a local working at the tour boat stand for a recommendation on where to get good, inexpensive waffles.  The result is pictured below, and was 2.50 euros.  Amazing.

2). Chocolates.  Belgian chocolates are awesome.  Chocolates from the fancy chocolatiers, chocolates from the grocery, all are really high quality.  

3). Mussels.  Huge quantities and really good.  Louise and I split a gigantic pot of mussels.

4). Beers.  I'm not a big beer person, but the one I tried in Bruge was really good.  Observe the empty glass and bucket of shells.

Belgium: Bruges

It is an approximately three hour train trip from Amsterdam to Bruges, Belgium.  So, in order to see as much of Bruges (and Belgium) as possible Louise and I left Amsterdam at the crack of dawn.  That was fine at first, we slept on the train.  But by 5:00 in the evening it was pretty rough going.  Bruges is in the northern half of Belgium, not too far from the sea.

Bruges is a city that was very important during the Middle Ages; after the Middle Ages its power began to decline, and the appearance of the city is very much frozen to its peak years. 

Walking into Bruges.

A Knocker of Bruges.

These next three images are various points around the main square of Bruges.

A you can seen, Louise is wearing a backpack.  We did this trip old-school backpacking style.  Staying in a hostel in Bruges, wearing nearly the same clothes twice in a row, buying a big bottle of water at the grocery store...

A little further from the square.

One of the bell towers glowing in the setting sun.

Canals in the evening.  During the day, Louise and I took one of the tour-boats that run through the canals.  Unlike Amsterdam canals, these ones do not run through the city, they are more like a natural river that has been forced into a human-determined course.

One of the many cathedrals in the late evening.  We were walking around in the evening and stumbled upon a large open-air concert in one of the large squares.  The band, which conveniently sang in English, was very good and as the weather was perfect for a summer evening concert, we ended up staying.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Off to Belgium!

This weekend Louise and I are visiting Belgium, so don't expect anything to be shared tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Best Neighborhood

Looking down a quite canal in the Jordaan.  Sooo lovely.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fine Dining

The Dutch make some mighty fine stroopwafels, but as a nation they are not really known for their cuisine.  You can make any foodstuff a Dutch-style dish in two easy steps:
1). boil it until it is no longer recognizable
2). slather it in butter

Dutch people eat, as previously mentioned, lots of dairy products.  Dutch cheese is supposed to be awesome, but as far as I can tell, it all tastes the same, just with differing degrees of hardness.  They drink lots of milk, buttermilk, and liquidy-yogurt drink called Vifit.  (FYI, I love Vifit).  The bread is soft, brown bread seems to be favored, and they really like mustard.

The Dutch also like to eat things that are not cooked.  
Example 1). Filet American.  This is neither a steak nor American.  It is basically really finely ground beef that is spicy and black peppery.  And not cooked.  You spread it on bread.

Example 2). Haring.  I like to consider haring as Dutch style sushi.  Thankfully it comes without bones, heads, or tails.  The real Dutch eat it cut up into pieces with onions and pickels, using a toothpick.  Cowards like me, or Dutch desiring a meal, eat broodje haring.  Broodje means sandwhich, so broodje haring is the haring, pickels, and onions in a soft roll.

Haringhandel.  A haring stand; these are all over and usually closed on rainy days.  A broodje haring usually runs about 3 euros.

Front view of a broodje haring.

Side view.  It shouldn't taste or smell remotely fishy, otherwise the fish is too old.

And I know you're wondering, did I eat any of the Filet American?  You betcha.  Liang and Dara and I once ate chicken feet - of course I eat the Filet American and the haring.  I AMSTERDAM.  (I draw the line at eyeballs, I won't eat eyeballs).

Monday, July 21, 2008

This. Is. Nederland.

This commercial was for Albert Heijn (the grocery store alternately named Kaiser Wilhelm or Albrecht Durer): it was always on during Euro Cup season.

Congratulations, you've pretty much experienced the Netherlands.  It's got everything that makes this place what it is, excepting all of the dairy products.  Get a big piece of cheese and a glass of milk and watch it again.  

Welcome to Nederland.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Freakish Vase All of My Own

I find that I am quite charmed by the freakish multi-spouted tulip vases.  The smaller ones, not the larger pagoda-like ones.  Like this monstrosity, belonging to the Rijksmuseum, which dates to the late 17th century and could hold more than forty tulips.  Not charming.

So, while in Delft, I bought a small 7-spouted mutant vase.  It is white and blue, with little flowers and windmills and whatnot.  It is not Royal Delft, but the version made for graduate students with little money.  So it is Delftware, since I got it in Delft, right?

I bought some flowers at the flower market this afternoon for the vase.  (Original plans had been to go to the Kroller-Muller and bicycle around the National Park/Contemporary Sculpture Garden, but sporadic downpours nixed that).  

Here it is, sitting on the table, looking like a floral porcupine.

Close-up of the many spouts.  I'm pretty certain I wanted to make a teapot like this when I studied ceramics.  Little did I know that the Dutch had been making them for centuries: there are no new ideas.

Ousted at Royal Delft

The Royal Delft factory was founded in 1653 and is still making really beautiful and expensive porcelain.  It is also open for tours: you get to watch some artists painting the ceramics, see historical Delftware, and tour the factory.  You also get to see the life-size blue-painted tile copy of Rembrandt's the Night Watch.  High quality kitsch at its best.

The visitors' entrance to the factory.

A few small rain clouds and one torrential downpour caught Louise and I on our way to the factory, so we arrived later than intended.  We missed the last tour of the day, but the lady at the reception desk must have taken pity on our sad, damp faces and she gave us free tickets and told us to walk around any way.

The ceramics are slip-cast.  Each type of piece has a mould and slip (a watery clay) is poured in to make the form.  After it is dry, the mould is opened and the object removed.  It is very fragile.  But the mould-marks must be sanded off before the first firing.

These may be greenware (unfired pottery) waiting for the first firing.

These might be waiting for the second firing, maybe a second greenware firing.  I think the decoration has to be fired to turn blue and become permanent.  Probably a change in oxidation state of the coloring metals, reduction of cobalt oxides perhaps, I'm not sure.  Just a guess.  

These vases are crazy and really common in the World of Delftware.  They are a hold-over from the days of when a single tulip bulb could cost more than your entire palatial canal house.  These vases kept each blossom separate, so that they could be admired individually.  Obviously, the more tulips, the more wealthy you were.  This one isn't decorated yet.

Carefully wrapped.

Some of the kilns.  This photograph is for Dad, I know how you like kilns and pictures of control panels.  Production is actually fairly small.  (Hence part of the reason for the high price, I suppose).

The store room, which visitors could peep into.

Delftware cow, in the middle of the factory.  Dutch people are crazy about cows.  But then, Dutch people drink loads of milk and eat butter and cheese all the time.

After the factory tour, mini-museum, and painters-in-action, you are ushered into the showroom.  To Louise and I, it really was a showroom.  We just looked.  Teacups were like 80 euros.  Egg cups about 50 euros.  There was one small, friendly corner in the showroom, where you could sit down and make up your registry.  I can't even imagine registering for ceramics that are as expensive as these were.  Though I think if I were, it would actually be Wedgewood I'd want.

After viewing Things We Couldn't Afford, we went to the little cafe in the visitor's section of the factory.  We got teas, and the waitress said everything would be closing soon, but that we were welcome to sit on the patio and have the teas.  No problem.  Until fifteen minutes later when some sort of higher-up came out and saw us.  "What are you doing here, we're closed!"  We shrugged and finished the tea, then went to leave.  We said goodbye to the waitress counting the day's earnings the realized the front door was locked and all the lights were off.  So we wandered around until we found a door, and exited through what was obviously the actual workers' entrance.  Whoops!

No Smoking, Astublieft.  Friendly reminder sitting on the table.