Amsterdam’s cultural showdown…

Waking up on my third day in Amsterdam I had a bit of a hangover. Not that I had indulged in anything particularly, but when it’s all around you can’t help but get some effects. So I woke up still a bit groggy and my teeth itched (I discovered that when I am… under the herbal influence… I clench my jaw – weird). BUT, I woke up in time to actually catch a breakfast downstairs. So I made myself a sandwich and had a few hard boiled eggs (LOVE the hard boiled eggs!) and headed out catch the more cultural aspects of the northern city of canals.

Culturally speaking, though, there’s a bit of rivalry between art and history. Representing art, in this corner, you have one of the top heavy-weight champeens of all time, The Big Vinnie, Vincent van

Van Gogh/Greenspon self portraits
Van Gogh/Greenspon self portraits

Gogh – he’s mad, he’s bad and he’s redefining the field completely.

In the other corner, coming in at a mere 98 pounds (pure speculation on my part), the little miss with the big dreams, the scribbling fanatic from the attic – Anne Frank!

With van Gogh, you’ve got a whole museum dedicated to his professional life of ten years (yup, that’s it). Before that, he held a variety of jobs and basically lived off his brother (come to think of it, that’s what he did while he was being a painter, too). He was just about to make a big breakthrough when he ended it all. Of

Anne Frank
Anne Frank

course, in those ten years he produced an amazing amount of work and, let’s face it, some of it is pretty good. For my taste, I like the later pieces. I’m not gonna go all cliché here and start waxing rhapsodic about Starry Night (primarily because it’s NOT in the Amsterdam Van Gogh Museum –it is a brilliant piece, though) but some of those works he painted just before he died, Wheat Field with Crows, for example, are just haunting. The still-lifes are wonderful, especially when seen up-close and you can really differentiate between the subtle variations of color and shade. Honestly, you really can’t appreciate how amazing he is until you stand in front of the works themselves and see the brushstrokes and feel the intensity coming from the canvas. Still Life my ass. There is so much movement and energy going on in that two-dimensional world it’s a wonder he was able to contain it at all.

Ironically, one of the pieces I liked the most in the Van Gogh museum wasn’t by him at all, but was one of his inspirations… and of course, I didn’t write down his name or the name of the piece and I can’t find it. But it shows the Roman soldiers who crucified Christ riding away and you don’t see the crosses themselves, but only the shadows. It’s haunting.

Speaking of haunting, let’s take a look at the cultural challenger. The Frank family, led by patriarch Otto, was a nice, solid, middle class group in the heart of Amsterdam (no relation to my hostel). Otto owned a manufacturing company

The Anne Frank Huis from across the canal
The Anne Frank Huis from across the canal

situated on one of the canal streets, Prinsengracht and, oh yeah, happened to be Jewish. I’m gonna go out on a limb here (catch the subtle reference to the Anne Frank Tree?) and say, in her own way, Anne and Vinnie are pretty evenly matched, but I’m gonna give the advantage to The Scribe from the Tribe…

See, while the artwork of van Gogh is quite moving, walking through the empty loft where Anne, her parents and a few other people lived for two years hits home in a way art hanging on a wall cannot. Honestly, moving from room to room (which remain bare per a directive from Otto Frank) makes the entire ordeal more personal and moving than you can possibly imagine. For me, it was actually more powerful than Auschwitz. In Poland, it was overwhelming. It was too big to truly understand. In Amsterdam, really, you’re only concerned with one little girl and her story is devastating. So yeah, while the artwork may last longer, for immediate visceral reaction the winner, this round, is the frank Frank.

That night, my last in Holland, I decided to finally take Amsterdam at face value and actually check out the red light district and treat myself to a live sex show. When in Rome, right? Of course, my first stop was to get a shwarma for dinner. On the way, I passed a window with two girls who were offering a double bill. When I said I wanted to eat first, their response was “Fuck, then food!” Needless to say, I continued on. I ate and then headed into a theatre a couple of doors down from my hostel. I paid my money, took my seat and proceeded to watch the human equivalent of paint drying.

There was no eroticism, no sexiness, in fact, there was no enjoyment at all in the faces of the participants. This was their job and they were as bored as a cashier at Wal-mart. I probably would have left before the eight acts I had paid for (they recycle themselves every 50-60 minutes or so) were up if I hadn’t met Cate and June. They are a couple of accountants from London (although June is originally from the states) and they are both a trip and a half! We spent most of the sex show doing our version of Mystery Science Theatre. Afterwards, we found a local club, went

June and I in the rain
June and I in the rain

dancing until 4am when I dropped them off at their hotel and went home through the deserted streets of Amsterdam in the pouring rain. And there is nothing quite like Amsterdam in the rain. It is a cleansing of sorts, not that the city is dirty, but at 4:30 in the morning it is so quiet and still that the rain just enhances the feeling of serenity.

Of course, by the next morning, I was exhausted and I had to check out since I had a train to catch that night. I did a bit of touristing, though, picking up some souvenirs and visiting the Rijks (State) Museum. It’s a nice museum, but it’s undergoing renovation so you only get the highlights (and yet they charge you the same price!) What they do have is Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” and some other important Dutch works. The most interesting thing was the special collection audio by Ronald de Leeuw, former curator of the museum, talking about how he acquired the pieces and which were his favorites. That was particularly interesting to me, to get inside the mind of the man who determines what we see and how we see it.

Just a pretty picture
Just a pretty picture

On my way back to the train station, I stopped at a little café and had the best apple pie I’ve ever had and then I popped my head in at the Steltman Galleries (professional home of one of my favorite modern artists, Michael Parkes). My train left on time and fifteen hours later I was back in Malmö. My time in Europe was fast approaching an end but

Steltman Galleries
Steltman Galleries

there were still many more adventures to be had. In fact, one of the biggest would happen the next day when my friend Ida had told me she had a surprise for me and wanted to take me to dinner.

2 thoughts on “Amsterdam’s cultural showdown…

  1. just waiting for the next installment. Loved the ‘scribbling fanatic from the attic and was especially moved to read ‘the scribe from the tribe’. You are soooo clever!

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