You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2010.

I think this is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in ages. It’s time lapse photography (video?) in an epic environment.

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(via kottke.org, via whatevs.net)

I’m thoroughly enjoying Amsterdam in the spring. The old oaks lining the canals are blazingly green, the population is slowly transitioning to shorts although jeans still predominate, the calendar of events is increasing, the locals sitting out on their stoeps reading or sipping coffees and of course the ever-increasing number of tourists mobbing the streets, inadvertently straying onto the bike paths and snap, snap, snapping picturesque canal scene after scene. I’m not going to write about canals, coffee shops, museums (in this post) or idiosyncratic Dutch habits. Sorry.

Metro. Amsterdam subway trains are notably ugly, snub-nosed and somewhat shaped like those reinforced aluminum coffins (transfer cases they call them) the US Army uses to ship bodies home from Iraq. I was somewhat surprised to discover Amsterdam even had a subway given the ease of biking everywhere and also the fact you’re travelling far below the water table… The local transport organisation is building a new subway line right down the old centre. Massive budget and timeline blowouts are now occurring because the ground, simply put, is sand and sedimentary soil which is subsiding as the tunnel is dug. Old houses are being propped up along the route as they have started leaning precipitously.

Bells. My local church is the Westerkerk which chimes out a varied ensemble every couple of hours. I can relate that the hour bell is the heaviest in Amsterdam and weighs more than 7,500 kg with a hammer weighing 200 kgs! It bangs every hour till about 2am. Lovely.

Chafing. I recently uncovered the reason why all the men’s underwear being sold in the shops in Amsterdam are toight. It’s because of the chafing brought about by regular biking. Let me tell you, it’s a health and safety hazard, these loose comfortable cotton boxers. A menace to future children everywhere.

Dancing. I attended ‘We Love the 90s’ dance party celebrating all that was early 90s techno and dance. My flatmate managed to get us VIP tickets so there we stood, drinking complimentary beer above a VIP stage meticulously constructed above half the subwoofers in the hall. Kidneys’s vibrating to life’s call. SNAP was headlining, and funnily enough they are a Dutch band, hup Holland, hup!

Droog Design store combines two great Dutch passions – contemporary design and storage solutions. Truly intriguing stuff you don’t need, outrageously overpriced, but sooooo cool.

But it’s all for a good cause => that being the increasing of pay for the hard-working rubbish collectors who have already been on strike for a week. I kinda like the mounds of black and blue rubbish bags, scraps of newspaper, greaseproof burger wrappers, discarded McDonald’s cups and swirling, twirling miscellany caught in small tornadoes caused by the thousands of rushing commuters and bewildered tourists at the Amsterdam Central Railway Station. It’s a good reminder of how much crap we actually throw away.

“Vagabonding is not an ideology, a balm for societal ills, nor a token of social status. Vagabonding is, was, and always will be a private undertaking – and its goal is not to improve your life in relation to your neighbors, but in relation to yourself.”

– Rolf Potts, The Difference: Living Well vs. Doing Well, (2010). By way of Tim Ferris.

“Routines and habits are the Known, protecting us from the Unknown. Habits are also called home. Habits tame the raw wilderness of existence into the civilized comforts of everyday life. Unfortunately, as we all know, habits gradually domesticate all the wildness and energy out of life. So much energy gets bound up in routines and habituated patterns, keeping them alive, that your life goes dead instead. Thus, if you want to discover again the wild side of life, you have to leave “home”; you have to break or dissolve your habits in order to release the energy locked up inside them.”
– Ed Buryn, Vagabonding in the USA (1980).

On Sunday April 25 I commemorated ANZAC Day at Ypres or alternatively Ieper (as always in Belgium, everything has a Flemish and a French version). Alex kindly invited me to attend a commemoration service organized by the New Zealand Embassy in Brussels. Our tour bus was joined by a busload of kiwis who had driven all the way from London to be there.  Our bus also included an embassy staffer hilariously reminiscent of Murray the cultural attaché in FotC and Scott, my bus buddy, whose pedo glasses and odd affinity with striking up a friendship with the 8 and 11 year old girls sitting in front of us struck me as rather unfortunate. He seemed happy though, and isn’t that really what we all ultimately want?

We arrived at the small village of Messines (Mesene). This has particular relevance for kiwis as the New Zealand memorial commemorating New Zealand dead in this theater of the First World War is located there. The traditional angular obelisk stares down a gentle slope a few hundred meters to where members of the New Zealand 1st Division launched an attack on the German line during the battle of Messines, 1917, which involved blowing up massive mines stuffed with explosives under the German lines. This successful manouvere is in stark contrast to the sickening waste at later battles in the area such as Passchedaele where hundreds of thousands casualties were spent in the ultimately futile acquisition of mere kilometers, a few hundred metres or even nothing at all. The scene of the world’s first calculated application of biological weapons (mustard gas) as well as haunting and everlasting prose such as that of John McCrae:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We later proceeded in a parade from the town hall of Ypres to the Menin gate, erected in 1917 to honour those dead not found and inscribed with 54,896 names of Commonwealth soldiers (except the New Zealanders who are inscribed at Tyn Cot Cemetery). Trailing a full marching band of drummers, brass and proud local veterans holding aloft the flags of Belgium, New Zealand and Australia. The Last Post was precisely sounded by an association that has been doing that same every day since the end of the War. Rebecca, a New Zealander, gave an incredibly goosebumpy lamentation, piercing in the silence, the gate providing superb acoustics.

My own connection to Ypres is not particularly personal. I had no relatives that I know of who fought in World War I, The Netherlands being a neutral country. In an interesting aside, my grandfather was made an honorary citizen of Ypres. My reason for travelling there was that I believe it is important to remember the futility of war, and there is no better way to remember that than attend a ceremony honouring war veterans. It is not about glorifying war, extending it a certain undeserving mystique or politicising it to aid current political debates. War is hell and there is no better way to see that than visit mass graves, concentration camps or torture camps.

So I have finally arrived and found a place in the ‘Dam. Culmination of over a year of travel, my life now shifts to a slightly different beat – locating a fun-filled source of Euro notes to pay for the hedonistic lifestyle I intend to commence.

The Netherlands. The Netherlands is a place generally thought of by foreigners with minds ripe with the tang of preconception. Over the next wee while I shall regale you with my experiences. Daffodils and tulips are blooming with wild abandon, or perhaps not such wildness, as the bulbs are purposefully planted by gardeners all over Benelux. In Rotterdam an old family friend, Teau tried to explain Dutch soccer hooliganism as a release of aggression. She noted in all seriousness that New Zealanders on the other hand have lots of ways to release aggression, like kangaroo shooting. In Amersfoort I came across a nine-piece brass band singing Dutch oom-pah-pah music. Saccharine stuff by the name of smartlappen which I think is something like Dutch beer drinking music.

As I have been traveling back and forth to Belgium, I have noticed old WW II block houses dotted around like rooks on a chess board. Slivers of water here and there occasionally spotted with small sailboats, ponderous barges, stolid dikes and above all the sense of intense cultivation. The fields are edged with arrow straight tree lines to protect crops  from the wind, distant high voltage power lines march, raked fields deep brown with alluvial goodness, small cute brick villages, sparrow flocks, wind mills alongside modern power turbines and high-speed train lines dashing through tying everything together with superb (but expensive) public transport. Spring is in the air and Holland looks great!

Kamp Amersfoort. Last week I visited Kamp Amersfoort, one of three WW II concentration camps located in The Netherlands. I was wholly unaware of the existence of this camp, not 5 minutes drive from where I have been living for two weeks. This camp was primarily used as a transit camp for prisoners (~35,000) destined for camps further afield. Despite this, over 1,000 victims were executed on the shooting range. I walked down this range, bracketed on either side by 5 m heaps of earth topped with barbed wire.  This arrow-straight path leads 100m to a monument, the Stone Man, who silently stares back at us mendicants come to pay our respects. The forests around this range still hold unmarked and undiscovered graves. We made our way to the foundation of the mortuary building. It was covered in small heaps of stones brought there by Jewish visitors. The custom represents permanence and a remembering of the dead, in other words ‘perpetuating the existence of the site.’

Amsterdam. I am finally in Amsterdam with a place to my name. It’s located in the Jordaan and to give you some perspective is about 3 min walk from the Anne Frank House. Sweet! I am now looking for work and also attempting to do justice to the plethora of national holidays in May starting with Koninginnedag (aka Queens Birthday). Epic day with everyone wearing orange in an orgy of patriotism, lager and music. If you’re lucky (like me) you manage to secure a place on a vessel of some description which then takes you on a tour of the canals whilst consuming beverages, waving at naked people in windows, gaily dressed revelers and drunken sots pissing, well, everywhere.

Yesterday was the 65th anniversary of Dutch liberation which still resonates very strongly. In fact many Dutch have strong anti-German feelings this long after the war which I found sad in a way especially since it appears to be stronger amongst those who never experienced it. A remembrance service in Dam Square the day before in the middle of Amsterdam (attended by the Dutch Queen) descended into panic as a homeless man broke the 2 minute silence with shouting, causing a stampede. Several people I know were caught up in it and it looked, when I watched video, fairly frightening. Last year on Queen’s Day, a failed assassination attempt on the Queen resulted in eight deaths. That event no doubt contributed towards the panicked reaction in Dam Square coupled with today’s greater sensitivity towards crowds and potential terrorist incidents.