Monday, August 17, 2015


The big plan was to get up early, take the train from Dordrecht to Amsterdam, and spend the day wandering through the culture and history Holland's largest city has to offer. Well, that never happened. Preparing for a visit to Amsterdam takes someone with a Gestapo mentality and willingness to preprogram their trip down to the exact minute. We're a bit more free-spirited with our travel. We had hoped to make a pilgrimage to the Anne Frank home but with only two days of pre-planning we were informed the nearest date for a timed entry was more than six weeks away. The entry to the Van Gogh museum wasn't much better.
The only pre-tickets we could buy online were for the Rijksmuseum. We'd have to settle for a couple of Vermeers and Rembrandts, not tops on my list but worth a stop. After all the museum had been closed for over a decade and gone through an enormous renovation, so the current museum from the standpoint of its architecture is very fresh and new.
When traveling with teens you have to remember that their internal clocks don't work the same as yours. When you tell them you want to get an early start and the train from Dordrecht to Amsterdam takes more than an hour; it means one thing to you and a totally different thing to them. We ended up using their timetable that meant we barely made it to Amsterdam in time for lunch.
It had been a very long time since we were last in Amsterdam and if I think about it we probably weren't much older than our teen charges when we last roamed the streets of "Weedtown".
Things have changed or my memory was clouded with the veil of time covering up the dirt and grim of the current and probably more accurate version of Amsterdam. There are now crowds of tourists the way Florence and Venice have. There's a stench of sweat and urine that seems to follow you wherever you go. The tardiness of our start that had truncated our visit to the bohemian city started to feel more like a bit of a blessing than a curse.
The only things we accomplished were a quick lunch of hamburgers from a street vendor on the plaza in front of the Rijksmuseum and a pretty swift trip through the Museum's vast collection.
I'm not one to focus my museum photography on singling out a piece of art. I figure looking at the art and finding my creative connection to it is my time not my cameras. It's the act of looking with my eyes rather than with my iPhone's lens. It is the time in between my own experience of traveling from one piece of art to the next that I begin looking at and photographing the juxtapositioning of the people in the museum as they commune with the art. Finding that combination of art and humanity is much more interesting than a flat soft-focus image of a piece of art you could see much better in a book or online or if you're lucky in person.
This is how I discovered the little girl with her audio headphone touring the collection as she stood in front of a painting of a windmill,
or a young man turning his gaze away from the attacking swan.
It's why I wanted to capture the woman taking a picture of a still life, her hands confidently framing the image on the viewfinder of her phone.
We started our race through the museum at a temporary exhibit devoted to the art of the fashion magazine. The exhibit traced the development of fashion illustration from the seventeenth century to the mid-nineteen thirties.
From there it was straight to the old masters. A huge portrait of The Company of Captain Roelof Bicker and Lieutenant Jan Michielsz Blaeuw by Bartholomeus van der Heist hangs to the left of Rembrandt's Night Watch. In the sixteen hundreds size mattered. It was rumored that the painting had been commissioned for a specific wall in the museum and was actually much wider, too wide indeed to fit that wall.  For that reason they cut the painting off on both sides to make it fit and now the two sliced off side pieces have disappeared and no one knows where they went. The person who spread this scuttlebutt will remain unidentified, as I couldn't corroborate the story that might have only been told to pull my leg.
The Rembrandt paintings draw the biggest crowds. Rembrandt's ability to manipulate light combined with the shear size of the paintings makes you wonder how anyone could paint more than one of these canvases in a lifetime.
The only exception was an earlier, slightly smaller  painting that was given ample room and showed an almost impressionistic flair not seen in his tighter later works.
We wended our way out by trying to follow our noses. Unfortunately, with a nose as big as mine it only got in the way and ended up leading us into a labyrinth of more unique and quirky collections. Fashion again came into play with a display of dresses worn throughout history.
It was accompanied by a small exhibit of hats and shawls that for some reason lead to
a nautical room where miniature lighthouses and model boats were on permanent display.

Included in this collection was a magnificent boat where holograms where projected of the crew at work, the livestock stored below deck and the captain entertaining guests at his dinner table.
Once back outside we were all too exhausted to deal with the crowds. When we last visited there was a freshness and sense you could amble through the streets soaking up the spectacular architecture or enjoy a string of bicyclists peddling through town. That freshness wasn't there for us on this trip. I think from now on Amsterdam is a city best seen in fall or spring or even winter when the crowds have died down, the street litter hidden by falling leaves or snow and the city has been given a chance to breath.

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