Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tilting at Windmills

Oh yes - the fire hair happened.  :-/
Becky is dicking around, taking two days to finish a single post, so I'm hijacking her blog.  My name is Peppermint.  You may remember me from such epic adventures as when we hiked to the Tiger's Nest in Bhutan, or the time we went to Hakone in Japan, but I haven't actually made the blog since she wrote about Flat Stanley (yes, I thought he was "pretentious," as Becky wrote, and a few other more choice words that she didn't.  She's not the only one with a colorful vocabulary, believe me).  And that kind of pisses me off, because I've been on all the trips.  I even went with her and the shitty brats to Istanbul.  But did she let me take part?  No.  I assume it's because she thinks she's too mature, but with as much time as she spends watching anime, she's only kidding herself.

Anyway, sorry, let me move on and tell you about our day trip to Zaan, the whole reason for my long-overdue guest post.  Yesterday Becky was trying to figure out what to do with herself for the next three days.  I kept telling her she had to get out of the city, because Amsterdam is fun and all, but there's only so much secondhand pot smoke you can breathe before you get high for real (although I wouldn't be surprised if she actually didn't mind the smell.  You should hear her complain about her cigarette-smoking neighbors at home, but has she voiced a word of complaint in Amsterdam???)  She was fixated on Delft and possibly a further trip into Belgium, because she's obsessed with her family history and whatever, but she found out she could do a tile-painting workshop at Royal Delft (the last of the historic factories) if she emailed in advance, and you know she's a sucker for that shit.  So finally - FINALLY - she listened to me when I asked, "Hey, you daft bint, what else is Holland famous for?  Like in that Monet with the tulips?"  It's windmills, in case you're a little slow.  Holland is famous for windmills.  And tulips, but it's the wrong season for that.  After a quick chat with Google we decided we were heading for Zaanse Schans.
Zaanse Schans is this beautiful little tourist trap of a historical village that fucking looks like Rembrandt or Vermeer would have painted if it they had time.  Some genius looked around in the last 100 years and said, "Where have all the windmills gone?" and decided it would be great to preserve Holland's industrial past.  Yep, I said industrial.  All those windmills weren't just there to look pretty (like your mom*) - they actually milled shit, thus, industrial past.  There's a pretty awesome museum that explains the whole history of Dutch milling and production, but Becky just breezed through it.
See, she gets so obsessed with taking pictures and having all the experiences - and breathing the air.  To be fair, the air was gorgeous.  I mean, Amsterdam smelled pretty good, especially after four years living in Ulaanbaatar...bikes instead of cars and the delicate aroma of hashish?  I could get used to that!  But Zaan smelled like motherloving CHOCOLATE.  When we left the station and the scent of the cocoa plant hit us, Becky started feeling nostalgic for the coffee roasty smell of a Kansas City autumn, but I told her to shut her mouth because this was, like, a million times better.  A town that smells like chocolate?   Sign me up for that!**

In the great tradition of historical towns, there are workshop demonstrations you can watch.  By the time they were ready to get started, unfortunately a shload of tour buses had rolled in, primarily populated with Chinese people, so you can imagine how well that went over with Becky, if you've read this blog for any length of time.  She would not be deterred from the clog workshop though, which I have to admit was kind of fun.  Becky got matching clogs for herself and her niece, the Princess (Bunny and Dirt Devil are likewise sorted - at this point she just needs to purchase something for Monkey, so if anyone has any ideas...)

We had a good stroll through the village, checking out the different shops (and by checking out, I mean eating free samples of cheese - it's a good thing Becky's slightly lactose intolerant or she'd be constipated.  Not that I can blame her - the Netherlands do have some deelish cheeses).  There was a weaver's house, which showed us how sailcloth was made, and the dairy, of course, and a chocolate shop, and other houses, which I guess people actually live in.

Finally we headed out along the canal toward the windmills.  We had a freebie for one of the mills, that came with the admission to the museum, so I told Becky I wanted to go to "The Cat."  They all have names, you see - the Spotted Hen, the Four-Leaf Clover - and it should be obvious that we would go there.  Fortunately, the Cat turned out to be a paint mill, so we both won.
She's been in super art teacher mode this whole time, only you haven't heard about it because she's a lazy ass.***  Someday she might tell you about the demo she saw on paint mixing in freaking REMBRANDT'S HOUSE.  But for now, suffice it to say that Rembrandt didn't go to the local Dick Blick and buy his paints nicely packaged in metal tubes, he bought pigments and then mixed his own paints, which were stored in a pig's bladder (a dead pig, that is - it might get a little messy to try and use a live one...)  The Cat was a mill that prepared and ground the raw materials to create those pigments, and it was pretty awesome.  Much more interesting than a wood mill, or a grain mill, or any other kind of mill, really.

We walked past all the others and took a ferry across the water to a less touristy but every bit as pretty street.  All the houses had their backs to the water and were in the Zaan style, so it really had a beautiful feel.  We stopped along the way for lunch, then went back to the station to get the train back to Amsterdam.  It was a nice way to spend the day, but I'm glad we did it on our own instead of getting on one of those stinky tour buses.  The roundtrip fare to Koog-Zaandijk (where you get off the train) was 11.60 euro, in case anyone is interested.  And THAT, Becky, is how you sit down and write a blog.  (mic drop)

Becky's notes (because she can't just let me do this):
*Peppermint doesn't know how to make your mom jokes.  They are supposed to be insulting.  (I do too - telling someone that their mom is only pretty and serves no other purpose IS insulting.)
**Can you imagine?  You'd be hungry all the time!  You'd never lose weight!  (And the irony is, apparently she's never going to lose weight anyways, so what's the problem?)
***Not entirely true - I had an IB workshop for three of the days.  (Whatever.  Remember how many hours you spent in that PCbang across from Monumental Paradise in Kathmandu, trying to catch up your posts from Tibet.  I don't want to hear it.)

Sunday Best

I was gonna update my blog...until I got high...  Just kidding folks.  I thought the reference to the Afroman song was apropos, being in Amsterdam and all, but I've just been shit at blogging this year (someday I will finish the two posts I wrote about my trip to Chicago in March.  Someday).  Sadly, I can't blame my laziness on any controlled substances, because even though they're easily available here, my contact with them has been purely accidental (you can take the Mormon girl out of church, it turns out, but you can't take the church out of a Mormon girl.  Go figure).  Speaking of church, after finishing up the IB training that brought me to Amsterdam this afternoon, I decided that the way to spend my Sunday was to visit some of the churches I've been walking past for nearly a week now.

So.  Churches.  They're here, and I've heard about them before.  Apparently Anne Frank wrote about the sound of the bells of the Westerkerk in her diary.  I haven't read it since middle school, but I picked that up from somewhere, probably the canal ride I took last Monday.  And I'm pretty sure the professor in my Northern Renaissance art history course quacked...err, lectured...about them, since I know I'd seen images of their interiors.  They seem as ubiquitous as mosques were in the middle east, but since I was up at 5:30 this morning, I can tell you that church bells ringing (and they all seem to have bells, fyi) are not nearly as aggressive (or as eerie, because at 5:30 a.m. the muezzin is truly haunting) as the call to prayer, even if they happen more often.
The first church I visited was the Oude Kerk, the old church.  I came across it on Monday, as I accidentally wandered into the Red Light District for the first time (more about that later).  It's been there for 800-some years, starting out Catholic and converting to Calvinism with the rest of the country after the reformation.

What I remember about whatever Dutch church it was we looked at in art history was how sparse they were inside.  There is a lot of open space and they seem rather austere, if you're used to the sorts of sensory overload altarpieces you typically find in Catholic churches.  That was my impression upon entering the Oude Kerk.  As I walked around though, the perfume of the Divine began to flood my senses.  I caught hints of old wood, the must of dying flowers, lingering traces of candlewax long gone, and well-worn upholstery.  It caught me off guard.  I think scent transports me through time more than any other sense, and thus I found myself in my childhood, in my grandmother's baptist church - another denomination, another continent, a different century.  And yet the scent was the same.

The Oude Kerk is playing host to an art exhibit at the moment called Once in a Lifetime.  It dealt with carpe-ing the fuck out of your diems and the transcendence of life, but also added a fairly creepy vibe, what with all the wilty roses scattered over the graves (aka, the floor of the church).  Also, there was this delightful sculpture, which more than anything reminded me of the mummies in the necropolis south of Nazca, Peru...although Buddhism's mummified monks were a close second.
I moved on to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church...the Dutch are very creative when it comes to names) next.  They were also hosting an exhibition (who would have thought of using a church as an exhibition space???  Apparently the Dutch, so maybe they're more creative than their naming abilities indicate), in this case of World Press Photos.  I found these artworks actually more compelling than the existential pieces in the Oude Kerk, probably because a great number of them dealt with the Syrian refugee crisis, which is some heavy stuff.
In fact, the photography kind of overpowers the church, which is cool, because it's a pretty impressive church.  I did pick up on the continued theme of dark wood and white, which I think is an interesting architectural combination - the warmth of the wood keeps the white from becoming cold and boring.

I was planning to make it a threesome (I say hey, when in Amsterdam, make all the sex and drug references you can) by visiting the Westerkerk (given their penchant for simplistic names, do I need to translate this one for you?), which is just a little west of my hotel, but I was amazed to find out that they were closed ("Never on Sunday," I guess...).  I also got to see the line for the Anne Frank Museum, which wrapped around the side and almost all the way to where some sort of gay pride event going on in the back (literally - that's not just me making obscene references).  This finally lit a fire under me to see about buying tickets in advance, but I was disappointed to see that they are sold out...for the next two months.  Apparently you can buy advance tickets for the mornings, but starting at 3:30 it's general admission, so I went back and checked the line today at 4.  This time it actually went all the way around the church to the front, so I may not be visiting the Anne Frank museum.  This is a little sad, but I can probably live with it, given the alternative is standing in line, inhaling other peoples' weed, for hours on end.  And speaking of end, this is it.  For today, at any rate.