Tuesday, June 28, 2016

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.

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