Monday, 3 August 2015

Amsterdam, part II: Provo-king the palettes of Dutch creativity

Amsterdam, the Netherlands
A crucial part of experiencing a place's history is finding out about the people who drove it. 
And you can learn a lot about a city by the statues they choose to erect. Johan Thorbecke is considered an important figure, as he dedicated his life to the Dutch Paliament. He set about improving existing laws and putting new pieces of legislation into effect. I know nothing of the Dutch legal system (municipalities and provinces are only words to me), but he sounds like a hard worker, and I can understand placing value on that. 
A visit to the Archives was perfect for an insight into Amsterdam's past. A dark hall held shelves upon shelves of ancient tomes, some taller than a Dalmatian and thicker than a toaster oven. 
Inside a very secure looking vault was a display of various documents from the city's history. What wasn't available to the public eye was the police report on Anne Frank's stolen bicycle, which is stored here. 
Unexpectedly, a documentary about the Provo movement was playing in the attached theatre. As I had never heard of it before, I was glued to my seat while listening to tales of the rise of Provo (from the Dutch provoceren: 'to provoke'), from anti-smoking demonstrations and ban-the-bomb protests to its demise after the resignation of Amsterdam's chief of police in 1966. The man who played a key role in the instigation of the movement was Robert Jasper Grootveld, who held anti-smoking "happenings" every weekend in which he would set a statue representing Amsterdam's youth ablaze. 
This statue in the Spui still stands. Grootveld had become outraged when he discovered it was a gift to the city of Amsterdam from a cigarette company. He danced around it every weekend, the crowd chanting "uche, uche, uche" (the sound of a smokers cough), and at the end of the night he would be carted off to the police station with a telling off. Those beatnik anarchists didn't give up without a fight (and not without their cigarettes apparently, as Grootveld was a chain smoker until his death, even as he was spray painting 'cancer' onto smoking advertisements). 
The Archives building looms over the street looking like a financial behemoth. I mistook it for the stock market, or perhaps a high profile bank. 
Having just come from Den Haag to see two galleries, I didn't want to bog myself down with too many museums. However, one I absolutely had to visit was the Van Gogh museum. With people queuing to walk past each painting, it's the busiest museum I've ever entered, but shuffling along with the swarm was worth it. His palette and paints made me feel like I could reach out through time and be back in the late nineteenth century. I most enjoyed his still life with pears, which was painted with only a few shades of yellow - a masterful use of colour. 
From sunflowers to crows to his own bedroom, we were graced with a wide range of Van Gogh's paintings. What I particularly enjoyed was learning about his close relationship to his brother Theo, who was an art dealer. It's theorised that he is the subject of the painting on the right above, though as he bears an almost identical resemblance to Vincent, it may be one of his numerous self portraits. Many pieces of art from his contemporaries such as Gauguin were displayed to show his influences and how he influenced others. 
The Rijksmuseum was also a must. Out in the gardens, youths clambered over the 'i amsterdam' sign and waded in the fountain.
With limited time and a sore toe (story to follow shortly), we had to zoom past many of the more antiquated exhibitions, but this chess set caught my attention. The figures were incredibly strange, as long as you consider it out of the ordinary for a baboon to be riding backwards on a man who is covering his eyes. I have no clue what these antiquated carvings represent - all I know is that I found them amusing and interesting. 
One of the biggest draw cards to the museum is Rembrandt's the Night Watch. Continuously surrounded by a haze of gazers, the larger-than-life painting was considerably different from the rest in the room. To highlight Rembrandt's genius, paintings from other artists of the same subject were shown: that is, guild paintings with the figures standing around, all equally well-lit and in similar upright poses. But Rembrandt went against the grain and depicted them in action, which meant that the commander of the guards was forefront and some were in shadow off to the side. Understandably, some of the guards felt sidelined and ripped off. I didn't much like it in and of itself, but in comparison to the others it was undeniably more interesting. 
In the Rembrandtplein square was a statue of Rembrandt with the figures of the famous painting brought to life before him. Quite dramatic. 
A visit to a pub for refreshments and bitterballen was calling, and we dropped into Eijlders. Started in 1940 for artists and those against the Hitler regime, the interior remains largely unchanged. Members of the Provo movement would often look in here to see if anyone else of interest was around, and even today artists, writers and "bohemians" still frequent this locals' pub. The barkeep took a moment to ask where we were from, and said that sometimes on his five minute walk to work he hears no Dutch spoken, only foreign dialects. Tourist numbers are on the rise, yet patrons here sit and call out to him their orders - clearly the regulars. I hope that there is a pub like this wherever I next decide to stay for a while. 
To juxtapose the changing generations, our version of Eijlders while in Amsterdam was coffeecompany. Chosen for their fast free wifi and plethora of plugs for charging our devices, it was a blogger's dream chillout spot. Also tea was had.