Museum Van Loon is a special canal house in Amsterdam built in 1672 and owned by the Van Loon family since 1884. The visit is a mixed experience of beauty, amazing details and an overdose of portraits. Did people actually live here, is a question coming up when walking around.
Many rooms are beautiful in Museum Van Loon. This photograph is the Blue Saloon on the ground floor. The woman with the red dress is Thora van Loon-Egidius who worked for Queen Wilhelmina. The museum shows more royal connections of the Van Loon family during the ages.
More recently, President Obama had dinner in the dining room of Museum van Loon when he visited Amsterdam. These kind of high profile contacts are clearly very important for the Van Loon family, but they do not communicate why. This leaves the visitor with the impression that it is about ‘belonging’, being part of societal circles as a value in itself.
Intriguing is the fact that the insignia of Van Loon has 2 black heads in it and they do not know where that came from. Ancestor Willem van Loon was one of the co-founders of the VOC in 1602. The black heads were added later to the original 15ht century insignia of the three crosses (‘mill irons’) and suggest a link with slavery and colonialism.
But a fundamental explanation has not been found yet. Museum Van Loon is open about the family’s connections with slavery in the 18th and 19th century and had a big project on the subject – keeping the details for an online visit here: https://www.museumvanloon.nl/programma/archief/120.
When I entered the sleeping room – the Sheep Room – I felt cosiness and private life for the first time. Much of the canal house is beautiful but impersonal. The Sheep Room is different; a place where humans live and enjoy themselves – maybe also because of the bookshelves and the fact that chaos is more dominant than order there.
Some particular highlights I like to show you here:
The Red Saloon, an amazing room full of portraits.
The most recent portraits of women in the family – they chose a different style, very nice.
The kitchen – just adorable
The garden, at the ‘back side’ of the canal house.
The char-à-bancs from the begin of the 20th century that was used for pleasure drives. Imagine that you sit in there or maybe even drive it yourself over the romantic canals of Amsterdam!
The stairwell that has its own particular charm.
All in all, I am not sure what to think of Museum Van Loon and that is maybe why I recommend a visit; it is intriguing, an elitist impression in an egalitarian city, a place where human touch has a challenge to break through the stiff upperlip while all seem to mean well.
Are Jews White?, is the name of a new exposition in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. As an expert in diversity and inclusion, I went there almost immediately after the opening. Are Jews White? is an interesting and also a bit disappointing exposition. I explain you my mixed feelings in this blog.
When you enter the expo, there are a number of signs on walls and pillars, and a short introducton video. After that, you arrive in a former synagogue which is the religious part of the Jewish Historical Museum. I was surprised: was that all? Indeed it wasn’t. After the religious part, the exposition Are Jews White? continues. Video has a central place. The exposition makers have interviewed around ten persons with different background who reflect on the theme Are Jews White?. After some nice cutting and pasting, they produced a good series of interesting comments on the subject: many aspects of the theme are thus covered from different perspectives. A disadvantage however is that this production does not elevate the theme above the average ‘circus of opinions’. I could not discover where Are Jews White? rises above existing concepts. Are Jews White? rather shows how deeply we are imprisoned in boxes, unable to liberate ourselves from them.
To me, the concept of black and white is evidently not applicable to Jews (and many others). I remember how I visited a camp with Jews from Ethiopia in Tel Aviv who newly arrived, somewhere in the begin of this century. They had been health care workers in Ethiopia and were preparing for a similar job in Israel. They had a good selfconfidence of what they had to offer to Israeli Jews – for example, more respect for the elderly – but many of them felt underestimated and discriminated upon. Therefor I wondered how the exposition would work this out. Are Jews White? failed to do so, but shows clearly that the concept of black and white has strong limits and serves rather as a concept to divide people more than to unite them.
Professor Gloria Wekker is one of the persons interviewed in the video. Her concept of intersectionality has no answer to the Are Jews White? issue. Intersectionality (in my view) was an original concept encouraging us to leave a dualistic world and enter the multifaceted one. Especially when Gloria Wekker just started as a professor and called her concept ‘kruispuntdenken’ (crossroad thinking), it was much more open to the dynamics of diversity. Something went wrong during the years along the intersectional road. Not only did intersectionality create more boxes, these boxes are also more oppressive, there is no escape from them.
The result, and that is very clear in Are Jews White?, is that Jews would be called black or white for political reasons, or for the opinion people have about them, or that they have about themselves. The tragedy is that this limits Jews to be who they are. And indeed this may be true for all of us: the concept of black and white limits us all. Of course I understand that the concept of black and white serves to explain the construction of society but let’s be fair: watching the video in the exposition, it is clear that the concept of black and white is more than a methodology. It serves the need of many to be part of a group or to see others as such. It provides a safe world of boxes where skin color and other aspects are all well set and clear and can be explained in predictable terms. The exposition fails to explain this need at a deeper level: why do we need to put people into categories? Why do we get upset when Jews do not fit in?
Maybe the ambition to have more answers is too high. I remember my last visit to Israel when I discussed with a scientist in the Holocaust Museum: why is there antisemitism, and why does it seem to be always there? He admitted that as a scientist, he can prove it is there and describe it, but he can not explain it scientifically.
My guess is that the Jewish Historical Museum created Are Jews White? to open the discussion about (useless) boxes and to prevent that we lock ourselves in and that we try to lock Jews in. We have to live with a rather misty and multi-interpretable reality for ourselves and for others, even though that comes with uncertainties. All-in all, I recommend the exposition. For your notice, it is totally bilingual (English and Dutch).
And don’t forget to walk by the paintings I show on the picture here, that I adored above every object in the museum, especially the woman’s dress: Benjamin and Chaile (Kaatje) Cohen from the 18th century. There’s more info about them but you will find that when you visit…
“De jury is van oordeel dat Sylvana Simons een onderscheiding verdient omdat zij een voorbeeld is voor de volgende generatie vrouwen” meldt het persbericht “en omdat zij zich publiekelijk uitspreekt over de combinatie van seksisme en racisme en zo sociale onveiligheid in de politiek bespreekbaar maakt. De bewustwording waar zij aan bijdraagt is belangrijk. Want de verharding van het politieke debat die we de afgelopen jaren zien, kan vrouwen afschrikken om deel te nemen aan de politiek.”
Met de uitreiking van een onderscheiding wil je naar mijn mening een bepaald gedrag en een bepaalde beweging stimuleren. Door deze toekenning werkt de provincie Noord-Holland mee aan wat het handelsmerk van Simons is: polarisering brengen en doen of het normaal is om altijd en overal eerst te denken in termen van kleur – waarbij wit ook een kleur is – en in termen van groepen. Daarom neem ik als Statenlid van de provincie Noord-Holland nadrukkelijk afstand van deze toekenning. Ik licht dat hier toe.
Simons is een vrouwelijke Wilders, een sterke debater die haar punt weet te maken over de groepsindeling van mensen in de vorm van identiteitspolitiek. Door de kracht van herhaling weet ook zij een verrassend groot aantal mensen te overtuigen van haar visie, dat vooral kleur en tevens sekse allesbepalende factoren zijn in relaties tussen mensen en in de inrichting van de samenleving: factoren waar geen ontsnappen aan is. Dat dit haar persoonlijke ervaring is, vormt geen probleem – het probleem start bij de veralgemenisering van die ervaring, en de vele aanvaringen die ontstaan in haar contacten met mensen die blijven hechten aan hun eigen ervaring. Simons raakt verwikkeld in het ene conflict na het andere en draagt net als Wilders bij aan de polarisatie in de samenleving. Dat mag, maar het is geen voorbeeld.
Ons democratisch stelsel biedt gelukkig ruimte aan opvattingen in een zeer breed spectrum: Wilders heeft zijn plek in dat stelsel net zoals Simons dat heeft. Wilders wordt al vele jaren zwaar beveiligd en ook Simons heeft een enorme lading aan bedreigingen, racisme en seksisme over zich heen gehad. Dat is een zeer donkere kant in onze democratie waar we ons met kracht tegen moeten verzetten. Het is dieptriest dat volksvertegenwoordigers beveiliging nodig hebben om hun werk te kunnen doen. Alle middelen die daarvoor maatschappelijk ter bescherming worden aangewend, zijn terecht evenals educatie die ons hopelijk verder brengt in het kunnen omgaan met meningsverschillen – ook als het om uitersten gaat.
Simons heeft recht op haar aanpak, echter, dat is iets heel anders dan een officiële provincieprijs aan haar gaan uitreiken als voorbeeldvrouw. De regels voor de uitreiking van de penning behelzen immers de voorwaarde dat betrokkenen van onbesproken gedrag zijn. Dat is hier niet het geval. Een dergelijke toekenning van de Ribbius Peletier-penning maakt de provincie Noord-Holland tot een actievoerend orgaan: zijn mensen die het conflict en de polarisatie opzoeken, het voorbeeld dat wij als provincie willen stellen? Blijkbaar wel. Als Statenlid neem ik daar nadrukkelijk afstand van.
Wie moeten we dan nomineren? Ik weet wel iemand: Wil van Soest. Een vrouw die geboren en opgegroeid is in de tijd dat je als vrouw in dit land nog geen eigen verantwoordelijkheid mocht dragen. Als je een bankrekening wilde openen, moest je toestemming van je man hebben en als je ging trouwen, gaf de overheid je ontslag. Een vrouw die zich daardoor niet liet ontmoedigen, die nu over de tachtig jaar oud is en nog steeds politiek actief. Die anderen heeft gestimuleerd hetzelfde te doen, ongeacht hun afkomst of kleur, en dat nog steeds doet. Zie hier de 1 minuut-video van de ‘onderscheiding’ voor deze vrouw, haar toegekend door Simons: https://youtu.be/OGGvzHRPC0Q .
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is a special and well hidden treasure in the oldest part of Amsterdam. Ever seen a church in the attic of a canalhouse? For that unique experience, this museum should be on your wish list!
Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic) surprises the visitor who starts his tour in a ‘normal’ canal house and suddenly arrives in a church that can host quite a few visitors. You don’t feel that coming and that was exactly the point for this catholic church. In 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, the religious war between roman-catholics and protestants was won by protestants in Amsterdam. Catholicism was officially banned but in the meantime, many catholics could still go to hidden churches all over the city – as long as they wouldn’t be visible, they would not be bothered.
At that time, accepting in silence that people would not give up their faith and letting them to worship according to their own rules and wishes was seen as a strong sign of tolerance. Thus Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is a museum that shows the roots of tolerance in an intolerant world, a characteristic that was very strong in 17th century Amsterdam that also opened the door for many Jews.
Your visit to Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder starts in the canalhouse, with rooms like the kitchen here on the right, with stairs leading up and down in the narrowness that is usual in canalhouses in Amsterdam. I loved the stairs maybe even more than the rooms. Pottery is shown that was found in a cesspool, as well as the bedroom of the canalhouse owner.
There is also a room with 18th or 19th century classical design to give you an idea how people lived there at the time. I particularly liked the painted ceiling that you can see at the photograph. After this look into canalhouse-life, you can climb another staircase and boff, there you are, in a church that is not at all visible from the outside.
The colour surprised me. The guard at the entrance knew all about Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder and answered many questions, also the one on the pink paint in the museum. The church is in it’s original, 19th century state, a Victorian period where this colour was popular. Moreover there are many details and artefacts that are older, like the painting of Jacob de Wit at the altar (first half 18th century) and the organ (1794)
As you can see in the picture, the church has several floors and you can walk downstairs or go to the first floor. The church was founded by a rich German merchant, Jan Hartman in 1663.
Next to the church is the room where the priest lived: Peter Parmentier. He dedicated already decades of his life to the conversion of Amsterdam so probably it was logical that he got the job… While making your tour through the canal house, do not forget to look out of the windows – the view on the canal is beautiful, and at one point also the tower of the Old Church can be spotted!
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is living difficult times (summer 2020) as it seems to loose it’s financial support from the government. I am sure a solution will be found as this is among the oldest museums of Amsterdam and a more than unique reflection of the religiously diverse history of Amsterdam. However, you can contribute yourself by paying a visit to Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder and/or fund them with your donation. Warmly recommended!
Musée d’Angoulême has a fine collection worth visiting, with the golden Celtic helmet as a unique masterpiece. It is a mixture of archaeology, ethnography and fine arts, presented with care and good guidance.
Looking for the archaeological museum of Angoulême, find the Musée d’Angoulême on the backside of the cathedral Saint Pierre. I had some struggle finding it. There are few signs indicating where the museum is. Once arrived, you go through a beautiful entrance. The 12th century roman tower of the cathedral looks down upon the visitors in all its magnificence.
Entrance is only 5 euro (in 2020) and I was told the ticket gives me a 50% reduction for the Paper Museum that I never heard of. Angoulême still has some work to do to attract interested visitors… This also goes for the language: everything is in French only. The information given is great, thorough and lively – if you speak the language. See the image here on the right about objects found in this region deriving from the Bronze Age.
The archaeological collection is on the ground floor. The website gave the warning that most of the older archaeological findings of this region are in other museums but I must say the Musée d’Angoulême presents very well what they do have. Even prehistorical items took my immediate attention. Prehistory is a period that I usually skip because I prefer the period from 10.000BC until the Romans, but not in Musée d’Angoulême.
The rock that the Musée d’Angoulême placed against the wall to show the findings of a dinosaure skeleton is very special! Moreover, the findings of the Neanderthaler and Cromagnon Humans are local: it is here that they lived. That, in combination with an excellent presentation, makes it special.
I liked a movie about the dolmen, telling that originally there was much more to the structure than just the big rocks that are left over. As the dolmen are older that the pyramids in Egypt, the Musée d’Angoulême calls them the ‘oldest architectural structure in the world’. But that is incorrect: the – presumed – temples of Göbekli Tepe are much older. Nevertheless it was new for me that dolmen were at the center of bigger constructions. The movie gives great images of what they must have looked like.
There are many nice objects, I show 3 of them here that I particularly liked:
The Heads of Jarnac, images meant to keep ancestors close. The faces have their own individuality. West-Celtic (Gaule de l’Ouest) dating 1st or 2nd Century BC.
2. One of those ‘simple’ but very beautiful pieces to be found in Bronze Age collections. The fine art work on top would seduce me to buy it, if available in shops today…
3. Chess came to Western Europe from India via the Arab world in the 10th century. These are among the oldest pieces ever found. Trictrac was also a known game. Both were played with dice at the time.
On the first floor, a large collection of ethnography can be visited, mostly from Oceania, the Maghreb and some African countries. No opinion on that from my side. I paid a visit to the second floor for the ‘fine arts’ of the Musée d’Angoulême. It appears to be a mixture of art objects like porcelain and many paintings, some valuable, some not worth to be put into a museum. 3 paintings took my attention:
Jeune taureau sautant la barrière, by Rosa Bonheur (19th century). Rosa Bonheur lived in a time where women were not allowed to go to art schools, however she found a way to learn how to paint. She made a great reputation with paintings of horses and cows. To go to animal markets and slaughter houses, she dressed up like a man to have access – just like the contemporary female writer George Sand was doing to be accepted. Rosa Bonheur was the first woman to be decorated with the great cross of the Legion d’Honneur.
Amid the many paintings of very different value, suddenly a real 17th century Van Der Helst painting. It is called ‘Portrait of a young Dutch gentleman and his wife‘ , not sure if this was the description or the real title. Anyway a surprising work of art in the collection.
And last but ot least, an intriguing piece of work by Pierre Auguste Vafflard, made in 1804: Young et sa fille. This is an incredible story about the English poet Edward Young who went to France with his daughter while she was ill, in the hope to get her cured. Helas, she dies at the age of 18 in Lyon. Being protestant in a catholic country, he is only allowed to bury here at night in the graveyard of the Swiss colony – and he has to do it himself. So here is the painting where he carries his deceased daughter to her grave at night. A true masterpiece – with apologies for the imperfect photograph.
Un Divan à Tunis is a great movie that combines fun with food for thought. Selma moves from Paris to Tunis where she was born because Paris has many psychologists and Tunis has none. She wants to be meaningful in her job and Tunisians need her. But… issues occur from unexpected angles…
Tunisia won my heart after I went there to give diversity trainings in several companies. The Dutch are called ‘direct’ in their communication style but hey, nothing beats the Tunisians in their directness. Un Divan à Tunis is certainly no exception to that: on the level of society, there is secretive behaviour but not in the interpersonal contacts. Relations develop in an unexpected way, as well as the plot. This movie is a joy to watch, you won’t be bored!
Selma is a psychoanalist who decides to start a practice in Tunis. In Paris, people can find psychological help at every corner of the street but in Tunis, it is new. Family members think she is crazy to want this, and they think her customers might be crazy too – so they do not want her to have the divan at the rooftop of their house but Selma insists and becomes successful at a short notice. However, life is not that easy for her.
Un Divan à Tunis shows step by step the complexity of Tunisian society. How the Jews are a common ennemy, even though some know nothing about Jews at all. How homosexuality and transgenderism are oppressed at the level of society – and might be accepted at individual level. How a man and a woman cannot be in the same room because it is against morals. Nevertheless Un Divan à Tunis shows several moments where this rule is broken, not because of sexuality but, very interesting, because they help each other, because they want to interact, listen, communicate, show empathy. Being human in this movie is stronger than all the societal rules.
This strong wish to be human, whatever societal problems occur, is what I remember from my visits to Tunisia. It can also be found is this great documentary Danny in Arabistan – Tunisia (in Dutch). I highly recommend Un Divan à Tunis, because it is a funny movie that gives good food for thought while you laugh.
Les Leҫons du Pouvoir, the Lessons of Power is an extensive book by Franҫois Hollande, French President 2012-2017. Books by politicians in high positions are always promising as they reveal the work done behind the curtains of media spotlights. The 500 pages of Les Leҫons du Pouvoir are only partly filled with interesting facts and events. Much of it is a description of his views, his convictions. However, there are very interesting sections that make it worth reading.
Les Leҫons du Pouvoir give the impression of a President who sees himself as a unique statesman in the first place. At some moments you think, my goodness, the ego! Then at other moments Franҫois Hollande surprises by his devotion to France, his willingness to serve, his claims of integrity and deep rooted values of liberté, égalité and fraternité. He is clearly a person who was in public positions all his life with large experience and well-founded visions. Nevertheless his reflections hardly inspired me, maybe because of the over-abundant language he uses. Or it might be his style that is rather defensive: mentioning the arguments of his opponents to put his own arguments forward, stating how his economic measures really brought his country forward. Big events like the attacks of Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan, Nice are described but on no occasion was I as a reader ‘into’ the subject – of course not every secret can be revealed in dealing with security but he could have said more that he does. The same goes for the international visits he made, or the negociations leading to the Paris climate agreement. Les Leҫons du Pouvoir concentrates on economy, the labour market, pensions and many other internal politics, although this presidency occurred in a period and country that moved many people worldwide.
A difficulty for a non-French reader is that Les Leҫons du Pouvoir never explains the French political system or institutes, nor the abbreviations used; also names of politicians are assumed to be familiar. This book is clearly not written for the international scene although its writer underlines on several occasions that France is a major player in the international community. Franҫois Hollande focuses on the international powers that he sees as relevant to the greatness and influence of France: Germany, the USA, China, Russia. A country like the Netherlands plays no role in his memoirs.
Some of the interesting sections I particularly liked:
His admiration of the courage of the police officer who entered the supermarket where people were taken hostage by terrorists: ‘ses chances de survie étaient bien faibles. Il n’a pas hésité une seconde’.
His thoughts about trust as key to the state – a lack of trust can make democracies stagger
The moment Barack Obama, Mario Monti and Franҫois Hollande try to grill Angela Merkel about euro politics; they want her to accept ‘growth over cuts’. She holds strong and follows her own road.
His descriptions of several occasions that he wants to do or show something which is interpreted differently afterwards. For example he pays a visit to a château that has been available for all presidents’ holidays, and he walks with his partner to the beach as he wishes to have a ‘présidence normale’ but he is highly criticized – what he wants to do and express is not how the media and/or the public view it. It shows the complexity of power in relation to how it is perceived.
The endless European gatherings; 28 people all get 5 minutes to talk in the first round which is already long, however when the Portuguese prime minister takes half an hour, he is not interrupted by the chair… He considers that it is the longlasting European peace that causes the boredom: ‘à moins que ce ne soit l‘ennui lui-même qui garantisse la paix’. One of those observations that form the pearls in this book!
How the debate about taking away the nationality of terrorists became impossible because it remembered the French to WWII and the Vichy regime that took away the French nationality from Jews and resistance fighters – the proposal is withdrawn.
The story of one of his ministers (‘l’affaire Cahuzac’) who is very convincing when lying to Franҫois Hollande with open eyes about his innocence, full of indignation. That is an incredible story and shows how difficult his job has been.
His relation to Emmanuel Macron, how it started, how it grew, and how it developed with Emmanuel Macron running for president, leaving Franҫois Hollande many steps behind in the political game.
The selection of the members of his government and the different fights they have, although the insights he gives do not explain all events concerned.
This book is about lessons learned about power, so I like to finish with 4 lessons: 1. Choose your battles – ‘à vouloir intervenir sur tout, on ne pèse sur rien’ (p. 70) 2. What counts is not the time spent to come to a decision but the traces the decision leaves in the long run (p.70) 3. Do not assume that your personal qualities like sympathy and understanding weigh more in diplomacy than the actual power relations (p.102) 4. Talking is not communicating. Don’t be too present in the media, don’t react to too many questions as people will not see or hear you any more (p.229)
Idiss was the grandmother of the French well-known politician Robert Badinter. He wrote this book in her honour. It offers both a moving family history and perspectives of jewish and non-jewish Europe. Idiss is an interesting and moving book.
Idiss is the story of a turbulent life that started and ended amidst crises of antisemitism. Badinter’s grandmother was born in 1863 and raised in Bessarabie, Yiddishland: a region ruled by Ottomans, Russians, Roumanians and Soviets, nowadays part of Moldava. Her community were Ashkenazic Jews, most of them living in poor circumstances. Idiss married her great love, Schulim.
The atmosphere in Bessarabie is threatening towards Jews, discriminating against them in many acts. In 1903 a terrible pogrom takes place, killing 50, wounding 100s, looting and destroying shops and houses. The two sons of Idiss and Schulim leave for Paris, to start a new life. They are quite successful and in 1912, Idiss, Schulim and daughter Chifra – Badinter’s mother – follow their track. Imagine what that journey meant for Idiss who never left her village before.
Robert Badinter shows how France was seen as a paradise through the eyes of the inhabitants of Bessarabie. Yes, there was the antisemitic affaire Dreyfus but Dreyfus was nevertheless protected by the law and the values of the République Française (‘laïque’) and famous French people stood up for him. So from the perspective of the Yids in Bessarabie the proverb ‘living like a Jew in France’ remained attractive.
Badinter describes the situation of Jews in France in the first half of the XX century as a place where they were considered as French in the first place: being Jewish was their religion: “citoyens français de confession israélite” (p.39). Simone Veil in her biography gives a similar vision. It is interesting to read how French society dealt with the Jewish citizens, rich like Rothschild and Citroën and poor like Idiss and Schulim.
Badinter gives more nuanced insights later in the book (p. 61-64) explaining how Jews were envied or despised by the French, suspected for plots to dominate the world and not considered as ‘real’ French: “Pour eux, les juifs avaient beau donner tous les gages du patriotisme, ils n’en demeuraient pas moins d’étrangers sur la terre de France, plus hospitalière dans ses lois que dans les coeurs” (p.62-63).
He tells that the Jewish community was not homogeneous like antisemitic pamphlets suggested and that there was some kind of zionist movement but that most “Israélites français” considered it more of a fantasy than a real dream, saying: “Un sioniste est un juif qui paye un autre juif pour envoyer un troisième juif en Palestine” (p.63).
I cannot simply resume this book as it has several layers. The language used is beautiful and suits the life of Idiss that was pure and loving. Many happy years are described, a great pleasure to read. The different developments in the family are very interesting and by times amusing. In 1942, the end of the book, Idiss dies. It is 2nd World War also in France and there is only one son, Naftoul, present at the funeral; the rest of the family is hiding, hoping to escape the Holocaust that is in full development. Naftoul is arrested soon after the funeral and dies in Auschwitz. Badinter’s father dies in Sobibor. The book Idiss leaves you with the same feeling as the first chapters of the biography of Simone Veil: you are just living your life, working, trying to do good things and be happy, and then you get persecuted for how others see you: as a Jew and a Jew only. They want you to die for that reason.
Idiss is very refined in language, lovely to read. Moreover Badinter succeeds to describe times, insights and places that are not common knowledge in Western-Europe. In the Netherlands, Sephardic customs and contributions have traditionally dominated more than Ashkenazic experiences (see also this book). Idiss can enrich your views of the European society and European diversity.
Aubeterre Underground Church of Saint Jean is an amazing site. The church was carved out of the rocks from the upper side downwards. The crusader Pierre II de Castillon lived in the castle above it and reserved the best spot for himself, with view on the copy of the Holy Grave in Jerusalem. Now you can visit this spot and see what he saw in the XIIth century.
Aubeterre Underground Church of Saint Jean is also called the Monolithic Church as it was carved out of the limestone rocks, however not out of a single rock. Still it is one of the largest rock-hewn churches in Europe. There is some discussion about the origin but the main carving job was done in the XIIth century by Benedictine monks. The way to carve it, from the upper side downwards, was influenced by early churches that can still be found in Turkey’s Kappadokia. On their way to Jerusalem the crusaders must have past this region and be inspired by the way they were created and brought this idea back to France.
The work took 10 years. 9000 m3 of stone was removed! The church is 27 meters long, 20 meters high and 16 meters wide. In the middle of the floor you can find a beautiful baptismal pool, carved in the form of a Greek cross. Aubeterre Underground Church was hidden for centuries by a rock fall, and only rediscovered in the 1950′s.
Imagine the first people entering the site; their mouths must have fallen open. They might have lived next door for years without any idea of the miracle that was created there in medieval times. See also this photograph I took at the entrance: if that had not been built, one could easily pass the church unnoticed.
Aubeterre Underground Church has enormous high rounded vaults which tower above a monumental reliquary in the form of the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem. The religious artifacts are no longer there. They were brought to Aubeterre-sur-Dronne from Jerusalem by Pierre II de Castillon, crusader and lord of the castle situated above the church. There is an entrance through the rocks to go from the castle down to the deambulatory in the vaults of the church.
Visitors actually enter the church from downstairs and take stairs to go up to the deambulatory that is perched beneath the vaults. Here is the perfect spot where Pierre II as the lord of the castle could overview the whole church. Seeing the holy sepulchre from here creates a highly spiritual ambience. However, the deambulatory is also home for bats. Don’t let it influence your spiritual experience! Aubeterre-sur-Dronne lies on the road to Santiago de Compostella and always had many pilgrims passing to see the relics.
Once back downstairs, don’t forget to have a view at the ‘cemetary’, on the side of the church: a complete necropolis that is also hewn out of the rock. It shows the popularity of the church and the holiness it had for visitors and inhabitants. All the graves head in the direction of Jerusalem.
The Coffee Trader is a good book for you, a friend told me and sent me a second hand version by post. My friend was right. What a story about trade in 1659 Amsterdam, where cultures and religions vary and new ways of doing business occur in the markets. David Liss is a writer who knows the word research: he depicts the 17th century with many details of context and history. A great book!
The Coffee Trader tells about Miguel Lienzo, a Jew who lived in Portugal as a converso – a Jew converted to Catholicism – like many other Jews. However the conversos in Portugal were still facing discrimination and many had to fear for their life. So he flew to Amsterdam, at that time a safe haven for Jews. Jews in Amsterdam could practice their religion and be active in trade – although there were plenty of rules between Jews and non-Jews. That in itself is a story so interesting that it is worth to read the book for it. You’ll learn how different communities found a way to live together in a religiously and culturally divided city and have relative peace and justice; at that time, unique in Europe.
Also it is intriguing how converted Portuguese Jews rebuilt
their ‘identity’ in Amsterdam. A well organised structure supported those who
knew little or nothing about that identity. I particularly liked the
description of a woman’s position, Miguel’s brother’s wife Hannah who was
brought up in ignorance, thinking she was a Catholic and unable to read or
write. In Amsterdam, she is suddenly a Jew, supposed to adhere to a religion
and a people that she had learned to despice. She is not walking on that path
New for me was also the idea of a Mahamad, an 17th century authority in Amsterdam that dealt with all matters for Jews: religiously, politically and legally. Together with rich Portuguese tradesmen they supported the poor Jews, so that the Dutch in Amsterdam would not complain about a burden on their back that came with the Portuguese refugees. However, when tudescos, Jews from eastern countries like Poland arrive in Amsterdam, that attitude is less generous. Most of the tudescos are poor. Although they faced very severe persecution in eastern Europe, the Mahamad takes measures to make their life difficult in the hope that they will choose other destinations than Amsterdam. There are really surprising details about the historical context in The Coffee Trader – and by the way nothing that could not be seen today…
Miguel lives in an era where tradesmen can easily become very rich or the opposite: loose everything they have. This period in Holland is called the Golden Age and brought a lot of wealth but it was risky. Miguel lost almost everything in the trade of sugar and now wants to try his fortune in a brandnew product: coffee. He wants to acquire the monopoly over this new drink that he estimates to be very promising. His strategy is breathtaking. And so is his playing field. There are so much rumours and hidden agendas around the trade market of Amsterdam that the story is a dazzling experience for the reader. It is really difficult to remember all that’s happening or has been said or might be possible. And that was exactly the reality for tradesmen in 1659 Amsterdam. How can they make their daily decisions without an excellent memory and the right focus?!
Many ethical questions come with the way business was done amid rumours and hidden agendas. Intriguing is the fact that in the end, the hidden agendas Miguel expected were exagerated. Half of them can be interpreted as misunderstandings or even imagination. An interesting lesson learned – but still, when bankruptcy is around the corner for tradesmen who do not watch their backs in the all or nothing market of 1659 Amsterdam, maybe inevitable.
Even though The Coffee Trader appeared already in 2000, this book is of great interest also in 2020. In the light of history, these 20 years do not matter at all. Go read it if you love Amsterdam, if you love trade, if you love history, if you love Jews and the Dutch, if you love risk taking and of course: if you love coffee! The Coffee Trader exists in Dutch under the title Handelaar in koffie.
I often went to the beautiful city of Hoorn but I never visited the Westfries Museum Hoorn. That was a mistake! When I finally took the step to visit last week, I saw how beautiful it is, both the ancient building and the collection; I should have gone there before… Learn about the Dutch Golden Age, the 17th century when the Netherlands were a brandnew state, full of ambition in wartorn Europe. Enjoy the attractive presentations!
Westfries Museum Hoorn is like the Frisians are: it won’t easily show from the outside what is in it. I was never aware that behind the walls of the indeed beautiful ancient building, a wealth of antiquities awaits the visitors. Rooms are decorated like they were in the 17th century. The picture to the left shows a wood carving in a chimney (oak), of men catching a whale: a wonderful picture. This is in the ‘tavern’, a real nice room where you can imagine how people sat together for eating and drinking.
17th paintings are everywhere. The museum has got magnificent pieces and they have a lot of them. Moreover it is far less busy than museums in Amsterdam so you have all the time you like to watch them in peace and silence. It is incredible how this 17th century ‘beginning’ country The Netherlands that was threatened from all sides, both by real ennemies like England and Spain, and by natural ennemies such as sea and rivers, built up an imperium with little means, by joining forces together and showing guts and re-thinking trade. It made cities like Hoorn thrive abundantly. Look at this wonderful painting Hoorn View by Hendrick Vroom in 1622 – admire the colours, the details…
Another painting I particularly liked is the Kitchen maid who cleans fish in front of farm with dog by Egbert Lievenzs. van der Poel (1621-1664). It is so different from the paintings of all the important guys (Westfries Museum Hoorn has many in this kind). Ordinary life with ordinary people can be as interesting or even more than the endless row of portraits on all the other walls.
Now I show you some other pieces that attracted my attention. It is only a selection, to give you an impression of what to expect and indeed I was deeply impressed. Enjoy the variety of what the Westfries Museum Hoorn has to offer!
The best piece for book lovers: chronicles of Hoorn, published in 1740. Telling the begin and the growth of Hoorn, and in particular the events (the ‘troubles’) until the year 1630. Written by Theodorus Velius, a doctor and a well know chronicler who wrote this in 1704. You can find the tekst of the first pages (in Dutch) on this site. The 1740 version has annotations by another expert, what a joy. Imagine how they produced this, in a time that a book was printed page by page!
Cutting art, art produced by cutting with scissors; it was difficult to photograph because of the glass reflection as you can see but hopefully you can get a good impression. De Faem was made by Gilles van Vliet, a vinegar maker and wine merchant in Rotterdam 1686. This was only his hobby! But his work had a certain fame because of his ‘excellent curieuse pieces’. Absolutely amazing work and you wonder where someone finds the patience for this art…
Down in the cellar, a lovely niche is reserved for this wooden Maria statue. It dates from 1450 – 1500, is made out of oak, the crown is made of gold with silverthread, pearls and gemstones. A sign mentions that it is called a ‘Maria in sole’ because she stands on a crescent moon, and she is lit by the sun and the stars, as described in Johannis’ Revelations. The cellar was totally quiet when I was there; it is a good place for meditation and prayer. Two chairs in the little niche facilitate visitors to do so.
Also in the cellar are these tiles, deriving from a farm in Andijk, not far from Hoorn in Westfriesland, dating from 1700-1730. The whole piece forms a ‘wall heater’ and depicts biblical scenes. There are more ‘wall heaters’ in the cellar as well as other interesting tiles. So do not forget to visit the cellar – if you skipp that part of the museum, you really miss something!
Another underground treasure: this painting that is part of a large piece, a tryptich, the Hoorn Panel of Justice. It used to hang behind the judges at the wall of the court room of the old townhall and shows the assumptions of jurisdiction. Most probably several painters worked on it from 1521 – 1530 and it contains 5 stories. I loved story number 4 (on the photograph), the Verdict of Herkenbald. Herkenbald of Bourbon was very ill in his bed when he ordered that his cousin had to be locked up for assaulting a maid. His order was not followed. Therefor Herkenbald cut the throat of his cousin all by himself. Whew…. I stood there thinking what this meant for the court room and the judges that were sitting in front of this painting in the 16th century… What could be the right interpretation of this story?
This is one other of those incredible museum pieces. The painting dates from 1589, that is now exactly 430 years ago. And what do they show here? The Westfries Museum Hoorn does not just have the painting, it also has the original box that is depicted in the painting. Isn’t that wonderful? I stood there in surprise and believe me, it matches: the box is exactly the box that was painted 430 years ago. Little is known about the painting, the sign mentions ‘two members of the Saint Joris Guild’ – oil painting on linen. OK, so far what we can know about it. As said knowing is not always the most interesting part.
Another very interesting piece, the gold plated silver Bossu Goblet: I did not find this beautiful or so but it served as a trophy for Hoorn and that is intriguing. It once belonged to the Spanish admiral Maximilien de Hénin-Liétard, the earl of Bossu. In the eternally ongoing war at that time (the 80 year war) the admiral was defeated in 1573 in a war on the water (or sea) close to Hoorn. The goblet in the hands of the people of Hoorn symbolized the new power of the city of Hoorn (and Enkhuizen, also in Westfriesland) that thrived after this heavy battle against the Spanish that they won. I find it so interesting in the Westfries Museum Hoorn, that every object has a story with historical relevance.
A coffin dating from 1658: who knows how many bodies were transported in this coffin? Intriguing that it has been preserved during centuries. The four corners are decorated with silver plate angels. I did not find any further explanation about this piece (feel free to comment below!) such as until when it was used and whether it was for the rich only or also for ordinary people. However, very beautiful…
How often do you see table ware with a hare? Here they are, in different shapes and colours. I loved them! Just for the motive. But if you like to know more, this is berretino-style faience from Liguria, Italy, 1580 – 1620. It appears that the coloured one is a local copy of the Italian work – quite a succesfull one, imo 🙂 –
Last but not least, I found this silver miniature, dating from 1751. The name of the maker is Arnoldus VAN GEFFEN – not really family I guess but I rarely hear my family name in this region far ‘above the rivers’ > Geffen is a village below the large Dutch rivers. So I was happily surprised! Well done Arnoldus, I love your silverwork 🙂 –
House of Dionysos in Paphos, Cyprus, has floors full of mosaics. It dates from the 2nd century AD but there is evidence it was built upon a much older building. The mosaics are worth your visit all by themselves, although they lie in a larger archaeological parc next to the seaside of Paphos, with much more to see.
The Phaedra and Hyppolytos mosaic for example form a refined work. Hyppolytos is there with his hunting dog and he reads the love letter his stepmother Phaedra sends him. An explanation says he ‘looks embarrassed’ and she is ‘waiting anxiously for his reaction’; I leave it to you to decide whether these observations are correct… Cupido directs a burning torch to her heart as a sign of her passion.
Platforms above the mosaics walk you through or better to say ‘over’ the mosaics. Signs are in Greek and English ànd braille: very customer friendly!
There are also great mosaics showing animals, and other aspects of nature, like the animals here: a wild boar purchased by a tiger (?), a bear, a deer, a bull for example.
All together the House of Dionysos in Paphos has 556 m2 in mosaics so there is a lot to enjoy. Also the more figurative mosaics are very fine, I loved them.
The House of Dionysos in Paphos lies within a larger archaeological parc called Kato Paphos with more interesting remains to see. Some interesting floors in the open air were covered with protective carpets when I visited, alas. Also the weather was very hot: if you go during the summer, be early to be able to look around the archaeological site without a burning sun over your head. The mosaics of the House of Dionysos themselves are covered with a roof but of course not the whole area is.
Further on in some corner of the site lie interesting tombs. There was nothing to explain them so if you have information about it, please comment here. They seem to be different from the Tombs of the Kings mentioned on wikipedia, but maybe they were part of them. Some of the tombs were a bit of a mess, as you can see on the photograph to the left.
As said, the House of Dionysos in Paphos was built in the 2nd century AD upon more ancient remains; the oldest one was a sanctuary carved into the natural bedrock. It was destroyed most probably by an earthquake in the 4th century. The leading role Paphos used to have in Cyprus was then transfered to Salamis, also a very interesting site to visit. The coins found on this site can be seen in the Museum of the History of Cypriot Coinage in Nicosia.
You may also like these blogs about other mosaic treasures: