Archive for August, 2009

fat and fungus pizza

August 20, 2009

Hiking Around

Hiking Around

August 16, 2009

Clermont Ferrand and Vicinity

Flea Markets are the garage sales of France, Wendy explained to me. We walked through a sunny, Sunday morning one in Marche Aux Pucex in Clermont. Aisles of cheap packaged household wares were interspersed with old clothing, toys and other used items. Wendy purchased a miniature wash basin- shaped pot, and a silver “pin” dating from the 1880’s. It was used to attach (as in close without buttons) a cloak or shawl, the used jewelery dealer explained. I, with a much more mundane eye, purchased a brooch and two cloth place-mats decorated with blueberries.

Eric and Daniel cycled down to market at Aubiere. There local produce and artesenal products lined the streets. Wendy bought crates of fruit- some to can, lots to eat, some bread and a fish (maybe the fish came from a store), all of which showed up on the “menu” for the next few days with the exception of the apricots- which Nora had to halve and bottle, a task that sounds fare more romantic than it looks.

Onto Puy de Lemtegy after a lunch that didn’t agree with me. I had to check out the bathroom at the visitor’s center which deserves mention due to its unusualness (by American standards anyway). This bathroom was labeled neither Hommes nor Femmes, the toilets are housed behind full floor to ceiling doors in little closets, and behind a row of three such closets lurks a room with urinals. I know this since I was a bit disoriented when I emerged and turned into the men’s area. However the man who was next on line seemed not the least concerned as he passed me.

The Central Masif region fo France is made up of a series of extinct volcanos. Last time we visited we climbed Puy du Dome the largest and most famous. Today the attraction of Puy de Lemtegy is an explanation of the ring of volcanoes, complete with a movie, a circuit of the volcano crater and view of the (now also extinct) mining operation and a Disney style 3D movie station, where according to Eric, rats jump out at you and air blows past your ankles to give the impression of the rats rushing past. I had somewhat of a difficult time attending to the tour guide, who explained the rumblings of the ancient rocks, since lunch continued to rumble in my stomach and she only spoke French. But even a French speaker, turned her back to the guide and opened and shut her fingers giving the universal sign for blah,blah, blah. I guess the sun was pretty hot for geology education.

Dinner of white salmon as the sun set between Puy du Dome.

August 17

Around Romanagnat- the suburb where Wendy and Daniel live.

I started training for a vacation with early. You need stamina to keep up with Daniel’s plans.

The day started with a hike up a little mountain, the town of D’Usson is nestled about midway up. There we parked the car and followed the yellow butterfly trail up to the summit We stopped in the churchyard while the bells rang out midday, before following a rocky path pretty much up to the summit. There a white marble statue of Mary hovered over us as we gazed out at the valleys and various volcano mountains the guide had explained the day before.

We didn’t have lunch because the restaurant we drove to was not serving the pizza they advertised, instead we had some fruit and bread in a dog poop-covered churchyard and walked a little more to the ruins of a castle. Daniel explained to us that the various local rulers ((for lack of a better word, feudal lords comes to mind also) located their fortresses on top of hillsides for defense purpose, but in the end the King of France destroyed them as to undermine their power and create a unified France.

But those in the King’s favor were still able to acquire property and built themselves a pretty nice house. So in the afternoon we went to visit Chateau Parentignat, an attraction advertised as a Petit Versailles. There we got another French speaking tour, this time of eleven out of ninety rooms of a chateau so well tucked away in a rural valley of France that it survived in tack, the French Revolution. We were guided through rooms filled with ugly art, and period decorations while in the English Gardens (French Gardens are too expensive to maintain) the children of the current residents tooled around in their electric toy jeeps.

Dinner on the balcony as the sunset set the sky ablaze behind Puy Du Dome and I tried futilely to capture it.

August 18

Lescaux II

Okay- remember the part in history class where they told you about the Ancient Cave Drawings? That’s Lescaux, a two hour drive west of Wendy’s house. So two attempts, and we were able to rent a car, follow Daniel to the main highway and clock down the road at about 85 miles an hour- a privilege that only costs about 15 Euros in each direction ($22).

A stop at the highway reststop (better than the US, Nadia, Wendy’s young friend from Boston pointed out- French pastry replaced CinnaBon) and we were there.

So here’s the story, for those not paying attention in History class. In 1940 three boys followed their dog down a hole in a field. There they found a cave covered with hundreds of drawings of large animals. They promised each other to keep it secret forever since it was such an amazing find. Forever turned out to be three days since luckily they told a teacher who realized what an important find it was and the world got a glimpse of 17,000 year old drawings. Nadia and I tried to fathom just how far in . the past that really is, but it is difficult to think that is almost three time as long ago as the Bible claims the Earth to be old. Okay so truth time, we didn’t really go in the same cave the teenagers discovered. LasCaux was opened for about 20 years but carbon dioxide that visitors insisted on breathing out was causing stalactites to grow on the paintings so the cave was sealed and a replica was painstakingly constructed with more than 90% of the drawings copied using authentic techniques. It was still amazing. They were Homo Sapiens, the English speaking guide assured us, and they were able to convey, depth and volume and movement using mineral pigments in a dark cave 17,000 years ago.

Back in Montianac for lunch. A tourist town too far from Paris or any major city to be on the typical tourist itinerary, the cafe menu was interestingly translated.

We were offered pizza with mozzarela, fat and fungus.

I had a tuna fish sandwich.

Oh, and a fat man got stuck in a narrow passage in front of me in the phony cave. I resisted the urge to push.

August 19

Back to “Daniel touring” and wishing I was in better shape. It took us a few hours to work out the next leg of the trip so we didn’t get off until about noon. We drove through rolling hills and fields where sheep and cows grazed and we ended up at a crossroads near the town of St. Nectaire. There we hiked up a forested path to the Summit where we could see a tiny village across the village. And Wendy had gotten our eating habits figured out by now so we ate tuna sandwiches on the plateau as we listened to thunder of gathering storm clouds. And then we hiked down and landed in an equally tiny village called Grentrolle.

I found out my camera could no more capture the flowered outlined houses blocked against the green hillsides than it could capture the evening sunsets. But I kept trying anyway.

We drove down the valley to a huge Cathedral in St. Nectaire. Now this is a valley where the cows outnumber the people and here is this huge Romanesque Cathedral built 900 years ago. There were actually more tourists here, than at most of the local sites but still, it is hard for me to imagine the building of this cathedral. Here in central France, how easy could life had been for the peasants who scratched there existence out without machinery or modern technology and here block after block of stone were gathered and shaped and place one on top of each other until a multi-faced thirty foot structure arose. Daniel says people think differently on each side of the Pyrenees. It hard for me to imagine how they thought.

We drove on to Lac Chambollen as the sky alternated between deep blue and storm cloud gray. With the sky deep blue we hiked around the lake and stuck our feet in the water while vacationers pedaled boats around. With the sky deep gray and the rain pouring down we hiked back to the car and the vacationers pedaled furiously towards shore.

Kisses and hugs and lots of thank yous at the train station and off to Lyon.Sunset over Puy Du Dome

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August 17, 2009

August 13

The take a number machine wasn’t working at the Thalys ticket office, the powder blue uniformed clerk was kneeling at it as if in prayer, We waited while he and the woman next to him flipped the paper feeder roll a number of times and then we went to the next open counter.

Counter person: “You need to go to the counter that is on your ticket number.

Us: But we don’t have a ticket because the machine is broken.

Counter person: Then you should go to counter 21- because that is what should be on your ticket.

We didn’t ask- we went. There we were sold tickets to Paris for about $150. But, they could not assign us seats since the train was oversold.

Counter person: If they have no seats they will place a folding chair in the aisle.

Me: For $150 we will sit in folding chair for 4 hours to Paris?

Counter person: yes

And then I decided to shut up since it is a long walk to Paris.

We had comfortable seats. We passed through Belgium, a ferris wheel sits alongside the Antwerp station and the French countryside and four hours later we were in Paris.

Through the miracle of modern technology and SMS we found Julia who showed us how to buy sandwiches at a Paul Bakery and we ate them on the grounds next to the pyramides of the Louvre. I’m finished complaining about map reading skills so suffice it to say we strolled through the Tuilleries towards the Champs Elysee before we decided that we were to meet Julia in front of Center George Pompedou in the other direction. Julia marched us down an avenue crowded with street vendors and shoppers, over Pont au Change – onto Ile du la Cite. There we visited Sainte-Chapelle a large church where floor to ceiling stained glassed windows illustrate the stories of the bible in more than 1,000 vignettes. (I suppose for the illiterate masses of the middle ages when the church was built).

Eric sat on a portico and looked at the stone carvings, making more inferences about theology, the masses and the middle ages.

Exhausted-we returned to the hotel- the Best Western Opera Galion tucked on a little street off Rue D’Opera. We had a little windless room perched behind an inner courtyard. When we checked in the desk clerk asked us if it was our first time in Europe. I assumed it was just a friendly question, but later I thought it was perhaps a way to judge if the tiny enclave behind the glass doors was going to freak out our double-queen-sized beds, window with a balcony American minds. It was great, pull the curtains and time and the city disappeared. I think we finally recovered from jet-lag.

Warning- Paris distances cannot be judged using an Amsterdam Map scale. We took a long walk to Hotel Du Ville where we met Julia and Suzy. We marched and marched some more around Marais looking for an appropriate restaurant.

Suzy: “Julia always thinks she is going to find something better, so she has to check every one.”

Me: Its an inherited trait, she gets it from her father (and maybe also her aunt Myra- a double whammy) its on both sides.

So after a stroll through the Jewish Quarters (falafel, even the best falafel in the world according to the NY Times, was rejected and we ended up in a forgetable restaurant. Two hours of sitting in the basement cave- the fact that the waiter took our order after a half hour and then returned to take it again an hour later should have been a tip off that this was not the fastest service ever.

An even longer walk home. Time to master the Paris Metro.

August 14

Paris.

The Louvre. The last time we went to Paris we spent 48 hours and didn’t attempt it. This time ( with just about the same 48 hours) we did.

We slept late. We finally figured out how to eat breakfast in a “cool” Paris brassiere. What was left of the morning was spent buying Railroad tickets to Clermont Ferrand and gazing over Paris from the roof of the Galeries Lafayette.Tres Bon! A Spanish woman took our picture and we will try to post the gorditos (little chubby ones) with the Eiffel tower growing out of Eric’s shoulder.

Ah the Louvre-

I’ve read that Louvre fatigue is a real syndrome causing tourists to collapse among the eight miles of artwork. That said, one wonders why everyone tries to crowd into the room with the Mona Lisa. I got to see the top of her head as tens of dozes of flashes continously popped. The “do not take flash pictures” sign, is roundly ignored in the Louvre.

I will do my best to prevent Louvre fatigue by recounting only one Louvre story.We paused by one large painting of David slaying Goliath. The Renaissance painter gave it his own interpretation, two canvasses show David wrestling with Goliath and attempting to slay him with a golden sword while the sling shot lies abandoned in the foreground.

A Spanish woman asked us if we knew the story- and Eric responded in English and I translated that it was in fact a Bible story. (if not exactly as we recall it)

Oh she responded she had never heard of it. What I meant to tell her was that Christian belief states that Jesus is from the line of David and that David was the first king of Israel and that this is a story where he demonstrates that he is worthy of leading the Israelites. But hey- I was in the early stages of Louvre fatigue and it was Spanish- so she got the condensed version of even that much. She thanked us, wrote down the names of David and Golaith and told me she was going home to read up.

Dinner (organized by Julia and Suzy) on a blanket(okay- sarong and plastic poncho) by the Eiffel Tower. A loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and thee. (And sushi for Eric and some other stuff and lots of drunk company- perhaps it is the only place in the world where people come up right to your picnic and offer to sell you bottles of wine, beer or a pack of cigarettes. After dark, the Eiffel Tower twinkles for 3 minutes. We watched it twinkle and took lots of pictures to document the experience.

August 15

Paris to Clermont Ferrand

No cool breakfast this morning. The brassiere closed. Breakfst at the hotel with the ferocious cafe machine that shoots steam in every direction when we press the button for cafe au lait.

We did get to meet Aza, an Israeli who was in town to book performance dates for her choral group. She also had taught Hebrew to Russians (a fact I found out when I tried to translate Eric’s attempt to tell her that his Hebrew name was Israel and did so incorrectly.) And also she had been a history teacher (I forget how that came up). So we related our journey’s into Eric’s father’s past, she told us how her father had been in the Jewish Brigade as well as the Haganah and she complained about how difficult it was to do business in France. And then she invited us to get in contact with her when we came to Israel and she would take us to a performance of her choral group.

We split up for the morning. Eric- visited the George Pompidou Center and I aimed for the Musee Carnevelet. But alas it was closed today. So I sat in the park in Place Les Vosges, Paris’s oldest public square- looked atVictor Hugo’s house and hobbled over to the Bastille- which for what I could tell was a traffic circle with a monument in the middle. The most discernable reference to the French Revolution are the tiled depictions in the Metro Station. Without Eric, to carefully frame he photos, my rushed attempts to capture them are unworthy of the experience.

A hot train ride to Clermont Ferrand and dinner awaited us on Wendy’s balcony, watching the city twinkle in the twilight, while eating and drinking copious amounts for  3 hours.  I am thinking of writing a book titled under the Central Masif Sun, or a Week in Clermont –

The End of Erc’s Quest

August 14, 2009

August 12, 2009

Eric’s journey continues, onto Henri Chapelle, the American Cemetery located at the point where Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, meet. Eight thousand graves line up in a green valley nestled in the Hillside with an American flag fluttering at the back. It was a beautiful day with the sun shining but not too hot, the grounds tended so well that it is hard to find a pebble to place on the graves with Jewish stars. But I did, and wandered up and down the rows reading the names of men who were contemporaries of my father, men with old Jewish men names, but who never got to grow old. I wondered, were they happy to be in the army? Where the grateful to have unlimited food for the first time in their lives, as my father was? Many were from New York, a few from and Illinois or Massachusetts, but also, I saw Tennessee, Missouri and Maine carved along the triangular sides of the simple headstones, even a captain from Louisiana.

Eric asked for the location of the grave of the man from his father’s unit.

“Are you family?”

The administrators of the cemetery still do escorted tours and present a flag to family members. But he declined, only an interested descendent of a compatriot.

I tried to get a stone on each Jewish grave, some mental figuring- if Jews were 3 per cent of the population and there were 8,000 graves that was 240 graves. ( I was compulsive enough to check- I counted of a section of ten rows by ten rows and sure enough there were three Stars of Davids among 97 crosses) I apologize for any graves I missed, and I apologize to all the others for not physically acknowledging my gratitude.

We drove straight north through Holland, through driving rain and no apparent windmills. We made it to Utrecht in the late afternoon with an hour left to visit the Rietveld-Schröder House. With the rain finally letting up a bit we arrived at the corner of Prinz Hendrkslaan Strree and parked in front of a square cement house outlined with primary colors- a three dimensional version of a Mondrian painting.
The audio tour (hey-its included in the admission) described the house a young widow created with the architect Reitveld in 1924, a cubic space with open floor plans and moveable walls that illustrate the de Stijl movement. The man in the ticket office explained it like this- when you want to develop of movement beyond realism you remove everything from the page and what you are left with is a blank page and a line. The house in the spacial manifestation of simplicity, all horizontal and vertical lines and primary colors (including the specially made radiators) with symmetry not to be found anywhere. It is a house that alludes to a love story as well, as the audio tells us. The architect, Reitveld moves into the house, only after his wife dies. But the friendly audio voice assures us they were not only collaborators(women could not really be architects at that time) as well as lovers and soul mates.

Back to Amsterdam- including almost a complete ring around the ring road since we are no better at auto maps than street plans, too late to return to the car to Europa Car we fed the parking machine an incredible amount of Euros and then dinner at Greek restaurant.

Onto Belgium

August 12, 2009

Mavens of the Amsterdam tram system , that we now are, we found our way to the tram stop by 10:00 am, of course it was the number 1 tram and we were aiming for the number 14, but several 180 degree rotations of the map and a quick debate on which way to take it and we were heading into the center city. (For the record, I slept well the night before and was up to taking a stand on the superiority of my map reading skills). Several minutes into the ride a family with less English skills than us, entered the tram and told the ticket taker that they had one child and three people.

“One child and three people,” the woman across from us giggled. I asked her if she had children of her own.

“No,” she answered. I guess that’s why she assumed it was a semantic error.

We reached the Foam-Fografiemuseum shortly after. The Spanish gentleman who had helped me pass the time painlessly at the Anne Frank Museum the day before had asked me if I knew that the original name for New York City was New Amsterdam. Even if I hadn’t been a fourth grade teacher all those years the City of New York has done its best to remind us that 2009 is the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s sail into New York Harbor and the Dutch colonialization of New York. (you know the story about Peter Minuit, the Indians and the $24 dollar worth of beads thing). And so we started our Amsterdam exploration prematurely at the Museum of the City of New York. There, Dutch photographers exhibited their photographs of their impressions of New York City. Most memorable, in my opinion was the set of photos of the photographer’s daughter adorned with various objects to represent the dutch cap of a 17th Century portrait painting(http://www.mcny.org/exhibitions/)

You actually have to go to the museum to see the photo with the girl wearing a plastic supermarket bag or a Yankee cap.

The Foam Museum exhibited the complement, New York photographers impressions of Amsterdam. I don’t know if it was our early Sunday morning arrival or that the Dutch are far less interested in NY photographers than the opposite, but for the most part we were the only people in the museum. Not to undermine, it was still well worth the visit. Perhaps my favorite pictures were those of the

Richard Rothman, who (and I paraphrase here) tried to capture the margin where Amsterdam and nature meet. An elderly man surrounded by marijuana plants sits in a clearing most likely at the edge of a canal, or an abandoned bicycle and motor bike placed among garbage in the wetlands while a bottle of cleaning supplies hang from the handle bars.

Okay so that was the part of the museum I got. Now to the other part. I suspect that the building was at one time a grandiose bank (this I gathered from looking at old photos in the cafeteria) The lower level appeared to be a massive safe with vaulted doors, swung open to the public, huge marble pillars and tiled floors. Along the perimeters are displays of modern Amsterdam history. None as interesting as the setting.

After lunch of bagels and lox paired with Dutch hot cocoa – not a bad combination we spent some time in the Jewish Museum –a combination of Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues. The Portugese Synagogue dates from the 1600’s and was an impressive structure with large chandeliers and candles at the seats providing the only illumination after dark.

And then on to Vondel Park. A small theater in the middle of the park provides summer entertainment. And there we saw was Roosbeef. Roosbeef is a popular Dutch band whose lead singer has hair the reverse of a prime rib- red on the outside and brown towards the middle. She sings and chats between songs in Dutch and is very amusing. We know this since people laughed- a lot- we had no idea what was so funny. But the her voice was pretty and the music pleasant and jet lag struck again so we listened for quite a while. The only question- how do Dutch audiences stay so still as they listen to rock?

August10

Now I’ve been to Harlem in two countries. There are similarities, many churches, diverse population and lots of on the street shopping. We spent a sunny morning looking at the street market that featured fabric as its main product, wandered down an alley in search of a hidden garden, described in Wendy’s guidebook as an Alm’s House. (Something that may exist but I haven’t found in NYC’s Harlem. And generally enjoyed a few hours of sunshine- something that has been in short supply. Eric made his traditional shopping trip yesterday to purchase a sweatshirt once again proving Americans are built bigger than Europeans (at least these Americans.)

Goals for the afternoon included renting a car, seeing famous Dutch paintings and printing out directions for tomorrow’s Belgium trip. We saw Dutch paintings.

And ate a hot dog- this vegetarian thing is getting tough.

We spent a few hours in the Rikh museum looking at artistic documentation of Dutch Naval battles and their presence around globe. The battle outside Vlissengen is translated into English as the battle of Flushing yet another reminder of New York’s Dutch heritage. And we oohed and aahed at the huge Rembrant canvases. The Rikh is being renovated our visit was reduced to what there curators consider the high points. Enough to be satisfying without museum fatigue overwhelming us.

And then the hot dog stop, today’s map debate and a quick decision to sneak in a trip to the Van Gogh museum.With little over an hour and huge crowds (many with museum provided audio devices glued to their ears) we managed to look at the prolific collection of Van Goghs there. The best moments were the last moments. After announcements in four languages that the museum was closing the crowds disappeared and we were left alone with Van Gogh’s sunflowers and other masterpieces.

“We’re going, we’re going,” I told the guard approaching us.

“Enjoy it for a few more minutes- it’s my favorite time at the museum,” she responded.

So we did.

August 11, 2009

We fell off the beaten track today. For the last month Eric has been busy at his computer looking up information for our trip, he found his father’s yearbook from his World War II army battalion and Eric has been busy trying to align his father’s past with our immediate future. So today is what he came up with. First- we needed to rent a car since his trip included travels through smaller sized cities over the Belgium countryside. It was evident that Eric was motivated since by 7:30 am the car was in front of Wendy’s house and I was being encouraged to get in.

We drove through Holland and as advertised ,windmills pop up here and there without any apparent warning. I took pictures. Of course upon review they consist mostly of single blades and a piece of the base framed by Eric’s nose but it is proof we were in Holland.

By 10:30 we reached the town of Mechelon our goal, the Jewish Museum of Deportation and resistance. At the unassuming brick courtyard more than nine thousand people were sent to the death camps. Less than two hundred survived. The museum documents the time, some material we had seen before and some we hadn’t. One propaganda poster had a predecessor of a flow chart showing how the Jews were directly connected to Roosevelt and Stalin, the direct arrow to Roosevelt contained the name of Bernard Baruch and included names like Morganthau and Lehman, familiar names. The arrow pointed at Stalin was entitled Mosheson and was less self explanatory. The most unique part of the exhibit were sketches made by a Jewish detainee who was employed as a clerk artist. Her job description consisted of drawing numbered arm bands for the prisoners, but somehow she managed to find time to make sketches of daily life that ranged from a vase on a window, to the typewriter where she type file cards for each detained who came through the center, to a of a child who sillouette of a child who watches his parents board a train headed east.

Eric asked if his father might have been at the center with the American Army. The dates didn’t exactly line up. The center had been liberated in July of 1944 by the English. Eric had information that his father’s battalion arrived in October. It was so long ago.

But I browsed the guest book and the common theme among visitors from Guatemala to New Zealand- we must never forget.

We ommanged around Mechelin (that’s the Flemish word for detour) we made it to Boortmeerbeek

We could tell that it was not a big tourist town since the parking was available and free. When we were about to give up Eric spotted a memorial to the 28th convey on the side of the regular old commuter railroad station. There a wooden block was carved with several hands and the inscription,

Friends as you pass by, honor these hands whose heroic gestures saved those whom the forces of evil had destined to hell

It is a tribute to one of the very few Concentration Camp bound trains that was

“attacked” allowing some to escape and others (as the plaque explained,) die as free men.

At the town hall we tried again to confirm Eric’s father’s wartime whereabouts. This time very friendly town clerks sent us off to find a 73 or 74 year old man they knew, who knew much about the war.

His brother lives in Florida – so we would be able to communicate with him they assured us. Would we bother him, I asked,

“no, he would be honored.”

But alas he was not at home to be honored.

So off to the town of Leuven, where the scent of Belgian waffles enticed us to feed the meter (Leuven-is a tourist town)and ourselves- twice And then it was too late to make it to our next stop before closing time so we booked a room and strolled around the university town. We did check out the train station and got to look at a large stone memorial dating from the 1920’s with curious carving that we interpreted as the struggle between the modern man and the nobel peasant. But we could be completely wrong. And we were no further elucidated about Eric’s father’s history, but it was beautiful evening in a pleasant town.

It is late and even my New York brain thinks its about time to end this day but as I type Eric surfs the TV for English channels. And suddenly we are listening to a story about the growth of the Aryan Nation in the California Prison System. Suddenly the past and Eric’s father’s story we tried to stitch together today seems not so long ago.

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Mavens of the Amsterdam tram system , that we now are, we found our way to the tram stop by 10:00 am, of course it was the number 1 tram and we were aiming for the number 14, but several 180 degree rotations of the map and a quick debate on which way to take it and we were heading into the center city. (For the record, I slept well the night before and was up to taking a stand on the superiority of my map reading skills). Several minutes into the ride a family with less English skills than us, entered the tram and told the ticket taker that they had one child and three people.

“One child and three people,” the woman across from us giggled. I asked her if she had children of her own.

“No,” she answered. I guess that’s why she assumed it was a semantic error.

We reached the Foam-Fografiemuseum shortly after. The Spanish gentleman who had helped me pass the time painlessly at the Anne Frank Museum the day before had asked me if I knew that the original name for New York City was New Amsterdam. Even if I hadn’t been a fourth grade teacher all those years the City of New York has done its best to remind us that 2009 is the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s sail into New York Harbor and the Dutch colonialization of New York. (you know the story about Peter Minuit, the Indians and the $24 dollar worth of beads thing). And so we started our Amsterdam exploration prematurely at the Museum of the City of New York. There, Dutch photographers exhibited their photographs of their impressions of New York City. Most memorable, in my opinion was the set of photos of the photographer’s daughter adorned with various objects to represent the dutch cap of a 17th Century portrait painting(http://www.mcny.org/exhibitions/)

You actually have to go to the museum to see the photo with the girl wearing a plastic supermarket bag or a Yankee cap.

The Foam Museum exhibited the complement, New York photographers impressions of Amsterdam. I don’t know if it was our early Sunday morning arrival or that the Dutch are far less interested in NY photographers than the opposite, but for the most part we were the only people in the museum. Not to undermine, it was still well worth the visit. Perhaps my favorite pictures were those of the

Richard Rothman, who (and I paraphrase here) tried to capture the margin where Amsterdam and nature meet. An elderly man surrounded by marijuana plants sits in a clearing most likely at the edge of a canal, or an abandoned bicycle and motor bike placed among garbage in the wetlands while a bottle of cleaning supplies hang from the handle bars.

Okay so that was the part of the museum I got. Now to the other part. I suspect that the building was at one time a grandiose bank (this I gathered from looking at old photos in the cafeteria) The lower level appeared to be a massive safe with vaulted doors, swung open to the public, huge marble pillars and tiled floors. Along the perimeters are displays of modern Amsterdam history. None as interesting as the setting.

After lunch of bagels and lox paired with Dutch hot cocoa – not a bad combination we spent some time in the Jewish Museum –a combination of Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues. The Portugese Synagogue dates from the 1600’s and was an impressive structure with large chandeliers and candles at the seats providing the only illumination after dark.

And then on to Vondel Park. A small theater in the middle of the park provides summer entertainment. And there we saw was Roosbeef. Roosbeef is a popular Dutch band whose lead singer has hair the reverse of a prime rib- red on the outside and brown towards the middle. She sings and chats between songs in Dutch and is very amusing. We know this since people laughed- a lot- we had no idea what was so funny. But the her voice was pretty and the music pleasant and jet lag struck again so we listened for quite a while. The only question- how do Dutch audiences stay so still as they listen to rock?

August10

Now I’ve been to Harlem in two countries. There are similarities, many churches, diverse population and lots of on the street shopping. We spent a sunny morning looking at the street market that featured fabric as its main product, wandered down an alley in search of a hidden garden, described in Wendy’s guidebook as an Alm’s House. (Something that may exist but I haven’t found in NYC’s Harlem. And generally enjoyed a few hours of sunshine- something that has been in short supply. Eric made his traditional shopping trip yesterday to purchase a sweatshirt once again proving Americans are built bigger than Europeans (at least these Americans.)

Goals for the afternoon included renting a car, seeing famous Dutch paintings and printing out directions for tomorrow’s Belgium trip. We saw Dutch paintings.

And ate a hot dog- this vegetarian thing is getting tough.

We spent a few hours in the Rikh museum looking at artistic documentation of Dutch Naval battles and their presence around globe. The battle outside Vlissengen is translated into English as the battle of Flushing yet another reminder of New York’s Dutch heritage. And we oohed and aahed at the huge Rembrant canvases. The Rikh is being renovated our visit was reduced to what there curators consider the high points. Enough to be satisfying without museum fatigue overwhelming us.

And then the hot dog stop, today’s map debate and a quick decision to sneak in a trip to the Van Gogh museum.With little over an hour and huge crowds (many with museum provided audio devices glued to their ears) we managed to look at the prolific collection of Van Goghs there. The best moments were the last moments. After announcements in four languages that the museum was closing the crowds disappeared and we were left alone with Van Gogh’s sunflowers and other masterpieces.

“We’re going, we’re going,” I told the guard approaching us.

“Enjoy it for a few more minutes- it’s my favorite time at the museum,” she responded.

So we did.

August 11, 2009

We fell off the beaten track today. For the last month Eric has been busy at his computer looking up information for our trip, he found his father’s yearbook from his World War II army battalion and Eric has been busy trying to align his father’s past with our immediate future. So today is what he came up with. First- we needed to rent a car since his trip included travels through smaller sized cities over the Belgium countryside. It was evident that Eric was motivated since by 7:30 am the car was in front of Wendy’s house and I was being encouraged to get in.

We drove through Holland and as advertised ,windmills pop up here and there without any apparent warning. I took pictures. Of course upon review they consist mostly of single blades and a piece of the base framed by Eric’s nose but it is proof we were in Holland.

By 10:30 we reached the town of Mechelon our goal, the Jewish Museum of Deportation and resistance. At the unassuming brick courtyard more than nine thousand people were sent to the death camps. Less than two hundred survived. The museum documents the time, some material we had seen before and some we hadn’t. One propaganda poster had a predecessor of a flow chart showing how the Jews were directly connected to Roosevelt and Stalin, the direct arrow to Roosevelt contained the name of Bernard Baruch and included names like Morganthau and Lehman, familiar names. The arrow pointed at Stalin was entitled Mosheson and was less self explanatory. The most unique part of the exhibit were sketches made by a Jewish detainee who was employed as a clerk artist. Her job description consisted of drawing numbered arm bands for the prisoners, but somehow she managed to find time to make sketches of daily life that ranged from a vase on a window, to the typewriter where she type file cards for each detained who came through the center, to a of a child who sillouette of a child who watches his parents board a train headed east.

Eric asked if his father might have been at the center with the American Army. The dates didn’t exactly line up. The center had been liberated in July of 1944 by the English. Eric had information that his father’s battalion arrived in October. It was so long ago.

But I browsed the guest book and the common theme among visitors from Guatemala to New Zealand- we must never forget.

We ommanged around Mechelin (that’s the Flemish word for detour) we made it to Boortmeerbeek

We could tell that it was not a big tourist town since the parking was available and free. When we were about to give up Eric spotted a memorial to the 28th convey on the side of the regular old commuter railroad station. There a wooden block was carved with several hands and the inscription,

Friends as you pass by, honor these hands whose heroic gestures saved those whom the forces of evil had destined to hell

It is a tribute to one of the very few Concentration Camp bound trains that was

“attacked” allowing some to escape and others (as the plaque explained,) die as free men.

At the town hall we tried again to confirm Eric’s father’s wartime whereabouts. This time very friendly town clerks sent us off to find a 73 or 74 year old man they knew, who knew much about the war.

His brother lives in Florida – so we would be able to communicate with him they assured us. Would we bother him, I asked,

“no, he would be honored.”

But alas he was not at home to be honored.

So off to the town of Leuven, where the scent of Belgian waffles enticed us to feed the meter (Leuven-is a tourist town)and ourselves- twice And then it was too late to make it to our next stop before closing time so we booked a room and strolled around the university town. We did check out the train station and got to look at a large stone memorial dating from the 1920’s with curious carving that we interpreted as the struggle between the modern man and the nobel peasant. But we could be completely wrong. And we were no further elucidated about Eric’s father’s history, but it was beautiful evening in a pleasant town.

It is late and even my New York brain thinks its about time to end this day but as I type Eric surfs the TV for English channels. And suddenly we are listening to a story about the growth of the Aryan Nation in the California Prison System. Suddenly the past and Eric’s father’s story we tried to stitch together today seems not so long ago.

Amsterdam Day 1

August 9, 2009

Wendy said to meet her at the meeting place. After some discussion, we found the red and white cubic structure that is in fact called the “Meeting Place” in the terminal of Schipol Airport. For the first time in my life, the plane was actually early so we ended up hanging around for an hour and then getting the phone message to go outside to Parking Area B4. The trip to Amsterdam begins much like the ones to New York end on a search for what does Parking Area B4 mean and where’s the car..

Wendy’s mom had picked up breakfast at the street market down the block and since we had lost complete idea of time and what meal we were up to we had some Turkish (well maybe Turkish- her Mom wasn’t exactly sure since the baker neither spoke German or English) bread and jam.

After a few hours sleep we were off on the Tram to the part of the map Wendy had highlighted as the interesting canals. Since she provided us with Tram tickets it wasn’t to hard to jump on and read the electronic sign until we came to Westmarket. I was too tired to get into our usual map reading disputes and somehow a left turn follow by a right led us right to a line of tourists. Ahh- the Ann Frankhuis (Anne Frank’s House). All our tour guide books advised get there early cause the lines are long, but I got on it anyway because I was too tired to think of an alternative. Eric went off to explore the option of finding timed ticket sales but by the time he returned I had gotten involved in the conversation between the Spanish couple and Japanese family in front of me. The joy of travel- listening to people from all over the world discuss their travel plans. The Spanish man explained that he had an agenda for his time in Amsterdam, get a piercing -somewhere on his body, a tatoo (side note- the most common Spanish tatoo states- My mother loves me, according to our line mate) and to see the Anne Frank House. I can only say for sure that he accomplished number 3, but as he pointed out a little chatting, a little joking and the line moves quickly.

The seventh grade teacher asked me once to talk about the Holocaust for five minutes since the class had read Anne Frank;s Diary of a Young Girl.. The Holocaust in five minutes? I am not quite sure what I said, that day, but I thought about it while wondering why of all the attractions in Amsterdam, it is the Anne Frankhuis, the guidebooks warn have the longest line. Perhaps it is the neatly rapped up package of the smiling Anne Frank child whose is transposed into a Holocaust Victim in a series of rooms illustrated with snippets of her diary projected on the wall. The dose of Holocaust is reduced to the book of 103,000 names hand recorded and displayed under glass. The man standing next to me explained to his young son in American English, those are the names of the Jews of Holland who perished in the Holocaust- 103,000 . “Just from Holland alone,” I added. Or maybe the dose of Holocaust one mind can absorb is reduced to one handwritten diary.

The rest of the day we spent wandering around Amsterdam in our jet-lagged haze. We wandered into the Diamond Square, where we found the center of commerce of Europe has few ATM machines – resulting in long lines. We caught a brief glance of something described as “Homeless football,” a soccer match set up in the middle of the square. The economic state of it its participants I could not account for.

We looped around the RedLight District. As darkness descends slowly in the northern climates it was just waking up around 7pm. Bikini Clad prostitutes appear in store front windows and the aroma of marijuana fills the streets.

Dinner at Thai restaurant for about $50 before we stumble back to the 17 tram and a cute little house behind a hydrangea bush- which luckily the key Daniel had given us – opened.

Hello world!

August 7, 2009

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