Onto Belgium

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.

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One Response to “Onto Belgium”

  1. Michael Says:

    I’m enjoying reading about your travels, Lori. I encourage you to keep writing. Give us more info about Eric’s father and his doings and any luck you have finding a trace of him. I especially liked the image of Eric outside with the car at 7:30am, how do you keep up with such an amusing man?

    I’m a little disappointed by the food, though. You went all that way to have a Hot Dog?

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