Happiness in Holland and Cycling in Skirts
On Tuesday, the University of Amsterdam sponsored a welcome dinner for us at the Indonesian Restaurant called Kantjil & de Tijger. The Dutch settled Indonesia and Suriname, so the food is everywhere! The tastes are almost a cross between Asian and Indian cuisines. Unfortunately, my Professor has confessed there is not a single Indonesian restaurant in Seattle, so I probably won’t be able to prolong this enjoyment. At the vegetarian table, we had all kinds of cucumber salad, green beans, other veggies, and tempeh and tofu. The eggplant was to die for. I hear the meat-eaters were fed all kinds of beef and chicken that they really loved. For dessert, I had the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had (the spices were similar to those in egg nog) with whip cream, melon, and berries. Others had spiced cake. Of course, when you order cake in the States, you get a giant wedge that feels more like a commitment than just a sweet pastry, but in Europe, the cake slices are about three inches by two inches by one centimeter. I think “quaint” would be the best word to describe it.
We also saw the Resistance street art near the same area as the Jewish museum. It was powerful. Just imagine an entire street just dedicated to colorful graffiti with a central purpose. It was more than just about the War. It was about political empowerment and community.
We also walked around the city with hopes of finding some of Amsterdam’s history. Our goal was to find Oude Kerk, or “Old Church,” which is centuries old. It is closed until July, but I was able to take a photo in front of one of its massive, aesthetic doors. I love old architecture and bold doors, and Oude Kerk is definitely that. Wish I could have gone inside!
On that note, though, it is worth explaining that it is not uncommon for Dutch shops and museums to close for vacation for lengths of time. We’ve run into that a lot. Plus, the Dutch don’t have the same 24-hour convenience culture we have in the states. Here, if I wanted to find a grocery store that stayed open all night, I would have to search for it and probably wouldn’t find it. Furthermore, the Seattlelite who really needs a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning is just going to have to wait until noon. In my opinion, sure, it is inconvenient to switch to this type of constrained consumerism, but I love that the workers get to go home early and get enough vacation time!
On Thursday, we went on a field trip to the Baarsjes neighborhood, which is predominantly Turkish. Since we are interested in the effect of multi-culturalism on Dutch culture, it was a powerful field trip. We were prepped for the field trip with a lecture from Laurens, a Dutch sociologist who studies ethnic relations and homosexual rights. Namely, and perhaps not necessarily without reason, the Dutch feel that Islam is a threat to Dutch tolerance and ultimately the lives of Dutch gays. Our speaker in the Baarsjes was a Muslim who emigrated from Turkey at a young age and now just considers himself a Dutchman. He’s a politician and he’s the one in charge of the Turkish mosque being built next to his restaurant. My (male) professor explained to him that the West tends to see Islam as unsympathetic to women’s rights and asked if there is any truth in that feeling. Our speaker explained that yes, his Bible outlines specific duties for each sex just as most western religions do but that women are totally equal. For example, the burdens of child care and housework should fall predominantly on women, and the men should go to work, but they still have the same human rights. He argued that facially, that is no different than the way it is in the States or even in Holland. However, though this man said women were equal, when my female classmates and I asked questions of equal caliber to our male counterparts (it’s worth noting here that we have a strong 17:5 female-to-male ratio so we often make up most of the conversation), we noticed he kind of shrugged us off and only gave us a few sentences. Even my professor said he wasn’t necessarily persuaded by the speaker’s response. It was a striking experience and it is always odd to feel undervalued because of gender.
On a positive note – we also tried Turkish delight! Yum! I wouldn’t say it would be my one wish like the boy in the Chronicles of Narnia movie, but it was good. It was nutty, and not disasterously sweet. I would do it again.
Since Holland is so big on football (or soccer for the Americans reading this blog), the World Cup games are always playing in restaurants and bars. On Thursday, the United States played Germany. It wasn’t a huge game because both teams would advance regardless of win or loss, but it was still fun to shout for the USA while abroad without sounding crazy. In the café where we watched the game, there were a bunch of Germans sitting at the table beside ours, so it felt very competitive. We lost, but it was fun to have some healthy competitions and make some new friends, even if it was with the enemy.
Since less than 20 percent of Dutch Jews survived World War II, Amsterdam has many museums and monuments dedicated to remembrance. On Friday, we went to the Jewish history museum. Since last summer I went to the Holocaust museum in Berlin, I was expecting something equally as tragic, tear-jerking, and intense, but this one was much different. Instead of showcasing the tragic realities of the genocide and the faults of the Germans, it focused more on Judaism as a religion and the traditions and practice, the movement of the Jewish faith to Amsterdam, the effects of this new religion on the predominantly protestant historical Netherlands, and notable Dutch Jews. It was still, of course, very sad and impossible to ignore the terrible reality of the Jewish history in Holland. Still though, it felt somewhat positive and highlighted the complex facets of the religion.
They showcased one actress, Esther de Boer-van Rijk, who was a notable member of the Jewish community in the 1920s and onward. She is shown wearing lavish furs and hats. Everyone loved her and she helped to empower everyone around her. This was my favorite photo of her, because older women (especially from that time period) don’t usually pose with such excitement.
After the museum, we visited the Portuguese Synagogue, which was built in the 17th century and is still in use. In order to observe the importance of the faith, males even had to wear yarmulkes (Jewish hats). I love that it is still in mostly originally condition with originally furniture and classic candle chandeliers. It even smells old. Churchgoers have not even chosen to install power for lighting or heat, so the wooden floors and benches probably get cold during the winter! Lighting isn’t so much a problem during the day, though, since the church has (I think) 72 giant windows that really make the church light up. During World War II, the churchgoers and architects managed to persuade the Nazis not to turn the church into a deportation camp on the grounds it would be impossible to block out all the windows. There is a small path around the church with buildings surrounding. Those buildings include a kitchen, an office, a textile and silver treasury, and a “women’s room”.
I think that’s a fair summary of my week up until Thursday! The biking thing is getting much easier. My wound is healing, and I have mastered the art of biking in a floor-length skirt. I think those are pretty great feats if I do say so myself.