You mean they have windmills here?

Trip Start Jan 31, 2010
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Trip End Jul 21, 2010


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Where I stayed
Robert's House

Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Friday, February 26, 2010

Today I'm off to Haarlem, city of great things so the book says. Getting my ticket at the station (my major expense while here had been travel, I am very grateful for Robert’s hospitality) there is a crowd already at this early hour. A young man dribbles and mumbles in his sleep – in what looks like a rather uncomfortable position for his neck in the warmth of the ticket area. I think he’s mumbling in Dutch.

The train ride is an uneventful one, as I try to make desperately sure I get off the correct side of the station, the deciding factor in many of my days.

Success, and I head down a street I remember, noting how double glazing has been added to older buildings, much like an air conditioned to a hotel room, while slightly more subtle.

The St Bavo Church is easy to find, it’s just straight down the road. From the station I can see the cranes towering overhead, so know this is another town of construction, of redevelopment, of what is to be considered growth, I take back streets looking for crazy buildings and art instead.

In the window of one place, which I quickly discover is someone’s family house, is a collection of lego robots filling the sill and spilling onto the floor inside. I keep forgetting people live so close to the road without any sort of fence or yard or dividing area, and instead catch myself looking in on family time in front the TV or having a small domestic trying to clothe a little one. Oh dear.

The church is amazing. The fist thing I notice is the ground. The tiles are even stones with engravings on the faces, some with numbers, some with names, some with patterns and faces. Perhaps this is the standing area of the church, families are designated a place, much like a corporate box at the MCG, to view the proceedings. It turns out these are graves, that the rich pay enough to be buried on such holy ground, and are often stacked up to five people deep. I am told this ended when people began getting sick from the fumes of those decaying beneath them, especially when for some reason the area required an early retrieval, such as someone’s rent ran out to be replaced by another family who could pay. These were all removed with the redevelopment of many of the churches; while the stones still remain instead a heating element runs underneath, which makes me feel a little safer and less like I’m in the opening scenes of a zombie film.

The organ is amazing – both in size and shape and the fact it was touched by Mozart when he was ten (so the story goes. I want to hear it played, maybe even some 70s psychedelic through it, but I don’t think that is happening today, if at all. In one corner there is also a set up of Foucault’s pendulum experiment. Foucault used this experiment to prove the earth’s rotation in 1851, and the experiment continues to be performed today (incase the Earth stops rotating….)

I wonder around again and come across the large open courtyard area, flanked by all manner of café’s and fast food vendors, at 11am. I come across De Hallen Haarlem, full of contemporary exhibitions across four floors, so check it out. Josh Smith - Who Am I is the first Dutch exhibition of the American artists work. His numerous pieces look at repetition of shape and distortion, including that of his own name scrawled across the page. The centre of the exhibit has a large table full of Josh Smith books, some press related, many made by the artist through layers of photocopies and fragments of other pieces to create new dark compositions. His works on the wall surround you, leaving no blank wall space to be seen.

A collection of video and print works from a group of American artists takes up most of down stairs. Some of these appear quite naïve in their application, especially when viewed against the slick of others. One in particular is shaped to appear as a documentary of one visiting a third world mining village, bringing with a message for hope in the form of fluorescent globes in the shape of the words ENJOY POVERTY, referring to the fact the third world is working below minimum wage in a gold mine.

The Tyers Museum is across the way a bit, and I fight the freaking coldest wind to get there, running my nose and biting at my face.

Housed in what looks like a renovated library, the only piece remaining as it did when it was opened is the crystal room to the back, which used to holed the entire collection, but now only holds a small part concerning crystals and measurements of distance (globes, solar system parts, etc.). There is a second level one cannot reach with bookcases lining the walls. Placed evenly along the ceiling are panels with frescos of certain parts of the museum, perhaps referring to what was once beneath, but due to the increase in size has since been moved further out.

I get a head set thing so they can tell me more than I can find out from the sheets of paper I cannot read. The first room is skulls and archaeological digs, with more deformed skeletons similar to the University museum (though fossilized and no where near as squeamish). This is most useful in the second room, the one full with all the wicked inventions and research tools. You have crazy huge electromagnetic conductors that would make your hair stand on end if the batteries still worked (each of the 16 being the same side as a rubbish bin.). There are also several chambers in which water is made (as a bi product of the ignition of hydrogen and oxygen. All of them appearing like bulbous heads of jellyfish.

Also here are the tools designed for creating, measuring and controlling vibrations – also doing so with sound as a byproduct of this. One of the world’s first synthesizers sits behind glass. Twelve keys, black and white, each connected to s strange copper coil and metal cage apparatus. I want to know what it sounds like; apparently no one has heard it working for more than twenty years. The other is a singing candle. Two glass cylinders are placed encasing a small flame. The heat generated by the flame causes the glass to vibrate, a high pitching while emitting from the top o the tube. When the length of the cylinder changed, one could control the sound.

Traditional paintings are held in two other spaces, sketches of Michelangelo’s work, many of them a red brown on parchment – are the only thing that really catch my eye.

The final exhibition in the museum is one dedicated to gardening – plants, soil, life – and in particular the garden of one Prince Charles. Not many know that he is in fact a very skillful ecologist; designing and building the garden to take care for itself. The walls of the exhibition are lined with anatomical drawings of each and every plant. The only photo I take is of the information so I can read it a later date. To which I am asked to stop any further photos, as it will affect the plants. I note all the plants are flat drawings, not life itself, and she tells me to stop taking photos

Walking away from the museum I notice something I have surprisingly not seen much of in the wonderful country – a freaking windmill!!!

So off we go, across a working drawbridge that isn’t really working, it’s fused at the point where it’s just about to close, making people run faster over thinking they’re just going to make it. Everyone is just going to make it. And everyone does tend to run across it.

It takes a little longer to get to the windmill than expected. That persistent wind still taking everyone for a ride, and I’m distracted by the different shape of the second story face on each and every house. Some are steepled, some are straight and some are bell shaped. I think the map of Amsterdam makes reference to this and take note to check.

When I arrive I am just in time to tag along with a tour (currently of two people). The old man taking the group is wonderful in a crazy old man kind of way, pretending to be pompous and proper about things we may not understand (I am sorry for technically, but it is the way I know). The windmill was built on the foundations of an old tower that burnt to the ground rather recently. The project enlisted the help of out of work people, providing both vocational training for the people and a tourist attraction for the town once completed. One of the first uses of a windmill was to pump water and increase the land mass of the country, much of Netherlands existing below sea level (when I say much, I keep being corrected it is in fact much of the inhabited parts. While not all of the Netherlands would go under, al the people living there would.). Other uses, like this one, are for grinding grains, tobacco (to make snuff), linoleum (in powdered form, I know!), and other foods and powders. The journey up to the top is via three sets of ladders, each with a demonstration on how to not use them by our humourously pompous tour guide. Along the way are several painted symbols depicting different meanings for blade positions on a windmill.

We are taken up to the very top to see it in action, and up close those blades will take your freaking head off. The wind is intermittent, so the blades with calmly drift by for a few spins then pick up and violently hurtle towards you. The area of spinning is sectioned off, so there’s no way you could get hurt, but you know.

The view from up top is great. Pompous shows us the jail, the churches, the other towers, the retirement village (as we may need to send him there shortly) then invites everyone downstairs for coffee. Wonderful!
The two in the group before me are work colleagues from other parts of Europe currently working in Haarlem – one from Turkey (he bought two ties at the souvenir shop. Apparently the current sales on ties now rests and two) and one from Portugal (who smiles a lot but doesn’t talk. When Pompous refers to them as a couple he smiles nervously and she looks away. Two who came after me are a lovely active older couple. He’s from England originally, moved six years ago, picks my Australian accent, and she was the reason he moved, and offer to take my photo every time we stop (which is great!).

I pop into the retirement village only to take a photo of their courtyard. One feature of Haarlem is the shared courtyards had by several of the houses. They are set up surrounding and he a big lockable front door. I think they were used for Alms servicing in the past or something, but I am yet to see one locked and closed off from the public.

The cold gets a little worse, so I head for the warmth found in the market streets. And what do I find? Cheese!! I spend a good twenty minutes in that should slowly trying samples without looking like I’m not there to buy anything, but don’t really find one that I like (I swear, though I did try a few good ones) so keep moving.

The train back is a nonevent, but the market in Utrecht is interesting as it packs up. Assorted heads for bits of hair little one table, two men lifting a whole tray of fish only to empty into the back of a car, a group of kids playing soccer between tables and many huffing and scolding women to significant others and children.

I take different streets back to Roberts and come across a wonderful junk shop full of knick knacks, buttons, suitcases, old school pictures and tins, porcelain and crockery and other perfect things for presents for others. I stock up a little, also finding a little sewing kit with will come in handy.

I get back a little tired and flat, but that well spent kind of feeling.

At the bottom of the stairs, which I must admit need a vacuum or something, the red is covered in fluff, is a package from someone very special. I get so excited I almost cry. Inside as a glorious array of trinkets and goodie, just what I need to feel loved

I’m on a high though our quick dinner, then out the door to see This Routine Is Hell, a hardcore punk band I heard are playing at ACU, which I only found on the net thanks to a post by Boris on the party. Funny how things are connected. ACU is another such place saved by the actions of the squatters and activists like Robert during the sixties, when their fight to save the building eventually had it running as a low cost back packers, and is listed in the book as such.

The pub is wicked, though doesn’t feel like your Arthouse or Great Britain or Station 59, the band room and the bar a very much divided. No one is speaking English so I’m feeling a little out, but the yelling from the band room has me inside pretty quick to see one of the support acts filling the stage with a ruckus crowd in front. Freaking wicked. I don’t really leave this room for the rest of the night.

One of the bands has a singer who spends most of the set walking threateningly back and forth across the stage, yelling at people. I ask the guy next to me to translate as he’s talking – You are born. You eat a lot. You make your parents proud. You marry. You raise a family. You live a happy life, as they want you to. You die. You end. You are never remembered. The something something, then you asked me to translate so I did not hear it.

Robert says his ears are about to bleed so leaves after the second band. I was more than impressed that he came at all. Upon mentioning it this morning he was adamant that he would come, saying it would be good to see the place again. It must be strange seeing these places that hold so much history and struggle that is no longer seen by those who use them.
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