An Unfortunate Metaphor and Catch-Up Blogging

A bunch of us were wandering through Leidseplein and amidst the stick jugglers and the one man drum bands, there was a large, plastic, hexagonal structure with a bunch of people standing on it with their backs turned. It took me a few moments to realize that this was a public urinal. A public urinal. At first I was kind of shocked, I mean, there are people peeing in the streets!

But then I realized that I had seen just as many people doing that in London and New York, except they were just doing it on a wall, instead of in a plastic port-a-potty with modest walled compartments and a collection system. I think this serves as an apt metaphor for Dutch politics - people are going to do it anyway, why not make it as safe and decent as possible?

In many ways, the Netherlands (not Holland, that’s only the upper third or so of the country), is the liberal ideal – people are given the freedom to make personal choices and the government tolerates it, but not in the way you tolerate wet socks on a rainy day, more of a live and let live tolerance. It’s almost like a big canal-filled liberal arts college, where everyone is assumed to at least tolerate everyone else’s choices to be “different.”

As long as they aren’t too different, that is.

We had someone come and speak to us about the Dutch culture, and one issue that’s huge is the interaction between the wider, liberal community and the religious Islamic community. Here’s an article from the BBC last March about whether the tolerance of the Netherlands has failed. The article cites as one of the possible reasons for Dutch-Muslim problems is that the nation has never considered itself a nation of immigrants, which the speaker mentioned several times.

I think that’s probably one of the only reasons the Netherlands as “liberal paradise” has worked this long: it had been a small, homogeneous nation. America is simply too big, in both size and variety of opinions for leftist regime of tolerance and legalization of just about everything to exist. The Dutch approach to government may be a bit like communism – it only works on a small scale with a controlled population. Communism works fine in small communes or on the kibbutzim in Israel, but with too many people and too many competing interests and beliefs, it falls apart.


Apologies for the long post, by the way, but this is one of the first times I’ve had consistent internet access in a week, and by, golly, I’ve seen some blog-worthy things.

Like The Van Gogh Museum. I went with Susan, and we spent a good two and a half hours immersed in art not only from Van Gogh, but work of his contemporaries, and a very good photography exhibit.
A photograph that particularly struck me was “Florence, Italy” by Ruth Orkin, which depicts a woman walking down the street facing a gauntlet of men whistling and gaping at her. Her eyes are cast down, terrified, as she clutches her shawl to her bare shoulder. The little web image doesn't do it justice, but the original photograph was amazing.

Along with the photography, painting and Van Gogh, there was a large exhibit on Japan in the 19th century which included artifacts from Japan's first exhibition in the US in 1976 alongside some of Van Gogh's Japanese-inspired work. The most innovative part of the "Japanese Season" show in the museum was an exhibit designed by fashion duo (warning: very weird, but rather cool website)Viktor&Rolf, that explored the similarities and difference between Women in Tokyo and Paris in the nineteenth century. The exhibit consisted of drawings and paintings of women from the two countries as well as artifacts like fans, pillows, hairpins, and dressing gowns. It was set up like a room that was partially in Tokyo and partially in Paris, with windows that looked out on the skyline of each city, and a space in the middle where a performance took place on a regular schedule. It was really innovatively done, and the artifacts chosen were interesting on their own, but in the context of the other culture, I appreciated them on an entirely different level.

So, I guess I've been having a really interesting and very good time in Amsterdam so far. I can't believe that in a week, we'll be leaving for Berlin, which is an entirely different world. But, hopefully, I'll get internet between now and then and be able to post more adventures.


annabrosas said…
Hey, I saw that Florence photo at the Van Gogh Museum over a year ago. They weren't selling copies of it at the gift shop, and so from time to time I'd try to google it to see if I could ever find it again. Low and behold, it turned up here! Where did you find it? Did you take a picture of it at the museum? It's one of my favourite photos at the exhitibion!

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