Family Night in Prison


If I were to tell you one of the highlights of our summer vacation was spending a night in prison, would you think I’d completely lost it?

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But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our vacation started out well enough. We arranged to stay at a house in Haarlem for five days and had done the preliminary work of picking up the keys and security codes. We packed the night before to make our morning departure easier. We slept in anyway, and still caught a train on time and easily made the transfer to the second train.

As we rolled our suitcases toward the Haarlem house, I could feel the idea of vacation settling into my shoulders. We were four blocks away when my husband suddenly stopped walking.

“I don’t have my bag!”

His suitcase was in his hand, our bag of snacks over his shoulder. My son and I both had our suitcases and backpacks, so there was a moment of confusion until I noticed that his black shoulder bag was not strapped to his body.

“How’s that possible?” I asked. Misplacing or forgetting items was my specialty, not his. He’s the one we entrust with all important things.

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The keys to the vacation house? OH CRAP!

“The keys to the vacation house are in that bag. Besides that, nothing of monetary value,” he claimed.

We called NS, the service that runs the Dutch train system and he precisely described where he had left his shoulder bag and provided a detailed list of its contents down to the red ball point pen in the outer pocket. They promised to call us if they found it.

If the bag was lost or stolen, we were in trouble. If they found the bag, it would take five days to mail it to us–either way, our vacation was looking like a bust.

But the day was still young and I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. If the keys were lost, we could still get a hotel for at least one night and explore Haarlem or maybe move onto another, less familiar city or village and have a mini-vacation. Or we could go home.

Remarkably, NS called us back within the hour and the bag had been found! Yippee! They could mail it to us within five days or we could pick it up . . . in Leeuwarden, way the hell up north.

Leeuwarden or Bust!

As the capital of the Dutch province Friesland, Leeuwarden is a historical city dating back to the 8th century. A percentage of the population doesn’t even speak Dutch, but Friesian. Ljouwert is how you say Leewarden in Friesian. Onward with my tale.

We arrived in Leeuwarden around 5:30pm and retrieved the missing bag without problem. The next challenge was finding last-minute lodging on a Saturday night.

I had called multiple Bed & Breakfasts and they were either fully booked or had a max of two people per room–thus no room for the kid. I found a decent, yet uninspiring hotel on the edge of town that still had rooms as back up, but I hoped to find something in the center.

Google maps reported there was a hostel 400 meters from where we stood. I had read about the Alibi Hostel earlier, but to tell you the truth, I’m not a hostel girl. I’m most peaceful and comfortable in a private hotel room that has its own bathroom and shower. With a hostel, you run the risk of sharing your sleeping quarters with a total stranger and having to leave your room in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom.

I ended my internal debate by calling the hostel to discover they had one private room left.  The man on the phone agreed to hold it for us until we had a chance to look at it.

We walked the four hundred meters and arrived at Blokhuispoort, our final destination.

We entered through the main portal of this massive building complex and followed the signage to Alibi Hostel through several construction zones. When we arrived, we were surprised to discover Alibi Hostel was a converted prison. Instead of downplaying this gruesome fact, they actually turn it into a selling point. Book a cell now!

The first prison at this location was built in 1580. The current building was constructed in the mid-1800s and renovated multiple times over the years. It stopped serving as an official prison in 2007 because it was no longer up to penitentiary code, but bad guys and gals had stayed in these cells up until just a decade ago.

img_7920We were led to our cell. It had one of those big iron doors, thick walls, black beds, bars on the windows–you know–like right out of a movie. But unlike the movie version, there was something hip and modern about these renovated cells.

It definitely said “prison,” but the smooth walls, new beds and fresh minimalism spoke of proper investment in turning this old penitentiary into something cool. I checked out the shower room and the women’s restroom. Both were immaculate. And did I mention that it was affordable?

“We’ll take it!”

 The beds were incredibly comfortable and even though there were bars in front of the window, you could still open them for fresh air. Room secured, we headed into Leeuwarden for dinner and a stroll through the city center.

We returned to Blokhuispoort around 10:00pm and ran into two men who showed us a more direct route to the hostel. Like the owners of the hostel, they were upbeat and friendly. In no time at all they were telling us about the restaurant they were opening in the next few weeks within the Blokhuispoort.

Young people hung out in the courtyard chatting, while a few other families were also returning to the hostel for the evening.

What was going on here? I learned over the course of the evening and following morning that the municipality had designated Blokhuispoort as a site for a cultural center, including a youth hostel.

I soon discovered that our hosts Peter and Jurrien (pictured below) were two of the four owners of the Alibi Hostel. Sjors and Marieke, who weren’t on duty that day, round out the team.

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The four friends had been talking one night at the pub and came up with the idea of opening a youth hostel in Leeuwarden. The idea stuck and they began doing research and trying to find a location, but weren’t having any luck. Then they saw an advertisement in the paper.

If I have my facts right, a national development company called BOEi purchased the entire Blokhuispoort complex from the municipality for one euro. You can’t even get a bottle of Cola for that price. Of course the developer has to meet the city’s vision of a cultural center, including ateliers, restaurants and a youth hostel. The renovation would cost millions and millions.

Because of the size and scope of the project, it is being finished in sections and the developer rents to different entrepreneurs, such as the four young friends who started the Alibi Hostel.

The hostel only opened 8 months ago, and a variety of businesses are slowly filling the other spaces, turning this old prison into a cultural hub, just as the municipality had hoped.

Hard to say why this is so appealing, but Alibi Hostel has style. The ground floor comprises a series of ateliers from tattoo shops to cheese shops and the stone, metal and glass create a hip, modern atmosphere.

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Despite the comfortable beds and almost soundproof rooms, we all had a bad night’s sleep. Could that have something to do with sleeping in a prison cell? Did the developer forget to call in a pranic healer to cleanse the energy in the rooms? Or did we just eat too much the night before?

In the morning, I ran into another guest who was visiting from just outside Utrecht. He and his family of four had nabbed two private rooms with double beds. He found the whole concept great and was impressed with the renovation. He’s pictured here relaxing in a small lounge next to a wall of barred windows. They slept just fine, by the way.

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In fact, everyone I saw seemed completely fine with being locked into a former prison cell and leisurely hanging around a facility with bars wherever you gaze.

So if you’re a die hard Orange is the New Black fan, or just want to know what it’s like to spend a night in prison without breaking the law, I highly recommend Alibi Hostel. It means a trip way the hell up north, but I must say, we quite enjoyed our cell and this Friesian city.

 

 

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The Passion Dutch Style


When you’ve lived in a country long enough–even if you tend to live in a bubble or under a rock–eventually local cultural phenomena infiltrate your consciousness. As Easter approached this year, I had one of those moments where something that had vaguely hovered on the periphery a few years in a row suddenly punctured my little bubble and made it’s way in: The Passion–a live Christian rock opera of sorts combined with a silent march that occurs each year on Holy Thursday and is broadcast live on TV.

How did I find out about it? Through my church? No. Through my Dutch husband or friends? No. Actually, it occurred while I was reading a rather heart-wrenching New York Times article on my iPhone while waiting for my son to finish his guitar lesson. It was about a U.S. soldier who was imprisoned while suffering from PTSD. When I saw an advertisement pop up, I actually clicked on the ad as a means of postponing my knowledge of this one young soldier’s fate.

The advert took me to an article about The Passion 2017 that would be broadcast live that evening on television. You could virtually “join” the march online. My mind reached into its memory banks and excitedly announced that this “Passion performance” was something I’d come across before. Coincidentally, we had just resolved a technical issue with our television, which means I had access to TV once again. I put it on my digital agenda and hog tied my son into watching it with me.

To be honest, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of contemporary versions of Bible stories, but that night, I gave my critic a rest and settled into the couch to watch the live performance. I wasn’t alone. According to NOS news, 44 percent of all viewers who were watching television at that time were watching The Passion along with me! That equates to almost 2 million people. Another 16,000 were participating live in Leeuwaarden.

Considering The Netherlands has a population of approximately 17 million, that’s more than 10% of the nation! Almost twice as many people were tuned into The Passion as those tuned into the quarter finals of the European League soccer match between Ajax and Schalke. And the Dutch LOVE their soccer.

Jesus was played by Dwight Dissels, a tall, dark and handsome singer with an amazing voice.

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Photo: NRC.NL

A striking red-haired woman named Elske DeWall played Mary and she sang in Frisian, a language spoken in the Dutch province of Friesland in the North of The Netherlands. This was also quite fitting considering the concert was held in Leeuwarden, which falls within this province. Omri Tindal, a young man from Rotterdam with a rich musical career and fantastic hair, played Peter.

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NLpopblog.nl

The entire performance was in Dutch (Frisian part was subtitled in Dutch), which meant that it was also like a musical Dutch lesson for me. Although many people say I’m close to fluent, I still can’t read the NRC newspaper without looking up at least 10 words per article. But the words used in this broadcast were completely within my grasp.

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Taken from the web (can’t find source. Sorry)

 

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(Taken from a blog, but can’t find source again! Sorry)

The cast was diverse, talented, energetic. I Enjoyed the entire performance and felt like I’d learned something that night about how the expression of religion doesn’t need to be confined to a church. I don’t view these sort of performances as a means of converting anyone, but it can certainly make an important religious story accessible to a broader segment of the population, and make it fresh to those who have heard it before. Well done folks!

Sunday Ride: Now and Then


When we were kids, my brothers and I were periodically subjected to my father’s long Sunday drives after church. If my father was still alive, I think he would recall these drives as the foundation of our interests in architectural style. My memory to date is that I hated them: the three of us kids in the back seat poking at one another; my dad putting on classical music and telling us to be quiet; he pointing out interesting homes for us to look at and appreciate; sitting after having already sat through Catholic mass–it was really a lot to ask from three rowdy kids.

Today, history repeated itself one generation later, but with an improved concoction if you ask me. We skipped church this morning and slept in (or at least I slept in; the boys did a few science projects, played chess and played with legos). I finally joined them for a leisurely breakfast and we stayed inside until the early afternoon.

Only when the sun was beckoning did we get on our bicycles and head out. The three of us cycled through Wassenaar-a  town within twenty minutes cycling distance of The Hague. The estates, mansions, and embassy homes have such grandeur that I accidentally called Wassenaar Montecito a few times. (Montecito is a wealthy estate-laden area just outside of Santa Barbara, California with grand villas and mansions of the rich and famous, all tucked into the rolling hills of California bordering the Pacific.)

Whereas Montecito offers beautiful curvy roads, it is far from bicycle-friendly. Wassenaar on the other hand is full of bicycle paths that parallel the streets and highways and weave in and out of natural spaces and parks.

Bicycling through the neighborhoods is far preferable to sitting in the back seat of a car. Our son replied with enthusiasm as my husband pointed out grand churches, estates from the 1890s now home to ambassadors of Middle Eastern countries and grand mansions with the requisite Mercedes and Jaguars parked out front.

Villa Ruy in Wassenaar photo credit: Wikimapia
Villa Ruy in Wassenaar photo credit: Wikimapia

As I sit behind the computer and recall our chilly afternoon cycling tour, there is not an ancy bone in my body. My son seems equally content to work behind his desk on another science project without the need to be entertained. In fact, I haven’t heard that tell tale “I’m bored” that often follows too much sedentary activity or screen time since our two hour cycling adventure. I might even go so far as to say there is a certain kind of peaceful harmony in our home as we all work on our own projects.

“Mom. Can I play on the iPad?” My son asks. Where did he come from and what happened to the science project?

“Only if you practice your vocabulary list first,” I respond.

Okay. So I might have given that whole outdoor experience a little too much credit after all. At least I was true in sharing the idealistic views of a parent.

The Smile


I’ve lived in Holland, or The Netherlands, for four years now. It didn’t take me all that time to recognize the smile, but now that I have seen its many permutations, I feel its about time to write about it.

The Dutch are used to being straight forward. Its one of the traits you will read about in any manual on getting to know the Dutch culture. But surprisingly, The Smile is not always intentional. And what they do with it, once it has come, is very telling.

It first appears in the eyes of a native Dutch speaker during conversation, indicating that they have noticed something. And then, as this small realization settles more firmly into their conscience, the puppet strings of the mind attached to the corner of the Dutch mouth tug upward, pulling their lips into a smirk. They can no longer concentrate on the conversation underway, as they must ask the question.

The more refined members of the population delay the question out of courtesy to the conversation unfolding. They know the question lingers, but they focus on the exchange of information between two people, setting the question aside, or even choosing not to ask it at all. They are golden; ambassadors.

Others forget their manners and blurt out the question after your first few words. And then there is the group that doesn’t even ask the question, but chooses the statement form, to show some sort of Sherlock Holmes ingenuity–as if I was trying to fool them and got caught.

“You’re not Dutch.”

The tone and word choice of my answer are influenced by a number of factors including my mood, their age and the demeanor of their smile.

“No shit, Sherlock!” (Sarcastic response appropriate for someone your age or younger, who is not a client, a member of the government, or the person about to make your sandwich.)

“No. I’m not. I’m from America.” (Polite response to be given to clients, people older than you, a member of the government, the person making your lunch and old people with hearing problems).

The problem with this “You’re not Dutch, are you?” question/statement is that the non-native speaker is then caught on a precipice of internal debate. Did they make this comment because of my foreign accent, or did I make a huge, grammatical error? Wrong verb tense, wrong word order? Shit shit shit! This sort of internal dialogue is like throwing a bucket of ice-cold water on the libido of conversation; the chances of peak performance shrivel up rapidly.

Because if you were carrying on a conversation in your native language with a fellow native speaker, no one is going to interrupt the conversation mid sentence to question you about your origin. And if they do, it has nothing to do with your proficiency in the language, but with their curiosity about your cultural background.

The following step in the dialogue is rather insightful. The Sherlock types seem to stand a bit taller, the smile becomes a bit shrewder and they take liberties to correct you at the slightest error, their eyes gleaming with a sense of domination, teaching the simple non-native the finer points of Dutch intercourse. If you encounter this type, don’t bother to talk with them further. They are a waste of your time and energy.

The ambassador types, which seem to be prolific in The Hague, are used to an international environment. They are quick to praise you for your ability to speak Dutch and the efforts you make to use their native language despite the fact that most Dutch are quite fluent in English. And most importantly, their smile, which glints across their face, is one of encouragement, not condescension.

I know you all can’t help the smile. I’m sure I do it too when I hear you speak English. When you all say “He learned me this” instead of “he taught met this”, or the way you all sound when you sing English songs; the way the words are clipped off at the wrong places; I get it. It is smile worthy.

I realize there is a cute factor, but in general, there are not many adults that appreciate being thought of as cute when they are talking to you–including you!

So, with all due respect, unless you can learn from the ambassador types described above, get that damned smile off your face Sherlock, and realize that 1) Dutch is a very difficult language without much practical use outside of your very small country 2) most foreigners don’t even bother to learn Dutch, as they can get along just fine with English here. So those of us that are taking the time and interest to learn your language are doing so out of interest in you. You don’t need to laugh at us. 3). I’m not nearly as angry as you think I am. I enjoy learning your language!

Rothko at the Gemeente Museum


Can an artist portray emotions of happiness, fear or ecstasy through the sole use of rectangular shapes of color?  Can they do so without explanation or words? That is the question that came to the forefront Saturday afternoon during a visit to the Gemeentemuseum to view the Rothko exhibit

I have to admit, his large swaths of color, with their soft edges and meditative yet simple rectangular shapes do elicit feelings in me. But not, perhaps, what he intended. We have seen Rothko exhibits before in San Francisco, and I’ve seen a sampling of his work in New York as well. But never before have I spent so much time contemplating them, and letting the colors and feelings wash over me.

imageMy tendency, as a social female and a writer, is to write about the art I see and to discuss them in terms of color and shape. But as I read about the artist, I soon realized he had an aversion to people trying to convey his art through words. Words, according to Rothko, desecrate the art. And they are not about color either; they are about the emotions; about a personal relationship between the painting and the viewer and the emotions that are evoked. They are intentionally hung low on the wall, so the viewer can “step into” the painting, and really experience the art.

As if to drive his point home, all of his works are untitled, as in the name of the paintings are Untitled, followed by the year they were created. Thus, without a title, we lean toward a description through color. “The one with the purple on top and black on bottom edged in orange.” More words, not feelings. But colors are known to be associated with feelings and terminology.

Red: anger, passion, danger, love.
Blue: calm, serene, sad.
Gold: regal, wealthy, happy, holy.
You get the idea. Colors are also a language of emotions. Yet who is to say if these color associations are universal?

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Coronation of the Virgin, by Enguerrand Quarton, 1454
Coronation of the Virgin, Enguerrand Quarton, 1454

Take this untitled cobalt blue and gold Rothko painting above. What do you experience when you see it? For me, I see a spiritual work of art.

The gold rectangle in the upper third pulls to my mind the halos encircling the heads of angels and biblical figures from the fifteenth century a la Corination of the Virgin style (right). The deep cobalt blue reminds me of opulent gowns and the richness of a night sky.

But my associations have a lot to do with my Catholic upbringing and my western orientation with color and art. How would a Muslim woman or man experience this Rothko painting? Or a Hindu? Or someone with a western upbringing who has never entered a church in their lives?

Or how about the happiness and warmth I felt BEFORE I listened to the commentary about this painting. It was one of Rothko’s smaller canvases that he painted during a period of depression, right before he swallowed pills and slit his wrists, ending his troubled life. So much for the happiness that had enveloped me.

What was Rothko striving for in his paintings? As observers, we like to discuss the art. Take this man for example; he stood before the painting, gesturing with his hands, explaining a concept to his son–a concept that was not laid out in the untitle of the painting or in the curator’s interpretation of the art, as these were rather non-existent. image

So for an artist who didn’t want to be categorized, refused to participate in many group shows, and was very controlling of how his art was presented, what was he actually trying to convey?

This explanation struck home: image

 

 

 

 

In case that’s too hard to read, let me pull out a few excerpts:

“I am not interested in colour.” He regarded color as merely a means of expressing something far greater: something sacred, almost divine, that would only be desecrated by the introduction of language.

When I read this, I imagine a man who was extremely controlling and difficult, but also a man that strived to connect in a beautiful way–through the core; trying to touch the essence of what makes us human.

I liken this to the conundrum that is meditation; we can talk all we want about how to do it, but it is in the practice of meditation and the silence of the mind that we get to the essence of spirit. I imagine Rothko would like us to experience his paintings in the same way: Stop talking, be in the moment, step inside my painting and experience the emotions waiting there to engulf you. Sorry Rothko, I’m using words again to imagine your artistic desires and to say just how much I appreciate the feelings you evoke in me through your art.

It’s been 40 years since such an extensive Rothko exhibit came to the Netherlands, so don’t miss your chance! Rothko’s work is on display at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague through March 1, 2015. 

 

 

Havana, Deventer, Apes and Cousins


When I was in my mid-twenties, I worked for a short stint as a museum travel program assistant. Although most of my hours were spent in a tiny office doing paperwork and taking reservations, on a few occasions I actually got to travel. The most exciting of my journeys was to Cuba with two dozen wealthy clients, most between the ages of 65 and 80 years old. What soon became abundantly clear was that the attendees who had all spent thousands on the museum trip were not there to relax and gently take in the casual pace and lifestyle of Cuba; they were there to suck the marrow from the bones of Havana culture with the tenacity of western businessmen. havanaThey were there to conquer and the museum program was fully prepared to deliver. Each moment was slated with culturally inspiring activities, visits  or luxurious meals, the more unique, the better. Thus, from early in the morning until late at night, we were on the move: seeing, interacting, traveling, listening, and dining. No matter that half of the group was worn down and dragging themselves along after a few days; they continued on with an unspoken and shared vigilance, not willing to rest in fear of missing something.

The trip could be likened to a hunter on safari seeking new heads for the taxidermy collection lining the walls of the study in his or her country estate. In this case, the art, music, natural beauty and architecture of Cuba would become the prized pelts and heads to be displayed not on the wall, but in conversations at the next fundraiser or cocktail party. Why yes, I have been to the Plaza de Revolucion; isn’t the 18 century art in the Decorative Arts Museum in Havana just fabulous darling? Although I am not in these fundraising circles, I did talk about this trip for years afterward, and my experiences did impress many Americans who had always wanted to travel to Cuba.

As an American living in The Netherlands, I have that nagging conqueror voice in the back of my head urging me to approach Europe in the same manner as this group who visited Cuba so many years ago–take in as much as humanly possible, even if it wears me ragged. I have spent several vacations doing just that. After all, who knows how long we will live here, and I really don’t want to miss out.  But as time passes and I realize I am actually living here for the longer term, a local vacation also has its merits. Not only are they more affordable and less stressful,  they help you better understand the country in which you live.

deventerThus our trip to Deventer. Located along the Ijssel river in the middle of the Netherlands, Deventer is like many old Dutch cities; it boasts a picturesque center region with charming squares and old architecture, shops and restaurants surrounded by less attractive and newer buildings and neighborhoods the farther away from the center you travel. Armed with advice of Arie Jan’s cousin, we drove across the bridge away from the city to a parking lot on the far side of the Ijssel and took the ferry over the river. Approaching by water offered us a stunning and timeless view of the city, and put us in the right mind frame to relish the old town. The side streets of the old quarter were dotted with unique, locally-owned gift stores and cafes. Of course, the big retailers such as Etos, Hema and V&D common to most Dutch cities also had a presence, but there were enough small shops to keep the charm alive.

Our son entered Koning Willem, a unique toy store filled with puzzles and games, and soon became obsessed with the brain teaser puzzle section. For the rest of our stay in Deventer, we endured his plaintive cries for puzzle man, a cube that you can turn into a robot looking man, and then back into a cube, if you can figure it out. We ate in a cafe called Brood van Joop only to discover it was their opening day. The zucchini soup was so delicious that it renewed my desire to make fresh soups a more frequent part of our family meals.

imageBy the end of the afternoon, we headed to Arie Jan’s cousin’s house in a neighboring village. Perched in the middle of a small forest, their home is straight out of a fairy tale: White walls, thatched roof, large French paned windows with expansive views to lush green gardens on the outside. This beauty was  equally matched within by a French country interior with white walls and hard wood floors, the rooms graced with the design sense of an antique collector.  An antique dealer specializing in 18th century French fabrics, his cousin has a  second story room dedicated to sewing and cutting and another room dedicated as an office. Within no time at all, I was fantasizing about writing my second novel sequestered away in one of these rooms with garden views.

As the adults settled in on the high stools next to the kitchen island to chat over tasty wines from the wine cellar, our son assembled a Duplo train set and lost himself for the next few hours in play. After our son went to bed, we ate a French meal by candlelight around the dining room table and talked to the wee hours of the morning. No. I wasn’t visiting The Louvre or sipping a latte on the banks of the Seine, but I was with family, relaxed and happy, miles away from any thoughts of work, stress or to-do lists. And that is exactly the type of vacation one needs to rejuvinate the soul and recharge your battery for daily life.

imageBut a vacation with a child needs to be about more than long, meandering conversations with friends and family accompanied by fine wine and food. And thus, we came up with an equally satisfying elixir for our son: a visit to Apenheul Primate Park. Located in the town of Apeldoorn, Apenheul is an expansive nature area filled with many species of monkeys. Unlike a zoo, there were very few cages and many of the smaller monkeys could come right onto the walking trails.

We watched monkeys swing from the trees, play with each other, cling to their mother’s backs and climb onto the arms of  innocent passersby. After three hours, we were not even half way through the park and the temperature was slowly dropping. Unlike the monkeys, we were not wearing thick fur coats. At the end of the day, we asked our son which was his favorite exhibit and his answer was far from suprising: the guerilla exhibit. We, and the hundred plus other visitors sitting in the stadium seating during snack time, were grateful for the small waterfront separating us from these strong apes not a carrot’s throw away.

 

 

How to Make your Own Passport to Access foreign reserves of Treasure


The Netherlands is like a giant candy store for museum lovers; they are everywhere and about everything ranging from classical to contemporary art in multiple mediums, history, religion, architecture, anatomy and science.

As a museum lover myself, I have been wondering how to instill this love of art and culture into our son. How does one go about interesting a seven year old in Kandinsky or Giacometti? Jan Steen or Rembrandt? Thus far, I only have a partial answer; through repeated exposure so it is like part of his or her cultural landscape. Thus our museum passport project.

A few weeks ago, I took my son to Museon, a popular museum for kids in The Hague with hands-on exhibits about science, animals, minerals, geography and much more. We stopped by the gift store before we entered the museum and I let him pick out a tiny notebook. When we checked in with our museum card, I asked the cashier if she had anything to stamp my son’s museum passport. She located a stamp with the museum address and stamped his passport with the air of an official, and just like that, we gained access to a new world!

We explored a photo exhibit of endangered animals across the world, we tried our hand with an interactive exhibit on how to tell the difference between counterfeit items and the originals; we played a game with a robotic arm that moved from player to player, dropping discs into slots based on the buttons you pushed. At the end of our visit, we wrote up our favorite exhibits.

On another day, we headed to Naturalis in Leiden, receiving the second stamp in our homemade passport. This time I brought an iPad to do a bit of photo documentation and my son helped choose the items that he deemed worthy of sharing. I think his favorite item was an exhibit that combined million year old dinosaur eggs with with contemporary technology. Here is the video one would never have thought possible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MtbAorp1aQ

They say seven is the age of reason. I say it’s the age of manipulation negotiation. My son negotiated with me on day one of our museum adventures that after 10 museum visits, he is eligible for a present. It certainly does help with motivation.

An elitist, outrageously expensive project? Not necessarily. The Netherlands has an amazing concept called the Museum Card. You can purchase a Museum Card (MuseumKaart) for 45 euro a year, gaining access to about 400 museums throughout the Netherlands. Considering access to most museums ranges from 10 to 20 euros per visit, you make your money back very quickly. Occasionally, a museum on the list will be having a special exhibit, requiring an additional fee of 2 or 3 euros, but this is a small pittance considering the world to which you are gaining access.

I know that 45 euro is a lot of money, especially if you only go to the museum once in a while. One amazing thing about the socialistic nature of this country, is that they also think about cultural access for those of lesser financial means. Thus, if you fall into this category and happen to live in The Hague, you and your family members do not need to be shut out of cultural opportunities. Consider looking into the Ooievaarspas, a program offered through the city of The Hague that provides lower-income residents with free or discounted access to many cultural and educational programs in and around The Hague.

Other ways to keep this project smooth sailing and within budget is to pack plenty of healthy snacks and beverages and avoid the gift store and museum cafe for anything more than a coffee.

Want to join the museum crusade? Make your own Museum Passport and start visiting museums in your area.

(If you are a member of homeland security, the NCA, AIVD or FBI visiting my blog due to that dubious blog title, I apologize for the scare. This is about the homemade Museum Passport project my son and I started this January and why you might want to join in on this mission. When I say you, I don’t necessarily mean you law enforcement types, though I am not opposed to the idea).