I’ve been trying to keep my vacation going, but Trump and the Republicans drag me back to reality in America every day. As much as I’d like to, I can’t ignore what’s going on. While I, like everyone, wait for Robert Mueller’s report to blow up the Trump administration, we still have to endure –
Trump’s ugly, racist tweets about LeBron … Trump’s ugly, fascist attacks on the press … the rise of QAnon … Don Jr. … alt-right rallies and white-supremacist GOP candidates … hundreds of children still separated from their families at the border … Brent Kavanaugh on the verge of a seat on the Supreme Court … the trial and fall of Paul Manafort … needless trade “wars” … proposed adjustments to the computation of capital gains, in order to benefit the super-rich investor class (as if the tax bill wasn’t generous enough) … short-term medical plans designed to destroy Obamacare … the list is endless.
I’m fighting back by working for Swingleft -- https://swingleft.org -- to try to take back the House for the Democrats. “Don’t despair. Mobilize.” I’m volunteering to work in the 25th Congressional district in California to help Katie Hill defeat incumbent Steve Knight, the only Republican with a piece of Los Angeles county. Phone banking and voter registration. It’s not the most glamourous work, but it’s something.
Until the midterms, I have to find a way to live with some serenity, peace-of-mind, and purpose. Thankfully, I’m still buzzing with memories of our recent trip: all the magnificent art, all the beautiful places. Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, Bruges, and especially Amsterdam. The Peterhof, the Rijksmuseum, Drottningholm, the Van Gogh Museum, the Hermitage, the Mariinsky Ballet, and peaceful evening walks, criss-crossing the canals of Amsterdam.
We really fell in love with Amsterdam. Four days, living on a magnificent stretch of the Herengracht, one of the city’s three main canals, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s hard not to fall in love.
I’ve always been fascinated by this country, its people, and especially the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic. (I once wrote a play about Spinoza!) This trip only added to my respect for this mighty little country. How did a country so small – only a few million people – produce so many great painters? I liken it to the writers in Ireland: another small country that produced an inordinant number of geniuses in one particular Art.
Besides the major Pantheon Three – Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh – there are Hieronymus Bosch, both Bruegels, Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen, Aelbert Cuyp, Jacob Ruisdael, Hendrick Avercamp, Dieric Bouts, and dozens of other first-class painters. Every time I go to a museum, I discover more wonderful Dutch artists. In the perfectly named Gallerie d’Honneur in the Rijksmuseum, I got a megadose of their genius.
The focal point of the Gallerie d’Honneur is Rembrandt’s magnificent “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq,” commonly known as the ‘Night Watch.’ As with most wildly famous paintings, you never really understand them until you are in their presence. First of all, the “Night Watch” is huge: 11′ 11″ x 14′ 4.″ Standing in front of it, I could see details – the fired musket, the dangling chicken – that I never appreciated before. Forgetting about the size, the “Night Watch” is a remarkably exciting painting. I was scanning through the photos on my computer for my son with my grandson Calder seated in my lap, and when “Night Watch” came on the screen, Calder exclaimed, “Wow!” I can’t think of any sharper art criticism than that.
Rembrandt was a large presence in our vacation. The TG and I were Rembrandted three times: at the Hermitage, at the Rijskmuseum, and at his house in Amsterdam. It was a privilege to be in large studio, “the room where it happened.” His work is so beautiful and profound, he’s like the Beethoven of artists. When I got home, I dug into my Rembrandt books. He was so prolific, such a fountain of art – approximately 300 paintings, 300 etchings, and 75 surviving drawings – that I found little of what I saw at the Hermitage and Rijskmuseum in my library. I’m going to have to remedy that. Even though Rembrandt is one of the most famous artists in history – even his name is a cliché – seeing so many of his great works, so close up, felt like a revelation.
A flashmob recreates the “Night Watch” at a Dutch shopping mall
We spent some amazing time in the Flower Market, the world’s largest: more natural color than I’ve ever seen in any single place. And the Van Gogh Museum deserves its own blog. I’m still assimilating what I learned there.
One of our nicest times in Amsterdam was seeing an old friend from high school who has lived in Amsterdam since 1994. It was great to get out of “Amsterdam-Land,” the beautiful tourist-perfect area where we stayed, and see how the locals lived. My friend Lynn lives in the lovely Jordaan district, has property that she rents out on VRBO, and has a great life in this energetic, civilized, optimistic, humane city. The people are so nice, even as they run you down on their bikes.
And more good links:
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Rembrandt van Rijn
All of Van Gogh’s oil paintings – all 862!
An informative Charlie Rose show from a Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery
Paintings from the Van Gogh Museum
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Johannes Vermeer
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Vincent van Gogh
Travel-guru Rick Steves in Amsterdam – His show is comfort viewing. And highly informative.