Saturday, March 5, 2011

Opening Carnivale

As I write this, a tall thin man in an orange jumpsuit makes his way across to the riverside while a brass marching band practices beneath my office window.  Workmen are setting up tables to catch drink glasses, port-a-loo’s are being distributed around the city.  Red, yellow, and green striped flags are fluttering everywhere.

In short, it’s Carnivale.

The event defies narrative description, unfortunately: it is just a whirl of color, music, and street parties day and night for five days.  The opening parade is being held tomorrow with the raising of the Moose-Wife at 11, but the serious revelry got rolling last night.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Back to the Stedelijk

The Municipal Museum (the Stedelijk) in Amsterdam has been closed for too long, while the old halls being renovated next to the van Gogh museum and the new building lies half-complete and interrupted behind it.  So their collections of Mondrian's and  Matisse's, modern works and contemporary, have been visible only intermittently and occasionally in the Temporary halls. 

This is starting to change now that the old halls have reopened, with 10 euro admission and daily access.  I took time for a stroll through the galleries on Thursday, their second official day of opening. 



It’s good to have the museum back, even though it’s coming online slowly at this stage.  Several of the exhibit halls are completely empty, many have only a single work (although this may be intentional for some installations), and the staff is still in training (I tried to confirm that a large mural was done by Matisse and the first three staff people I asked had no idea).  My impression was that the works that are being shown so far are probably not their best pieces.  The newer installations, while  interesting, are not yet compelling, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the major art return.


Nonetheless, it’s good to have the Stedelijk back.  Within a few weeks, things should be well up to speed and I’ll look forward to making a return visit.  (I really appreciate, too, that they don’t discourage photography inside the museum).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A narrative break

Narrative, observed British author David Lodge, organizes events through time, in the same way that Images organize events through space.

It’s been a busy time, but lately most of my writings have been about place.  ‘take a few photos and put some first-person commentary alongside, knowing that it will be of interest to folks looking for a city break, a new restaurant, or a museum exhibition.

The prosody, the rhythms, of everyday life are harder to capture, telling a story in which the illustrations are secondary to the plot and characters.  It’s harder still when the arc of events is still incomplete. Do I foreshadow success or failure?  Which overlooked events are pivotal? Who is the hero; who is the villain?

The broad strokes of ongoing events are easy to paint.

I’m still rushing between countries on alternate weeks.

The British business, CamStent, has finally been funded.  Checks are arriving daily as investors tumble over one another to be part of the club; the business now has a paper value of 1 million GBP.

Negotiations are back on-track for funding and acquisition of a US company, to be relocated to Europe.

I’m forming another company in Florida with three partners for a new surgical instrument; first meeting was in Brussels last weekend.

Two ongoing partnerships, bioMRC and the Atlantic Accelerator, are generating consulting jobs and the occasional dinner.

My teaching assignment at Cambridge has been an absolute joy the past two weeks.

I’m getting traction on my inburgering, tracking on personal resolutions for the new year, minding my ABC’s (Ambitions, life-Balance, and Connections).

Still, though,this is just another series of snapshots, not a story that tells the daily experience.  Like the principal character in “Next to Normal”, it misses the lonely climb and dizzy heights, magic days and darkened nights.

I did tell my story yesterday, talking with a kindred ‘mature’ candidate for a slot in the Cambridge program, and putting my sabbatical experience and life-changes into some sort of context.  

Was it worth it? Absolutely, there is a story to tell.

Any regrets?  A few: some major, some trivial.

Would you do it again?  I look at the path untaken, 2000 more laid off last week at my former employer, vs. the budding promise of the coming months on my winding, hilly path ahead

Am I happy as a reiziger?  Yes.

I just need a little more narrative in my thinking and my exposition to express and explore it.

Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way round.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Time for Carnivale

The annual pre-Lent celebration is fast approaching, a bit late this year (since it is linked to Easter, also late) but a welcome relief from the winter cold and darkness.  The green, yellow, and red bunting and creepy masks are in all of the store windows, with larger decorations on the beer halls.  And, of course, the camel has resumed it’s place of honor atop the pole high above the streets of the Wyck.




Tuesday, March 1, 2011

At the Dutch language test

I had my examination for the inburgering today – a bit of a surprise since it was in my calendar for tomorrow, but at least that prevented me losing sleep preparing for or worrying about it.  Fortunately, reviewing my mail after breakfast, I picked up that I needed to bike across town by 11.  A sunny morning, I arrived early and was well composed when the interview began.

I could best describe the process as comprehensive.  There was a detailed review of my biography, work history, family situation, degrees, bank status, arrest history, volunteer work, reasons for taking the course.  Then we moved on to a series of cultural questions: in various situations, what would I do or who would I call?  Doctor, utilities, police, legal, real-estate…  I hoped to be asked where to find things in the Albert Heijn, but instead got challenging queries about pregnancy services, children’s schools, and unemployment assistance.  Sorry, not my specialty.

Then followed a long series of abstract reasoning exercises, I suppose to establish that I could do the course work.  There were problems in completing patterns (number and letter series), classifying and conjugating nonsense words, inferring the correct figure when I was given an example.  Some were pretty tricky: who knows if ‘meemi’ is more like a ‘1’ or a ‘2’.

Then we launched into the Dutch.  Read from a list of words to test pronunciation.  Write short answers about my favorite (healthy) food or vacation spot, my least favorite holiday, and my most-favored sport.   Listen to recorded conversations and answer questions aloud, read a story out loud, answer questions about a story I was given.  Half of language learning is courage and confidence, so I just plunged on, backtracking to correct word order and verb tense after the thought was down.

Most of it was pretty straightforward: my biggest problem came with understanding spoken conversations.  Without context, it’s easy to go down the wrong track (picking up a gift for a daughter vs. picking up a prescription from the doctor).  Several times, I just remembered the wrong information (the train to Rotterdam left from Track 9 in 20 minutes, but I didn’t pay attention to where the sneltrein stopped along the way).

The woman doing the test was very nice – it took an hour and a half and her assessment was pretty close to my own.  They offer a “course-buddy” to help with conversational skills, and I’m happy to go that route if I can work through the schedule details.

And it does reinforce how much local knowledge and vocabulary one picks up just by daily living in an adopted land, even in the absence of formal training.

And, yes, “I will work hard, I will finish what I start: I will do my best.”

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Museum Night Fever, Brussels

I had a business meeting in Brussels yesterday morning, and took a bit of time to enjoy the sights, including the Atomium and the art museums. Fortunately, Saturday was also Museum Night Fever, the city’s annual evening set aside for touring the arts.  All-inclusive tickets were 8 euro each, accessing 19 museums and the shuttle buses roaring between them for six hours until 1 am.  (Disclaimer:I was not asked to review this event: I paid my own way and these are my opinions and pictures).

Despite traffic, six hours is enough time to cover a half-dozen museums pretty well.  I started with the BOZAR, the Palais des Beaux-Arts, a classical art museum.  It’s featuring a very good retrospective of Venetian and Flemish portrait paintings across four centuries.  The parallel developments and narrative evolution of the art is well described, and it’s an amazing exhibit for seeing how art technique and insight develops.  I was less impressed with Luc Tuymans works, they reach for social significance in a very heavy-handed way and the technique is crude. Luc Himmler Himmler (for the evil eye glaring out of the shadows) was my favorite work.  Finally, some whimsical works by eight Hungarian artists are alternately amusing and disturbing.  Overall, a very worthwhile start.

I took a turn through the city’s foundations at Coudenberg, the ruined cellars of the old palace that burned down in the early 1700’s all read-brick and arches, then moved on to the Natural History museum.  Here I ran into the unique aspect of Museum Night, the fusion of kinetic and visual arts.  Young local dancers and avant-garde musicians were featured among the skeletons, an odd mixture of commentary and accent that sometimes and failed others.  I’d forgotten how earnest young performers can be: everyone was poised and hard-working, occasionally engaging the audience and generally livening the exhibits.  The whale skeletons are among my favorites: the jaw bones are just astounding.

The strangest fusion was at the Wiertz Museum, where absolutely vast Romantic canvasses of heroic legends were accented by a dance / mime troupe.   It took some getting used to, honestly, and the (lack of) dress was distracting at first, but their reactive interpretation of David and Goliath was excellent and they did achieve some striking tableau’s against the works.


But, then again, the Wiertz is always one for strange juxtapositions.


I stopped chasing the marker cones long before the all-night parties were underway, but managed to get a half-dozen attractions under my belt before the evening was out.  These events are held in many cities across Europe now, and are always worthwhile if you can link up with one.