Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dutch architectural influences

Dutch ArchitectureAmerican Heritage magazine published a wonderful history of Dutch – US connections (“The Dutch Door to America”), leaving me in a mood to read a bit more background.  Since I also visited Harwich today, the starting point of the Mayflower expedition, it pushed me to think about the various building elements in the US that have “Dutch” adjectives (and, yes, it was clearly too long a drive back to Cambridge if there was time for this…).

Like others, I fell into the error of believing that all things Pennsylvania Dutch are somehow connected to Holland (it’s actually German).  With that correction, what other tight (or loose) connections reach back to our Dutch Colonial heritage.

Dutch ColonialDutch Colonial houses:  I expected these to be the brick row houses in New York and Boston, but they actually refer to the “Amityville Horror”-style houses with gambrel roofs, the step-tilted sort that wrap over Midwestern barns.  Not really Dutch, these originate withcolonial-home-design-2 German (“Deutsch”) settlers in Pennsylvania in the early 1600s.  (‘Hard to see how a primarily European population of immigrants would get the pronounciation wrong over time, but there you go…)

Some sources do say that Dutch Colonial is a similar style to Dutch farmhouses, but when I think of the tidy low barns and houses that dot the Low fields here, they are nothing like these homes.

dutch-gable-roofInterestingly, the Dutch Gablet is exactly the opposite style of roof, with a shallow lower roof capped by a steeper center roof.


Dutch Half-hip roofThere’s also a Dutch Half-Hip Roof, right, and the traditional Dutch Pediment.  The latter is the serrated or rounded facings common on top of Dutch street buildings: transplanted examples below are from Birmingham, left, and Los Angeles, right.

I know there’s also a Spanish serrated style, but my eye isn’t good enough to pick out the differences yet.

Clearly it’s all about the roofs (and more than I can sort out…)

Dutch gable pediment  Dutch Revival Architecture

Dutch DoorsDutch DoorDutch Doors:  Entry doors, divided in the middle so that the top half can open independently of the bottom half.  I think of them as stable doors, split to keep animals in (or out), but Dutch doors did originate in the Netherlands in the 17th century, imported from an idea that the Dutch settlers found in Indonesia.

Dutch Vernacular ArchitectureDutch vernacular architecture:  Broadly, these are building styles which use local materials to suit local needs.  Dutch settlers in the Hudson Valley brought their architectural traditions to the new world with them, reconstructing practical variations on traditional house- and farm-buildings.  Several societies protect the remaining examples in New York and Pennsylvania – the Hudson Valley Vernacular Association and the Dutch Farm Society are two good ones.  It’s interesting to compare their photographs and specifications against the architectures common in the Dutch countryside.

Jean Hasbrouck House Jambless FireplaceThe Jambless Fireplace:  Traditional Netherlands jambless fireplaces were placed flush against the wall, surrounded with tile, and open on three sides to the room.  There were hoods to collect heat and smoke, with chains to hang pots and grates.  This has a very “colonial” feel, reminiscent of when I first visited Colonial Williamsburg.

Dutch StoopDutch Stoops:  These are small porches ahead of the entry door, with a bench on either side and a small roof overhead.  Supposedly they are a vernacular adaptation of the entryways seen alongside Amsterdam’s canals, where stone dutch-stoop2steps lead up one level to a stone porch ahead of the main entry to a building.


Of course, Dutch Tile accents and many other bits of architecture also found their way abroad during the Golden Age and the early settlements that followed.  But these examples give some of the more subtle influences – I’m sure that there are many more.


Finally, I wanted to share a bit of related sociology: Hernan Vesa’s 1989 article “On Dutch Windows”:

In The Netherlands, living room windows are big, left uncovered day and night, and elaborately decorated. This pattern, which is widespread in all urban and rural regions in this country, disappears abruptly as soon as the border into Germany is crossed where windows are generally smaller, consistently covered, and more sparsely decorated. Going south into Flanders, the disappearance of open and decorated windows is gradual but noticeable.

The cognitive and sensory meaning of a single object in material culture, the Dutch window, is examined as a concrete articulation of the boundary between the public and private realms by “thinking it with” successive conceptual frames in sociology. Assuming that material objects are embodiments of ideas, the study focuses on (a) the norms for looking and for looking out of the windows, (b) the territorial boundary being established and, (c) the information game played through the windows in a context of the notion of privacy. Photographs of the cultural objects under consideration, i.e., Dutch windows, are presented throughout the text as reminders that the cultural and material realms are sensually linked. The study concludes that objects in material culture must be examined in terms of the active, purposive acts we accomplish by adapting the objects to our practical and expressive needs.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Excursions into watercolour

My brush hovered above the delicately hued puddle, granulation pooling along the wet edge.  Don’t touch it, my teacher advised. “I can fix this,” I pointed.  Don’t touch it.  I jabbed a bit of color into a corner: the line dissolved, the color muddied.  We both sighed.

From the start, watercolor was either going to transform or destroy me.

As a creative medium, watercolor is a mix of loose/tight, flow and control.  The pigments can flow over a page like smoke, defining shapes and textures against the rough background of the paper.  Or a dry brush can trace a fine line or fill a microscopic space with jeweled highlight.  The variety of results are on display at the Tate Britain through August 21.

The exhibit costs 14 gbp on entry; the catalog (with good text but only samples of the works on display) is 20 gbp.   The works are arranged into a half-dozen groupings around themes such as botanical diagrams, imagery, and abstracts.  There is a technical interlude half-way through with examples of how the medium has changed, how highlights are introduced, and paintboxes and sketchbooks of famous artists such as (my favorites) Turner and Whistler.

DSC03856It’s a very complete introduction and I worth spending a couple of hours with reading glasses on so that you can study the brush and pigment work up close.   Although the show has been crowded, the galleries were empty on Good Friday afternoon.

A few examples that I particularly enjoyed:

  <-- A whimsical little Austen wet on wet, showing how much can be accomplished with just a few strokes of paint.


–-> Faint drawing-strokes highlighting a lantern against a wash clocktower in a medieval street setting. By Cox,  almost a pen and wash, but with pencil.


<—Anything by JMW Turner.  The accompanying text is wonderful: “He began by pouring we paint onto the paper till it was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrubbed at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos – but gradually, and as if by magic, [the watercolour] came into being.”

The chance to look closely at the textures in landscapes: the precise shading of the rocks and the looser granulation flowing into the fields. DSC03845DSC03846





…and a van Dyck seaport, a Macaque with a wonderfully scratched out mane, and a leaf spray by Ruskin…



Thursday, April 21, 2011

Practical business ethics

rightwayI’ve found little overlap between the case studies that we use in business school and the real-world scenarios that I’ve encountered in starting a new business.  This is especially true with regard to business ethics.

Class scenarios always involve managers asking for money to be shifted, supervisors asking for lab results to be withheld, engineers asking for test results to be falsified.  Simple, obvious, NO.

My real-world scenarios are more like

1) can an employee deposits a third-party check, payable to him, into the business bank account, then withdraw funds to get immediate access to the money (no: money-laundering), or

2) can an employee buy himself a pizza using the company credit card without planning to pay it back (no: embezzlement).  Grey, but still distinguishable.

My real world is full of hard cases.

In a year of pitching, I’ve met investors who want to believe, and investors who are looking for a reason to doubt.  There is every reason to tell them that the sun is rising now and every day will be summer.  “How good is your evidence?”  “How relevant are the bench results to animal testing?”  “When will you hit the next milestone?”  There is a relentless temptation to tell the good story; there is a relentless requirement to tell the truth.  We’ve lost a couple of investors that we might otherwise have had, but I can look the rest in the eye and tell them our situation, good or bad, without backtracking.  I was proud when one of them shook my hand and said that we had an ‘honest business’ going. 

My real world also abounds in ethical shortcuts that can mess things up in the long run.

We’ve wrestled with a signature that we needed on a key document: the other party didn’t want to sign and the business was blocked without the signature.  “What do we do if he doesn’t?” was on everyone’s mind.  One answer is that we tell him anything, then vote him out of the way once we have a path forward. Effective but wrong.  There was the nuclear option of invoking a questionable clause in his contract to nullify our agreement.  Devastating, but wrong.  I made multiple trips to meet with him and negotiated it out, listening, accommodating, sometimes negotiating.  And I got the signature, kept within my boundary for dealing straight with people.


There will be times when I need to be firm and may be circumstances when I need to go nuclear.  I’ve gotten more cynical about human motives and means through all of this.  But I do feel like I’ve stayed on the right side of the lines, even when it’s really been the harder thing to do.

Business ethics?  I abide by an uncomplicated ‘4-question’ test that someone suggested to me years ago:

  1. Does it feel right?
  2. Is it legal?
  3. If a reporter were sitting outside with a few questions, would you talk with him?
  4. (the acid test) What would your mother say?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reading the op-ed page

The real biggest issue that faces America today is that America, despite a recovering economy, is broke, dispirited, bamboozled and petrified.

  Matthew Norman, Apr 20, the Independent

Dave Brown 3Keeping up with local media (generally British but increasingly Dutch as well) means being exposed to local Op-Ed (Opinion and Editorial) pieces.  Like in the US, most comment on local issues and personalities and, like most in the US, they lean hard into whatever argument they are making.  The hyperbole may be more literate in Britain, but it is no less overreaching

On Monday, Standard & Poors, a US credit rating agency, issued a negative outlook on US government debt that was widely seen as a threat to downgrade the country’s credit rating within a year.  The rising deficit and repeated failures to cut spending prompted the warning, cautious souls hoped that it would constructively focus the difficult debates in Congress.

The event was an opportunity for deficit- and bailout-weary Europeans to aim at US policies, widely blamed for triggering the financial mess and manipulating national credit ratings.  Mr. Norman’s editorial is one of the most outspoken.

When George W Bush was elected President by five of the nine Supreme Court justices, he took on a country swimming in cash and basking in its post-Cold War hegemony. Eight years later, despite the healthy surplus Bill Clinton left him and a barely broken economic boom, he had doubled the deficit by wasting trillions on imbecile wars and trillions more on tax breaks for the wealthyThe America at which we glance across the ocean today is shrinking before our eyes.

Dave Brown 2Like the grotesque weekend editorial cartoons, dripping with blood and distortions, these editorials do more than comment.  They provoke.  And while I agree with the point of the argument, the thrust is too broad and the bin Laden characterization is irrelevant.

Yet, this is how we are depicted; it may be how we are perceived.  It creates difficult dilemmas for me as an expat: my tendency is to acknowledge what’s wrong and point to the innate common sense and goodness of our people as evidence  that things will be set right.  But, by conceding some points, do I concede all  of them?

Is the alternative to say that the worst errors discredit the rest of the narrative?  The US sacrificed her moral authority to impose the Pax Americana on the satanic altar of Dick Cheney's neo-con experiment.   But I can’t argue the opposite excess, that Bush was good for America.

Do I chalk it up to free speech and ignore it?  I wouldn’t among friends in Seattle.

The psychological impact is immense. Imagine the blow to any residual faith America had in its exceptionalism and supremacy. Imagine the shock, not to mention the awe, to find itself, within 10 years of being vaunted as the planet's hyperpower, at being styled a potential debt-welsher on Graeco-Portuguese lines.

Its almost a parody of the daily rhetoric on Rush/Fox.  I do have a tin ear for understanding British irony, and this may never have been meant literally.  But it’s still a troubling insect to find amongst the basket of breads that I enjoy with the morning paper.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Travel Tuesday


   You can tell when I’m returning because I ‘m faced the other way.

The alarm rang at 5 am – no matter, the pigeons already had me awake.  I tapped the coffeemaker into action, downed the last fruit in the ‘fridge, tossed out the trash bag for pickup.  5:40 – no way to make walk to the station in time to catch the the 5”56 train to Amsterdam.  The Dutch consider any hour before 9 am to be Peak Travel Times,, so it’s full-fare on an empty train as we roll through silent countryside – Sittard, Roermond, Weert.

British Airways had a sale on direct flights to London City Airport, a first for me.  The plane is full of men in suits'; I chose the out-of-place comfort of slacks and pullover.  The flight arrowed west, then spiraled down into the morning haze over London.  Great views of the Olympic construction, the Arsenal stadium, the Dome.  A nod and a card for the Border Police, then aboard the 11:30 DLR.

The calls start at noon – an investor meeting at two, a board member at four.  I regret the polo shirt and prowl Old Broad Street for a shirt and tie.  Quick drop into Starbucks for a latte and e-mails, then to Corney  & Barrow for the pitch.  Sadly, not to be: five minutes and I know I’ve failed to hook; ten and we’re done.

Tube to Kensington, another Starbucks for access while sipping an iced coffee. A smartly dressed woman interviews at the next table.  The candidate is in trouble: it’s a mistake to bring pink stationary and a matching gel pen to take notes.  I fire a Tweet to my daughter with sage advice.

Four-thirty pm, my partner and I launch into the revised Articles and immediately run into trouble. As written, if either of us leave the Board at any time for any reason other than death, it triggers a Share Transfer which strips us of all ownership in our own company.  I call the attorneys for an explanation – all are on Easter Break until middle of next week. We work through all of the other issues but fall short of concluding the agreement.

Dusk is gathering as I work my way to Kings Cross and on north towards Cambridge.  there’s time for a few calls between tunnels, a quick browse through the newspaper, a last few desultory taps at the keyboard.  A week of meetings and a full agenda of ‘must-do’ items are on tap.  Travel days are long days, and the work can pile up in my absence.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Launching into the week

Although it can’t  be too bad with spring weather like this.

We had a wonderful sunset filled with Dutch light across the river last night, then a textured sunrise this morning.  The living room chairs face the varied views and bustling street scenes, so are always a good spot to curl up with morning coffee and a few thoughts.  And it’s motivation for getting up early (light by 6 now).

Window 2

I heard from the Dutch Language people that evaluated me as part of my inburgering last month.  No score on my performance; just a notice that I was handed off to a college (with a Dutch buddy resident?) in Maastricht who would be delivering a Plan shortly.  Scary thought. 

The usual admonitions were present: Do your best, Finish what you start, and Work Hard.  Is the Gemeente always coach everyone this way?

Window 3

Otherwise, a last day for cleaning up before plunging back into business in London.  Secure a replacement AirMiles card (2.50 replacement fee), approve the replacement of my Fortis Visa with an ABN AMRO one (part of the government’s plan to break up the banks: hopefully with online account access this time), reload the NS card so I can take the train in the morning.  Clear the ‘fridge, do the recycling, finish the laundry, pack,  meet friends for koffee, hand off the accounting.

Window 1

US taxes are due today (Monday 18th) and I’m still working on Dutch taxes with my Dutch accountant under an extension from the April 1 filing date.  That makes it theoretically hard to tell if I owe US taxes – I basically didn’t earn any income as a result of US-based work, so didn’t prepay any taxes.  Still, there are penalties if I get this wrong, so I’ve sent my US accountant all the records I’ve got.  He wrote back to say that I didn’t appear to owe anything, so, fingers crossed, I filed for the US extension as well. 

This is my first year exposed to the full force of dual tax submissions without corporate expat tax equalization, and I’m worried that the process is going to be complex and expensive.  Stay tuned…this is just the first hurdle.


I was thinking the other day about how much stuff I’ve had to learn since settling in here.  I move pretty effortlessly through a lot of the business and immigration procedures, transport options, and activities of daily living and, if you catalog the day, that is a lot of background knowledge.  I thought briefly about whether it could be monetized (quickly discarded…not *another* business idea!)

…but then about whether it was atypical.

Probably every environment and every job requires participants to learn the local geography, procedures, people, and tricks to getting along.  And it probably adds up no matter where you are and what you are doing.

I wonder if anyone ever counted it up or did a complexity measure comparing various locations and vocations?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Relaxing on Sunday

It’s a week before Easter which, in Catholic Limburg, is observed as a cross between an Easter celebration (pasen) and a Spring celebration (variously lente or voorjaar).  The shop windows are filling with candies, bunnies, and chickies – there’s probably a logic that if you celebrate Carnivale and Lent, then Easter is part of the bargain.  As in the US, the public observance is secular and focused on flowers and baskets. I wandered through a couple of the larger churches to see if they were gearing up, but didn’t find much decoration, though.


The grocery is selling vividly colored eggs and a wonderful spring fruit loaf  (fruitbrood) with spices and sugars.  I picked one up on a whim Friday and nibbled all weekend(picture, with my orchid that is blooming, above right).  The chocolate shops are, of course, in their best season, with filled eggs of all sorts on offer.  I chase after the dark (puur) chocolates instead of the white (wit) or milk (melk) ones, they are going for about 3 euro per 100g.


The Stone Bridge (Sint Servaas) is undergoing a six month renovation to fix it’s aging lift system.  They’ve locked the span into its open position and have built a series of bike ramps to accompany stairs up and over the work.  The ramps are off-limits to scooters but they cross anyway, scattering bikes and pedestrians.  Otherwise, it’s an orderly delay as everyone queues up to push bikes up and over – I’m almost convinced that it’s faster to go around the alternate near Markt Square.

Otherwise, sunny and warm all weekend; I’m catching up on work as the Limburg bicycle racers take over the city streets.  Back to England on Tuesday, doing as much Dutch as I can until then…