In 1998 I spent over a week in Amsterdam, staying with a friend who was working there as an au pair.
Among the things I got to visit was the Rijks Museum, which houses a fair number of Rembrandt works, including his famous Night Watch at left. Sitting in front of it, I scribbled in my notebook, “The figures are large enough to be full scale. The painting is so large that it could only fit in an aristocrat’s home.”
Part of the history of the Night Watch is simply amazing. It seems that at one point, someone wanted to hang the picture in a staircase landing, but it wouldn’t fit. Being sensitive of the artist’s overall vision and integrity, the then-owner did the logical thing: he trimmed it!! He cut of something like eighteen inches off the right side!
The Rijks Museum also houses the largest collection of Vermeer in the world. Vermeer is my favorite painter, bar none. It was with Vermeer’s work that I experienced for the first time a certain draw to visual art. I kept returning throughout my afternoon to the Vermeer annex.
Of course what would a visit to Amsterdam be without a visit to the Red Street. I scribbled the following in my journal when I returned:
We went to the red light district for a few minutes. It was in a way pathetic. The women stand in their underwear behind glass doors — literally merchandise. Men can literally go window shopping for flesh. And some of the women were ineffably ugly: old, fat, or both. I passed a window with a corpulent black woman tapping her crotch, as if she were displaying the next item up for bid on “The Price Is Right.” There were several sex theaters and as we passed by, the doormen all tried to get us to com in. And often they said the same thing: “Young lovers, come in for filth and sleaze in a clean, comfortable environment.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the whole situation. How anyone could make use of those ladys’ services is really beyond me. I would feel like such a fool (Thursday 29 January 1998).
I also visited the Van Gogh musem, amazed at the thickness of the paint.
Another highlight was going to Anne Franks’ family’s “secret annex” where they waited out much of the Nazi occupation of Holland. I was struck at how roomy it all was. Watching the dramatized Diary of Anne Frank in middle school, I thought it was a small, cramped area.
And it would be an absolute sin to be in Holland and not see at least one windmill.