On the Road

On the Road: 2002

Waterlogged in Rotterdam Part II
7 September 2002

But first, I need to discuss the problem with bacon around here. Even Chez Matthieu can cook up delicious bacon in the coffeeless haze of early morning. But these four-star hotel restaurants provide some of the crappiest, soggiest over-cooked or under-cooked excuses for bacon I've ever consumed.

Sorry... Just had to share.

I took a different route to Rotterdam for my second attempt to see the city, this time passing through Delft, where I was able to witness, for the first time, a "working" wind mill. The mill's a tourist attraction in Delft, but seeing the windmill's arms in motion adds quite a lot to the sight.

For the first time in quite a while, I arrived in a city with an idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to visit a particular museum and I wanted to check out the city's outdoor festival. How much I'd do, though was still a question. Even after nearly 12 hours of sleep the night before, I was kinda sluggish.

Yeah. Twelve hours. But, when you throw in the incessant late-night honking of the huge taxi rank standing outside Den Haag Centraal Station, just below and to the side of my room, my sleep for the past couple weeks has not been entirely peaceful. And the comings-and-goings in the office, with my stay extending out by one or two weeks at a time, has worn the system down.

As for that hotel, I'm now in the Sofitel, a five-star hotel with a four-star restaurant that serves crummy bacon and offers lousy service. At one point I had to stand up and wave my napkin in order to get some coffee. Ooooh... I don't like being ignored!

I was kicked out of the Europa a couple weeks ago (not because I trashed the room, but because they were booked solid with vacationers eager to soak up the rainclouds on the beach of Scheveningen). So, like Atyrau, I found myself in a situation of rotating hotels. One major perk at the Sofitel: It's walking distance to the office and at the station where I'd normally get off the 20-minute tram ride from Scheveningen. The end result: 20 more minutes of dawdling in the morning.

Where was I? Oh yeah... Rotterdam.

Anyway, in the end I actually succeeded in doing what I set out to do today, although the outdoor festival fell victim to yet more rain.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Rotterdam:
This is an interesting musuem. I walked right by it at first, not realizing the ugly, official-looking building it's in actually housed some incredible works of art. I had to back up and look closer to figure out it was indeed the Boijmans behind the parking gate.

My favorite piece was The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel do Oude (1525-1569). It has an incredible amount detail when you look at it close up, including tiny little people hard at work, tiny little pieces of ancient equipment, and tiny little people holding conversations and milling about on the different levels of the tower. It's the kind of detailed work that simply can't be duplicated in the typical museum store postcard. Immaculately done.

The museum also holds Degas' statue of the Dancing Girl, Dali's bust of Venus, with the nose and left ear switched, and the finest in styrofoam sculptures. Yes. It is definitely an eclectic mix of old and new, classic and modern art.

A new piece of work was installed yesterday. It's at the far end of the first floor, tucked away by itself. Along the way, you pass by cool paintings by the Toorop family (including Three Generations, with the original enormous sculpture of Toorop Sr.'s head sitting right next to the painting in which it is seen), a couple Rembrandts, works by Van Gogh, Mondriaan, and Reubens.

This new work is the most disturbing item in the museum. It's a sculpture of Hitler. It's by Maurizio Cattelan and it's caused quite a stir; even the security guard nearby commented to me that it's caused a lot problems for the museum, including a lot of "nasty phone calls." After all, the Germans bombed the heck out of Rotterdam, a part of history which has lead to Rotterdam's current status as an architectural epicenter. (There's a lot of architectural experimentation going on in this town!)

The Het Financieele Dagbald section of the weekend's edition of the International Herald Tribune described the statue, saying it is "three feet high and is made of polyester, resin and finished with wax." When I first read the short story in the paper, I breezed by the comment that the statue was "lifelike." Not realzing that made it all the more a shocker when I found it. The statue has its back to you as you arrive; it looks like a boy in an old-fashioned suit, with pants just past the knees and stockings from there down to its black shoes. It doesn't look like a simple statue; the clothes look real. The figure is kneeling in the corner; the structure and tiles around it give it the look of a boy kneeling in a church. When you walk around it, you find a very lifelike Adolf Hitler looking up at you, his hands clasped together.

There was even a woman recording people's comments on the statue. I chose not to get involved in the discussion. I wasn't sure what to make of it. It struck me as incredibly creepy. And that was apparently the artist's intent. The newspaper wrote, "the statue... is part of the Italian Grotesque art genre and Cattelan intended to bring the viewer face-to-face with 'the personification of evil.'" The artist also commented that you don't know if he's praying to kill another six million or if he's asking for forgiveness. An interesting concept. But once again, creepy. Other people don't seem to pick up on the dual possibilities; I didn't either.

During my visit to the museum, the rains returned, at times pouring down quite heavily. At least I was indoors this time and watched in comfort.

Wereld Haven Dagen 2002:
When the weather settled down, I made my way down to the harbor. If it weren't for that pesky rain, it'd be a great day for Wereld Haven Dagen, an annual outdoor celebration along the river. There were all kinds of boats on hand, plus helicopter maneuvers, planes, etc. People can get on the different navy boats and participate in all kinds of activities, including a live music stage, but... the weather! The celebration is for World Port Days, which this time coincides with the 400th anniversary of Dutch East India Company. I remember reading about that company in history classes back in grade school and... uhhh... maybe even during college.

After a brief visit to the harbor, with rain still coming down in light sprinkles off and on, I was ready for dinner. I found Granny's nearby and very pleased with the place. I went in absolutely starved and left positively stuffed. For the first time in my European experience, there was even food left over. The bread was good, the (Gulpener) bier was soothing, the fries yummy, and the ribs very tasty. All at a reasonable price!

Later in the evening, there was a rather mundane parade of boats along the river. They all had some kind of streaming lights on board, some even lit sparklers or fired off flares high into the sky. As the parade wore on, it was getting chillier and chillier, with the rain repeatedly coming in for very brief showers. Finally, the fireworks finale went off in an incredible display of light and sound. The booming noise of the explosions echoing off the nearby buildings was amazing - it actually drowned out the rather cheesy musical accompaniment.

It was a long show and well worth the wait.

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