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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

July trip
29/7 - Utrecht

I'm sure that English education in the Netherlands isn't as screwy as Chinese education in Singapore, where even PRCs complain about having to memorise the ci yu shou ce (vocabulary list), and the lure of popular [American] culture is an additional impetus. Yet even the Dutch, despite being the most English-literate people in Continental Europe, are not effectively bilingual; their English is a bit off sometimes, when they use the wrong word, can't find a suitable word or use grammar that is off.

Despite having tried it once, I wondered why the Walls Swirl was so popular. I always saw people in the long queuing for it at the railway station. At €2,80-€3 for just a blend of soft serve ice cream and fruit, I'd rather go for a BJ (€2).

Angel (?) in shop window

There was a funny tea ('New enviga the calvie buner' (?)) selling at €2 for 330ml. Other drinks were on sale at €0,70 for the same. The selling point of this was that green tea burned fat. Right.

I saw an old couple sharing a 3-wheeled buggy meant for one - the woman was lying in the man's lap. Heh.

I'd dawdled too much on Friday and Saturday so I had no time to finish off all the museums I wanted to do, so I had to skip the Railway museum (I had a feeling the exhibits were all in Dutch anyway). First I went to see what was new at the Centraal Museum.

There was a really strange exhibit at the Centraal Museum, with a photo of an event titled 'Peace intervention' by Lucy Orta, held at the V&A in London on 25/05/04. People were dressed in strange suits.

Skin lightening cream, featuring black people on the box
This was in a special exhibition on American culture ('This is America'). At first I thought it was real but on reflection I think it should be culture.

Tom Sachs, Prada Value Meal, 1998

I'd booked a tour for the Rietveld Schröder House, which left in a minivan from the Centraal Museum, but the other 4 people didn't show up, so it looked as if it'd be a private tour. However when we arrived at the location we met them - they didn't know the tour left from the museum, rather than starting at the house itself. It turned out that they were Spanish exchange students, and finishing up Utrecht after a summer of travelling.

Since the house was a world treasure, we had to wear blue plastic covers over our shoes (scrubs?), and the guide wore gloves when touching things.

The house used to be at the city boundary, and the current motorway beside it (on the other side of which is University College Utrecht) didn't exist at the time. So from the house you could see to the horizon.

When the house was built, most people had no bathroom at home, and bathed in bath houses. So the inclusion of a bathroom was quite novel, another way of showing off Mrs Schröder's wealth.

Electricity in entrance hall
9 electric plugs, set on marble. Only 3 are functional, 6 are for show.
At this point the guide remembered that he was supposed to tell us that photography of the inside was forbidden. Gah.

40% of the cost of the house was spent on installing central heating, with specially made radiators. Interestingly, even in 1965 not all houses had central heating.

Mrs Schröder was claustrophobic (?) so the house was designed such that on the ground floor, one could exit it immediately from any room and not just the main entrance. There was one room in the very centre where this didn't work though.

One novel aspect of the house's design was that though the kitchen door was mostly painted white, it had a black handle so one could close it with dirty hands without having to clean up. Even more ingeniously, it had a large black L painted on its surface, corresponding with the area on the door's side or bottom you'd kick on to close it when your hands were full.

The area around the stove was also black.

Mrs Schröder didn't like curtains. So to keep out the sun there were little wooden shutters which could pop into the windows. These were painted black on the side facing the outside, and grey on the reverse so as to fit into the house's internal colour scheme.

For times when no one was home, the kitchen window could be left open so people could make deliveries by placing items on a shelf, without worrying about crime.

It was very cool underground in the cellar. Now I know why you can keep your food/wine there even in summer. During a normal summer, of course, and not this year's freaky summer.

About this time, people started knocking on the doors/windows of the house and asking if they could enter, which pissed off the guide since people kept doing that. I pointed out that there was no sign outside the house stating that one had to join a tour from the Centraal Museum.

Interestingly enough, there was a study for Rietveld even though it was Schröder's house. Of course, this was because she was his muse (read: they were having an affair).

The tables in the house could fold into the wall to create more space.

Finishing the ground floor, we then ascended.

The staircase had a semi-automatic sliding door. pull wood block down. weight pull rope, door slide open (I think my notes are mixed up here and it's supposed to mean that the mechanism was set by pulling a wooden block down and releasing the mechanism would slide the door in one direction).

The first (second) floor of the house was one big space which could be subdivided into sections but also opened up in the day when people weren't sleeping. To get around planning regulations, they had to call the first floor an attic.

The little details were impressive. For example, the window sill could be flipped up to support the window, and flipped down when the window was slid out. From the little details, the guide commented, one could tell that Rietveld was a carpenter and not an architect. Hah!


The Procuress. I thought this was a dup but I liked it so much I took it anyway. Lucky for me that I did, since I can't find it in the March collection. Anyhow the madame who is the subject of the painting is a madam who procures flesh (at first I thought she was marketing herself).
"It is the procuress' (sic) job to arrange 'love for money' by bringing men in contact with women of questionable repute [Ed: Doesn't that make them men of questionable repute?].With her colourful clothing, her cleavage and the feathers in her hair, she is easy to distinguish fro mthe average citizen. The feathers are a reference to her wanton character. The lute, which she is holding by the neck, had a clear sexual connotation in the seventeenth century. The dramatic, though natural, play of light that Caravaggio liked to use inspired Honthorst to paint scenes using artificial light. Scenes set a (sic) night and illuminated by a single candle were the speciality of Gherardo delle Notte, as the Romans admiringly called him."

There was a stupid video on consumerism: Donna Conlon - 'Give me more', 2005. It had a woman opening a big plastic big, only to find a plastic bag inside almost as big. Inside that bag was another plastic bag slightly smaller and like a series of Russian dolls this continued until she found a tiny plastic bag in the centre which presumably contained nothing. I can't believe I sat down to watch the whole sequence.

Martin le Chevallier's The Butterfly ('Le Papillon'), 2005 made absolutely no sense. I don't even know how to describe it. It was basically a guy doing random things, and random things happening to him. There wasn't the least connection between each bit.

One person's installation artpiece was a shop sign from Baghdad. Wth. Like that also can. In other jurisdictions this would be called theft of property, not art.

I had another serving of frites speciaal at Hank's (only freshly made fries can be that moist inside), and noticed that it was promoted as "Gebakken in zuiver plant aardige arachide olie". (translate)

Lastly I went to the musical gadgets museum for the exhibition Royal Music Machines (50 of the most beautiful [and expensive] musical gadgets created for Royalty, to celebrate 50 years of the museum's existence), which was ending the next day (when I would fly off). I didn't have time for lunch, so I had some munchies from the market. Unfortunately, even after skipping lunch I didn't have time to explore the permanent collection, reaching the museum just about in time for the tour of the special exhibition. Ah well, if I ever return to Utrecht I can view the permanent collection, which incidentally has 28/50 of the machines used in the exhibit.

Elephant Clock, attr. James Cox, 1780

There was a 'Steinway duo alt [?]', a piano which could reproduce the playing of famous pianists, complete with dynamics, tempo and pedals.

Polyphon disc musical movement, 1900

Photography was allowed in the permanent exhibition but not the special one because they didn't have photographic rights for the loaned objects. This must be why special exhibitions never allow photography. The advantage of the tour was that the staff would activate the machines for you to hear, but when there wasn't a tour there was no one to enforce the no photography rule. Heh.

There was a rhinocerous clock from the Forbidden City museum in Beijing (attr James Cox, 1730). 2 exist, because it was considered bad luck to give the Chinese gifts singly, so they had to make a copy. They would've played the rhino clock for us, but the day before the exhibition opened, 5 of the best clockmakers in the world came, removed the head of the rhino and tinkered for 2 hours. It worked for a grand total of 1 1/2 times, and then stopped.

There was a 1793 Haydn-Niemecz organ clock (based on the music box principle, but opening organ pipes instead of striking metal pieces). It could play 29 notes at a time, so Haydn was not limited to 10 fingers and 2 feet. Guide on the tool used to start the machine: 'This was used by Haydn himself. That's why I'm using these gloves. So my touch [sic] will not touch Haydn's sweat.'

There was also an automatic spinet - a harpsichord music box.

There was a Clay clock from 1738 whose twin was at Kensington palace. George IV couldn't stand the music and ticking, so he had the mechanism thrown out. Uhh. So when the guide came to it, she played a CD of the music, a Handel arrangement for the clock.

The reason why clocks play a melody before the number of bells for the hour is struck is to alert you so you can keep quiet and attentive, and listen for the time.

There were the remains of one c. 1590 clock owned by Christian I of Saxony. Its tale was very sad. During World War II, Dresden was going to be bombed so it was shipped out on a truck with other art. As luck would have it, the truck was hit by an incendiary bomb and most of the artworks on the truck were lost.

There was a c. 1780 clock by Torkler. It had fluid crystal rods which rotated. Some of the rods represented a fountain (those rotating up) and some represented a waterfall (those rotating down). It belonged to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, but the experts there don't let it be played because the musical gadget experts are all in this museum. So the exhibition was the only time it was played and will be played in a long time.

Rudolf II of Hapsburg was the largest art collector in the world after Napoleon.

There was a 1995 replica of a cannon-shooting vessel called the 'schietend ship'. It had a cannon, out of which came flame and a loud bang. The guide couldn't demonstrate this since it needed a gunpowder license, so for the opening ceremony they got someone with one to demonstrate it (in front of the Queen, IIRC). So she got us to say "bang" (...)

At the end of the tour (which coincidentally was 50 minutes) the guide ran off. I think she wanted to go home. So we got one of the fringe benefits of going on a late tour.

'La joueuse de Tympanon'. 1784 Marie Antoinette doll playing the keyboard. It breathes and looks around.

'La Musicienne', 1774 Android.

There was a shop selling men's clothes called 'Special basics sissy - boy'. Why do men shop there?

I saw 2 of the guys in ambulance trolley beds whom I'd seen a few months back. This time both were topless. 1 had removed the sheepskin on top of the trolley bed, and the other had rolled it back to his feet. They were talking to 1 guy on a wheelchair which was operated by the guy's rotating a double-handled bar in front of him. I don't know what the attraction of the trolley beds is - a wheelchair would be much more comfortable.

'Voor de streep geen staamplaatsen' check

I saw an inflatable pool on a sidewalk and 2 pre-pubescent girls were in it. Uhh.

I then went back to the houseboats area. As my Dutch friend commented, although no one lives there you always see a lot of cars parked by the road side. In keeping with this wonderful country, on the other bank of the river is a residential area.

Rode brug
The red bridge itself, downstream (upstream?) from the houseboats.

Most of the girls were in bikinis or swimwear, whereas in Amsterdam they're all in lingerie. I thought maybe they wanted to go swimming, but I didn't see anyone in the water and besides the river stank. Maybe it's a inter-city cultural difference thing.

The houseboats all had windows, so it was like window prostitution in Amsterdam - except that it was hot so almost everyone was at the door or outside. Many windows had stickers reading "NL" - maybe they were proud of being local talent (most of them looked Dutch), and this is where people sick of foreign talent went. Some windows had a sign reading 'Geen toegang onder de 16 jaar' (no entrance for those under 16 - OTOH the ladies must be 18; I wonder how many laddies visit), and one door had a sign for 'eerste hulp' (first aid) - this must be where people go when things are too exciting and they get injured. One window had an orange feather boa - how patriotic! The most bizarre was one window which read "No money onboard - no change". So how do people pay? Credit card? PIN [direct debit]? Chipknip [smart card]? So high tech.

It was very funny because vehicles were being driven down the lane parallel to the line of houseboats. Men, mostly alone in cars (but some in pairs), were driving down the lane extremely slowly and peering at the boats. Some looked very bored.

I considered asking some of the ladies if they'd let me pull their hair for €1 (one has to adjust for price level differences). I was quite sure they wouldn't call me shen jing bing, since they'd surely heard it all.

The boats were evenly numbered from 102 to 160, so that means there were 30 of them. Each had 5 compartments, so that makes for a maximum capacity of 150.

From inside one boat I heard a sound like a dentist's drill. Maybe someone was having Vandersexxx (sp). I hope he remembered the safe word.

Finishing my walk down the stretch, I found that at both ends of the road there was a roundabout. The number of cars going round the roundabout was really quite amazing.

Roundabout (at the start of the stretch)
I assiduously waited till it was clear of cars, since I didn't want anyone coming to beat me up.

On the way back I saw the bridge being sprayed with water continuously with pipes, since it was too hot.

One windsock tudung woman's chest was exposed and I saw the start of her valley. Gah.

There was a sign for 'schoolparty.nl'. But I thought they don't wear uniforms? (check)

There was a Jap restaurant called 'konnichi wa'. This must be the most stupid name ever.

It sounds like over-regulation is the cause of the property shortage in Utrecht. Hmm.
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