Monday, 23 March 2015

Walking home

When I was in my early twenties I worked at a private bank on one of Amsterdam’s famous ‘grachten’ (17th century canals). In the morning I took a streetcar to go to work, but in the afternoon or early evening I used to walk back home, which took the better part of an hour.
That time was well spent, on which I'll dwell shortly.

Passing by the Spiegelgracht (Mirror Canal) I headed for the Rijksmuseum (National Museum),

went through the underpass,

which opens unto Museum Square

that stretches to the southwest as far as the Concertgebouw (Concert Hall).

There I took the street beside it - on the left in the photo -

to continue to where I then lived. Often enough, though, I went by different routes, through the Vondelpark, e.g.,

but those were detours that took slightly longer.

Of course, many sights then were different. The underpass of the Rijksmuseum sported no inside glass panes, but solid brick walls; Museum Square was a broad thoroughfare called, mockingly, ‘the shortest motorway in the Netherlands’ (photo 1992).

No fountain on the grounds, no extension of the Van Gogh Museum in its center,

and no ridiculous ‘bathtub’ eyesore to hide the historic 'Stedelijk' (Municipal Museum) from view.
Read 'The New York Times' art critic, Michael Kimmelman's Dec. 2012 article, Why is this Museum shaped like a tub? Priceless.

Instead, the Stedelijk had a secluded garden, through which I liked to stroll in passing,

with a public sandbox,

a fountain where some mad contraption of Jean Tinguely spurted jets of water into the pool in front of the restaurant terrace and there was this sculpture, 'Open Ended', by Richard Serra

standing in the center of the garden - as you can spot in the aerial photo. When you step inside the structure and look upward, you’ll see a perfect triangle of sky. It really is huge, but now, in its new location - scroll back up to the picture of the Van Gogh Museum - optically dwarfed by the monstrous ‘bathtub’.
On a side note, make a mental effort to flip the triangle to the front of the picture. The graphic impression is even more astounding.

Walking home from the office I took advantage of this spare hour to rehearse the conjugations of classical Greek verbs. Not exactly for fun, though under conditions as splendid any mental activity would have passed for a pastime, but in the course of my taking evening classes to finish grammar school.
Being familiar with Latin and Greek, plain English, to me, was still a very foreign language. It’s hard to imagine, these days, but in my youth French was the language of preference. It was taught on a voluntary basis from the fourth grade of elementary school, but English? Never.

When I was in evening class I read ‘In de Ban van de Ring’ (Lord of the Rings) in Dutch and was enchanted by it. Later, when I stumbled upon a copy of ‘The Hobbit’ in an international bookshop, I decided to take the plunge and read it in English. That must have been my first dip into English literature in the original. Soon I found a copy of Tennyson’s collected poems in a secondhand bookstall in the ‘Oudemanhuispoort’ on the University’s premises.

From it I retained a lifelong dedication to ‘The Voyage of Maeldune’ - which I translated into Dutch in lyrical prose, published as a free iBook, recently - and to ‘The Lady of Shalott’, which I learned by heart, all one hundred and seventy one lines of it. Need I tell you I rehearsed its nineteen stanzas many times while walking home from the office?

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the fields the road runs by
      To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
      The island of Shalott.

The full poem can be read here.

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