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December 6, 2010

Amsterdam is dark, mysterious, and strange today
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:37 AM * 24 comments

Comments on Amsterdam is dark, mysterious, and strange today:
#1 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 08:08 AM:

And slippery! Don't forget slippery!

Always scary to feel your bike slip from underneath you, especially when you're carrying not just a laptop, but also a new Ipad on the back.

#2 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 08:15 AM:

Have you slipped back into the eighteenth century? (The "periwig period" as Boxer called in his wonderful little history of the Dutch empire.)

#3 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 08:56 AM:

Edinburgh has been unusually white and Harry Potter-y lately.

It's starting to really get annoying now though.

#4 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 09:27 AM:

But where's "tall"? It usually goes with "dark", "mysterious" and "strange".

#5 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 10:18 AM:

Hmmm, which are the tall ships? I'm sorta hoping one is the Duyfken (for the local connection, you understand - the replica was built in Fremantle). I'm presuming the big curvy shape on the left of the picture is a standard cargo vessel?

#6 ::: pedantka ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 10:38 AM:

Israel has been quite foggy today--driving through the hills there were moments I could almost think I was back in Scotland.

#7 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 10:39 AM:


Whoops, wrong country.

#8 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 11:15 AM:

Anybody else remembers that the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night" once showed up in an episode of ST-TNG, much to the dismay of Jean-Luc?

#9 ::: marrije ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 11:37 AM:

@Meg Thornton #5: The big curvy shape is the science museum, Nemo.

#10 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 11:40 AM:

Serge @ 8: "Not a promising beginning for a novel...", IIRC.

#11 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 12:06 PM:

Have the canals frozen over? Have children turned up to skate on the frozen canals? Has Hans Brinker showed up with silver skates?

Inquiring minds, etc. I always thought that sounded like fun.

#12 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 12:09 PM:

Where did you get a camera that can photograph ghost ships? I want one!

#13 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 12:34 PM:

#5: Hmmm, which are the tall ships? I'm sorta hoping one is the Duyfken (for the local connection, you understand - the replica was built in Fremantle). I'm presuming the big curvy shape on the left of the picture is a standard cargo vessel?

I'd guess that the large one in the centre is the VOC Amsterdam and the one on the left that looks like a bulk carrier is the Amsterdam Maritime Museum. The other tall ship is a mystery... must be a visitor.

#14 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 12:34 PM:

Science and Technology Museum, not Maritime Museum.

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 03:21 PM:

Martin @1:
Yes, hugely slippery. You should have seen all the careful children sliding slowly to school this morning in our village, an hour later than usual.

(The kids who stayed up to open presents that Zwarte Piet left before bedtime got to sleep in. Those who opened their presents in the morning had enough time to have a little play with them.*)

* For everyone else's enlightenment: Sinterklaas is the Dutch December gift holiday† Kids get their big‡ presents in (and under, and near) their shoes on Pakjesavond, Gift Night, which is December 5.

Some families set the presents out after the kids have gone to bed, and let them open them in the morning. Others, like ours, set the shoes out in the evening and then listen very closely for Zwarte Piet to come and fill them. This may require parents to do crazy things like lower a bag of gifts from the balcony to the back garden, sneak out of the house and through the bike shed, and fill the shoes through the back patio door left ajar (the breeze makes the curtain bell out most handily). Then said parents may bang on a window in passing, and come quietly back into the house while the kids are noticing that Zwarte Piet's been. ("Really? How exciting!")

† The Dutch also celebrate Christmas, but that's mostly decorations and food rather than gifts.

‡ Often there are smaller presents left in shoes in the evenings leading up to Pakjesavond.

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 03:27 PM:

Ginger @4:
But where's "tall"?

This is the Netherlands. Tall is the unstated default.

marrije & ajay:

Correctly identified, both.

nightsky @11:

The canals have not yet frozen over enough to skate on this year. They did both of the last two years, though no silver skates made an appearance.

I did find the experience of going out of my back gate, over the road, and onto the canal to go ice skating most odd. I grew up skating on rinks. And owning my own skates is odd indeed.

The header image from our family blog is of me and Fiona just about to set off skating on that canal.

#17 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 03:41 PM:

Lovely picture. Thank you for sharing it.

London, meanwhile, is less white than it has been. We now have some grass in the garden again (as opposed to nine inches of snow). What's been trodden down on the pavements is, alas, still solid ice.

#18 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 04:22 PM:

I celebrated Sinterklaas on Saturday at my parents, largely for the benefit of my nieces and nephew, still in the believing stage. Great to see those little faces light up.

What do you think of the whole Zwarte Piet business? It must be kind of ... odd ... to see otherwise straigth thinking adults black up en masse for a few weeks every year if you're not used to it.

#20 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 11:31 PM:

Nightsky @ #11, there is a history and artwork of people skating on the canals. it was my vision of the Netherlands until i got out into a wider world and the warmer weather of now, A casual Google search sounds as if the canals are freezing enough again for races.

#21 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 12:02 AM:

St. Nicholas Day! The Poles celebrate this too. (My dad is first-generation American with Polish parents, so we got the benefit.) I only remember one St. Nicholas gift from when I was a child (other than the obligatory gingerbread saint): a little metal excavator, Hot Wheel scale, that had a backhoe that worked. I must have loved that thing, especially since it was MINE and my brother couldn't claim it away from me. But I don't remember any of the others.

I gave Evil Rob some incredible balsamic vinegar. It's the kind to make you understand when Alton Brown says the best balsamic is worth drinking by itself.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 12:45 AM:

Martin @18:

Oh, Jeetje, Zwarte Piet...every time I try to do a blog post on Sinterklaas I end up under the table with my head in my hands trying to figure out what to say about him.

(Zwarte Piet was originally the Devil, whom Sinterklaas had defeated and made his slave. Then he was an African slave, then a servant, and now an employee. These days Head Piet is the guy who actually runs the whole enterprise, while de Sint is generally a doddery fellow in his long beard and bishop's miter.

To dress up as Zwarte Piet, one dons seventeenth century garb—knee breeches, slashed doublet, lace collar, hat with feather—all in gaudy velvet. One then (sigh) adds an Afro wig and blacks one's face like a minstrel show performer. Many people do this; each Sint is surrounded by, as David Sedaris said, six to eight black men, and there are always spare Pieten wandering about unattached to any Sint, handing out gingerbread buttons from burlap sacks.

They tried, a few years ago, to turn Zwarte Piet into Gekleurde Piet, Colorful Piet, by passing him through a rainbow, but it didn't catch on. Dutch people like their Pieten black.)

As a foreigner in this country, the best thing I can say is that I have seen many dark-complected Dutch people dressed as Zwarte Piet, having fun. And the Netherlands has no tradition of minstrel shows; Zwarte Piet may or may not be offensive, but if he is he must be in his native context, not because Americans have been fools about race in our own way.

I have told my children that they may dress in Piet clothing (and indeed, my daughter looks very good in her Pietenpak, rather like Little Lord Fauntleroy). But they may not wear the wigs, and they are banned from having their faces painted black. Zwarte Piet may be what he is here, but they are Americans and Brits, and a photo of them in blackface could be hugely damaging in the contexts where they, unlike their classmates, must exist.

In the end, basically, I am a foreigner here, still learning my way. And people really, truly, genuinely do things differently in different cultures, and judging them by my cultural context is like complaining that a sonnet doesn't follow the rules of a villanelle. When I'm thoroughly and unthinkingly fluent in Dutch, when I've been here long enough to understand the nuances and complexities of Piet in the history and culture of the place, then I'll be in a position to figure out if he is, on balance, a good thing or a bad thing. I suspect the answer will not be straightforward.

#23 ::: Julia Jones sees more weird spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2010, 05:41 AM:

Same spammer who's hit the Onderduiken thread, copying earlier comments with a payload in their name.

#24 ::: xeger sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2011, 10:57 PM:

wedding dresses shop on amsterdam is dark, mysterious, and strange today could almost be a ML topic...

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