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Sail ho!

09/17/2012

I must confess not having visited many museums this week, due to pressing academic concerns and other events.  My visits were limited to the Scheepvaartmuseum and Het Schip Museum.  The former is housed in a very impressive building near Central Station, and also contains a replica of a ship called the Amsterdam.  I must admit to being somewhat disappointed, in no small part due to having visited the Shipwreck Galleries in Perth, Australia.  The Scheepvaart Museum does contain some interesting artefacts, and is a fun attraction for children, but in terms of Dutch maritime history I found the Shipwreck Galleries in Perth far more interesting.  A number of ships, Dutch and others, have been wrecked there over the centuries.  The Batavia was one of the more gruesome tales, having been wrecked off the coast, leaving terrified survivors on the Houtman Abrolhos islands while the commander and some sailors headed to Jakarta by open boat.

They returned after their incredible, and successful journey, to find that mutineers under the leadership of a former chemist named Jeronimus Cornelisz had massacred a number of survivors.  Having been trapped on an island, they were at the mercy of this evil man, however a small group of soldiers had escaped to a nearby island.  The commander of this force was named Wiebbe Hayes, who may strike readers as being unusual in having an Irish surname.  However it must be pointed out that many employees of the Dutch India Company at this time were foreigners, with immigration into the Netherlands during its Golden Age being quite substantial.  While most of these immigrants came from Germany, Scandinavia and Belgium, it may be possible that some were indeed Irish.

The end saga to this mutiny was rather bloody in itself.  With the mutineers fearing a rescue vessel would bring justice down on their heads, they resolved to hijack it when it came.  However when one did appear, a race was on between the soldiers under Wiebbe Hayes command and the mutineers to reach it first.  Once the soldiers had done this, the game was up for the mutineers, and a number were executed before the rescue ship returned to Jakarta.  Interestingly, two minor accomplices were marooned on the mainland, and a rare disease associated with the Netherlands has since been found in an Aboriginal clan.

The Shipwreck Galleries in Perth are definitely my maritime museum on choice, although the artefacts contained therein are from a number of wrecks.  They include a large piece of the Batavia, although it was a small piece of the entire ship.  Weapons abound, and so do silver coins lost on the wrecks.  Most of the latter were encrusted in coral which grew over the intervening centuries.  Glassware which had lain in shallow water in the meantime had been stained pink by ultra violet light.  I suppose that compared to such a treasure trove any museum has a hard task to impress me.  However I would recommend the Scheepvaart Museum to first time visitors to Amsterdam.

My other visit was to Het Schip Museum, or the Ship Museum in English.  Readers will no doubt be as surprised as I was to discover that it is not, in fact, a ship at all.  Nor does it contain anything to do with matters nautical.  It was one of many social housing buildings put up early in the twentieth century in the Spaandammerbuurt district of Amsterdam.  It’s shape can be said to resemble a ship, and it is one of a number of buildings designed by the Amsterdam School of Expressionist architecture.  Contemporary housing for the working class and poor  in Britain and elsewhere was rather substandard, and the social democratic values of the ruling party in the Netherlands was intent on providing good housing.

The building included a post office in which workers in local industries could get paid.  Before this, they would be paid in local bars on a Saturday night, which also happened to be owned by the local industries. This would mean that much of the money the workers had earned would be spent in the same bars.  Everything about these buildings was meant to be socially progressive, and the showcase apartment was quite impressive.  Most of the apartments contained in the complex are still in use, and the inner garden is very well maintained.  Our guide explained how some of these apartment complexes were built by competing ideological standpoints, with the Het Schip tower designed to give residents in the Protestant housing the proverbial “two fingers”.

Housing in Amsterdam remains scarce and expensive in the twenty first century.  Houseboats, and even shipping containers, have been drafted in to provide alternatives to the traditional model.  Perhaps the maritime history of Amsterdam makes this somewhat fitting, and I must confess I find houseboats a tempting option.  Another interesting quirk about houses in Amsterdam are the horizontal rectangles which can be seen jutting out of old houses.  These are designed to bring furniture up to the higher stories, since the stairs are too narrow to accommodate larger items.  I initially considered them to  be of merely historical interest, but did see some residents hauling furniture up to a second floor room using one.

It has been an interesting week on the social front as well.  My flatmate makes sushi, and treated me to some last week.  It really was good!  I also attended a night out with ARS Notoria, one of the societies on campus.  Contrary to what the name might suggest, it is actually the society for religious studies at UVA. We went out to a much loved student bar near campus called De Gaeper, which is a must for visitors who enjoy a beer.  They do good bar food too!  Readers may be forgiven for thinking that I am having too good a time here were I to say that there was yet another party at our residence.  Our Resident Assistants were turning out impressive mojitos and it drew quite a crowd.  I didn’t get to it till late, but I ended up going out afterwards with two British guys, a woman from the US, and another from Iceland.  We are quite an international crowd here.

That;s me for this week.  Enjoy the week ahead!

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