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Cultural Concubine Blog

Neither here nor there…

Tag Archives: Amsterdam

This place will never be the same again...

This place will never be the same again…

On a friend’s facebook page (Gijs Nagtegaal, thank you dear for the link) I found this rather haunting picture.

It is a digitally collaged picture of a streetscape in Amsterdam’s Dam Square, mixing the present day with a real view of old.

It is the work of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, who is a historical consultant, living in Amsterdam. You can find more pictures on her Flickr site called Ghosts of History or the Facebook group, where she writes short descriptions for each of the juxtaposed collages.

I find it an inspired way to help people understand about the life and context of a building, recreating the sense of place. Old buildings have not always been used in the same way they are used now. Some have quite horrific chapters as part of their building biography. Others have been left for dead for decades…

It is impressive how a building will quietly bear their scorn and in some cases even pay any retaliation from the mob afterwards… Some survive, others do not. Those are left forever in the mists of history.

Work like this shows you quite aptly how in the end it is the people in the place it that bring the space to life. Like a stageset seems fake until the actors come onto the stage…

Are you looking at me?

Are you looking at me?

During my building conservation diploma this thought has never been far from my mind. If you consider a building a living being (anthropomorphism in a long word), with the windows for eyes (aren’t the eyes the windows to the soul?), the hearth or fireplace as the heart, the door as the mouth, and the sewage drains, well…
In a way you could see the people in it as it’s soul.
A house left empty loses it’s gloss and shine, and after a while may be even die entirely…

So show me how you live, and I can tell you who you are.


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Dutch respect...

During my course on Historic Metal work I had a most wonderful time in the forge. I was very happy to meet the blacksmith in residence, Mr. Peter Parkinson. (his own website). He was very enthusiastic to meet an odd Dutch girl (who was accidentally rather useless at wielding hammers on the anvil). He told me how he had met and worked with a Dutch blacksmith many years ago, who had introduced him to the iron work of the “Amsterdamse School”. The Dutch blacksmith had given him an old article in Dutch explaining all the different types of bannisters on the bridges of Amsterdam.

Ripples on and under the bridge...

I was happy to translate the 20 odd pages for him, even if I struggled somewhat to come to terms with the forges’ formulations. It opened up a whole new world of curls and arches on the bridges of our capital.
It is funny how you can be blind to your own national treasures…
Dutch rudely park their bicycles against the intricately wrought curls and ripples.
So it was funny to get a new insight into this exceptional work. The article explained how well made these bannisters actually are, so exquisitely so that modern day blacksmiths would have trouble to copy them. I fear this will get harder over the years… as more and more ancient skills fall by the wayside.

The wrought iron bridges were actually hand forged around 1916-19, during WWI.
It shows an interesting rebellious fashion in iron work, countering the English cast iron hegemony. It is funny how ironwork fashion can be so different between two countries.

Anyway, I will be sure to pay attention next time I lock my bicycle!

(note to self: Freddie, do try to exercise those arms, it is worth improving your hammering skills.)

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Yesterday I attended several lectures on Historical interiors and restoration at the University of Amsterdam. (It was actually the leaving colloquium for Prof. Anne van Grevenstein.)

It was an interesting day with some interesting people sharing their knowledge and experiences.
But let’s not get me started on this, that would take forever…

On the way back to the station I walked through the red light district and saw the following sight opposite the Casa Rosso theatre:

No no, I was just swanning around to see the architecture...

And I thought swans were considered monogamous?!

On second thought I shouldn’t be surprised… Right Leda?

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Trustworthy and straight forward?

But oh so yummy.

Eels, Aaltjes, Paling, Zee aal, Anguilla, Anguille, IJselmeerder aaltjes, whatever you call it, I mean the kind of fish that has a simple beginning and end and a world of straight taste down the middle.

I still remember the day I was served this delicacy for the first time at ‘de borrel’ in my grandparents house.
On a slightly burnt slice of toast, with a sliver of cold butter (no need to go into this now) and with two thin smoked strips of taste…

Before the taste I mostly remember the smell of fire, fishy water and everything inbetween at the same time.
Still I was to learn that the taste would take me even further. Even the smallest piece exudes a greasy and earthy goodness filling your whole mouth.

Last weekend I had the great pleasure to be reintroduced when a friend and I visited the Noordermarket in Amsterdam and found an old fisherman selling freshly smoked ‘IJsselmeerder aal’. He left the bag open, as they were still cooling off from the smoking the night before.


Peeling an eel is simpler than you might think.
Even if there are many proverbs in Dutch (and English) for that matter referring to the slipperiness of the nature of this fish.
I assure you there is no need not to trust his character.
As long as you let him lose its head, he easily disrobes, like a banana…
(a whole different world of proverbs comes to mind)
After you peel off the skin, simply remove the backbone, scrape off any oily residue (if you are a purist, but I prefer the whole thing) chop to bits and serve on toast or salad (as long as you use a ‘too white tablecloth’ to wipe your fingers on…)
You can think of adding mayonaise, but quite frankly I don’t see the point…


Regretfully Eels have been an endangered species, since their numbers declined after overfishing in 2009. So they are getting harder to come by…
So in case you have no eels at hand, may be this song will give you the same sensation:

Second verse:
Dans le port d`Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui mangent
Sur des nappes trop blanches
Des poissons ruisselants
Ils vous montrent des dents
A croquer la fortune
A décroisser la lune
A bouffer des haubans
Et ça sent la morue
Jusque dans le coeur des frites
Que leurs grosses mains invitent
A revenir en plus
Puis se lèvent en riant
Dans un bruit de tempête
Referment leur braguette
Et sortent en rotant

(feel free to use Google Translate in case you need help:
Jacques knew what he was talking about…

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As more and more of my friends are getting married this year, I have to think of a Dutch traditional drink.

Bruidstranen. (transl.: Tears of the Bride)

Golden wonderment...

This distilled drink is traditionally served at the wedding (or at the dinner after the wedding registration).
There are several recipes for this delicacy, but they all contain one similar ingredient:

Gold leaf…

It is amazing to see the gold twirl around in the clear liquid.Ddistillery A. van Wees/de Ooievaar makes one with a perfume so sweet that promises roses and moonshine…

Wijnand's full selection...

But my favourite is the gently orange flavoured tears from Wijnand Fockink. It is so soft and smooth that it is a perfect mixer for champagne or any other light sparkling wine… How pretty the gold and silver dance in your glass.
And it is dangerously moorish… Brides beware!

Bestnat's bottle design...

Originally a Dutch wife would serve this drink to her husband later in the marriage, in case she wanted to remind him of his ‘marital duty’. If you catch my drift…

Usually Dutch wives would hardly be anything else than direct… but I guess diplomacy is a virtue in married life. (another lesson I learnt from my parent’s 40th anniversary 🙂 )

So Bridegrooms to the Dutch be warned…

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Franka in London...

Do you know the feeling of archive aphasia after you move?

The exact thing you are looking for is always in another box. And after a while you find that half the boxes actually contain things you really didnt need in the new place you moved to…

When moving from Holland to the UK I stored all my private things in a crate.
Most of the contents of this crate I don’t really miss in London life, but one of them I miss daily…

My Franka Comic collection.

Books, art or cartoons?

It is something that is probably hard to explain to other than European comic enthusiasts…
European comics are different in several ways.

1. These comics are not the same as that moralistically silly American super hero nonsense. They are closer to graphic novels, while also including some of the fun of cartoons.

2. These comics are not only for children (Manara certainly isn’t… PG18). NB: This doesnt mean that I like blue comics, but I mean that the really good ones usually show more facets of life than simple story telling.
Compare TinTin and his political context and historically correct backdrops and cars…

Futuristic Moebius

There are too many to refer to:  Schuiten& Peeters, Jodorowsky, Moebius etc etc.
My favourite will always be Franka. (wikipedia, Franka site)

Kuijpers' poster for Lambiek...

Henk Kuijpers, the artist of Franka is really a hero in making an exciting mixture of challenging storylines and plots, one of the best drawing styles I have ever seen, impressive historical and cultural context and off course a brilliant leading lady.

When living in Amsterdam, there was nothing more wonderful than spending a rainy weekend afternoon at ‘Lambiek’ getting lost in the old bookcases or latest publications. This was so ingrained in Amsterdam culture that I find it hard to imagine elsewhere…

Over the years I grew up with Franka, starting out as a prim and sligtly shy girl into a dazzling woman of the world.

Regretfully these books still don’t come in English, so please check the links mostly to admire the artistic work and dynamic in the drawings.

Corto Maltese, a French Historically correct classic.

Britain with all its culture and wit, strangely enough does not match the  level the sophictication of ‘La Bande Dessinee’ in NL and Belgo-Franco culture. (or may be I just missed it)
It takes a special kind of imagination and visual art to really take this art to its full quality of expression.

(forgive me I could talk about this for hours…)

Grown up...

I remember walking into an alternative book shop, presenting a small pile of home produced comics in Eastern Berlin a few years ago. These had a different flavour to the Belgo-Franco work, but still all had the same amount of raw inventivity and visual charm…

So I know there are many of them out there, and I look forward to finding a quirky comic shop in the US to supply me with a regular fix of visual imagination…

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Vondel Park Virtuoso...

Leaving something behind in another country is always bittersweet.

The way to make missing easier is to consider the sides of it you are happy to be rid of.

One of the things I must admit I miss from Holland is ‘Koninginnedagor Queen’s day.
On this day all the Dutch are free to trade in the streets. It is a bank holiday for all and children are off school.
This usually results in the friendly spectacle of a young girl playing a violin while the punters walk by and throw her a coin. While on the other side of the street students have set up children’s puppetshow or silly races to entertain.

Need some roller skates?

For grown-ups there is an enormous amount of bric-a-brac scattered across all the stalls on the pavement, as everyone clears out the attic to sell anything and everything they want to get rid of.

This whole festival is generally amped up with loud music in the street, wheel barrows of chilled beer and fuming barbeques, selling food you eat but actually never really wanted to eat.

This my dear friends is the best and the worst of Holland, all in one clean swoop… in one single sunny and slightly sozzled day.

The best is to get your bike and tour the stalls as early in the morning as you can. (the night before is a real pub night, so getting up early can be challenging for some) With the chill in the air you can rummage through the freshly stocked piles and find real gems.
(After several years I learnt which shops would clear their storage on this day, and which would sell designer stuff for single figure prices…)

And the side I don’ miss: The reason most Amsterdammers leave the city the night before, does not need too much explanation…

The worst… well.

The attack on the Royal family last year. 8 people died that day.
[Please note: some of this footage is shocking]

Still unbelievable.

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