29 December, 2006

The Rijksmuseum, or: The early bird don't stand in no queue.

Woke up very early this morning, and hopped on the tram down to the Rijksmuseum. Like the Stedelijk, it is undergoing major renovations. I took the tram more out of curiosity (or laziness), as the museum is walking distance from my hotel. Their ticketing system is strange: a long strip of paper, which you feed into a punch-system on the tram car. Theoretically, you could get by without purchasing or punching your ticket, but for the ever-present conductor walking up and down the tram car looking at people's tickets. Sure makes me pine for the Metrocard.

Due to the temporary accomodations at the Rijksmuseum, very few works out on display, mostly Rembrandts, Vermeers, etc. Most of the temporary exhibit focused on paintings by lesser-known artists which give a historical context to the Dutch Golden Age, which was fine by me, as I'm currently riding a post-Barroque Cycle 17th & 18th century kick. Some interesting paintings by Fredrick Boll caught my eye (until recently, some of these had been mistakenly attributed to Rembrandt, as Boll was one of his pupils). I was surprised at the small scale of the Vermeers in general, they always felt like they would be much larger, particularly 'The Love Letter'. That being said, it was amazing to be standing up close and personal with these works, and due to the fact that I got there early, it wasn't too crowded yet. 'The Nightwatch' was on display, of course, at the end of the exhibit. Again, it's not as imposing a painting as I supposed– I was expecting something physically larger (not that the actual 'Nightwatch' is not large, in and of itself, but I guess I've picked apart this painting so many times in dark art history classes as a huge projection on a lecture hall wall, that seeing it in person was a bit anti-climactic (I'm sure this has to do with the way it was hung, too. The museum has been relegated to a tiny corner of the building while renovations are in full effect). Regardless, seeing all the paintings up close was definitely worth it. It's such a different experience when you can appreciate the painting up close, and get a feel for the artist's hand, the quality of the brushstroke, etc.

I was lucky to arrive at the museum early, and by the time I got to 'The Nightwatch', it was starting to get a bit crowded. Once outside, I said a little "Hellz yeah" at having gotten there so early– the line to get into the museum was now snaking around the block.

I walked around for a while, taking in this more upscale part of the city. Many high-end shops around the Museumsplein area, hoping to reel in the more 'cultured' –and affluent– tourists, as opposed to the hippies, stoners, college students, and general plebe of the more kitschy and souvenir shop–infested Centruum. I briefly toyed with the idea of going into the Van Gogh museum, but after taking a look at the long-ass line to get in, I reconsidered: Van Gogh isn't really one of my favourites, certainly not enough to stand in line for two hours waiting to get into a crowded museum, only to be jostled around inside by boorish tourists wielding cameras of all shapes and sizes. If I had one more day, and could get there early, as I did for the Rijksmuseum, then it would be fine. As it stands, van Gogh can wait for me until I come back.

Tonight, I'm gonna roll by the Vankrijk, a squatter bar recommended by my friend Ben. They don't open until 22:00, so in the meantime I'm going to go check out the opening of a small gallery exhibit at Artis, entitled 'Rembrandt Re-mixed'. As the name implies, the show consists of contemporary Dutch artists' taking imagery by Rembrandt and re-mixing it into new work. Should be interesting.

The day after. . .

When last we spoke, dear reader, I had resolved to find me a nice little coffeeshop in which to finish The System of the World in a quiet, ganja-infused haze. And so I did. The Grashopper coffeehouse was just what I was looking for: quiet, intimate, and –due to its peculiar shape– riddled just as many dark corners as the streets of Amsterdam itself. I sat, I rolled up, I toked, I read, and had a little (non–THC–infused) tea every so often. Three or four hours later, when I surfaced back into 21st century Amsterdam from 18th century London, Half–Cocked Jack Shaftoe (L'Enmmerdeur, the Vagabond King) happily taking pot shots with Leroy, or Louis XIV; and Daniel Waterhouse safely on his way back to Boston, I had absolutely no intention of going back to my room. A very long night ensued, full of drinking, smoking, and general debauchery, in the company of some Ecuatorian tourists. Hence my late start yesterday, my plans to visit the Rijksmuseum dashed, and my general hung–over wanderings through the late afternoon. 'Nuff said.

27 December, 2006

More VOC detritus.

This is the only windmill in sight, so far. It's actually an old Dutch East India Company (VOC) saw-mill, just chillin' there. This area used to be VOC warehouses, and the city has grown around the saw-mill. There seems to be a bar or café connected to it, but there didn't seem to be a way to go inside the mill itself, even though it looks like it's kept up.

De Hortus and its environs.

After the museum I meandered my way down south, through Jodenbuurt and into the Plantage, to check out de Hortus, the Dutch botanical gardens. "Botanical gardens, in winter?" you ask? Yep, it was almost a big dissapointment, if it hadn't been for the bigger butterflies. Very big butterflies. Wings as big as my open hand, and right in your face, munchin' on an orange slice. Unfortunately, this is where my camera crapped out (see previous post), so again, frakk Sony.

After de Hortus, I walked around for a while. It is virtually impossible to get lost in Amsterdam. Since most of the center of the city is a series of concentric rings, sooner or later you end up on the river again. I walked back through Jodenbuurt, and ran into a street market full of old middle eastern ladies, which morphed into hippie/stoner/tourist market the more I walked in the direction of the Dam. So down and into the old side of Centruum I went, and found myself hanging out around the University of Amsterdam. Quiet, since I assume they're on break, but full of –wait for it– bookstores! I spent a good hour and a half perusing the shelves. A lot of american imports (as opposed to british editions, which is interesting), but some real gems, particularly in this one store which specializes in art-related books.

Eventually I walked by a little antiques shop which was blasting Hector Lavoe, so I had to go in. The owner was a lady from Arecibo, my dad's home town! Not only that, but she had a considerably large collection of old Fania and salsa in general LPs, and she was selling lead type, by the case and as loose sorts! Needless to say, I had to see if I could find a Garamond 'p', but I didn't find one. Spent a good long time chillin' with this lady. She married a Dutchman when younger and opened the antiques shop with him. Small world, no?

After that I realized I'd basically made a full circle, so I headed back to the hotel to pick up my stash and write these posts. Now I'm headed out to a coffeeshop, in search of a nice quiet corner in which to sip some brew, smoke some herb, and read some more System of the World. Life is good.

Stedelijk Museum

I went to the Stedelijk Museum this morning, particularly to see the Pierre Bernard exhibit, celebrating his winning the Erasmus Prize for 2006. The Erasmus Prize is awarded annually to a person who, within the structure of European cultural traditions, has made an exceptionally important contribution in the realms of culture, society or the social sciences.

Most of the work on display was either posters or identity work. That being said, there were some gems on the poster wall (the exhibit was hung salon-style), particularly a poster entitled 'Apartheid Racisme'. The ID section featured work for the Louvre and the Parcs nationaux (the French national parks system). For both the Louvre and the Parcs they had all of the branding and identity work, which was comprehensive, particularly for the Parcs job. They had a standards manual for Parcs on display, which is fascinating to leaf through (if you're into that sort of thing).

The rest of the museum wasn't bad, keeping in mind that they're at a temporary location while renovating (similar to the MoMA until last year), and most of their big work is in storage. They had some contemporary stuff up, some of which was interesting, particularly 'Facts, Fictions and Stories: Two projects by Broomberg & Chanarin', a series of photo-essays on life after apartheid in South Africa, and another photo-essay about a training ground in Chicago for the Israeli Defense Forces. Yes, Chicago. I didn't know about it either. Go figure.

Frakk Sony

And their stupid, stupid charger cradle for their camera. Instead of making my life simple, and having some good ol' regular I/O ports on their camera, they stick me with a proprietary USB/Power cradle that I have to lug around everywhere, and connect to the wall socket and my Macbook. And when said cradle doesn't fit into EU wall-sockets, well, I'm SOL.

I could be charging the camera through my USB port right now. Instead, I have to hunt down a plug adaptor post haste, since the camera ran outta juice.

End rant.

26 December, 2006

Rembrandt House

After the Maritime Museum, I walked over to the Rembrandt House museum. This is Rembrandt's home, which he bought in 1639 and had to sell in 1656 when he went bankrupt. The inventory that was compiled in 1656 because of Rembrandt’s bankruptcy enabled the museum to work out how the house was laid out during this period and how Rembrandt had used the different rooms. Some of Rembrandt’s drawings and etchings provided additional information.

In addition, the museum houses around 260 of the 290 print editions he made, including some original worked copper plates (!), which were great to see. I got to take a picture of the wooden press they have set up in what was Rembrandt's print shop (which is used by the museum to do etching demos! There were some prints drying when I looked in, but no demo today) before the guard told me that pictures were not allowed. No biggie; with the possible exception of the painter's pallete in the thrid-floor studio (in which the museum also holds paint mixing demos), the rest of the house is pretty ho-hum. Small, steep staircase. Very little furniture. People apparently slept in boxes with bedding in them, that they would close up during the day. Pretty interesting, actually.

On the third floor they had a temporary exhibit entitled Tour de France. It collects drawings by Rembrandt's student Lambert Doomer and his friend Willem Schellinks, made during a trip along the River Loire in 1646. The collection is considered one of the best visual records of the countryside at that time.

VOC Dutch East Indiaman 'Amsterdam'

I'd spied this beauty on Sunday, when I went for a walk while waiting for my room to be ready, and upon closer inspection realized it was part of the Maritime Museum, and fully accessible. Score.

VOC ships like the Amsterdam sailed to the Far East between 1602 and 1795. The original Amsterdam sailed up the North Sea in 1749. In a raging storm the rudder snapped. The master decided to beach the brand-new ship on the south coast of England. Thus he hoped to save the people on board, the cargo and the vessel.

But the East Indiaman soon sank into the mud, never to be freed again. The wreck has provided archaeologists with valuable information about the construction of VOC ships, their cargoes and life on board.

When they created this replica as a museum ship between 1995 and 2000, the shipbuilders decided to make the upper cabins shorter than the lower cabins, thus reversing the true clearances of the ship in favour of more comfortable walking spaces belowdecks. While it makes for a more comfortable experience in the hold and the main deck, it makes the captain's quarters and the cabins too cramped. I wish they'd left it the way it should be, so that one could get the true feeling for what these ships looked and felt like.

That being said, it was mind-blowing, especially considering that Minerva, Jack Shaftoe's ship in The Barroque Cycle (I'm currently finishing The System of the World, the last volume), is fashioned after these very types of ships. It wasn't too big a leap to stand on deck and picture Captain Van Hoek, Dappa with his dreads, Tomba, Vrej Esphanian, Moseh, Danny & Jimmy Shaftoe, and Jack the Vagabond King himself bustling about the decks, conspiring in the Captain's quarters, or stuffing the cannons full of silverware. I even thought I spied Dr. Waterhouse taking a shite off the gallery head. . .

Maritime Museum

As 10AM rolled around, I headed towards a coffeeshop for some refreshment, and made my way over to the Maritime Museum. It houses a large collection of artifacts and documents from the golden age of Dutch maritime history, mostly centering around the VOC (Dutch East India Company). Unfortunately, it was dark as hell in there, and I couldn't get too many good shots, since I couldn't use my flash.

Some highlights, pictured at right:
• a split maquette for an Eastindiaman (one of the VOCs biggest and best ships)
• a Manual for Dutch Mariners (presumably given to VOC sailors)
• a collection of short muskets from the 1760's
and last but certainly not least
• a 'Firman', or a pass from the Sultan offering protection from North African pirates, c. 1775.

English Breakfast.

I woke up at around 7AM today and went out for a bite of breakfast. Scored a little all-you-can-eat English breakfast (read: scrambled eggs and mushy bacon. Don't ask, but it works). Walked around for a while afterwards, waiting for the city to get up. Since it doesn't get light out until around 8.30, the city's been dead until around 8-ish, when shopkeepers start coming in, and you see some commuters. Since it's about as light as it's gonna get anyway, given the fog, it's a great time to walk around and take pictures of buildings and such. I had time to kill before the Maritime museum opened at 10AM, so that's what I did.

25 December, 2006

The Dutch can't roll a joint for shite, and other points of minor hedonism.

The coffeshops here sell you either grams or half-grams; or loose joints. So far, for convenience's sake, I've been dropping on the loose joints. No more, though. After two days, I've decided the following: the joints are too long for the paper type (rice-papery stuff, almost see-through) it buckles at the filter, since they're machine-rolled and the paper is just wide enough to touch and be glued. In cone style, but the thin end is too thin, so it makes for awkward smoking. Plus, they're made with shake, for the most part, so they're a disaster to smoke– they keep going out. The little plastic containers they come in, however, are nice.

I'll be rolling my own from now on, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, and there's nothing sweeter than the Red Light District on christmas night, for all y'all sinners out there. 'Nuff said.

Local time: 3.50AM

From New Amsterdam to Old.

Air France makes some good coffee, and doesn't skimp on the food, which is actually not bad. Customs into the EU was fucking painless. We'll see what happens on the flipside.

Everyone on the plane was really nice, and I found that I could get along with my very rudimentary French. 'Please', 'thank you', 'I would like some coffee', and 'where can I buy cigarettes?' I've got that shit down.

I arrived at Schiphol Airport around 9AM. Schiphol is a huge mall, with parking for airplanes. But the train station is right there, and a short train ride later, I was at Amsterdam Centraal Station.

My hotel is right across the River Ij from Centraal Station [map], so after quickly getting my bearings, I walked over the bridge to Prins Hendrikkade. The hotel was actually closer than I thought, so I overshot it and walked along the Ij for about fifteen minutes, which was nice, since it was Sunday morning, and no one was out. Amsterdam was covered in thick fog, and I had it all to myself.

When I doubled back and got to the hotel, I found that they didn't have my reservation on file. Hotels.nl apparently screwed up. "Science damn tha Intarwebz!!" But no worries, the hotel had a room available, and were able to make good on the deal. I had to wait until around 1PM for them to get the room ready, though, so I left my backpack at the hotel and walked around some more. A lot of places were closed up, it being Sunday and all, but a handful of supermarkets, cafés and coffeeshops were open.

The Apple Reality Distortion Field is in full effect, by the way. My hotel is right around the corner from the Amsterdam Apple store. Not intentional. I laughed out loud when I saw it.

I stopped into a coffeeshop next to the hotel, bought a joint and some coffee, and sat down to read The System of the World. This place was too noisy, though. Bling bling hip-hop blastin' at 9AM on Sunday morning after a transatlantic flight is not good. So I left the coffeehouse and walked into the bar on the corner of Prins Hendrikkade, right next door to the Hotel. It turns out to be (or so they claim) the 'oldest bar in Amsterdam, since 1606'. Nice, quiet pub, with a couple of old dudes shootin' the shit with the barkeep. I ordered a beer and sat down in a corner to read. So far, it seems like people keep to themselves here. I guess it's the whole tolerance thing. It's nice. We should try it sometime.

At about 12.30PM, I walked down to a cheese store and bought some Camembert and a baguette. Stuffed them in my bag, and walked over to the hotel. My room was ready.

The room is awesome. It's compact, efficient, and cleanly designed. It feels more like a ship's cabin than a hotel room. The bed is comfortable, the safe is large enough for my laptop, and the internet is fast, wireless & free (as in beer). You have to put your keycard in a slot to turn on the electricity to the room, which probably saves loads on power.

As soon as I hit the room, I crashed. Big time. I slept till midnight, watched some TV, ate the baguette and cheese (I wish I could have brought my Leatherman, dammit), fell asleep again till 9AM. Lots of burning cars on Al-Jazeera, the pope spewing some christmas mass popery, but nary an infomercial in sight. CNBC Europe had a couple of decent news-documentaries on. European TV lower thirds are nice, by the way. They're cleanly designed and easy to read.

Woke up today, bought a toothbrush and toothpaste (I always forget those when I travel), and after doubling back to the hotel to brush my teeth, walked around some more. Lots of places are closed, but I'd say that about 35% of businesses are open, and there's no in-your-face christmas decorations, loud music, &c. It's nice. There are plenty of people on the street, I would gather that some areas can get hairy on busy days, especially the narrow passages and alleys between buildings. This is the touristy section of town, so it's full of headshops, cheap coffeehouses, and souvenir shops. Not a lot of outdoor cafés, since it's the dead of winter, but the weather's nice enough for it. Bought a coffee and chilled out on Dam Square for a bit, listening to a busker play guitar.

Now I'm going to figure out the schedule for the rest of the week, and then find me somewhere to eat. To my surprise, Bodies: The Exhibition is in town, and I'm really close to the Netherlands Maritime Museum, (which features a replica VOC East Indiaman), and the temporary home of the Stedlijk Museum.

22 December, 2006

The Illustrators of Jules Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires

Jules Verne’s original Voyages Extraordinaires contained over four thousand illustrations—an average of 60+ per novel in the popular Hetzel red and gold “luxury” French editions. These Victorian-looking wood-cut plates and maps constituted an integral part of Verne’s early sf oeuvre and, intercalated into the text at intervals of every 6-8 pages, they provided a powerful and omnipresent visual support structure to the text’s fictional narrative, its embedded pedagogical lessons, and its “arm-chair voyage” exoticism.

This article discusses the many varieties and functions of the illustrations in Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires, the talented artists and engravers who produced them, their collaborative working relationship with Verne and the editor Hetzel, and the technological evolution of this craft itself from Verne’s earliest works in the 1860s to his final posthumous novel published in 1919.

21 December, 2006

I'm in ur... steelin ur...

Call me an R-tard. I don't care. I can't get enough of this crap. I crack up every time.

19 December, 2006

And some more good cheer, from our friends at the US Treasury

"The United States is Insolvent". Big surprise there.

The top 10 stories you missed in 2006

In case you've been suckered into thinking that CNN (or, science forbid, Fox News) is the only news source you'll ever need, here's a bit of a wake-up call. Foreignpolicy.com has posted some overlooked news items from the past year. Nothing too earth-shattering, if you bother to read beyond mainstream media, but still cause for concern. All I know is that I'm going to start looking for some non-US Dollar assets right quick, cause this ship called Babylon, my friends, is indubitably sinking, and we're still partying like it's 1999. [Link]

The chalwa in the breadbasket

From the LA Times [link]. For years, activists in the marijuana legalization movement have claimed that cannabis is America's biggest cash crop. Now they're citing government statistics to prove it.

One of these days, the governments of the world will finally realize that they can make so much more bank off of this stuff if they de-criminalize and tax the hell out of it. Frankly, I don't know if that would be better or worse for the current ganja consumer, but at the very least it should free up some prision space.

A fella can dream, can't he? In the meantime, I'll be spending next week in Amsterdam, pretending that the so-called Drug War doesn't exist.

And another...

I like this one better. Get it here.

Holiday Gifting for the Undead.

Zombway t-shirts: get yours while you can.Say it with me now: "Muuust. . . eat. . . braaaaaaiiiiinsssss!"

18 December, 2006


Just a quick note to all you Firefox users out there (yeah, yeah, I recently dropped Safari, so sue me. I've gone extension-crazy), I've been playing around with Stylish, a rockin' extension to Firefox which lets you apply your own css to any site, thus enabling you to make the web look like you want it to, or to fix stuff that bugs you about certain sites. For the non-coders, on their site, userstyles.org, you can find plenty of pre-written styles for specific sites such as digg, del.icio.us, myspace (thank science), &tc.

As an example, look at what I've done to my del.icio.us user page, using the 'Del.icio.us reorganized' site style by Eyal Shahar. Much better.

The one, the only....

Mariela Álvarez Xiloj. Designer, illustrator, photographer par excellence, and one of my favourite people in the world. Check out her work here, but don't steal any of her images, dammit. She works hard for her pics.

Oh, Fiona!

So the Ninja quietly walks into the house the other day with a wild, open-eyed expression, clutching a catalogue from the PaceWildenstein gallery. "You've got to check this out, dude", and he hands me the cat... it's for the recently closed Fiona Rae exhibit, "You are the Young and Hopeless" which, I'm sorry to say, I didn't find out about until after it closed.
This stuff is so, so, so off the hook. Check out the online gallery, and bear in mind that it dooesn't hold a candle to the printed catalogue, which, in turn, I'm sure doesn't hold a candle to the actual paintings. Oh well.

15 December, 2006

Raúl Castro needs a beard

I think it's great that he's holdin' it down while his brother either recovers or finally dies. Hopefully he's mellowed out since heading the counter-revolutionary death squads when the Cuban revolution took power. Anyway, it's all well and good, but he really needs to grow a beard. He looks kinda mealy-mouthed, and let's face it- it's just not a revolution without a bearded firebrand at the helm.

Today is Photoshop CS3 Public Beta Day!

I'm downloading the public Beta of Photoshop CS3 as we speak (um, or as I write, rather). I'm very excited about this, as I've heard that it simply screams on Intel Macs... It's a 685MB download from Adobe Labs, but I'm sure it will be worth the wait (and bandwidth. I'm glad I'm downloading at work as opposed to at home. Wouldn't want to interrupt those BitTorrent dloads!). More to come, once I've had a chance to play around with it for a bit, maybe this weekend.

14 December, 2006

I want one.

The ever-elusive iPhone (artist's rendition). Hopefully dropping in January. Come on, Uncle Steve, don't let us down.

The Good Doctor, Remembered.

Suicide Girls has posted a great write up of the new Hunter S. Thompson book, Gonzo. At $300 (Amazon lists it at $225), it's a bit pricey, but it's chock full of archival images and documents, as well as an introduction by Johnny Depp. A must-have for all you gonzo-ficionadoes out there.

13 December, 2006

Pass the Danny, please.

This article led to a very extended and detailed conversation at work about which part of the body is probably better to eat, and what types of people would make for the tastiest dishes. Yummy.


So I've decided to go to Amsterdam for the holidays, and I figured it would be a good time to start this blog off right. So far, I've got my plane ticket, a hotel reservation, an international power adapter for my MacBook, the last volume of The Barroque Cycle, a couple of guidebooks, a big ol' honkin' map of the city (thanks, Ben!), and a jones for the etching collection at the Rembrandt House. We'll see how it goes in the land of tulips, calvinists, and quasi-legal soft drugs.