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The Reluctant Traveller in Den Haag

(Originally published April 2017)

Another trip to South Africa brought me back through Amsterdam. I discovered some common sense somewhere and decided to have a one night layover, and bunked at the Schiphol Hilton, a remarkable Ikea folly of diamond-shaped windows, lights that functioned from the room keycard inserted in a slot by the door, and a rain-shower filling half the bathroom. Photos

The Dutch.

I had an entire day. On the 10 hour flight from Johannesburg I managed to sleep, with is a rare thing for me on airplanes. The night we left Joburg, I happened to mention that some of my Belgian colleagues, who argued about the practicality of visiting Den Haag (The Hague) in one day, had convinced me to do it. Another young colleague of mine who was also spending the night in Amsterdam, wanted to tag along.

After checking in, taking a delicious shower, and grabbing lunch—a mediocre stir-fry noodle dish—I met Hannah at the train station, which is essentially part of the airport. We purchased a day pass to Den Haag and back, and benefited from the fast Dutch trains that ran on time.

The day was cold and rainy, but I live in Seattle [we since have moved to Oregon], and you don’t let crappy weather stop you. Besides, this was Holland, and that equals cold and rainy.

Den Haag was a small city, according to my Flemish comrade (one of the Belgians). Hannah had a knack for finding her way around. I grabbed a map and am generally good at reading them, but this one being small and written in Dutch escaped me. Besides every street corner had a sign noting a city sight. Our goals were the Escher and Mauritshuis museums. The first needs no explanation of its content, the second was famous for the Flemish painters, including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Ruebens and many others.

Escher in Het Palais was the first site we stumbled on. The show is staged in the former Winter Palace of Queen Mother Emma, where she resided from 1901 to 1984. The brochure told us that four generations of Dutch Queens used the house as a “working” palace until 1984. Hannah didn’t know M.C. Escher, but I did from the 1960’s when his surreal wood-cuts, etchings and lithographs appeared in the counter culture scene. Four floors of rooms were festooned with Escher prints, works for advertising, patterns for wall-papers, murals, stamps, and book illustrations.

There were also many photographs of Escher and his wife Jetta. To Hannah’s Gen-X eyes, he looked like a hipster. I had to agree.

My favorites were his Relativity, Ascending and Descending and Metamorphosis series. To call his work optical illusions is, in a way, trivializing his anal-retentive nature. In a display case I found one of his journals, and looking at his tiny handwriting in clear, straight lines, graphic depictions of his plans for a print—the incredible detail that went into his planning, was an unsettling glimpse into this artist’s mind.

Hannah wondered aloud why he made wood cuts and lithos. A graphic artist, he needed to be able to make multiple prints from his cuts and etchings. And I wondered if in the production of some of his very complex Metamorphosis prints, that he didn’t combine several woodcuts together.

Three Worlds, Magic Mirror


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