Elements of the Dutch landscape - 9
We have met many sheds while walking the Dutch landscape, too many to include them all. Each one was a unique individual with its own personality. The sheds were more human than the farmhouses, more human than the livestock.
Often they were in advanced stages of disrepair and I was moved by their brokenness. But they didn't need my sympathy, they had a tough, proud character and were still useful (and used) in their state of dilapidated beauty.
Our walks often led through the Dutch "bible belt". Radically Calvinist terrain, empty streets, silent Sundays and people staring behind curtains. This set me on a meditative path about life, brokenness and the human condition.
In the Christian tradition, and especially in the Calvinist tradition, creation was broken from the start. When Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil they deviated from Gods plan and were banished from paradise. Today we still live in the ruins of original sin.
In the scientific tradition things are more simple. Everything is explained by the second law of thermodynamics and ever increasing entropy. The human condition. A given.
But when I think about brokenness I prefer the Kaballistic metaphor about "broken vessels that could not hold God's light". There still is hope for redemption. Obviously this is also the core of the Christian tradition, but we are often blind for well known teachings. Fresh metaphors clear the eyes.
Next time you see an old shed look at it with awe and respect. You are looking in a mirror. This is your life, your world. What is your answer?
According to Jewish mystics the infinite God had to withdraw a little bit, create a little space, sort of like a womb in the heart of God’s being where the finite, physical universe could exist. This withdrawal of God is called tzimtzum. 
And, according to the myth, in this womb-like space there were a set of vessels designed to receive the divine light. God sent out a single beam of divine light that was supposed to be contained by these vessels. But things didn’t go according to plan. The divine light was too powerful and so the vessels shattered. Everything is broken. This shattering is called shevira. 
Brokenness is not a condition we usually desire, want, or even admit to. We typically associate brokenness with weakness, being incomplete, or something out of order. We don't strive to be broken. We don't pursue brokenness like we would wealth or fame or love. Yet, we are all broken. We are all weak, imperfect and in need, regardless of economic position or social status. Brokenness is the common denominator in all of humanity. We all come up short of perfection or wholeness. But no one seems to admit their brokenness. This is truly sad because there is beauty in brokenness. 
According to the Kaballistic myth, most of the light returned to God – but not all of it. Some of the divine light became trapped in the material world. And so the job of humanity is tikkun – the healing and restoration of creation. According to the myth, we heal this broken world by finding those divine sparks, bringing out the good that exists in everything and everyone. 
I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.
On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.
Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?" Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord."
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Hazerswoude
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.
Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.
 Quote about the "breaking of the vessels":
 Quote about beauty in brokenness:
Monday, May 20, 2013
Friday, May 17, 2013
This is the season of the cherry blossom. Everywhere the trees are in full bloom. Each year it is a spectacular sight. But if we look closely we see a horror scenario, like something from the movie "Alien".
The beautiful Japanese cherry (Prunus Serrulata Kwanzan) is a cultivar. The branches with the double pink blossoms have been grafted upon a stock of wild cherry (Prunus Avium). The strong wild cherry has been mutilated and robbed of its branches. And then it has been enslaved. And now it is exploited by the weaker, decadent and artificially implanted (elite bourgeois) branches of the cultivated cherry.
I could not resist mixing half-understood Marxism and traditional horticultural techniques. There are several things wrong with the metaphor. The scion still does a lot of work, it does photosynthesis and fruit production. The stock takes care of the root system, absorption of nutrients and mechanical stability. So maybe it is more a case of symbiosis than exploitation? But, from a different angle, the stock can only be truly "itself " when it produces its own leaves and flowers. The stock looks more "alienated" than the scion. But that is only an anthropocentric projection, because we appreciate flowers more than roots. So I'm still undecided.
Friday, May 10, 2013
As most modern cities the skyline of Rotterdam is dominated by the skyscrapers in its center. Many of these skyscrapers belong to financial institutions. And even though new skyscrapers are being built continuously, many of them stand empty and unused. The financial crisis has made victims.
One of the victims is the office of Fortis bank in Rotterdam. First a consortium of Royal Bank of Scotland, Fortis and Banco Santander bought the Dutch ABN-AMRO bank with plans to break it up and to distribute it among themselves. Then the financial crisis hit. Fortis couldn't raise the 24 billion it needed and tried to sell it's share of ABN-AMRO to raise the necessary funds. The sale failed and Fortis had to be nationalized together with the ABN-AMRO bank.
Now the Fortis logo has disappeared from the facade of the building. Even before the failure of the bank the operations had been moved to the main office in Utrecht, costing Rotterdam 1000 jobs.
- I [Sophie Calle] visited places in Berlin where the symbols of East Germany have been removed. I asked passers-by to describe the objects that once filled these empty spaces. I photographed the absence and replaced the missing monuments with their memories.
LIBRARY (BEBELPLATZ)Personally, I don't notice the absence. When I walk past there now I don't see anything. I think it was a plaque made of plain copper, saying that Karl Marx or Lenin, one or the other, studied there - It wasn't removed, it was stolen. In 1993 or 1994. It was made of grey chiseled stone. I'm not 100 percent sure what it said. Having walked past it for years, I didn't really notice it anymore. I took it for a sign specifying that Lenin lived there. Not exactly pretty. But the message was all right - There was a memorial plaque of some kind. Brownish, made of metal, almost vulgar. Could be that Lenin was on it, but it wasn't accurate so it was removed. That part of the library wasn't even built when Lenin stayed in Berlin
I wonder how many people still remember that Fortis logo. I almost didn't.
- Souvenîrs de Berlin-Est - Sophie Calle, M'as-tu vue - Exhibition curated by Chrisline Macel - Centre Pompidou, 19 November 2003 - 15 March 2004 - Prestel Verlag - Éditions du Centre Pompidou, Éditions Xavier Barral - 2003
- Fortis Bank building with old logo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/18378305@N00/7461855684/
- Fortis Bank building - http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=40626
- Fortis leaving Rotterdam - http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1106225
- The Fortis saga - http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortis
Thursday, May 9, 2013
I did my best to celebrate the birthday of Thomas Pynchon. But here around Rotterdam I may have been the only one reading a Pynchon book. In The Hague I met one other Pynchonite, but he was a colleague. We had the same book. But mine was an older edition.
And I also quoted Mason&Dixon in one blog post: http://uair01.blogspot.nl/2012/09/sheep.html
@PynchonInPublic - #Pynchon2013 - http://www.pynchoninpublic.com/about/
The American Novel Since 1945 - Professor Amy Hungerford - 12. Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dtqt0bXb4Y
Sunday, May 5, 2013
These buildings dominate the Rotterdam skyline but they are useless as landmarks or orientation points. There is nothing down there, just commercial businesses.
When I make an appointment I usually choose museums, churches, shops or pubs as orientation points. Smaller and lower buildings. Buildings with a pedestrian size and function.
1 - Robeco Tower - an investment bank, and it has a tower
2 - Maritime museum - a very nice museum, with some romantic exhibits
3 - Fortis bank - collapsed in the financial crisis, now nameless
4 - The White Emperor - how pompous can you get?
5 - Rabo bank - still there, no bailout needed
6 - The Old Merchant Navy - again, how pompous can you get?
7 - Blaak 8 - name is the address
8 - The Wine Harbour - building name is the name of this area
9 - The WaterCity Tower - on the edge of pretentiousness
10 - The Red Apple - WTF? what hipster came up with that name?
11,12 - Harbour Village - artificially quaint name for a skyscraper
13 - The Ship Makers Tower - just over the edge of pretentiousness
14 - The Maas - just the name of the river
I confess ... this is an example of the infamous "psychogeographic sneer" as described by Nick Papadimitriou. But why should pompous, capitalist names dominate my skyline?
Sky Scraper City - Rotterdam
Monday, April 29, 2013
Each time I visit Prague I discover new books by the psycho-geographer and psycho-geologist Vaclav Cilek. This writer has a special attraction for me, because he is not just a psycho-xxxx amateur (like me), he is a professional geologist, archaeologist and climatologist. But he combines his scientific thoroughness with the spatial, historic, cultural sensitivity and humour of writers like Nick Papadimitriou, Iain Sinclair and Phil Smith. Unfortunately none of his books have been translated into English.
The book Stones of Home describes a collection of rock and soil types that are most typical for the Czech landscape, history and national spirit. Each rock type is lovingly analyzed and connections are made between physical and geological facts and emotional effects. Who said science is cold and rational?
During my stay in Prague I went to visit some of the stones that Vaclav Cilek writes about. Below I have translated a few quotes from his book and added them to my own photographs.
And because I had been sensitized by Vaclav Cileks book I started seeing beautiful stones everywhere. And later, back in Rotterdam, I discovered several websites describing the stones of Prague. I know from bitter experience that determining rock types is extremely frustrating for the amateur. All rocks look the same and the one you try to determine is never mentioned in the encyclopedia (the same frustration applies to clouds, birds and plants). But with these guides it became a pleasant puzzle.
Prague stones mentioned by Vaclav Cilek in "The stones of home"
Granite - Facade of Komercni Banka, Vaclavske Namesti
Marble can be impressive on a small scale, but granite requires a large scale to be effective, a scale we know from Egyptian sculpture. If we want to experience this "Egyptian" monumentality on our own territory, we can respectfully circumambulate the obelisk of the Legionnaires near the Emmaus church or the gigantic semi-pillars of the Commercial Bank at the Venceslaus Square, that were carved from one single piece of rock.
Granite - Facade of Komercni Banka, Vaclavske Namesti
Granites and granodiorites are monotonous, practical stones that are more likely to suppress the imagination than to stimulate it. But we should realize that, if we didn't have granite and granodiorite, we would be using more concrete and artificial stone, and our lives would be poorer. Granite is like iron. It is not easy to become friends with it, but if you succeed, you will gain faithful and strong allies.
Pecerad gabbro - Facade of Komercni Banka, Vaclavske Namesti
Gabbro is a festive rock, but the fine grained dark varieties create a funereal atmosphere. It is interesting to consciously experience a graveyard dominated by light, usually limestone gravestones, and a graveyard with heavy dark stone, like for example the Old Jewish graveyard in the Old Town, compared with the New Jewish graveyard in the Olsany quarter. In the first one we may smile and listen to the birds, in the second we are compelled to compulsory sadness and formal heaviness.
Black and white marble - Vaclavske Namesti
Red marble - Vaclavske Namesti
Czech red marbles are much older than all the other middle-european varieties. They are 350 million year old Devonian marbles called "slivenecky mramor". We used to think that the red colour was caused by iron oxides. But today we know that the situation was more complex and that the red colour is caused by bacteria living on the walls of tiny channels inside the limestone.
Sandstone - Charles Bridge
The trajectory of sandstone starts on the continent, where rocks crumble, rain dislodges sand grains and rivers deposit them onto beaches and into shallow shelf seas. There they are caught by strong sea currents and spread along the whole coast. Sandstone belongs to the Czech territory in the same way marble belongs to the Mediterranean. Czech sandstones have the colour of local bread and the taste of potatoes.Prague stones mentioned by other urban geologists
Pozary granite (diorite?)- Pedestal of the King Venceslas statue, Vaclavske Namesti
Breccia limestone from Yougoslavia - Metro station Mustek
Sedlcanska granite (?) - Metro station exit Museum,
Vaclavske Namesti, above the King Venceslas statue
Unknown but interesting stones I found myself
Syenite (?) - New wing of the National Museum, Vaclavske Namesti
Granite (?) - Stairs of the National Gallery, Veletrzni Palac
Granite - Facade at Vaclavske Namesti (forgot to note which one)
Granite - Facade at Vaclavske Namesti (forgot to note which one)
Vaclav Cilek book:
Rock samples from the Czech Republic:
Rock samples from the Czech Republic:
Decorative stones used in the Prague Metro: http://departments.fsv.cvut.cz/k135/wwwold/webkurzy/PRAHA.data/Components/muzeum_c.html
Decorative Czech stones:
Stones of Prague monuments:
Friday, April 26, 2013
I love the area around the Anhalter Bahnhof. The mix of high urbanity, sport fields, water and old buildings makes it a varied and interesting terrain. During my stay in Berlin I collected several tourist maps. The cartography is strikingly different between the four of them.