Sunday, January 27, 2013

Argonaut Park

Rotterdam - places of pilgrimage - 4
Emergency meeting, drove me round and round the park in a car, yelling blue murder. Said I was so plastered these days I didn't know fact from fiction. All that stuff.
This afternoon I took my bicycle to inspect some parks in the North of Rotterdam. I had memories of one park looking like London. A green area surrounded by city buildings. Tops of city buildings poking through treetops. I was not sure which park it was: the Melanchton or the Argonaut park. Conclusion: it was the Argonaut park, but the park has been restructured in the meantime, destroying the London effect.
Better still, the neighbourhood possessed no social identity and demanded none. Some of the houses had been turned into one-roomed flats, and had ten door bells laid out like a typewriter. Some were got up grandly and had only one.
The cause of the destruction was this completely new quarter. It was not there when I last visited the area (5 - 10 years ago). Generic modern buildings. Apartments costing 250.000 euros. The park had been re-landscaped to accommodate this project.
It was terribly cold. The wind seemed to come from the river, across the park. He looked up and down the road. It was empty. He walked a hundred yards or so toward the power station, changed his mind and turned back. He was sleepy. It was a curious illusion that even in the street he still heard the telephone ringing.
In some directions the London effect was still visible. Older city buildings at the edges of a wide green field. A clear border, an enclave. A few people walking their dogs. Some families with children. Cold wetness. Typical Dutch winter weather.
And come the dawn, do you know what we did? I will tell you. We walked solemnly down to the parks, I sit on a bench with a stopwatch, big Jim gets into his running kit and lopes twenty circuits. Twenty. I was quite exhausted.
At home I did some research on the place. There were a lot of documents on the restructuring of the park with many interesting details. Things I wouldn't have thought about:
  • Bicycle and pedestrian traffic will be separated.
  • Trees with different colours and shapes will be planted (amelanchier - krentenboompje).
  • Digging more ponds is not possible for geotechnical reasons. The ponds will get sloping, more natural banks enhancing biodiversity.
  • Asphalt paths are less natural than sea-shell paths. But sea-shell paths are difficult to maintain. Grass grows through them. Wheels leave tracks.
  • The dog- and child areas have been separated. The dog area cannot be moved towards the water. Water quality would suffer. Dogs cannot roam freely, playing children dislike free running dogs.
  • The police has advised to keep several paths dark so that people will not walk there at night.
  • The work had to be interrupted because of the nesting season of the wood pigeons. (In the countryside the shoot these, as pests.)
He went to functions, lectures, strolled in the park, played a little tennis and short of giving sweets to the kids he couldn't have been more respectable.
Some comments from the public:
  • The child playing area is always swampy.
  • Parents won't let their children play in one park area because it is too dark. This will not be changed. Maybe some bushes can be thinned-out.
  • Asphalt paths and the new bridge might attract unwanted scooter traffic from the neighboring school.
  • Park benches along the water might attract boisterous youths. Also the stairs and the green slope might attract loiterers. (The area has a higher than average percentage of old folks.)
The pickups were variously contrived. At Green Park, by way of a recognition signal, he carried a Fortnum Mason carrier-bag. At the embankment, on the other hand, he clutched an out-of-date copy of Time magazine, bearing by coincidence the nourished features of Chairman Mao on the cover. Big Ben struck six and Jerry counted the chimes, but the ethic of such meetings requires they do not happen on the hour nor on the quarter, but in the vaguer spaces in-between, which are held to be less conspicuous.
General remarks about the area:
  • In 2008 someone left mysterious packages in several parks on the north side of Rotterdam. Black garbage bags containing many platsic wrapped packages. Each package containing a coconut and one half lemon. Or a coconut and cotton wool. Or a coconut and some coloured powder. This has never been explained.
  • There are problems with the ground-water levels damaging the foundations of buildings.
  • The older parts of the area lie much higher because the village of Hillegersberg has been built upon a fossil sand dune from the ice age.
Samenvattend verslag van de informatieavond schetsontwerp Argonautenpark op donderdag 1
juli 2010 vanaf 19.30 uur in het deelgemeentekantoor van de deelgemeente Hillergersberg-Schiebroek -
De herinrichting van het Agonautenpark loopt volgens planning -,%20ambities%20en%20actiepunten%20Hillegersberg-Noord.pdf
Mysterie: kokosnootpakketjes in parken - Argonautenpark -
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John le Carré

Friday, January 25, 2013

The nonexistent Eruv of Rotterdam

Nostalgia for a Rotterdam eruv
The thin line of the eruv stretches through space, reminding us of Shabbos and delineating the permissible from the forbidden.
Rotterdam does not have an eruv but I wish it had. I would feel more at home in an enclosed city, a city with a reliable and stable boundary. A city with walls, however symbolic. In the last decade of the 17th century Rotterdam still had an eruv as cited in Jewish literature.
During the latter part of the 17th century cities had outgrown their walls and newer cities were built without walls altogether. Teshuvos written at that time addressed the possibility of utilizing canals and rivers as the necessary walls to enclose cities such as The Hague and Rotterdam. During the latter part of the 19th century, as telegraph, telephone, and electric wires sprung up all over the countryside, they were incorporated into the community eruv as well.
I had a sudden attack of nostalgia for the eruv when I saw this roundabout in the North of Rotterdam, with its high lampposts and horizontal electricity cables. I wish I had a symbolic city boundary that I could visit. That I could touch. Unfortunately all chances of this have been destroyed by the cruel history of the 20th century.
While the number of active eruvs in Europe was reduced as a result of the decimation of its Jewish population by the end of the Second World War, eruvs still support ritual life in London, Antwerp, Rotterdam (!), Strassbourg and The Hague. Eruvs are common features of cities with significant Jewish populations.
There is a slight temptation to trace a possible route for a Rotterdam eruv. It would give me an excuse to read some of the wonderful rabbinic literature on the rules for the eruv. And I would learn a lot about Jewish history and about Rotterdam. But I will resist that temptation. It would be incredible arrogance for a non-Jewish amateur to attempt something like that. Chutzpah indeed. And Rotterdam has not always been a tolerant city.
Immediately after Dutch women acquired the right to be elected in the Dutch parliament - in 1919 - Jews tried to apply the same right to the Synagogue board of Rotterdam. However, all these efforts were suppressed by the Dutch rabbinate.
The Eruv spatial concept
I find the Jewish idea of the "eruv" very sympathetic:
A ritual enclosure that some communities construct in their neighborhoods as a way to permit Jewish residents or visitors to transfer objects from one domain type to another, such as carrying an object from indoors (a private domain) to a public street (a public domain) on Shabbat, which they would otherwise understand to be prohibited by Jewish law. An eruv accomplishes this by integrating a number of private and public properties into one larger private domain.
Eruv examples
There are several pictures of an eruv on Flickr. At first sight the eruv can be very inconspicuous. According to this New York urban explorer - HoboMatt - the Manhattan eruv is made of fishing line:
If you look closely at the very top of the light pole, you might be able to make out two taut pieces of fishing wire running toward the top and left of the photo. They make up a small part of the Manhattan Eruv, a ritual enclosure that allows observant Jews to carry objects within its bounds on Shabbat. The eruv is inspected regularly, and a break was found a few months ago on a Friday afternoon, hours before the start of Shabbat.
Nowadays the status of an eruv is announced through Twitter. I can imagine the practical problems when an eruv is not kosher on the Shabbat.

Antwerp eruv
According to Wikipedia there is a visible Eruv in Antwerp around the Singel street.

In Belgium the only city with a eroew is Antwerp . The Antwerp eroew can be found along the green line between the Singel and the Ring. The thread is mainly formed by the nr.59 railway line. Some entry gates (for example, the bridge over the Ring, next to the Sint-Church) have been symbolically provided an extra span.

During my recent visits to Antwerp I had no time to search, but it is still on my to-do list.
As in other cities with large Jewish communities, Antwerp is surrounded by a wire called "eruv" (Eiroew in Dutch). Different from the eruvs in New York or other large sities, the Antwerp eruv surrounds the whole city center. The presence of this eruv allows Jews to interpret the city as one big house, making it easier to avoid breaking some Sabbath regulations within it. The wire constituting the eruv can be found close to the Singel at a height of 6 meters.
Stadsgeschiedenis 2 (2007) 1: Afbeelding 2: De Antwerpse eroev (Tourist Traveler Guide fot the Jewish visitor by Machsike Hadass Antwerp [Antwerpen, 2001] 23)
Although the eruv borders are clearly defined and evident for those for whom its function has a meaning, the evidence of the eruv is generally unnoticed by the larger population, and it is by no means a tool of "exclusion". Most inhabitants of Antwerp are unaware of the existence of such a delineation for Orthodox Jews in the city. The borders of the eruv are not guarded or border-controlled areas and they remain essentially "invisible" (and irrelevant) to non-Orthodox inhabitants of the city. Antwerp thus has a porous, and  for most of the population, even invisible borders of religious significance.
Amsterdam eruv
Amsterdam has an eruv too, but I do not know if it is visible or tangible (it is tangible but the location is not disclosed out of fear of vandalism). It is a future project to walk this route that is more than 20 km long.
Eruv of greater Amsterdam - Amsterdam and its suburbs (Amstelveen, Aalsmeer and Uithoorn) are part of the greater Amsterdam Eruv, re-established by the Amsterdam Beth Din in March of 2008. A map of the Eruv indicates the Amsterdam Center and Buitenveldert areas.
I like the pictures of the rabbis with the Amsterdam map. It looks as if they had fun performing their religious duties. (That's one of the things I find sympathetic in Jewish religion.) I don't want to give offense by copying non-CC pictures, so here are the links:

 And here is an interesting eruv video:

Eruv and art
The peculiar symbolic, ritualistic and spatial properties of the eruv are irresistible for modern artists. Many artworks have been made around this concept.
Elliott Malkin has reconstructed a part of the the former Third Avenue elevated train line in lower Manhattan. This train line was part of the eruv for Orthodox Jews on the old Lower East Side. Using semacodes, the former boundary is reconstructed and mapped back onto the space of the city.
Elliott Malkin also built a laser eruv. Rather than wire, each side of the eruv consists of a single laser shot directly into the lens of a small surveillance camera across the street, creating a bloom of laser light. If a beam is interrupted, the surveillance camera registers the absence of its bloom, easily pinpointing the portion requiring maintenance.
And in 1996 Sophie Calle made an artwork about the The Eruv of Jerusalem:
Calle asked fourteen residents of the city, both Israeli and Palestinian, to take her to public places they consider private and share their personal associations with the sites. The narratives reflect the complexities and contradictions that accompany the notions of territory and “other,” as well as the seemingly banal, yet ineffable memories experienced by everyone.
There is so much to say about this fascinating subject. This will certainly not be the last article. Even though the list of resources is long I still have more ...

A Discussion of the Halachic Issues Regarding Eruvin in Brooklyn
The Contemporary Eruv: Eruvin in Modern Metropolitan Areas, Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces, Louis P. Nelson
Eruv -
Manhattan eruv -
Local eruv -
Antwerp eruv -
Antwerp eruv -
Stadsgeschiedenis Antwerpen - 
Borders and Boundaries in and Around Dutch Jewish History, Judith Frishman
Jewish Amsterdam map
Jewish Community of Amsterdam website and eroev pictures
Amsterdam Eruv in the newspaper
Shabbat pole in Amsterdam - 
L'Erouv de Jérusalem - 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

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Urban soil analysis - 3

Not trying to be scientific - I'm in a hurry
I have lost a USB stick with pictures from an urban expedition. It must be somewhere in the house. I have done everything possible - even said a prayer to St. Anthony - but nothing helps. So I'm just cleaning house and I hope it will emerge from the chaos.

One part of the chaos was my collection of soil samples from other urban expeditions. So I had to clean that up in a hurry. I had no time for detailed analysis. So this was just an experiment with aesthetics of presentation.
First results are promising - will do a better job when I have more time
  • Urban soil is really interesting. It may not be authentic, it may have been transported long distances. It may have been disturbed and mixed many times. But that history makes it interesting. Can we read some of that history?
  • Urban soil samples are very different. It is interesting to compare them. Colours, textures and composition are all different. What can we learn from that?
Ideas for improvement
  • Next time I should note more exact locations. Better labels.
  • Adding a coin for scale may be scientifically correct but it spoils the picture. I should find a more aesthetic scale marker.
  • Adding a place tag is easier than writing it on the underground. But it does not look aesthetic.
  • Next time I should use natural light. It gives much better colors. And maybe use gray paper for background. White gives extreme contrast and kills color. Especially with the dark soils. But right now I cannot take these pictures outside because of wind and rain.
  • Little heaps are aesthetically more pleasing than flat spreads. Sideways is better than from the top.
  • I will have to look in real scientific publications how they photograph little heaps of soil. If they do that at all.

Real natural sand from the beach at Hoek van Holland. Notice the seashell fragments, the fine grains and the many dark minerals. Notice the cleanness and the absence of clay. But even this sand is not entirely natural. Sand is added to this beach periodically, otherwise it will disappear.
Street sand from Gouda. Fresh sand. Notice the much coarser texture. Probably sand from river deposits.
Street sand from Rotterdam, Hillegersberg. Fresh sand. Notice again a different texture, and a slightly different color.
Street sand from Rotterdam. Blaak, from the other side of the street where the metro station is. Sand that was dug up when the foundations for the Blaakhaven building were laid. Probably old sand that had lain under the pavement a long time. Maybe as old as the construction of the metro.
Street sand from Rotterdam. 4e Westewagehof. Old sand exposed during the renovation of the quay wall. Contains particles of cement and brick. Might be from the 1950's or older.

Strangely red and fine clay from under a demolished house in a German ghost town. Around Pesch and Spenrath. The dark gritty material is from the same place. It looks artificial, maybe slag.
Dirty mixed clay from a dry pond next to the library in IJsselstein. Near the Basiliekpad. Probably just some random old soil used to fill a hole.
Clay from a farmers field near Lopik (the sign in the picture is wrong). And some rich soil I collected from a molehill by the side of the road. Near the bus stop "Radiozender" (Transmitter) of bus line 505.

Mixed soil
Mixed soil from a wood near Zundert. Collected along a footpath. Sand mixed with clay, humus and a lot of biologic material.