Friday, October 5, 2012

Rotterdam - Places of pilgrimage - 2

Preliminary results
I am continuing my list of places of pilgrimage. It is an interesting experiment with memory and topography. What are my first results:
  • The definition of place of pilgrimage as "a place that is worth returning to" is useful. It separates niceties and curiosities from places with real meaning.
  • The sites naturally overlap with monuments and places of cultural interest that you find in the city guides. But there are many that don't fit the city-guide category like: interesting views, random places with "atmosphere" and even a McDonalds.
  • Most places are relatively old. It is difficult to find modern places with "atmosphere". Is that because there are less of them or have I not found them yet?
  • There are less places stored in my memory than I expected. I had thought I would write down a list of 100 places easily. But at the moment I'm stuck at 70 or so.
  • It's a stimulating exercise. I've started to read Rotterdam books again and I'm going through my photo archives to find more relevant places. But this does not add much, most of it is already in my head.
Second map
With mixed feelings I've started using Google Maps. It is very easy to mark and document places in Google Maps, much easier than on a physical map. Still I would prefer OpenStreetMap, but I have not found a similar function in OSM yet. In Google Maps you can add pins to the map, but the numbers and captions are not shown on the map. So I added these by hand:

  1. The Hoflaankerk. - This sober and geometric church always feels mysterious and overpowering.
  2. The war memorial under the Oostzeedijk. - This place looks un-Dutch with its height difference, the use of natural stone and the old shadowy trees.
  3. The angel of the apocalypse above the portal of the cemetery at the Nieuwe Crooswijkseweg. - A beautiful patient angel. It is silently holding its trumpet awaiting the sign to raise and blow it.
  4. The Heineken brewery and the brewery face. - The tower of the brewery is one of those geometric towers that seem to radiate a kind of urban energy. This energy keeps the city functioning. There is a strange Mayan-like face staring from the symbolic artwork above the door.
  5. The 16th century houses that survived the bombardment, Vriendenlaan, Rechter Rottekade. - Old houses that magically survived the bombardment of Rotterdam. They must have been protected by spells laid by ancient heretics.
  6. The Paris-like bench in Katendrecht overlooking the river, Buizenpark, Linker Veerdam. - This is a very un-Dutch place. It feels like a bigger, more urban and imperial city here.
  7. The weird door sculpture in Katendrecht. - Strange mermaid-like sculpture above a door in Katendrecht. Approximate location - have to check my picture collection.
  8. The brick chimneys of Rotterdam, several of them. - These remains from the industrial era are getting rarer and rarer.
  9. The walking path behind the airport, Bovendijk. - Notice the radio antennas and the training airplane for the firemen.
  10. The airport lights as seen of the Vliegveldweg. - Try to catch this in the evening when a plane is landing and the lights are on.
  11. The landing path towards Zestienhoven (ERDH) airport, seeing the huge descending airplanes.
  12. The dark church with the high tower and the somber Christ mosaic, Adriaan Paauwlaan. - A dark brick geometric church with an imposing square tower. An unwelcoming mosaic of Christ above the entrance door. Fascinating. Probably I'm doing it injustice.
Psychogeographer: alchemist or geographer?
A thin book about The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer set me thinking about my own practice. The book contrasts two practitioners of science: the alchemist and the geographer. Which of the two is my model?
There are a lot of paintings with scientific subjects in 17th century Dutch art. And here the alchemist is presented as a solitary figure who loses himself in the labyrinth of knowledge. He sits in dark, badly maintained laboratories, fills his head with irrelevant knowledge and spends his money on unprofitable research. He is a tragic figure. His extensive research only generates chaos. Sometimes he is presented as an easily duped believer or - conversely - as a fraud who exploits the easy belief of others.

Now compare the alchemist with the geographer. The geographer is a well-kept, aristocratic, well-off figure. He has his feet on the ground and is producing useful knowledge. He is practicing real, modern science and is serving real human progress (and commerce and imperialism). He is presented in rooms with sober, modern and practical scientific utensils: maps, compasses and measuring devices.

I would like to be the geographer. But maybe I'm just the alchemist. Or somewhere in between, a chaotic reporter of topography?

  • Johannes Vermeer, Der Geograph, Thorsten Smidt, 2004, Staatliche Museen Kassel
  • The Geographer, Johannes Vermeer - Wikipedia
  • Le Docteur Alchimiste, D. Teniers pinx. J. Tardieu Filius Sculp. - Images from the History of Medicine


  1. I find myself between the Scylla of established materialism,with its quantified thinking, applied science,and 'controlled' experiments on the one side, an the Charybdis of romantic supernaturalism on the other. my task is to explore whether there is a sane and valid place for religion somewhere between the two nightmares of nonsense...there might be found in knowledge and in art the basis to support affirmation of the sacred that would celebrate natural unity

    -- Gregory Bateson

  2. Wow, what a great quote! How did you find that?

  3. Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred Gregory and Mary Catharine Bateson p 64.

  4. Serendipity, I just happen to be reading the book. This is not my favorite. Steps to an Ecology of Mind IS my favorite. I love Gregory Bateson, the unacknowledged grandfather of cybernetics and semiotics.