canals

Amsterdam: Part I

Back home again and resting up from an eight-day trip to Amsterdam to attend the annual Urban Sketchers Symposium. It was not exactly the best week to plan a trip to Amsterdam. Peak tourist season. Record breaking heat wave. But I had booked my trip months before and was looking forward to all the activities and seeing my friends from around the world and in the process seeing the city.

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Sketching is a great way to look closer at a city, to notice the details and get interested in knowing more. Many of you have probably been to Amsterdam, since it’s one of the most agreeable cities for tourists to visit. So I will share my very own impressions here as a way to also remember and consolidate reflections about a remarkable visit.

This first sketch was all about the the crowns on the bridge. There are crowns everywhere. The Dutch must have loved their royalty.

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But actually this was my first sketch, a piece which illustrates the madness of arriving at 10am in Europe after a 10.5 hour flight and needing to stay awake til the local bedtime in order to begin to acclimate. This syndrome is affectionately known as brain-deadness. So you soldier on and if you’re a sketcher, you sit and scribble out your first. I was at a canal-side table, elbow to elbow with people drinking cold drinks and facing one of the iconic bridges. These two guys at the next table touching mine were filming something for Mexican TV to be shown in the U.S. (?) and oblivious to my taking advantage of their process.

On the plane ride to Amsterdam I watched the movie about Vincent van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate which explores his emotional/mystical inner life as an artist and struggles with insanity. Amsterdam is the home of the van Gogh Museum, which I will share about later. This trip came to be imbued with his presense. His words resonate so deeply with my own experience of life and art and my time in Amsterdam, such as. . .

I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.

-Vincent van Gogh

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After a morning’s canal cruise with my sketch buddy Cathy McAuliffe, we had lunch at a garden restaurant and sketched in the park to try to stay cool. There’s practically nowhere big enough to park much more than a bicycle in Amsterdam, so they have adapted by shrinking vehicles to the size of miniatures so they fit on sidewalks! The above is an Amsterdam delivery “truck”!

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Cathy here is demonstrating the ease to which a passerby could steal a car by lifting it off the curb. (Note the chain around the lightpost!)

By my second day the heat wave had kicked in big time and I was seeking the shade of a nearby park. This elderly lady (probably not much older than me!) looked like a local who had discovered a way to keep a bit cooler. She was doing a crossword in the paper and drinking her coffee and seemed quite content. Nearby was a group of Surinamese men speaking animatedly in a language I didn’t recognize.

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Rembrandt is a big deal here. I mean he is everywhere, and especially in Rembrandt Square where we were waiting to meet other Bay Area sketchers for an Indonesian rijsttafel or feast. I couldn’t help the comparison of the two highly adept artists! (Rembrandt and modern day Cathy)

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This restaurant on the canal (by the way, everything is on a canal in Amsterdam) was right around the corner from the hotel where I was staying. Earlier we had taken a morning walk through the Red Light District which looked like the morning after a Fraternity party. amsnosexworkerpics

There were no sex workers to be seen. The shutters were drawn, but the signs pointed to a world that we needed to at least acknowledge with our cameras! Interestingly the Amsterdam flag which flies everywhere around the city, has three red X’s on it. We never found out what they stand for. Do you know?

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So back to the serene canal scene I was trying to capture. It was heating up once again and life was active on the water. I was beginning to wish I was in the murky canal water.

Stay tuned for Part II Amsterdam!

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