Nearly fifteen years ago, I lived on the first floor of the all freshman dorm, Tilton Hall, at Tufts University where fourteen of my hall mates turned into my family of lifelong friends. (This, however, does not include the many other Tufts friends I made and have cherished all these years. I love you guys too!) So when one of them tells you that her husband received a clerkship in Den Haag, The Netherlands, and will be moving there for a year, you can be certain that my first few words to her were, “May I come visit?”
I was so glad to see my friend, Lindsay. She is such a lovely person, witty as hell, and has such a passion for life that she always knows how to have a good time. Her husband, Michael, is equally matched in personality to Lindsay, and we now share a lifelong bond of our mutual dislike of karaoke, our love of photography and Carla Bruni, and our conflicting emotions about the finale of Mad Men. To say that I had a wonderful time hanging out with them would not even begin to describe my stay in The Hague.
The Hague is a municipality on the North Sea coast of Holland and is home to the Dutch government and parliament, the Supreme Court, the Council of State, and over 150 international organizations, including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the United Nations, NATO, OPCW, and several tribunals. Consisting of eight districts made up of unique mix of architectural styles, Den Haag originated as a royal hunting estate in the early 13th Century; and, through various changes and expansions, it became the Royal City, but not the capital, which is Amsterdam. To my surprise and in complete contrast to the image of the Royal City, Den Haag is also home to Scheveningen, a thriving beach and surfing community.
On my first night, Lindsay and I caught up on each other’s news, worked, and joined some of Michael’s colleagues at the cinema to watch Mad Max: Fury Road. From the little I remembered of the Mad Max series was that one film featured Tina Turner and her hit song “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” [I know this because my mother happens to be a fan of Tina Turner, and let’s just say that I spent many a Saturday afternoon of my childhood with my mother and sister dancing and singing to all of Ms. Turner’s hits. An audiocassette recording even exists of my sister and I (~ages five & three, respectively) singing along with Tina to the chorus of “Proud Mary.” Needless to say this recording is well hidden and will not surface anytime soon!] Fury Road was ok, but as a Tom Hardy fan, I wish his character had been more developed and featured more lines. After the film, we ventured in the rain to a popular square near the center of town. It was the first time I had spoken in depth about my project—La Storia—the whole other purpose to my trip. It’s always a little intimidating to discuss one’s work with what I consider very intelligent and successful people; however, I was delighted that they were intrigued by my topic. It was a little confidence booster.
The next day, Lindsay and I took a leisurely walking tour of the city and visited the Mauritshuis. I had promised to provide Lindsay with at least one beautiful sunny day; to our delight the weather was gorgeous! Along the way we admired Gemeentemuseum, designed by the notable Dutch architect, Hendrik Petrus Berlage, who is considered to be the “father of modern architecture” in the Netherlands. He was a student of Gottfried Semper, believed in the theories of Viollet-le-Duc, and loved brick; so, given the topic of my research, affection for Art Nouveau and Art Deco design, and passion for experimenting with materials, it is easy to understand my attraction to Berlage’s work. The museum and grounds are beautiful, designed on a floor plan based on a 110 cm x 110 cm grid and uses 11cm modules or multiples of it to create the rest of the form, and may remind one of some of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Hector Guimard’s work.
Throughout our walk, it was easy to admire the beauty and calm repose of the city. There are areas of high and frantic activity, but they are more than evenly balanced by the tree and garden lined streets, small markets, and, of course, canals.
The Mauritshuis is a beautiful museum that features not only notable works from the Dutch Golden Age of painting—including, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, and Fabritius’ The Goldfinch—but also an extensive conservation and research department and library. And, speaking as a fan of good design, the extension and renovation by Hans van Heewswijk Architecten is phenomenal! The underground entrance to the museum serves as a transition from the street and water with very clean materials unfettered by ornamentation. One experiences a sense of transportation, and with the change of depth, this transportation takes the form of time travel.
After finishing our tour of the museum, we stopped and had a delightful lunch at this little café with the nicest staff called Lunchroom Le Gourmet in de Halstraat near Maison de Bonneterie. We made a plan to head back to the apartment and then have an evening stroll along the beach before grabbing dinner at this new Indonesian restaurant in the neighborhood. Michael joined us for this half of the day, and it was so much fun roaming around and taking photos. When we left the restaurant, it was so bright and light outside that I could not believe my eyes when I saw that it was really 10pm.
The next day, the three of us decided to drive out to the Louwman Museum to see the world’s oldest & largest private collection of cars and automotive art. The building was designed by the late Michael Graves, which is funny because as we approached it, I thought to myself that building looks like a post-modern chateau meets turbine factory and I wondered who designed it. See, one can turn any vacation into an architectural tour! Both the building and the collection were impressive; and, it included cars once used or owned by famous people such as Elvis Presley, James Bond (Goldfinger), Steve McQueen, Sir Winston Churchill, and cars from The Godfather films. While there were a few cars from the past decade, in my opinion, it is a shame that the cars of today do not have the same sense of impressive majesty as the cars of old.
Though sad to leave Den Haag and my friends, on June 1st I headed to Amsterdam in search of my next rail adventure. I had been to Amsterdam before, and as I did not have much time I stored my bags at the train station and went on a short walking tour of the city. I really enjoyed the tourist afternoon I spent there, and the delightful lunch I had at Toos & Roos on Heregracht. Holland is a wonderful country with very friendly and warm people. Someday I will go on a cycling holiday of the country and to explore it more.