Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Day at the Museum

Now, in reality I don't under value this point, but I can see how it may come across in my writing, as if I do. Amsterdam, is the first city I have been to that actually “feels like somewhere else.” Yeah, Scandinavia was great and all, but I kept feeling as if I could round the corner and find myself at Yonge and Dundas square, just in time for whatever ridiculous festival they had going on to close down the summer season. But here – here, I feel that I could walk for hours and never see a single thing reminiscent of anywhere remotely close to home.

It's a feeling that is at once alienating, and encapsulating. I am part of nothing, and because of that I am part of something. I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty peachy. The city is one giant geometric shape that I still haven't managed to wrap my mind around, and try as I might to explore outside the inner canals, I haven't managed to find my way out there. And not for lack of trying either. It's just that I somehow have managed to lose myself in this 2,5 KM in diameter city.

Today, the effort will be made to finally get to the rumored parks that lie just beyond Nassaukade. Why, I've been told there's a Vondelpark that is spectacular. Though how spectacular anything an be under these blanks of grey skies is beyond me right now. I knew as I watched the blue overhead, stuck on my most delayed train, that that would be the one day of nice weather. I hoped against it, but – you know – that's just how it is some times. Every now and then, the weather gods smile upon you, but more often than not they hate you, and want you to remember that fact. Lest we forget, and what not.

But my first mission for today will be exploring the Anne Frank house, as I have mentioned a number of times previously. I've built it up, so – in theory – it could end up crashing down in a pile of disappointments, but I'm thinking it won't. Somehow, I reckon that if the ghosts of old vikings were enough to stir me to feeling in Oslo, those that roam this property should be quite evocative.

Ahh – in yesterdays post, you may have noticed our most excellent tour guide posing beside what looks like a metal rhombus. Is that the right word? A rhombus? He's standing beside a giant metal four sided object that is not a square. Let us just leave it at that, and move on to the question of just what it is. They can be found in most 90 degree corners. What could they be, do you think? What are they for? They're slanted. They have other slates coming up at random angles?

That's right! They're so if you feel like peeing in the corner on the way home from the bar, said piss will come splashing back all over your pants and your shoes, and everything else within a terrible terrible splash zone! How ingenious. But then where do people offload their urine when they are in the most dire of situations late at night?

There are these green cylinders that you walk into in the middle of the street. Trust me, you'll know them when you smell them. There, you simply stand inside and go onto the ground. Yeah – that's right – some cities have pits, or constructed toilets, or even those standing urinals like in London. But here? Nope – get inside the green cylinder and pee on the ground. Why not, yeah? Because if you value your shoes, you'll stay far away.

Apparently 200 women dropped their pants and started to pee off a bridge in an act of protest, some decades ago – as they wanted their own. So the city agreed, and built large yellow cylinders for the ladies. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of sexual assault, and therefor they were shut down in the seventies.

Fun fact – a good game, while drunk, if you're a local is picking up bikes that are not securely locked to anything, and chucking them in the river. What fun. The game enters play, as you need to see whom, yourself, or your mates, can make a bigger splash in the water.

Well, once again there was little to no exploring. After the Anne Frank museum, it was raining. Not a big rain – but rain enough, to send me straight (well not exactly) to the library to test out my brand new North America to European plug converter which will actually fit in the sockets here. Works like a charm. For the next two months i can charge batteries, and use my computer at the same time! Magical! I'll have to buy a new one for the other countries too though. Ohh bother.

Despite the rain, it did cause me to write a haiku:

The raindrops fall
like snowflakes caught in an
early winters breeze

That's enough of that now. So after the Anne Frank house, I went to the train station to book passage out of this crazy place. I took a number, after being told I could use the self serve ticket machines to book my own ticket. I knew this was a lie, but I grabbed the number anyway. By the time I had finished explaining the system to an Italian guy beside me my number was up, and I figured I'd go talk to a real person anyway. You'd think these events – me taking the ticket, and me being called – happened almost instantaneously. You'd hardly think that there was a twenty minute period explaining a simple online form. But, considering his English wasn't that strong, I'm surprised he got booked where we wanted to go. By the way is Milano actually Florance? Well that's where he's going – and he seemed happy with it, so very well then.

And then it was on to the library, where I discovered my parents had discovered how to use skype. Fast forward and hour, and I'm uploading video, and pictures, just like a champ. And with all this direct power, there's nothing that can stop me! Nothing. Well, I guess closing hours could stop me, but we're not there yet. I think we're still three and a half hours off.

On that note, I should start to upload the train videos.

So how was the Anne Frank house, you might be asking. Powerful. And strange – very strange.

I'm glad that I did this museum at this stage in my life, and not a day sooner. Being so close to, and touching, history is always a hard thing to get ones mind around. Even if you know – you understand – that something is true, it's really hard to actually know... it's true.

Walking around the first building, where Otto Frank ran his business was a chilling experience. This was the very place where his factory was run. This was not a recreation. This was not moved to a new location. This was the very same floor they worked on. And this was the very same place where footsteps overhead might have been heard, had the Frank family ever failed to tread lightly.

Walking in, the first thing you notice is – what a lovely area. What a beautiful place to live.

And from there you go from room to room in the office, and the factory, watching videos along the way, and looking at a variety of items that had been collected over the years. Identification cards, forged documents, shipping orders.

Then you reach a room with nothing in it but a bookcase. The bookcase. The movable bookcase that the people living in the annex had to creep out of when they wanted to leave their hiding place. When Anne writes about having to duck and jump every time she wanted to leave... well, so to did you. And the words come alive. Because, this is not some place made similar to her world, as if you were experiencing the life of another Anne on Price Edward Island. This was the very house, and the very floorboards, that she walked on, not that many decades past.

Just before you head through to the secret quarters, you look out the window, at the canal below, and are once again stunned by the beauty of this place. In my mind, and many movies, the nazi's only rounded people up on overcast days, in decrepit ghettos. But here, in beautiful Amsterdam, they were pushed like cattle through multicoloured streets, under blue skies, with reflective waters all around. This is real life – seen more or less as it is, rather than through a tainted lens of pathetic fallacy.

In the Annex you step first through Otto's room, and then into Anne's. The map Otto used to track the allied invasion from Normandy still hangs on the wall, as too do the markings of the two Frank girls heights, as they grew throughout their stay.

Anne's room is decorated with posted pictures from magazines, and cards. She wrote that it made the room a little more cheerful. But now faded, and slightly torn, they only add to the haunting atmosphere that permeates the entire building.

Then it's up the stairs, to the main room, where menus typed out for special occasions are preserved near the stove, and various texts find themselves placed in glass containers. These are the things from their daily life, novels – prayer books – that would have very little significance if not for the events that took hold of their lives.

There is no furniture here. Nothing to show how it would have looked. For that you can only look at a model near the entrance. When the Nazi's came, they had the place stripped bare, and when Otto - the only survivor from the camps – returned he asked that it be kept that way.

Then to Peter's room, and finally you can peek up into the attic. The very attic where Anne stole her first kiss, watched the world outside, and was able to escape – spend time away – from the rest of the family below. Though you are not permitted access, mirrors give you a clear view of the entire area. This is not a room quite like what was described in the text. This was that very room.

And then you exit. Exit the Annex, and return to the house. And there, you see the final few artifacts. One of which is the German paper confirming that the Frank family had been fully moved to the concentration camps. And you can watch a video recorded by one of Anne's friends who was in a neighbouring camp, who threw rations over the fence for her.

Then the final staircase, where you can see the original diary. The red tartan covered book, with the girls own writing within.

And you realize how strange it is that this matters. And how strange it is that you care this much for one girl's story. Because she was only one of six million. And then you exit the museum, send a video email home, from the terminals provided for just such a thing, and you're gone. And the experience fades, and you can rejoin the world outside, rejoin the modern times, and perhaps go for an ice cream, or a beer, or something of that nature.

Because you start to forget – and you have to. Otherwise...

One of the more interesting things is an exhibit at the very end of the museum called freedom2be or something like that. Basically they show videos and ask tough questions such as “should head scarves be banned from schools.” And you push a red button, or a green button to agree or disagree. Then the stats come up for who said what in the room, and who said what over all time.

What's most fantastic is that this program proved why democracy is stupid. And how easy people are to lead. One of the questions began: “Free speech is a fundamental freedom, blah blah blah, should people have the freedom to express their thoughts.” 90% yes. Next question “should people be able to self-publish text on the internet denying the holocaust.” 8% (I think just me) yes. Ugh – most of the audience just contradicted themselves.

Look – I'm not saying that it's a good thing that people deny the holocaust – but at the same time, I'm glad that I live in a country where people are allowed to express that opinion. The same group then were 50% in favour of “should rappers be allowed to express anti-gay statements in their music?” Well come on people. Where is your consistency? They're all the sae question. Vote with your wallets here, and your attention. If people express wacky ideas you disagree with, then either show them as such, or stay away.

Freedom of speech – its a great thing. And 50% of people seem to think so... 66% of the time. Ai ya.

Well – that's that. I'll stay in the library until I get all my media online. Tomorrow – perhaps tomorrow I'll finally explore the city!

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