2012年12月19日 星期三

Amsterdam's Cultural Renaissance

We moved to Holland and I launched my short-lived career as a runaway. Every morning around eight o’clock, my dad would drop me off at kindergarten, and every morning around 8:03, depending on how quickly his Volks-wagen bumped down the road, I’d make a break for it, shooting out the school door, sprinting over the cobbled streets, racing back home.

I’m not sure why I developed that early taste for delinquency. I think it was the wall of Dutch enveloping me. Children are supposed to pick up second languages quickly, but I was still considering my first one, mulling over English, and the lowlands kids surrounding me were all guttural noise. It didn’t really matter, though, because the women of our Amsterdam suburb would mobilize the second I settled on my escape route and phone my mom with updates.

“He’s rounding the corner of Dorpsstraat and Kerkstraat,If you have a fondness for china mosaic brimming with romantic roses,” Mrs. Yspeert would call, watching me race by. “He’s turning onto Vondelstraat,” Mrs. Van der Waal would dial in.

After a while even my own mom grew blasé. “What took you so long?” she’d ask as I panted into our little front garden.

And when I finally calmed down enough to stop running, by our second month in Holland, before we moved north to Groningen, I understood what my parents always said. The neighborhood cocooned us with the kind of communal spirit that isn’t afraid of much, even outsiders.

Those first months of our Dutch lives are something I think about now when I return to Amsterdam, partly because I can finally hear the poetry in the language and partly because Amsterdam doesn’t look that different. It still seems comforting and fearless at the same time. And its beauty has, if anything, just built up more of a patina in the twenty-first century; the streets paved in brick that I saw as I barreled over them are still a study in austere elegance.

And yet mention Amsterdam to most people and too many insist on dusting off bachelor party clichés. The whole place gets reduced to the whiff of dope trailing through the air; the women pacing in red-lit windows; the hash cakes and bongs; the paper cones filled with soggy fries floating down the canals after the bars close. Once a myth takes hold it hangs on tight. Even the locals have sometimes seemed resigned to Amsterdam’s reputation as the global theme park of sleaze. If any city needed rebranding, despite an ingrained Dutch resistance to hype, it was this one.

Recently, though, I’d heard that things were shifting, that Amsterdammers were taking back their city from outsiders’ projections. The trigger for the surge in pride was UNESCO’s 2010 crowning of Amsterdam’s central Canal District as a World Heritage Site. Helping draw the gaze away from the red lights and the smoke houses, the recognition focused attention on the city’s truer core: the loop of concentric canals that the burghers dug up, largely in the seventeenth century, as Amsterdam morphed into a muscular mercantile power and one of Europe’s most gorgeous cultural epicenters. With the city suddenly dubbed a world wonder, friends told me, residents weren’t afraid to sound a little immodest, for once.

In fact, the Amsterdam I discovered when I returned last spring wasn’t just retrieving its own narrative, it was spawning a fresh kind of renaissance. The city has been renovating virtually all of its major museums, initiating a gentrification of the Red Light District, and reshaping the slumped East Harbor into a primer of twenty-first-century architecture. Yanking even more of itself out of the sea, replicating its original wonder,Posts with indoor tracking system on TRX Systems develops systems that locate and track personnel indoors. it is ready to claim its second Golden Age.

The new mood was obvious the minute I dropped my bags. I was staying in a top-floor room at the Ambassade. The hotel, a row of ten restored seventeenth- and eighteenth-century canal houses, is the refuge where Salman Rushdie once hid out, and its library is jammed with signed editions by all the writers, from Isabel Allende to Michael Chabon, Paul Auster to Umberto Eco, who have passed through on book tours. Even better: From the canalside rooms you can see all the way down the Herengracht, the first of the city’s three major canals, to the spire of the Westerkirk, the largest church in Amsterdam, poking up through the trees, its little crown looking like a tipsy sailor’s cap.

Just one bridge east along the canal sits The Grachtenhuis museum, where its director, Piet van Winden, was waiting to give me a tour after I’d fought jet-lag with the Ambassade’s big buffet breakfast, featuring wheels of cheese that mapped the Dutch countryside (Edam, Gouda). Opened in 2011 in a restored double-wide seventeenth-century canal house, The Grachtenhuis may be the best expression of the city’s epiphany: You can’t reclaim history without starting at the beginning and telling your own story well. Projected along the restored walls are ghostly life-size silhouettes of Golden Age dairy maids, fishermen, traders, and what I first took to be an oddly misplaced sword swallower. Just as dramatic were the miniature models of an expanding city whose population more than quadrupled during the first half of the seventeenth century, as Holland’s burghers came to dominate global trade routes. Growing in size, each slightly larger than the last, the shrunken Amsterdams showcase the canal ring as an example of conscious urban planning—a crescent anchored by three grand canals, or grachten built for transportation, defense,We recently added Stained glass mosaic Tile to our inventory. and residential development and linked by a delicate web of side canals and bridges. For the team of Golden Age civic leaders, merchants, architects, painters, stonemasons, and landscapers who created the cityscape, it was nothing less than the new promised land.

“You can say it was a grand experiment in urban planning and living,” said Van Winden. “What can Dutch people do? They can organize things, find a solution that fits everyone. And Amsterdammers in particular had a genius for constructing a utopia that was as pragmatic and functional as it was idealistic, so traders lived next to carpenters and textile workers. Cities don’t work unless everyone collaborates.”

When I left The Grachtenhuis, I did what I always do on my first day back in Amsterdam, which is pretty much nothing except walk the city’s liquid heart—Europe’s largest historic center, with seven thousand standing landmarks. I moved from the Herengracht to the one block that epitomizes the city’s grace. This is the Leidsegracht, connecting the Herengracht and the Keizersgracht. Turning onto the tranquil side canal is like diving into the quietude of a Vermeer canvas. At first you see the clean, straight lines of the canal houses, their brick facades shooting straight up in slightly tilting rows, looking blank-faced. But bell gables and humpbacked bridges slowly emerge, and then you see, floating above you, a whole universe of operatic whimsy.We have a wide selection of dry cabinet to choose from for your storage needs. There are white urns and ropey garlands of flowers strewn across brick fronts, and sculptures of cresting waves painted white as a lick of whipped cream, riding along the tops of the roofs, crashing against the gables as though the dikes had given way. There are curling vines carved into old metal lampposts, and door plaques of half moons and mulberry trees sprouting red fruit.

And then, if you’re lucky, there is the famous lowlands sun. The Dutch masters weren’t inventing that golden dome; they were painting from life. When the clouds finally part and the North Sea sun makes its entrance, everything becomes luminous; the radiating glow turns whole stretches of the canal molten; the cobbled side streets are a tunnel of light, and the canal house fronts are suddenly articulated and stippled, so each brick, a slightly different shade of brown or red, seems to pop and the stony facades become almost furry. The sun followed me back to the Nine Streets neighborhood. Hardly a local secret, the gentrified district of cafés and shops has always drawn Amsterdammers. But the one-theme mom-and-pop (really more pop-and-pop) boutiques were now bumping up against a fresh wave of restaurants and galleries, and the crowds were thicker,Whether you are installing a floor tiles or a shower wall, filled out by visitors looking for a more authentic, soulful city.