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kottke.org posts about Amsterdam

Why The Night Watch Is Rembrandt’s Masterpiece

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

Ok folks, it’s time for some game theor- I mean, art history. In this video, Evan Puschak explains what makes Rembrandt’s The Night Watch so compelling from both a historical and artistic perspective.

Rembrandt Night Watch

When I was in Amsterdam last year, I saw The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum. As Puschak notes, it’s an impressive painting — for one thing, it’s more than 12 feet tall and weighs more than 740 pounds. However, I was even more keen on a nearby early self-portrait though.

Rembrandt Self Portrait 1628

Rembrandt painted this when he was 22 and while it lacks the subtle mastery of his later work, I couldn’t stop staring at it and kept looping back for one more view. If you look at a larger view of the painting, you can see where Rembrandt used the butt of his brush to scratch the wet paint to accentuate his curly hair. Something about seeing those tiny canyons on the canvas…I could almost see the young artist standing right where I was, flipping his brush around to scrape those marks before the paint dried, making his dent in the universe.

P.S. My absolute favorite piece at the Rijksmuseum was Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. Holy moly, what a painting.

Hidden treasures of Amsterdam’s river

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 02, 2018

Amsterdam Objects.png

Between 2003 and 2012, civil engineers in Amsterdam excavated a brand-new North-South metro line along the banks of the river Amstel. A website (thankfully available in Dutch and English) documents what they found.

Rivers in cities are unlikely archaeological sites. It is not often that a riverbed, let alone one in the middle of a city, is pumped dry and can be systematically examined. The excavations in the Amstel yielded a deluge of finds, some 700,000 in all: a vast array of objects, some broken, some whole, all jumbled together. Damrak and Rokin proved to be extremely rich sites on account of the waste that had been dumped in the river for centuries and the objects accidentally lost in the water. The enormous quantity, great variety and everyday nature of these material remains make them rare sources of urban history. The richly assorted collection covers a vast stretch of time, from long before the emergence of the city right up to the present day. The objects paint a multi-facetted [sic] picture of daily life in the city of Amsterdam. Every find is a frozen moment in time, connecting the past and the present. The picture they paint of their era is extremely detailed and yet entirely random due to the chance of objects or remains sinking down into the riverbed and being retrieved from there. This is what makes this archaeological collection so fascinating, so poetically breathtaking and abstract at one and the same time.

If you don’t love browsing through lost IDs, credit cards, and everyday coins, a section called “Object Stories” highlights the more noteworthy finds: batteries from the 19th century, stoneware jugs and tankards from the 16th century, pieces of samurai swords, and more.

What America can learn from Europe about redesigning urban traffic patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2018

In the NY Times, architect and urban designer John Massengale discusses how four European cities (London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen) addressed their urban traffic problems and how NYC might apply those lessons to fix its own traffic issues. Massengale shared what the Dutch learned in reconfiguring their streets:

1. When drivers slow down to 20 m.p.h. or below, they are less likely to hit people and much less likely to seriously injure or kill people if they do hit them.

2. The best way to slow cars down is to throw away all the techniques that traffic engineers developed to make traffic flow quickly.

3. When you throw out all the detritus of traffic engineering, it becomes much easier to make beautiful places where people want to walk. Bike riding becomes more pleasant and safer as well.

His four-step plan to fix traffic in Manhattan is equally simple in principle:

The next step is to adopt congestion pricing below 96th Street in Manhattan and then:

1. Decrease the number of Manhattan streets that function as transportation corridors primarily devoted to moving machines through the city.

2. Design and build Slow Zones where people actually drive slowly.

3. Make the transportation corridors that remain better urban places, with a better balance between city life and moving cars.

Seems to me a vital part of this is fixing, expanding, and subsidizing the subway system…get everyone using the subway. Better, more reliable, and cheaper public transportation = less demand for taxis and Lyfts. As Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa said, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport.”

My recent media diet, special Amsterdam edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past three weeks or so. I was in Amsterdam recently to speak at a conference. I had some free time and as it was my first time there, I took in some obvious sights. No books this time…Scale is currently on hold (and perhaps abandoned permanently) while I read Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True and listen to Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci on audiobook.

Thor: Ragnarok. Henceforth, all superhero movies should be as fun as this. (B+)

Mindhunter. This one had a slow burn to it and got better as the season went on. Also, now that I know what to look for, the David Fincher camera thing was impossible to ignore. (B+)

Requiem for a Dream. The last 30 minutes of this movie is relentless. (A)

The Book of Life. I tried to steer the kids away from this one to no avail. (C)

On Margins with Kevin Kelly. The bits about how much of the world used to be pre-industrial until fairly recently and how most people only took 20-30 photos per year in the 70s were especially interesting. (B+)

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel (season two). Not quite as good as the first season, but my kids are still riveted. (B+)

Doctor Who. I’ve been slowly introducing the kids to Doctor Who, which I watched as a kid with my dad. So far, we’ve seen Jon Pertwee’s final episode and a handful of early Tom Baker episodes…probably the show’s sweet spot. I didn’t want to throw them into the deep end with William Hartnell right off the bat. (B+)

The Dark Knight Rises. A parable for our times: a white, female Bernie supporter (Selina Kyle) votes for Trump because she believes the system needs a reset but comes to appreciate what a terrible fucking idea that was. (A-)

Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum. Kevin Kelly recommended this impressive little magazine shop to me…they must have carried over 1000 different titles. (B+)

Whisky Café L & B. They stock more than 2300 whiskies (!!)…but the space is so small that I don’t know where they keep it all. (B+)

Van Gogh Museum. Maybe the best small museum I’ve ever been to? Utterly fascinating to see how his entire life and career unfolded. (A)

Rijksmuseum. I missed a lot of this one, but what I did see was great. Gaping at the impossibly exquisite lighting in Vermeer’s The Milkmaid for 15 minutes was itself worth the price of admission. (A-)

Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Really conflicting feelings on this. On the one hand, there were hordes of drunken men walking the streets literally shopping for women’s bodies…anyone unclear on what the male gaze means only need spend a few minutes in De Wallen on a weekend night to fully grasp the concept. On the other hand, it can be empowering, economically and otherwise, for women to engage in sex work. Is the RLD sex-positive? I… (-)

Schiphol. Much faster wifi than at my house. Really lovely airport…it would get an “A” if it weren’t actually an airport. (B)

Amsterdam (generally). Visit if you’re a process and infrastructure nerd. Van Gogh Museum and a boat ride in the canals are musts. Didn’t have enough time to sample as much food as I wanted, but I will definitely be back. (A-)

Michael Clayton. I liked this a little less than I remember, even though its star has been on the rise lately. (B+)

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. I knew next to nothing about Didion before watching this — aside from her hiring Harrison Ford when he was a carpenter. It’s probably better if you’re already a fan? (B)

Heavyweight: Jesse. One man in a car hits another man on a bike and both are changed forever. And for the better? (B+)

Arrival. Maybe my fourth time watching this? A friend commented on the economy of the storytelling…not a second is wasted. (A)

iPhone X. Most of my early impressions still hold. Still don’t like the notch, it is ridiculous. (A-)

Transparent (season four). The recent allegations against Tambour took the shine off of this season for me, but this is still one of the best TV shows in recent years. (A-)

Coco. I didn’t love this as much as everyone else did, and I don’t know why. (B+)

The 21-minute Frozen “short” that played before Coco. Total unimaginative and cynical garbage. This is what happens when marketing has too much pull. (F)

Stranger Things 2 soundtrack. The music is the best part of the show IMO. (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.