Sunday, January 22, 2012

More than Herring

Those of you who are thinking of visiting and/or living in the Netherlands have probably gotten the idea that it's a drug- and prostitution-paradise. I hope that this blog has dispelled at least some of that image, although even I must grudgingly concede that the Damrak will win the battle for the Netherlands' projected image, simply because it is so popular.

And how could it not be? The Velorama in Nijmegen, while fun and fascinating and undervisited, can't possibly hold a torch to the promise of kinkiness-to-come in Amsterdam's Sex Museum. And who doesn't want to be photographed next to Samuel L. Jackson, Madonna, President Obama, and other interesting (or not-so) of our time? Amsterdam sports team Ajax, a Waterstone's for English-speakers, and didn't get the living sh*t bombed out of it in the 40's. And whatever charms Nijmegen and it's surrounding areas might have, the spelling and pronunciation are probably a put-off to would-be visitors.

At the very least, then, I hope to have shown that the Netherlands is, believe-it-or-not, bigger than Amsterdam, and that there's a whole slew of funny and interesting things about the Dutch that you might not get if you've just been accosted by a pimp. And those of you who are looking for something less R-rated to do in Amsterdam might just consider the theater.

Dutch theater is surprsingly vibrant, which in itself is interesting considering how few people understand Dutch (relative to, say, Chinese or English). You could be forgiven for wondering whether people who speak other languages might be feeling left out while the actors on stage gesticulate and, well, act. To that end, the Toneelgroep Amsterdam has started projecting English subtitles (well, considering that the screen is above the stage, I suppose they're more accurately called "supertitles") above their Thursday-evening shows. The boventiteling is still in it's initial stages, to see if they can't get generate more interest and support in the arts. I met with their publicity coordinator when she asked me to write something about their group--and yes, they are indeed that big that they need a publicity coordinator. It's a core group of 20 actors (some of whom are also famous for being on TV--Barry Atsma, for instance), with some guest actors and some understudies. They play 350 nights of the year in Amsterdam and other cities around the Netherlands and the world, performing plays by international as well as Dutch playrights.

A resurgent interest in the arts couldn't come at a better time: over the past few years, the Dutch in general and Amsterdam in particular have gotten tired of the "hash and whores" image of the Netherlands, and are trying to rein it in. I honestly think they'd rather stamp it out altogether, but as in all things typically Dutch, the need for consensus as to how to go about it outweighs any sense of urgency to do anything about it. A revival of the arts and theatrical night life can only help.

*Disclaimer: I did not receive any payment, in kind or otherwise, for writing this. This was written purely as a favor for a cause I support. Say what you will about the NEA and the uselessness of art--that we humans have a concept of beauty needs to be celebrated, otherwise we're just another animal.


  1. I'm also amazed by the people that don't just think Amsterdam is the whole of Holland but also think Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Den Haag are all next to each other.