Posts Tagged ‘linkedin’

Two KLM posters from the fifties combined (*) with a Google Earth view of Amsterdam and 7 examples of cut-out, non montaged real street photographs of oversized Dutch wooden shoes (klompen) that can be found in all tourists areas of the town outside the shops that sell tourist gadgets; tourist like to pose for their family  or friends in these disproportioned footwear; an uncountable number of such photographs can be found in personal collection all over the world as a reminder of a visit to the city of Amsterdam

Two KLM airway posters from the fifties combined (*) with a Google Earth view of Amsterdam and seven examples of cut-out, non montaged real street photographs of oversized Dutch wooden shoes (klompen) that can be found in all tourists areas of the town, outside the shops that sell tourist gadgets. Tourist like to pose standing in them for a picture – by their family or friends. An uncountable number of such photographs of people in disproportioned Dutch footwear must be around in personal collection all over the world as a reminder of a visit to the city of Amsterdam. It keeps me wondering, was it really fun? Did they have any association wearing these big clogs, like the word ‘sabot’ for wooden feetwear of workers in French, from which comes the word ‘sabotage’? The Dutch wooden shoes, ‘klompen’, have mostly disappeared from daily  life in the Low Countries, though some farmers and workers in the fields may still use them. The footwear was meant only for outside and would be left at the porch, so one was walking inside on ‘socks-feet’ (op kousenvoeten). ‘Klompen’ for the Dutch themselves associates strongly with no-fuss, sometimes even rough behavior, something fragile being trodden by a sabot. The most frequently used Dutch expression referring to ‘klompen’ is “dat kun je op je klompen aanvoelen” (you can sense that with your wooden-shoes on). Click picture for full size view of the collage.

Splendid weather yesterday,  a late September saturday afternoon, it made my friend and me decide to walk to the Lindengracht market at the other side of the town center. So, the Red Light district, the major shopping streets and one of  the soft-drug tourism arteries, the Haarlemmerstraat had to be crossed. These are areas which I always try to avoid when going by bicycle, but now we were on a social-geographic survey of these parts of town, which I had not seen for quite a while.The streets were bustling with tourists and their non-directional pace of walking: halting to study their maps without concern for the other pedestrians and cyclists – often in the middle of the road; whimsically crossing as if the streets were empty; framing their camera pictures while forgetting about the world outside their viewer – causing frequent near accidents; being absorbed in consuming their walk-about-lunch; trying to keep group cohesion despite the fragmented Amsterdam public sidewalks with their thresholds and anti-car parking poles. A mixed aroma of exhausting fumes, hashish and the smell of cheap pizza touches our nostrils as we manage to proceed slowly in the direction of our evening meal shopping market in the Jordaan neighborhood.

I montaged two modernistic tourist photographs in this illustration, found on Flickr made by what seems to be amn under the alias 'Urbandiscount' who has a talent for catching the scenery beyond the regular flat tourist pictures (*). Click Picture for full size view.

I montaged two modernistic tourist photographs in this illustration, photographs I found on Flickr, made by a man posting under the alias ‘Urbandiscount’; a photographer with a talent for catching the atmosphere, better than most regular flat tourist photographs (**). Click picture for full size view.

Two views in one of the yourist crowds in the Warmoesstraat

Amsterdam, Warmoesstraat, at two different moments montaged in one view, showing the regular tourist crowds. Click picture to study the text and images on the sign posts.

As this walk was meant a survey as well, I scan the street fronts of the houses and shops for apparent changes, and there were many. The main trend is not typical for the inner town of Amsterdam, but maybe more outspoken and dramatic than elsewhere. Most of the surviving shops that had some direct function for the life of the locals are gone: grocery and green grocers, the traditional coffee-burning and grinding shops, tobacconists, hardware shops, dry cleaning and the like, with one exception, the bakery shops, the last ones seem to survive all modern massification and monopolization and are thriving with new tourist customers. Venues like the open front walk in ‘coffeeshops’ are examples of replacements. Coffeeshops (the Dutch way of spelling it) whose business is in fact selling hashish and offering smoking facilities for those who claim to smoke it pure… (so the anti-smoke law for public spaces does not apply). Waves of  loud music pour from these establishments and there seem to be no more local residents left at the floors above who could rightfully protest against the reproduced sound levels. Shops specializing in ‘recreational drugs’ paraphernalia pop up with regular intervals along our trajectory, also tattoo and piercing studios, male and female lingerie boutiques  and sex cinemas. The condom shop is still there (called ‘Condomerie’) it exists already for twenty years in the Warmoesstraat, once started as a fun idea in  one of the groundfloor shops of the then squatted housing block ‘Blauwlakenblok’, developing into a regular business enterprise soon after. A bit further on, in the direction of the train station, many gay bars, hotels and ‘darkrooms’ (mainly male) have settled in the last two decades. A historical function one may say, as the Warmoeststraat has done the sexual catering for both the sailors and local inhabitants for centuries. What is different though – compared to the past – is the density of such facilities now, and the fact that homosexual services are openly promoted. House after house in the Warmoesstraat and surroundings have been taken over by a ‘troika’ of the recreational sex and drug industry combined with what we Dutch call ‘horeca’ (snackbars, restaurants, cafés). The ‘horeca’ is there mainly to supply the armies of ‘lurkers’ – those who are just watching – with an alibi to have a drink and snack, wander around and stare. Step by step this troika has pushed out services providing for the daily needs of local residents. I still remember the area as a mixture of cafés, restaurants, sex business, small workshops and family living. I have not seen statistics yet on the dwindling number of normal resident houses or apartments in the Red Light district and adjacent areas, but that it is strongly diminishing is something anyone “can feel with their wooden-shoes on.”

"The pink margin of dark Amsterdam,  rise of the homosexual bar-culture in Amsterdam 1930-1970" a publication from 1992 by Gert Hekma and his wide circle of informants. With a map showing the location of bars over 60 years.

“The pink margin of dark Amsterdam, rise of the homosexual bar-culture in Amsterdam 1930-1970” a 1992 publication by Gert Hekma (University of Amsterdam) and his wide circle of informants, with a map showing the location of bars over 60 years. Each dark triangle in the rosettes on the map represents a decade. At the left a facade drawing I found in the municipal archive of Warmoesstraat 20, where from 1955 to 1971 Hotel Tiemersma with its pre-darkroom facilities had its abode. I have slightly colored the facade drawing because it would otherwise hardly be visible. To be able to see the details you have to click the picture..

What was – only forty years ago – a very much needed sexual emancipation of suppressed gay people, has grown into an industry concentrating to such a level in certain areas of town, that other social and economical functions are marginalized by it, or cease to exist. In a very instructive little book “De roze rand van donker Amsterdam” (the pink margin of dark Amsterdam) delivered by Gert Hekma of the University of Amsterdam in 1992, one can read about the very slow rise of “a homosexual bar-culture” in the period 1930-1970 and the inventive ways of gay people  to congregate in times that homosexuality was a thing not even mentioned. It is only in the fifties that the worse forms of police prosecution are over and several membership clubs start to offer some sort of safe heaven for (mostly male) homosexuals to meet, like the drab DOK cellar at the Singel (in ‘gebouw Odeon’) seen – once forty years ago – as the biggest gay dancing in Europe. The Warmoesstraat and its surroundings do have over half a century of history  in supplying gay entertainment. A pioneering place was Hotel Tiemersma, once a tobacco shop at number 20 of the Warmoestraat, started by a sailor man Sako Jan Tiemersma. From the early fifties the hotel also had a tiny bar (without a permit at first) with a permissive barkeeper that allowed some forms of intimacy. The hotel rooms had no lock and the clientèle also behaved with little restrictions and a kind of ‘darkrooms’ avant-la-lettre existed there. The hotel was a meeting point for the early leather scene (‘leerwereld’ in Dutch, which is a funny word as it also means ‘world of learning’), a scene that heralded the shift from the feminine tot the macho-type of homosexual behavior. The Amsterdam homo community before WWII had its  division in active penetrating males (called ‘tules’) and passive receiving feminine males (called ‘nichten’). It was a community in which sexual partners from the twilight zone of heterosexuality also participated as ‘tules’. With the advent of the leather scene this attitude changed, as  Hekma puts it “The ‘homos’ now could fornicate each other and horniness, to be satisfied, needed the outside world much less.” [my free rendering of his sentence on page 73; tj.] Any nowadays sex tourist can find the new gay-meeting points by a quick search on the internet, zooming in at leisure to specialized areas like the Warmoesstraat and reads about: – Argos at number 95 “The oldest and possibly most famous leather bar in Amsterdam. Sexy, cruisey and heavy. S.O.S. (Sex on Sundays)”; – Dirty Dicks at number 86 “A late night leather bar. This place really lives up to it’s name”; – Stable Master at number 23 “Bar and Hotel famous for it’s jack off / wanking / masturbation parties in the downstairs bar held regularly.”

Indirect depiction of the dark room phenomenon a sling and smeared walls exposed by  a flash light from a camera.

Indirect depiction of the dark room phenomenon without real action: a sling and smeared walls exposed by a flash light from a camera. In the middle a reflection in a puddle of a Warmoestraat gay bar by a talented photographer I found on Flickr using the long alias name “AmsterS@m – The Wicked Reflectah’s photostream” (***)

When emancipation of homosexuals ends up in a commercialized segregation of leisure and pleasure with expanding specialized zones clustering around Amstel-Rembrandtplein-Utrechtsestraat-Reguliersdwarsstraat, Warmoestraat-Zeedijk, and Kerkstraat-Leidesplein,  I am tempted to ask what about “equality” as one of the important substances of my own idea of what emancipation is about? Why not have fun all together, beyond the tender and gender divide? Why this self-imposed social Apartheid? Also, what about the level of, say ‘homosexual’ emancipation and ‘tolerance’ of drugs in all the countries of origin of the hordes of sex and drugs tourists filling the Amsterdam inner town? Did they vote Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Merkel, Putin and thus can’t they smoke a joint at home or in a pub in peace? Is it the Pope, an imman, a rural evangelic fundamentalist that keeps them from doing or at least inquiring about unknown sensual territories at home? And … most important for us locals, is the blunt commercial exploitation through which the tourists are paraded in Amsterdam, – with some side-tripping to Anne Frank and Vincent van Gogh – something we should be proud of? Is that what we want to present to the world? Or is it this, what is most typical Dutch after all, only about making a good buck… on anybody using any opportunity?

Recent Indonesian history depiction of the arrival of Cornelis Houtman at Bantam in 1596

Recent Indonesian history depiction of the arrival of the brothers Cornelis and Frederik de Houtman at the Bantam (west coast of Java) in 1596, the picture does not show the firing of ship canons at the native settlements  as a result of animosity between the locals, the Portugese and the Dutch. The middle picture is a drawing of the pepper plant from the VOC archives, at the right Robert Jasper Grootveld (1977) while talking about the origin of Dutch drug-trade and the importance to keep everything ‘droog’ (dry),  the origin of the word ‘drugs’.

“DROOG, here in the Netherlands, is the most important word.” All the coffeeshop signs with cannabis leaves, in the streets we passed through – this saturday afternoon  September 2009-  made me think back at that sentence which starts a brilliant and humorous discourse by Amsterdam’s city shaman Robert Jasper Grootveld back in 1977.  Grootveld (1932 – 2009) spoke about Amsterdam’s historical role as a market for spices, dried plants and herbs – from far away places like the East Indies – in a documentary movie by filmmaker Louis van Gasteren: “Allemaal Rebellen” (all of them rebels) about Amsterdam radicals of the fifties and sixties. Droog in Dutch is ‘dry’ in English and most lexicographers point to the possible origin of the the word ‘drugs’ in English, ‘drogue’ in French, ‘droga’ in Italian, ‘Drogen’ in German and so on, from the Dutch word ‘droog’.  “Dry,  here in the Netherlands, is the most important word, a land that had to be drained from a swamp (…) that did send its sailors to the other part of the world – whereby half the crew did not make it back- which was a human offering! … why all that? What you could find there, was something extra, to give some spicy jolt to life: pepper, mace, nutmeg and other plantlike products … and there was only one way to get that from there to here, namely by keeping it: dry (droog).” In this lively interview Grootveld reminds us of the staple-market economy of Amsterdam in the 17th century and the importance within that constellation of – what he properly calls – the “drug-trade” (drugshandel). Grootveld is not an academic, his associations and actions do have a strong persistency nevertheless. The Dutch involvement in opium trade from 1613 up to 1942, during the 19th century even a monopoly of the state from the beginning of the 19th century onward, is something Grootveld certainly knew, but does not mention during this interview. In 1928 the law curtailing the use of  opium and other narcotic drugs is proclaimed in the Netherlands, though at the same time keeping the opium trade in the colonies of the Dutch East Indies outside of these regulations. Ewald Vanvugt has written an extensive book on this matter “Wettig Opium” (Lawful opium) in 1985, no translations exists in English, but there is a short interesting online English reference by Dirk Teeuwen (2007), about Dutch state opium trade.

Natives smoking opium in Batavia (Djakarta) 1925 and a view of the Jl. Salemba opium factory in Batavia, 1925 with machines for mechanical filling of tubes with opium.

Natives smoking opium in Batavia (Djakarta) 1925 and a view of the Dutch Jl. Salemba opium factory in Batavia, 1925 with machines for mechanical filling of tubes with opium. The opium production and trade was a Dutch state monopoly starting in 1827 in the East Indies and lasting till 1942.

Back from sidestepping and continuing our trip.. As we walked the streets and struggled through the tourist crowd, I had a short fantasy of my own, being a telepathic guide, able to impress my views of the town and its history on each of the leisurely wandering tourists that catched my eye:

“What you see is the product of Double Dutch standards, moral sermons at home, covering up far away exploitive practices. Like our prime-minister Jan Peter Balkenende who does not get tired to preach about the Golden Age and the ‘spirit of enterprise’ of the Dutch East Indian Company (VOC) which we should try to regain today, forgetting to mention the black pages of history of the trading and maltreatment of black slaves, let alone the life of the 17th century poor in the Low Countrries. The historical ‘freedom of trade’, which found once in the city of Amsterdam one of its important bases,  was nothing more than the freedoms one can allow oneself when making bad deals – for the natives – backed up by warships with canons. Half the number of poor souls that were crimped into VOC service as sailors died on their voyage to the east. Recruitment officers would round up bums in taverns and on the street, even imprison them, till the moment their ship sailed away. The Dutch that nowadays like to praise themselves for their development aid to poor countries, still fail to recognize that they were fighting colonial wars up to 1961, officially called – to this very day – pacifying ‘police actions’ (“politionele acties” in Indonesia 1945 – 1949 against the Indonesian War of Independence)… “

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende opening the exhibition "Power and Glory" shipping in the Golden Age, in March 2008 in the Maritime Museum of Rotterdam

At the left a (not montaged) photograph of  Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende opening the exhibition “Power and Glory: shipping in the Golden Age”,  March 2008 in the Maritime Museum of Rotterdam; overlayed at the right with an allegoric painting commemorating a century (1602 – 1702) of VOC (United East Indies Company) business in Amsterdam  by the painter Nicolaas Verkolje (who made  in the same period a painting depicting Ovidius’s “The theft of Europe”, the ‘theft of Asia’ was a theme far beyond the imagination of any European artist of that time). The painting is part of the Rijksmuseum collection. Click picture for a full size view. Note at the right hand side of the painting two cherubs with a cornucopia from which spices pour: cinnamon and nutmeg, the last is even a tiny bit hallucinatory when used in big quantities.

As it is just a fantasy, I do not get out of breath and my audience does not walk away from the historical hootch their guide is offering,  I even manage – for myself – to make a desperate link between things of the past and the present, between the historical void in the brains of the oversized tourist crowds and my own agitated feelings of having lost something, the town I knew, the town I liked… and I explain to my imaginary audience once more, before taking a side street out of the Red Light district:

“The 17th century Dutch trade mentality still lingers on in the veins of the city,  sips through the pavement,  leaks into the cellars, pollutes the drinking water, but its object has changed. It is is not any more wealth gathered in faraway countries brought back to the Netherlands, instead, there is a progressively developing reversal: tourists flying en masse to Amsterdam and trading the city  away. The wooden shoes, once the trademark of this country, its firmness, its endurance in the fight  against wind, rain and sea, have grown to an absurd size and – as in a fairy tale – they fit only the tourists, who have great fun banging around in them, not on purpose, just unconscious of the fragility of the city’s civil structures they encounter.”

Crossing the main streets to the Central Station, The Damrak and Nieuwe Zijds Voorburgwal, brings us out of the Red Light district and the number of sex facilities decreases, though the occurrence of coffeeshops only diminishes when we reach the more classy areas of what is called ‘de grachtengordel’ (the girdle of canals). This has a historical reason as the old city ordinances prohibited the construction of alleys and houses of the poor in this area. Also here something has fundamentally changed lately: terraces have sprang up at the most odd and unhandy places, leaving even less space to walk as in the traditional sidewalk layout of this part of town. Where from the fifties onward cars had invaded the inner city and lined all the canals to supply the needed parking space, a new and more profitable development can be noticed: tiny terraces scattered on the sidewalks, along the waterfront and at the sides of bridges. As it was a very warm and sunny September afternoon, all terraces were filled to the brink and so the glasses of the customers, making what was once a quiet zone into yet another bustling boulevard, a scenery even further enlivened by a parade of private pleasure boats in the canals with their ostensibly wealthy and joyful drinking passengers and the traditional big tourist boats maneuvering in between them…

Canal side frenzy with neo-colonial rickshaw services, rentable canalbikes and terraces filling each empty corner.

It can not be helped, describing the scenery of  the overcrowded inner town of Amsterdam, ends up in a discouraging and irritating litany  …  we did arrive in the end at the Lindengracht market and that was not a happy ending. I could have known it, the gentrification of the Jordaan neighborhood have downgraded the variety of foodstuff and upgraded the prices. It did not compete in any way with our regular trip to the Albert Cuyp Market in the 19th century neighborhood of  De Pijp. “It looks like a market, but it is only a visual suggestion of it” was my friend’s comment.

On our way back – this time evading the Red Light district – I pondered over the question whether there is any limit to which extend a town can be consumed? What it is that needs to be done to alert people about the negative effects of oversized tourism. A comparative study of mass tourism might be an idea. Paris, Rome and London certainly are not a model because they are much bigger in size and city layout than Amsterdam.  Venezia, Firenze  are smaller but have a much more cultural oriented clientèle. The Amsterdam city authorities are far from even envisaging such a studious exercise, they may try and shift away the focus from sex and drugs to culture (there are many reports about that), but whatever their fancy, growth of the number of tourists is their uncontested prime policy. Debating tourist policy is anyhow a very unpopular subject with many of my fellow citizens. There are those who do not care because they do not live in the city center or are fortunate enough to find themselves in some of the non-tourists corners. Next comes the economic argument, that it brings a lot of necessary income for the town.  As I do not sell beer or drugs and do not own a hotel or restaurant I can see very little direct profit coming my way and indirectly I only notice the rising of municipal taxes over the years as I am supposed to live on what is called a  A-locations and taxes are determined by real-estate market value. Nobody has seen it fit yet to study the nuisance of the tourist and party-industry in the inner town and translated that in a tax reduction equal to the level of suffering inflicted on the inhabitants. Is it unacceptable egoism that makes me wish to exclude all those suburbia prisoners that are craving for a real city experience and buy a temporal escape ticket to Amsterdam?

"Hands of my town" (blijf van mijn stad af) somewhere near the Jordaan on our walk I saw a poster with this text

“Hands of my town” (blijf van mijn stad af) somewhere near the Jordaan during our walk I saw a poster with this slogan and I thought at first “Ah! these are people which are fed up also with the down side of the leisure industry.” WRONG! At home I searched for their web site and soon discovered that this is a local pressure group that wants less limitations on terraces, red light district, and other rules regulating inner city life. They are the organizers of a recent ‘drink inn’ to protest against a new local rule that forbids people on terraces to gather and drink while standing (an odd rule that has some rationale in exceptional cases where a whole street will be filled with a drinking crowd). They plan to hold a city referendum turning back all kind of regulations they see as limiting their freedom. Little can be read in their manifesto about neighbors who need some sort of rest, some sort of subdued city silence and one wonders where all the signatories of their petition are living. Certainly not straight above a popular terrace frequented by a “freedom loving” crowd, is my guess. When you read Dutch you may enjoy their argumentation that sounds similar to the good old VOC time rethoric of our prime-minister: “Amsterdam, once the center of the world. Where Rembrandt harvested his fame, Michiel de Ruyter (a Dutch admiral) began his voyages, the great philosophers Descartes and Spinoza wrote their most important works…” Well let me stop here, enough nonsense as De Ruyter was mainly fighting wars and was not a discoverer, which is suggested, Descartes was traveling a lot and only spent two years in Amsterdam, and Spinoza had to flee Amsterdam after conflict with religious and city authorities, doing his writing in Rijnsburg, Voorburg and The Hague. What to think about the concluding paragraph on the city of Amsterdam: “A fantastic place where especially freedom of the way of life and enterprise is signed on its banner for centuries” (Een fantastische plek waar juist vrijheid in leven en ondernemen al eeuwen lang hoog in het vaandel staat). The relativity of the notion of freedom must have escaped this bunch of happy hour drinkers, who direct most of their person oriented anger at the head of the inner city council. Click the picture to have a look at their web site.

Is there some hope in recent developments of  Dutch cities next to the Belgian border, that have closed all coffeeshops and organized even a kind of razzias against cross-border drug tourism? No, in spite of all my observations and negative appreciation of the Amsterdam drug tourist scene, I dislike this abrupt and oppressive option. Like the homosexual emancipation there has also been an emancipation of the drug user, from a persecuted criminal to a tolerated recreational consumer. The liberating mind expanding aspects of soft drugs as formulated by idealists of the sixties may have long faded away and turned into hard core business, but the basic assumptions remains valid: to be master of one’s own mind and body and decide by one’s own reasoning instead of external coercion.

There are many options and levels of steering, controlling, and arguing which could bring the transborder soft drug users and the international leisure industry back to acceptable proportions and some sort of balance with the social environment they share with others. When only those who are profiting have a say, when authorities are deaf for the complaints of their citizens and turn a blind eye on the degrading effects of mass tourism, one has to wait for the occurence of some sort of tragic incident before the extravaganza of oversized tourism, of Klompenmania, will be countered.


Maybe we should replicate Amsterdam a few times and post it on each continent in the appropriate theme park. A pioneering exercise has already be done in Japan, Nagasaki with the Dutch Theme Park Huis ten Bosch, which has its canals, cosy European alleys and a detailed replica of the Central Station in Amsterdam (this by the way is the second time that this building has been replicated in Japan, Tokyo Central Station

Maybe we should replicate Amsterdam a few times and post it on each continent in an appropriate theme park. A pioneering exercise has already be done in Japan, Nagasaki with the Dutch Theme Park Huis ten Bosch, which has its canals, cosy European alleys and a detailed replica of the Central Station in Amsterdam (*****)

Maybe it is time for the ’emancipation’ of  city dwellers, recognizing their  “equal rights” on the use of the city, not treating them anymore as Disney actors in their own town, appreciating them for their living knowledge of their house, their street, their neighborhood, their city. The first step toward a city dwellers emancipation is the recognition that injustice has been done, that it is time for measuring tourism, to fit it to the existing scale of a city and not the other way around.


The association in the article with Robert Jasper Grootveld and his discourse on ‘droog’ and ‘drugs’ may seem somehow beside the point  for those who have not witnessed the rise of  the recreational drug tourism in Amsterdam from the early sixties onward. So I feel a need to explain why it is essential for me. Grootveld has played an important dual role in the history of Amsterdam as a soft drug tourist center, both as one of the first street campaigner against the smoking of tobacco and the dangers of cancer, and as a propagator of the smoking of marihuana, instead. Tobacco was for him not only a health danger, but also an example of of consumer manipulation. He aimed his playful actions at first against the big tobacco industries and their psychological tricks – their “hidden persuaders” – that lured people into satisfying needs constructed by the advertisement industry. His utmost primitive duplicated magazine “De Hippe Zweter” was pointing to the book “Hidden persuaders” By Vance Packard (1957). His actions – an odd mix of dadaism and ‘urban shamanism’ – were aimed at “the liberation of the addicted consumer of tomorrow.”  Grootveld’s actions fell in fertile ground. The Amsterdam scene of the sixties was a constant turmoil in which dissidents from the artistic, political and esoteric realms mixed. The people involved came from different backgrounds but still had something strongly in common: egalitarian and communal principles. This  has laid the basis for all kinds of social movements that – over the years – freed Dutch society from its authoritarian straightjacket.  It is unfortunate  that by now this heritage  has been spoiled and the  former liberating principles only remain as an “imago”. Grootveld’s vision of  1962, a “Magic Amsterdam” as a center of the “Western asphalt jungle”, was already taken over by KLM and the Dutch Tourist Agency (VVV) in the mid sixties and started the influx of beatniks and hippies and  other ‘sleeping-bag-tourists’. Only an echo of it rings in the 21st century advertisement agency slogan “I Am Amsterdam” commissioned by the municipality, a faked tourist industry imago that is eagerly consumed by a new generation of  ‘addicted city hopping  consumers’.


This photograph by Cor Jaring (****) is from 1971 and shows the boat ‘De Witte Raaf’ (the White Raven) moored straight opposite the local Amsterdam police station of Kattenburg, selling marihuana plants, for one guilder each. We see Kees Hoekert at the left and on the right (with a spade and ‘klompen’) Robert Jasper Grootveld. It is a playful subversive enterprise under the name “Lowland Weed Company.” At that time someone had studied the Dutch anti-opium law and had discovered that it banned only explicitly the dried leaves of this plant. Growing plants were not subject to this law and it is through this loophole in the jurisdiction that the wide  use of  this soft-drug and the soft drug tolerance policy of Dutch authorities came into existence. Grootveld who had been active as an anti-smoke-magician fighting the big Tobacco industry in his own unique ways (because of cancer danger of regular cigarets) had been using and propagating marihuana (instead) from early on. It is at the end of the sixties and the very beginning of the seventies, with the influx of hippies and other young people traveling around cheaply by hitchhiking, that a new form of tourism started to develop in Amsterdam. At first the young people often slept outdoors on the steps of the National Monument at the Dam Square and in the Vondelpark. Outdoor sleeping was soon regulated by limiting the permitted areas and providing cheap accommodation called ‘sleep-inns’, a kind of hip youth hostels, that often provide some cultural program at the side. Youth clubs came into existence, some of them squatted at first but soon legalized, others initiated by the city government who tried to get the youngsters of the street by offering them music and dancing halls. Local cannabis production (nederwiet) was sold in small quantities in these venues. The whole multi-million  recreational drug industry originates in this chain of sub-cultural events.

Almost four decades lay between the “Lowland Weed Comapny” of Kees Hoekert, Robert Jasper Grootveld and others, run from a crummy houseboat, a little bit offside the town center,  and new cannabis businessmen like Arjan Roskam and Olaf van Tulder. The businessmen own  a chain of  enterprises with different outlets: coffeeshops, a clothing and accessory line and luxurious rental apartments in the town center (several coffeeshop owners have started to diversify their businesses, in case the tolerance policy will change). There is a Youtube movie of the opening ceremony of their sumptuous coffeeshop at the Haarlemmerstraat (opposite the historical building of the Dutch West Indian Company). First speaker is August  de Loor, a former street-corner worker helping hard-drug-addicts for decades, now presented in the movie as a “Drugsexpert”, his speech is about the legal front door for the customers, the half legal shady back door where the drugs come in and the threat of a possible change in the liberal soft drug policy of the government. The proud owners explain the decorations in the different rooms of their new establishment, including their own depiction in Delft Blue tiles, dressed up  as “King of Cannabis” and “Lieutenant Admiral of  Greenhouse.”

In january this year a new coffeeshop (from the Greenhouse chain) has opened in the Haarlemmerstraat, where the owners have chosen to display themselves on the walls in colonial settings in newly made ’Delft Blue’ tile tableaus. The shop owners and managers can be seen on deck of a 17th century sailing ships. A banner text is partly visible and seems to read: “…those who have the history … will shape … the future.” In a Youtube video owner Arjan Gorter speaks about “the inspirational history of Amsterdam in the Golden Age” which has been brought back in the interior. It is as if I hear Prime Minister Balkenende speak similar words, about a national past that never existed.


(*) The two KLM posters that have been fused in the left hand part of the Klompenmania collage can be found on the web site of  the “Urban Nebula” study group. The site has some flash animation installed which does not allow me to make a precise link, you have to search the checkerboard of poster details to find your way.
(**) Warmoesstraat pictures by “urbandiscount” posted on
(***) “Some guys and a Sexshop on the Warmoesstraat, reflected in a puddle in Amsterdam”, artistic photographs of Amsterdam reflexions in rain puddles  by “AmsterS@m – The Wicked Reflectah’s photostream” posted on
Web site of photographer of Cor Jaring, a must for anyone interested in Amsterdam history  as seen form the margin.
(*****) The
website of Huis ten Bosch Nagasaki can be found here.
This by the way is the second time that this building (Amsterdam central Station) has been replicated in Japan, Tokyo Central Station, dating from 1914 is somewhat freely modeled by the Japanese architect Tatsuno Kingo after the creation of P.J.H. Cuypers from 1889, though ther are archiecture historians who deny it; I personally know both station well and must say that I was struck by their ananlogies from the first moment I entered the Tokyo version.

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A series of messages of  a friend (François Laureys) on the social messaging system of FaceBook community who keeps active contacts in West Africa alerted me to extra ordinary heavy rains and floodings in Burkino Fasso and other countries in the region. I had not seen any covering of this disaster on national Dutch television, and maybe missed  it on BBC news, anyhow us Europeans are not “flooded” with African news anyhow. It can be that the editors in command of our daily supply of misery are careful about the possible ‘disaster fatigue’ of their audience, but when a local disaster occurs in the low countries we can be sure that the flooded camping outside the village of Hoeksewaard – however minor – will get full attention. A recent example was the so called  ‘Weeralarm’ (weather alarm) of our national meteorological institute KNMI because a combined storm and heavy rains were expected on August 20, 2009. Luckily the “planned” storm did not come and the heavy rains failed to materialize, so many complaints did get in form organizers of the compulsive and commercial late summer outdoor festivals, that were either cancelled or delayed. Before, such nation wide offical alarms, everybody accepted the vicissitude of the weather, but now the eager business minds must have started to think up possible damage claim schemes. The national weather institute KNMI was quick to react and has scaled down their ‘televisionized’ national alarms. Anybody with a computer in this country – my good guess is that there are even more computers than inhabitants in the Netherlands – has instant access to the continuous weather radar and its efficient didactic visualizations so a greengrocer with an outside market stall can check the radar on his iphone and take the needed measures right in time. Those are the disasters of luxury that befall us here in Europe.

Left the image of the wetaher alarm day that produced some nuissance (or splendour if you want) but was in the end a minor wetaher event and at the right the weather radar image at the moment of writing this text. Click picture for full size view.

Left the image of the weather alarm day that produced some nuissance (or splendour if you want) but was in the end a minor event and at the right the weather radar image at the moment of writing this text. Click picture for full size view.

The Facebook messages from François about Burkino Fasso where illustrated with local television coverage that has been posted in a copy on Youtube, this is just one example … there are many more videos that show the disaster. A whole series can be found  on Youtube as posted by ‘toussiana’ and also François has posted a series of still pictures on the French web site  L’Atellier de média.

The images of the inundated town of Ouaga kept appearing in my mind as there was what we Dutch call “heavy rainfall” this morning (I lived for a while in the real tropics so I know that real prolonged heavy rains do not occur in the Netherlands). At breakfeast my girlfriend mentioned the possible impact of “El Niño” and when I checked this issue, I bumped into this news item in the Guardian, stating:

Climate scientists have warned of wild weather in the year ahead as the start of the global “El Niño” climate phenomenon exacerbates the impacts of global warming. As well as droughts, floods and other extreme events, the next few years are also likely to be the hottest on record, scientists say.

Other images popped up during my internet search, mostly in British sources (so they do care a bit, may it be as part of their colonial legacy). And as said, in the article of the climate scientists, not just flooding, but also drought appeared to be an issue for the African continent, almost at the same latitude and time. Both West and East Africa are effected by the same major climate phenomenon. Emblematic pictures, very recently published came on my screen and merged in my mind. Next step was my routine check of  ReliefWeb (serving the information needs of the human relief community) an initiative of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA, exists since f1996). Within seconds I found the maps that document both recent African disasters: flood  and drought. So what was combined in my mind I have merged in one tableau picture…

A clickable documented versions will be made in the coming days, but I like to post it in its actual state now already. Click picture for full size view

A clickable documented version will be made in the coming days, but I like to post it in its actual state now already. Click picture for full size view.

As long as the clickable version (I intend to make) is not ready these are the four sources:
– West Africa floods picture from a BBC web site: “Many homeless in Burkina deluge”
– Idem a map  from ReliefWeb in PDF format: “West Africa – Floods location (as of 01 Sep 2009)”
– East Africa drought picture from an article in The Guardian by John Vidal: “Climate change is here, it is a reality’ As one devastating drought follows another, the future is bleak for millions in east Africa.”
– Idem a map from ReliefWeb: “Drought early warning stages in Kenya, July 2009” (in PNG picture format)

I keep wondering whether the satellite instant weather maps can be  seen at least by some people in the effected African regions (though I read that most of the infrastructure of urban areas in Burkino Fasso have been flooded as well). Have there been official warnings and alarms? Could some of the effects of these natural disasters have been lessened if ther would have been some sort of  efficient communication of information? Do I see things biased, as too primitive over there?  In these parts of Africa the ownership, or even just access to a computer, seems to be limited and bandwidth and processing speed of the computers used may be insufficient to display such heavy data streams. National or regional weather institutes do they have these public accessible climate information systems? Many question I have to find an answer for. NASA Earht Observatory certainly has all the information and I could find quickly some recent visualizations of the flooding of Burkino Fasso and neighbouring Sahel countries. I will post them just here, and as the sun breaks through in Amsterdam and it is saturday afternoon, it is high time to go and buy that fish for dinner… and I can do very little with my compassion with the victims of these natural disasters. Maybe it is good to  try to stir Dutch media to give some coverage to this… but for the rest nothing more to do as a far away  urban European for the moment.

In late August and early September 2009, widespread flooding occurred throughout western north Africa along the western expanse of the Sahel. By early September, heavy rains and resulting floods killed five people and left 150,000 more homeless in Burkina Faso, The New York Times reported. In Niger, Burkina Faso’s northeastern neighbor, four days of intense rain damaged some 3,500 homes, took out electrical power lines, and caused livestock and crop losses, ReliefWeb reported.

NASA caption: "In late August and early September 2009, widespread flooding occurred throughout western north Africa along the western expanse of the Sahel. By early September, heavy rains and resulting floods killed five people and left 150,000 more homeless in Burkina Faso, The New York Times reported. In Niger, Burkina Faso’s northeastern neighbor, four days of intense rain damaged some 3,500 homes, took out electrical power lines, and caused livestock and crop losses, ReliefWebreported." Technicaal description by NASA: "The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terrasatellite captured these images of Burkina Faso. The top image is from September 3, 2009, and the bottom image is from August 28, 2009. Both images use a combination of infrared and visible light to increase the contrast between water and land. Vegetation appears bright green, clouds appear bright turquoise, and water appears electric blue. Swelling along the Nakambé River is apparent in the image from September 3. In the image from August 28, the same water channel is barely discernible. To the north, the riverbed appears nearly white, but this may result from sunglint—sunlight bouncing off the water’s surface and into the satellite sensor."Click picture for full size view.

The source page for the NASA picture of the Burkino Fasso floods can be found here….

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An illness needs to be discovered and get a name first to be cured … yesterday I had to confront again a social malady and gave it a name: KAFKAPHONE

A preliminary diagram I made today after spending over one hour on the telephone trying to contact the firm that had place a new gas meter in my house without checking if it worked

A preliminary diagram I made today after spending over one hour on the telephone trying to contact the firm that had placed a new gas meter in my house without checking if it worked properly (and it did not). I do not have the time to make a complete diagram of the multiple-choice menu structure of the telephone system of my energy provider NUON (it must have more than 20 options) and other enterprises which have some relation to my gasmeter. What I have depicted here is just one of many stages of inquiry with four enterprises/institutions that were needed before I had a real person who understood my real problem and managed to arrange the right thing to allow me I to cook again. Several times the end point of yet another telephone answering system 'bifurcation' was another help number, or just a spoken message + the announcement "you will now be disconnected". The blood pressure graph below, is still imaginary, but I could picture a serious research method which would use such an objectified ways to measure the growing anger one experiences while navigating spoken messages larded by muzak style pause music and interwoven with announcements like "just be patient, one moment more..." Who knows there may be some USB connector blood pressure meter on the market that could be connected to my wrist while I am on phone to help creating such a visualization ... Click image for full size view.

Automated telephone menu/choice systems must be one of the most hated renewals of the last decade in the realm of customers or citizens and the way they are forced to communicate with the institutions that claim to exist on their behalf. I have tried to find analytic researches on the subject but failed to do so (I will be grateful for any hint). The variety of reasons one can have to call for a certain inquiry any kind of service or institution is theoretically endless. The repetitive character of certain questions certainly does exist and to a certain extant some preliminary sifting and redirecting of incoming calls is needed and can be beneficial to both customer and provider, but once the number of options channelled into one central telephone number goes beyond a total of 5 or 6 options, there is left only a customer that is subjugated to the economy, arrogance or negligence of information and service providers (the Dutch energy firm NUON has a total of 25 spoken options in 5 sub-layers with general messages in the opening menu and for each of the 5 sub-levels, bringing the total  messages to 33; there could be even more layers but researching that, goes beyond my actual research energy potential at this moment).

I am not a mathematician but still familiar with programming routines and the building of web sites and the design of navigating tools and principles, a field of activity known as ‘interaction design’. The ideal, rule of thumb, is three steps to get there and one step to get back to where you were before  or the beginning. This can be achieved easily with a visual interface, whereby they agile eye  scans a page like a map or landscape and quickly discovers visual signposts leading the way. Spoken language as an interface is not at all of the same order and speed. One has to wait till someone has finished speaking a sentence. One has to try and memorize the different options to make – after the summing up – a meaningful decision. It is not for nothing that restaurants tend to have a menu card plus a waiter to facilitate the needed decision process. A rattling waiter listing the offers of the day – that are not on the card – just in speech, knows that he may need to repeat what is on offer several times before a customer is comfortable enough to decide.

Imagine a list of possible questions in the head of a customer and the idiosyncratic logic each one of us has about the order of things and how things can be named and arranged. Imagine this customer, telephoning to a specific service, who is going to be confronted with a series of list by a speech computer and is asked to react to this list by choosing one of the items by pressing one of the telephone number buttons offered as a concordance for a specific option at a specific level. After having taken the first question-level barrier, try to understand how it feels, to be once more confronted by yet another speech computer list and another series of choices, using the same numbers. Already at level two the customer does not feel anymore a honored “client”, but becomes a subjugated pawn, instead. It often gets worse, one may discover that the chosen level x or y is not the right level and one has to go back to the very beginning, try once more and try even harder not to make mistakes because of irritation. Some people try to jump the line and start pressing a choice number on their telephone before the whole list has been spoken, but not all automatized systems react favorably to this and also presented choice lists have become more easily adaptable by  desk-managers of enterprises and tend to change much more frequent, hence… one runs a risk to end up in a wrong ally of the system. Still, apart from these common observations, there are always more customer questions than automated options in the pre-configured lists of such telephone-service-systems. Most telephone answer systems-designers know that people hate their system and they would opt for any choice whereby a real person, through a not listed question, can be reached. So the practice is to hide the “other” option somewhere down in a sub-menu, to avoid people to use a short-cut to what they actually want, a thinking human that answers the phone. There is also a danger in such non-human-response systems and one wonders if ever statistical data has been gathered to show where and how it can go wrong when we are forced to communicate first with a stupid machine routine before an intelligent being is able to react to an emergency.

Structure of multiple choice telephone system of NUON Netherland: 5 options at lthe first level and 20 options at the sub-levels (2009/08/28)

Multiple choice matrix of the NUON energy company answering system in the Netherlands. 5 options at the first level and 20 options at the sub-levels (2009/08/28). The same numbers 0-5 on a customer's telephone pad can have different meanings depending on which level one has entered, something confusing for many people, as people have little problem with naming 25 different objects, but when 25 objects are represented by only 6 numbers (0-5) as shown in the example above , most people are getting mixed up.

What is the probability rating of a satisfactory answer of  a provider of public services to a question of a customer? What is the frequency of alignment between the mind of a customer and the pre-configured matrix of an automated telephone system? How much mismatch will be produced between need and provision? The kafkaphone-workers themselves will have a story to tell here. They do have to bear in the first place – literary – the blunt  for the programmed decline of our social realm. They will get a whole heap op bad vibes during their working day. The desk-managers that decide on distribution and navigation of questions and answers have shielded off themselves from this anger, they remain – like officers at the front – in the rear-guard. The real decision makers may not even be aware of the realities of the policy dictates wrought by them. For them it is just to economize, everybody does it nowadays… and now and then they commission an advertisement agency to make some nice flyers with pictures of actors posing like smiling and helpful personnel, send around to all their customers by post and also posted on the firm’s web site.

We, the customers, can not anymore directly ask to be called back, let alone to either friendly ask or to summon the switchboard of an enterprise or organization to connect us to the right person in charge. The somehow democratic traditional medium of the telephone – “we will put you through, one moment please!” – dwindles under the growing  kafkaization of automated telephone inquiry systems. Kafka, because we speak to ‘kafkaphonists’ who are mostly anonymous functionaries with no decision power at all in a system that is kept hidden from us while we are send around through a telephone labyrinth in our vainly quests.

It is time to get rid of these primitive and de-humanizing communications systems. There is a need for employment of knowledgeable functionaries who can combine the wonders of electronic communication with the pleasure of a human voice and a minimal understanding of  human needs at the other end of the line. These reborn telephonist diplomats of the 21. century can be home workers linked by the internet to all necessary information, having smart systems for quickly checking with the right persons in charge, having a telephonic impromptu consultation meeting on a special case to come up with quick results for a client, using SKYPE, mobile phones transfer of documents and chat, whatever comes handy. This is in the end a real profitable economic way to engage happy customers and an open democratic way to deal with citizens needs and demands.

it is time for reborn telephone-diplomats of the 21. century to re-humanize communication

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Click the image for the link to the scroll; you may want to download & install the OPERA browser first

In 2005 I made this scroll  for an exhibition in Lisboa on graphic design curated by Max Bruinsma and financed by the Premsela Foundation. At that time – as usual – it was difficult to raise some funds for all the work that had to be done and the hardware and software that came with it. At the opening the scroll was only partly working and it took a few months more to have it completely finished. The scroll is just the first of a series of seven scrolls, but alas till now I did not find somebody who would finance the two months of dedicated work and concentration that is needed to make the second visual narrative on visual language… The first version though has been shown on two occasions. Once in 2006 in a printed version (17 meter long) in the Mediamatic Gallery Amsterdam, and from autumn 2007 till 2009 it has been shown in a touch screen version in the Museum of Communication in The Hague. Today I remembered I still have a web-version somehow hidden away, so let’s make a more public through this blog. A few years back most internet connections were too slow and only a few people would have a computer screen that is big enough to fit the whole scroll frame (you need minimal 1280 x 1024 pixels, a 19 inch monitor).
All that has changed and it would be nice when this work will find a new public. The work is best viewed in the not so common web browser Opera (which is a free download, both for Windows and Mac). Opera is one of the few web browser that gives you a full screen mode for any web page (so when you have a 19 inch monitor you need to choose that option, otherwise you will miss part of the pictorial material and also the navigator bar that pops up and disappears at the bottom). You can drag the blue rectangle of the condensed scroll at the bottom to move the scroll, or click anywhere in that bar to jump to any position. Clicking on any detail of the scroll will give you an information overlay. It should be quiet intuitive. Last thanks again to Joachim Rotteveel who worked with me on the graphic interface for this scroll and did make it absolutely stable… The information pop ups may be a bit slow, that depends on the speed of your connection and your computer. After all this has been designed as museum installation and not for the web, only the web gets almost fast enough now to handle this…

NB This presentation is build using ‘flash’ which is an Adobe plug-in which has been depreciated by the main web browsers… still it works when a small free available piece of software is installed locally. Web browsers are supposed to pop up a message telling the user to do so and give the link for downloading the ‘plug-in’.

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