The trip – and the memories – of a lifetime!

April 21, 2024

My husband Jeff surprised me at our Class of '66 get-together on New Year's Eve by announcing that he was taking me to Amsterdam for our 40th wedding anniversary! We had missed the Amsterdam extension of our 2022 Viking ocean cruise to Scandinavia because Jeff had contracted a light case of COVID and was quarantined for 10 days on the ship. This had been the portion of the trip he was most excited about.

I had been to the Netherlands back in the mid-1960s as part of a trip arranged to meet a group of teenagers for a ceremony in Hoorn, Holland, which is the sister city of our beloved Lewes. The town hall there was used as the design basis for the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes, which is almost an exact replica of that building.

This time I had expressed a desire to see an art exhibit at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam featuring my favorite artist, Frans Hals. I knew this would work on Jeff's mind and he might take me, and he did!

Hals has played a secondary role to the more well-known Dutch artists like Rembrandt. He is treasured only by intellectuals and gallery owners; however, he is now having the last laugh.

Hals lived and painted mostly in Haarlem near Amsterdam; he was born in 1580 and painted almost to the end of his life in 1666, a good long life, especially in those times. Proving that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Also, as I said in another article, it's surprising how many artists in previous centuries lived long and productive lives.

Hals liked to drink and make merry, meandering along the canals of the low country propped up by admiring students and apprentices. He often painted happy, ordinary people such as fishmongers and bar entertainers. He was a master of the quick portrait and a smiling face, which is very hard to do, as a smile can easily become a leer in a painted portrait. Probably, he painted more-formal portraits of well-to-do, middle-class burghers for money, having perhaps 13 children to support from two marriages.

I owe my paintings of the characters that enjoyed Punkin Chunkin and the Oyster Eat to him. I first viewed Hals’ portrait of “Malle Babbe,” an old, chuckling crony with an owl perched on her shoulder, through the glint of a slide projector in the darkness of an art history class in New Mexico in the late 1960s. It inspired me to paint what were, for me, large canvases of interesting people I saw there. One is called "Rogues Gallery," and it was purchased by a doctor who attended to President John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

Our other museum destination in Amsterdam was The Van Gogh Museum. I normally am not a museum aficionado, but these were two of my favorite artists. They must have been, because I toddled along, with Jeff holding my hand like I was a 2-year-old, over what seemed to me like blocks of cobblestone paving.

The Van Gogh Museum is a blue-and-yellow treasure set inside a very contemporary piece of architecture! There are a few paintings from his early days, including "The Potato Eaters," which depicts a kitchen table with people eating a peasant's dinner of coffee and rough-hewn potatoes, a favorite of mine – the painting, not the potatoes!

I purchased a pair of earrings inspired by Van Gogh’s painting of almond orchards. They look like cherry blossom branches. Cash in the form of euros, I must inform you, is not accepted at the museum or almost anywhere else, except maybe restaurants in Amsterdam, or maybe in other cities in Europe these days.

To see these delights and sample the city's specialties of Indonesian food, Edam cheese and gin, one must of course traverse the airports, which are foreboding places since 9/11. Queues of travelers, TSA and a long flight are like crossing the Rubicon. It seems like a proletarian shift has taken root since the days of the 1960s when I dressed up even to fly to college on standby.

People in gray hoodies huddle over flickering devices, and as Jeff said, "It's not how you dress anymore, but what you know." We went to Paris in 2005 to visit our daughter Misty, who was spending a semester at the Sorbonne. I piled all of my jewelry on my person for the flight, and of course triggered the TSA alarms and endured being patted down.

As Jeff also said, "If you dress like a gypsy, you're going to be suspect." I guess I'll always be a gypsy – no matter what the tariff!

  • Pam Bounds is a well-known artist living in Milton who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art. She will be sharing humorous and thoughtful observations about life in Sussex County and beyond.

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