Saturday, April 15, 2000

At 7:00 am, our (absent for the weekend) neighbor's alarm clock went off, and continued to beep loudly for 45 minutes. I couldn't figure out which circuit breaker was for his room, so we can only hope that he gets back tomorrow and we only have to endure one more morning of this--on a morning when we have to get up early anyway so that I can catch my train to München.

We took the bus into town on the remote chance that a few people would fail to show up for the excursion to the Palais Het Loo and Kröller-Müller Museum. While we waited, up drove a street organ that was, a hundred years ago, what you had play music for your street parties instead of a live band. They are still rather attached to them in the Netherlands.

We got lucky, which means that I have more work to do on the train on the way to München. The palace was nice; it was not a palace when it was constructed (the Netherlands was a republic and had no royalty at the time, though its constructors later became King and Queen of England, William and Mary) and it is rather like an English country house or manor, except that the gardens have been restored in Dutch baroque style (Napoleon's brother Louis had converted them to English landscape gardens when he was in residence for a few years).

One of the interesting things they do in the Netherlands is mow their trees the way we mow grass, cutting them off at 4-8 feet every few years. I find it quite disturbing, but then I've said for a long time that this need for perfectly uniform lawns in the US is a form of national psycosis, so never mind me. However, besides mowing their trees, they appear to train them fanatically. All over Utrecht, you can see trees trained into different shapes, with branches growing on bamboo and lath trellises. This is not a new thing, and there appears in some cases to be good reason for it. Fruit trees are trained to grow next to brick walls facing south so that they are resistant to frost and can survive this northern climate.

One of our favorite parts of the grounds was the restoration of Queen Mary's arbor. We need to go back when the leaves are out to see it in its full glory. Of course, there is rarely enough sun in the Netherlands to want to hide from in an arbor, but it is still one of the best arbors we have ever seen. The gardens were formal, balanced, and peaceful.

Unfortunately, our entire tour through the gardens was very wet, as it rained on and off today, and most heavily while we were touring the gardens. Once we got inside, the rain let off, and only started again halfway down the path between the beech trees (I think) to the bus.

When we got to the museum, the weather looked like improving, so we opted to take the inside tour first and the outside tour at the end of the day. On the last tour of the day, we triumphantly walked out into the sun, and ten minutes later it started to rain again. At least I discovered today that my rain coat does fit over my leather jacket...

On the way into the museum, we saw a very interesting pattern in the path. The Dutch appear to dislike poured concrete and asphalt for foot and bicycle paths, and even use brick for as many automobile roadways as they can manage. I don't know if it is a program to create employment, a love of order, or both. But when I saw this mixture of ironwork and stone, I was entranced.

The museum was very much worthwhile. I learned for the first time about Theo van Doesburg, artist-writer-architect. His house designs in the 20s and 30s influenced the best of 1950's design. His use of space was awe-inspiring. We will be able to see more of his work at the Centraal Museum Utrecht, very conveniently. We also saw André Volten's very interesting metal sculpture (mostly brass but also this stainless steel (I think) outside by the entrance), and of course the second-largest collection of Van Gogh (pronounced, in his native Dutch, "khohkh", where "kh" is a guttural sound like clearing your throat) and mean to go back to the museum before we return to the US.

After we returned to Utrecht, we had Mexican food for supper at a restaurant in the Oude Gracht (old canal). I say "in" because you had to go down steps to water level to get to the restaurant; the water level is a full story below street level and then some. I must take a picture of that some time.