Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Off to Amsterdam and Paris

Heathrow, March 23

Vancouver to Heathrow sharing my corner of the AC flying canoe with a nice Norwegian herring fisherman. Really! After the first two hours I couldn't tell he fished at all.

The Norwegians have discovered Revelstoke as a ski haven. Granted the mountain is sublime and the snow light and fluffy but I suspect the main attraction is the price. These young Nordic gods can descend on the village, ski the mountains for a week, and fly home for the price of a cup of coffee in Oslo.

After arriving and making my way from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 I found myself craving a plate of smoked herring. Odd as I normally don't like smoked fish. Luckily there's just enough time in Heathrow to sample the ale list at The Tin Goose. I've started with a pint of London Pride; it has a fruity after taste.

The place is full of pale Irish faces wearing rugby union green shirts and sporting some massive hangovers from Ireland's defeat of the Welsh for the Six Nations cup. Normally the Irish accent is a lilting thing of beauty but these voices are ruined wrecks from 80 minutes of singing and god knows how many hours of drinking. I share a pint of Guinness with a few before drifting off to make my connections to Amsterdam.

This of course is not a usual kayaking trip. Normally if I'm crossing the Atlantic I'm heading for the Irish Sea but this time the destination is not adventure but romance. I'm “hoookiing” up with my beautiful wife in Amsterdam for a few days then it's down to Paris where we honeymooned 23 years ago. I may find time to check out kayaking on the Seine – not likely.

Wednesday March 24

It's now early Wednesday morning and my beautiful wife is upstairs fast asleep. It's raining hard in Amsterdam. Is there any other way. From my window seat at the Port de Cleve hotel I look across the Estrada at an ancient protestant church. Built in the traditional cross shape the Dutch have managed to squeeze in a house between the balustrades. Very practical.

Yesterday we visited the Vincent van Gogh museum and took in “The Colour's of the Night” show. Obviously Van Gogh was a tortured genius but I had no idea that his entire body of work, about 800 paintings, was created in only ten years.

Van Gogh's legacy is not just the wonderful works of art that he created but through that art he allows us to travel through time. Sit in front of one of his pastoral scenes or better yet the night sky over the City of Rhone and you find yourself transported back in time. His landscapes be they the rural views of Holland or the city scenes of Paris and the various villages he lived in are riveting.

Of course the show is extremely popular. Tourists, locals students and school children under the respectful care of curators vie for viewing space. I enjoy listening in as the curators explain this or that aspect of various works. Of course I cannot comprehend a word, but it's a hardly necessary as the passion and respect they convey is universal.

We use an audio headset to help fill in the gaps in our knowledge of Van Gogh. These things are both a blessing and a curse. They educate but I find some of the interpretations just silly. You get a priest like voice, after all they invented interpretive mumble jumble, intoning the listener to; “Look at how Van Gogh has caste the mans face in light and shadow to depict the mans melancholy, regret and sadness of his character.” Well how do you know! Maybe he's just lost a hundred guilders betting on the wrong cards. I much prefer it when the curators stick to the facts and leave the impressions and interpretations to the viewer.

The crowds in the museum can be diverting yet there are roses amongst the brambles. A young woman just on the cusp of womanhood walks across the room. I only see her face in profile framed by her long brown hair but her poise and grace is electric. Like many Dutch women she is fashionably dressed in high leather boots, black tights and a short flirty skirt. I shamelessly watch as she walks across the gallery. Quickly I look about and find at least a half dozen people watching her, yet she's oblivious. All too soon she disappears around a corner fleetingly, like the sun light on Van Gogh's fields of wheat, she's gone. For a moment I thought I could hear a chuckle and a sigh of appreciation. The old master certainly had and eye for beauty.

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