Field Trip

On Friday we went to Den Haag (The Hague) for action-packed visits to the Binnenhof (Parliament), Mauritshuis Museum, and the Peace Palace.

The itinerary seemed heavy, and frankly, it was. After a week of homework and classes and errands, a field trip was both a welcome distraction and a daunting task. Like every good fourth grade class, we packed our own lunches and were more or less in our seats on the bus by 8:45AM. We zombies crashed on impact into window seats until we arrived an hour later, apparently late for our guided tour.

The wind and rain didn't help matters much, but the experience made me really appreciate my raincoat, which added more pockets to my ensemble and made it unnecessary to use the umbrella that probably would have blown away anyway.

For those interested, details of each tour follow below. I don't blame you if you have no interest, but I'm sure my mother appreciates it.

The Binnenhof houses the Dutch Parliament and is, according to every single document and Web site I have read on the subject, the "political center of the Netherlands."

We first walked into the Hall of Knights, the room in which Queen Beatrix reads the Parliamentary agenda every September. I was disappointed that, as cool as it is, this was the only part of the old building open to the tour, but instantly gratified by the modern architecture so bluntly and cohesively attached to the original building.

Our DLC seminar instructor, Rutger (here's a Dutch lesson: Try rolling the 'r' and pronouncing the 'g' with the throaty 'h' with which one might say 'chutzpah'), told me that the modern expansion features purposefully transparent walls around the chamber corridors to symbolize the transparent functions of government. I think that's a great idea. The execution in design is perhaps less effective, namely because the chamber corridors have nothing to do with what actually happens in Parliament, but in principle it appears to represent what good architecture is supposed to do: meld form and function in an aesthetically innovative and meaningful way. But I am not an architectural expert, at all.

The second chamber itself (Tweede Kamer in Dutch) was much smaller than it seems on television, and I couldn't help but notice the striking difference in decor from perhaps more traditional chambers. The room is rather austere in a clean-cut sort of way, but it's still rather '90s and the entire wall that Parliament and the press face is composed of several vertical and off-set panels featuring a boring modern art installation commissioned by the Dutch government during construction. The boldly-colored swirly things are supposed to "evoke motion, suggesting the effective pace of government." Not really much more to say about that.

Mauritshuis Museum:

Next was the Mauritshuis Museum, located conveniently just outside the Binnenhof grounds. We all swiped our fancy Museumkaarts for cheap admission and immediately noticed the swarm of people. The coat check was full, so the staff let us use a classroom for elementary school field trips to put down our coats and get organized. Since 30 don't fit very well in small rooms of art-- empty or crowded-- we split. Half started with the exhibition, our half started with the permanent collection.

I'll be honest, 17th century art is not really my thing. There are elements I can academically appreciate, but it isn't generally the art that I would want to own. That said, the 17th century was the Dutch golden age of art, and everyone has to go see Rembrandt blah blah-- they had his most bestest works there, either on loan or as part of their permanent collection, and in the exhibition was one on loan from the Queen of England herself, who claims it is her favorite piece of art in the Royal collection.

They also had Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, which is always a crowd pleaser, and Potter's The Bull, which was one of my favorites.

I may have said this already, but I generally dislike museums. Maybe I'm just a snob, but I have yet to find an excellently curated one or one that is sufficiently vacant or spacious enough to accommodate its visitors. The difference between a museum and an art book is being able to experience the art. I could go on for years recalling Benjamin and Heidegger on similar points, but the fact of the matter is that art books reproduce the art fairly effectively. The only work I've seen so far that disputes this point is Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, where in the deteriorating canvas you can see where Rembrandt painted over what were once hats on two men. I can't see those shadows in a print.

I find the art book far preferable to vast crowds with murmuring audio tapes in several languages and the inevitable old man standing front and center directly in front of a large painting, so immersed in his audio tape that even the security guards can't capture his attention.

In any case, we covered enough ground in our little pack of guided students to sufficiently annoy most of the other visitors.

Peace Palace:

If anything has made me start thinking about law school again, this is it. They won't let you take pictures inside, hence the lame photograph, but it's beautiful. The Peace Palace is just a really big, uh, palace, where several organizations "rent" rooms or courts for settling disputes or evaluating other cases, etc. The UN meets there, the International Court of Justice meets there, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, among others.

The tour wasn't very long considering the sheer depth of ornate detail in every square inch of the palace. We sat in various courtrooms and meeting rooms-- rooms where corporations spend billions of dollars to keep their financial or legal distress behind closed doors, rooms where the United Nations settles border disputes between states-- and I couldn't shake this affect of ... importance. Everything felt so important. No statue is arbitrary (they are all diplomatic and symbolic gifts from Palace member states), no stained-glass window design is "just pretty." Every single piece of art or decor or furniture has a connection to the Palace and a history far exceeding the grandeur of those who use the Palace.

Oh, and we're not supposed to touch the grass. It was a gift.


KC said...

and she does ......

Christine said...

i love vermeer!

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