The town that I live in in the Netherlands is called Leiden. The city’s coat of arms looks like this:
The emblem features on buildings and structures all over the city, including streetlights and bollards, as is customary in the Netherlands.
As Leiden has many of the same urban features as Amsterdam does, scenes for TV series and films that are meant to take place in Amsterdam, are often re-enacted in Leiden.
You can imagine that elements such as the ones featured in the pictures above, need to be temporarily replaced with their Amsterdam counterparts before filming begins. For Leideners, this is always kind of painful to watch, as any Dutch city’s fear is to “become Amsterdam”.
Now, to get to the point of this blog…. Amsterdam’s coat of arms looks like this:
In the current composition, it is believed to date back to the 13th century.
When we see the three X’s positioned vertically like that, we all understand we are referencing Amsterdam. It turns out though, that the meaning and origins of these X’s are a bit of a mystery.
Online historians and Amsterdamologists tell me that the three X’s are actually three silver Saint Andrew’s Crosses (which also features quite prominently on the flag of Scotland). And that’s pretty much where the story ends.
Nobody has been able to think up a good explanation as to why the city thought St Andrew, or the cross he was crucified on, were so important that they should pay tribute to him thrice on the city’s emblem.
According to Amsterdam’s own website, there are two other cities in the area that also feature the cross in the same fashion on their coat of arms, which is an interesting fact but still doesn’t really offer any clarity.
The only theory I could find, led back to the coat of arms of a powerful family from the region, van Persijn, that looks like this:
It is possible that this family owned so much real estate in the area (which they apparently did, including in the area around Leiden) that Amsterdam honored them by referencing them in the coat of arms. It’s still hard to believe that somehow we managed to forget all about this fact in the centuries that followed, don’t you think?
Fast-forward to the 21st century where somehow, the term “triple X” has also became intertwined with sexual imagery, prostitution and pornography, which has also just happened to become part of Amsterdam’s identity.
In the past, Black Pete fans were predominantly Dutch children. Now that his position and appearance have come under scrutiny, adults have started rejoining the fanclub and are standing up for him.
If you ask me though, Black Pete’s real friends are the ones that wish him to be removed from the Sinterklaas celebration all together. This blog is dedicated to those people.
Black Pete & Sylvana Simons
Sylvana Simons is one of the most controversial public figures in the Netherlands. Before she became everyone’s favorite punching bag, she was a popular TV host on the Dutch version of MTV. Her unapologetic and relentless anti-Black-Pete-stance is what earned her the number one position on the Netherlands’ unofficial most-hated-figures list.
I dedicated a blog to her about a year and a half ago and some things have changed since then. The biggest change, as far as Ms Simons’ position goes, is that she has decided to focus her energy on local politics, starting in her hometown of Amsterdam.
This move wasn’t fully of her own making, given that no senate seat was granted to her after national elections in 2017. I must admit that I did not vote for her at the time either, all though I did consider it. In the end, I am happy it worked out this way, as this result means she doesn’t come up in hateful memes, harsh opinion columns and racist caricatures as often as before.
“If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” is definitiely a quote that comes to mind when I think of Ms Simons. This lady is pretty much fireproof. I never saw her back down from any discussion, nor did she ever pull her punches. She was a crucial spark and if it wasn’t for her, I doubt we would actually be talking about alternative ways to celebrate Sinterklaas at all.
What we need now though, is someone who can ease those flames down a bit and lead the discussion in a more compassionate way. The fire doesn’t need to die out. It does need to be fanned in a more controlled fashion so that it doesn’t burn down the house.
It’s not fair to Ms Simons to say she wouldn’t be capable of fulfilling such a role. I do believe however that my compatriots would never appreciate her attempts and that therefore there is no useful part for her to play in the debate at this point. She is invited to the afterparty though.
Black Pete & Jerry Afriyie
What Jenny Douwes is for the pro-Pete-movement, Jerry Afriyie is for the anti-Pete-movement. More specifically, he is the face of the protest organization “Kick out Zwarte Piet” and sister organization “Nederland wordt beter”.
Jerry is the son of Ghanian parents and came to the Netherlands at the age of ten. I haven’t decided yet if the fact that he is still seen as an outsider (whereas Sylvana was very much seen as a traitor stabbing us in the back) actually helps him or is getting in his way. When speaking of the Dutch he does always use the first-person plural.
He has explained in interviews how his first memories of the Sinterklaas celebrations were actually purely positive ones.
It was all fun and games, until other kids started calling him Black Pete as an insult. He realized he was actually the butt of the joke and that all was not right in this children’s celebration. He then heard from other people that children sometimes came home crying and asked to be scrubbed “clean” as their black tone was supposedly caused by chimney soot.
As he grew up, he became more vocal about this and has described having heated discussions about the matter in highschool. He ended up joining Nederland wordt beter, which can be translated both as the imperative “Netherlands, be better” and the hopeful “Netherlands shall be better”. According to its own website, the organizations incentive is as follows:
Stichting Nederland Wordt Beter focuses on a future without racism and exclusion. We believe that this can only be achieved by recognising the influence of the history of colonialism and slavery on contemporary society and on all Dutch people. The foundation works towards spreading more knowledge about the consequences of the Dutch history of colonialism and slavery.
Stichting Nederland Wordt Beter organisation is a collective of parents, poets, artists, teachers, students, academics, bloggers, filmmakers, and historians. They are contributing voluntarily to make a better Netherlands.
Stichting Nederland Wordt Beter aims to dissolve itself in 2025. We assume that the following goals will be achieved by then.
To people who say, “but this is what we’ve always done and nobody has ever had a problem with it”, mr Afriyie says that ignorance of the past can be forgiven, but now that we know better we must do better.
He has compared it to someone treading on someone else’s foot without noticing. When the other says “hey, you stepped on my foot and that hurt” you can choose to say “gee, I hadn’t noticed but I’m so sorry I hurt you” or you can proceed to step on it again and then say “If you were standing where I was stepping then you must have been in the way and you are just way to sensitive anyway”.
All though his confrontations with police have led to him being barred from his profession in security management, mr Afriyie will not back down. He insists that he pushes on out of love for the country and not out of disdain for it, as his opponents suggest.
He has said it is normal and understandable that this generation is finding it hard to cope with the idea that what we have been doing all along is hurtful and wrong. He says it’s fine that people blame him for causing unnecessary discomfort.
To that his response is that he is not accountable to this generation, but to the next one…
This morning, while driving back from Friesland to Leiden, I heard one of Nothing but Thieves’ new songs:
The song is called Amsterdam. I don’t think the videoclip was actually shot anywhere near our nation’s capital though… or maybe he left his heart in the Amsterdam in New York state…?
I realized I had heard another song named Amsterdam just a week ago, by the Danish band Nephew:
I was looking into Nephew as they were one of the big names starring on the Roskilde Festival 2018 poster. Amsterdam was obviously one of the first songs I clicked on and I must say I was very pleasantly surprised! I really like their sound and am looking forward to seeing them play @ RF18. All I have to do is brush up on my Danish… :s
Sadly for me, a band that will not be present at Roskilde but is very high on my wanna-see-live-bucketlist, is Coldplay. Did you know thay also have a song called Amsterdam?
Oh! And I just learnt that Imagine Dragons, another fave of mine, also has one!
None of these songs seem to have a lot to do with the city they’re named after.
Want to know more about Amsterdam?
Read about the (slightly cliché) must-sees here, look into a list of free tours here or watch these 14 (very accurate!) YouTube tips below:
My tip: leave Amsterdam at least one day during your stay and visit another city in the Netherlands to get a feel of the non-Disney version of the low lands!
It’s done. We did it. We voted. The world didn’t end. YAY!
Populism – you’re doing it wrong
What I found interesting is that Mark Rutte, our current prime minister said the elections were a victory for our country as a whole and Europe as well because we showed we disagreed with “the wrong type of populism”.
I imagine he considered saying that the Dutchies voted against populism. Period.
But apparently that didn’t sound right to him. Did his media adviser fear journalists would point out his own populist tendencies of late and that he wouldn’t know how to respond? Or was he referring to other parties? Or does it go without saying that all parties are populist and is Geert Wilders just “doing it wrong”? No clue…
Send in the coalition scout!
And now, just a few days after all the votes were counted, the first inquiries will be made about who will form the new Dutch government.
For this phase of the process a so called “informateur” or “verkenner” is appointed, which you could translate to “scout” or “information gatherer”.
This coalition scout (m/f), was appointed by the king or queen, until 2012. It is now a task for the current parliament, choosing someone that is affiliated to a certain party (usually the majority party) and is relatively conflict-free. Hard enough after a political campaign, I can imagine.
The person that was chosen for this task this time around is Edith Schippers, Minister of health under the current government and member of the majority party VVD (both in these elections as the one before).
She will speak to the leaders of all the parties that have won seats in Parliament. Over a dozen different parties, ranging from the holistic ecology party “Partij voor de Dieren” to more extreme ideological parties, both pro-immigrants (DENK) as anti-immigrants (Fvd and PVV).
During the talks the party leaders will make clear what possibilities they see for a new cabinet and what they hope to achieve.
At first glance there doesn’t really seem to be a combination of like-minded parties large enough to form a productive government.
It’s going to be a challenge. But I’m not afraid anymore.
This post is a reaction to daily prompt- acceptance.
Last week was international women’s day. Next week is election day in the Netherlands. Today was the Women’s March in our capital, Amsterdam, as well as in other cities like Nijmegen and Groningen.
I went to the event in Amsterdam, all though I must admit I just barely made it, and was only half out of couch-potato-mode when I caught the train. The two friends I had planned to go with had already cancelled… Periods… go figure…
All though I could dedicate an entire blog purely on the irony of that fact alone, I’ll try to focus on today’s event and how it made me feel.
Let me start off by explaining that I don’t particularly like Amsterdam.
It’s pretty and all, in a big-spender bombastic kind of way. It’s our country’s main tourist attraction for good reason but it lost its spirit in the process. It’s a well known phenomenon, I suppose. The ugly side of tourism: downgrading unique characteristics into bite-size stereotypes, chasing prices of everything up to ridiculous Disneyland levels without improving on the quality of anything…
￼But I was heading to Amsterdam anyhow. The Women’s March was planned to start off on the Dam square, which is near to Amsterdam Central Station, connected by one straight street called the Damrak. And trust me when I tell you; this is the most awful little strip of the city (maybe even the entire country), where everything I dislike about Amsterdam is crammed together in such high levels, that I prefer to avoid it when at all possible.
What I decided to do, was head to another train station and join the march on the final stretch, right before its final round up point: Museumplein, or Museum Square. This is a big green lawn with the impressive Rijksmuseum building on one end and our fancy shmancy concert hall on the other.
Because I was skipping out on about 90% of the actual march, I decided to dedicate my thoughts and the choice of my music to relevant issues. I focussed on inequality of women in particular but also in the broader spectrum of human rights in general.
And without having planned it this way, my own personal march towards museumplein led me through a street where women in very intimate apparel “showed off their goods” to bald headed white men casually walking by. Of course I know that Amsterdam has a reputation for its stance towards prostitution, but I know it to be as something typical of “de Wallen” which is an area quite close to that same Damrak area I spoke of earlier. Finding it where I did was something I had not anticipated but it did kind of fit…
I wondered if it would be offensive or encouraging to these women to know where I was headed to… I wondered if the actual women’s march had considered leading their protest rally through the red light district. I wondered if I should look at them and smile or look the other way, to give them some abstract sense of privacy… Complicated thoughts, I can tell you!!
Anyhow… As I approached the museumplein area, I could hear chants in the distance and saw police officers on bikes and horses patrolling the area. What did they think of all of this? Who would they be voting for next week? Where were all the female cops?
When I saw the crowd I must admit I got goosebumps all over my body and even got choked up a bit. So many had shown up! Fifteen to twenty thousand, as it turned out later. I walked the last stretch with the group and found a nice spot on the museumplein lawn to listen to the speeches that were planned for that afternoon.
When the first speaker grabbed the microphone I was kind of surprised by the tameness of the crowd in general… There was some applause, some cheering but… but…. I didn’t really feel the conviction behind it… I missed some sense of… something. Anger? Passion? I wondered why nobody else seemed to have trouble holding back their tears. And I wasn’t even on my period!
We have grown so complacent here. Lacking nothing. Wanting nothing. Needing nothing. Not really. We may feel we NEED something from time to time but this usually comes up when a new iphone is revealed or something of the sorts.
Yes, I think I was disappointed. I was disappointed by the fact that I feel more passion and willingness to fight for a cause when I go to a soccer match than when women’s rights are at stake. I am sad that the wonderful ladies that showed up on stage spoke true words but didn’t manage to fan those flames. I wished they had gone to see a soccer match first!! Or at least watched a Beyonce concert (btw, did you guys see her at the Grammys? OMG, right?).
So… we will be voting in four days…
What I need is the BFG to cook up some life changing dreams for my fellow countrymen and -women and motivate them all to; a) show up , b) vote with their hearts open. Oh, how I fear what’s in my compatriots’ minds…
With the exception of perhaps South Korea, every country on that list is at least ten times larger in both scale and population.
When it comes to inequality, we rank 15th as country with least inequality.
Interesting fact: NONE of the countries that rank higher than the Netherlands in the first list, appear in the second list in a position above us.
In short, we are a very wealthy country and have managed to spread this money around more evenly than any other developed country.
Poverty is something we barely know. The crisis did affect people somewhat and jobs were harder to find when it was at its peak but in all honesty, it wasn’t so bad.
All though my generation really doesn’t know that much about our history (let alone the ones that came after me), we do like to brag and boast about the things we achieved worldwide, being so small and all.
I know, people don’t usually brag about something being tiny, but we Dutchies love telling foreigners this to illustrate the grandeur of our achievements.
Because we definitely left our mark here and there.
After we drove the sea out of our homeland, we convincingly overcame our fear of the waves, swarmed over the globe and grew into a force to be reckoned with as a seafaring nation.
UPDATE: My boyfriend read my blog and told me my understanding of Dutch history sucks “biggerly” than I thought. It turns out we conquered the waves first and THEN drove the sea out of our homeland… but hey… you get the jist…
Midget nation as we may be, we played with the big boys back in the days. We conquered, divided, stole and murdered like the best of them!
Ah, I’m so proud…
…Or wait… actually… that’s not such a charming history at all! …and it sure puts into perspective how we managed to become the 17th most well earning country in the world…
Despite our history as slave traders in a far past, we’ve actually been better known as a very open and friendly society in more recent times. Our development aid was highly thought of around the world and was known to come with less strings attached than, say, US Aid. We welcomed people of all colors, religions and sexual orientations into our midst. We were recognized around the world for our tolerance towards controversial topics such as prostitution and drugs and our rejection of taboos.
Our former Prime-Minister Jan Peter Balkenende often remind us that our “VOC mentality” was what had made our country wonderful. He wished we would embrace the optimistic and “get things done”-spirit of our ancestors to shake off the burdens of the financial crisis.
Let’s be happy with eachother! Let’s be optimistic! Let’s say: the Netherlands is willing and able! The VOC-mentality; looking over borders. Be dynamic! Right?
Jan Peter Balkenende – 2006
I’m not sure exactly how, why and when it started to slip but at some point I opened my eyes and realized Dutch tolerant mindset was no longer real. Our views and eyes are no longer open and “innovation” has become a dirty word. Or maybe we never really practiced what we preached.
Perhaps we were just pragmatists all this time; doing whatever necessary to survive. And not just survive, but thrive. And because we are lovers, not fighters (or secretly just plain cowards) we try to do everything without fighting (or have others do it for us). What we do is figure out where there is money to be made and then adapt to come out on top.
Fast forward to 2017. All politicians are in full battle mode for the upcoming elections on the 15th of March and for some reason, our history is catching up with us. Conflict is unavoidable and fear has become the most common energy source.
As much as I loved our signature polder model, it seems to have fallen into disrepair. Our politicians are failing at both finding a common ground as standing for their ideals. It’s become a big brown mush with a lot of unhappy faces.
At the same time there is a growing group of people that is fed up with this state. Not just are they fed up, they are also putting their money where their mouth is and organizing themselves. Small sparks of passionate ideas are flaring up here and there. No fire has been lit yet but I do feel hopeful about the prospects…
In the meantime… let’s just laugh at the silly state of the world for a bit, shall we?
Today was the last day of the quinquennial (it means once every five years, I looked it up 😉 ) event SAIL in Amsterdam.
More than 40 impressive tall ships and several historical and monumental ships with interesting stories to tell entered in an awe inspiring parade and have been on display the last couple of days. Yesterday, the royal family arrived in their own sail boat, called the Groene Draeck (the green dragon) for the final day of the event.
I was lucky enough to be invited by some friends who happen to be journalists for a boating show and magazine and had a small boat for the week and some time to spend with friends in between. After a small tour over our capital’s canals, we entered the harbor area. Teije, one of the journalists in my company, knew a lot about the history and legacy of the boats and told me about them as we passed them by.
One of the shiniest boats around turned out to have quite a tainted past: the Chilean navy ship Esmeralda. As “one of the most controversial ship present”, not everyone was ready to welcome it into the harbor with open arms, according to Teije, as it has supposedly been used during Pinochet’s dictatorship to question and torture political prisoners. Despite the ugly reputation, she’s still quite a looker though:
And then there was the world’s largest sailing vessel made completely from wood, the Götheborg. It even smelled different, passing it by! An amazing piece of craftmanship, pun intended!
Another unique boat at the event, easy to overlook between all the shiny giants, was another wooden ship, the Nao Victoria. It was Teije’s personal favorite as it spoke to his boyish dreams of sailing around the world. This boat was a replica of the first ship to successfully circumnavigate the world in an expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan. The expedition began with five ships but the Victoria was the only ship to complete the voyage. Even Magellan didn’t make it back. I must admit I wasn’t able to take any decent pic of this one, as I didn’t get the right angle from the little boat I was in. So thanks to google, you do get a small impression:
And to finish things up, I thought I’d include the ship named after the city it all took place in this year, the city of Amsterdam: