Resilient Light

Back in the days when I used to work at the office, I walked up and down to flights of stairs multiple times a day. The kitchen, the toilets and the mailroom were downstairs. My desk and the printer were upstairs. I suppose all of those things are still where they’ve always been, but what can you be sure of these days…?

The distance from my bed to my workspace has been reduced to six footsteps. The toilet is somewhere in between the two.

When I realized how small my world had become I decided to take small walks through my neighborhood during my lunch breaks.

In March, the blossom from the nearby cherry trees drifted sweetly through my empty street. The trees themselves were locked behind the closed gates of Leiden’s museum of ethnology. It was like the scene from a dystopian Japanese animation film.

When the museum started allowing people back onto its terrain, I immediately knew where my next walk would lead me. I sniffed the spring air and stared at the cotton candy trees for a while, fully realizing it would be gone in a few days.

I continued my walk around the museum building, towards the back exit that would lead me back to my home, my desk and my ringing telephone.

And that is when I stumbled upon the museum’s stunning mural. It is hard to believe I hadn’t seen it before, but there was no denying it now. It was like an explosion of light, color and static motion. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

There was so much going on in that painting, I did not know what to make of it but I was certain it meant something and I wanted to know more.

The wallpainting was signed: Yatika Fields.

Luckily, Yatika Starr Fields was quite easy to find, so I decided to contact him. I received an elaborate mail shortly after, in which he answered all my questions and more.

He let me know he had made the piece in September 2019 and named it “Resilient Light: accommodating strength, our land, our hearts”. 

foto: Peter Hilz

Being a Native American artist, he incorporated a lot of elements in the mural from his culture, such as sage and cedar, to symbolize a moment of inner reflection, of purification and of healing. This applied to the physical space the art piece was made in as well as the place in time.

By adding these elements in the mural I am creating a space where this is a metaphor to the healing past, but also to bless the mural and the space in occupies.

Coincidentally, the museum building has been a place of healing ever since it was built in 1873. At first this was the case in the most literal sense, as it was designed to be a hospital. It served for this purpose for half a century, but being an academic hospital they soon desired more lab space, as well as more comfort for the patients.

The Museum of Ethnology moved in in 1935, just a few years before the beginning of the Second World War. I can imagine any study of cultures or ethnology would have required quite some sensitivity during that epoch.

It would be interesting to see what the exhibitions looked like in the museum in the period before, during and after the occupation.

This year, 2020, marked the 75th anniversary of the end of second world war for the Netherlands and we are only now starting to reflect honestly and truthfully about where we went wrong, what we could have done differently and who deserves an apology (and then some).

All though 75 years may sound like a long time to come to terms with major historical events, Yatika Fields’ mural demonstrates that scars from the past can stay open for centuries.

The piece he painted was in fact “in commemoration of 400 years of colonial presence in America”, as he put it in his e-mail response. The museum will shine its light on this occasion in its own way, as well as many other institutions across the globe, as part of the Mayflower 400 celebration.

As a Dutch citizen I could say Native American history and modern day US policies have nothing to do with me, but if the past few months have taught me anything it is that everything and everyone is connected.

Decisions and choices made by one individual have consequences that ripple out in every direction and continue to be felt 400 years later.

Yatika Fields even expresses this in his piece, as he explained to me:

The light in the mural is a metaphor to strength. It’s leaving the hand of one figure and in a manner of projection is being caught and illuminated by the others.

This is significant in the distribution of resources, tribal identity, cultural knowledge to keep us sustained spiritually to persevere in all the difficulties we face as a people in the county we are from, from the colonizers.

We still face these issues today, in the light of COVID19. Native communities and communities of color are being targeted with lack of federal and government aid.

The shells and nautical reference relate to early trade in the Americas and thus reasons of expansions. The ocean and water between were a catalyst to change, just as the tides change with time.

In a way, the shells and nautical references in mr Fields’ piece are part of my story too.

I am the child of a development worker, the grand daughter of a naval officer for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army and the great grand daughter of a preacher who sailed to the Dutch colonies, with the bible in hand.

It’s not up to me to apologize for the choices of my forefathers. It’s not up to me to defend them either.

All I can do is shine a light on my own actions.

I hope to be able to keep my sense of wonder and take in what the world has to tell me; be it through the blossom of a Japanese cherry tree, the symbolism of a mural or the conversation with a fellow human being.

Bring in the cedar and sage. Let’s talk. Let’s heal.

UPDATE: See how the mural was created on Yatika Fields’ own website.

Mind Cleanup – Oct ’19

October was an intense month, not only because I spent two weeks across the pond, in Montreal and Quebec City. I also had a couple of new colleagues that needed to learn the ropes and several events that I had volunteered to help organize. All fun, but I must say I’m looking forward to have a bit more wiggle room in my schedule in November.

While putting this mind cleanup together I realized I had way too much to say about many of the topics, so I’m guessing they will turn into blogs of their own. I’ll do my best to keep it short now.

News

Angry Farmers

The beginning of October was marked by farmers protest in the Netherlands. They stormed the political capital, the Hague, in their tractors to protest new laws meant to lower the emission of certain harmful gasses, in particular nitrogen and phosphate.

The protest wasn’t just about the new law. It was actually about rural Netherlands feeling disrespected, disregarded and misunderstood by the media, urban hipsters and big city lawmakers. It was about protecting what we have and fear of losing our identity.

Leidens Ontzet

An event that takes place in my hometown every year on the 3rd of October is Leidens Ontzet. I wrote a blog about it a few years ago, called Hutspot, Herring and Happiness, that you can read for a quick impression.

This year G and I were hijacked by our neighbor, who caught us just before we fell into full couchpotato mode. It was good fun!

It was also the first year that all the bars in the city made use of so called “eco cups”, for which festival goers payed a 1 euro deposit. The cups could be rinsed and refilled and at the end of the day everybody could get back their deposit, if they returned the cup. The city was so much cleaner than in previous years, which makes the eco-cups an absolute success!

Marieke Vervoort (May 10 1979 – Oct 22 2019)

A lady I have a great deal of respect for passed away recently on her own terms. I dedicated a blog to her three years ago, after she won a silver medal at the Rio paralympics. She was quite a controversial figure, due to her strong opinions on euthanasia. May you rest in peace, Marieke.

Family of hermits

It’s not very easy to get lost in the Netherlands. Somehow though, a family managed to stay under the radar for almost a decade “awaiting the end of time”, according to sources.

A lot of confusing and contradictory information has come out since then, all of which I don’t find very interesting, to be honest. It caught the world’s attention though, so that’s why I thought it was worth mentioning here anyway.

Self reflection

Facemask

Any time I visit a tourist destination there are bound to be flocks of Chinese visitors as well. After a run in with such a group I am often left pondering one the origins of and reasons for their protective facemasks. Questions I ask myself:

  • Is it a personal choice, or government advice?
  • Is it meant to be a protection against disease or pollution?
  • Are they wearing them to protect themselves or the people around them?
  • Does it work?

Conversation – view in e-mail

I mostly read my e-mails on my phone, but recently I logged into my mailbox on my PC and was immediately struck by the odd way my e-mails were being presented to me.

The default view for e-mail services these days seems to be the “conversation view”. This means your e-mails aren’t in chronological order anymore, but grouped with other e-mails from the same thread.

I HATE IT! (I changed it, so it’s fine now, no worries)

Why does this option even exist though? And even if there were people that actually prefer such a layout, why make it the default setting and not just an option? It’s super confusing!

Is my extreme dislike for the conversation view in mailboxes a sign that I am getting old? I find it reassuring that I still know how to switch it back, but I have this feeling they’re going to be calling it “the classic view” at some point.

If anybody reading this actually enjoys the conversation view, do let me know. I have decided these people are unicorns (and trolls).

Happy November, all!

XXX

This is Blog 24 in my A-Z Blogseries:
XXX

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:


Determined
Courageous Compassionate

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.

How? Why? Coincidence? You tell me!

Hutspot, herring and happiness!

It’s the fourth day of Blogtober and I have published a blog only once (but this will be two, as soon as I press the button).

A bad start? Maybe.

Leiden-geuzen

But I have a good excuse. I live in a Dutch town called Leiden, which explodes every year around the 3rd of October, when the siege and relief of the city is commemorated and celebrated. It’s a actually a very interesting history that you can read more about here.

The 3 October festival is something kids and grownups from Leiden and surroundings save up for all year in every sense. People go CRAZY!

There is a huge funfair with rides and activities throughout the city center. Several parades take place, food of all shapes and sizes are on sale and a big fireworks show signals the end. The traditional dishes, for historical reasons, are herring on white bread and “hutspot”, which is a dish made of mashed potatoes, carrots, onions and a sort of beef stew.

masher.jpg
A masher; kitchen tool to mash potatoes with.

This year we celebrated by eating hutspot in our new neighborhood. About a dozen volunteers had made their take on the meal and a jury of local restaurant chefs decided which version would take home the golden “masher”. The winner ended up being an adventurous neighbor that decided to flavor the hutspot up with some asian spices.  Yummy!

Besides being a super handsome and historically interesting city, Leiden also has the oldest University of the country, which the city was gifted by Prince William of Orange for the city’s perseverance, suffering and bravery during the Spanish sieges in the 16th century.

For students and outsiders, the 3 October festival is something they love to hate and hate to love. Most straight out hate it and flee the city, as the University closes its doors during these days anyhow.

kermis leiden.jpg

After having learned the hard way that trying to get from A to B was futile during these two days of local insanity, I embraced the celebration and am now a big fan, which is actually surprising considering I am not a drinker and the whole city is completely WASTEDDDDD for two whole days.

So, I am in doubt if I should recommend coming to Leiden during the beginning of October or not… In the end it’s actually about personal preferences. You have to be able to see and hear the beauty of it all, amidst rowdy crowds, flashing lights, annoyingly repetitive funfair music (and all other types of music) and stale beer. I love it!

Read more about the festival here.