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Post A Visit to Rotterdam
Created by John Eipper on 09/17/20 4:35 AM

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A Visit to Rotterdam (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 09/17/20 4:35 am)

Connie and I arrived yesterday in Rotterdam.  She is writing a long travel article on holiday homes in the province of Holland for publication on the Internet and needed to do research in places she hasn't visited there. Having nothing better to do, I am hitching a ride.

We toured Rotterdam today and visited the Cathedral of St. Lawrence, the only remnant of medieval architecture in the harbor metropolis. The church was hit hard during the famous Rotterdam bombing by the Germans in 1940, but it somehow survived. The cathedral's interior is fascinating--it is not your typical European medieval church. The structure holds a number of apses (right term?), and within them are thematic collections of things, e.g., (i) broken statuary and other architectural features from the earlier versions of the cathedral, (ii) votive candles, lighted and not, and (iii) decorative statues of saints and other figures formerly used to decorate the interior. I thought that the particular, themed apse, pictured below, was special. It is dedicated to books and knowledge, and as you can see from the photo, there are quotations from a number of sources and in different languages devoted to that theme. I thought that the following quotation, which I am pointing to in the photo but which is only half there, is particularly relevant right now:

"If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them." The source of the quote is not identified, but I see from research that I just did that the source is Isaac Asimov.

Here is a link to a YouTube video on the Cathedral--the Gbook apse" shows up at the 4:38 minute mark. It gives you a good sense of the room's understated power:


Finally, below is Connie's photo of a portion of the book display taken by her this a.m. in this apse.

JE comments:  Pat Mears sent this yesterday, so his "yesterday" above means Tuesday, September 15th.  A cathedral is an unexpected place for an Asimov quote.  Only the Dutch could be so secular.  Nor can this Hispanist overlook the one immediately below:  "Esos ejemplos permitieron que un bibliotecario de genio descubriera la ley fundamental de la Biblioteca."  [These examples allowed a brilliant librarian to discover the fundamental law of the Library.]  Yessir, that's from the Great Borges and his "Library of Babel."

Pat and Connie, enjoy the Netherlands, and send more photos!  Most of us are limited to virtual tourism in this cursed year 2020.  I see you are equipped with an essential tool for today's sightseer:  the surgical mask.

Patrick Mears, Cathedral of St Lawrence, Rotterdam

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  • Gary Moore on Architecturally Emblazoned Quotes (John Eipper, USA 09/17/20 12:26 PM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    After Patrick Mears's gem (September 17), maybe WAIS should open a thread for architecturally emblazoned quotes.

    Once in Chicago my squeeze got us invited to a gala affair at the French Consulate for Bastille Day. While she was conversing with the dignitaries, I gazed in wonder around the glittering reception hall, which had ornate cornices way up by the coffered ceiling, adorned with quotes. As my eyes began to trace distant marching letters, and the sense began to form, it was strange that right there, among the cocktail napkins and hors d'oeuvres, I was being provided with watchwords that would go with me through life. They were from the great Pasteur, who (oft slightly misquoted in English) said:

    "Le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés."

    Nor did I know until this very moment (when I decided I better double-check my half-remembered French with the great Google), that the phrase also has a first part. Pasteur was saying that the place where only minds that are prepared will be favored by coincidence and seemingly blind luck is in "the field of observation." It's a tricky vale, but has surrounded my journey.

    JE comments:  Nothing like a prepared spirit!  Putting a quote in or on a building is a pretty serious commitment.  Even more so when it's chiseled in.  I like Gary Moore's suggestion:  what are some of the other Great Architectural Quotes?  (That's on architecture, not about it, but that would be OK too.)

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    • Another Dutch Architectural Aphorism: "Homo Sapiens Non Urinat in Ventum" (from Paul Rootare) (John Eipper, USA 09/18/20 3:25 AM)

      Adding to our discussion on architecturally emblazoned quotes, Paul Rootare forwarded this nugget from a plaza in Amsterdam:  "The wise man does not urinate in the wind."

      The gateway has a Classical feel, but dates only from 1991. 
      Want to give your adage some gravitas?  Try Latin...and chisel it on your own porta principalis.

      Non urinat in ventum:  the late, great Jim Croce argued the same thing in the early 1970s.  Legend has it, the original lyrics of "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" read "you don't piss in the wind."  Public sensibilities of the time required him to make the switch to "spit."

      Either way, it's timeless advice.


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  • My Five Years in Amsterdam (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 09/18/20 2:13 PM)
    I am glad that Pat Mears is enjoying his visit to the Netherlands. This small, densely populated, rich and well-organized country has many cultural attractions in several towns. I spent five years in Amsterdam with my wife and our son when I was the Chief of Pediatric Cardiac surgery at the Academic Medical Center (AMC) of the University of Amsterdam. Other midsized cities--such as Leiden, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Maastricht, The Hague, Haarlem and Groningen--have a lot to offer.

    In addition to the above-mentioned features, we should also mention their people, and the important contribution of their quality of education and social cohesion. Before the availability of modern communications, they were smart and reliable merchants doing business with long-distant countries based on social trust. Moving from Amsterdam to Michigan required a long period of adaptation for our family.

    JE comments: Rodolfo, tell us about the culture shock of your move from the Netherlands to Michigan (Grand Rapids).  Didn't GR's cultural roots in the Netherlands help to smooth the transition?  Colleagues will also recall that both Pat Mears and Rodolfo Neirotti are former residents of Michigan's second city. (Non-Michiganders may not realize that historically Republican Grand Rapids is culturally very different from Detroit, a working-class and unionized/Democratic city.)

    Finally, some related curiosities:  why are Nederlanders so tall?  And so obsessed with dragging their camper vans around every corner of Europe?  No matter how remote the road, from Spain to Lithuania, you'll soon spot an "NL" vehicle towing a caravan.

    Just found this.  One of the five reasons offered is the stereotypical Dutch virtue of thriftiness:


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    • Grand Rapids and Its Dutch Influence (Patrick Mears, -Germany 09/19/20 8:14 AM)
      This note responds to Rodolfo Neirotti's kind and interesting post of yesterday about his five-year sojourn in the Netherlands. I remember being surprised by a note posted by Rodolfo long ago that he and his family lived in Grand Rapids for a time that partially overlapped with my life there (1980-2014).

      Concerning the Dutch, I second the reflections of Rodolfo about the Dutch, their history, and the "quality of (their) education and social cohesion." I have had the great pleasure of making friends and working with some insolvency law professionals from the Netherlands since moving to Germany in 2014, and I have found them to be highly intelligent, friendly and fun people to spend time with at work or at play. Reacting to Rodolfo's note and then writing this post now reminds me that I need to pick out from my library and read An Embarrassment of Riches, Simon Schama's history of the Netherlands' "Golden Age," which has been both highly praised by many and criticised by others, by the latter group especially for omitting "much or all of their colonising story."

      I am interested in Rodolfo's comment that "moving from Amsterdam to Michigan required a long period of adaptation for (his) family," and I suspect that my experience and that of my deceased wife may have been similar to what Rodolfo touches upon. First, my background and that of my first wife and the mother of my two children (née Geraldine O'Connor) did not prepare us for a very conservative place in which to live. Gerry had been born in New York City and had Irish and ethnic Polish roots, as I have. Her father, Edward, had been the "head" of the Manhattan Robbery Squad for years and had investigated and solved many, well-publicised crimes there, including the Pierre Hotel Robbery, a heist of precious coins from the American Numismatic Museum, and other, high-profile cases. Edward was nothing, if not highly intelligent, savvy and street-smart. He had seen it all during his long career in law enforcement. Here is a link to a tribute in the New York Times to him on foiling an attempted jewel robbery just prior to his retirement. https://www.nytimes.com/1979/12/18/archives/police-work-on-jewel-plot-has-a-certain-brilliance-we-began.html . My background was growing up in Flint, Michigan, during the hey-day of the auto industry, when Flint was an overwhelmingly Democratic and union town. Those influences were reinforced by my seven years at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and my four-year stint as a young, law-firm associate in Manhattan.

      Without pointing to any surveys or statistics, it seems fair to say that most of the Dutch who settled in Grand Rapids during the 1800s and early 1900s were very conservative Calvinists, and because of their numbers, influenced the culture of Grand Rapids in a significant way--in the realm of politics, religion and everyday culture. One good example is our current US Secretary of Education, who has a history of advocating for privately owned and operated, religious schools. This difference in cultural background and overall mood was something that took some adjusting to by me, Gerry and my children during the time that we lived in the area.

      JE comments:  The Grand Rapids oligarchy has a Dutch accent:  Van Andel, DeVos, Meijer.  And nearby Holland is the Dutchiest city in America--home to the Tulip Festival and Klompen (wooden shoe) dancing.  I'm still confused why the Dutch Reformed who settled in Michigan retained their strict Calvinism, while the Church in the Netherlands lost its original fervor.  The DRC in the Mother Country has transformed into the very secular Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN).  Wikipedia reports that non-theists comprise 42% of the PKN membership.

      Pat, I enjoyed the 1979 article on how the good Lt O'Connor brought a ring of fur thieves to justice.  As a lifelong coin collector, I'd love to know more about your father-in-law's role in solving the American Numismatic Museum heist.

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      • Remembering a Heist at the American Numismatic Society (Patrick Mears, -Germany 09/20/20 12:14 PM)
        This is in response to John E's question about a heist at the American Numismatic Society, New York.

        Being a former coin collector too, I perked up when my father-in-law mentioned the heist, which at the time was located in the famous Audubon Terrace complex on Broadway between West 155th and 156th Streets in the Washington Heights neighbourhood of uptown Manhattan. My memory of our conversation back then has dulled quite a bit, but I will tell you what I do remember about it--or at least, what I think I remember about it.

        Apparently, the "perp" was a master thief who had made important robberies before this job, and the Robbery Squad had not been able to take take him down. This particular theft was successful and one of the treasures obtained was, if I recall correctly, an 1804 US Silver Dollar. The Squad eventually caught the mastermind of the heist, but he was at first unwilling to talk and the Society sought to quash all attempts at news coverage of the crime. My father-in-law said that the gang leader finally gave in and told the Squad where to find the loot, which had been buried in Central Park under a large tree. The coins were successfully recovered and the criminal gang served time.

        That is the best of my recollection. I hope that there are no "false memory" shards within my story. I did a quick Internet search just now for some record of this crime, but couldn't find any. It must have occurred sometime either in the 1960s or 70s, before my father-in-law retired from the force.

        JE comments:  Pat Mears included this excellent essay on the Audobon Terrace Cultural Center, in Washington Heights, which originally housed the American Numismatic Society museum.  The Hispanic Society of America remains.  This stuff is right up my alley!  How is it I've never visited?  Rarely does the tourist make it as far north as 155th Street, Manhattan.


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    • The Culture Shock of Moving from The Netherlands to Grand Rapids (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 09/20/20 6:31 AM)
      John E asked me on September 18th: "Rodolfo, tell us about the culture shock of your move from the Netherlands to Michigan (Grand Rapids). Didn't GR's cultural roots in the Netherlands help to smooth the transition?"

      My answer will be short: Not at all. Remember that many of the Dutch people who emigrated to the USA, were those that considered their fellow citizens to be too liberal! Anyone who lives in the Netherlands for a while will notice this.

      The cultural shock varied with the region/context. Regarding East Michigan, I can mention 1) poverty, 2) inequality, poor access to good education, limited opportunities and disregard for the environment by the local authorities and the wealthy. As for West Michigan: 1) mindset dominated by religion and the wealthy; 2) general ignorance of what was going on in the rest of the world; 3) a group of very rich people that with their donations get their names and control of a Hospital, a concert Hall, a Research Institute and control of Grand Valley State University. A telephone call was enough to change decisions, etc.

      Nevertheless my family and I managed to live there for thirteen years and made good friends which whom we are still often in touch.

      I hope that answer your question.

      JE comments:  I filed this one under "culture," as in culture shock.  It would be interesting to do a comparative study on the Dutch "diaspora," in places such as West Michigan, South Africa, the Antilles, and Indonesia.  (Manhattan was traded away too early to make a difference.)  Could we generalize that the Nederlanders who left tended to remain more conservative than the ones who stayed?  Now that I think about it, this rule may apply to most nations that colonized other parts of the world.

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