When Canada’s lockdown began almost overnight about eight weeks ago, I found myself reflecting on how adaptable the human spirit can be. I also found myself wondering whether what we are going through in these pandemic times has any similarity to what life was like for my mother’s family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Not that a pandemic is anything comparable to a war, but what pandemics and wars do have in common is they require us all to live with constant uncertainty.
I’m not the only one who is thinking back to World War II. In her speech to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth last month, Queen Elizabeth made reference to the challenges faced during that war as well as the family separations that were endured. She finished by expressing her confidence that, one day, “we will meet again.”
One of the sad consequences of this pandemic is that all of the celebrations to acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II have been cancelled. No world leaders are congregating in the Netherlands or France or Britain, and no veterans are gathering on what was likely to have been the last significant anniversary for which they might have been able to attend.
Today is Liberation Day in the Netherlands, the day when the Dutch remember and celebrate their liberation from Nazi occupation. The links between Canada and the Netherlands are strong; the Dutch Royal family found refuge in Ottawa during World War II and most of the soldiers who liberated Holland in 1945 were Canadian. All of the activities that were to have taken place in Vancouver to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands have also been cancelled.
One thing a pandemic could not stop, however, is the blooming of the Liberation Tulips. The goal established last fall was to plant 1.1 million tulips across Canada, one for every Canadian who served in World War II.
Here then is a photo I took last week of one of those tulip patches. These 800 bright red “Canadian Liberator” tulips are blooming in front of the Seaforth Armoury in Kitsilano, home to the Seaforth Highlanders. The regiment was involved in liberating Amsterdam in 1945 and about 40 of its members were planning to travel to Holland this month. Although the march into Amsterdam they intended to recreate on May 8 will not be happening, Canadians still appreciate the service those veterans gave our country and are thankful on behalf of the Dutch citizens they liberated.
Today marks the 350th anniversary of the death of the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn. He died in Amsterdam in 1669, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk. I want to acknowledge the anniversary of his death for one simple reason: Rembrandt is one of my favourite artists.
You don’t really get a sense of what Rembrandt means to the Dutch until you see how his most famous painting, The Night Watch (in Dutch: De Nachtwacht), is displayed in the country’s national museum, the Rijksmuseum. The painting is the focal point of the immense Gallery of Honour and your eyes are immediately drawn to it as soon as you enter the gallery.
About a kilometre away from the Rijksmuseum is Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square), one of Amsterdam’s busiest squares. Now the centre of the city’s infamous nightlife, its origins were as a butter and dairy market. In the centre of the square is a cast iron statue of Rembrandt that dates back to 1852. That’s a photo of the statue up above. At the artist’s feet are life-size bronze cast statues of the some of the subjects depicted in The Night Watch, which were created to celebrate Rembrandt’s 400th birthday back in 2006. In the photo below are the two central figures: Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (on the left) and Willem van Ruytenburch (on the right).
The Rijksmuseum is calling 2019 “The Year of Rembrandt,” and it is celebrating with a variety of special events and exhibitions. The museum has also begun a year-long study and restoration of The Night Watch in full view of museum visitors.
Who could have known when Rembrandt died, alone and penniless, that 350 years later so many people from all over the world would be so enthralled with his work?
Today is Palm Sunday, and I’m posting a photo of the Pieterskerk in Leiden. Dedicated to Saint Peter, this church dates back to the early fifteenth century.
Pieterskerk has an American connection; it’s where the Pilgrims worshipped for over a decade before they sailed away on the Mayflower in 1620. Some years before that, the Spanish lay siege to Leiden from May to October of 1574. When the siege was over, the citizens of Leiden held a service of thanksgiving, where they ate herring, white bread, and hutspot (a mash of potato, carrot, and onion). Some think that elements of this thanksgiving celebration, which became an annual affair, were carried to North America by the Pilgrims.
Which means we have the Dutch to thank for our custom of eating mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving.
For the Fifth Sunday of Lent, I’m posting a photo of the two churches that border the Vrijthof, which is the main square of Maastricht.
The church on the left is Sint Janskerk, a Gothic church dating back to the seventeenth century. Dedicated to John the Baptist, the distinctive red tower of this Protestant church was originally painted with ox blood (ugh), but these days, they just use regular paint.
On the right is Sint Servaas, a Romanesque church dating back to the eleventh century. The basilica is dedicated to Saint Servatius, first bishop of Maastricht and its patron saint. He died in 384 and is buried in the crypt. Sint Servaas is the Netherlands’ oldest church.
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Lent. I’m posting this photo from inside Kampen’s Bovenkerk for a couple of reasons.
Reason # 1 is because it was inside this church, listening to this organ, where I first fell in love with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
And Reason # 2? Because today is one of Bach’s birthdays. I say “one of” because apparently the man had two depending on whether you are looking at a calendar in the Old (Julian) Style or the New (Gregorian) Style.
This organ is one of three in the Bovenkerk. It has four manuals and 3200 pipes, the oldest of which date back to the early seventeenth century.
There was a music lesson was going on just before I took this photo. The student was up above at the console behind the pipes, while the teacher was down below, chowing down on a sandwich as he hollered out his feedback. I felt sorry for the student, but was so happy I got to hear the music.
For the Third Sunday of Lent, I’m posting a photo of the Church of St. Nicholas of Kampen. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of seafarers and many churches in the Netherlands are dedicated to him. (In the seventeenth century, this tiny republic along the North Sea had the world’s largest naval fleet.) The church is more commonly known as the Bovenkerk (Upper Church) and it gives the town of Kampen its distinctive skyline.
Archeological evidence points to a church standing on this spot since the early thirteenth century. A Romanesque church was built first and probably in use for about a century before it was replaced by a much larger Gothic building.
As far as Gothic cathedrals go, it is a fairly simple design, but that it was built at all speaks to the influence and power that the town of Kampen had as a trading town on the edge of what was then the Zuider Zee. Some form of a tower has existed since the building was first erected, but its present form and height dates from the nineteenth century.
The oldest church in Delft is the Oude Kerk (Old Church), which was founded in 1246. The tower was completed in 1350 and has a lean of about two metres, although I did not notice this when I visited the church about eighteen months ago.
Both of Delft’s churches are known for their stained glass windows, all of which were destroyed when a gunpowder depot exploded in Delft in 1654. Known as the Delft Thunderclap, the explosion destroyed much of the city. The stained glass windows of the Oude Kerk were not restored completely until the twentieth century.
Most of the 27 windows in the Oude Kerk depict Bible stories, but a few are more nationalistic, which is understandable given the city’s long association with the Dutch Royal Family. The Liberation Window celebrates the end of World War II and the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. The Wilhelmina Window celebrates the reign of Queen Wilhelmina from 1890 to 1948.
It is the latter window that is my photo choice for today, the Second Sunday of Lent. At the centre of the window is Queen Wilhelmina, who is the longest-reigning Dutch monarch. The figures at the bottom represent, from left to right, sterkte (strength), geduld (patience), hoop (hope), geloof (faith), liefde (love), gerechtigheid (justice), and wijsheid (wisdom).
Once again, it’s the Season of Lent and I have more photographs to show you of the many Dutch churches I visited some eighteen months ago. For today, the First Sunday of Lent, here is one of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) of Delft.
It’s called the Nieuwe Kerk because it was built about 150 years after the Oude Kerk (Old Church), which is located a few canals over.
There is a story of how it came to be that a new church was built in Delft. Way back in 1351, a man named Jan Col shared some food with a beggar named Symon who was hanging out in the Grote Markt (Great Square) of Delft. At that very moment, the two men saw the same vision of a golden church.
Symon died soon after, but Jan Col continued to have the same vision for another 30 years. He began a campaign to have a church built on the spot where he and Symon first had their vision.
Eventually, the town burghers gave in. Construction began in 1393, and the church was completed in the mid-seventeenth century. There have been several towers — the first was destroyed by fire and the second by lightning. The current tower was completed in 1872 and is the second-tallest church tower in the Netherlands.
Oh, and those visions Jan Col had for 30 years? Turns out they were will-o’-the-wisps.
Recreational marijuana, as of this month, is now legal in Canada. This has caused a flurry of media attention and a raft of bad puns.
The sentiment in Vancouver seems to be that October 17, 2018, was a non-event. Because, well, this is Vansterdam, after all.
It took a mix-up about a long-haul flight from Amsterdam to wake me up to the fact that Vancouver has a thriving underground drug scene. The mix-up started with me wandering up and down Schiphol’s cavernous terminal one morning, many years ago, looking in vain for the Air Canada check-in counter. As I retraced my steps, I noticed an information desk with a small Air Canada sign above it in an out-of-the-way corner.
“Hi,” I said, handing the agent my ticket. “I’m booked to fly to Vancouver today through Toronto. Where do I check in?”
The agent looked at my ticket, then he looked at me, then he looked again at my ticket.
“We don’t fly to Toronto today,” he said. “Weren’t you contacted about the new timetable?”
“No…,” I said, slowly. “Nor did anyone say anything about a timetable change when I checked in for my outbound flight two weeks ago.”
He started tapping his keyboard.
“I need to get back to Canada today,” I added. “I have to be at work tomorrow.”
“We’ll get you on another flight,” he said as he typed.
True to his word, in no time at all, he handed me a new ticket and a boarding pass. I was now booked on a KLM flight direct to Vancouver. And by the time he was finished with me, there was a line-up of people behind me, no doubt all of them wondering what had happened to their flights back to Canada.
Some ten hours later, I was going through the usual routine that seems to take forever when you’re jet-lagged: the long walk through the international terminal, the long wait at customs, the brief chat with the customs officer, the long wait at the baggage carousel, the handing of my customs form to the customs officer at the exit doors….
Which is exactly where the routine stopped being routine.
“Please go through there,” he said. That woke me up. He was pointing to the room where they send you when they want to search your luggage. Groan. Why me?
A customs officer waved me over and told me to set my suitcase on the table in front of her. She looked at my customs form and asked to see my plane ticket, then opened my suitcase and proceeded to look through my belongings.
She looked at my ticket again.
“You bought this ticket this morning?” she said.
“No,” I said. “I bought it months ago.”
She continued looking through my suitcase and asked me about every non-clothing item.
She’s being awfully thorough, I thought.
“You bought a one-way ticket this morning?” she asked me again.
And then the penny dropped. She was looking for drugs.
“Oh!” I said. “No! I bought the ticket months ago, but Air Canada changed its timetable and didn’t think to let me know, so they booked me on the KLM flight to get me home,” I explained. “There were a whole bunch of us.” (Except it wasn’t until later that I remembered the “whole bunch” was put on a flight to Toronto, whereas I was likely the only traveller flying all the way to Vancouver.)
My story seemed to satisfy the customs officer. She told me I could close up my suitcase and go on my way.
(As an aside: I don’t know how Canada Customs knew that my ticket had been issued only that morning — this was pre-9/11 — but that incident made realize that my government watches me in many more ways than I will ever know.)
Back to the beginning of my post. Pot is simply so not part of my world. Yes, I occasionally notice a pungent odour when walking along one of the beaches in this city. Sometimes I see people smoking up on the street. Whatever. But for me to be suspected of being a drug courier? That’s a laugh.
However, in the past few years, Vancouver’s status as the Cannabis Capital of Canada has become too obvious for even head-in-the-clouds me to not notice. That’s because of a federal program allowing the production and sale of marijuana for medical use that went into effect in 2013. The number of pot dispensaries in Vancouver jumped from about a dozen to almost a hundred. But only a quarter of them were approved by Health Canada and so, in 2015, the city council passed a bylaw to regulate and license the dispensaries, much to the disapproval of our beloved federal government. The city’s response was that it was taking action because the federal government had failed to do so.
The bylaw requires dispensaries to pay $30,000 for a business licence, and they are not allowed to operate within 300 metres of a school or community centre or another marijuana dispensary. And so, Vancouver became the first city in Canada to regulate the sale and distribution of a drug that was illegal under federal law except for medicinal use.
Fast forward to this month. Canada is only the second country in the world to legalize marijuana for recreational use. (The other is Uruguay. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana consumption in the Netherlands is tolerated, but not legal. Kinda like Vancouver before now.) Smoking laws must still be obeyed, so you can only smoke up where it’s legal to smoke cigarettes. In Vancouver, that rules out the beaches and parks. And, erm, the building I currently live in.
As of today, 19 of Vancouver’s medical marijuana dispensaries are licensed, 46 have land-use approval but no licence, and 75 are operating illegally. The illegal ones have been advised to shut down until they are provincially licensed to avoid prosecution — and I noticed the other day that my closest medical pot dispensary is shuttered.
Incidentally, I went through customs at Vancouver Airport on October 17, exactly an hour after recreational pot became legal in the province of British Columbia. Lo and behold, there was a new question on the declaration form: Was I bringing cannabis into Canada?
Just as I wasn’t all those years ago when I flew from Amsterdam to Vancouver.
I can’t imagine pot tourism coming to Vancouver anytime soon, but with recreational marijuana still a budding industry, who knows what the future holds? The tourists might come for our scenery, but stick around for the unnatural high.