Museum Canal Boat

Today we took a canal boat to three museums, a lovely way to view the city. A ticket allows you to get on and off at any of a dozen stops on the loop.

The tour of Ann Frank House is structured much like the Rembrandt House in that a modern building alongside connects to the actual house and warehouse where Otto Frank ran his pectin business and the family went into hiding.

As we went up the staircase to the actual house, I felt like I was going up to my grandmother’s which was also above retail/commercial. Both Judy and I admitted that when we were young, the Holocaust seemed like ancient history while, as we have aged, the events have telescoped in, so that–by now–they seem appallingly close…which they are.

Otto Frank, the only member of the family who survived, said that Ann’s early diaries were much like any girl’s, full of boys and giggling confidences. But after they went into hiding in the Annex, where they lived for two years, the diaries became very deep, as anyone who has read them knows. He said he had no idea that his daughter had such profound thoughts and emotions. He drew the conclusion that parents never really know their children’s innermost thoughts.

Ann decorated her room with cutouts from magazines. A photo of Scarlett O’Hara and another of a dark haired actress playing piano allowed me to imagine that Ann had pictured herself as a grownup adult through such images. She tells her diary (Dear Kitty) that she planned to become a famous writer. Since she died only two weeks before liberation, and before, while they were in the Annex, official word had gone out that collections and memoirs were being avidly sought for publication. In the annex, she began the novel that she planned to write based on her diaries which she called, The Annex.

When that light was snuffed out, it lit up the world.

Although my father was a medic with Patton Army, and helped liberate the concentration camps, he never once mentioned it. I have often reflected that his world view–he was strict father and a powerfully disciplined researcher in Archives his field of neurosurgery–must have been shaped by that experience. He said more than once that–while he loved individual humans–he had a profound contempt for humanity.

To my surprise, the Rijkesmuseum has only three Vermeers. Of course there are only a couple dozen in the world.

Van Gogh Museum (and I have seen a comprehensive Van Gogh show earlier) revealed a young insecure artist who spent so much of his life as an artist copying the styles that blazed through “his set” like pointillism and Japanese prints; he also copied actual works by earlier artists. Everyone learns their own way; this way–copying, trying what others are doing–is timehonored. He was a fortunate artist in the support his brother Theo gave him to the end. I am not a Van Gogh scholar and yet it seemed to me that it was only after Arles, when he was institutionalized, that his voice came through in the boldstrokes we have come to associate with Van Gogh at his best: crows and wheatfield, starry night, olive grove.

At the end of the day, exhausted, we went to the extraordinary art deco Tuchinsky [sic] Theater to see the film, The American, which seems to be occasioning conversations in Amsterdam from the newspaper and bookstore windows. For me, it was a reprise of Up In the Air, with George Clooney stuck in a meaningless life, finding and then losing love. In a memorable sequence, the observant village priest accuses Clooney’s character, and all Americans, of not knowing history. And here I thought that was a human trait.