Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Jheronimus Bosch

Spell his name however you want -- and I've tried about half a dozen ways -- he's pretty interesting. Den Bosch has a great museum dedicated to his work:  Jheronimus Bosch Art Center

I'd never taken a really close look at his paintings before, just had the general impression that they were pretty weird.  Well, a close-up look confirms it: they are (and by extension he probably was) not just pretty weird, but actually extremely weird.

Here's the Bosch enigma to me.  He had an incredibly broad and prolific imagination, but spent his life working only within one consistent and narrow theme.

Everyone agrees Bosch was a terrific draftsman, but after that opinions vary wildly.  Was he a simple commercial craftsman who discovered something that sold and stuck with it?  Was he obsessed with spreading the word and reinforcing Christian dogma regarding the wages of sin?  Was he a closet subversive, undermining that dogma via over-the-top lampooning of the theme? His work is strange enough that the wildest interpretation of motivation is probably tame by comparison.  And that he painted these in the 15th century... hard to believe.

A look at a couple close ups of painting details:

Friday, June 1, 2018


An excellent, and mainly underground, boat tour of what was until very recently the sewer system of the town.  From Wikipedia on Den Bosch

"Hidden below the old city is a canal network called the Binnendieze that once spanned 22 km (14 mi). It started out as a regular river, the Dommel, running through the city in medieval times but due to lack of space in the city, people started building their houses and roads over the river. In later times it functioned as a sewer and fell into disrepair. In recent decades, the remaining sixth of the old waterway system has been renovated..."

I'm certain Ed Norton and his lodge mates of The Loyal Order of Racoons would have saluted the tour with a shake of the tail!

Art Carney as Ed Norton

Loyal Order of Racoons say "Great Tour!"

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Real or Surreal?

Surrealism -- noun -- a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.

Hieronymous Bosch is a hometown boy here.  He wasn't technically a surrealist, but I think that's only because he painted centuries before that 20th-century movement.  To me his work is as surreal as it comes, if a bit obsessed with the heaven / hell thing.

I worked in a corporate environment that prided itself on being guided by 'big data', so I'm personally highly aware that surrealism can creep into conclusions based on data science.

So was delighted to find this sculpture (a modern construction taken from a Bosch painting), next to this school.  Juxtaposition is as surreal as it gets.

Hieronymous Bosch based sculpture

"Hieronymous Academy of Data Science"

Lost, found, and another great castle

Katie found a likely looking ride on our map, titled something like "Discover Brook Valley from Windmill to Castle", and we rode it yesterday.  Maybe 25 miles?  Will never know exactly because we got lost twice, so can't figure out exact mileage.

I'm a huge fan of the knoopunt (node) system:  numbered points on the map and in actual locations, with directional signs from each to all other directly accessible knoopunts.  What can go wrong with such an elegant system?  How can you get lost?  Well, elegant as the system is, it depends on two things.  The number signs from the map must actually exist at the physical route junctions, and they must be located where they are supposed to be.

Sometimes it doesn't happen that way.  Not often, but sometimes.  On this route, it's possible that the installation crew finished the job late on a Friday afternoon, after a few beers and a spliff at lunch.  So errors were made in the installations.

First time, we "found" ourselves and got back on track.  Second time was pretty hopeless, we might be out there still if a good samaritan hadn't stopped his car, considered the situation, and led us directly to a spot we could rejoin the correct route.  Nice guy, even if he was pretty brazenly much more interested in helping Katie than helping me.  (Who can blame him?)

So here is the coolest thing about the ride.  On the map in very tiniest possible type it said "Kasteelmuseum Heeswijk"... hard to spot. Then access itself was really remote and kind of weird.  You had to find a tiny bike path, ride down it, then turn down an even tinier one.  So you approach this castle through a countryside path rather than a road... it is like cycling up to Camelot or something.  Imagine a castle rising from fields and woods, with not even a jet contrail in the sky to let you know you are in the 21st century rather than the 12th.

First view -- cycling in the 12th century?

Rather than recount the castle's history, I'll link to a description and post some photos.

Couple things to call out about the visit that made me particularly happy.  First, an actual spyhole just like in the movies!  Enabled you to look down unobserved from a stairway into a dining room below.  Very cool.  You can see the school kids also loved it.  Second, check out the circular steps in the castle's oldest tower.  Finally... I was kind of bummed on Monday when we discovered the "family with rats" diorama had been removed from the Biesbosch museum, so you can only imagine how happy I was to discover a mummified rat in a baggy in one of the display cases here!  For all I know, it might be the same guy.  Nice to know he has been made part of the collection, which was otherwise really 'medieval upscale'.

Kids and spyhole

Spyhole view

Tower stairs
My friend from the Biesbosch museum?

Approaching castle by path

Castle Heeswijk

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Riding in the Biesbosch

We took a train trip to Dordrecht on Monday, and from there rode out to the Biesbosch.

Was a classic summer day.  Hot and sunny until mid-afternoon, then big clouds that didn't quite turn into a thunderstorm.  Not a lot of miles on the bikes (15 - 20?) but really enjoyable ride.

The Biesbosch (means 'rush forest') is essentially a classic freshwater delta swamp, Dutch style.  Lots of interesting ecological, economic and historical tie-ins, but I'll skip those and leave the details to Wiki.

Two things I do want to call out.

First, pronunciation.  Through trial and error I've found that you must be native to the Netherlands to pronounce Biesbosch correctly.  It looks easy, but is not possible for a foreigner.  P. J. O'Rorke's classic analysis of Lebanese customs agents attempting to pronounce "passport" (Bassboat? Bizport? Passboot? Pisspot?) gives a good idea of the challenges.  I've found my attempts to say Biesbosch run something like this:

Me: Beezbosh
Native Dutch speaker (after a pause):  No, more like Beezbahs
Me: Beezbahs
N D s (a a p):  Well, more like Beiezboss
Me: Beiezboss
N D s (a a p):  Not exactly, more like Beeezsbahsh
Me: Beeezsbahsh
N D s (a a p):  Maybe really a bit more like ... (repeat all afternoon)

Saying "we are going for a ride in the Biesbosch" to anyone here is great fun and a guaranteed conversation starter.

Second, the Biesbosch museum.  We visited it about 15 years ago and remembered it very fondly -- it had dioramas of family life in the region!  Was really looking forward to seeing the dioramas again (especially one I remember as showing Mom cooking in a tiny rush & willow hut meagerly provisioned with a baby in a cradle and a stuffed rat running along the rafter while Dad was out hip deep in cold watery muck cutting reeds).  But the museum had gone upscale at some point with a new building, fancy projection technology and some ecology oriented stuff focused on school kids.  Educational, but I miss the dioramas.  They were way more realistic and touching.