About canalrat

I live in The Hague, but I'm not Dutch. This blog is about living in the Netherlands. By nature I'm a generalist, so this blog may wander.

Geranium Market!

Today I learnt that there is an annual plant market for King’s Day in the Hague known as the “Geranium Market”

I went, and I purchased plants. It was delightful. Never felt so middle aged in my life.

Of course, it’s not just geraniums, it’s all sorts of plants. I spotted dahlias, roses, daisies, herbs, lobelias, mandevilla and fuchsias. Almost all in flower, and all ready to plant out. There was also at least one stall selling house plants with exotic succulents and vivid orchids.

I bought bright pink geraniums for the window box, an aquilegia (Granny’s bonnet) and some herbs, I’ve had a lovely afternoon planting them out on my tiny balcony. Now just need some sunshine to sit out and enjoy them. Happy Birthday King Willem Alexander.


Show me Moore

I’ve always loved Henry Moore‘s sculpture, the fluid lines seem organic yet the human form is recognisable. Some of the sculptures are so monumental that they seem to be of the landscape, others seem to be like long forgotten fossils . So the exhibition of Moore’s works on at the Museum Beelden Aan Zee is a must-see for me.

The most impressive exhibit for me was the massive piece shown above, it looked to me like a super-sized mastodon tooth, but it’s called “Three Way Piece No1 Points” and was made in 1964-65. When you look at the surface more closely it resembles patterns of herd of animals.

The exhibition is well set out, and it’s interesting to see shells, rocks and bones showcased in the first cabinet as Moore was inspired by elements from nature in all his work. I loved that Leiden’s Naturalis had contributed to the exhibition.

When I go to exhibitions I often contemplate which work I would want to live with, and I probably spent the most time contemplating the Mastodon’s tooth above, it was probably the Three Way Ring that was safely behind glass that spoke to me the most. The curves seemed perfectly formed from all angles, and yet the view and light changed as you walked around the object. Some of Moore’s large scale works have similar interior spaces, apparently Moore endorsed the idea of “children playing inside and around his open forms, exploring them fully in space” according to the exhibition guide, and that seems kind and unpretentious for a man who changed art.

  • Three Way Ring 1967
  • Elephant Skull on loan from Museon, The Hague.
  • Detail from "King and Queen"
  • Detail from Two Piece Reclining Figure No2,
  • Upright Motive sculptures
  • Working Model for a Divided Oval: Butterfly 1967

The exhibits are set out in the huge main exhibition space with plenty of space to view the objects from all angles. I was there on a public holiday but it was not crowded at all, and we had plenty of space to wander around. It was a pleasure to look at the works in relative calm. I may even go back for a second viewing on a warmer day.

Museum Beelden Aan Zee is open Tuesday to Sunday, and this exhibition is on until 22 October.
Entry Fee: 21 euro which includes an extra fee for this exhibition
Entree for Museum Card holders: 3.50 (but you can go to the exhibition on a later date without paying the 3.50 again)
Address: Harteveltstraat 1, 2586 EL The Hague
Public transport access from the Hague: no1 tram from the city centre.

My Girl With a Pearl

These are the five winners of the “my girl” submissions, I can’t decide which of these is my favourite.

The Hague’s most famous girl, the Vermeer painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is currently visiting Amsterdam for the incredible Vermeer exhibition, so what can the Mauritshuis display while their most famous resident is away? Everyone’s interpretation of her. There are the five winning images framed and posted in the room, and a digital display with a selection of more images that changes each week.

Mauritshuis asked for fans to submit their own version of or tribute to the painting and the creativity is amazing. Some of the best are on display but you can also see a sample on a special Instagram account. I can’t pick my favourite there either, but this one made me laugh.

The Mauritshuis has come in for some criticism for their approach, from a couple of different directions.

This is not Art, Bring Back Vermeer

I’m lucky, I’ve seen Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring multiple times, and I will visit her again when she returns to Den Haag, so I didn’t feel I missed out on seeing her on this visit. In fact I found it quite refreshing to see what other artists had done with the image, from changing the ethnicity of the sitter, to hinting at an origin story, to making a political point.

However given that the she has been in Amsterdam in an exhibition that’s completely sold out I can easily imagine feeling I’d missed out if I’d come to the Netherlands wanting to see her and then not been able to.

The girl brings her pearl back to the Hague on the 1 April, although the Amsterdam exhibition continues until June.

Why are you displaying AI-generated works?

This has been the most controversial point. One of the five winners, the central image in the row above, was selected as one of the winners. People online have had a lot of opinions about it, writing screeds on Instagram that AI is not art, that the museum does art a disservice by including it, that all AI is plagiarism. The critics have a point. I imagine similar critiques have been leveled at every other piece of technology in the art world – few artists now would mix their own paint in the way of Vermeer, Fabritius or Hals. And surely with good photography we can all have our own “Vermeer” in our homes. So yes, artists evolve and use new technologies, museums evolve to display new art in new ways. But the plagiarism charge still sticks since AI trains art-generating algorithms on existing works without every acknowledging or paying those artists. Given that AI is pretty terrible for working artists a museum displaying an AI work gives it unwelcome legitimacy. I don’t have any answers. I suspect the museum chose the winning images with an eye to prevailing trends of diversity and technology and knew they’d attract attention/criticism.

But I’ve made up my mind on my favourite “girl”, only the image does not depict a girl at all.

Overheard in Den Haag

There’s a peculiar language dance that sometimes happens when I try to figure out whether to use my imperfect Dutch or my native English.

I went to a local bakery, famous for its French style breads and pastries. I’d usually use Dutch in this situation but this particular shop often has visiting students working for them and so I just asked whether Dutch or English would work best.

Shop guy (with French accent)English will be fine… or French
Dumb foreigner (ie; me)Il y a des années, mais j’ai étudié le français à l’école

(It’s been years but I did study French at school)
Shop guy (with French accent)Moi aussi

I went on to order in English but left with a solid “Merci et au revoir”. Decades after my last class with her, Madame Bell would be proud.

For the Love of Reading – Book week

It’s book week this week, reading is one of my favourite things to do. I’m not fussy about format so I will read e-books, listen to audio books and read the traditional paper versions. However nothing compares to the absolute joy of browsing a bookstore. So here’s my summary of English language books around the city. Most bookstores in the Netherlands will have an English language section but these stores are focused on English.

ABC, The American Book Center

Lange Poten 23

ABC is all about English language books, predominantly from US publishers. They also have magazines, games, agendas and gifts. ABC also offers a self-publishing service with Betty the Book Machine. The book selection is curated by staff, and they will sometimes provide staff picks for specific books with short reviews. I’ve ordered books from them that were not on the shelves and their service was good!


Noordeinde 39

Bookstor has a rather eclectic collection of books, lots of Penguin editions along one wall and second hand books along the other. There’s also a small selection of whimsical prints available. During the pandemic lockdowns the Bookstor did something rather lovely, you could buy a mystery selection of books which were then delivered to your home. It was such a delight to have something someone else had chosen.

They also serve coffee, and cakes. They have a terrace at the front of the store and a secret garden out the back. Shhhh! Don’t tell everyone.


Herengracht 60

Douwes specialises in legal texts, but don’t be daunted, they also have a range of fiction in English on the first floor. The selection is small but so interesting I find it a great place to browse and rarely leave with just the one book I came in for.

The English Bookstore

Number 22-24 in the Passage

A small bookstore, part of De Vries Van Stockum which is also in the Passage.

It’s painted a calming green and has a bright white chandelier, and a small selection of lovely books, mostly fiction. Mostly more literary fiction as well, rather than the “best seller list”. Worth a browse.


Lange Poten 41 (City centre) & Frederik Hendriklaan 217

Paagman has two locations in the Hague, I’ve only visited the one in the city centre, but I notice that the Frederik Hendriklaan site is open until 9pm Monday to Friday – for any book emergencies.

The city center store has a cafe, and a second hand department where I have found some pretty good bargains on fiction.


Noordeinde 98

Stanza specialises in books in languages other than Dutch, at this store you will find books in English, Spanish, Greek, German, Italian, Portuguese and Eastern European languages, at a second store on the same street, Librarie Stanza, you will find books in French.

Their aim is to provide surprising titles they think their customers would like, and they have a few of my favourite writers. It’s a charming store where the latest novel by Louise Erdrich and Patti Smith’s “A Book of Days nestle next to “Slime: a Natural History”.

All these books are in easy walking distance, here’s a handy map to prove it.

Did I miss any great bookstores in the Hague? Let me know, I’m always happy to, ahem, research bookstores.

When I hear someone say they're going to the bookstore "I'M COMING!"
Even whispering it from two rooms away.

Vermeer was here

There’s an incredible exhibition on at the Rijksmuseum showcasing the largest collection of his works ever assembled in one place, a total of 28 of the 37 paintings known to exist. From the moment the exhibition was announced I knew I’d have to go. I bought tickets in January and today I went.

It’s an astonishing exhibition, grouped by theme which is a great way to do it, and the explanations in each room help put it in context. There’s also a timeline in the last room of all the known paintings to help you see the chronology of the paintings – my one quibble with the exhibition would be that the tiny scale of the timeline means you can’t see the images unless you’re right up close and given the popularity of the exhibition it is almost impossible to ‘read’ the timeline. And there was a whole empty wall next to they could have used.

I’ve seen the Dutch-held works plenty of times, and seen a few held in museums around the world, but to see them all at once was truly wonderful. You could see similarities across works, and even costumes or props re-used. Such as the painting of Cupid used in the two paintings below, which resembles a painting from Vermeer’s own collection of art, a painting by Cesar van Everdingen.

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, Johannes Vermeer, 1657-58, oil on canvas. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

A Young Woman standing at a Virginal, Johannes Vermeer, 1670–72, oil on canvas. The National Gallery, London

The painting on the left, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, has recently been restored, until 2019 the painting of cupid behind her had been painted over to give a plain white wall. The rediscovery and restoration make it even clearer that the letter is a love letter. The change is so recent that the Vermeer books in the giftshop still include the old unrestored version of the painting.

There is one painting held by the Mauritshuis that I’ve never felt super sure about. It doesn’t have that quiet feeling of a stolen moment that I associated so strongly with Vermeer, but seeing it today in context with two other early works it finally made sense and that’s “Diana and her Companions“.

Diana and her Companions, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1653-1654. Mauritshuis, Den Haag.

As I live in the Hague I visit the Girl with a Pearl Earring fairly often, but today she seemed paler and less interesting in her surroundings. I’m not sure if it’s the black background she was hung against or the company she was keeping.

The exhibition is currently on until the 4th of June but is sold out, the Rijksmuseum currently has this statement on their website

“Interest in the Vermeer exhibition is very high. Unfortunately, there are no more tickets available at the moment. The Rijksmuseum is working hard to give more people the opportunity to see the exhibition. From 6 March, we will provide a new update via the Rijksmuseum website.”

So keep your eyes peeled, and book your tickets quickly if more become available, they will sell out again.

If you can’t make it to Amsterdam, or don’t manage to get tickets, the Rijksmuseum has created a virtual experience that lets you view each image in detail and presents insightful detail of the paintings, including connecting all paintings that share a prop or feature. You can also watch an exploration of each image narrated by Stephen Fry (the Dutch version has Joy Delima as the narrator).

And if that sounds like too much work, this Artnet article lists all the works in the exhibition

Don’t take my word for it; the reviews of this exhibition have been absolute raves, The Guardian called it “one of the most thrilling exhibitions ever conceived“, Washington Post “there will never be another Vermeer show as great as this one” and Forbes “worth a trip to Amsterdam“.

So what is showing at the Mauritshuis while the Girl with a Pearl Earring is visiting Amsterdam? Apparently five works inspired by her, but that’s also been controversial, I might have to drop by and see for myself.

The Scheveningen Fishwife

She stands, calm and resolute, facing the sea. But who is she? And who is she waiting for?

She’s the wife of a fisherman, and she’s waiting for his return. This monument is to the women left behind to go on with their home, their family and possibly a family business while their husband was at sea. More than 1300 of those men never returned and their names are engraved in stone on a memorial facing the sea one level below her. There’s also a digital monument that includes details of the people lost, the ship they were lost on, the event, and some images. Playing around with the search function I found that the youngest listed on the monument were just 11 years old, and the oldest was 71, his ship was destroyed in a mine explosion in 1918. Sadly there are often family connections among the dead as ships were crewed by family members. And I found one case of a loss in 1918 followed by his son’s death at sea in 1919. The earliest event recorded is 1814, the most recent is 2008. Sadly there is room on the wall for more.

The Scheveningen fishwife stands over the beach watching for them all.

But who was she? I did a little digging: The artist is Gerard Bakker, and he asked Ina Pronk to be the model for the sculpture. She felt honoured, and thought she could understand the strength needed for the pose.

She recounts seeing the finished sculpture with the artist “when the sculpture was ready I went with Gerard (the artist) to the church. I thought, today is a celebration, the sculpture will be unveiled. I entered the church, and it was full of women. Scheveningen women in mourning dress. And they said “today I can bury my husband”, that touched me deeply, and it can still make me emotional.”

My father was a sailor, I was always aware that it was a dangerous profession. His training included learning to fight fires, handle chemicals, and perform medical procedures. He talked about the real risk of pirate attacks on a specific route, and on one trip picked up a man in a lifeboat whose yacht had been wrecked on Middleton reef. But these men, working on smaller boats in the North Sea in a time before GPS, before radio contact, before all the tools that my father had were a whole extra level of bravery.

Once I knew her story I stood beside the Scheveningen Fishwife and looked out to sea with her.

Handmade – Quick Christmas Gift

I’m so pleased with how this turned out, and it’s super quick so still possible to knit one for someone’s special Christmas present.

You will need

100g Chunky wool
6mm circular needles with a short cord, you might still need to use magic loop to knit the neck
30cm narrow ribbon, I used 12 mm wide satin ribbon.

Cast on 45 stitches

Join the circle using the invisible joining method, which will leave you with 44 stitches in the round.

Rib the neck of hotwater bottle cover by knitting two stitches then purling two stitches, continue for six centimetres, or the length of the bottle’s neck.

Increase one stitch using the yarn over method between each purl stitch in the pair, this creates small eyelets in your work, you will use these to thread the ribbon through on finishing. Total of 55 stitches

Knit in the round for 27 cm, or the length of your hot water bottle.

Cast off, I used the three needle method so that I closed the bottom of the hotwater cover, and I did it with the wrong sides facing so that I got a detail row of stitches across the base of the cover. But if you don’t like this method, cast off in the round and stitch the cover closed, or use Kitchener stitch.

Thread the ribbon through the holes you created and tie a pretty bow.

The wool I used was from Cross & Woods, dyed by Yipee Yarn for them, and the colour is Witches’ Cauldron.

I chose it because it made me think of heather on Scottish hills, but now I find myself referring to the hotwater bottle as “my little nighttime cauldron”.

COVID’s Second Birthday

Most sources use a December date as the date of the first case of COVID and sometime late January or early February for cases in Europe. But this academic paper has analysed the data and suggests earlier dates for both events; it seems that some patients may have died of COVID in Europe before medical professionals were aware of the disease or were testing for it, and proposes November 17 as the most likely date for the first case in China which occurred as a result of a zoonotic spillover. And today 24 January marks the 2 year anniversary of the first confirmed case in Europe. So, some time in the last three months we hit the two year mark – happy two year anniversary to SARS-CoV-2.

I started to pay attention to the pandemic in February 2020, because a friend in Italy had told a friend here to take it seriously. Just after the Oscars on February 9th I went to see Parasite at the movies. I remember wondering when I would next go to a movie. After that I stopped any non-essential social interactions. I started working from home on the 5 March, ahead of the Government imposed restrictions on the 12 March. So at this point I’ve been living with some level of restriction for 22 months, and I still haven’t been to the movies.

Reuters created a high level view of those restrictions, here’s the graphic for workplaces which is the most relevant to me.

The graph doesn’t include dates, but you can see that every time restrictions are added the infection rate drops, any time restrictions are lifted infection rates rise. The drop that corresponds to June 21 is when vaccinations became widespread, and the sharp peak after we went to “recommend closing” is partly restrictions being lifted but I think is also Delta hitting us.

The most restrictive period (so far) was last winter, the government introduced a curfew, meaning it would have been illegal for me to leave my house between 9pm and 4.30am. The idea of living under a curfew brought home to me once again how serious this is – a government in a free democracy doesn’t introduce such measures except in desperation. But the practical impact on my life was negligible, I hadn’t been outside my house in those hours for months.

Where are we now?

Working from home, most the fun stuff is closed, cinemas/theatres/museums are closed, there are restrictions on sports, cafes /restaurants can offer takeaway and delivery only, non-essential shops reopened recently. Schools are open and vaccines for the under 12s have been approved. Although Omicron seems to be less dangerous (lower hospitalisation rates) it’s so much more infectious that our health system is still overwhelmed. Hospital workers themselves are sick lowering the number of professionals available to work in healthcare.

Everyone is fed up. Businesses are struggling. The number of “to let” signs around town is rising. Protests are increasing, and becoming more aggressive. There are plenty of anti vax campaigners intent on misinforming people – depressingly, however most people are vaccinated and people are getting their boosters.

The cultural sector is extremely frustrated, so last week a number of institutions opened as hair salons and beauty parlours to make the point that events are still closed and they could be lower risk than personal care services. Frankly I’d love to get a haircut while an orchestra played.

Concertgebouw hair salon


In many ways I’ve been lucky so far – I am vaccinated, I’ve been able to work from home the whole time. I have a good place to live and adopted a pandemic pet a few months ago who is sweetly entertaining. I think I’ve managed to avoid catching COVID, I had a number of symptoms over Christmas but have tested negative since. But I’m tired, tired of being alone, tired of figuring out what restrictions I have to worry about now, tired of working from home, tired of feeling anxious about meeting others, tired of discussions about vaccinations and masking, REALLY tired of people framing it as a freedom issue as if it’s OK to choose to add risk to the lives of the most vulnerable people. Just Tired.

And we will have more of this, more variants, more restrictions, more vaccinations, more challenges. At least for this year, beyond that, who knows?

Memorial Day

Today is memorial day. Some things will be as they always are – there will be 2 minutes of silence at 8pm when even the cars will stop around the country. There will be a broadcast across Dutch TV of a ceremony on TV. There will be a poem read by a student who wrote it to commemorate those who died in war. Flags are at half mast, and flowers are laid at monuments – including virtual monuments.

Some things will be different. There will be no crowds at any of the events, we are asked to stay home and commemorate with two minutes silence.

One of the local news sites has published images from the Hague during the war from the City Archives. The one of a tank at Scheveningen harbour struck me.

Gemeente Archive; Panter vehicle on the Scheveningen Boulevard.1940

This year I’m thinking about a group of 112 people belong to Gypsy, Sinta or Roma groups. They are commemorated in a monument near here, I think it’s the first monument I’ve seen that is specifically dedicated to this group. There was a national raid on 16 May 1944 and families were were collected by Dutch police on the orders of Berlin and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. Only thirty survived.

I went for a short bike ride this evening to capture some of the memorials, normally there would be people in all these places, the only people I saw were delivery guys on bikes and, in the Binnenhof, Koninklijke Marechaussee and a lone trumpeter.