Félicité at the World Cinema Festival

Félicité is the story of a singer in Kinshasa whose fragile independence is shattered when her son Samo has an awful motorbike accident. Suddenly she needs 900 dollars, an extreme amount for a woman living in a tough economy, as she fights for her son’s life –  literally. The film is slow, in a way that lets you feel very close to her. There were moments that really hit you, and the director Alain Comis doesn’t let you off the hook, you feel her pain. The third key character is Tabu, a character who drinks and loves hard by night and spends his days as a repair man, it’s his poetry and his humour that provide the gentle breaks in the movie’s tension.

I was lucky to be at the opening of the World Cinema Amsterdam Festival where this was shown, and the Director spoke on stage at the end of the movie. He explained that the story started in Senegal (his home country) but moved to Congo when he heard the music of the Kasai Allstars, with whom Félicité sings throughout the movie. He was asked how he found the actress to play the title role. He said “she found me!” He’d imagined a different look for Félicité but kept coming back to Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu in the audition process. She makes the movie, she has a quiet power even in the harshest scenes.

This isn’t an easy movie, as a viewer you have to do some “work” to grasp the story – it’s not all set out for you. But it’s a film that pulls you in and leaves you somewhat hopeful.

You can see it; Saturday 19th August at the Rialto 6.45pm at the Rialto, or Monday 21st August 7pm at De Balie.

See the website of the World Cinema Amsterdam Festival for more movies, the festival is on to 26 August, so be quick!

Amsterdam’s Newest Art Work

I was playing tour guide on Sunday and we wandered up Rokin, the area between Muntplein and the Dam, this area is being redeveloped and is full of restaurants with terraces where people were eating lunch in the sun. At the top of Rokin, just before you get to the Dam is this wonderful sculpture/fountain.

It features two heads facing in opposite directions and water seeps from the top of the heads down their shoulders, across the plinth and spills onto the ground. It was 24 degrees (75F) so it had a pleasant cooling effect, it might be less fun on subzero winter days!

It’s a stunning work of art and the courtyard around it is a peaceful oasis despite being right on a tram route.

The sculpture is by Mark Manders, a Dutch/Belgian sculptor and it was installed on the 31 July 2017.So brand new.

You can see a short movie about the installation from Gemeente Amsterdam (Amsterdam City Council) sorry it’s only in Dutch but the pictures are cool.

Amsterdam’s Coat of Arms

Amsterdam has an emblem with a bold design, and it’s used in a flag. 
It might be a surprise to learn that in this secular, even sin-filled, city that the crosses
have religious significance. It’s the cross of St. Andrew, but no-one is sure how it ended up on the Amsterdam flag, it may have been part of the arms of the Persijns, a landowning family. The black centre stripe may represent the Amstel, the river after which Amsterdam is named, or not. The 
flag passes the Roman Mars design criteria and gets a nod in this TED talk on flag design (at about 10 minutes in).

The same design is used in an escutcheon or shield shape, and is applied to tourist souvenirs from key rings
to clogs, to beer mugs.

The shield forms part of the city’s arms, it “wears” a crown, which 
is the Imperial Crown of Austria, and the right to use it was granted to
 Amsterdam by the Maximilian I 1489 as a reward for the money lent in the 
Hook and Cod wars. The same crown sits atop the Westertoren, and turns 
up on the Blauwebrug.

Amsterdam emblem on Westertoren

Sometime in the 16th century two golden lions were added flanking the shield. I can’t find any particular reason for them being added, but it did bring the city’s coat of arms in line with the national coat of arms where the lion comes from the family arms of Nassau – one title still held by today’s Dutch royal family.  This version of the coat of arms is common around Amsterdam on older buildings.

The most recent addition to the coat of arms is less than 100 years old, and it’s 
the city’s motto “Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig”, meaning “Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate”. It was granted to the city by Queen Wilhelmina in 1947, in recognition for the bravery and compassion shown by the city in the General Strike of 1941. So on older buildings you won’t see the motto. Here’s today’s coat of arms for Amsterdam.

So this secular, liberal, anything goes city has a coat of arms that features the crown of a
 Catholic monarch, the cross of a Catholic saint and a motto recognising a very humanitarian protest. It tells you a lot about the city.

The image of the city’s coat of arms is in the public domain, but its use is restricted within 
the city, however there are variants of it created and appearing on buildings around the city, and in local art.

Images;

Anne Frank House – Annual Advice 2017

Riding my bike along Keizergracht last night I noticed a very long queue and decided it’s time to issue my annual (well, almost annual) advice on visiting Anne Frank House.

Here’s the queue – at least 250 people waiting in line to visit.

They have changed their system since I last wrote about this so here’s the up-to-date advice.

You can buy tickets for a specific time-slot online, the entry time will be between the museum opening and 3.30pm. These tickets are released two months in advance.

If you can’t get an online ticket you can queue for door ticket, these allow entry from 3.30pm until 30 minutes before closing (10pm from April to October).

The ticket price is 9 Euro for an adult and 4.50 Euro for a child between 10-17 (and free for the under 10s).

You can find more details on the Anne Frank House website. If you can’t manage a visit to the annex, there’s a wonderful 3D version online that you can explore.

The museum is going to be extended in the coming year so be prepared for some disruption as a new entrance and facilities are built.

The Anne Frank House

annefrankhouse_bookcaseI’ve lived in Amsterdam for a long time, but despite living within a 10 minute bike ride I have only visited Anne Frank House once.

The museum encourages you to buy tickets online, in fact from 9am to 3.30pm you can only visit the museum with a ticket purchased online for a specific timeslot. From 3.30 onwards you can queue and by a ticket at the door, fair warning – the queues get long.

The museum has been developed around the Annex where the Frank family was in hiding, and my visit takes me through the rooms they occupied. The annex has been carefully preserved and the famous bookcase entrance has been reconstructed.

You do get a feeling for the claustrophobic lives of the attic’s eight inhabitants, as you go through the Frank’s family room, Anne’s bedroom, and the Van Pels rooms. It was interesting seeing the “real thing”, including the pictures Anne chose to put on the wall and the notes in her own writing.

After you’ve been through the family space there is an area for more exhibitions where you can learn more about the occupation of Amsterdam and how Jews hid around the city to stay safe. There is a movie playing that includes an interview with Miep Gies – one of the Dutch people who helped supply the families with food.

If you can’t make it to Amsterdam you can take a virtual tour of the house online, complete with close ups of various artifacts and details of each room.

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-17-08-41I’d read Anne Frank’s diary as a child, and I’ve seen numerous images of the annex. I think the familiarity of the story and the annex meant that it didn’t have the emotional impact I’d expected. However as I was leaving the museum there was a glass case, and in the case was one of the yellow stars that Jewish people in the Netherlands had been legally required to wear, and I caught my breath. In the grand scheme of things this is perhaps the least of the wrongs, but as a symbol of all the injustice it remains powerful. Any time the government tries to make one group “other” we should be concerned.

The other thing that got me, but in a more hopeful way, was a glass bookcase showing the versions of Anne Frank’s diary in all the translations, there were about 40 different language represented (apparently it’s been translated into 67 languages). And suddenly I saw why Anne Frank’s memory is so important.

There’s a famous quote, often attributed to Stalin,

The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.

It’s very hard to comprehend the sheer scale of the holocaust, the total death toll is usually given as 11 million; that’s Moscow, or Greece, or New York + Chicago, or 3 times the population of my home country. We can’t empathise with a statistic. But when we read the story of one young woman, who happened to be born of a certain religion in the wrong place at the wrong time, then we can understand the tragedy.

 

Images;

Anne Frank bookcase  |  By Bungle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Holocaust badge for the Netherlands |  Holocaust memorial

Old Stones

The city council has been working on the the Singel, an old Amsterdam canal, for ages. I walk past the worksite frequently and wondered what was taking so long.

Turns out there has been an archeological project, as part of Amsterdam’s medieval city wall was discovered when the 19th-century stone layer was removed revealing 27 large stones. It’s the first time that any of the city wall has been discovered in its original state.

There’s a short article on the City Council website, only available in Dutch .

The wall appears on the oldest map of Amsterdam by Cornelis Anthonisz which dates from 1538.

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-23-07-33

Here’s an extract from the city council’s article (translation mine);

The site involves 27 large stone from the medieval city wall from the year 1480. These stones were below the water and were only visible after a layer of 19th century stone was removed during the restoration. This wall is also mentioned in the oldest city map of Amsterdam by Cornelis Anthonisz… It is the first time that a portion of the city wall has been found in original condition. Although there are a few loose stones known to have come from the old city wall built into the wall of the Geldersekade.

The medieval stones remain in place. Experts will examine how the area can be preserved. The demolition of the rest of the 19th century quay continues. City Archaeologist Jerzy Gawronski is in consultation with central district and Engineering Amsterdam on how to preserve these special stones. ”

Raepenhofje

raepenhofjeThe Raepenhofje is on Palmgracht in the northern part of the Jordaan, and it’s old, built in 1648. At the time it was built Palmgracht would have been a canal, but the canal was filled in in 1895. At around the same time many of the old houses in this area were cleared so the street has little historic character. The Raepenhofje is an exception, it’s one of the oldest of Amsterdam’s hofjes that’s still in use.

It was built by Pieter Adriaanszoon Raep using money he inherited from his father. The family name is commemorated on the front of the building. The family’s coat of arms sits above the construction date, and the vegetable is a turnip playing on the family’s name; raep (or raap in modern spelling) means turnip in Dutch. Above the turnip are the founder’s initials.

The hofje was founded as a home for widows and orphans, all of whom were expected to be protestant. There were originally 12 rooms, with some communal areas for cooking and dining. Now there are 9 apartments and they’re still occupied by protestant women, the women are students when they move in but can stay after graduation – but they may not “samenwonen” (bring in their boyfriends permanently). It has always been managed by the family, although the management has descended through daughters so it’s no longer the Raep family.

It’s not open to the public but there are a few pictures in the city council archive.

raepenhofje