Golden age riches

We attended the opening of the new exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum, which was done in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum. It is called Asia in Amsterdam and is on display till June 5. We contribute a little bit to the museum’s upkeep and were invited to come for a preview before opening day. The invitation included film and food, against a modest payment.

As it turned out the film was about the restoration of the Rijksmuseum and had nothing to do with the exhibit. This was disappointing as I had already seen the entire film on one of my KLM flights. It’s a great movie, but the 20 minute excerpt didn’t do it justice.

The exhibit itself was nicely done, by category of people: innovators, fashinistas, explorers, trendsetters, etc. The exhibit also covered how the treasures of Asia were (sometimes ill) begotten. For example I learned that one of our national heroes, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, was actually not such a nice guy, who decimated most of the native population of the island of Banda to get at their spices. The exhibit shows film footage of an annual dance ritual, still happening in Banda, that reminds people of this massacre. Needless to say, we didn’t learn about this in elementary school.

Visitors also learn how the good were transported, how they made people rich (and who), how the items were displayed back in Holland and how the Dutch tried to copy them, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. I had not realized, until now, that on many paintings from that period you can see the master dressed in a ‘Japanse rok,’ a kind of bulky padded kimono. I also learned that the porcelain trade provided the impetus for Delft’s Blauw, the now famous Delft blueware.

The food created a bit of a feeding frenzy for those who ambled in late. There was a kind of nasi goreng with ketjap, sambal and peanut sauces available in small dishes, and something called a ‘strata,’  which tasted very Dutch (potatoes, cheese, sausage) but was not anything I could recognize. Dessert was an apple crumble cake (not very Dutch) and sugar cookies, not very Dutch either mostly because of their large size.

I was on the lookout for Dutch people who live on the North Shore. I know there are a few, but, except for one store owner in Gloucester, who hails from Tilburg and who we met before when my youngest brother and his wife were visiting, we did not make any new acquaintances. One of the big patrons of the PEM, a couple with a significant private collection of their own, has a name (van Eyck van Otterloo) that shows up on one of the coats of armor that line our Vriesendorp birthday calendar. It would have been fun to find out about our relationship, but I wouldn’t know what they look like.

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