Monthly Archives: June 2011

Speaking of shopping…

Isn’t this stunning?  It kind of makes me wish I could go to prom all over again!

courtesy of etsy.com

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Property Of.

Herenstraat 2.

Here’s one for all of my male readers out there.. oh wait, don’t think I have any (besides Gramps :))

I came upon an absolutely striking boutique last weekend while strolling the Prinsengracht- Property Of.  It is a new concept in retail: the store is designed as a cafe, but once inside, the customer can find beautiful bags hanging from the walls, and a wonderful handpicked selection of specialty magazines on the bar top and tables.

The inspiration of cafe culture is the concept behind the store: the constantly changing characters, and the energy, style, and dynamic force they bring to an establishment (http://thepropertyof.com/about/).  This philosophy makes itself increasingly known when you are handed a piping hot espresso, or cold glass of water, free of charge.

After chatting with the extremely friendly store manager, I found that everything from the tiles on the floor, to the gorgeous coffee-maker were specialty items, from far away locales.  The feeling of the boutique is extremely retro, like you’ve been caught in a vintage photograph: the music, chic coffee cups, and one of a kind merchandise add extra flavor to the shopping experience.

In stock are some really design-savvy men’s bags and wallets, notebooks, magazines, and travel guides.  I picked up a copy of a magazine called, The Gentlewoman.  It’s now my new go-to favorite magazine.  (Girls, please take a look, you won’t regret it: http://www.thegentlewoman.com/)

I knew this shop would be an instant hit with the boyfriend, who is really into this new “gentleman’s style” trend.  The place is cool, refined, cosy and customer friendly.  If you appreciate quality and great design with an innovative twist, visit Property Of, at Herenstraat 2.

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Johannes Vermeer, my favorite Dutch artist.

Johannes Vermeer has been a long time favorite artist of mine, ever since I discovered his work in Borders (the American book retailer), while searching for a historical romance to read at the fine young age of 14.   Vermeer’s scenes of Dutch middle class daily life are exquisite, in that they always leave the viewer wanting more.  There is a certain mystery in Vermeer’s detailed paintings,  hence the piece that spawned a book and movie: The Girl with a Pearl Earring.  Though Rembrandt is regarded as the master of light in the Dutch Golden Age, I would say that Vermeer is not far behind.  The painter’s use of light in his genre scenes (mostly indoors!) are very special, and make his paintings of women truly unique.

To me, Vermeer was not only a painter of daily life, but also (this sounds cliché), of human emotion.  He captured expressions, interactions, and relationships magically.  If you look hard, you can see secrets and solitude, disappointment and joy, and that slightly seductive, somewhat innocent look of The Girl with a Pearl Earring.  I think she is quite similar to the Mona Lisa in this way; she’ll be forever intriguing, but we’ll never know her secret.

Naturally, I just adore the interiors in his work.  Looking at the dresses, pearls, oriental rugs, musical instruments and maps makes me swoon!  What a different time period: so elegant and precise, but brimming with human feeling.  Of course, one can’t ignore the languid primary colors in the women’s gowns.  While the background is contrived of warm earth tones, and sun on the wall brings light, the figures in the forefront are donned in cornflower yellow, “Dutch blue,” and a brilliant red.  Brilliant.  I couldn’t think of a better word to describe these timeless works of art. xx Helen Anne

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Majorly crushing on Johannes Vermeer (too bad he passed in 1675).

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Golden Arches.

I had a moment of complete shock yesterday when I discovered in Skyler’s (my adorable Au Pair charge) classroom, the small kindergarteners were learning about America: via McDonald’s.  Hanging from the ceiling there were small McDonald’s fry boxes, with miniature yellow french fries they had cut from yellow paper.  McDonald’s cups stood against the window, sporting crayon colored American flags.  The only aspect of the lesson that was not McDonald’s oriented seemed to be the english words written on the board.  No parents, teachers, or children appeared to be shocked by this, but I could not help staring at the display with my jaw open, eyes wide in disbelief.

I asked my host Mom about it, and she said simply, “this is how the Dutch portray Americans.”   I couldn’t believe it.  There were no maps of my country, no history, no pictures of important figures; only french fries, hanging innocently in the air.  Through my frustration and disbelief, I came to realize that these stereotypes Europeans have about Americans come early, and they stick.  We are perceived as the hamburger loving capitalists who brutally killed the Indians and took over a wild country, only to turn it into a fast food nation chock full of credit card debt.   Hmmm.  I thought the Dutch were better than this.  They know more about the States in terms of politics, music, and history than many other European countries.  They are obsessed with New York City.  How could they just throw us under the bus like this?

Part of me thinks it’s just too late to change the public opinion.  However, this portrayal really hits a nerve (an entire country with a past, present and future represented by a dirty, unhealthy eatery?)  I miss America, and I don’t like seeing it so misrepresented abroad.  It’s true that we do have a ton of McDonald’s, but not everyone eats there, and not everyone agrees with what they stand for.  We can only hope that as these children become more educated, they grow to see that there are two sides to the story.  I’m personally hoping the flying french fries will soon be taken down, and replaced with something more meaningful and important for a 5-year-old.  Perhaps colors, shapes, and numbers?  Just a thought.

p.s. I do not condemn all eating at McDonald’s.  I occasionally indulge in a hot fudge sundae with peanuts, if I’m having a bad day.

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Fun, flimsy, fantastic FOAM!

I love foam.  I didn’t always use to love foam, but since moving to Europe, I have found it a lovely companion for my drinks.  I have a fairly newfound taste for cappuccino.   Naturally, a good cappuccino always has a thick layer of milky foam that rests on top of the coffee.  This foam tastes so good, that I’ve seen people stick their fingers into their cup to scoop out the luxurious froth after the coffee is gone.  In fact, the family I work for has this really neat foam-making machine.  You pour the milk into this stainless steel milk frother, press a button, and in a minute, your cold milk is transformed into a hot, thick, enticing froth.  This is indeed a genius invention.

Now, there is another beverage in Holland that must, must, contain foam.  This is the one and only, Pilsener (Dutch for beer).  Actually, it’s extremely important that beer has at least a two fingers (measurement) worth of foam.  If the said beer does not meet this requirement, you can send the beer back, and request a new one.  Furthermore, the waiter will not be upset by this.  Foam is essential to beer.  The two must go hand in hand together, or not at all.

When I first arrived in this country, I simply didn’t understand the concept of foam.  I thought- why so much foam?  It takes up space in the glass, space that could be occupied by the afore-mentioned beverages.  In short, it seemed as though the cafe was being cheap with me.  It took approximately 2 months for me to realize that: A) Foam tastes better here B) The cafe is not trying to give me less for my money, and C) The more foam in my drink, the better!!

For all of you foam haters out there, please give this innocent garnish a second chance.  Order a cappuccino with extra foam, and partake in bubbly pleasure.  xx Helen Anne

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Rotterdam.

Welcome to Rotterdam.   The city that was completely bombed by the
Germans in WWII, began to rebuild post war,  and is currently an
impressive cultural and architectural center.  One of the weirdest
things about walking around this Dutch city, is noticing its wide open
spaces.  Unlike other major cities in Holland, Rotterdam has room to
breathe.  Lots of room.  In these great, abundant spaces are strange
buildings.  New, modern, strangely shaped, and tall are some of the
words that come to mind while looking at these cutting edge
structures.

In 1953, an artist created a statue to commemorate the Rotterdam Blitz; he
named it: “the city without a heart.”  This name seems quite fitting to
me, as Rotterdam is strikingly modern, but does not seem to have depth
or feeling.  At first look there is no mention of past, no memories,
no historical plaques- history seems to have vanished, as if a page
was torn from a novel, and never taped back in.

I think I can understand this though.  If you’ve lost everything (and
I mean everything- the city center was literally burned to the
ground), it’s hard to rebuild.  How would you start all over again?
This was the question that went through my mind as I wandered the
somewhat empty streets.

This post on the second largest city of Holland has been a bit gloomy,
but I’m happy to say there is a silver lining for the story of
Rotterdam.  Here are a few fun facts about the city today:

-Rotterdam is home to some of the tallest structures in the
Netherlands, including: The Erasmusburg, The Euromast, and the larger than life Dutchman,
Johannes Van  Taller  (This is a bad joke).

-Erusmus University and the Willem de Kooning University have
excellent relations with the holiday hot spot: Ibiza

-Football is just as important as jazz music (ok soccer fans, take it easy
on me)—the Northsea Jazz festival will host Prince this Summer!

-Rotterdam used to have the largest port in the world.  This was a
cool bragging right.  Rotterdam was robbed of its title by Shanghai in
2004.  The two cities are apparently still friendly.  Sort of.

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