25 May 2007

Procession of the Holy Blood

Sounds potentially gory, right? The Procession of the Holy Blood is held every year on Ascension Day, which this year was May 17. It is an ancient tradition dating as far back as 1291 when it was first mention in a charter. Although there have certainly been many changes since then, the heart of the event remains the same: the re-enactment of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The final part of the procession is the passing of the golden shrine that houses the Holy Blood itself, the blood of Jesus.

V, A and I were lucky enough to get front-row tickets for this year's procession. I had stupidly left my camera in a locker at the train station, so these pics are courtesy of A.

21 May 2007

Those Dam Dutch

At first glance the Dutch appear to be everything the Flemish are not: they wear brighter clothes, they talk more loudly, and they don't look at their shoes, your shoes, or anyone else's shoes when you walk towards them on the street. They look at your face.

So how is it that only 450 years ago these were all the same people? Before Luther knocked on the old Cardinal's door, the people of the Low Countries lived harmoniously together, eating waffles and digging canals. Contrary to popular belief, however, those in the north weren't encouraged to leave by religion alone. They were drawn away from Antwerp towards Amsterdam by the opportunity to make more money. Merchants decided that rather than give part of their hard-earned cash to the occupying Spanish, they would rather keep it all to themselves. And the fact that they didn't want to worship false idols came as an afterthought. Those lucky Dutch. Amsterdam's position on the North Sea combined with a few profitable colonizations turned it, almost overnight, into the world's richest city in the early seventeenth century.

This fact is plainly obvious, even after only two days in the Netherlands. The churches are small and plain compared to Belgian standards: no elaborate altars, no side chapels full of relics. They are clean, tidy places with sparkling chandeliers, white walls, and large organs. In fact, while some religious fanatics (yes, there were some) wanted to burn the organs along with all the other Catholic icons, many people wisely stepped in, played the money card (organ-building was a lucrative career for many Dutchmen), and saved the organs from destruction.

Seventeenth-century Dutch paintings reflect the people's wealth in numerous ways. The people are central: men and women wearing massive lace collars and expensive jewelry. They are often pictured in their familiar surroundings, whether it be an elaborate sitting room or a tropical plantation in the Dutch East Indies. I spent two hours wandering through the masterpiece collection of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum--some of the best Dutch paintings around--and found barely a single representation of religion.

Dutch architecture is wonderfully varied. The rooftops are marked by the famous gables, false fronts that are meant to enhance sharply-pitched roofs. They come in all shapes and sizes and are sometimes decorated with animal and human heads, garlands, urns, scrolls, and curlicues. The gables have such names as Point, Bell, Step, and Spout. And, according to Rick Steves there is "probably even a clark gable, but frankly, I don't give a damn."

My favorite thing about Holland is its willingness to flaunt itself in all its rich, varied glory. Tacky sex shops line up right alongside the upscale cigar bars. While in Belgium your elderly neighbor drinks strong beer, in Holland she can (and probably does!) smoke pot. The tacky signs of tourism are everywhere, and yet you can be in the lovely, tree-lined Jordaan district in a matter a blocks.

So what do the Flemish have to say about their northern neighbors? They don't know how to cook. They are too loud. They are penny-pinchers. What do I say about the Dutch? Well, from what I tasted they really don't know how to cook. But eating aside, the Dutch know how to relax, have fun, and be themselves. I can't wait to go back!

15 May 2007


And now, as the anxiety of last week slowly melts away, I find myself boarding a train for a long-awaited destination: Amsterdam! See you next week!

13 May 2007


(The part where I complain)

I'm getting antsy, bored, a little burned out on my friend Peter Philips.

It was bound to happen. How long can a person possibly do just one thing for an entire year? Well, I guess I've been doing more than one thing. But as far as brain food, it's been nothing but Philips, Philips, Philips. Philips in Brussels, Philips in Antwerp, Philips in Spanish, French, Dutch, Latin . . . And I haven't even started writing yet!


(The part where I rationalize)

It was partly this most recent trip to the states. I got on the podium for the first time since last July. Ahhhh, what a rejuvenation! I was anxious for weeks ahead that I would have somehow forgotten how to conduct, when in fact I just plain missed it. I can't wait to get back on the concert stage!

I also realize that my time here is nearly up. I leave in just over one month! Rather than enjoy the time I have left, all I want to know is . . . what's next? This kind of restlessness is a typical springtime reaction for me: Will I be working? If so, where? When will I find time to write? Will I want to write? When will I graduate? What about juggling schedules with Z? Will we need another car? If so, how can we afford a new car if I'm not working? Will I be working . . .


(The part where I engage in dialogue)

I've been giving Z an earful on my restlessness/anxiousness all week. In return, he has given me that much-needed dose of perspective.

Me: "I can't take much more of this research. I'm soooooo unmotivated."

Z: "Well, how much more do you have to do?"

Me: "I could work on this topic forever! But I don't have time. I still need to go to the Netherlands, England, Rome, maybe Germany."

Z (with that sarcastic *poor thing* look on his face): "You don't have to do it all, just do what you can and enjoy yourself."

Me: "How can I enjoy myself when I haven't seen the $#*(&@ sun in over a week? Stupid Belgian weather."

Z (cheerfully): "Well, welcome to my--"

Me (clearly not listening): "And what about next year? What will I do?"

Z: "Dear, maybe--"

Me: "MAN I've had enough of Peter Philips. I'm tired of seeing his name during the day, his imaginary face in my dreams. Geez, how much more of a nerd can I be?"

Z (starting to straighten up his desk): "Mmm-hmmmm . . ."

Me: "So, what should I do?"

Z: "Sounds good, dear."

Me: "What? Have you been listening?"

Z: "OK, good luck with that. Gotta go . . . grade papers . . . and stuff . . ." (I know perfectly well he's going to the couch to watch basketball.)

Me: "WHAT?!?"

Eventually after I calm down a bit Z imparts his sage words of wisdom: "Don't spend your last weeks worrying about everything you have to do. Remember, you're only writing a dissertation, not the seminal study on the life and work of Peter Philips. Do that later if you want. Right now just relax and enjoy!"


(The part where I accept)

He's right, of course. I've spent all year living the stress-free life of an American abroad, soaking up the slow-paced European way of life, food, and drink. I would hate to flush that all down the toilet over a man who's been dead for almost 400 years.


Breathe deep, straighten my shoulders, do a little work . . . and relax!

06 May 2007

Any (Other) Dream Will Do

It's been a long couple of weeks since I've posted--travel, interviews, archival work--and it's time for an update.

Not long after my last post I was able to meet with a prominent American musicologist, Dr. F. She was in Brussels, traveling as part of a sabbatical, and agreed to meet with me to discuss confraternities. This was fortuitous since I had just made "the discovery" in the archives only a week before. She sat with me in Anderlecht and helped me decipher old Dutch. It was quite possibly the nerdiest thing I've ever done, and I loved every minute of it! We hit it off so well that I didn't even feel slightly embarrassed when I told her about my recent string of Peter Philips dreams: meeting Peter Philips on the Grand Place in Brussels, shopping with Peter Philips in Wal-Mart, etc. (Sad, isn't it?) Dr. F. and I only had one day, though, because the next day I had to . . .

. . . travel back to the United States for a job interview at Gonzaga University. I flew into Seattle and recovered from jet lag with Z at our home in Puyallup. After two days spent preparing and (of course) shoe shopping, I was flying off to Spokane. The interview was rigorous: three rehearsals, two tours, one class, one mass, and several meetings, all in two-and-a-half days. The trip was even more anxiety-producing in that all three candidates were there at once! I am happy to report, though, that Gonzaga is a beautiful school, and the people there are sooooo nice. I felt I did my best in the interview, so now I have to wait and see if it's what they wanted. I'm especially grateful to have had the opportunity to interview because it also meant that . . .

. . . I got to spend some unexpected time with Z. It wasn't a lot of time, but we did manage to eat at a favorite Indian restaurant in Tacoma, attend the PLU Concert Band concert, hike up to Pike Place Market in Seattle, and watch a little of the NBA playoffs. And even though I initially suffered a little mild culture shock after an evening visit to the Puyallup South Hill mall, I realized that I am really looking forward to life back in the states. So it was with a little weariness that I boarded a plane--again--to Belgium, only to find upon my return to my apartment that . . .

. . . my building had finally been sold, and there was a new landlord and, consequently, a new set of building keys that I didn't have. I also discovered (with only a little surprise) that my beat-up bike had been stolen while I was gone. The onset of jet lag was a little delayed by some news from home (not to worry, all is well!) And soon a sense of normalcy returned. Despite a four-hour nap in the afternoon I managed to sleep for 11 hours last night, a blessedly dreamless sleep!