September 2011

City Saunters, Brides, and Bicycle Rides

Nieuwe Kerk Dresses

You would think after two months in Amsterdam we would have seen most of the sights. But since our dear friend Sarah hadn’t been to Amsterdam since 1973, we waited until she arrived to see Amsterdam’s largest church temporarily filled with 300 naked mannequins and scores of unique bridal outfits! Sarah was managing editor for a corporate Swiss magazine in her last job, so we asked her to follow in her daughter Amelia’s footsteps and write for us: so here’s Week 34 from Sarah’s perspective… Enjoy!

Sharene and Harrison

Week 34 of 52

Sarah Bikes CanalThirty-eight years have passed since I was last here as a college student, but Amsterdam’s charm and the palette of stunning visuals have hardly changed. The architectural details, water and what Sharene and I have called “humpy bridges” make the city something almost like a total work of art. The exhibition of bridal gowns partially pictured above is no exception: Amsterdam couturier Mart Visser, in his role as church warden for 2011, designed a flashy extravaganza to mark “The New Church” as having been inextricably associated with weddings throughout its 600-year history. The silver-painted mannequins acted as bridesmaids in a show that speaks as much to fashionistas as it does church historians, museum preparators and a public hungry for fancy dress. What a way to use a space!

SynagogueInfinitely humbling, though, was our visit to the Portuguese Synagogue later in the week. When Nazi Germany invaded Holland in 1940, there were some 120,000 Jews living in Amsterdam, a figure that had been reduced to about 15-20,000 after the war. Why this remarkable synagogue remained undamaged is a mystery, as the building was certainly an exception in what was occupied Holland. As visitors, we had to pass through a security system of two locked doors and glass before admission, reminding us that even today, the world is still so sadly subject to conflict around religion. The sounds of hammering and electric saws, the synagogue’s restoration project, were much more positive.

Actually, the sounds of construction are pretty much all around us.The canal boat owners are forever repairing bits of their property, and the care the city shows all its monuments and invests in its cultural offer are impressive. Harrison and Sharene’s apartment is within two tram stops of dozens of historic houses and fine art collections, including the superb Rijksmuseum, where I spent that one summer working on a Rembrandt paper. The Concertgebouw, which houses one of the world’s finest orchestras, is another 10-minute saunter away.

Walking to all of these tremendous sites made me aware of another Dutch phenomenon: the loose boundaries around personal privacy. Typically, the canal houses have stories that house separate apartments. On the lowermost floor, windows opening out onto the street offer unhindered views of families doing whatever families do: enjoying their meals or checking their calendars. The take on private space in my “native” Switzerland is an entirely different kettle of fish!

At the Tropen MuseumThe picture opposite shows two very happy campers at the Royal Institute of the Tropics, which falls into the category of ethnographic museums. Featured among the exhibits there was a “Music of the World” area that was no less than an audiovisual delight. While I followed the drumming tapes and learned more about the differences among the world’s stringed instruments, my two mesmerized hosts focused on the ukulele video and enjoyed some of the sounds of home.


Sarah ConcertgebouwOn my last full day in this pulsating little city, we went to the Carre Theater just across the Amstel in the afternoon to hear David Sedaris, the humorous novelist and NPR great, whose reading had us all in stitches. Then after supper, we hurried off to the Concertgebouw for a concert by the young virtuoso Russian pianist, Alexander Romanovsky. Imagine: the audience gave him a standing ovation even before the break! For my part, having wanted to visit this spectacular hall (1888) for years, I was over the moon to do so!

Music aside, though, the most lasting memory of Amsterdam this trip will be the lovely bicycle ride we three took in the Vondelpark. Sharene expertly maneuvered her bike through Saturday traffic over to the shop where Harrison and I could rent ours, and we all headed out for an easy ramble on wheels. When I last visited at the end of the hippie era, the Vondel was the “Needle Park” of the city, and my impression of it was that everyone there was in granny glasses and buckled down over their hashish pipes. Not so this time! Instead, young families, bikers, skaters, and even oldies like us proliferated, and the mood was entirely carefree for other reasons. We even got in a few games of Bananagrams after our picnic lunch, which — even though Harrison beats me every time by a long shot — made for the perfect Saturday afternoon!

In conclusion, I can only add that Amsterdam with these two expert Bananas has been better than ever! And, as Sharene and Harrison always say, a hui hou!


Going Up The Country

Train to Espel

Week 33 of 52

Nico and Annemiki with Oysters

Nico and Annemiki serving a plate of fresh oysters

We love Amsterdam so much, we haven’t had much of a desire to go outside the city. But when our dear friend Sarah arrived last Thursday and extended an invitation to see her friend and well-known Dutch artist, Annemiki Bok, we headed to Centraal Station and hopped a train out of town.

Annemiki and Nico were the consummate hosts for our weekend filled with fantastic art, architecture, food, wine, and delightful conversations. We had hundreds of visitors over our 10 years in Hawaii, and the past 33 weeks we have been the guests of many wonderful hosts. Having been on both sides, we can honestly say Annemiki and Nico raised the level of hospitality to a new art form. We were showered with generosity from the moment Nico picked us up, and the positive, creative, and loving energy was abundant as Annemiki welcomed us into her unique home.

And what a unique home it is! When the Catholic Church in the Netherlands decided to consolidate and sell its church building in the small town of Espel, Annemiki knew it was the place she wanted to call home. She had the vision to transform this large space into a home, studio and office with lots of windows, high ceilings and, well, SPACE! Her artistic mind extends far beyond the canvas as she has created a beautiful and functional environment for living, entertaining and painting, and she even has a two-bedroom bed and breakfast loft!

We could go on for pages about the architecture of her house and how she designed the spaces, but the essence of Annemiki Bok is her art and words can’t do justice to that, so we invite you to browse her website to admire her artwork.


Needle Tower II

Kenneth Snelson’s “Needle Tower II”

On Sunday, we all piled into Nico’s car and drove to the Kröller-Müller Museum, a world-class art collection and outdoor sculpture garden. The museum is located in the center of National Park De Hoge Veluwe, a park of over 13,000 acres east of Amsterdam. In keeping with Holland’s bike-friendliness, you can pick up one of 1700 free White Bikes throughout the park and drop it off at one of the other locations.

We started off outdoors, taking a long walk through the sculpture garden with its eclectic mix of sizes, shapes and themes. With Harrison’s background in broadcast towers, he was particularly fond of a work called Needle Tower II, a structure over 100 feet tall made of aluminum and steel wire that doesn’t look strong enough to stand up, but has been in place for over 40 years so clearly can withstand high winds. The sculptor, Kenneth Snelson, was not a structural engineer but still created a fascinating structural concept mixing flexible and rigid components that was later named tensegrity by Buckminster Fuller.

After walking through the sculpture garden we went inside the museum and were treated to hall after hall of fabulous art and famous artists, and lucky us to have Annemiki, an accomplished artist, and Sarah, an art historian, to share their perspectives! The Kröller-Müller has the second largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and many of his best works are here, so it was nirvana for us van Gogh lovers.

By the end of the day we were on complete sensory overload, but very happy knowing we had all just been part of a wonderful weekend away.


So, now we know. The people, the culture, the scenery, the attractions outside Amsterdam are just as incredible as inside the big city.

We thank Sarah, who is with us for one more week, for the introductions, and we send our sincere hartelijk dank je wel (heartfelt thank you) to two beautiful people who offered us a memorable trip up the Holland countryside.

Wishing all of you as much generosity in your life this coming week as we turn the page from summer to fall.

As always, a hui hou!
Sharene and Harrison

The View From Our Apartment…

Amstel Apartment View

Week 32 of 52

…We Live In the Second Best Location in Amsterdam!

Sape Connie KitchenThe best location goes to Sape and Connie who live at the intersection of the Prinsengracht canal and Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, one of the most picturesque spots in all of Amsterdam. They have owned their apartment for over 20 years and were kind enough to host a delicious dinner for us in this very Dutch home. The apartment is very wide by Dutch standards because it spans two adjacent buildings, one built 100 years ago and one 200 years ago.

The most fascinating part (to us non-natives) is the spiral staircase from the ground-floor entrance up to their place on the 3rd level. Dutch stairs are really something amazing, with incredibly steep and tiny steps. After the scrumptious dinner of soup, lamb, couscous, a fabulous cheese plate and, well, a few glasses of wine, we said our goodbyes and slowly and carefully made our way down the staircase. As we got to the bottom, Connie comes running down the steps to see us out. As we stood there in awe, she reminded us that they have been doing this all their lives, but we found it a feat worthy of Olympic status! Dank u wel Sape and Connie for a wonderful evening.


One traditional Dutch dinner party was a delight, but we were fortunate enough to be invited to two! So off we went to have a feast of mussels at our friend Hanneke’s along with Frank, our friend, tour guide, historian and resource for all things Dutch! Hanneke is a wonderful host and we had a great time with lots of laughs. She served us the best the North Sea had to offer by presenting two HUGE pots of mussels she had lovingly prepared for us along with other goodies. (She admitted mussels when in season are her favorite food in the whole world!) Mahalo Hanneke; you give the expression “Dutch Treat” new meaning!

Charlie Chaplin accompanied by a live symphony orchestra… an amazing close to Week 32!

Charlie ChaplainAfter we arrived in Amsterdam in July we dug through every arts and entertainment brochure we could find looking for events to attend during our three months here. We found a few in the “don’t miss” category and bought tickets. One that we wouldn’t have classified as “don’t miss” but looked vaguely interesting was a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s silent film Modern Times, with music provided by a full orchestra. We bought tickets and didn’t think much more about it until we showed up last night.


Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ

Wow, we had no idea what a rare and special event we had signed up for! The film was an excellent print of Modern Times shown to a sold-out audience on a large screen in the gorgeous Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ, with music performed by the Brabants Orchestra directed by Timothy Brock. Turns out that Brock grew up in West Seattle when Harrison lived there in the 1970s and now lives in Olympia, Washington. He specializes in conducting and composing concert-hall works and scores for silent film, and he restored the music for Modern Times and other Chaplin films with the blessing of Chaplin’s heirs in France. We’ve watched silent films for years and have seen many of Chaplin’s, but seeing one on a big screen accompanied by a full orchestra is like watching Harry Potter on an iPhone and then seeing it in a 3-D IMAX theater. It just blew us away!

Chaplin was an extraordinary talent across many dimensions; we hadn’t realized that he composed the music to Modern Times (and his other later films as well) himself. Restoring the music was a fascinating project that Brock talks about here. He conducts this type of performance from time to time around the world but mostly in Europe; we feel very lucky to have caught him. (Note to Gig Harbor Rick: get Timothy Brock to guest-conduct the Tacoma Symphony in one of these performances!)


As we write this on 9-11-2011, we know many are recalling the sad events of ten years ago. The world has changed since then, but we still believe there is good in most people. We have hope that the next 10 years will be a time of healing and progress for the United States and for the world.

As always, a hui hou, and many thanks for letting us share our year with you.

Sharene and Harrison

Bikes, Surprises, and DGIBs

Skinny Bridge Night
We got lucky again! Sarah’s oldest daughter (and Isabel and Hallie’s sister) Amelia hopped a train in Paris (where she was attending a conference) and 3-1/2 hours later landed on our doorstep in Amsterdam. We got to keep her for six days and since, in addition to full-time university studies, she is Managing Editor for the European Heart Journal, we figured she ought to be able to polish off this week’s update without breaking a sweat! She said, “Sure!” and so we have a guest author for this edition. Probably a good thing because all we would do is blabber on about how smart, interesting, beautiful and wonderful she is. So here is Week 31 from a different perspective!

Week 31 of 52

With Amelia at Amstel

Harrison, Amelia and Sharene moving into the new apartment on the Amstel canal.

Lieve Vrienden,

You know you have made it home when you are greeted on the train tracks at Centraal Station with open arms by Harrison and walk in the doors of a stylish Amsterdam residence to the smell of a delicious meal cooked by Sharene. This happened to me on Wednesday evening of this past week. The days since have been filled with cultural highlights galore, excellent food (all Sharene’s doing), various adventures involving bikes, a surprise visit, helping Sharene and Harrison move to a new apartment (see their view at the top of the page), and lots of laughter and good conversation.

Spui Quartet

Pachelbel et al.

One of the cultural (and very unexpected) highlights of this week was a long morning spent at the Dutch Resistance Museum, where we learned about how the Dutch dealt with the Nazi occupation during World War II. This prompted the discussion of whether we might have taken part in the movement had we lived during this era, a question that will go unanswered. Other highlights included the Jewish Historical Museum, the Amsterdam Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. In between all this cultural input we heard lovely street music (including the string quartet at left), enjoyed delightful park picnics, and discussed family history, how to make chocolate chip cookies without chocolate chips (hard to find in Europe), and politics.

Frank Home Merwedeplein

The Frank family’s pre-occupation apartment on the Merwedeplein.

Warm and dry weather has been a bit of an unusual occurrence so far during Harrison and Sharene’s weeks as residents of Amsterdam, so the two days of blue sky and sun were a true treat. Attempting to enjoy this good weather to the fullest, we rented bicycles and Harrison navigated us through the city as if he had been cruising along these canals for years.

We made one very memorable stop in front of the apartment complex where Anne Frank grew up — a very unassuming building overlooking a small park where she played. (This is not a tourist stop; finding this building takes a little research.) Knowing so much about her last years spent behind the infamous hinged bookcase, it was very moving to recall the years during which she lived a carefree life.

The big surprise of the week came after that long day of biking, when my dear husband Phil and his sister Stephanie suddenly popped out of the woodwork at a local cafe to spend two days with us in Amsterdam. This being Stephi’s first visit to this magical city (and I am not referring to any mushrooms here), we spent our first evening giving her a little tour. Our group of five enjoyed the second bike ride of the week, which was on canal bikes. We certainly didn’t break any speed records, but being on the canals allowed for a whole new perspective and the exercise made us feel better about the “Frietjes” (Dutch french fries) we enjoyed for lunch and the delicious Tibetan family-style dinner we had on Phil and Stephi’s last night here.



Powerbocking, a sport we will probably not be trying anytime soon…

The new discovery of the week for Sharene has been Powerbocking — running and jumping on spring-loaded stilts — which she saw a girl doing on a small plaza. Harrison later found a YouTube video that takes the sport to an amazing level.


In turn, my discovery of the week is the fact that Sharene used to be a member of a “Water Garden Club” on the Big Island. This I learned during our trip to the Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam, where I also learned that it is ludicrous to visit botanical gardens with someone who comes from a place that calls itself the “Orchid Island”.

Victoria Cruziana

The Botanical Gardens’ saving grace: the back of a Victoria cruziana (one big lily)


While I am gently trying to bring this week to a close in writing on the couch of Sharene and Harrison’s new apartment at the intersection of the Amstel and Prinsengracht canals, I have just been introduced to yet another novelty of Amsterdam. A boat filled with men, fittingly labeled “DGIBs” (drunk guys in boats) by Harrison, floating down the Prinsengracht, singing at the top of their lungs completely off-tune. The Swiss in me immediately wonders whether there are any restrictions to operating a boat under the influence.

I remember reading in one of the newsletters that Harrison and Sharene chose Amsterdam due to the fact that it was one of “Europe’s unique and most fascinating cities”. It has been a very special privilege to further discover this place with two of the most unique and fascinating people in my life, and I feel lucky to have two more days to go. Thank you for everything!

Freundliche Grüsse / Liebe Gruess / Mes meilleures salutations / Ciao / etc.