July 13, 2013

Historical fiction

"The Call Of The East", sculpture at Korte Vijverberg 5 in Den Haag

In the Summertime no exotic vacations for me, but I love being at home during this time of year. At my side job I can relax and read, while watching people haste all the way to holiday. I can also catch up on literature and great articles, because all my colleagues are unreachable, blogger had an error with images and our other mac died. Our newpaper spends many pages on art and it's future. "The challenge of artists today is the opposite (of what Pierro Manzoni did): not showing that art is as common as shit, but proving art is as special as gold." and according to Alain de Botton: "Art is a concentrated dose of things that are good in this world. It reminds us what love is, what creativity is, of goodness and freedom. Art can make our lives better, partly because we recognize emotions, and partly because we get in touch with the ones we lost. We have to be so strong, that we forget how to be kind and soft. Art invites us to be kind again."*
It's a pity that only the poor stay-at-homers can enjoy these articles...

Summertime is also the perfect time to travel in books. Even if you are on a bounty island. A few weeks back I went to a lecture about Louise Couperus in Den Haag. I combined it with visiting the exhibition 'The Dutch East Indies in The Hague - A centuries-old bond' in the Haags Historisch Museum and a search for Ring-necked Parakeet and 'traces of emerald'.

"From the seventeenth century, the Netherlands was linked to the Indonesian Archipelago until all that came to an end in 1949. In the period between 1945 and 1966, an estimated 350,000 people relocated from the former colony to the Netherlands, a significant portion of them settling in The Hague. The Hague was an obvious choice: it was home to the Ministry of Colonies and to many institutions and businesses that had traditionally done business in the East. It had everything anyone could need relating to the colony, ranging from shops selling essentials for use in the tropics to Indonesian delicatessens offering authentic ingredients. The Hague offered people on leave from the colony temporary accommodation whilst others prepared for their journey to the Dutch East Indies."**

"De Stille Kracht" with batiked cover

Although we have this historical bond, these memories of the Dutch East Indies are best found in books. Louis Couperus made the Dutch acquainted to lifestyle of people in the Dutch East Indies. This to great displeasure overseas. "De Stille Kracht" ("The Hidden Force") published in 1900 got a lot of criticism. 'Indiƫgangers' felt betrayed by their own kind. Couperus came from an upper class family with important positions in the colonial politics. His novel is about decadence and decay in an typical colonial upper class family of that time. It's not anti-colonial, that was a too modern idea for that time, but it was critical about the government in the Dutch East Indies nevertheless.

Doodles by Louis Couperus in his manuscript for "De Stille Kracht"

The other books in the exhibition also show the different lifestyle of the 'indiƫgangers'. The romantic Tempoe Doeloe in which belanda's learned about exotic animals and each family had a baboe is evidently the most important memory we have of the Dutch East Indies.

On my way to the museum I got lost and found Hotel Des Indes. I tried to picture the suntanned well dresses people on furlough walking from the entrance, but it felt a bit silly and somehow hard to imagine. After the lecture I continued my search for city parrots and shared heritage. Looking at the sculptures on the building of the former Rotterdamsche Lloyd I felt vicariously ashamed, I couldn't help wondering what good it all did. Not only overseas, but also here. Common men have passed these buildings for a century now and what heritage did it leave them? I think it is great and very important that with the project Sporen van Smaragd this heritage is getting more commonly known.***But it's also good to realize that the romantic stories and memories are from only one point of view. Good for fantasy, not so good for history.

Lange Voorhout 54-56 in Den Haag

Plaats 29-31 in Den Haag

Korte Vijverberg 5 in Den Haag

Korte Vijverberg 5 in Den Haag

Korte Vijverberg 5 in Den Haag

Korte Vijverberg 5 in Den Haag

* quotes translated from articles in De Volkskrant
** Text from the Haags Historisch Museum website
*** More information about the interesting project by Sporen van Smaragd on www.sporenvansmaragd.nl and in my blogpost 'Traces of Emerald'

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