While I was out the other day dodging hail, the weather took a breather long enough for me to notice the window display at the bookstore on the Stadhuisbrug. (Polaris? Selexy & Broese? Something else completely?) Of course, a window display full of cat books would catch my attention. I’m a sucker for cats in windows, whether they’re real or photos. However, I might not have taken a photo of the display if it weren’t for the fact that I had a little moment of pride when I saw this display. It includes the Amsterdam Pub Cats book that I edited!
People are always surprised when I say that the Netherlands and Florida are similar in many ways. Both are flat, lots of water, lots of humidity, and as the past few days have proven, the weather can change in a flash and you can have sunshine and rain all at once.
Today I was out running a few errands and trying to enjoy a bit of a wander around the city, as I rarely seem to do these days. Unfortunately, I should have checked the buienradar app before heading out, as I managed to get hailed on twice. But like Florida, these little bursts of precipitation were over quickly. Sure, I looked a bit scraggly by the time I got home, but otherwise it wasn’t too bad. In between outbursts, I even managed to get a few photos of items reflected in the puddles. The brick streets may be a pain sometimes, but they do add a certain charm to puddle pictures.
The first that caught my eye was simply the reflection of a lamp in a puddle on a little side street I ducked down to check out some wall art.
Next up was the Stadhuis (city hall) with its grand neoclassical style and central pediment.
Having felt a bit unlucky with all the rain and hail, suddenly Lady Luck decided to give me a break. I had been hoping to get a shot of the Domtoren reflected in a puddle, but wasn’t sure I’d be able to find a conveniently placed puddle. Score! And as you can tell from the raindrop, just in time!
After a whole lot of grey, dark days, the sun has made a return visit to Utrecht. There’s a bit of fogginess making the Domtoren somewhat ethereal, but overall, we’ve got bright blue skies today. It’s still cold, but the sun is trumping the cold, with people braving terraces to sit and soak up any bit of sun they can, even if they’re still bundled up in coats and scarves. It’s glorious. And it’s even staying lighter for longer! Hallelujah!
I woke to horrible news yesterday. A neighborhood icon, Sheriff the cat, had died. Even more tragic, his death came as the result of some vile person kicking him. The animal ambulance came, but there was too much internal bleeding to save him. The psychopath who kicked him has been arrested.
It’s hard to imagine the neighborhood without Sheriff. Although he called Café Tilt home, he could be found wandering throughout the immediate neighborhood and among the many bars and terraces. A friendly cat, he seemed to take his name seriously, often walking with us as we returned home, as if making sure we made it safely. Once we were in our house, he would then continue his patrols, vigilant, but often with a friendly meow.
He is one of the stars of a wall mural just off Wittevrouwenstraat behind Café Tilt, along with other icons of Utrecht. The mural is a nice reminder, but it will never make up for losing the real Sheriff. The loss has been felt by many, with outpourings of horror and grief throughout social media. He was such a frequent sight that losing him really does feel like losing one of my own beloved cats. It’s hard to believe we’ll never see his battered ears and beautiful black and white whiskers again.
During the summer of 2013, the Call of the Mall art event took place in the Hoog Catharijne shopping center here in Utrecht. A variety of art works in multiple mediums were placed throughout the mall. The Celestial Tea Pot, which still stands on the roof of part of the mall, was and is a popular piece, but there was one piece that really created a lot of interest, at times blocking much of the walkway in which it was placed.
Tank Man, a lifelike sculpture by Fernando Sánchez Castillo, refers to the unknown man who stood down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989 after the Chinese military had come in to shut down protests. Although a few names were bandied about at the time, it seems that there is no reliable information about the man’s identity and fate.
Although we don’t know what became of the man dubbed Tank Man, we do know what happened to the statue. It was purchased by the Centraal Museum, where it now has a home. I never got to see it while it was on display in the mall, but I did finally get to see it on my most recent visit to the museum. It’s a powerful piece when you stop and think about what this man did, especially at that particularly violent and repressive moment in time.
The video footage and photos that made it out of China are hard to forget. The close-up photos like the one by photographer Jeff Widener are staggering, but it was one I saw a few days ago that really made me think more deeply about it all than I have in many years. The wider angle shows the scope of what this man was up against. To see the tiny figure of the the man standing against at least 20 tanks just on the road, not to mention the numerous other grouped tanks in the background is incredibly moving and thought-provoking. It’s hard not to put yourself in his shoes and wonder if you would have been able to take such a stand. I think being able to come face to “face” with the Tank Man via the statue is what helps to make it such a powerful piece, because you do suddenly find yourself face to face with your thoughts about what you’d be willing to stand up for and against.
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You’ve got to love an art installation that calls to mind both the Sex Pistols and medieval architecture. The installation titled Pretty Vacant, by Amsterdam-based Rietveld Landscape, was in one of the chapels at the Centraal Museum. However, because I am woefully behind on this blog post, the exhibit is no longer there. I won’t tell you how far behind I am on it. I am the queen of procrastination.
The blue foam is actually the remnants from another work that the group did for the 2010 Venice architecture bienale. That was an exploration of the amount of available space within the Netherlands. With the Pretty Vacant installation, the way it is placed within the chapel, it becomes self-referential to the medieval windows within the chapel, with the shapes calling to mind stained glass patterns.The city shapes combine to both obscure the view, as well as create a new, alternative view of the Dutch landscape.
The structure makes use of both positive and negative space to block light and filter it, creating an atmospheric setting within the former chapel. The chapel itself is divided into two levels. The installation begins on the second level and rises to the top, however it can also be viewed towering over anyone standing below on the lower level.
I saw it from different levels on different visits. The first visit was when I saw it from the ground level. Around a year later, I saw it again from the upper level. The ground level is almost overwhelming with the height and solidity of the wall of blue. On the upper level, I found it more peaceful and contemplative, particularly with the light coming through the chapel’s side windows. The upper level was vacant except for the blue foam, allowing visitors to sit or stand and contemplate the piece with out any other real distractions. I’m glad I managed to stumble across that level and experience the work for myself.
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Cats and boxes go together like peanut butter and jam. In our household, if there’s a box, there’s a cat either in it or on it. That’s pretty normal, as even wild cats, such as lions and tigers, have shown a fondness for boxes. There’s just something about boxes that cats love.
Well, it turns out a couple of veterinary medicine researchers at Utrecht University have been studying this special relationship. Ruth Van Der Leij and Claudia Vinke have found that boxes significantly reduce a cat’s stress levels. In their studies, they looked at the behaviour of cats who were in a two-week quarantine at an animal shelter. Half of the cats were given a box and half were not. Those who had a box were significantly less stressed than their boxless counterparts and the box cats adjusted to their new environment more quickly. They also tended to remain healthier, due to reduced stress levels.
It was a month or so before we got a lot of boxes after we moved here, since the bulk of our boxes came much later. But we did pick up a few items in boxes when we first moved. Luna was appreciative. Lola sulked, while waiting her turn.
As you can imagine, Christmas is a good time for the cats with the arrival of lots of boxes. A little over a year ago, Luna and Lola got a particularly nice box. The perfect size to sit in and survey the surroundings, while still feeling kind of cozy. Add in a little catnip and it’s pure love. Here’s Luna rubbing on the edge, as if saying, “I love you, box!”
Both cats liked it so much, I couldn’t bring myself to toss it. So I gussied it up a bit. I trimmed off the lid and then wrapped it in fabric and cut a fleece liner for it. We still have it, more than a year later. First up is Luna, followed by Lola. Luna does typically sit upright in it, while Lola tends to hunker down.
But don’t even think of getting rid of the box. The wrath of the cats will be rained down upon you!
However, some more catnip sprinkled in would be appreciated.
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