M31 Utrecht Demonstration

End of M31 Rally in Utrecht
Ok, you got your cuddly cat posting from me early. Now a more political/news posting. Today, across Europe, it’s M31: The European Day of Action Against Capitalism. Cities across Europe have seen protests, marches, and rallies decrying the current state of affairs. From their website:

Current policies in the EU and in Europe as a whole are as speculative as capitalism has ever been. That’s because austerity measures are jeopardising economic stability just as much as debt-inflated growth. There can never be salvation in capitalism, only endlessly recurring crises.

We don’t want to save capitalism, we want to overcome it. We oppose nationalism. It is crucial to fight against the continued erosion of social standards, but we need to aim higher. We want to get rid of the fatal constraints of capitalism and its political institutions. That’s the only way the widespread demand for “real democracy” can be fulfilled.
Source

I understand some of their complaints. I’m not clear enough yet on how they want to effect changes. Regardless, I do think it’s worth some thought and while they raise awareness, I hope they can come up with effective alternatives. I’ll say no more, because it’s too large an issue for a simple blog like this and I don’t have all the facts.

Instead, I’ll share with you a few photos of the people’s meeting that is taking place in front of the Stadsschouwburg right now. This was the end event after a march and protest that began at the Overvecht station in Utrecht and worked its way to this end of town. For more information on the Utrecht event, you can read here (in Dutch). For more information (in English) about what they are trying to do, visit the M31 website and maybe check your local news tonight.

Shared Warmth

Protestor

Peaceful Gathering

Anticapitalism

Caturday: Sunbathing Edition

Nieuwegracht

Walking home from the Centraal Museum last weekend, I stopped, as always, to take a photo of the southern end of the Nieuwegracht. I could see daffodils starting to bloom and the trees starting to regain their leaves, all with the dappled sunlight on the canal waters. Charming! Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a cat, and not where you might think I would have seen it.

Horeca Kat
There, in the middle! No, not on the street. In the window. A winkel kat (shop cat)! It’s not uncommon to see cats in the windows of restaurants and bars, even more so when they’re right there next to a canal. There’s even a book dedicated to the winkel katten of Utrecht, who keep vermin out and look adorable in the process.
Napping in the Sun
This one didn’t seem to be working too hard at the moment. Perhaps he was on his break. Or he was just being typically Dutch. At the first signs of spring sunshine, everyone takes to the streets, sidewalks, parks, and anywhere else they can soak up a few rays of sun. This cat sat there dozing in the warmth coming through the front window. I could see him slightly weaving, eyes shut, mouth slightly parted in what could only be the beginnings of a smile. Ah! Spring!
Raam Kat

Foto Vrijdag: Signs of Spring

Ice Cream Man
Spring may well be over, based on the weather today and the forecast for the next few days. But at least I got to enjoy a tiny bit of the beautiful spring weather we had last weekend. As I walked past Lepelenburg Park last Sunday, I saw this ice cream van pull up beneath the tree. I loved the bright pop of red beneath the soft green tree against the beautiful blue sky. I was also very tempted to stop for an ice cream, but figured I’d be good, especially since I was planning on going to sit on a terrace and enjoy a beer or two later!

I’ve got a Caturday post for you tomorrow, so stop by if you want to see a cute cat.

And because I can’t look at this photo without thinking of Tom Waits’ song, Ice Cream Man, here you go:

Branching Out

Profile
Sunday, on my way back from the Centraal Museum, I couldn’t resist visiting my favourite sculpture. That also meant walking through the little park in which the sculpture stands. The weather was amazing and the sky was a stunning, pure blue. Everything was so crisp and I loved the shapes of the still-bare tree branches against the sky. But then I do love a good tree.

As I continued my walk, I went past Lepelenburg Park where I saw a group of young kids learning how to fence. The safety swords they were using reminded me of some of the tree branches. You’ll have to take my word, though, as I didn’t actually take any photos of their training session.

In all, it was a gorgeous spring day in Utrecht. Hopefully, it won’t be the last!
Twee Toren

Twisty to the Right

Weekly Photo Challenge: Through

Through
While out enjoying the beautiful spring weather on Sunday, I was walking through one of my favourite small parks and couldn’t help but notice these trees framing the path. Peering through them, you can see two paths in different directions, but you can’t see what they lead to. In the end, I took the path to the left, which lead me on a beautiful walk along the canal that rings the old city center of Utrecht.

Focus on the Positive

I’m in a lousy mood for no reason, so I’m trying to focus on the positives of this week.
First off was a lovely walk with Pippo last Sunday. While out and about, I saw this cool bit of graffiti.
Would You Like To Play A Game?

On Wednesday, I got to meet up with A Georgia Peach and catch up and just generally have a lovely time while sitting on the terras at the Vismarkt on the Oudegracht.
Drinks at the Vismarkt

On the way home, I picked up some more purple tulips to cheer things up. Gotta love getting four bunches for only €5!
tulpen

And finally, to go along with the beautiful blue skies and spring weather, there were some really pretty cloud patterns this week.
Clouds

Happy World Water Day

Water in Janskerkhof
Happy Wereld Water Dag (World Water Day)! We seem to be on an environmental kick this week, what with the national tree party day yesterday and now the United Nation’s day to raise awareness of sustainable fresh water management. Utrecht has been involved in hosting related events in past years, including the installation of free drinking water taps at various locations in the city.

Not a lot of things are free here, including toilets, but there are a couple of places where you can get free drinking water if you’re in a pinch. The first is the one pictured above, located at Janskerkhof. The second one, which came a bit later, is located at Neude, although it might be bit hard to find right now what with all of the set-up for the Tweetakt Festival, which begins Friday. This water fountain in Neude is located over by the Dutch Games Garden and ABN AMRO if you’re there and need some water.

So raise a glass of water to the hope that someday everyone will have easy access to clean water!

Water in Neude

Wordless Wednesday: Lente

Tulpen
Wait! I’m going to add some words after all. It turns out that today is Boomfeestdag, which no, is not a day celebrating explosions. Boom means tree, and today is a day when many new trees get planted at various locations. Utrecht’s Griftpark has been the recipient of new trees for the past few years, including this year. It’s a national, annual event, and fortunately, we’ve got perfect weather for it today. So, happy tree day!

Patriotism Ain’t What It Used To Be

Glam
A few weeks ago, I entered a contest through the I Am Expat website to win tickets for an evening of comedy here in Utrecht. It turns out that I won! That meant that on Friday evening, G and I headed over to Schiller Theater on Minrebroederstraat to have a few laughs. It’s a small theater, but with some beautiful decorative details, including the lovely chandelier and some interesting decorative moldings along the ceiling.

The performers were Greg Shapiro — known as the American Nederlander — and Ava Vidal, a British comedian doing a short tour here in the Netherlands. Greg Shapiro was the one who helped organize this tour for Vidal, so he did the first half of the show and Ava Vidal did the second half. Shapiro has lived here in the Netherlands since 1994, or as he put it, he came for a long weekend in 1994 and never left. A lot of his comedy is based around the politics, and cultural politics, of both the US and the Netherlands.

Close to the beginning of his show, Shapiro asked the audience if anyone was from the US. Myself and a few others quietly half-raised our hands. As I was sitting on the center aisle a few rows back from the stage (and it’s an intimate setting anyway), he seemed to notice my half-hearted acknowledgment and commented on the way things have changed over the years. As he pointed out, it used to be that if someone asked if there were any Americans in the audience, you’d hear loud cries of “U-S-A!” or hoots and hollers and cheering. Nowadays, he’s noticed that the American members of the audience did what I and the few others did: half-raise our hands, while sinking down into our seats.

I’m sure some of us — especially those who have made a point of staying overseas for an extended period of time — are maybe less likely to be the rowdy, chanting type of foreigner in the first place. But he was right in pointing out that over the past decade, our government has made it embarrassing and frustrating to be an American overseas sometimes. Things have gotten better since Obama got elected, but there are times when you dread having to explain once again that no, you didn’t vote for Bush, and no, not every American is a right-wing, evangelical, warmonger.

It’s not that we’re ashamed of being American; it’s just that we recognize that the US isn’t the end all and be all of the world. Shapiro isn’t hesitant to knock some of the Dutch practices either, particularly when it comes to the assimilation programs (inburgering). He tells the story of sitting in his class next to a Muslim woman as the teacher says that the headscarf is a sign of oppression. The woman explained that before moving to the Netherlands, she wasn’t free to wear the headscarf, so for her, being able to wear the headscarf was actually a symbol of freedom. But no, when it comes to inburgering, the headscarf is a sign of oppression. Period.

The show wasn’t all dark politics, though, despite the discussion of racism by Ava Vidal. In fact, the whole night was incredibly funny, while also thought-provoking. I was walking away from the show wiping away tears of laughter, not tears of misery. Greg Shapiro is going to be back in Utrecht in May to present his full How To Be Orange show and we definitely want to go see it. The show includes actual questions from the inburgering exam that he has the audience try to answer, including the Dutch members of the audience to see if they can pass their own exam. For instance, one of the questions asked where the Dutch go on holiday every year. A) They travel within the Netherlands. B) They hitch up the caravan and go to France or Spain, or C) they go overseas. If you’ve spent any time in the Netherlands, you’re probably going to guess B or C, but it turns out that the correct answer was A. Tell that to the people stuck in long lines of traffic made up of Dutch caravans in France every summer. Although I hear some of them are starting to head to Italy now.
Greg Shapiro

Pretty Things on Biltstraat

AYA Living
Every time I walk down Biltstraat — which is pretty often — I always admire the window displays at AYA Living. Yet, for whatever reason, I’d never gone in to admire the rest of the shop, despite following them on Twitter and Pinterest. But today, I finally went in and fell in love with so many things. I think that might have been the reason I’d held off in the past. There are so many beautiful pieces that I want!

The shelves are full of lovely pottery with a mix of traditional and contemporary designs. There are plate and bowl sets that would be beautiful holding everything from tasty nibbles to your favourite jewelry. Then there are the small jugs perfectly made for holding a bunch of flowers. They have a thoughtfully chosen selection of furniture, such as chairs and benches, and beautiful pillows to complement them. There’s also a wonderful selection of artwork, although almost everything in the store seems like a piece of art. Best of all, the selection includes something in every price point so that even if you can’t splurge on something big, you can find a charming necklace or decorative notepad to brighten up your day.

I wanted just about everything, although I particularly fell in love with the little pink table that looks an awful lot like a flamingo!
Flamingo Tafel

I worked up the nerve at the end to say hi to one of the owners and she was lovely to talk to and we discussed our shared addiction to Pinterest. If you’re ever near Biltstraat — or just in town in general — I highly recommend a visit to AYA Living if you like pretty things.
I want it all

Fantastic Lamp

AYA Living

String Girl