Utrecht’s Gay Rights Memorial

Recognition
I was born and raised in Florida, but moved to North Carolina (NC) when I was 16. I’ve lived there off and since then, so it’s a state I have some affection for, as well as some feelings of frustration. The recent vote in North Carolina to amend the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage and essentially remove many rights of anyone not in a traditional marriage left me particularly frustrated. The US is legally a secular country, so religious beliefs shouldn’t influence political decisions. I may be an atheist myself, but I have a number of friends in NC, of varying faiths, who fought hard against this vote. It’s a nice reminder that many people of faith practice the loving side of their religion, rather than trying to limit the freedoms of others.

Memorial

About a month ago, I came across a story on one of the Utrecht news site about a gay memorial that stands in the Domplein (Cathedral Square) here in the city. Finally, yesterday, I went to go see it for myself. The memorial is for the 18 Utrechters who were imprisoned and killed for being gay in the 1730s.

The nave of the cathedral was destroyed in a storm in 1674, and the ruins became a meeting place for those known as sodomieten. In 1730-31, after complaints from the sacristan of the cathedral, the government stepped in and began arresting people and interrogating them. Other meeting places were discovered and a wave of arrests followed. Some people in important positions were tipped off in advance and escaped, but in the end, 18 people were sentenced to death and strangled.

The memorial to this atrocity stands on the historic church grounds. It also shows the way thinking has changed from the 18th century to today. The memorial describes how in the 18th century, it was called sodomy and punishable by death. Today, it is called homosexuality and it comes with freedom and choice.

Vrijheid

The memorial is dated June 1999. Since then, gay marriage has been legalized in the Netherlands. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, it will be legal everywhere and we will look back with horror at the way the GLBT community has been treated and isolated.

Source

Utrecht’s Occupation

Wave the Flag
On 15 October 2011, people of all ages began gathering at the Domplein in Utrecht. The crisp, autumn morning saw signs being made, posters being hung, and people coming together to voice a frustration with the form of capitalism that has taken over in many countries. On this day, in cities and countries around the world, people joined together to show a solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Not everyone there was an anarchist, nor were they all dirty hippies or a lazy bums (or any other needlessly pejorative terms). They were young and old, dreadlocked and neatly shorn, obvious protesters and people who look like someone’s granny. Many had different issues that they found particularly frustrating, but the point was that they were all feeling a bit fed up with how the super wealthy and the corporations seemed to be getting the better end of any and all deals.

Since that day many of the Occupy protests around the world, including the original Occupy Wall Street, have been closed down, sometimes with unnecessary violence and brutality. Other protests have popped up, often with mixed results, and frequently with seemingly unnecessary arrests. I recommend checking out some of the posts at nylondaze for some great photos and discussion of recent protests in New York.

While other groups have been shut down, often ages ago, the Occupy Utrecht group, which took over a small section of the square behind the old Stadhuis (city hall) in the center of town, has hung on through (lots of) rain, snow, and changing seasons. They’re still there, and while relatively small, they’ve been clean and organized and seemingly willing to talk every time I’ve gone past their camp.

However, they’re finally being asked to move. Well, at least for a day. You see, April 30 is a national holiday, Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day). Mayor Wolfsen has decided that for the health of the protesters and others, the camp needs to go. The protesters obviously didn’t agree, especially when it was stated that they couldn’t return after the holiday. However, a judge has agreed with them and stated that they can return on 1 May. I’m not sure if they are going to move, but if they do, I suspect they will return, especially when you consider the history of 1 May, also known as May Day and International Worker’s Day. This is a day traditionally when labour and left-wing movements often take to the streets for demonstrations and marches throughout the world.

I’m not sure if I’ll be passing by the Stadhuisplein on Monday, although if the weather isn’t pouring down in buckets as it’s doing now, I may be tempted to go to see if they complied for the one day. I did stop by yesterday, though, and got a few photos. As you can see, it’s not a large, unruly camp. It’s actually condensed and become more organized over the months. With the current austerity measures vote and the recent collapse of the government, I don’t think it’s a bad group to keep around as a reminder that lower and middle classes shouldn’t be the only ones to bear the brunt of economic struggle.

Occupy Utrecht

Occupy Utrecht

Nederland in the News

Train Trein
The Netherlands has been making news over the past few days, for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. Although to watch some of the international news programs, you wouldn’t know it. For example, there was a train crash on Saturday, in which one woman died and 117 were injured, but it didn’t get a mention on BBC’s The Hub news program, which we watch nightly. It’s not that they don’t cover similar stories, since the plane crash that happened that day elsewhere was covered quite extensively.

It seems that the crash was the result of one of the drivers missing possibly missing a red light. However, the driver may not face prosecution, because the signal safety was out of date. It, and most of the other signals across the country, lack the updated security, which would cause the train to halt and avoid running into another train. They have been attempting to update the security of the signals since the 1980s, but the original plan was put on hold, because of a different EU system. However, the EU system was prohibitively expensive and never put in place. Since 2006, they’ve been installing an improved version of the system they started with in the ’80s, but only 1,264 signals have been refitted. Out of 6,000. The transport minister said in November of last year that she is not planning on rolling out the upgrade across the country. I wonder if that plan will change now.

Milling About
However, it is not likely to change any time soon, since the other bit of news is that our government has fallen apart. Geert Wilders, leader of the PPV, who made up an unofficial part of the majority coalition, decided to take his toys and go home (he pulled out of the budget negotiations), causing the coalition to collapse. Prime Minister Rutte (VVD) handed in his cabinet’s resignation yesterday to Queen Beatrix. There was a debate today as to when the election should be held, with some groups preferring to hold it within the next few months, but it seems as if it is going to be put off until the beginning of September. We will be left with a caretaker government in which the current figures carry on, but cannot make any major laws or changes.

The collapse hasn’t come as any real shock, since the VVD and CDA were unable to form a more stable coalition, ultimately having to depend upon an unofficial majority through the support of Wilders and his PPV party. The problem is that Wilders is a eurosceptic and heavily opposed to what he calls the “Islamisation” of the Netherlands and Europe in general. His party’s support has dropped recently as the party itself seems to be falling apart. He’s not well-liked by many here, and he was always viewed as the straw that would probably break the coalition’s back eventually.

So now comes the juggling to see which parties will take the lead in the election, which may well depend on when the election is held. If it were to be held sooner, certain parties would be more likely to come out on top, whereas with a longer delay, other parties might be able to take the lead. As for now, there’s still talk that an agreement over the austerity plan will be reached before the deadline of April 30, when it is supposed to go to the European Commission in Brussels. I guess we’ll see.

Here are some English-language stories with more details:
Train crash
Election
Government collapse

I thought this was an interesting opinion piece (in Dutch) about Wilders having laid the ground work to make a move to the US.

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

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

Gargoyles and Frothy Mixtures

Gargoyle
This was going to be a Wordless Wednesday post, since my brain’s addled from this awful cold that won’t let go. And to be honest, if I weren’t so familiar with American politics, I might have thought this story was just a figment of my fevered brain. But no. Rick Santorum seems to think that the Dutch are going around euthanizing everyone, especially the elderly, to the point that elderly people are too afraid to go to the hospital and are wearing “Don’t Euthanize Me” bracelets. As bad as I’ve been feeling, maybe I should get one of those bracelets. Just in case!

Get real. As if I wasn’t sick already, this kind of story — and the fact that Santorum is being considered a viable candidate for US president — makes me truly sick. Anyone who would spout those kinds of ridiculous lies — who wouldn’t fact-check the story like crazy before mentioning it in a public forum — deserves no place anywhere near politics, much less the presidency. Santorum and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly need to get their facts straight and stop spouting lies like rain from a gargoyle. (See how I tied in today’s photo? 😉 )

Whatever your views on religion and politics, you’re entitled to them. But you are not entitled to lie.

Here’s a nice article that breaks down the facts, if there are any doubts.

In the News

There are a couple of recent stories that have caught my interest, with some of them having tie-ins to things I’ve posted about recently or in general. I thought I’d do a quick run-down here of some of the stories and why they’re of interest to me.

Tick Tock

First up is the news that the Domtoren is no longer signaling the quarter hour as it used to do. It seems that one of the pieces that is used for the automatic playing is damaged through normal wear and tear, so it won’t be used until it can be replaced. The current piece in question has been there since 1980. Fortunately, once the piece is replaced, the Domtoren will go back to chiming every 15 minutes.

Lego My Chair
Next up is the news that Rietveld’s famous Red and Blue Chair (seen here in a Lego version) is inspiring artists yet again. DWA, along with RnB, has used the chair as the basis for their redesign project:

The redesign project is an experiment into using music as inspiration in the design process, we ‘remix’ existing designs according to various musical genres, with the hope of making design as expressive as music.

I particularly like the RnB IKEA (pop) version of the chair, perhaps because of the interactive element, as well as the humor of it.

Headscarves
Finally, in somewhat more serious news, Queen Beatrix has been in Abu Dhabi this past week on a state visit, and while there she visited the Great Mosque. Naturally, she wore a headscarf/hijab (over her hat) as is required of any woman wishing to enter the mosque. Of course, members of the generally anti-Muslim PVV party decided to lambaste the queen for doing so, claiming she was legitimizing the suppression of women. The queen fired back that it was “echt onzin/sheer nonsense”.

As one of the articles about the story points out, “Ironically the party’s remarks came while Beatrix was in Abu Dhabi, one of the Islamic world’s most emancipated states, where two-thirds of university students and 70 per cent new business owners are women.”

As another article says, Wilders, the leader of the PVV, has certainly been known to wear a yarmulke when visiting synagogues, despite the fact that he is not Jewish. Depending on the branch of Judaism, there are sects where you could argue that there is similar suppression of women. For that matter, I remember lessons learned at a Southern Baptist school that also made it clear that women were lesser beings. In other words, Wilders and his supporters are being a bit hypocritical to say the least.

So, there’s my roundup of stories I’ve come across this week and found of interest. Hopefully, you found some of it at least vaguely interesting, as well. If you’re in Utrecht tomorrow, don’t forget it’s the kick-off of the monthly Cultural Sunday events held throughout the city. There’s always something interesting going on somewhere!

Oh, one last thing … Go Saints! (The New Orleans Saints are playing a play-off game tonight. Fingers crossed that they win!)

I Predict A Riot

Don’t you just love when you’ve got friends visiting and you get to take them out, show them around, and get them to the fringe edge of a riot? That’s what I did yesterday when I took a visiting friend to Amsterdam. We had a bit of culture first, with a visit to the Van Gogh Museum, and then took in a bit of political protest-turned-riot. Water cannons, included!

Student Protest in Amsterdam
A student protest had been taking place in the Museumplein behind the Van Gogh Museum. That explained the unusually large police presence we’d seen in front of the museum. There had been vans full of police who looked a bit more paramilitary than your average street copper. As we left the museum, we heard and saw a few fireworks coming from behind the museum, but I figured it was just people setting off New Year’s fireworks a bit early. After all, we’ve been hearing fireworks here in Utrecht for the past week or so.

The fireworks soon stopped and we decided to head over to the Museumplein to be touristy and see the I Amsterdam sign/sculpture. As we rounded the corner, we suddenly saw a lot of young people and a lot of police. Then we saw the water cannons. Then we saw people scattering, running toward us, as the huge tank-like vehicle with the water cannons started racing around the field where the protest had taken place.
Water Cannon Vehicle

Water Cannons

To be honest, I think the students who were left on the field were probably the ones least invested in the idea behind the protest. A lot of them just seemed to be having fun running away from the water. I think the more serious students had already left when the protest had broken down into small fights and random acts of idiocy. As we were leaving the museum, we had seen a large group of students standing together outside of the museum, many with purple scarves of some sort tied around their heads or necks. I honestly hadn’t known who or what they were, so I thought they were just one of the school groups visiting the museum or something similar. When I finally saw a news story about the day’s events, I realized they had been part of the protest.

Student Protest in Amsterdam

For the record, the protest seemed to be based on a proposal by the education minister for longer school hours. The students were protesting that they would be “confined” despite not having enough teachers to actually teach any classes for this additional time. For those of you who can read Dutch, there’s an article about the protest here at nu.nl. I suspect the original protest had some merit, but was ruined by those who just want to cause trouble.

Regardless, it was certainly an interesting sight to see. I’ve never seen water cannons in use in person before. The whole experience was a bit surreal. To go from admiring the works of a great artist to suddenly stumbling across rioting next to a major tourist spot in the middle of Amsterdam was odd. To be taking photos of the water cannons and then taking photos of the I Amsterdam sculpture while the water cannons continue behind me felt a bit weird, as well. A bit like fiddling while Rome is burning.
Student Protest in Amsterdam

100 Headscarves

Hoofddoek
Friday I went with A Georgia Peach to the Centraal Museum to see the new Bloemaert exhibit, and along the way got to see a few other exhibits and pieces that I didn’t realize were already on display. One of the exhibits was this collection of 100 photos of a woman wearing variations on the hoofddoek (headscarf), a topic of interest in the Netherlands — and other countries — as the discussion of Muslim identity and integration rages on. One of the elements of this exhibit was to show that the headscarf is usually worn by choice, and worn at a later age than people often think. The exhibit aims to educate and present thoughts on it by the women who wear the headscarf.

Headscarves

The main woman in the exhibit is Boutaïna Azzabi, born in 1984. She lives in Doha, Qatar, and Veghel, Netherlands (where she was born). She studies communications here in Utrecht, and works as a social media analyst for Al Jazeera. She eats halal kroket and Verkade cookies. She has a passion for travel and investigative journalism; listens to Adele; and finds the headscarf indispensable. The variety of scarves is beautiful, as are the different faces she makes in the photos. I think my favorite is the cheeky wink.

De Baas
Along with the photos, there are quotes from Azzabi on the walls. The one seen here says that there is the perception that women who wear the headscarf are suppressed. “Nonsense,” is Azzabi’s response, as she goes on to say that her mother is the real boss of the house.

Regardless of your personal choice and opinion on the issue, it is a nice exhibit to raise awareness and help people be a bit more informed when discussing the topic. For me, the headscarves are still something that I notice, simply because I rarely saw in the US. Yet more and more, they are becoming part of the general scenery as I become used to seeing them here. Certainly, the young girls I see wearing them — girls who look trendy and are outgoing and behaving exactly as teenage girls always do — enforce this idea that the headscarf itself is no big deal.

Telling Time

11/11/11 at the Utrecht Meridian
Today’s confluence of ones in time and date is mildly interesting, but I knew there were some photo groups that would be posting photos from around the world, all on this one day. It’s a topic I generally find interesting, having participated in a past One Moment in Time project that the New York Times did a while back. Since I’m still taking at least one photo a day, I figured I’d try to come up with something vaguely interesting for this particular theme.

After a bit of thought, I decided to head over to the Sonnenborgh this morning. The Sonnenborgh is an observatory and museum that stands atop one of the city’s old bastion walls that used to ring the entire city center. After all, don’t forget that Utrecht, as a town, was already massively important one thousand years ago in 1111, and was granted city rights by Henry V a few years later in 1122.

However, the main reason I chose to photograph the observatory at the Sonnenborgh is because the museum is also the home of the Utrecht Meridian.

For centuries many cities had their own observatory in order to ascertain the time. The stylish Meridian Room at the Sonnenborgh was also constructed for this purpose. Up until the start of the 20th Century, the stars were mapped to measure the passing of time, with the aid of a special telescope positioned on the Utrecht meridian. Come and check what the actual time is at longitude 5° 07′ 46.67″!
Source: Sonnenborgh

Thus, it seemed appropriate, on a day when everyone was focused on the time and date, to choose a location in the city that had served as an official time keeper. I think that’s one of the many joys of living in a city with so much history. You can find a connection, no matter what the theme!

Sonnenborgh Observatory and Museum

Sonnenborgh