Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

Houses in a Row
This photo was taken a few weeks ago on a vividly sunny Sunday morning. I loved the slight curve of the street and the mix of older and newer houses of different sizes, colours, and styles. And it’s not a Dutch photo without lots of bikes! Cars are being phased out of the city center more and more, so the few that you see there are some of the few that remain. Although to be honest, I’ve got lots of photos — this one included — that would be so much nicer without the cars in the shot!

Tasty Street

This is another Dutch urban scene taken last Saturday. We stopped at De Tafel Van 18 (pictured on the left) to try their cheesecake, since they were offering free samples that day. Very tasty, but I still crave a slice of the strawberry cheesecake that American Baking Company makes. On the plus side, ABC is going to be at the Veldzigt Bourgondia markt on Saturday (not far from Utrecht/Zeist) if you want to try their baked goods.

This is a pretty typical urban photo in the Netherlands. Lots of bikes, as well as awnings and umbrellas so that any shop that sells food can make the most of good weather and let their customers sit outdoors, and even a Chinese fast food place, Wok to Go.

Still, when it comes to the concept of “urban” my favourite photo I’ve taken is probably this old one of urban graffiti and urbane students:
Contrast [Day 236/365]

The Return of the Ontgroening

They keep coming #ontgroening #utrecht
For the past two weeks, the noise levels have increased, the amount of singing has grown exponentially, and the strange sights have multiplied. It can mean only one thing. The students are back in town.

Viking Invasion
They move through the streets in large packs in strange costumes. Viking helmets mix with togas mix with tiaras. Matching t-shirts in vivid colours and homemade designs are de rigeur.

Their late-night parties and early morning rituals have prevented or interrupted my sleep numerous nights over the past few weeks, making me long for the quiet of the summer holidays when the city empties of most of its students. Thank goodness for the young men in tails with a glass of tipple in hand, sometimes spotted on their bikes, trying to keep their tails out of the spokes in order to avoid an Isadora Duncan-style demise. They always make me smile.

Urban Blond Grafitti

Foto Vrijdag: Converse All Stars

It's like a Converse Advert
The beginning of the school year ontgroening began this past week, with the first batch of students lining up along our street Saturday morning, and the next batch this past Thursday morning. I’ve gotten some fun shots over the years and got another series yesterday that I’m really happy with. Looking through the window, I could see the students from the legs down and there seemed to be a lot of them wearing good ol’ Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. With the effects I was getting shooting through (dirty) glass and the brick streets and walls, the whole image made me think of some sort of slightly artsy advert for the brand, a bit like the old Levi’s 501 commercials. I even got a shot with a dog. Classic!
Hondje

And it wouldn’t be a Dutch photo without a bike:
Hanging Out

That’s Me on the Homepage

Squeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!
I received an e-mail today that said:

Congratulations Alison! Your work is featured on the RedBubble homepage today. One of our homepage curators picked your image because they thought it was brilliant. Less than 3 in a thousand works make it onto the homepage – so that’s a great achievement!

Needless to say, I’m thrilled. They chose my photo from this past year’s student ontgroening. It’s the photo of the two men dressed in their best under the umbrella in front of the wall of graffiti. That was one of those lucky instances where I managed to get an almost perfect shot. I had to up the contrast, since the shot was through the window, but in the end, I quite liked the almost hyper-realism look it gave to the photo.

I haven’t had a lot of views of my photos at RedBubble — nor have I really tried to make the most of the site yet — but I’m definitely getting some views now. No sales, but hey, it’s nice just to be nominated. 😉

Foto Vrijdag 2.35 (Ontgroening Explained)

Contrast [Day 236/365]
I’m kind of cheating, since I’ve already posted this photo in another posting, but I really do like it. Plus, I’ve got more information about this whole unusual student tradition.

The other evening we were sitting on the terrace of the Potdeksel, trying to wring out the last bit of gezellig from the too-short terras seizoen, when I saw a well-dressed young man approaching the café’s entrance. Recognizing the morning suit and the red and white ribbon on the lapel, I threw shyness to the wind and decided to ask this lone student just what the hell they’re always doing a few times a year early in the morning. A bit surprised, but happily enough he answered a few of my on-the-spot questions.

They do represent Unitas, one of the student societies here in Utrecht. The early-morning event I’ve witnessed for the past few years is an introduction/initiation for new students. The students in the morning suits — and it’s sherry that they’re drinking, not champagne — are there to essentially keep the new students in line and quiet. That was an easier job on the rainy Thursday morning than on the sunny Saturday morning. As to why the older students dress up so formally, he didn’t really know specifically why they do it, but they are, in fact, the only student association here in Utrecht that does so. The white blankets I saw this year are to neatly gather up the various items that the students will be donating to the association. The students have to provide their own white sheet, and there is a list of items to be donated, including the candles and plates and toilet paper I saw. As they make their way down the street and are eventually allowed to enter in to the back entrance of the association, they deposit their bundled items into boxes during the check-in process.

It turns out that they spend the rest of the day doing various initiation activities, and even camp out — rain or shine — later that evening. That probably explains the number of yoga mats and sleeping bags I’ve seen each year. Supposedly, the students at Unitas are fairly good in their initiation process, not going to the extremes that can cause injury to the initiates. That’s certainly nice to hear.

I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, so I limited my questions, but it was nice to get some confirmation on what I’d figured out over the past three years and to learn a few more details. It was nice of him to take a few minutes and explain it all to the curious buitenlanders.

Student Un-Greening

Quadrant
I had a bit of a eureka moment last night as I was discussing the student societies here in town with a local and he described the initiation as ontgroening. I was happy to realize that I had both properly heard the Dutch word and that I was able to understand the meaning of it. Ont is a Dutch prefix similar to the English un- prefix. Groen is the Dutch word for green. So ontgroening literally translates to ungreening. When you consider that someone young/inexperienced is considered green, an initiation process makes sense, because they are un-greening this person.

All of that is a long way of saying that the students are back in town. Today begins the UIT2010 (Utrechtse Introductie Tijd/Utrecht Introduction Time). We’ve been watching parent/child combos unloading cars all weekend as they move in to their new homes. Now the parties begin. I’ve been hearing music and a lot more voices all afternoon and they’ll be continuing all week. The various student organizations near us have been dropping off various explanatory letters to let us know the full schedule of events. Forewarned is forearmed, I guess!

All sorts of inflatable figures, pools and stages are going up over on Lucasbolwerk. The photo above is from our first year here when they had a ferris wheel. I’ll be heading out tomorrow to get shots of the latest fun and games. Hopefully it remains just fun and games. Every year, a few students die as a result of the unofficial hazing. Some of the student associations here, although often mixed-gender, are similar to the fraternities and sororities in the U.S., with many of the same pros and cons of each. I enjoyed the open parties when I was at university, but never did like the idea of actually joining. Some of us had a running joke about a fake sorority, using the Greek letters to serve as an acronym for something along the lines of not giving a damn about joining. I’m hoping some of my friends will remember what the pseudo sorority name was, because it’s starting to drive me crazy.

So if you’re heading off to your first year at university, congratulations and good luck, and don’t do anything stupid! Oh, and buy used books and use protection if you’re having sex. That was the advice I received (and followed).