I went on an Art History trip to New York City recently. I am amazed at the vibrancy of the city – it is full of life and lights. My Sunday Seven this week are an ode to this gorgeous city and its friendly people.
The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world (F. Scott Fitzgerald).
Everybody ought to have a lower East Side in their life (Irving Berlin).
I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline (Ayn Rand).
Once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough (John Steinbeck).
One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years (Tom Wolfe).
It couldn’t have happened anywhere but in little old New York (O’Henry).
I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway that belongs to me because I belong to it (Truman Capote).
It is a well-known phrase that Egypt is the Gift of the Nile. This got me thinking about other places that may not have existed, or thrived to the degree they do, if something essential to their existence was missing. One such example is the Netherlands which can be considered the gift of the windmills. These beautiful wooden structures dot the landscape and are as quintessentially Dutch as tulips or even Gouda Cheese.
The Netherlands is built on land that is below sea level and is made up of wetland, swamps, and marshes. In the Middle Ages, Netherlands was constantly getting flooded causing entire villages to get washed away. To make the land habitable it had to be drained. Reclaiming the land from the sea required the work of many generations of Dutch people.
The land was first surrounded by dykes and dams, and then water was drained out of this land. To do this, the Dutch used windmills which harnessed wind energy and allowed them to reclaim land from the sea. The reclaimed land is known as polder, and the windmills that did this work are called Polder mills. These mills are built with strong oak timber frames – some of them have been standing since they were originally built in the 1600s.
The Polder windmills used wind power to turn an Archimedes screw or a water scoop wheel which rotated and lifted water up and over the dyke. The top of the windmill is a cap like structure to which the large fan blades are attached. The entire cap section can be rotated so it can be moved according to the direction of the wind, which in turn rotates the fan blades. The fan is linked to a wooden beam inside the windmill – when the fan rotates, the beam rotates which in turn causes the massive screw or wheel to rotate and lift water out of the ground. This is how windmills were to increase the size of the country – today, Netherlands is double the size it was in 1600.
As mill technology increased, wind energy was used to do many jobs that previously required manual labor. One direct impact of this technology was the ability to efficiently cut large pieces of timber such as those used for shipbuilding – this led to the Dutch Golden Age of economic prosperity in the 17th century.
So like the Nile River, the windmills of Netherlands are a gift that allowed it to thrive and become a global powerhouse in the 17th century.
This is something my sister wrote after visiting the British Library in London during her first semester abroad. I feel at some level we can all relate to what she felt when she saw Shakespeare’s First Folio.
Sometimes in life, you come across things that simply take your breath away. While exploring the British Library earlier this week, I came across the Shakespeare folio, and the magnitude of what I was standing in front of was simply breathtaking. There are only a handful of things that are recognized by people throughout the world, such as Coca Cola, Apple, and Shakespeare.
Every student of Literature, whether it is in English or not, studies Shakespeare at some point in their academic lives. Quite possibly there is a Shakespeare production every single day somewhere in this world. On a daily basis we use phrases such as, “neither here nor there,” “break the ice,” and “refuse to budge an inch,” that are attributed to Shakespeare.
And here, in a case in front of me, was lying Shakespeare’s First Folio – the first edition of the complete works of Shakespeare. As I stood there and stared at the First Folio, my life as a distracted, rushed, grudging high school student of Shakespeare flashed in front of me – along with various versions of Cliff Notes, Spark Notes, and Shakespeare Made Easy.
Looking at this 500 year old folio containing the most important works of literature in the world, I wished I had made more of an effort to read what he wrote, analyzed and understood his quotes, related to his characters, laughed more at Puck’s mischief, cried more at the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, and hero worshiped Julius Caesar some more.
Shakespeare and so many generations after him have gone – and yet these books with his words, stories, and characters have survived – and our lives have been enriched because of them. Standing in front of the First Folio – what can be considered the pinnacle of man’s creativity – was truly a humbling experience, one I will always remember and cherish.
Sometimes you notice little things in cities that are unique to the city, and you remember them fondly if they brought a smile to your face. The Ampelmannchen or Little Traffic Light men on the streets lights in Berlin and Dresden made me smile. These are the really charming and happy red and green men that are cut out into pedestrian crossing lights.
The Ampelmann was designed in 1961 by East German traffic psychologist Karl Peglau. This cute traffic light symbol appealed to everyone the GDR – especially children and older people. The point was to reduce traffic accidents by having a light that people liked and almost respected, and would tend to obey more than regular lights. The Ampelmann was chubby so more light would come through. The almost straw like summer hat adds to the overall charm of the Ampelmann.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the two cities united, and West German started to slowly remove all signs and remnants of the East. But there were protests to save the beloved icon, and today almost 64% of lights in Berlin have the Ampelmann on them. A souvenir industry has started around the beloved icon.
Karl Peglau explained the popularity of the Ampelmann, “It is presumably their special, almost indescribable aura of human snugness and warmth, when humans are comfortably touched by this traffic symbol figure and find a piece of honest historical identification, giving the Ampelmannchen the right to represent a positive aspect of a failed social order.”
I’ve been eating a lot of the Gouda cheese we bought from our trip to Amsterdam over Christmas, and I have to admit it is fast becoming one of my favorite cheeses. Gouda is made from cow’s milk and is instantly recognizable because of its shape, which it gets from the mold in which the cheese is set.
Gouda gets its name from the town of Gouda in Amsterdam. The name, unlike some other cheese names, is not patented, so we can get a Wisconsin Gouda. To get the authentic Dutch Gouda, look for the name Noord-Hollandse Gouda.
One interesting thing to note is that one assumes that if it is named after the town of Gouda, it must be made there. In reality, it is called Gouda not because it is made there, rather because since 1540, Gouda had the sole market rights or a monopoly to sell this cheese in their market square.
Even now, every spring and summer, the cheese market is in full swing every Thursday, where the cheese is weighed and traded in exactly the same way today as it has been for hundreds of years. The cheese wheels are delivered on house cart by farmers to the trading market in front of the town hall. The farmers and traders settle on a price by the clapping of hands known as handjeklap – smacking each other’s hands as they negotiate the price.
Hope you enjoyed this little background on the world’s most popular cheese and where it gets its name.
Paris at the dawn of the 19th Century was a very different city from the one that closed out the century – a medieval, overcrowded, dark city with narrow streets was transformed into an light and airy city that radiated out of the Arc de Triomphe with wide boulevards flanked by Chestnut trees and beautiful buildings made of white Lutetian limestone and adorned with carvings and wrought iron balconies. The two people responsible for this transformation were Emperor Napoleon III (nephew of the Napoleon) and Georges-Eugene Haussmann.
It was a match made in heaven for these two – they gutted the city with little regard for its present or past residents and displaced 350,000 residents and over 6 million graves. And while people complained endlessly about the endless construction and the endless cost – out of all this finally arose the beautiful City of Lights we know today.
It is to the brilliant Prefect of the Seine, Baron Haussmann, that Paris owes much of its beauty. The buildings that line the wide boulevards are called Haussmanns and are one of Paris’s most defining features. Each apartment building was five stories high, with a nonnegotiable uniform exterior façade – its height in proportion to the width of the boulevard. The interiors could vary according to the owner’s preference.
The ground floor had high ceilings and was for retail stores and offices, the first or mezzanine floor had low ceilings and was for storage for the first floor. The most desirable floor was the second floor or the noble floor, which had beautiful windows and wrought iron balconies. The third and fourth floor had smaller balconies and windows. Each building has a uniform 45-degree mansard roof.
Artist Gustave Caillebotte seemed to love the newly transformed Paris as well!!