27 August 2011

Another sort of musical experience

Last night, Matthijs and I went to the opening concert of the Oude Muziek Festival (Old Music). We'd received tickets from someone who was a friend of the festival but had other plans for the weekend. He'd been curious about our reactions to the concert: I'd taken that not only as a question of whether we'd enjoy the music, but also a question about the concert itself: it was old music and a dance performance, not the most likely combination....

Having limited experience with music concerts, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect - and my expectations weren't all that high. So when it started out with someone making strange musical crying sounds and then an abstract dance performance mostly in the dark, my reaction was simply puzzlement. And then they began to sing: beautiful, 14th century polyphonic music.

Some in the audience had had higher expectations for the concert: more light and more singing being the obvious expectations. And they'd apparently also not spent several years watching the dancing presentations at the Vondelpark Open Air Theatre, like I'd had - and knew what to make of this sort of abstract dance. We could feel the tension in the air from people both confused and frustrated. When a telephone went off, people laughed and clapped - some of the tension had been released. And then there were calls for the light to go on and some booing and whispering. And people started leaving. And I felt uncomfortable and embarassed by the dutch public at the concert who didn't seem to appreciate the hard work being done by the dancers and singers.

Some kind of introduction or explanation at the beginning would have certainly been helpful - people who expect a musical concert aren't really prepared for what we received. Most of us could have used some help getting past the dark at the beginning and the limited music - and knowing how to react to an artistic form that might not be familiar. And yet, for those who stayed until the end, we didn't necessarily have our confusion disappear - but we did have the privilege of experiencing some beautiful music and some fascinating dance. And the artists were obviously very talented.

The concert was not something Matthijs and I would have obviously chosen - and yet, it was a fascinating evening, and an experience to be thankful for.

24 August 2011

And I was just going to check to make sure my cat wasn't stuck out in the rain....

After supper tonight, I was sitting on the couch catching my breath after a fairly busy day. Matthijs was being a great husband and doing the dishes. There was supposed to be a barbecue going on with the neighbours, but I wasn't quite up to it. I was tired. And it'd started raining.

And then the electricity went out. Matthijs asked me if I was going to look into that (it hadn't really occurred to me to do so - in my world, electricity sometimes goes out if there's a storm and then after awhile it comes back on again - but the neighbours across the street had electricity, so that theory was probably faulty). Yet, I wasn't really feeling up to figuring out how to get the electricity back. I was, however, slightly worried that it'd been awhile since I'd seen the cat. And with the pouring rain, I'd feel bad if he'd gotten accidentally stuck outside.

So I went to check upstairs. The stairs were wet - so I closed the door to outside. And it was still wet - dripping through the walls and from the ceiling. It seemed pretty bad to me - so I got some towels and buckets. But no sign of the cat. So I went downstairs to look for him - and I'd heard somebody say something about water (I figured it was dripping through from above). Still no cat. But there was water pouring through the ceiling of the sports hall downstairs. And the kitchen was at least a foot under water.

So I figured we'd dump the water out into the alleyway - but as I went to the alleyway, I saw that it was also at least a foot underwater. I figured the gutter was blocked. The gutter was found - just full. Full like all of the drains in the kitchen and bathroom downstairs. So everyone in the house (and some from the party upstairs) bucketed the water in the alleyway and the kitchen into industrial size garbage pins (which got emptied into the canal). And after getting all wet and gross, the alleyway became empty of water - as did the kitchen - along with what we could reach of the "bruiloftzaal." And then I realized that our house next door also has an entire floor that's lower than our kitchen - and thus potentially full of water.

So somebody checks that out - and there are mops and rags needed to clean up that mess. And then we hear that the Kruispost is full of water. And as I go to get more rags and mop stuff, I see that the Kajuit and kitchen and the hallway leading to the back room is also full of water. Less than in our kitchen, but more than enough to keep us busy for at least an hour - emptying buckets of water, picking up wet books and papers from an office floor and getting sore hands out from so frequently rinsing out a rag.

Sometime in the first hour, I'd heard that my cat had run upstairs to its house - it had probably hid in the sports hall when it discovered the rain coming through the ceiling and the large puddle on the ground. But by the time I'd heard that, the search for the cat had moved to the back of my mind: trying to get rid of all that water and fix the disaster as quickly as possible had taken over all my attention - there was little room for any other thoughts - except a thankfulness for the willingness of so many people here to help out. And a sense of thankfulness that despite this being a lot of work to clean up, there seems to be little to no damage.

22 August 2011

Different kinds of good

Shortly after moving here, Matthijs said that it was good to have moved to Amsterdam. And much to my surprise, I wasn't sure if I agreed with him. It wasn't at all that I thought that moving to Amsterdam was a bad idea - it was simply that living together in Den Haag was also good. And how could I say Amsterdam was good without making Den Haag sound like it was bad?

Not that life in Den Haag was always easy. And if I had to do it again, I think I still would have preferred Matthijs and I to be together in Amsterdam already last fall. I'd love to have done away with the stress of travelling and the tension and uncertainty that came with having our lives torn between Den Haag and Asmterdam.

And yet, it was good together in Den Haag. It was wonderful to delight in each other - having so much free time to do things together like cooking and playing games and simply being together. And it was good to work together through some of tension and the conflicts of loyalties that life in community can bring with it. And it was good for me to have some time to sort through again who I was and what I hoped to do and achieve. It was good to make a house together - to shape Matthijs's apartment into our house - and good to get to spend extra time getting to know Matthijs's friends and family better.

It was a longing for more (and the hope for new chances) that brings us to Amsterdam. And having made the choice together made it good. But what also made it good was that we weren't leaving a bad life somewhere else - we'd chosen to leave our good life in Den Haag in the hopes of something better - and with the trust that the 'goodness' that we'd built up in Den Haag would continue to grow with us.

20 August 2011

biking to Rome

My father-in-law is now more than half way in his bike trip to Rome. He's gone on a recumbent bicycle (see photo here), which isn't exactly known for its mountain-climbing abilities. But it's gone really well - and he's been enjoying the trip tremendously. He's been keeping a blog of his adventures: 'wil naar italie' - to read it, you have to understand dutch or know how to 'understand' the translations provided by babelfish or google translate.

In anticipation of his travels, I borrowed the book, Fietsen met God (biking with God) from my in-laws. It tells the story of three women who made a pilgrimage to Rome: one a Catholic, another an Anglican priest, and the third Reformed (vrijgemaakt - Canadian Reformed). I had planned to read it slowly, so that I could have a picture in my head of what my father-in-law was experiencing. But I just found it so fascinating that I couldn't help but continue reading! (Unfortunately, it hasn't been translated into English).

It tells not only of the physical challenge of the adventure but also of the exploration of three different expressions of the Christian faith. As much as I know that my father-in-law is being pushed by the physical challenge of his bike trip, this is a challenge that his 2-hour daily bike trips before his trip more than prepared him for. The situation in the book is different: although Monic could handle the physical challenge of it, the other two both had moments when it was too much for them. And while Monic had expected the physical exertion to be the challenge, she soon discovered that this paled in comparison to the challenge of learning how to wait patiently for the others.

The most fascinating part of the book for me was the desire of the women to discover what their faith traditions had in common -  to explore their ecumenicity. It was interesting to see that it wasn't simply doctrines that were different - it was a complete manner of looking at the world that was different. And it was here that Agnes, the one from the Reformed Church, stuck out for me: her stubborn determination to search for the truth and to place that truth only in what the Bible says (and ignoring both the mystery of the faith and years of church tradition). And her scorn for relics and holy water (hocus pocus) caused friction. It was obvious that faith isn't simply what you believe, but also how you believe.

And yet, despite the differences in each of the women, it was obvious from the beginning that they needed each other. And learning how to need each other, while both acknowleding and honouring the differences, is a challenge - not only for a bike trip - but also anytime different Christian traditions come together.

And as for the idea of a biking pilgrimage - I don't think I'm up for Rome (although I'd love to go there, I think I'd rather take the train or fly). But the idea of making a biking pilgrimage to Taize, going through southern Catholic Netherlands and stopping by a friend of Matthijs in a monstery in Chevatogne, is perhaps an idea for 2012 - I just need to convince Matthijs (and finish the dissertation!)...

14 August 2011

The quiet life in Amsterdam?

A lot of the community has been gone away for much of the summer - there was first the summer retreat of the community (where at least 25 people were present) and now it's summer holidays. Furthermore, the main house in the community is practically empty, giving the impression that everything is very quiet in the community. Yet, I've learned from experience that the summer isn't exactly quieter - and this summer has been no exception.

Things at the community have certainly changed pace - but quiet isn't exactly the right word for it. Last weekend was a wedding (and we helped with clean up!). Then we visited Matthijs's mom - we fled the city to get away from the noise that always comes with Gay Pride Weekend. This weekend Matthijs and I went to a housewarming party of someone who'd recently moved away from the community. Friday night was spent hanging out on our balcony with others in the houses here (after Matthijs and I decided to lead chapel together). Tomorrow we'll be eating with the community (and I get to lead chapel again :))

And this past saturday morning, the iron caught on fire. And last week, we were in a tourboat that crashed into a terrace (luckily there was almost no damage and no one was hurt). And on top of that, there's just the normal life things, like keeping in contact with family and friends, trying to hang things up the in the house, random experiments (like trying to bake my own bread!), visits of friends, and working (and sometimes travelling to and from).

So perhaps there's a quiet life in Amsterdam at the moment - but I think it's missed our house...

02 August 2011

three weeks of chapel

It is three weeks of being in Amsterdam, and I think I've attended chapel about a dozen times already. The first week was somewhat sparse: the immediate needs of unpacking, settling and adjusting often eclipsed my desire for going to chapel. And it is taking some time for chapel to become a 'normal' part of the day (although breakfast at 7 and dinner cooked by around 6.30 means I can work a bit before chapel in the morning and in the evening, we can eat (and even do dishes, if we're quick!) before chapel again).

But it has been good to be back attending chapel: good to stop and quiet myself and remember that my day and my time are from God. And good to sing and praise God. It has been a good help for adjusting to life here and back in the community.

And there's nothing quite like leading chapel three times a week to help make you feel like you're in the middle of the community! Last week and this week, there haven't been enough people signed up to lead - and so I've arrived at chapel and gotten to be the one to take the initiative in ringing the bell and calling the others to join me (there's always been at least 4 people, which has been good). As I've only just come back to living in the community and going regularly to chapel, trying to think of what to say/do/sing each time was a bit of a challenge (much thanks to Coby who's also been willing to take on the challenge of leading chapel with little notice!). The result has meant that I've decided to take some more initiative to find more people willing to plan to lead chapel - as I believe that it's good for a chapel to be planned well. And yet, landing in the middle of chapel planning and praying aloud with others and trying to help others worship God - as much as that has been a challenge, it has also been a blessing - both for making me feel at home (and needed) and for my remembering how good it is to pray with others.