Category Archives: Reviews

Conversations in Drenthe and Friesland

Last weekend I headed north. For the past few years, Culturapeida has had a partnership with PeerGroup, a theatre company from Drenthe in the northern Netherlands. We worked with them on a project for the Preston Guild in 2012 and have maintained the relationship ever since. We are currently working with them on a project called Bridging Blackburn which is about conversations with strangers and encouraging communities to communicate. Our other partner in this venture is a project that works with young people in Blackburn called Slyncs which is headed up by an old friend and ex employee of Culturapedia, Jaf Hussain.

20160917_115447Last weekend a group of seven young people from Blackburn visited PeerGroup to work with four of their young people to further explore ideas that will ultimately lead to a performance/happening/event, in Blackburn in the Summer of 2017.

I headed off, with my bike, and caught a train to Assen. From there I had a 45 minute cycle ride up to PeerGroup’s HQ which is an disused 1960s cold war ammunitions base called Donderboerkamp, surrounded by forest. The site consists of a grid of streets with buildings sparsely placed amongst the trees. Peer Group manage this site. It is where they are based but it also houses sheltered work opportunities for people with learning difficulties and mental health issues. Most of the buildings have been, or are in the process of being, converted from storage units for ammunition into useful spaces for staying, rehearsing, building, eating and creating. They are functional red brick boxes but they have a simple aesthetic with their shutters in amongst the trees.

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The weather was great and we had good company. The chall957447848282696132-account_id2enge was focusing on the task in hand – to think about how you had conversations with strangers and how we communicate – with words, pictures, actions…

On Friday night we set off in a convoy to go and see PeerGroups current production, an hour and a half drive away in the village of Kimswert on the Friesian coast. Five hundred years ago this was the home of Grutte Pier, a celebrated Friesian freedom fighter resisting Dutch or Saxon rule. Friesland still  has its own language, quite distinct from Dutch and a proud identity all of its own. The performance, which came half way through a four year programme of activity celebrating Pier’s anniversary, was spectacular. We were lead from the road, past the site of Pier’s farm house, (burned down on January 1515), by a giant drum and a choir of local women farmers and farmers wives. We arrived at a massive outdoor theatre with seating for over 400. An army, made up of 20 local people were training hard in the mud, preparing for battle. The stage was marked out by upturned tree trunks, brutally thrust into the ground and standing fifteen meters high. This was a hard setting – we were going to witness war. Beyond the trees lay the battlefield. Throughout the performance we witnessed layers of activity, body-bags being dragged, buried and burned. We saw Grutte Pier’s descent into madness, despair and cruelty. His conscience was represented by a narrator dressed in red – the only colour in the production. She tormented him and fought with him verbally throughout. She was his mind, his dreams, his ideas. All the dialogue was in Friesian apart from the narrator who spoke in Dutch. A lot of what she said had been directly lifted from the speeches of Geert Wilders, an frightening, active, charasmatic, outspoken right wing, nationalistic politician here in the Netherlands.

Naturally, I didn’t understand what was being said. I could pick up the odd word but it didn’t matter. This was physical theatre and the actions portrayed the meaning. It was fantastic. I loved every minute. I feel privileged to have seen it. Ticket sales have been so good, they have extended the run. By October nearly ten thousand people will have travelled to this small village on the coast of Friesland. Amazing.

20160917_084224_001B20160917_121006ack in Donderboercamp we further explored ideas and got to know each other better. Connections were made and strangers became friends. We improvised and we discussed ideas, ambitions and dreams. The next phase of the project will be back in Blackburn in mid October….

We had seen a depiction of war and violence on a field in Friesland and I had slept in an old weapons store. I cycled back to catch my train back to the noises and hubbub of Rotterdam having spent some wonderful tranquil hours in the peace of Donderboerkamp – glad that the weapons were a thing of the past and that Bridging Blackburn will be about talking to strangers, not fighting them.

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Saturday in Deliplein

From the north just follow the signs to Tattoo Bob. Across the Erasmus Bridge, over a bridge by the New York Hotel and behind the Fenix Food Factory, you will find Deliplein. A triangular ‘square’ with the brick and concrete Fenix warehouses to one side and early 20th century red brick on the others. It was missed by Hitler and is a scene of concerted regeneration activity over the past few years.

Tattoo Bob has played his part. Many a lamppost around the river has a yellow sign pointing you in the right direction but there is plenty else to keep you occupied. On one side is the Walhalla theatre. Fenix Food Factory backs onto the square, a highly fashionable food court with its own brewery, bakery, butchers, Moroccan spice stall and more. It’s built into the rough and ready surroundings of an old warehouse with rough wood and old sofas. It’s great but a bit pricey. A Sunday brunch platter, where you got a speciality from each stall is fun but it’s becoming a bit our a tourist trap.  I prefer Posse, next door. Built into another part of the same warehouse, it has a more more relaxed style than Fenix. It has bicycles and art photographs on the wall and the food and wine is really rather good. Sit outside in the Summer but they’ve plenty of room inside if it’s raining. The whole square is surrounded by eateries. I’ve not been to them all but they include a raw food, vegan food and pizzas.

Last Saturday (27 August), Sue and I went to Rotterdam’s street art festival in the square. It wasn’t Mintfest but fun and extremely busy nonetheless. The highlights included the washer women.  A group who largely took over the square with white linen and a LOT of water. Cast, audience and just about everything else got wet. This was a piece with no language which could work anywhere. It probably could do with a bit of tightening. Another highlight came from a Belgian company, Pikzpalace, in the form of a butcher’s van – but without meat. The four hander was in Dutch but it was quite clear what was going on, They were butchering soft toys and barbie dolls. Grotesque and funny, the audience loved it. This was clearly a polished piece that is already travelling. It would work in English and be enhanced by Belgian accents. Some might go home with nightmares but… Barbie paté anyone? Or teddy leg on a stick?

On Saturday evening we had booked for dinner at De Matroos en het Meisje (The sailor and his girl). A renowned table dote restaurant on the southwest corner of Deliplein. It was a lovely evening so we sat outside. You can choose 3, 4, 5 or 6 courses – we went for three which was more than enough. You get what you´re given with no menu or wine list. The wine has been pre-chosen to go with each course. The food is exquisite. I have been twice now and enjoyed every course. For the quality, the price is good. 35 for three courses 6 for a glass and 3.50 for a half glass of wine. This is definitely the best food I’ve had in Rotterdam so far. ***** from me.

Museumkaarten

I’ve been living here for two months now and have only just got round to getting a Museumkaart – shame on me. I did visit TENT, the contemporary art gallery on Witte de Withstraat on one of it’s free Friday nights but as a student of Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship I should be more committed. I think that the ‘economics’ bit is relevant to my lack of enthusiasm. I know that these places need to be paid for. We’re spoiled in the UK as most of them are free, (unless you want to go and see the interesting exhibition that is). Here in The Netherlands they are not free. In Rotterdam the Kunsthal is €12, (about £9), Tent is €5 and The Boijmans Museum is €17.50.

It is not the cost – they are all full of wonderful things – it is the fact that I can only take so much in on one visit. The Kunsthal has about six galleries. If I’d paid €12, I’d want to get my money’s worth. I’d feel obliged to see everything. I would come out overwhelmed and feeling a bit cheated.

There is something wonderful in Rotterdam called the Rotterdam Card. With this you can get in free to all the museums and a lot more too. For ‘normal people’ this still costs €60 and it expires in March 2016 but for students it’s only €12.50. I queued to get one. I was planning multiple trips to all the attractions. With this card I could go to one exhibition at a time. I’d never be out of the places. A spare hour here, a sleepy Sunday afternoon there…. Unfortunately for the Rotterdam Pass, students need to be under 33 – oldies like me not welcome.

20151025_165510I was left with a choice. An expensive Rotterdam Pass that covers Rotterdam or a Museumkaart that covers the whole of the country. Sue is over for the weekend so this afternoon we both opted for the latter and used it to go to Kunsthal. We saw two exhibitions and enjoyed a coffee in the café.  I hope that we’ll get some use out of these over the next 12 months.

 

Belgian beer

The beer menu at Boudewijn

The beer menu at Boudewijn

Boudewijn in the October sunshine

Boudewijn in the October sunshine

One of the many great things about Rotterdam is that it is so close to Belgium. More importantly all those lovely monks and others who spend their time brewing beer. There are anumber of bars who specialise in selling this lovely stuff. I really like the Boudewijn Belgian Beer Cafe on Niewe Binnenweg. It’s perfect for an afternoon beer and croque monsieur in the early October sunshine.

Bokaal across the road from my apartment is also excellent though the beer selection is a bit smaller. I’ve written previously about enjoying a Witkap Dubbel here

Locus Publicus

Locus Publicus

Thirdly if you’re really into choice in a big way, try Locus Publicus at Oostplien. Despite its corny name it’s cosy, atmospheric and busy. The choice is vast. My advice us to start at the top. You won’t get that far. Most of the beers are 6 or 7% with some in the early 20s. I think I now know why Google maps told us to beware of Belgium.

The barbers of Rotterdam

As a small boy I remember my dad taking me to the barber’s shop on Station Road in Prestatyn. I’ve not been to a gentleman’s barbers for years, In fact I’ve been having my haircut at Mojos in Blackburn then Wheelton since about 1997.

Today I changed that habit and entered Schorem on Niewe Binnenweg, Oude Westen, Rotterdam. I’d read about this place. I needed to see if it lived up to expectations. As I write my hair feels solid and I can still smell the manly pomade.

20151002_163021This is a men only establishment. As you enter you are taken back in time – two rows of vintage barber’s chairs, elaborate mirrors atop counters covered in potions and lotions. Rockabilly and bluegrass music provide the soundtrack to haircuts hear. This is a place of bottled beer for the customers, elaborate beards and moustaches, hair is shaped, quiffed, clipped and pomaded so that it wouldn’t move in a hurricane.

You don’t make an appointment. You turn up and wait your turn which gives you a chance to watch the white coated men at work. Everyone has tattooed arms, most a moustache and some beards that Darwin would have been proud of. They are precision engineers. It is not a quick process. I watched a young Italian student have his thick Latin hair clipped away leaving  a solid wave of black on his crown. An older man have at least six inches cut off making him look smart, stylish and considerably younger. The barbers whealded clippers, razors, brushes, combs and scissors like musical instraments. They checked each detail, each sideburn, each hair like an artist finishing an important commission. This was theatre, the coats and tattoos costumes; the shop the set.

It was also about audience participation. My turn came. I was led to a chair and my barber shook my hand. He asked me what I wanted and told me not to worry – he knew what I needed. I sat facing the shop, not the mirror. I just had to sit back and let him do his thing. There was no chit chat – no questions about holidays or films I’d seen recently. I continued as a spectator watching the other barbers at their work. I’ve always found haircuts relaxing. A chance to sit and be done to. You hand over control. It doesn’t hurt. I’ve no idea how long my hair cut took. I heard the swish-swish-swish of the scissors, the buzz of the clippers the shhh of the manly scented spray he used to dampen things down.  Then he pushed a pedal and swung be round for the reveal in the mirror. It all looked fine if a bit fluffy. He then applied what felt like half a jar of water based pomade, massaged it into my hair making a child’s bath time pineapples and horns. It was then all swept back as far as it would go. He put talc onto a brush and swept me up. He then put stinging aftershave on my neck, sideburns and ears. I was done.

There are no options here, no extras for colour, curling, washing, blow drying. It’s a fixed price. €33 for a haircut, (about £25) €33 for a shave or €61 for both.  The bottle of beer is included.  I paid and left.

20151002_163106The verdict. My hair looks a bit severe and I’m not convinced I’ll wear it like this very often. The pomade will wash out and I’ll no doubt go back to a softer look with less exposed forehead.It was an experience. I’d happily go again. I might save up my stubble for a cut throat shave next time.

Let the festivities begin

Last week I had my induction day at Erasmus University and met all the other students on the Pre-Master course and Master course that I’m taking. The Pre-Master is a bit like year one of a two year programme for those who haven’t got an academic background in economics. We are truly an international group. I’m the only Brit on the Pre-Master though there are two doing the Master year. I have fellow students from Germany, Italy, Aruba, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Kenya, France…..

We’ve not started lectures yet but a few of us have been getting to know each other over the weekend. The Rotterdam calendar is packed with festival and public events. On Friday night we went to a gallery for museum night when it was open for free. Last night we went to experience the river show and fireworks as part of the  Wereld Haven Dagen, (World Port Days), festival. Rotterdam is about twenty kilometers from the mouth of the Rhine, which is called the Maas as if flows through The Netherlands. It is the largest port, (or haven), in Europe and right up in the global premier league of posts. The Wereld Haven Dagen festival lasts three days with the water show and fireworks being a key highlight.

There was a large naval ship onto which a transparent marquee had been erected housing a full orchestra.  The ship paraded, up and down the performance area. The music accompanied a 20150905_223301range of boats spurting water which was lit as it plumed into the air. There were lasers directed from the skyscrapers to the south of the spectacular Erasmus Bridge all of which formed an impressive backdrop to the show from our standpoint on the north bank. I cant imagine the difficulty of amplifying live music to both banks of a large river surrounded by tall buildings without it echoing back and forth. It worked but more volume would have added to the experience.

The backdrop is huge. I’ve seen , and been involved in, some events and projects that have failed to compete with the scale of the stage, Some public art I was involved in commissioning for Town hall Street in Blackburn looked great until it was dwarfed by the law courts. The dance performance at the end of the Preston Guild in 2012 and some of the early attempts at animating Salford Quays failed as the human form is too small for a mass audience in a big area.  After the spurting water we were treated to some pretty impressive trampolining on a boat. From where we were we cold just make it out but most of the audience probably didn’t even notice that something was happening.

20150905_225208This apparent pause in the show was, however, followed up by some very impressive fireworking. While watching professional fireworks I invariable find myself grinning with a kind of childish joy, the noise, the height, the light, the colour – what’s not to like. This was a great show from a barge in the river. The skyscrapers remained as the backdrop but the fireworks easily competed. the colour and the intensity of light was particularly impressive.

Yesterday I took a couple of hours to see what else the World Port Days festival had to offer. I pootled around on my bike, looked at stalls and explored a number of old boats including the only surviving Herring Logger built in 1912. Before the second world war this boat traveled between the French fishing ports on the channel and Lerwick in the Shetland Isles. It was an alarmingly small vessel for six men, the turbulent north sea and several tonnes of dead herring.

An added attraction of World Port Days is the Sea Shanty Festival. Choirs, mostly men from what I saw, from all over Europe gathered to sing and perform. It’s great, as a choir member myself I know how good it feels to sing with others. Disappointingly, even in the smallest of spaces, the choirs were all miked up and amplified, (and not very well). It was a real shame, It added a drone to the sound and distorted the voices. A choir can be heard. My choir back home frequently sings outdoors to appreciative audiences without amplification. Please organisers, drop the microphones and speakers next year – that way we’d get to hear the choirs. I shot this short video from behind the choir to avoid the speakers.

There is a very full calendar of festivals here in Rotterdam. I can’t go to the all. Next weekend there is a festival showcasing all of Rachmaninoff’s symphonies and solo concertos in three days, the launch of the cultural season with a festival of contemporary art on Witte de Withstraat, a street food festival and a heritage festival opening up buildings across the city, (this is also happening in the UK with a big event taking place in Blackburn including some somewhereto_ performers).

The list goes on – no reason to be bored in Rotterdam.

 

Koffie en appeltart

I think that the appeltart in Dudok is going to he hard to beat.

There are lots of great places to eat and drink in Rotterdam. No doubt I’ll be talking about a few of them over the next few months. There is one place that I’ve been to a few times now that is really worthy of early note.

20150723_152405In 1945, Rotterdam started to think about rebuilding itself after the devastation of the second world war. Influential Dutch architect Willem Marinus Dudok, designed a new insurance building with a grand Hall on the ground floor. I’m not sure what happened to the insurance company but the space is now a grand European cafe and brasserie. Being Dutch is is a lot less formal than its Viennese cousins . The twentieth century classic building is just as grand and the waiting staff just as smart but the atmosphere is bright and welcoming. There is free wifi, (not remarkable for 20150722_155950Rotterdam), tables with laptop sockets, magazines and newspapers. It’s busy but there always seems to be a place to sit, including outside in nice weather.

I’ve not sampled much of the menu yet. I was told that their appletart was to die for. A couple of months ago I needed some wifi in order to take part in a Culturapedia Team Meeting via Google video hangout. (This was before I got connected in the apartment). Go to a cafe and you have to order something so I went for the famous apple tart  – with cream. It was a 20150722_160524major distraction to my colleagues who had to enviously watch me eat it as we talked over our various projects.

Dudok is now a bit of a chain with grand cafes in a number of Dutch cities and a kiosk at the central station. They also have a pizzeria in Krallingen. This building is where it started and I’m glad that in a city or architecture one architect is being remembered in such positive way.

Last week I went into town to buy something prosaic like a small saucepan. As I passed Dudok I couldn’t resist just making sure that the appeltart was as good as I’d remembered it. It was.