Going back in time: Daniel Gould’s 3D List, Art in Amsterdam #44

Again, apologizes that the 3D List isn't back yet to its old form. There has been no response for my request for a work space with Internet connection (e-mail: danielrgould@hotmail.com); nor any response from the Openbare Bibliotheek inviting me back. 

This week, I complete my series, of three essays, concerned with discrimination and tolerance in the Netherlands. Thank you for your suggestions and response to the two previous ones. 

Dutch Tolerance Is On the Line: Part III

After meeting a Dutch person, for the first time, and perhaps five minutes into the conversation---during which time I have expounded on my appreciation for the country---I am asked "What do you like the most about the Netherlands?" My answer has become a cliche: The weather! Needless to say, this initiates an expression of shock bordering on horror: "Is this man crazy?" I go on to say that I had lived in Chicago for six years and I do love that city---even more than New York, where I also had lived. But, as far as ChiTown is concerned, there are four things that I hate: January, February, July and August. Too god damn cold or too god damn hot. Holland has four seasons and few extremes. Some summers, when the temperature sky-rockets to the low 30s, and the Dutch begin to complain that "it is too hot," I tell them that it is a bearable, if not comfortable, summer day in the States. 

Then I get serious. I explain that I appreciate the tolerance of the Dutch. My beef against my own country is the bigotry. Of course, I do understand that this country's tolerance has more to do with commerce than a moral conviction, but there is that too. The Dutch have been traveling the world for 500 years. They did it for commercial reasons. They brought back the commodities available in other parts of the world to sell to Europe. And unlike the Spanish and the Portuguese who "exported," to their colonies, the Jesuits and the English that brought to theirs the Anglican Church missionaries, the Dutch didn't try to impose themselves on other societies. That's why the Japanese allowed them to stay back in the 17th century after expelling other Europeans. 

This policy has served the country well. It is a rich country because of the fact that the Dutch never relinquish their connections with trading partners. Governments come and go, and the Dutch always adjust. They have extended this tolerance to others in another way. They welcomed both the Portuguese Jews and the French Huguenots---who could pay their way---when they fled persecution in their native lands. The country is still a home to international publishing---which brought me here in the first place---because it has been in the business since the discovery of the printing press with movable type; and the fact that they published the unpublishable like Galileo when the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated him and band publication of his scientific tomes. 

I have studied this country as a university trained geopolitician. I majored in three subjects: Political Science, Geography and Communication Arts. A prerequisite in the study of Poli Sci was two courses in political theory. Well, the subject matter is rather boring, the two courses were both at 13:00---just after lunch---the classroom was overheated with steam heat and the professor spoke in a monotone. I was generally asleep five minutes into the lecture. When it came time for the final exam there was a dearth of notes. But I guess something got through. Both finals were essay exams. One question, I remember, was the one that got me a B+ (8 on the Dutch system). It asked: "What precludes a country's revolution, do the citizens foment it by talking about conditions or do the journalist writing about the conditions alert the people to the issues? Hey, is this akin to asking what came first, the chicken or the egg? Almost. My answer was that the journalists/writers were members of the society; and, being so, they reported on what they were hearing and their articles and books alerted other members of the population to the like feelings of the society.

If you have read the previous segment, of this three part discourse, you are aware that I neither, speak, understand nor read Dutch. Often I am asked if I don't regret that I cannot take a more active part in the Dutch society because of it? My answer is a resounding: YES!!! I do not read Dutch writers unless they are in English translation which limits me to the likes of Louis Paul Boon, Cees Nooteboom, Harry Mulisch, et al. Unfortunately, the list isn't very long. The newspapers and magazines are also inaccessible. I know nothing to very little of the celebrities. I have not owned a TV set since December 1974 so I don't see them on the tube. Often, at an opening, someone will point to someone saying that's so-and-so. "He/she is on TV." Means nothing to me. But if you want to discuss Dutch art, from the Flemish period to the avant garde or Dutch history, you will be flabbergasted at my knowledge. In both art and history, the Dutch have been at the forefront for, well, the last 500 years. My way of compensating myself, personally, for my disability, is to say I know of current affairs and other societal factors from my one-on-one discourse with the Dutch. I do not hang out in the American or English speaking community. My friends and acquaintances are Dutch. And, for the most part, talented and/or well educated. Since I am a naturally curious person about everything, I asked a lot of questions. I get a variety of answers to any one question. I assimilate and analyze it.

Because of these various factors---and don't forget that final exam question of what came first---something began to get my attention during the middle to late 90s. When I first arrived, in the early 70s---and still through the 80s---when I would ask for something at the greengrocery or bakery, in Dutch, they immediately answered in English. I use to joke that it made my efforts at learning the language all the more difficult because I never heard it.

Piet was my bike repairman from the time I moved into the Old West (1986) until about two or three years ago. Piet is a simple man. He only fixes bikes. He doesn't sell new nor occasion ones. His work space is a mess. But I never found anyone cheaper. Add to this, that I could come in with a minor problem and he would fix it there and then, kept me coming back even after I left the neighborhood. But, at some point, during the 90s, he began to ask why I didn't speak Dutch. I tried to explain. During the next ten years he became more insistent of talking to me only in Dutch. The last time I visited his shop, for a simple problem---even though I was now living in the east of Amsterdam---he said, in Dutch, come back tomorrow. The next day, I returned and, once again, he said he was too busy and to come back another time. All in Dutch. I got the message and have not been returned.

But Piet, as I have noted, is a simple person with a limited education. I cannot expect him to understand my handicap. Peter, on the other hand, had a university education. I had known him for about ten years. He had been a guest, with his then girlfriend, and sat at my dinner table. Then, one night, at a gallery opening, and in the middle of our conversation, he said, "Why are we still talking in English? Why haven't you learned Dutch?" Well, by this time I had read the article that described "dyslexic of sound" and the impossibility for people afflicted by it to learn another language. I began to relate to Peter what the article had said. He turned from me and walking away said, "You don't want to learn...Your just lazy!" Lazy, I'm not...and I have given it my best to learn. We never talked again nor will we. He's now dead.

In the new century, there has been more confrontations like these two. For those of you who saw the film documentary, "I LOVE ART," where I am the protagonist, you may recall an interview with a gallery holder who said that I had called him an "arrogant asshole." True...And he is. What precipitated the rather rude remark was an incident, at an opening, at his gallery. His space is part of a group of six galleries joined together by interconnecting doors. All the galleries, from the inception of the space, had their openings on the same day and at the same time. Then, this person broke from the practice. I was attending, an opening, on a Thursday night. He had a classical guitar player. I like the guitar no matter the style of the music; so I had stayed longer than I generally would have. I was sitting and sipping my second glass of wine when he walked by and said something to me in Dutch. I apologized to him, saying in my feeble Dutch, "Ik sprecken kliene betje Nederlands" and asked him, in English, to repeat what he had said. Again, he said something in Dutch and walked away. I turned to the person next to me---who was Dutch---and asked, "What did he say?" The person replied, "He said, 'I know you speak and understand Dutch'" Huh? I thought about it for a moment, then asked, "What did he say initially?" "He said, 'You only come here to drink!'" I was perplexed. As I bicycled home, and mulled over the experience; I thought he must have mistaken me for someone else. Ten or so days later, I was in the neighborhood and stopped at his gallery. I went up to him and said, "I think that you have me confused with another person." He replied, "That's possible." I said, "I think so because, you see, I do NOT speak nor understand Dutch!" He said, "I know you DO!" I was exasperated by this and blurted out, "God, you are an arrogant asshole." He knew something about me that I didn't. Remarkable. I turned on my heels and marched from his gallery.

The latest incident, in this on going story, was just a few weeks ago, at another gallery. I have been attending the openings there for about 25 years. I have seen much good work. But for the last several years the gallery holder answers my questions in Dutch and each time I explain that I don't understand Dutch and he switches to English. This recent show was very special---I would give it two WOWs!!---but I had questions. I went up to him and asked the first one. He answered in Dutch. I said, "Please, you know I don't speak Dutch." He said something again in Dutch which included this phrase, "...over twentig yaars..." and since I DO understand numbers I assumed that he was saying that "You have been in the country for over twenty years..." When he had finished, I said, once again, "I have this disability..." He smirked and as he walked away, again, said something in Dutch which I could not follow. Okay. I got the message. The review I wrote was incomplete. The opening after that, I boycotted. I have no intentions of returning.

The last three examples relate to my experience with people that I assume have both a degree of intelligence and an education. But they refuse to consider that my inability to speak Dutch can be anything other than laziness. Worse than that, they don't want to hear about the problem. Several times when I have tried to explain "dyslexic of sound" the person will say: "I never heard of it!" or, even worse, "I don't believe that!" and they walk away.There is NO discussion. I resent this. The very thing that I have always considered to be a major attribute of this society, tolerance, is now disappearing. I am also, now, assuming---in retrospect---that what led the floor librarian to complain, at the Openbare Bibliotheek, back in July (see Part I), to her supervisor, about my needing the key to the disability toilet, was something more than that. The fact that, in May, she began to respond to me only in Dutch leads me to believe that this was what was at the heart of her animosity towards me. 

Over the last several months, I have been satirical and sarcastic when I speak out on Pretty Boy Geert and his anti-anti platform. It is not just the anti Islam---I'm certainly no fan of that religion nor any other one for that matter. But, it is the venomous rhetoric against all facets of the "problem" that bothers me. And, let's face facts, folks, he wouldn't be in the new government had not a lot of "simple" people voted for him and maybe even a few "intelligent" ones as well. Chauvinism is alive and well in the Netherlands. This new rightest government, which is against culture---it cost too much money---and even egalitarianism---the hallmark of the society since there has been a sense to its meaning---was elected by a significant percentage of the Dutch population. 

Ironically, I am not against the position that the Dutch have taken on immigrants and foreigners---that have chosen to live in the Netherlands---that they MUST learn Dutch. And as I have said, I have made every effort. What I am attacking is the fact that there is always the anomaly---for whatever the reason---and not recognizing that fact or challenging the validity of their problem is prejudicial as well as counter productive. 

About 25 years ago, there was a front page article, in the International Herald Tribune, that chronicled the difficulties in the Bijlmer. It described the "new city" as a ghetto and with a police force that was anti-ethnic. I had been living there, at the time, with my three teenage children, for five years. I replied to the newspaper piece with a long letter; and it was published. Perhaps I should reproduce it. But the essence of what I had to say was: The Dutch try very hard to combat racism. A few years later, at a gallery opening, I was talking to the gallery holder, who was Jewish, and she said something about discrimination in Holland. I argued her points and said that while certain segments of the elderly population may cling to negative ethnic stereotypes, the youth were taught to ignore and to overcome the stereotypical smears. She thought about it and then said, "You might be right. My children were talking about a classmate. I couldn't place him though they mentioned several reference points. At the next school' function, my son pointed him out. He was black. They never mentioned that." And it has been reported that the police are now faced with a rising wave of "hate attacks" on Orthodox Jews (easily identified because of their attire) and gays. And we have "respected" and elected politicians delivering another message about those ethnically different or who deviate from the norm because of their sexual orientation. Is this really the way to go? Tolerance has paid the bills for the Dutch for several hundred years. If the system ain't broke, don't fix it! 

Photo: 3D feeling like a visitor to Lilliputian as he peers through the "windows" of its museum. At "foam" for the Linus Bill opening. Photograph by: Amber Poppelaars