Surprise trip to he NetherlandsJuly 19-26 1999
With too short notice for any preparation, Netopia sends me to Maastricht, Holland to start up a new office. Every Monday Martinair flies from Amsterdam to Oakland then returns, once a week only. You leave one day and arrive in Europe at the same time on the next day, sort of a time deposit that you get back at the end of the trip when you leave and arrive home at the same time on the same day. Thanks to the famous Dutch efficiency in business my work for this trip was done by the time my sleep train caught up, with three days to spare. I was a cowboy in town on holiday in the finery of a grand European city.
Thursday morning I hiked along the river Maas, then up to Mount Saint Pieter through graually sloping fields of open land, to dark paths through thick forest around an ancient fort to finally come out to a tourist cafe with this view.
Everyone said to see Amsterdam, I just wanted to see the Van Goghs.
Friday morning was too windy for outdoor painting in Maastricht and I feared that the coming weekend would be the wrong time to visit the newly reopened Van Gogh Museum, so I took the train to Amsterdam. The museum was less crowded than I am used to and held the overwhelming production and genius of Vincent's short painting life, sorted by locations where he lived over the decade that he painted. The new exhibit wing held a show of paintings that had passed through the dealership of Vincent's brother Theo, some of the same works that Vincent had copied, all by masters who acheived some success unlike Van Gogh, but none of whose paintings hold the vibrant energy, the impact of color and brush strokes, and the combining of Eastern and Western principles that draws me so strongly. I left after four hours, staggered.
It stays light late in July but Amsterdam was still windy with low clouds, no weather for watercolor. A walk along the canals, a stop at a Rastafarian-style cafe before dinner and the long train back to Maastricht left me ready for a good night's sleep, finally.
Maastricht is birthplace of the united European currency, the oldest city in the Netherlands and dates back to the Romans around 200 AD. Inside the central city are concentric rings of walled medievel architecture, churches, turrets, castlework embattlements protecting curving narrow blocks lined with small shops and corner cafes. After the hustle of Amsterdam it was a pleasure to roam around quaint and quiet Maastricht. The local motto is "the Art of Fine Living" so I shopped, enjoyed the eten & dranken, and gazed amazed at the views when I wasn't painting or sketching.
The surrounding Belgium and Cologne Germany countryside was a wide shallow valley along the River Maas, called the Muese upstream in Belgium and France. Hillsides of golden barley flanked above flats of emerald lettuce fields, and further to the south vague clifffs rose along the river in the haze. It was just the muse I needed. Saturday I hiked to the west and just outside the city limits was the open plateau of Vroenhoven, Belguim.
An old church rises above the lettuce field to anchor the hazy sky in Vroenhoven.
In new euro style sandal shoes my feet got blistered - just what I intended in preparation for the Wind River Range next week; by then they will be tough layers. So I had to take a long break from walking, a good time to sit and paint a larger piece.
In the haze the colors take a long time to dry and will smear; I want that effect sometimes.
Then after a fine dinner and Trappist ales at a street cafe, another from the bridge above the AlbertKanal:
I still need to paint in the purple ridge of rooftops of the small town. It would have smeared so I will attend to it later.
I stopped at almost every cafe along the way back, to break up the walk and ease the blisters and arrived at the hotel around midnight. Sunday I stayed close within Maastricht to let my feet start to heal.
My friend Simon said to get out and paint the rose pink light if a rare dawn was clear enough for the sun to break through.
I woke at dawn Sunday and only one person walked past me in two hours of sitting on a bridge while painting the other. The absorbent watercolor paper wouldn't dry at all so I painted the pencil sketch.
In the city park Sunday afternoon I sat and dozed, ate fresh bread and creamy pungent trappist cheese, and watched the youthful Dutch frolic while giant carp sipped occasional bugs from the surface with a swirl. It must have once been a moat around the walls of the city, guarding from invaders from the south.
People there did not often approach to see me work; they probably see painters all the time.
I worked on the pencil sketches during the many times that this more involved painting needed to dry.
There is a trick to getting the fountains right - some use masking solution but I prefer fluid brush strokes with care to leave the white streak that feathers out in the breeze. I'll wait for the patience that winter brings to finish.
And just a bit further along the path, an oak tree that must have seen a score of armies in its years.
In the evening I painted the old bridge again, this time from the west side looking northeast.
Built into the walled riverside is a delightful statue of three kids - I informed three international students who didn't know that it was the game of marbles.
Another one that wouldn't evaporate, but it might be a nice start. I liked the way the sun hit the bridge's corners that parted the water between the arches, but it will be a trick to paint them believably.
The inscription reads: In Maastrict I saw a castle's crumbling ridgeline and sharp solid peak, and a glass building waterfall, but it was the willow that stopped me to paint.
They all need work, but I won't be able to even look at them them until I get back from Wyoming, and by then I'll be on that project that I have been looking forward to all year. But I am thankful for the chance to travel and paint. Although it occurred to me that every tree and shrub I'd see was planted or planned by man, it was still naturally beautiful. These sketches have me looking forward to long rainy evenings when the photos I haven't yet seen will bring me back in my mind. I have never in my life of technical work had more than a few hours of free time to spare anywhere, Maasticht and the Netherlands are a very nice place to have finally had such a time. I go back in a month but it will be much more work. No complaints here.