Friday, November 06, 2015

Utrecht and witch hunts

Canal in 's-Gravesland
Today, we took a tour of Utrecht, a medium-sized city (population 335K) in Holland about a 25 minute train ride from downtown Amsterdam.

Utrecht canal
If I were to try to characterize Utrecht, I'd say that it is Amsterdam-in-miniature. Like Amsterdam, Utrecht is interlaced with canals. Tall, narrow houses, set wall-to-wall, line the avenues. Fleets of bicycles zip along the narrow, stone streets and alleys.

Gothic arched passageway
But Utrecht lacks some of Amsterdam's less endearing qualities. The canals are not filthy. Furtive, strung-out junkies don't haunt the dark corners of the city. If Utrecht lacks some of Amsterdam's cosmopolitan diversity, it is also spared the Amsterdam sleaze.

Indonesian food
On Thursday night, Brother Calee drove us to an Indonesian restaurant in downtown Utrecht. I'd been hankering for Indonesian food since 1999, when I'd visited Amsterdam. The Dutch colonized portions of Indonesia during the colonial era, and as a result, of course, there is a significant Indonesian population in the Netherlands.

We enjoyed an excellent repast of Indonesian food that included chicken, cabbage, rice, fried bananas, beef, and other delectables. Some of it was very piquant. All of it was delicious. Probably the best meal I've had since I started this journey on the 1st of October.

Next day (today) we drove into town to visit the Museum Catharijneconvent that is currently showing an exhibit on witches.

The exhibit described how, during the Little Ice Age that occurred between 1300 and 1800 (more or less), when crops failed and famine loomed, society invented a scapegoat for its misfortunes in the form of witches.

Witches were believed to be people (mostly women, although men and children could be witches, too) who made pacts with the Devil in order to gain other-worldly powers which they used to torment godly people.

Those were cruel times. I don't like to think about the fate of the people who were accused of witchcraft. But the obsession with witches did produce some interesting art, which the museum displayed and which I enjoyed.

St. Martin's Cathedral
We also checked out St. Martin's Cathedral, which has endured a number of cataclysms over the years and is still standing. It was originally built around the year 640, but was destroyed by invading Normans in the 9th century. In the 10th century it was rebuilt, but its tales of woe continued. It's been partially destroyed by fires several times, and suffered damage from bombing during WWII. The biggest calamity occurred in 1674 when a tornado destroyed much of the church.

Organ in St. Martin's Cathedral
Today, the church is again being refurbished. They have plans for ornate stained glass windows, statues of saints, and elaborate stations of the Cross. The Gothic arches of the original church are still awesome and if they complete what they have planned, St. Martin's will rival any of the great cathedrals in Spain or France or Italy. But that day is still years away.

Memorial statue of Anne Frank
While we were wandering around Utrecht's streets, we came upon a statue of a little girl. Fresh flowers were strewn about the base. It was a statue of Anne Frank, the precocious Jewish girl, victim of Nazi cruelty.

That sad memorial reminds us all that witch hunts continue to this day. When things go bad, people start looking for someone to hold accountable for their misery. We're a cruel species. Frightening and sad.

Home tomorrow.

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