Tuesday, 29 September 2015

A Late Holiday - Pt.2

          Well the rain didn't let up, and not wishing for another soaking, we repaired to a restaurant at the end of our block of apartments.
          You will, no doubt, recall from my previous post that we arrived in Amsterdam to an almost "end-time" display of weather. The restaurant to which I have just referred was a run-of-the-mill establishment which supplied wholesome, down-to-earth nourishment, just the kind of thing we were looking for, with the chance of a quick scamper back to our apartment, should the heavens once more open. The restaurant, which had a basement, a mezzanine floor and a ground floor with one long table to which we were escorted, was served by two waiters who seemed to be everywhere at once. That latter comment might also be applied to the friendly, black and white cat who made a beeline towards us. You could almost hear him (I assume 'him', but could have been a 'her') thinking that an English sucker (me) had arrived.      
          Now I have a great respect and fondness for cats, and I swear that when he turned his gaze on me, he was subliminally making my choice of dish for me. Anyway, he did enjoy the fish titbits I gave him, when no-one was looking. My meal, which consisted of one course, was red snapper, prawns and mussels, and vegetables. On the side, and this I must not forget to mention, were quartered potatoes, roasted with garlic and rosemary. All this washed down with a reasonably quaffable wine.
          The following day, the rain didn't really let up. But we couldn't spend our holiday cooped up in our apartment, so we went walkabout. We visited a number of canals which were busy with water buses ferrying their occupants here, there and everywhere. These boats were just - but only just - able to slip under the bridges.

Along the way were many small boats moored along the canal walls. We discovered later in the week that houseboats could be bought but not for less than half-a-million Euros.

          On our walk we paid our first visit to the Rijkmuseum (Rijk being pronounced in a manner similar to the German "reich").

On this occasion we dropped in only for hot chocolate and cake, having had - in my case - a warming, spicy lentil soup for lunch. (Later on in the week I was delighted by pickled-chicken soup. Never had that before!)

I was impressed by the building, but in particular by the waiters and waitresses, all of whom seemed to be in their twenties. I cannot quite put my finger on what impressed me, but there was something about their friendly, organised and professional manner which greatly appealed to me. Maybe it had to do with 'service' in its highest sense. In my experience, ageism is not a problem in the parts of continental Europe that we have visited, and the same was true here. Maybe  I'm just getting old and, heaven help me, a little mellow.
          By now it was becoming obvious that if we were to travel around Amsterdam, we were going to have to use the trams.

Although there were buses, the main mode of general transport appeared to be trams and bicycles. The Dutch seem to have developed a range of adaptations to bicycles, each designed for a particular purpose. From a pedestrian's point of view I would simply say, "Walker Beware!" Cyclists travel quite quickly with an apparent total disregard for pedestrians and 'zebra crossings', or whatever the Dutch equivalent is called. More than once we escaped being run down only by a fraction of a second. As the day moved towards early evening, we were glad that Lucy had booked a restaurant a short two hundred metres from our apartment. And after a description of that lovely evening that I am about to describe I will bring this session to a close.
          This restaurant, split into two halves with each half on adjacent corners of Lutmastraat, provided a very attentive service for seated clients in one (our) half, and what appeared to be a more buffet-style in the other. On this particular evening, after a Riesling aperitif with paté, the entree was lobster claw, garnished with salad. Our host offered a suitable glass of wine with each course, the choices being quite excellent. The main course was roast duck breast with Yorkshire pudding stuffed with pumpkin. Now duck breast can be arrive in any state from too red to slightly overcooked. I have to say that on this evening the duck was perfect. The final course was 'tarte tatin' followed by coffee.
          I do hope that my references to food and drink do not come across as excessive, but one of the joys of holidays is the chance to visit restaurants which we could not otherwise visit. For most of my life I ate to live; now in some measure living is about the joy of eating. And that joy says something about my state of being. I might add at this juncture that my weight, when finally we returned from holiday, was no heavier than when we went away.
          Next time I will share my thoughts and feelings about music and candlelight.....and food! For now, a couple of examples of Dutch humour.

          And now, just because I want to,

Saturday, 26 September 2015

A Late Holiday - Pt.1 - The Beginning

          As a result of my studies of recent weeks which culminated in the writing of my previous post, I found myself in a state of unease and dissatisfaction. I therefore tried to find historical evidence for the refutation of the non-existence of Jesus the Nazarene so that I could obtain a more balanced opinion as to his existence, or otherwise. That further investigation is opening all sorts of pathways, some of which I have travelled before, and some which will require further investigation. I have this odd sensation of being passed through a sieve but having no receptacle into which to fall. Once again I face the experience of the abyss. I am nowhere near ready to write on those issues that grab my attention so securely. Rather than give up writing here, I have decided to talk about a very mundane subject, our recent holiday in Amsterdam and Brugge (aka Bruges). This exercise will need to be tackled in a number of phases, there being far too much to cram into one post. So here we go.
          It has become a practice of ours, I am of course referring to Lucy and myself, to take time away from home at around my birthday. As we no longer have a dog, at least for now, we are making the most of the opportunity to holiday in places outside France, an activity which requires travel by train rather than by car. Now it has been too many years since I have visited the Netherlands, the last time being when I was serving with the R.A.F. in Germany as part of my duties to Queen and Country. And that was around six decades ago! I should add that for my part, I have never had any great hankering to travel the world. In so many ways, Europe offers pretty much all I desire to experience, this family of nations which has offered the world so much, and which has also been the seat of so much misery and suffering. Yes, I love and sometimes ache for this continent.
          Thus it was that having put the house into relative slumber-mode, we set off across Northern France by TGV [high speed rail], arriving in Paris at a time when thoughts were turning casually towards lunch. We had decided to take a couple of backpacks and a large suitcase to carry our necessaries. As I may never again refer to that suitcase, I must say that lugging that thing up and down staircases when no lifts or escalators were available is not any activity I care to indulge in ever again, so there! But at least there are signs that my heavily bruised calf muscles are recovering. But back to Paris, and Montparnasse Station in particular. This is not my favourite railway station by any manner or means. It is such a pity that from trains one invariably seems to see the backsides of towns and cities. Graffiti-daubed Montparnasse is no exception. On the other hand we were getting away from rural France into the vibrant world that lies beyond, and I was enjoying the sense of rising, mental sap.
          At this point we took the Metro to Paris Nord, discovering that our tickets did actually activate the barriers. On occasions this does not happen and one is obliged to return to the ticket office for a replacement ticket. Of course there are ways round this procedure, like slipping through the barrier on someone else's coat tails. Never, I have to say, have I climbed over or squirmed under the barriers. Well some do! Yes! But one needs to be more fit and agile than me, with a nasty little predisposition to cheating. Mmmmmm? No I don't, and neither does Lucy. The Metro is a noisy, draughty mode of transport, but we like it, and there were not too many stairways to negotiate. Finally, we burst forth onto the station of Paris Nord with about forty minutes to spare. Well if one isn't careful, one can be booked on a train that arrives at one station with only a few minutes to catch a train leaving from miles away. I'd like to put that down to the ticket office's sense of humour. Even so the point would be lost on me. I remember on one occasion arriving at Koln (aka Cologne) in Germany with about two minutes to traverse the whole station for our connecting train. No! Of course we didn't make it! But that's another story.
          From Paris we travelled sort of northwards across flatlands to Antwerp (aka Anvers), Brussels, Rotterdam and, finally, Amsterdam. It was approaching four o'clock on an overcast, wet, in fact very wet, Monday afternoon. We had arrived in the Netherlands. And what a welcome the gods laid on for us. Huddled in a taxi, driven by a little man young enough.....alright let's just say, 'young'......as I was saying, driven as if all the demons from hell were after him, we arrived at our apartment. On the way, oh let us ne'er forget, the heavens opened and down came the deluge. Thunder and lightning, yea Donner und Blitzen to the highest degree, greeted us. It was as if the Gotter-Amster-dammerung was being played out before our very eyes.
          Unfortunately, our hostess was not there to meet us, nor was the key to the apartment where she said she had hidden it, and neither were her parents-in-law at home. So after a number of mobile telephone calls on Lucy's part, and much apologising on hers, we trooped off to a local cafe for some refreshment. An hour later we returned to be met by the in-laws. Now I have to say that Mr. In-law was a great bear of a Dutchman, who promptly grabbed my suitcase (remember that monstrosity I mentioned earlier?) and hefted it up the thirty stairs - in one continuous flight - to our apartment. He arrived back some minutes later panting for breath, well I didn't ask him to carry it up, and gave us the keys.
          Well we had arrived in Amsterdam, and there was for me a sense of coming home to a country that I never feel in France. In the latter case, it is a sense of seeing the familiar, but not home. And as English is the second language of the Dutch (they have no fears that their culture is going to be erased under the weight of those British!) we got off to a perfect start on the communication front. Very quickly, we stopped asking, "Do you speak English?" and instead reverted to, "May we speak in English?" It seemed almost an insult to ask a Dutch person if they can speak English.
          And that is all for now. In the next instalment we discover the culinary joys of Amsterdam, and take our first of a number of tram cars.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Did He, or Didn't He......Exist?

          Now I am aware that in some ways I am the new kid on the block, having been blogging only since April of 2013. Nevertheless, I have never found it so difficult to construct a post as I am currently finding it. Having decided to try to investigate the historical Jesus, because I wanted to know something about him, as well as the Christ experience, I launched into my task with fervour and gusto. Oh dear! I opened up such a can of worms - well that's not really fair - a wealth of knowledge (presumed) and opinion that has almost overwhelmed me. Very high on the agenda came the question as to whether the historical Jesus ever actually existed. But there are other points to make before I get to that.
          The more I studied the Bible New Testament the more I discovered a person that I really didn't want to know. That was a pity really as the whole point of the exercise was to get to know him, insofar as that was possible. What I have discovered is the image of a man who was prone to judgemental behaviour, radical extremism and......well that's enough to be getting along with, except that he never criticised the Essenes. That was a significant finding.
          Students of such subjects as astrotheology, religion, and in particular Christianity are keen to show the strong links between Jesus and Osiris, Odin and many others, thus reducing Jesus to the status of idiot fiction. Now let me say that I am no lover of religion in any shape or form, and that includes dogmatic science. And yes, I fear science also has its high priests who are crossed and angered at your peril, if you want project funding. But I digress. Now it isn't a big jump, from linking Jesus with characters from world mythologies, to saying the presumed existence of Jesus is a fiction. After all, there is little if anything in the histories written about that period of Jesus; the New Testament is a shambles of unbelievable events (if taken literally I must add) written by people we know not what of; and there are no statues etc. of him. We will, at this point, gloss over the fact that creating images was forbidden by the Jewish religious hierarchy.
          Unfortunately for those who point to this dearth of hard information, it is also a fact (apparently) that no-one can be certain of much of the lives of famous Greek philosophers. Presumably, we are entitled to draw the conclusion that they didn't exist either, except that the Greeks were permitted to create statues. So did Jesus exist, or not? If he did, who was he?  
          There were a number of itinerant preachers doing the rounds in the holy land when Jesus was thought to be alive. It would have required very little effort for the Essenes for example, to pick an appropriate candidate, one of their own perhaps but not particularly worthy of the likes of Josephus and others writing an academic treatise on his life and times, and loading onto him a vast body of esoteric, knowledge gained from astrotheology. It didn't even really matter what his birth name was. I think it highly likely that Jesus knew the Kabbalah inside out, which would have been of great benefit. Now I do not know whether Jesus was an Essene, but I am more than a little certain that he followed their ways, and taught their teachings. Even if he wasn't a card-carrying member of that movement, he appears certainly to hold their teachings in his heart.
          I would accept that this is all mere speculation, but can also so much that has been written about this man, whether he existed or not, and his role - probably mythological - if he did live. I now find myself ready let the matter drop, regain my energies, and see where I go from here. It would seem that once again I have gone full circle in my thinking, only to arrive at a beginning, a new beginning I hope. And all the while, like a bright sun shining throught a mist, hangs the question that I still cannot formulate, a question which lies far beyond all the writings, the speculations and opinions that seem to be the sum total of so much theological endeavour.
          Down the centuries there have been many men and women who have entered the way of inner pilgrimage, sometimes outside and sometimes within the bounds of their religions. Also, I cannot discount my own psycho-spiritual experiences. And now I must draw this post to a close. If it has come across as jumbled and haphazard, I'm sorry. It most certainly isn't a literary masterpiece. I can only say that that is probably an accurate reflection of my inner state at present.