Hallowe'en Special

My paternal grandfather was a master diamond faceter, and, a holistic healer. Besides being a great music lover, he also studied -- on his own -- the ancient Greek classics.
He was a great raconteur. Amongst the many stories he told me in my boyhood were two which pointed to the ‘eerie’ elements, not only for a young boy but even grown-ups.
One story, the Barong, featured the epic battles of Indonesia between good and evil, as portrayed by exotic dancers with fearsome masks. These stories depicted tales from the Hindu Mahabharata.
One of my grandfather’s five sons was a scribe or senior clerk in the Netherlands Colonial office in Indonesia. Another uncle was a pioneering photographer and documentary filmmaker. Upon hearing from his brother about those classical Indonesian dances, he travelled in the late 1920’s especially to Bali, to film the spectacular Kecak( or what Westerners call the Monkey Dance).I had the honour of watching those films, at the ripe young age of 5 years.
The other “scary” myths my grandfather told me was about the Gorgons, to which we devote this special Hallowe’en post, and because I can’t remember all of this Greek classic, we quote here an excerpt here from from the web-based Encyclopedia Mythica at www.pantheon.org.)
In Greek mythology a Gorgon is a monstrous feminine creature whose appearance would turn anyone who laid eyes upon it to stone. Later there were three of them: Euryale ("far-roaming"), Sthenno ("forceful"), and Medusa ("ruler"), the only one of them who was mortal. They are the three daughters of Phorcys and Ceto.
The Gorgons are monstrous creatures covered with impenetrable scales, with hair of living snakes, hands made of brass, sharp fangs and a beard. They live in the ultimate west, near the ocean, and guard the entrance to the underworld.
A stone head or picture of a Gorgon was often placed or drawn on temples and graves to avert the dark forces of evil, but also on the shields of soldiers.
Such a head (called a gorgoneion) could also be found on the older coins of Athens. Artists portrayed a Gorgon head with snake hair, and occasionally with a protruding tongue and wings.”
Returning to the topic of Hallowe’en (or Hallowed Evening),in the Netherlands we do not have the ‘doings’. We have other traditions, more connected to earlier Pagan traditions (or from the Middle Ages).
While writing this post I recalled a curious incident also from my boyhood, connected to a “scandal” around the Walt Disney movie “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs”.
The reader may find this strange, but Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands forbade the showing of this film in Holland because she felt it was too “sinister” for the children:
the witch with her poisoned apple, the trees with those threatening branches which threw shadows which looked like long-armed spikes.
Being inventive, the Netherlanders found a way to get around this censorship, at least those who could afford it: they simply went to Flanders across the border to watch the movie there.
How about that? 'Have a Hair-raising Hallowe'en', Henri


It's Scary, Charlie Brown!

Ooooooooooooooooo . . . Ghouls, Spooky-spooks and Zombies are slowly waking up from their one-year slumber. Or, maybe they haven’t been asleep at all?
What I find a lot scarier than these creatures is watching how governments or self-imposed autocratic dictators treat their fellow citizens, the planet and all that lives on this humble spaceship called Earth. That’s scary.
What’s scary is to see 10 years after our last visit to the coral reefs that these ‘nurseries’ of the seas continue to die.

What’s scary is that some one million sharks are slaughtered every year, just for people to indulge in the so-called “delicious” shark-fin soup. Sharks are not fish which lay eggs galore in one go. No, sharks give birth to live offspring, in small numbers.
What’s scary is Rhinos are disappearing because people “believe” their horns ground into powder are used for aphrodisiacs.
What’s scary is across the board, species are becoming endangered or are already extinct; that more and more precious plants are being destroyed or plundered. Plants which may hold medicinal healing properties for us all. Now, that is scary.
What’s scary is the rapid melting of ice in the North and South polar regions, and the Antarctic ice shelves breaking off. Now that’s scary, you better believe it. What’s scary is remembering that prediction of the Mayan’s in their so-far accurate calendar of a cataclysm in 2012. Maybe this prophesy refers to the melting of the polar regions?
What’s scary and in a sense the most puzzling of all is that so people are “paralyzed” despite the canary in the coal mine warnings given to us all. Sure, we hear a lot about “Green this” and “Green that”, but much of this is motivated for the Green Buck.
What’s also scary is to hear every day that “scientists are baffled” about something or other, e.g. miscalculating the side-effects of some pharmaceutical drug. Or how a food, drink or supplement is good for you one week, and bad for you the next. The ‘lame carry the blind’. Now, that’s scary.
What’s scary is every day more than a billion people go hungry while our affluent nations have managed to raise a generation of obese children.
What’s also scary is this:
Ghouls, Zombies and Monsters
are “awake”
While most of the Human species is Asleep.
now that’s scary.
So, come on, all of you Witches, Zombies, Ghouls, Gorgons and Monsters – masked or painted. For the night of October 31st, give us a “wake-up” about the planet. Now that would be a treat’.
Do you know a Ghost’s favourite dessert?
Boooooooooooooberry pie.


"A House, A House, For A Tulip"

Isaac Newton stated “I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people...”
This economic upheaval and mass exposure of greed on the highest level is not the first time of course financial speculation brought ruin. There was the Great Depression following the crash of 1929 (the year yours truly arrived on this spaceship ‘Earth’ for a spell), plus other major financial upheavals in the past.
Economic crisis, people losing their homes, financial security lost overnight like a house of cards, a collapse. 2008? No, I’m talking about the 1634 in the Lowlands, and all because of: a tulip.

Yes, they call it now “Tulip Mania”, when enormous financial speculation and frenzy took place in Holland. Mostly centred in Amsterdam, indeed it all began with an innocent tulip bulb.
Yes, not only had this bulb grown into a beautiful, sturdy, straight tulip, but its colours were outstanding in the backdrop of the drab browns and greys of the Netherlands.
The tulip, now so popular and common worldwide, originates not in Holland but in the mountains of what was Persia and Mesopotamia - - - Iran, Turkey, and Iraq. People are often surprised to discover the tulip didn’t originate in Holland.
Furthermore, it got its name from the word for turban, “Tulband”, because of its resemblance to the headgear worn by the Ottoman Turks. Later the word became “tulip”.
Although Holland was, and is, a small nation, this didn’t stop it from ‘spreading its wings’ worldwide. From early on, the Hollanders were active traders and very successful at business. First they bought Manhattan (which the settlers called “Nieuw Amsterdam) from the native people, and then sold it for “an apple and an egg”. (The ship I sailed on and topic of the previous 5 posts was named after Nieuw Amsterdam, in memory of those days.)
Witness the Netherlands’ sea-faring explorations and colonization on a large scale (of which nowadays, of course, only a few remain such as Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao (the “ABC” islands we call them in Holland); St. Maarten, and of course, Indonesia and the island of Irian Jaya (the other half of which is Papua New Guinea). Now independent. It was all because of the spices and other resources.
Anyways, because Netherlanders were such diligent traders, they found themselves in the Middle East and the western terminus of the Silk Road. They bought and traded all kinds of new goods, and one of these was the tulip which they brought back to Holland.
Upon seeing its beauty, colour and unique long-lasting nature in the stark landscape of rainy Holland, a bidding war soon began back in Amsterdam: “Tulip Mania”. Yes, at one time a tulip bulb was worth more than a house!  

Now, I’m asking you. And of course it all came crashing down when later, people came to their senses. See what we mean with financial upheaval being nothing new?
The Flemish master Jan Brueghel The Younger immortalized that époque in his famous painting, “Allegory Upon the Tulip Mania”, depicting humans as monkeys.

“Happy gardening”. Henri


Part 5, Holland America Line 1948-51, Musicians and Movie Stars

In a way the discipline, commitment and responsibility of being a crew member aboard an ocean liner isn’t very different from the military. On board ocean liners it is called being “shipshape”. Every day we had to line up for inspection by the Chief Steward, the First Officer, and sometimes the Captain, accompanied by the Boatswain.
They’d be joined by the Chief Housekeeper and his assistant. Together they’d all go around the vessel, wearing white gloves. Woe to those who were responsible for dusting or polishing brass, whether it be in the washrooms, or public areas. Those who had neglected their duties were penalized through a point system, and on the next port of call would have to remain aboard ship, cleaning, polishing, and washing. Also hygiene and fire prevention were, and still are, very high on the list priorities on ocean-going vessels. In terms of activities for the passengers, in those days the program consisted mostly of things such as Clay pigeon shooting (aft), Ping-pong, shuffleboard, horse or turtle races, bridge, poker, chess, checkers, backgammon, engine room and bridge tours, swimming, relaxing on deck, movies in the air-conditioned theatre (a rarity on ships in those days). The daily “bet” to see how far the ship had sailed in the past 24 hours (the daily pool) was a favourite, and of course the classic daily Quiz. Also, entertainment (but not the Las Vegas-style spectacles you find on cruise ships today), passenger and crew talent shows, the ship’s band, a piano player – these were regularly scheduled.
(No art classes or lectures on culture, though. Experience and knowledge of this routine on board ships, which I’d stored away in the little grey cells, helped many years later in the 1970’s when I woke up one morning with a vision of teaching art aboard ships. [And giving talks on art forms of various ports of call]. In the late 1940’s there was nothing like that available. Today’s it is called “Enrichment Program”, which yours truly pioneered.) Those of us who worked as stewards in the dining room were on duty at all times, seven days a week until we reached the next port of call. (With very short breaks in mid-morning and mid-afternoon.)
So we’d be among the first to notice the patterns and behaviour of the passengers. There were the early-risers, those who had breakfast in their stateroom, those who frequented the bars, and those who stayed up long after the sumptuous midnight buffet. Bars only closed when the last guest left. Many romances also blossomed. The ‘shady’ types were usually amongst those where arguments broke out. Fights were quickly put out by officers and security staff.
The ship had two classes: First and Second, completely separate from each other, and each with their own dining room of course. There were always a few movie stars or celebrities on each voyage. Some travelled incognito, some with a spouse or mistress. Older women were sometimes accompanied by a gigolo.

This all took place 60 years ago, so I can’t remember them all, but on one occasion we had Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor in our section of the dining room. They were married and on their way for a holiday in Europe. Always courteous, friendly, and knowledgeable about gourmet cuisine. Both were open to trying new dishes, such as the Indonesian specialties nasi goring, bahmi and Rijsttafel. They never complained or commanded. Ideal passengers for a steward.

On one crossing from NY to Rotterdam, the entire New York Philharmonic was on board with conductor and Maestro par excellence Leopold Stokowski. The weather was very fine and the rehearsed on the open deck. My frequent attending of their rehearsals nearly cost me my job, because sometimes I’d be a bit late for duty. Some passengers also travelled with their valet.
Oh yes! While taking a few moments of fresh air on deck, and looking out for dolphins or whales, a movie star came over to me. She asked if I could bring a telegram up to the Radio Room. I said, “Of course”, and with the telegram she tucked a folded paper into my hand. When I looked at it, on my way to the Bridge Deck, I was astounded to see a $50 bill. There in my hand was 2 ½ months wages. And this for just taking a telegram up one deck.
In 1951 the end of my days of being a steward at sea approached. A neglected cold, which evolved into double pneumonia, pleurisy and then tuberculosis on both lungs, put me into a TB Sanatorium in the Netherlands for a long time. It was there that I discovered I could paint. But as noted earlier, I returned to the Seven Seas.

How did I do it? By combining my experience as a steward on board ships, with my career as an artist, I literally dreamt up the idea of teaching Art on ships. This resulted in three around-the-world voyages and numerous month-long sailings in the capacity as Guest Artist & Lecturer. Proving “if you never have a dream, you’ll never have a dream come true”. Bon voyage! Henri