the view from amsterdam

This week I am in the Netherlands to participate in a conference on Shenzhen. The conference is being held in Almere, another of the so-called new cities that has appeared in  the postwar era of American style globalization. Of course, talking about Shenzhen in Almere reminds that we’ve passed through so many variations since the American century began circa 1945: the Cold War, post socialist, and now Chimerican, to deploy a lovely neologism beating at the heart of commodity chains.

Today an easy entry into Dutch cultural geography via the national museum and streets apes. First impressions:

1) work on display. Office buildings with floor to ceiling windows that frame/ display admins and clerks. Pretty displays that have me wondering about production and other forms of manual labor, which is what’s on display in Shenzhen;

2) where the people are. Did not feel crowds at Schipol the international airport of 1 million passengers per day, but did feel that the national museum was well used;

3) Santa Claus had slaves. Apparently in 1850, St Nick began working with Black Pete servant/ slave (I’m unclear) and according to the museum info, we’re used to thinking of St Nick as having black helpers. Really? I grew up thinking his unpaid workers were all male and all white elves. Clearly there’s much about the celebration of Christmas that I need to learn. It also reminded me that Europe is geographically close to Africa, a fact that frequently slips my mind, which is another symptom of my colonialized mental geography;

4) winter light cuts exquisite lines against blue skies. So thinking again about architecture and density. The city seems comprised of 3 and 4 story buildings elegantly organized along quaint brick roads.

So basically just absorbing the Dutch new rich aesthetic and wondering why it seems “elegant” in contrast to Shenzhen’s new rich constructions when it’s still about the all too brutal accumulation of capital.

3 thoughts on “the view from amsterdam

  1. I only recently heard about the black Pete character in Europe. Seems incredibly offensive, although interesting that we don’t feel that way about magical white elves…

    • That’s just it. All the happy unpaid labor has me thinking about how disingenuous it is to have Walmart workers dress like elves during the holiday season. We’re pretending we don’t live in a world where Santa gives rich kids big presents, middle class kids small presents, and ignores the carefully written letters of poor kids. The myths of happy unpaid labor and all children being treated equally at Christmas are terrible.

      • Chris Rock’s maligned SNL monologue was quite interesting to me. He went on about how Christmas is the most materialistic time of year, and he hasn’t met Jesus but according to what he’s read Jesus was the least materialistic person ever.

        Not to get too religious, and it’s basically cultural not even a little bit spiritual, but come on. Well, everything sells out eventually. The puritans in particularly would be spinning in their graves.

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