Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Torture, War, The Church, Hookers

We learned a lot about the history of the area from visiting the Anne Frank House, the Museum of Dutch Resistance (during the Nazi occupation), the Museum of Natural History and the Torture Museum. The WWII era history was fascinating, and I want to learn more. It was also rather startling to realize that this area was a major player in trade and colonization. The Dutch West Indies Company came from this area and caused a tremendous amount of trade and grief through its activities.

A few things were pervasive (although often not at all obvious) during the museums and churches we toured:

The wealthy nobility and merchant class lived unbelievably luxurious lives. These are the lives that were documented – what was rarely mentioned was the majority of the population who surely lived in peasant/serf/slave squalor to make the luxury goods. Conspicuous consumption was glorified and vasts amounts of resources (both raw materials and labor) were used to create the prized paintings, tapestries, jewelry, tableware and figurines of the elite. Likewise the sugar, cocoa and coffee that were consumed by the upper class also consumed the lives of many, many poor individuals. Sickening.

The Church too, was more concerned with luxury than with the lives of the people. Churches were beautiful, huge and ornate. Composed with marble and stained glass and filled with paintings, sculptures, carved wood and expensive ornaments. The Netherlands was a bog – it seems obvious that marble and other expensive stones must have been imported along with gold, silver and jewels. This was back when ships were wood, horsepower came with hooves and machinery was simple and powered by sweat.

It is possible to marvel at these fantastic structures without considering the cost and effort behind it, but I couldn’t keep from wondering about the expense. Why were there so many ornate churches when so many wives of sailors and fisherman were forced to prostitute themselves to feed their families when their husbands were away at sea for months? How could the nobility spend their wealth on trinkets and tapestries when the lives of so many of their workers were wretched?

One museum mentioned that power was derived from the city’s children at the wheel. I didn’t know what this meant, but I assumed that it was children pushing on a horizontal wheel to turn gears, similar to an oxen yoked to spin a mill. Then we saw a large ‘city-scene’ painting that seemed to answer the question. At the dock there was a large ‘hamster wheel’ containing many small children marching forward. The turning of this wheel pulled a rope that lifted pallets off of the ground. The hanging pallet of goods was then pushed by men standing on the dock to a position above a waiting boat and lowered. Frick and I giggled and joked about the children being useful--it was funny but horrible.

Even assuming that the wealthy were protected from too much contact with the lives of the poor, this painting was certainly commissioned by a family with wealth. How could they see the condition of the city’s children and continue to lust after silks and baubles instead of using their resources to remedy the situation.

[Note: I am not at all insinuating that today’s elite are any better. Nor am I implying that I consistently use my money in the best possible way. But I don’t engage in or approve of conspicuous consumption and I wish everyone, including me, thought more about improving our community instead of exclusively improving our own lives. ]

No wonder the Church was seen as corrupt and viewed with distrust. No wonder that it devolved into such horrors as the inquisition. The Church was a sham and just another force oppressing people. Torture kept appearing on the trip. The means and methods of torture were quite horrific and incredible. Very much imagination was used to cause pain and humiliation. Much of this stemmed from the Church, or a combination of Church and government. Seeing these displays demonstrates why religious freedom was so important of an idea to people. The prospect of being tortured to death for heresay (or merely an accusation of heresay) is just one demonstration of the bloody history of Christianity.

War also was often mentioned but never questioned. The history of this land is full of war and conflict. The cities were built to defend against attacks and guard what they had – even as their militaries were conquering other lands and people. What a bunch of bullshit. Again, so many lives and resources wasting destroying other lives and resources.

On a lighter note, we also visited the Red Light District, the Sex Museum and a floating barge filled with stray cats. After walking down the main strip of the RLD, I remarked that I was surprised at how attractive many of the women were. Frick was surprised that they weren’t more attractive. When we walked down to the side streets we saw lots of affirmatively unattractive women: old, fat or just plain ugly. Hard to imagine that they can continue to pay the rent. The sex museum was pretty neat. Seeing really old porn photos from the 1800s was weird because they were so similar to modern porn. Girl on girl action; threesomes; ridiculous poses; and sex with animals or objects were common.

We also had raw ox for dinner one night.

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