Sunday, October 04, 2015

Maritime Museum - the East Indiaman Amsterdam (and a hornet update)

Steve's half-brother proved too elusive to rope him in for hornet eradication; in the end I contacted someone further off who had done a wasp job for us. He arrived the same day, with a ladder and toxic powder, and set to work. People sometimes grumble about the €100 plus flat rate it costs to get rid of these bestioles, but this time he earned his fee; he was here for nearly an hour in his sinister veiled clothing and used one canister after another of The Product while the drunk and furious insects whirled about his head. I ventured into the utility room below while it was going on, and it was filled with infernal noise: a deadly low drone punctuated by high angry buzzing. I invited the Agent of Eradication in to hear it, and he was somewhat surprised and concerned that there was only a thinnish layer of polystyrene insulation between our living space and the arthropod enemy. He advised us to shut the door and not go in there for the rest of the day and night, and call him in the morning if there were still any live hornets around. Luckily there weren't, I can only assume we have a large number of dead hornets, mummifying (I hope) between the insulation and the roof slates. He said it was a very large nest, which had probably been building since the spring, though we had been almost completely unaware of them. In fact they are mostly discreet and peaceable creatures, until the nest reaches critical size and then you can't miss them. I do have some qualms of conscience about initiating such mass murder, but live with them we cannot at this point, and I tell myself hopefully that at least they've had a whole summer of going to and fro quietly, building industriously, chewing up old wood and spitting it out again as nest wall, eating pests (and possibly honey bees), making and feeding baby hornets etc, before they would presumably all die off anyway except for the hibernating queens. I am almost an entomologist manquée, but not quite, the bugs creep me out too much.


Neither could I have been an 18th century sailor. Apart from living in the wrong time and being the wrong gender, even if I could have had the head for heights and the constitution, I've concluded I could never have mastered the geometry and other maths and the applied-in-extremis physics, or indeed the knots. I can however contemplate it in smitten wonder, thanks to Patrick O'Brian and places like the Amsterdam maritime museum. 

Oh dear, I took so many photos there, and it's taking me an unconscionable long time to get around to posting them. One of the reasons I find I'm now shying away from photography (and by consequence, blogging*) is the matter of selecting and editing the results afterwards. I can never quite decide between this angle or that, so I keep both, and I can very rarely just leave a photo alone; as well as needing to shrink, export and upload them to web albums I'm almost always sure it needs a trim or a fiddle with the contrast or a tweak of the white balance, maybe it does but it would likely do a blind man good to see it, as my mother used to say. Tom has been cheerfully producing egregiously sunny, extrovert, unexamined-life travel posts for the last week or so, uploading his perfectly good photos without any fiddling with or interference from me (huh, what do you mean you don't need me for tech support, do you want me to have an existential crisis or something?), but I did bags the maritime museum, and will probably need a couple of instalments for them. 

The museum is housed in the old Admiralty building, a grand, elegant, four-square place, on the wharf a little way from the main part of town, twenty minutes walk from the Central Station, or any other tram stop. Its once open courtyard has been glazed, rather like the British museum, with one of those marvellous, attenuated webs that create quiet, softened, outside-in spaces where one instantly stops, breathes and looks upward:

We had already seen the East Indiaman Amsterdam the evening before from the water, floodlit and looming, which impressed us with something of how such vessels might have appeared to the people of the time whose lives they were part of, so we knew we wanted to see more of the ship, and made our way out to the quay.

It is, as most grand sailing vessels you might see now, a replica. The original was built in the middle of the 18th century, but foundered in the Channel near to Hastings in Sussex only a year or two later. The wreck was, by degrees, covered in mud and sand. It was excavated some years ago, and the replica was built with the help of voluntary work and public subscription, a matter of justifiable pride. At very low tides you can still see the remains of the original off the coast at Hastings, they say.

the outside is a riot of colour and carving, from the fearsome-funny lion figurehead,

to the striped sides,

and the florid stern, peopled by rather pale and modest gods: Mercury

and Neptune (who amused me especially by his coy attitude and odd resemblance to our local Dutch vet),

and their attendant animal familiars

(I don't know why Mercury has a chicken either...)

Sailing ships are full of geometry, even before you start any stellar navigation,

and knots and tangles and ropey things (as I say, I don't really do the technical stuff, I just admire it)

The spaces below deck were full of painterly compositions, interiors both grand and humble (the higher your rank the better your head room, on the whole):

and still lifes of objects, attractively and, I imagine, authentically rendered

I was interested in this crate of cargo in the hold, green coffee beans mixed with cinnamon sticks, and wondered how that worked, and if it was what they did, since you couldn't roast them together.

We had a good clamber and wander about, then went on to the next part of the museum, via the café. The Dutch, we found, do good museum cafés. More on what we saw inside next time.

There's more about the Amsterdam on the museum website here

* also because once I start writing I blather on too much and don't know when to stop. QED.


Zhoen said...

Sorry about your wasp problem. They are good bugges for the most part, until they get pushy and hang around doorways, or in your case, between insulation. Eviction is the only way to deal.

Although I'm sure the navigators on ships were mathematically astute, I wonder if the average sailor didn't take a lot of it in by experience and instinct. Smelling the seas and air, feeling it in their bones.

The elaborate dining room chairs and the brick oven seem so out of place on a ship.

marja-leena said...

Years ago, we had a similar problem with some kind of wasp or hornet that found a hole in the house siding ( a fallen knot of wood I think) and went into the walls. Their nest was in a tree nearby and we'd see them flying back and forth. So, in the evening when they were returning to their nest, we set up our shop vacuum next to the hole. As they emerged, zip they were sucked into the vacuum. This must have set off an alarm as they were flying in from the nest too! We did this several evenings and finally smoked the nest too, and of course plugged the hole. Yes, we felt like murderers but we were protecting our own nest, hmm?

Wonderful wonderful photos of such a gorgeous Maritime Museum! It looks positively luxurious, not like a working ship at all. Thanks for all your hard work in sharing these (and you do NOT blather!).

Jean said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous photos of almost abstract artistic beauty - a huge pleasure to look at and worth every minute of your agonising and perfectionism...

the polish chick said...

all things naval are so very photogenic.
as for the chicken, it is a handy beast to have around!

Catalyst said...

Oh, my God, what photographs. And such a museum. You have done wonders with it, Lucy, and how lucky you two are to have seen it. Thank you.

Roderick Robinson said...

But you don't mention being put off by boarding a French 72-gunner, sabre in hand, under the cover of cannon smoke. Perhaps because as you contemplate a peaceful hornetless world, you imagine yourself accompanied by the real Barrett Bonden (not the effete 21st century cardboard facsimile), knowing that all will be well. And even if it isn't there'll be the real Maturin to sew up the consequential perforations.

I see from your asterisked footnote you're coming down with a severe attack of self-deprecation. Get in touch and I'll send you, under plain cover, a list of cures for this debilitating condition.

Lucy said...

Thanks folks.

Zhoen - these European hornets, though massive compared to ordinary wasps, are generally milder mannered and non-aggressive. Unlike wasps and the invading Asian species, they're not interested in sugar in any form, and need substantial support for their nests, so are unlikely to be hanging about in trees and hedges. They do sometimes prey on honey bees but not within the hives like Asian ones. The disposal guys always say they'd rather deal with them than wasps, and it seems that the stories about the deadly strength of their stings are largely apocryphal. Even so, they aren't comfortable things to have too close!

The sailors were often raised to it very young, so would have picked up a lot by osmosis, and the lower deck ones, including those pressed into it, were endlessly drilled, I think, to be a small cog in a big machine. The understanding and overall operation of the ship still seems to me an awesome undertaking, and that's what Patrick O'Brian conveys so well.

ML - I'm slightly amazed that you tackled the beasties yourself in this wise! Before I quite realised the magnitude of the nest I thought out loud to our new neighbour that I might just spray some insecticide round the hole, and he looked at me with concerned horror. Had I tried it I might have found our for myself if ten stings can really kill a man/horse/ idiot middle aged woman! The East Indiaman ships were known for their sumptuousness, I think. Even so it was a little thing really for such expanses of often wild sea, and the lower decks still must have been cramped on long voyages.

Jean - thanks so much, and lovely to see you around. I enjoyed your poems at Via Negativa.

PC - very true, certainly things with sails and lots of wood anyway. They often used to have chickens on board the ships; the midshipmen in one of the O'Brian novels were saving the extra large weevils from their ship's biscuits to feed to theirs!

Catalyst - thanks, you would have enjoyed it I'm sure.

Robbie - there was that too, of course! Though I think that, while the East Indiaman had some guns, at the time this ship was built - long before the Napoleonic wars - they were probably mostly defensive, against pirates etc. In 'HMS Surprise' I think, they have to fight from and East Indiaman don't they? They'd have probably had a few women on board too, much to Jack Aubrey's disgust! I'm afraid my suspension of disbelief regarding Stephen's sang-froid in the face of grisly on-board medical procedures wobbled just a bit when he performed one on himself, (under the ribs, 'you could see the heart beating...') but I am still totally smitten. Barrett Bonden is a beautiful character, like a lightly but exquisitely drawn background figure in a Rembrandt, a kind of sturdy, salty angel. I'm still nursing my outrage that he was flogged by the odious Captain Corbett and rejoiced in the latter's demise.

Fifteen still to go, I'm rationing myself already.