HOBART HUGHES ........home

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Amsterdam, like some of the best cities, started out as a swamp. A lot of the Netherlands was swamp so it’s not surprising really. Amsterdam was a sleepy little fishing village till the Spanish halted the Eighty year war somewhere near Antwerp in Belgium. The rich merchants flocked north and dropped their money in and around Amsterdam. It’s main claim to any attention was a safe harbour and therefore a good place for sailors to get safely drunk. It still is a safe place to imbibe although nowadays it’s really hash and hydroponically grown dope. It’s famous coffee shops, where you can buy a joint or bag of skunk, have a somewhat strange relationship with authorities.  Not every one thinks that the liberal attitude to pot is a good thing but there is no likely to change. The law itself is rather odd in that it’s not a punishable crime to sell it but it is illegal for the coffee shop to buy it.

In many ways Amsterdam is the world centre for free choice and personal responsibility. The liberal values it is thought come from a history of social mobility sponsored by money. More than anywhere else in Europe the Dutch led in the development of a mercantile class that was not dependant on birth right. They had the first stock market and the first central bank and the first corporation The Dutch East India Company. As such they were leaders in globalization but I don’t suppose we can hold them responsible.

As well as being a most tolerant society the Dutch will tell you they have another reputation as grumpy and difficult. Perhaps this comes from the blend of it’s Calvinists and Protestants roots. The Calvinists won out in the end however there were a lot of reformers so many in fact that although when the final rulings were set at a kind of Religious summit known as the Synod of Dort  the inherent freedom of class movement set up a kind of compromise of tolerances.
This combination of rigorous application and a determination to be free of the old dictums of inherited privilege set the scene for what id called The Golden Age.

It’s the Dutch way to find a way to work things out, they occupy the space left by others and in this way they created one of the first urban super powers.

I had made friends with two Amsterdam residents last year in Greece and I was now sitting at an outside table of a bar just near the West Tower. Dirk is a composer and we were discussing music with another American musician and collaborator of Dirks, John, when I noticed a couple struggling with a table. They were trying to carry it by the in an all in one frame / legs. Trouble was the table top was detached making it difficult to either reach under the top to the legs. I could see their problem all so clearly. I think I needed to become part of Amsterdam and this seemed an introduction of sorts. I ran over and just said I know what to do. I said “Get the top put it on the ground then place the legs and frame up side down and just carry the table top” They just blindly followed my instructions and were soon nicely balanced. As I looked up I was a bit shocked to notice that about a hundred or so people were watching. There was a smattering of nods, some applause and general approval. It seemed like I could start a new political party there and then based on my confidence to carry crap thrown out by other people. The real issue however is space and with a lot of people living all together in a small 17th century city the Amsterdamans knew something about space. In such a city space and time compress and watching others is somewhat rude in these confined streets.  But I had crossed a boundary and made the usual private interaction of how to fold yourself around in a small space public. This seemed to be immensely enjoyable for everyone. The two young table carriers turned out to be Swedish. I know this as when they were walking away he turned and said “Well it seems that Einstein was not Swedish”
I kind of think however if relativity was based on principals of living in small apartments well he could have been Dutch.

 

 

 

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