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Tuesday, October 24, 2006 

ballet... and other cultured things

Well, after almost a week in Amsterdam, we had our first official event related to new media yesterday. That may sound surprising, considering this is a media studies program focusing specifically on new media, but we’ve been studying so much more than that. I’ve begun to think of this seminar as a cross between many subject areas, new media being just one of them. As many off campus programs are, this one is also largely centered around the places in which we are studying, rather than just the things we are studying, and it really needs to be that way to even begin to grasp the relevance of the art we are seeing and making. The physical location and culture shaped around it play a crucial role in development of art at any point in time, new media included.

That being said, our first few days in Amsterdam really were a crash course in the history and culture of this country. I learned, for example, that Holland is actually just a small part of The Netherlands (although definitely the most densely populated), and that people from other areas are typically quite offended when people think they’re from Holland. We were also told to keep in mind that the Dutch are not trying to be rude, but just tend to be task-oriented, straightforward people. Also, translation into English can often come off as being much more rude than intended. Honestly, I’m just impressed that so many people here speak English.

Many of these cultural notes came from Jacob Vossestein, author of Dealing with the Dutch. He gave us a very insightful presentation on his perceptions of the Dutch, as a sociologist. At left, my notes on his example of culture being like an onion. It’s everybody’s favorite metaphor, including Shrek. However, this presentation on culture ended up turning into a discussion, or a voicing of viewpoints, not necessarily in response to each other, on perceptions between the Dutch and Americans and the validity of stereotyping. It was interesting, although too heated and political to be particularly productive. One of Jacob’s most notable ideas was that the rest of the world should have some sort of a vote (although less than Americans of course) in US elections because of the vast influence of US policy on the rest of the world. I’ve heard it before, but never so seriously.

Our other cultural/historical exploits included a lecture by art historian Marietta de Bruine on the Golden Age of Dutch painting. It was very reminiscent of my high school art history class (not necessarily in the level or anything, but in the content), and it was nice to revisit looking at art from a critical perspective, trying to infer meaning. Now I really want to go to some museums here, especially because we have museum passes!

My favorite event from the first few days in Amsterdam was definitely going to see Carmen, performed by het nationale ballet. I’m not very familiar with the story, or with ballet, but I know enough to know that it was absolutely beautiful. I hadn’t been to a ballet since I was about 8 years old and saw my next door neighbor perform, but it’s just amazing how a story can be told just through dance and music. And, it was at the beautiful Muziektheater in the heart of Amsterdam. Such a good introduction to the city.

So, now that we have been introduced to the Dutch, we are digging into new media, both visiting places that are at the heart of it in Amsterdam, and working like crazy on our projects. Super busy, but super good as well.