Sunday, April 30, 2023

The fall from the center of the universe.

Hey, guys, I'm back. I spent most of the past couple of weeks on a river cruise in Belgium and the Netherlands, ending last weekend in Amsterdam (where I came down with COVID, but it's been a mild case, and I'm nearly over it).

The problem I have in general with all-inclusive tours is that they try to appeal to everybody, so usually what you get is the churches-and-castles tour. This trip was, thankfully, more art-focused -- we visited three art museums, including the big Vermeer exhibit at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam -- but there's always something I want to see that's not on the schedule. Sometimes there's time on a free afternoon to see one of those things and sometimes not. This time, there was. So on a free afternoon in Amsterdam, I hoofed it over to Dam Square to tour the Royal Palace.

The building started out as the Amsterdam City Hall. Construction began in 1648, just after the Dutch Republic won its freedom from Spain, and finished in 1665. It's kinda swampy in the Netherlands, so this massive neoclassical edifice was built atop 13,659 wooden piles driven all the way down to bedrock.

This all happened during the Dutch Golden Age, when this tiny country was vying successfully with Portugal and England to be the king of world trade. It did a fair job of it, too, establishing exclusive markets with producers of some spices and founding colonies around the world. The Dutch were proud of their achievements -- and it shows in the palace's Citizens' Hall. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
The hall is immense. This photo shows only two of the three marble maps embedded in the floor. To the east and west are maps of the eastern and western hemispheres; I was impressed with their accuracy. But then, the Dutch sailed around the tips of both Africa and South America in their trading voyages. 

They even knew where New Mexico was! 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
Lynne Cantwell 2023
The center circle is a star chart. In short, the builders depicted the universe, with Amsterdam in the center. 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
That hegemony was gone, though, by 1806, when Napoleon invaded and installed his brother, Louis Bonaparte, on the throne. King Louis then converted City Hall into a palace for himself. His bedroom is on the tour, and it is not too shabby. 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
He didn't live there long, though -- he abdicated in July 1810. Later on, the Dutch royal family claimed the palace. Nobody lives there now, but King Willem-Alexander uses it for state functions, and of course it's open for tours.

I'm still fixated on the idea that the Netherlands was once a superpower, and then its luck turned. I don't know enough about European history to know how or why. But for a couple of hundred years, give or take, the Dutch were the center of the universe. Then it was England's turn. Eventually, the honor fell to the United States. And I'm left wondering what it would take for us to avoid their fate.

We believe we're the center of the universe now -- but how much longer can it last? And how will we react when we no longer are? The Dutch seem to be okay, now, with not being at the center of things. I wonder how long it would take for the US to reach the same state of sanguinity. Four hundred years might not be long enough.


These moments of centrally-located universal blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

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