Sunday, March 23, 2014

Exhibit A

Have you ever been a museum exhibit? No? I guessed not. Well, I have. In fact I am much of the time, the reason being that I have for some years lived in a place that is part of a very large outdoor museum.

Perhaps I should also mention that the Oude Haven where I have my barge is the centre of social life in Rotterdam as well as a museum harbour, so it has a couple of tourist hotels very close by. What happens as a result is that coaches head straight for the harbour to offload their human and other baggage before parking up in the street along the quayside for the night.

This means that we often have the pleasure of putting on a performance for the very large groups of visitors  who gather right in front of the boats, many of whom are fascinated by these old vessels and even more intrigued by the motley collection of humanity (their idea, not ours) that seems to congregate on board.

Doing what we normally do: deck washing

These performances are not official - or even arranged. They just happen as we go about our normal business of deck washing, painting and regular maintenance. Okay, sometimes Koos has put on a show of being 'the man at work'. He has been known to trek to and from the yard with miscellaneous planks of wood, some of which have needed attention, but more often because he likes the attention himself.  For the most part, though, we just do what we normally do, which seems to generate intense interest from those above us (or below, depending on the tide).

Well, to get back to the story, I was sort of aware of all this when I moved to the Oude Haven in 2001, but I didn't realise the real implications at the time. The problem only became one when I bought my barge, the Vereeniging, and moved on board. Actually, it wasn't even then. It was when after moving on to the barge, there were a few changes to the boats' arrangements, and I ended up at the end of the row of 'museum exhibits' that lined the quay.

This was when I suddenly became Exhibit A, not only for reasons of historic charm (the barge's, not mine), but because I was also in an ideal spot from which to take photos of another of Rotterdam's most famous art exhibits - the Cubist Houses.

The Cubist Houses in the background

So this is how it came to happen that one morning I opened my trap - sorry hatch - to find a whole group of Japanese photographers making their way down my gangplank and taking up photography poses on my foredeck with their latest and greatest Canons and Nikons.

Granted, I have a very large foredeck. It can hold at least twenty tightly squeezed photographers of small stature including their tripods and photographic gear. But what I wasn't prepared for was their complete lack of awareness that there was anyone living on board, or indeed, anyone inside the boat at all.

The gangplank: Maximum three persons!
And my capacious foredeck

Now as you probably all know, our friends from the east are extremely courteous and become easily embarrassed by any suggestion that they have inconvenienced you. So the image of twenty of these lovely people with both shutters and mouths open in suspended animation as I emerged from my depths with Sindy in tow was a sight I wish I'd been able to capture myself.

Sindy of course barked, and the moment was broken; the shutters and mouths clacked closed and my twenty visitors, not knowing whether to bow in apology or collect up their gear and scram, scurried back up the gangplank with much vocal, if incomprehensible, dismay. Given that said gangplank is only supposed to carry a maximum of three people at a time, the consequent bending and straining of the steel as at least ten of them crowded onto it had me in suspended animation, or rather inhalation, instead.

Luckily nothing gave way and they all made it safely to shore, but I realised then I would have to make some kind of 'keep out' system.

In fairness to the tourists, our barges are supposed to maintain the exterior image and profile of working cargo boats, so I cannot really blame them for thinking there is no one home, but it is a trifle disconcerting to be the object of such interest, and even more to be regarded as a handy platform for other pursuits. We've had them all: drunken students, courting couples and avid historians are the most frequent. But since old boats are supposed to represent good luck, we often have bridal parties taking up poses along the gangplank for the regulation wedding photos. This can be somewhat tricky if you are on your way to work and can't get off the boat because the bride in all her finery is draped across your exit.

So there it is: another aspect of harbour life that hasn't made it into my books. Still, having now published both Watery Ways and Harbour Ways about the Oude Haven, maybe I should save these blog posts for a collection of Watery Blogways!


  1. What a fascinating life you lead there, Val. I can so imagine the Japanese photographers and their dismay: they really are so very courteous. Now I am off to find those Cubist houses in Rotterdam, of which I've never heard. Last week I wrote an Art Gallery tour for myself which revolves around Cubism.

  2. Hi Val! It's probably fun most of the time being Exhibit A. What a lovely spot you're in. Can't blame the tourists for being intrigued. I would be!

  3. Val, I remember when you first told us of the 'visitors' you sometimes had on the boat. I can't even imagine the heart attacks that would give me! Thanks for sharing your stories here; they made me giggle all over again.

  4. Hi Val - so easily done I guess by foreigners, and probably by EU personages as well - who are not connected with watery life.

    Pity you can't put an Offering pot - and gather some dues?! Cheaty anc cheeky I know ...

    I hadn't seen the Cubist houses before - what a great attraction ...

    Well Ms Exhibit A - you're doing a great job ... Cheers and have fun now Spring is moving along - Hilary

  5. Patricia, what a coincidence! You'd love the cubist houses. They are fascinating!

    Denise, it has it's amusing side, that's for sure!

    Anne-Marie, I'm very very glad to have made you laugh! Know what I know now, that's important for you :-) xx

    Hilary, thank you! Yes, we've thought of the 'alms for the Poore' box (pun intended :-)))

  6. What an interesting post - coming so soon after my poverty tourism worries.

    It reminds me of being out to supper with Tika and his family in Nepal, when a huge group of Chinese tourists stuck cameras in their faces - without asking or thanking afterwards - and clicked away. They'll have arrived home with some pictures of rather startled (and beautiful) children and no idea just how intrusive they were.

    Tourists are visitors - we should wait to be welcomed. I'm glad your Japanese were respectful - just wish there were more like them.

  7. Jo, it was your post that made me think of this. Of course, our situation is so much better than that of the 'exhibits' in the poverty tourism business, but the perception that we are there to be viewed as objects of interest is still one I find slightly disconcerting. There are many locals who believe we are just tramps as well!

  8. I think I am probably old enough to warrant being a museum exhibt! We are lucky now that we have moved and are tucked out of the way, we don't have the problem (just a couple of kids the other day, who scarpered when Alfie barked!). However, where we were before we regularly had people stopping to ask questions and chat, even a couple that came aboard (unasked) to 'have a look@. People don't appreciate that when you are working, you don't need to be constantly stopping! You sound more patient than me xxx

  9. The onlookers sure add to the life on the water. Guess you never know what you'll see when you go on deck. I can only imagine the look on the faces when you emerged from below. I like that story.
    You must have alot of patience Val.

  10. Your question " Have you ever been a museum exhibit?"
    I have though lived in an old house in Somerset and felt as if I we were, when visitors to the town used to peer in the windows.

    At other times I have made an exhibition of myself, suffering from wobbly legs syndrome (tipsy !) :-)

  11. Oh Val I was in need of cheering up and you add me laugh. The thought of Koos walking back and forward with wood for no real reason is so funny. Those tourists must have had a fright. Maybe you should offer tea,coffee and a tour and make some money.

  12. Hi Grace, well, yes - patience is not my middle name all the time :) very astute of you xx

    Thank you, Nas. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

    Mel, at least making yourself an exhibition is voluntary :-))

    Anne, that's a very good idea! I shall have to do something about that. Maybe I can retire after all! I'm glad it brought a smile to your day xx

  13. I would feel really uncomfortable at being the centre of so much attention from tourists. I think you're very brave! I love the look of those Cubist houses.

  14. Ros, it takes some getting used to - that's true! Thanks for coming by :)


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