In the midst of finishing a wine bottle and half of the movie, “Eat Pray Love,” I reflected on my study abroad experience in Europe. Traveling across from the western most point of Europe in Lisbon, Portugal to eastern parts like Budapest and Prague, I have learnt to live life and understand the true meaning of happiness. I have grasped cultures and taught myself to live under certain circumstances, and these life skills, no university can teach me. Most of these life skills lie as potential energy in my body, beneath multiple layers of identities and travel has opened up some of these tulip buds into magnificent flowers.
My happiness matters to me. Travel has made me realize the importance of trusting myself, believing in my self and making decisions for my own happiness. When I traveled to Barcelona and Madrid on my first ever completely solo trip, I spent time doing the things I love and the activities that brought me happiness. Between the two exotic Spanish cities, I saw 25 art museums and expanded my artistic knowledge about some of my favorite artists including Picasso, Miro and Dali, but not limited to these maestros. I saw my favorite footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, score 5 goals in one match, the highest he has ever scored. I did things I wanted to do. I realized that the most important person in my life is me.
People around me matter to me. Travel has made me see how crucial the people around me are and how strong their happiness is to make me happy; talking to people across the various countries I have visited, speaking to the Maastricht University students and making new friends and forming bonds that last longer than one semester. Earlier, I would be ignorant to helping someone even for a small task, but travel has made me accept that the happiness of others makes me happy. Such a beautiful world.
It seems like only yesterday, when I proposed the idea of studying abroad in Europe to my parents. After several in-depth discussions and extensive research, my parents and I mutually decided that Maastricht would be ideal due to it’s quintessential location in terms of travel and language, as well as the prestige of the university. Before coming to Maastricht, I visualized it to be cobble stoned pathways, lots of cafes and bars and churches amidst nature.
Surprisingly enough, my imagination was spot on. The town of Maastricht, with 10,000 inhabitants, is a cosy suburban area and a steady blend of vibrance and peace. At least in the spring months, one can be exposed to eating snowflakes, being thrown off by the strong chilly wind, biking and having bikes stolen, participating in an unimaginable week of carnaval and color. Also, to the drunk nights of de alla, the art eliteness of tefaf, the orange madness of king’s day, the exuberance of the spring flowers and the warmth of the spring sun. Maastricht has enough to explore for people with different tastes: several hikes and viewpoints, churches and bookshops in churches, art museums and festivals, cool cafes and classy restaurants. The university, famous for its problem based learning approach to learning, attracts heaps of international and exchange students, providing an interactive and culturally stimulating environment — something I love about Maastricht University. Studying business at the School of Business and Economics is challenging and instills students to actively participate and strengthen their understanding of the material. The library that is close to the inner city library has a “garden” which is one of the favorite spots to hang for breaks and breathe fresh air between long intervals of working on presentations and facilitations. A facilitation, for your information, is a Maastricht coined term which refers to a presentation discussion that involves wild examples, leads to conversation and requires the student to act as teacher. Close to the library is a city wall, which talks to the students about Maastricht’s history, especially the times during the world war ii. Maastricht is a politically famous destination, for it was where the European Union treaty of 1992 about the €uro was established. As for its location, Maastricht is more than a gift to someone who intends to travel and explore Europe on a student budget. Located on the Maas river, about 20 minutes walk from Belgium and about less than an hour drive from Germany, Maastricht is well connected to the major European cities and is the perfect home base.
Maastricht has so far been a great break from Berkeley’s stressful competitive feel. It has given me the space to think about what I really want to do in the future and has given me the opportunity to meet with people from all over the world, who have unique stories to share and enough time to listen.
Gezellig. A Dutch word with no English translation. A word that means everything from friendly to cozy, from comfortable to relaxing and from enjoyable to gregarious. Indeed, it is a word that encompasses the heart of Dutch culture. The Dutch are proud of this abstract word; they love it, they need it and they respect it. It is a word that is less about the meaning and more about the feeling; it can only really be felt. The people of the Netherlands know how to live life to the fullest; indulging in lavish meals, celebrating carnivals with friends and family, living by beautiful canals and amid historical structures. According to UNICEF reports, not only have the living standards of the Netherlands been consistently ranked high with high levels of employment and household wealth, but interestingly, the Dutch children have been ranked as the happiest in the developing world. As a part of being in the gezellig, the Dutch are deeply immersed in their history and culture. The opulent Golden Age of the seventeenth century has created the contours of Dutch society today that boasts of its artistic history and wide array of genres. Dutch people live symbiotically with the art that reflects the lifestyles of both the Dutch culture of the past and the Dutch culture of the present.
Still life, a distinct artistic genre and professional specialization, developed as a separate category in Netherlands in the late sixteenth century. It gave the artists more freedom in the arrangement of elements within a composition than other types of genres such as landscape or portraiture. A style of ostentatious still life painting emerged, and prominent artists, like Willem Claesz Heda, emphasized the abundance by depicting a diversity of objects, fruits and flowers, sometimes alongside animals. This still life reminded viewers of the prosperity of the Republic; “it spoke about the bounty of God’s creation and the nature of art and life.”
At first sight, Heda’s painting, Still Life with a Gilt Cup (1635) appears to welcome the viewer to a sumptuous feast. Characterized as a painter of “fruit and all kinds of knick-knacks,” Willem Claesz Heda was one of the greatest Dutch still life artists, noted particularly for banquet pieces. The large size of his possibly commissioned paintings creates the illusion of reality – objects are life-size. The three dimensionality of the objects brings the scene into the viewer’s own space. The quiet still life has an extraordinary naturalism and directness.
Heda’s almost-monochrome painting is characterized by a sublime simplicity; his rendering of color and light in the objects, combined with the detailed brush strokes, results in an illusion of realism. The richly dressed table is adorned with an intentional disarray of precious tableware, oyster shells, bread and wine. The yellow lemon peel contrasting the rest of the painting and appears almost three dimensional due to Heda’s use of light and shadow. The subtle palette of gray tones, apart from accented with hints of yellow, gold and ochre, creates a unified interplay of colors in the “tonal banquet.”
Heda manages to convey realistically the wide range of textures that individual objects possess — the translucence of the wine and water, the iridescence of the shell, the softness of the silk, the reflections of the metal, the fiber of the fruit. The variety of surfaces, ranging from gloss varnish to dull matt, contrast against the simple plain wall. The sense of reality with the cloth is amplified by the complexity of the layout – a layout that is achieved simply by dropping the cloth naturally on the surface, creating a complex artistic composition. The artist’s signature, similar to the edges of the silk, appears to be embroidered on the cloth. The wine glass has a reflection of the source of light (a window) that is implied to be on the left top of the painting. The liquid in the glass, refracting light and adding depth into it, brings yet more flavor to the composition. The Gilt cup, after which the painting is titled, is embellished with detailed floral designs and the warmth of tones creates a balance between the grayness of the silk, bread and oysters. Heda’s ability of creating the perfect composition with balanced texture and lighting is masterful – each object plays a role in bringing an essence to the painting.
The food in still life was luscious, exotic and luxurious: lobsters from Norway, citrus fruits from Spain, grapes from France and a plethora of cheeses and bread; this was a kind of culinary pornography. Today, food is seen as a necessary part of life, with no need of the luxury, although the opulent cuisines are famous too. Food in the Netherlands shapes and is constantly shaped by the Dutch society. The country’s cuisine has been established by its cultivation (fishing, farming, domesticating animals) and the history of the Netherlands. In the prosperous Dutch Golden Age, when the urban merchant class dominated the affluent Dutch society, the haute cuisine was largely limited to the aristocracy and wealthy citizens, consisting of a rich variety of fruits, cheeses, meat, seafood, wine and nuts. The Dutch empire enabled spices, sugar and exotic fruits as well as tea and coffee to be imported to the country. Exotic ingredients such as cinnamon, dates, saffron and ginger were gradually introduced. Thus, today, Netherlands is home to different cultures and external influences, having a variety of foods. Chinese–Indonesian, Surinamese, French and Italian food are a part of the Dutch diet. From piping hot street snacks to heart-warming stews, pea soups to french fries with mayonnaise, meat croquettes to raw herrings, freshly baked breads to delicious cheeses and from Belgium waffles to pies filled with spiced apples, the Dutch cuisine is celebrated with special foods. The Dutch cuisine is indeed gezellig.
Genre scenes, paintings of daily life where people engaged in everyday activity, became popular in Flemish and Dutch cultures during the seventeenth century. Celebrated paintings of this genre were works by Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer, Gerard Ter Borch II and Pieter de Hooch. It was only in the 1870s that Vermeer was rediscovered when about 35 paintings were identified as his. Vermeer painted depictions of domestic scenes; his earlier works were historical outdoor scenes, whereas his later works were compositions of interiors featuring one or two females. Vermeer’s Little Street (1658) is a painting of a quaint street in the small Dutch town, Delft, where he lived and worked for most of his life in the 17th century. Anthony Bailey, author of Vermeer: A View of Delft, commented about the painting and said,“time, halted for this instant and therefore in a sense of eternity, seems to be his essential subject (of the painting).” At that time, Delft was becoming an important tourist attraction, where people flocked from all parts of the Netherlands to see the city’s public and religious buildings. Damage of a civic explosion in 1654 leveled several parts of the town to the ground, but not long after, the damage had become yet another tourist attraction. Although the proud and industrious citizens of Delft made every attempt to restore the damage as quickly as possible, signs of disaster still remained. Eventually, the Delft town council decided to leave buildings without restoring them. Even then, the town was visited for its pleasant ambience and the intimate scale of its public and private spaces. Just as today, Delft was known for the tree line canals, offering strolls past boutique stores and private residences.
The Little Street is a strange assortment of architectural features, to which an air of persuasiveness is given by the wonderful painting of red brick walls, glass windows and wooden window shields, of the trees and sky, and of figures of two women and two children. Vermeer painted the old walls, coarse bricks and white plasterwork, making the scene look as real as possible. The front doorway, in which one of the women sits, is offset to the left, which makes it seem less structured — and adds to the realism. It is likely that some of the cracks in the building to the right in the Little Street were caused by the 1654 explosion. Straight angles in the composition generate a balance in the painting, while the triangular sky “introduces a sense of dynamism.” The scene was supposedly located at the Voldersgracht, which is rumored to be the view from Vermeer’s father’s inn from across a small canal.
The canals of Delft as well as other cities in Netherlands were incorporated into the original city planning, serving as defense and lifelines throughout the city, delivering goods and supplies, and transporting people. Today, city canals all over (Amsterdam, Delft, Utrecht and Leiden) are still used for their original transportation intent, as well as for keeping water contained and away from areas where people lived. Currently, about half the country’s area is below sea level, making the famous Dutch dikes and canals a requisite for efficient land use. The Dutch are proud of their canals, and often get around by water-taxi or private boat. People mainly bike and walk on city streets, and bridges to cross water in many places, making for a rather picturesque sight. According to online sources, the Amsterdam Canal District is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and the city has been nicknamed the “Venice of the North.” Each Dutch city has its own share of canals, world-famous museums and historical sites — each Dutch city fabricates a unique sense of gezellig.
Netherland’s history, politics, architecture, festivals, music and food, are reflected in the masterpieces of Dutch art and create the united imagined community for the Dutch. Dutch culture encourages people to find their passion and pursue it. It teaches people to love and to dream big. It impels people to make the most of every moment of life. It defines the impossible. And of course, it defines gezellig.