Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sarcerdotal Amsterdam

Having spent most of Saturday knocking about the neighborhood of Amsterdam's sex shops and weed joints, we thought it only fair that we give over Sunday to divine worship.  In truth, the transaction wasn't all  that sharp.  For one thing, our association with religion is about as detached as our association with the sex shops.  In each case, we're observers; in the case of the the churches, it's the music.

As if to complete the connection, if it's church music you want  Amsterdam, one of the best places to keep your eye on is the Oude Kerk which is ensconced smack dab in a semi-circle of brothels.  I don't really know whether the Kerk is Oude enough to precede the brothels  (I do know some of the girls looked like--oh, cut that out).  The point  is the music was wonderful: a choral evensong with selections from Gibbons and Poulenc and others, presented by an organist and a choir which, with a membership of about as dozen,  checked in at a bit more than half the number of the audience.  The church itself is worth a side-trip (in tourist-talk): a chronological mess, begun by the Catholics, later taken over and expanded by the Protestants, now functioning as some sort of joint entity, like the World-Telegraph and Sun (I'd love to know who put up the rood-screen).

In the morning, we betook ourselves to as rather different venue. But "betook" is too strong a word: for the moment we have fetched up in an apartment that is virtually in the side yard of the Wester Kerk, which I believe I read somewhere claims to have been the largest Protestant Church before St. Paul's in London. Compared to the Oude Kerke, this was a different sort of operation entirely.  Instead of 20-odd congregants, there were a couple of hundred, and they weren't all old and beaten-down, as you might more likely find in the tourist-destination churches of Western Europe: these folks liked like locals with jobs and lives and suchlike, who just wanted to come to church.  Only one non-white face: might have been Indonesian.

Music--the organ again--was the big draw here, and it didn't disappoint, but I have to say a word about the preacher: a sixtyish woman who (per the website) has held forth here since 1995.  The whole affair was carried off in Dutch (I assume!) but I must say, the lady's got style: she speaks with a kind of bluff, understated irony and she has the gestures and modulation that make her fun to hear even if you can't understand a word she is saying.  I bet she aced homiletics in Divinity School.  The website says she is the author of a book on Mary mother of Jesus titled, if you believe Google Translate,  A Maid in Elevated Stands.  Maybe "elevated stands" are what you need to make your way through the streets of this swampy city in rainy weather.

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