Thursday, 13 August 2015

A day in Delft with Johannes Vermeer and Anne

I know I'd promised Van Gogh but as I sat down to write about him, I realised this would take time. The potent decoction of his art, his letters and his way of looking at things needs time to simmer inside me a bit longer. 

Instead, my friends, we will be visiting Johannes Vermeer. But before we start, here are a few lines that are ready to be shared... 

Stormy Saturday smeared me 
against the scaffolding.

Delft became the canvas.
Wind splattered us 
like pigments
at the end of Van Gogh's brush.

I felt his passion,
his urgency,
 his strokes of genius.

I let him
bleed me
on paper 
for generations to come after he's gone
and admire his madness.

Code Red.


Yowled the beast.

Delft Blue.
Flea markets and old book shops pull me like a magnet. I buy junk which I love when I pick it up and then question my sanity when I bring it home. Age is teaching me to be less impulsive but I still manage to pack pieces of future regrets when I'm travelling: like this beautiful green lamp I bought in Tbilisi. It's so old the electric bits that can make it work are impossible to source in Doha! So, it spends as much time in my car (while I look for another electrical shop) as it does in front of our living room window- I love the way sunlight refracts through its green glass.
No surprise then that when we landed in Amsterdam, I picked Saturday (flea market day) to visit Delft. My husband had checked the weather the previous night- it was supposed to rain after midday.

On 25th July 2015, we packed our rain gear and boarded the train from Amsterdam Central early enough to reach Delft before midday. Everything I had read about Delft promised a grand day of vintage Dutch charm. The thought of browsing through the flea market kept bursting rainbows inside me like the skittles commercial or as my mum would say: 'laddoo phoot rahe the dil mein!'

"You'll love it." proclaimed a fellow passenger on the train. She was Dutch. 

Rain and Wind had arrived before us. Delft greeted us with wet streets and soaking stalls. Wind bent us like capital Cs- heads down, arched backs, struggling to keep the raincoat hoods on our heads. Maybe, I should have worn my shoes and not these extremely comfortable sandals.

'It'll clear up soon enough', I thought.

We plunged into the town centre; thrusting our concave bodies against the wet wind.

A cup of coffee and some pie later, we made our way towards the canals where I'd spotted a few stalls being set up.
NO! They were not setting up. They were packing up at 11am!

A little ceramic bowl sitting next to a heap of old newspapers caught my eye. Before the stall owner could wrap and box it, I asked, "How much?"

"Hopefully, the sun will come out." my husband tried to break the ice with the stall owner.

"Yes, above the clouds." her stern face slowly melted into a lopsided, sarcastic grin. "Today," she looked heavenwards, "NO chance!"
The stall owners weren't happy. I was devastated.
My darling husband tried to reason with me. He hates rain and I love it- even the stormy kind.

"Let's just wait and see." I used my half- pleading, half -'threatening-to-dive- into-my-silent-mood' tone with him. It worked.

Dripping little pools of rain water around our feet, we stood inside the Information Centre for the second time that day; safe from the whipping winds for a few minutes at least. The lady at the counter mentioned a Vermeer exhibition just around the corner. It wasn't on my list. But it was indoors; anything to keep him dry and relatively happy.

Vermeer Centrum Delft brings Vermeer's life and work to life. None of his original paintings are on display here, but life size reproductions, commentaries and recordings take you back into 17th century Delft. You get to know the man, the painter, the husband, the father and (probably) the henpecked son-in-law (his rich Catholic mother-in-law supported him all his life). I would recommend a visit, even if it's a bright sunny day and the flea market is heaving with activity.

My favourite room was his studio and the exhibits on this floor. His techniques, methods and genius can be appreciated here. The Master of Light- Johannes Vermeer - painted household scenes and women with such insight that when you look at his art, you feel like you are in the room, intruding upon the painter and his subject. That's how I felt, and I wasn't even looking at the originals!

Strike a pose...
When in Rome....when in Delft... I tried a bit of paint effect on this picture...
and  water effect here...
Einstien said, "Creativity is contagious. Pass it on." I'm feeling it, even if the results are silly!
The storm was getting serious and raging a ruckus by now and the torrential downpour outside meant we were in no hurry to leave. 

I have to thank my friend Nisha, whose rain soaked pictures of Kolkatta traffic inspired me to look outside the box or in this case, out of the third floor window of the Centre. 

I clicked while we waited for the rain to take a break.

 View of the street...

The Church

The rain stopped for a bit. But my husband had had enough. So he decided to sit in this sunny spot while I went exploring close by.

If your appetite has been whipped for works of Vermeer,
Check out : Artsy

"Artsy's mission is to make all the world's art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection."

Destination: De Candelaer

The door to this shop was jammed. I pushed once.
'I'll give it one more push and then go back', I thought.
It was probably closed.

 Just as I decided to turn back, the door was yanked open by a lady in a dark top.

Are you closed?

"No.No. The door keeps banging so hard. I had to lock it.
I was about to close up. It's almost 2 in the afternoon and only 2 people have come through."
the lady walked and talked and I followed her to step inside the shop.

Are you the potter?

No. I'm the painter. The potter is on vacation.

Is it okay if I look around?

Oh! sure, sure...

Dripping another tiny puddle around my feet, I used my hair band as a bandanna to keep my wet hair off my face and stepped right in- inside the factory at the back of the shop.

The door kept hurtling open, howling regular updates of the storm outside.

Meet Anne, the painter, at De Candelaer, Delft.
When did you decide to become a painter?

"Even since I was very little, my only ambition ever was to become a potter. I didn't become a potter, but I sit next to one." Anne smiled.

She trained at the Royal Delft for six years before she was allowed to paint independently. She worked there for 20 years- training new generations of painters.

Then at 42, I became too old and expensive for them, so they fired me.

The rattling windows and the loud wind kept up the drama outside.

Can I take a picture?

In that case, I'll sit here and show that I'm painting.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

It's all the time... I get ideas in my dreams. Ideas are everywhere. 
I like being able to paint my own designs now.

She showed me a few of her newly painted pieces- they were waiting for the potter to return from his vacation to be fired in the kiln.

I went around the shop looking for a smallish thing to pick up. She carried on talking about how she's trying to use the traditional brush strokes to create new designs, about how the younger Dutch population don't really buy traditional Delftware. I stopped looking and went back to carry on our conversation.

I'll look for something small.

Oh! I won't disturb you can look.

If I had come to Delft alone, I would've carried on chatting. But I was aware of my husband,who was waiting, so I resisted the urge.

Expensive china is not my cup of tea. I found a tiny tooth-pick holder and brought it to her. A few seconds later, I spotted a tiny milk jug and as it was within my small budget, I swapped.
"I painted that." Anne smiled, pointing to the milk jug.

You should've told me!

"You should get what you like." she looked up to give me a smile while putting the tape on my packet. 

"I'll put this in a tulip bag for you."

Thank you.

I felt Delft; its charm and warmth in Anne's matter-of-fact gentleness and humility.

An arm touch, a happy nod and goodbye.
As I was leaving, a couple of drenched tourists walked in.

'Red Alert!' glared my husband when I hopped back into his dry haven after almost an hour. This was serious.
Code Red.


Yowled the beast.

Delft Blue.

We made our way back to the train station. 

Announcements in Dutch were being made. Train times on the display board blinked but no trains came. I asked a group sitting next to me.

"There're no trains to Amsterdam. The tracks are not clear."

How long will it take?

The shoulder shrug -- so common in Europe-- said it all. 

"Take the tram to the Hague." suggested one of them. 

The tram driver, when we reached the tram, informed us that she too couldn't go all the way to the station as there were problems on the tracks.

At last, we managed to board a bus to the Hague and then took a train from there to Amsterdam. The bus offered an opportunity to chat with our fellow passengers. One of them was getting late for work and was hopeful her boss would understand.

And the other, sitting opposite me, looked at my open toe sandals and asked, 'First time in Europe?'.

I don't blame her. The top half of my body was nicely wrapped up in a red bandanna and rain jacket. My pale toes peeping through the sandals must have seemed odd. 

She turned out to be a super helpful soul, a traveller herself (she had travelled through India and Iran over a period of six months, thirteen years ago). She pointed us in the direction of the train station when we got off the bus in the middle of Den Hague.

Curious about Vermeer? Check out:

The storm had spent itself by the time we stepped out of Amsterdam Central Station. Fallen trees on the sidewalks were the only evidence of the gale-force winds that had hit the region earlier. No one was hurt and that was a relief.
Our travel plans had to be changed. We ended up with an extra day in Amsterdam to enjoy another stunning sunset. 


  1. Beautiful as always! loved the rain soaked pictures... And the pose at the Vermeer studio. The usual exuberance and looking at everything with renewed joy and a glitter in the eye....

  2. Rainy day people - just know how to turn a frown upside down. Good on you Arti for making the most of a rainy day. Loved the shots through the windows!
    hugs xx

    1. Cheers April. I like 'rainy day people'- might use it someday:) xx

  3. Hi Arti..lovely write up, as usual..i really enjoyed it. loved the rain pics..loved the whole atmosphere. i thought you were talking to me. Vemeer! I read 'Girl with a pearl earring' later, after my visit to Delft. i hope it is the right book. Last yr it ws on a travelling exhibition. Arti,my husband and i had been on a jet visit to Delft...the craziest..from Amsterdam..brought back memories, of the rush rush long walk to the factory and talking to the artists, and buyig the smallest of memories...just to jog memories, like was a sunlit day, water and dappled green and clean roads are my memories apart from the breath taking factory stuff. there was a huge panel of the Night Delft colours also. thanks for this post. BTW, went to a flea market in Amsterdam where it was windy and cloudy ! :)

    1. Thank you Sunila:) I'd love to explore Delft on a sunny day. Vermeer's 'Girl with the pearl earring' was exhibited at the MIA in Doha last year and I couldn't stop staring at the pearl; it looked so real. Imagine achieving this result with white paint. Awesome talent.

  4. Thank you for your blog about Delft, the Vermeer Centre Delft and the fleemarket. You came to Delft on a day with heavy storm and rain. Thats a pity, because a normal fleemarket on Saturday has more than 120 stalls. When you arrived most stalls were packed up again because of the weatherforcast. If you are thinking of coming back to Delft again, please let us know before and we will try to show you our lovely city with some sun.

    1. Thank you for your kind offer Herman. I know I'll be taking the train to Delft whenever I go to Amsterdam next because even on that stormy day, I loved it. If I do, I'll drop in to say hello.


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