Category: Architecture & Interiors

Two Synagogues in “Mokum” in the Golden Age

How 17th century Amsterdam was the safest place to be for persecuted Jews…

2synaguogesGerrit Adriansz. Berckheyde – The two synagogues in Amsterdam c. 1680-85

A recent exhibition at the stunning Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam brought me face to face with this wonderful quiet cityscape depicting the two synagogues that were built in 17th century Amsterdam and still exist today.

The synagogue on the left belonged to the Ashkenazi Jews (completed in 1671), the one on the right to the Sephardic Jewish community (completed in 1675). The Amsterdam Sephardic community was one of the largest and richest Jewish communities in Europe during the Dutch Golden Age, and their very large synagogue reflected this.

BigSynagogueThe dedication of the Portuguese Synagogue in 1675

Amsterdam, colloquially called “Mokum” in Amsterdam slang (“Mokum” is Yiddish for “town”, derived from the Hebrew “makom”, which literally means “place”) was a safe haven for the persecuted Jewish communities throughout Europe. The sephardic Jews came mainly from Portugal and Spain, the Ashkenazim mainly from Poland.

imagesThe “Great” (Ashkenazim) Synagogue

Many of the new Ashkenazi immigrants were poor, contrary to their relatively wealthy Sephardic co-religionists. They were only allowed in Amsterdam because of the financial aid promised to them and other guarantees given to the Amsterdam city council by the Sephardic community, despite the religious and cultural differences between the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim and the Portuguese-speaking Sephardim.

EtchingEtching by Jan Luyken, “Kerk-Zeeden ende Gewoonten die huiden in gebruik zijn onder de Jooden” (Church rules and habits practised today by Jews) – Amsterdam – 1683.

Emanuel_de_Witte_002Emanuel de Witte – The interior of the “Esnoga” (Portuguese Synagogue) c. 1680

More on how Amsterdam colloquial language and consequently Dutch slang is peppered with Yiddish words in a later post!

De Mazzel!

(Amsterdam “speak” for Mazel Tov)

I have seen the future…

How the Futurama in 1939 created the vision of the future

photoThe iconic Trylon and Perisphere structures of the 1939 World Fair in Queens, New York

The theme of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York was “The World of Tomorrow.” One exhibit created by General Motors, called the “Futurama,” was an ride designed by Norman Bel Geddes that presented a possible model of the world 20 years into the future. It showed a utopian city of the future called “Democracity,” characterized by its automated highways and vast suburbs.

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Modern Mosaik

Ordinary everyday objects form intricate patterns in the hands of Bejing contemporary artist Hong Hao

things“Tian-B,” 2008

Thank god for the New York Times online subscription, my day was lit up by an article about the works of this artist from China. Everything I love: every day objects, collage, mosaic, still life, abstraction…

Books“My Things No. 7,” 2004 – books

The artist and photographer Hong Hao has kept track of almost every item in his life for the past 14 years. You think he is a hoarder?

bottom“Bottom No. 3,” 2009 – bottoms of ordinary objects

In fact, no: he scans each item and composes what results into colorful, intriguing large-format still life’s. I love this “objet pixel” infinity collage:

circleMy Things About Circle no. 2 , 2006

This collage is made up of ordinary consumer goods packages, chronicling the change in China over the last 14 years:

stuff“Book-Keeping of 07 B,” 2008

The objects are scanned and then arranged according to their forms and colors.

art“My Things No. 5,” 2002

Hong Hao destructs the functional property of the materials and reproduces an undifferentiated, flattened, deliberately superficial world of aesthetics.

books2“My Things Book-Keeping of 2004-05 A,” 2006

The amazing thing is, this is done with a scanner and a computer! No camera, just scanned images carefully rearranged on the computer and printed in large format! I find these images so poetic or in the words of Horace:

“A picture is a poem without words.”

The Lives of Others…

Voyeurism in real life and movies

TTSS2 2 copy

In the brilliant adaptation of John Le Carre’s spy novel “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, one of the best scenes is the British spy watching the Russian delegate in bed with a floozie, as his wife is entering the apartment. You see all this from across the street through a succession of windows.

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A room with view…

Night or Day, the Manhattan skyline never ceases to amaze.


I always consider New York “my” town. For as long as I remember, it is the place where I wanted to live and work. Alas, my destiny deviated me through France, but luckily New York is on the agenda several times a year.

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