Local Heart, Global Soul

June 1, 2013

Off To Heaven And Hell, um… With a Quick Stop At St. Joseph’s…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

We are enjoying a quick visit to the Belgian city of Mechelen: it’s essentially a business trip but we have just enough time to  have lunch and take a little look around.

Opposite the restaurant where we had the tagine there is a large footbridge and we ended up on the other side of the canal simply because that’s where the supermarket we wanted to visit was located.

Going home without some beer for Himself and a few friends and some waffles for the kids was not an option and I was keen to get a (dried) leg of ham … but the latter wasn’t stocked here  so I was out of luck.

Luckily we succeeded on the other two counts and tested just how much weight my little backpack could carry stuffed in as many bottles of local and unusual stouts as possible.  The other good thing was that since it was Himself’s beer, he got the job of carrying the now seriously heavy backpack  from then on.

We were just exiting the supermarket when we saw what looked like a tour group party making the rounds with their guide. They were short distance ahead of us and all were stopped at a corner a little way down the canal, and crowded around taking photos.

While Himself was busy (re) arranging beer bottles in the backpack so that the zip would close, I took the opportunity to ask a lady leaving with her shopping what the tourists were looking at please.

“Some of the oldest houses in Mechelen” she said, “… and the oldest wooden one, they are very nice, you should go and take a look“.

Needless to say this became the  next stop on our walk and thus we duly arrived at the same corner now deserted, as the bus tour tourists had departed rapidly to keep to their schedule.  There is a wooden information board on the canal side of the Haverwerf (street name where these stand) that gives some information:

“Houses: St Joseph, the Little Devils, Paradise:  These Facades are representative of the evolution of dwellings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. First they were built of timber and later of stone. From left to right you see: baroque, timber and Gothic with early-renaissance features.”  

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

I found quite a few websites where these houses were mentioned but most were just a line or two of the same information… so I’ve amalgamated all  the little bits I found. On several websites they were referred to as the “Heaven”and “Hell” Houses too.

The white and green house corner house  of a row of period buildings is called “Het Paradijs”  (Paradise) and dates from between 1525 and 1550.  

The style is transitional, with Gothic crockets and finials coexisting with Renaissance-influenced tympanum reliefs.  Its front shows scenes from the Earthly Paradise  and two of those reliefs are Adam and Eve scenes:  one representing the Tree of Good and Evil and the other the Expulsion from Paradise (hence the name of the house).

Next door to “Het Paradijs” house is the house called “Duivelshuis / de Duiveltjes” (Devil’s House / Little Devil’s)  and it dates from 1545-1550  though quite a bit of its original planking has been replaced.

Dark carvings depict the story of the Prodigal Son, including a couple of devils. Apparently, its original name (Prodigal Son) never caught on; “de Duiveltjes” or little devils stuck, probably because the fçcade is decorated with  three satyrs or devils.

On the other side of this the “Duivelshuis” house stands “Sint Jozef”. A statue of Saint Joseph showing you Jesus is incorporated in its front. Judging from their glum faces, the little devils are deeply unhappy with their neighbours. The houses are all privately owned.

The angle of the sun ( in our eyes as we looked at the front of the buildings)  made harder than I thought to get some detailed photographs of the façades but I did my best (a higher viewing point would have been handy too) and therefore in one blog post  full of photos I can literally take you from the houses of Heaven to Hell and St. Joseph and back. In this Blog you can sometimes travel veeery far indeed.

http://wikimapia.org/17024194/Devil-s-House
http://wikimapia.org/17024187/Paradise-House

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

December 5, 2012

Have YOU Been a Good Child This Year?

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Today is a very special day in the Netherlands because it’s the day that Sinterklaas visits all good children and leaves gifts.

Officially he is called Sint Nicolaas but children generally refer to him as Sinterklaas or in our house just as the more familiar version “de Sint”.

De Sint comes to Dutch and Belgium children on either the evening of 5 December or the morning of 6th December but from what I understand, the morning of 6th December is mostly a Belgium tradition because all of our Dutch family and friends celebrate on 5th December and never the 6th.

Tradition states that because Sint Nicolaas is the patron saint who looks after children, travellers and sailors this is the reason why he takes a steamboat from Spain to the Netherlands (typically arriving to great fanfare on a Saturday roughly two weeks before the “big day” of 5 December.)

In the Netherlands a town or city is chosen to be the special place where Sint officially arrives and the day will be filled with many events and celebrations as children and parents attend in their tens of thousands.

Such a big deal is the “arrival” that the entire event is televised for most of the day “live” on Dutch TV so that children in other parts of the Netherlands can witness the great event too.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Here it is also traditional for there to be a special Sinterklaas News bulletin on children’s TV every day, from the day of Sint’s arrival up to 5 December and this programme journals the “drama” that invariably unfolds that year. (There is a drama every year, that’s getting to be a tradition too LOL)

One year “Amerigo”, the horse that Sint rides, went missing, or someone mislays all of the gifts for the children of the Netherlands, or the group who are to bring Sint to the arrival town loose their way… or this year the Zwarte Piets lost money that Sint was going to use to buy the gifts.

Naturally the “drama” is spun out on TV for this two week period and then miraculously everything falls into place on the very last night … and woe betide any parent to tries to interrupt this most hallowed of TV viewing in the yearly schedule!

Our children are certainly riveted during this programme and haven’t twigged at all that there are many howling errors contained in the programme: small details such as: most of it is filmed in secret in the summer months when the trees are full and green, whilst when the programme is transmitted the trees are bare as can be LOL, or that entire sections have been filmed on private land, and there is not a single small child in the “crowd” (how would you explain this all away to a little kid in August?)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Sinterklaas delivers his gifts to children by riding his white horse and landing on the rooftops (although interestingly no mention is ever made to the fact that Amerigo can fly!) so Little Mr. has been most concerned this year that Sint will have a problem now that we have renovated and installed heat-pumps and blocked up the chimney now that the old gas heaters have gone.

We solved this problem by opening a small window and putting a paper arrow on the glass to point to the new way inside.

Sint Nicolaas is said in some stories to be based on a real person who lived in Turkey and helped travellers by land and sea and also children. The story goes that his burial remains were taken to southern Italy which duly came under Spanish rule at one time in it’s history and this is how Sint ended up supposedly coming from Spain.

It’s not without irony that Sint is not celebrated on 5th December in Spain itself, but OK logical on the other hand because of course on that date is he away from home: busy delivering gifts in the Netherlands and Belgium!

When I arrived in the Netherlands in the early 90’s it was still that the 5th December was the exclusive day of gift-giving in the Netherlands, giving gifts on 25 December was almost unheard of outside of the ex-pat community.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

In fact, within both our Dutch families no special dinner or any celebrations apart from a church service were ever planned on the 25th at all. It was my homesickness for a Christmas tree and a decent Christmas dinner Kiwi-style that kick-started the celebration of Christmas Day in our extended family but only the only gift giving on that day is between Himself, our children and and myself.

Slowly though, over the years, the retail section of Dutch society woke up to the fact that Christmas Day could be a whole new retail opportunity so slowly but surely there has been a steady increase in Christmas merchandise, at least in trees, decoration and to some extent food.

We clearly had no escape from doing both anyway because I love cooking for Christmas Day and because our kids have been regularly in New Zealand at Christmas where Sint arriving on 5 December doesn’t exist and every kid is hanging out for the big gift giving from Santa Klaus / Father Christmas on the morning of 25th December.

The family rule we have maintained so far is that our kids do both but they get a small amount of gifts on each (one larger one smaller) so that they don’t get to double-dip.

There are many more Sint traditions, songs and stories too, but far too many for just one post today, so maybe next year I will add more to the story and traditions of our celebrations.

I noticed that close to my Sister in Law’s house some families have made displays in their windows so I grabbed some photos for you.

If you are wondering why there are carrots in the shoes, that’s a tradition too… the carrot is of course for Amerigo, Sint’s horse and once it has been gratefully received there is sure to be a little token of sweets or a very small gift left in it’s place.

Our children may put out their shoes twice: once at home the day after Sint arrives in the Netherlands and once by Oma (Grandma). Since Himself has very large feet they attempted to use his shoes instead of their own, but we told them that it’s also a tradition that the smaller the shoe the bigger the gift, so they swiftly returned to using their own shoe!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Happy Sint Nicolaas! Have you been a good child this year???

Oooh… back later… “Someone’s” coming!!!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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