2022: My year in Music

The 2022 I ended yesterday felt like a very different year from the one that I had started. The wife and I had received our booster shot on 31st Dec 2021. It was arranged at the last-minute and we knew from the last two vaccines that we’d probably be spending the first two or so days of the new year in bed recovering. That’s exactly how it went down. And it’s easy to forget now that the Netherlands was also under a partial lockdown for most of January1.

So to go from there and be able to travel internationally for work and leisure, have family and friends over in Amsterdam, change jobs - and a month or so into the new one, get COVID - 2022 was quite packed. And the discovery of new music (new only in the sense that I heard it for the first time this year) kept pace with it. This is the 7th iteration of my annual playlist making exercise. And like annual playlists before, this one too has music in many languages (Basque, Bengali, Catalan, English, French, Spanish, Italian to count a few) spanning multiple genres. And oh, I also started learning Spanish seriously. To be able to understand fragments of lyrics of some of the Spanish songs in this playlist gave an extra dimension to them.

I found these tracks in all manner of places. Stole (borrowed?) a couple from the playlist of a colleague I was seeing in person in San Francisco for the first time in over two years. Shazamed one at an ice-cream parlour in Athens. Found one when Apple Maps egged me on to explore the favourite haunts of a famous LA-based artist (whom I hadn’t heard of) but instead, I chose to explore the artist’s latest album. And of course, the algorithmic recommendations from Spotify were a big source too.

Without further ado, I present to you, the 2022 musical retrospective:

The 2022 playlist on Spotify

  1. Exhibit A: This government press release announcing opening of shops, barbers etc. till 5:00 PM in the evening↩︎

January 1, 2023

My Avatar 2: The Way of Water review

The wife and I watched Avatar 2 (aka Avatar: The Way of Water) in 3D HFR yesterday and hated it.

Let’s start with the most celebrated thing about the movie - the visuals. To my eyes they seemed overdone. They were like a cross between a video game cutscene and one of those demo reels they run on giant TVs for sale in electronic stores.

Even the story had the depth and pathos of a demo reel meant to sell OLED TVs.

Avatar has always felt like a thinly veiled history of colonisation and settlement of North America. The sequel wasn’t any different. If anything, Avatar 2 solidified this notion (spoiler)1. The rest of the plot felt like a hodgepodge of pop culture tropes and set pieces from Moby Dick to Jaws to Free Willy.

I would’ve left the hall mid-way through the movie but did not out of respect for other people in our row. The hall was quite full for Christmas night and everyone stoically persisted through the movie’s 3h+ duration.

We are told there are 3 more sequels planned (Avatar 5 is scheduled to come in 2027!). I think I will pass. It feels like Star Wars all over again where the franchise is milked aggressively to the point that even the staunchest fans greet the newest release with indifference.

p.s. Me and some friends were distraught at the font choices they had made in the original - big, yellow Papyrus for subtitling dialog in Na’vi. This hasn’t changed in Avatar 2. However it did feel like they had cut down on the amount of dialog in Na’vi by quite a lot so one didn’t see it much. Since all English movies in Amsterdam carry Dutch subtitles, I was worried that some scenes would suffer from subtitle overload (Na’vi -> Papyrus in English -> Dutch). This didn’t come to pass because Na’vi here was directly translated into Dutch (Papyrus). Also the sub-titles (the regular Dutch ones they show here throughout the movie) didn’t distract, interfere with 3D, cause headaches/nausea etc.

  1. Due to worsening conditions on Earth, the star people” are coming to settle Pandora and not just for extracting unobtanium.↩︎

December 26, 2022

Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters

The Potato Eaters is the first painting that appears in the online collection of the Van Gogh Museum’s official web-site. At first I thought that the paintings must’ve been listed alphabetically by title. The painting’s Dutch title is De Aardappeleters”1. De” (like other articles) is typically ignored when ranking titles of works and the Aa” of Aardappeleters is pretty hard to beat when ranking alphabetically. But then you look at works listed at positions 2 and 3 - Tuin met geliefden” (Garden with courting couples) and Zelfportret als schilder” (Self-portrait as a painter) respectively, it’s obvious that unless Van Gogh’s entire oeuvre comprises of 3 paintings, the ranking is not alphabetical. The order is not chronological either. There must be some sort of curation at play here.

Van Gogh Museum - the online collection pageVan Gogh Museum - the online collection page

The Potato Eaters is an odd choice. The palette is dark2, which Van Gogh himself described as something like the colour of a really dusty potato, unpeeled of course”. And while the subject is just an ordinary dinner scene of 19th century peasant life, meaning there isn’t anything particularly sad about it, looking at it at the museum always puts me in a pensive mood.

The Potato EatersThe Potato Eaters

My past jobs required me to work from offices that are in Amsterdam’s city centre - a mere 3 to 4 km from our home. I did not always take the most efficient route or mode of transport for getting to work. My morning commute would often mean walking at a comfortable pace through Amsterdam’s inner canal ring. Right behind Westerkerk, there is a stall that sells tourists’ favourite delicacy - potato fries. One day while walking past it, I realised that it had a replica of the Potato Eaters painted on its shutter! Except, everyone in this version of the painting is eating potato fries. The old woman in the right is still pouring coffee - albeit into paper cups. The aspect ratio of the shop’s shutter is different from the original so whomever painted it had to space the subjects out a bit. The choice of colour palette tries to be faithful to the original, at least in luminosity and saturation if not in hue. Time and weather seemed to have endowed it with the pathos of the original.

The Potato Eaters - french fries editionThe Potato Eaters - french fries edition

The appropriation of Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters by this stall made me chuckle.

A few weeks later as I was walking past this stall again, I noticed that the painting on its shutter had been re-touched”. Sadly, it looked more like something a primary school student learning to use Microsoft Paint would create than parody of a famous work by Van Gogh. A few other details had changed too. The woman in the right is no longer pouring coffee but is rather dipping a fry into mustard sauce.

The Potato Eaters - french fries edition (post restoration)The Potato Eaters - french fries edition (post restoration)

It reminded me of the incident in 2012 when an octogenarian amateur artist tried to restore a fresco of Jesus (Ecce Homo) in a Church in Spain and botched it up completely3.

Ecce homoEcce homo

I am really not sure if this version of The Potato Eaters should make me happy or sad. I can now barely connect it to the original!

  1. In line with the Dutch language’s propensity to concatenate words to make new ones.↩︎

  2. and perhaps rendered even duller than Van Gogh originally intended as tends to happen to pigments from those times.↩︎

  3. from the wikipedia page: While press accounts agree that the original painting was artistically unremarkable, its current fame derives from a good faith attempt to restore the fresco by Cecilia Giménez, an untrained amateur artist, in 2012. The intervention transformed the painting and made it look similar to a monkey, and for this reason it is sometimes referred to as Ecce Mono (roughly Behold the Monkey; mono translates to monkey in Spanish).↩︎

December 18, 2022

London - red-brick buildings

London’s red-brick buildings look beautiful around sunset. Taken on an unusually warm and sunny October day:

Roofs of red-brick buildings at Exhibition RoadRoofs of red-brick buildings at Exhibition Road

I’ve rarely ever seen TV antennas on roofs in Amsterdam. I was a little surprised to see how common they still are in some parts of London.

November 12, 2022

London - Strand/Fleet Street/St Paul’s Cathedral

Eurostar now runs direct trains from Amsterdam to London. There is a small terminal on platform 15B of Amsterdam Centraal Station where you show up an hour before the train’s departure for immigration formalities. After a cursory security check, the Dutch immigration officers register your departure. Barely two meters behind them, the officers at the UK immigration booth register your arrival. You then try to find a seat in the cramped lounge and wait for the train to depart. The train stops at Rotterdam, Brussels, Lille and finally at the St. Pancras1 Station in London. The journey takes approximately 4 hours.

The last week of October has been unseasonably warm this year in Western Europe. London was no different. With maximum temperatures of 19-22ºC on most days of our trip, we spent a lot of time walking. Our jackets, light as they were, spent most of their time tucked inside our backpacks.

Some pictures from a nostalgic walk from Strand to Fleet Street to St Paul’s Cathedral on the first day of our trip:

Temple Bar Memorial DragonTemple Bar Memorial Dragon

Apex Temple Court HotelApex Temple Court Hotel

Former Press Association and Reuters buildingFormer Press Association and Reuters building

Spire of St. Bride’s ChurchSpire of St. Bride’s Church

Entrance to a building next to the St. Martin within Ludgate Hill churchEntrance to a building next to the St. Martin within Ludgate Hill church

Dome of St. Paul’s CathedralDome of St. Paul’s Cathedral

A window of St. Paul’s CathedralA window of St. Paul’s Cathedral

  1. Which I always read as St. Pancreas, the patron saint of diabetes.↩︎

November 5, 2022

Talking of Vermeer…

Woman reading a letter, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663Woman reading a letter, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663

Rijksmuseum is organising one of the biggest (if not the biggest) exhibition of Vermeer’s works next year. According to reports in the local media, of the 35 or so known works of Vermeer, about 27 or 28 would be present at the exhibition1.

I haven’t found an official confirmation of that number. Nor an inventory of the works that will be present. The official press release announcing the exhibition (all the way back in Dec 2021) seems to have been pulled from the Rijksmuseum website, but an archive.org copy is still around. It does not mention the exact numbers either, but does mention a few of the prominent works expected to be at the exhibition:

The Rijksmuseum’s exhibition in 2023 will include masterpieces such as The Girl with a Pearl Earring (Mauritshuis, The Hague), The Geographer (Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main), Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid (The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) and Woman Holding a Balance (The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC). Works never before shown to the public in the Netherlands will include the newly restored Girl Reading a Letter at the Open Window from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden.

The logistics of putting together such an exhibition must be mind-boggling. The negotiations with museums across the world alone must’ve taken months. And then there is the problem of safely transporting2 some of humanity’s most precious artifacts. It must complicate declaring the final number of works that’d be present at the exhibition - especially if not all of them will be there for the entirety of the exhibition.

The exhibition starts on Sat, 4 Feb 2023 and ends on Sat, 10 Jun 2023. The ticket sales have already begun. Naturally, I’ve procured them already!3

  1. Nota bene: Rijksmuseum’s own collection has only 4.↩︎

  2. With all the environmental activisim going on these days that involves people glueing themselves to works of art or throwing tomato soup at them, I am dreading how intrusive the security at the museum would be.↩︎

  3. I hold a virtual copy in my hands with all the trepidation of Vermeer’s maidens holding letters. I am now a little wary of buying tickets this far in advance. For a good reason. The last time I did it was for concerts of Beethoven’s Late String Quartets to celebrate his 250th birth anniversary in 2020. I ended up traveling to the US to onboard for my new job on the concert dates and the pandemic took care of the event calendar for the remainder of the year.↩︎

October 23, 2022