Friday, December 31, 2010

An afternoon at the museum

I love museums. And the more traditional they are, the better it is. I remember how I loved the British Museum, with its big rooms, and long wooden en glass cabinets. The museum I visited a few days ago, has little to do with art. However, that is open for discussion of course. The Louwman Collection is one of the world's most distinguished vintage automobile museums. A few months ago it relocated to a new purpose built building in The Hague. Does it live up to the expectations?

1935 Duesenberg SJ

My feelings toward automobile museums are a bit ambivalent. Cars are machines that are best enjoyed in motion, or when used, which is maybe a better description. I love vintage car rallies, even though there is always one that does not survive the challenge. But the cars in museums are so disconnected from their purpose. A painting was always meant to be admired while hanging on the wall, but that is not the case with automobiles. Of course, I know, you can’t have Talbot Lagos or Duesenbergs participating in a rally anymore – however one of my Flickr contact once came across a Duesenberg on a country road, parked with the keys still in it and nobody to be seen. Still, there are some car museums that have their charm. I liked the Kleinwagen und Roller Museum (microcar and scooter museum) in Germany’s Bad Iburg, but alas, it has long closed up. And I love the car museum in the German town of Melle, where all cars are privately owned and see regular use.

I have known the Louwman Collection for a very long time. As a kid I visited the museum when it was still in our area. It was located in the building of the Dutch Toyota distributor, and when that company moved to the other side of this small country, I visited a few times in its new location. Which did not have much prestige, because it was noting more as a modern warehouse. But it served its purpose, and once inside the display was very well laid out. But with the purchase of a collection form Germany and the one from a Dutch museum that closed its doors, more space was needed. And I suppose the Toyota distributor sure could use the space itself too, since sales have soared the past few years, making Toyota the second best selling nameplate in this country.

The Louwman Collection is one of the “money no object” kind. It is the private hobby of one of the richest families in the country, that made its fortune with importing Chrysler, Dodge, Toyota and Suzuki. A zoo used to be another hobby of the family, but that was a money pit, so they got rid of that. Not after begging for money and getting it from the provincial authorities and several towns in the area, and closing the gates a few years after the millions were transferred to the zoo. The vintage car collection was spared this fate, and continued to grow. Crown jewels are two Duesenberg SJ models, worth several million euros. But the remarkable so called ‘swan’ cars, once belonged to a maharadja, just as a silver Rolls Royce did, various automobiles from the very early days of motoring, Bugattis, one of the original Goldfinger Aston martin DB5s and many, many more cars give a great overview of the automotive history. The collection is displayed now in a brand new building, with a love it or hate architecture. I don’t like it, but hey, that’s me.

The museum's lobby

Once inside, after parking your car for €5 (!), one is greeted by a grande hallway, where a few interesting cars are displayed in a way, that visitors can walk around them, and peek inside. But next, a déjà vu is what comes to mind when you visited the old museum. The oldest vehicles are displayed exactly the same as before, beautifully illuminated in black hardly lit rooms. But after that things get very traditional: vintage cars displayed on both sides of the rooms, behind ropes. There juts does not seem to be any themes, and it is my humble opinion that the management missed a lot of opportunities here. I fondly remember the last room in the old museum, that was nothing less than an apotheosis: all the masterpieces were grouped together, with the Duesenberg taking the main stage. Oh, all the old luxury cars are still there, but divided over several rooms. I miss that old room, which was like a grand desert buffet after a great dinner. Some of the magic is gone, just like that interesting collection of vintage Japanese cars I was hoping to see again. But the only surviving pre-war Toyota, no matter in a deplorable condition, makes up for that of course. Even the Toyota Museum in Japan does not have one.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

That old fashioned feeling

I like Christmas time. I like it better as Christmas itself, which is actually rather a bore. But the time around it is not to be missed. And I like my Holiday Season to be quite old fashioned. For me, this is not a time to be innovative, but one to rely on trusted and admittedly conservative habits. Maybe it is the only time in the year we can safely act conservative and even corny?

When I was a child, the Holiday Season, and especially Christmas vacation, was a time of warmth and fun. When we were lucky, there was snow and we would play outside with the neighbourhood kids. When the weather was not to our advantage, my sister and I would built a tent on the attic and pretend that we were explorers. A few hours of daytime television during Christmas break was a special event to us as well, since there was only public broadcasting in those days that usually did not begin until 6 PM. But during the two weeks of freedom from school at the end of year television would treat us on Walt Disney cartoons and numerous movies special for kids during the afternoon.

Certain TV shows and movie have always been synonymous with Christmas for me. When I got older it was Charlie Brown and his gang and you could count on that Charles M. Schulz’ men would do a Xmas special. Too bad that they have not been shown here on television for years now. Today, I cherish the moments you have when you can lay down on the couch and watch a traditional movie during the season, with tea of coffee and of course something sweet and high on calories – or glass of wine with some cheese. There are three movies I just can’t do without during the Holiday Season: that all time classic White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Great song lines here: “Even guys with two left feet, come out right when the girl is sweet. If by chance their cheeks should meet, while daaaancing! Proving that the best things happen while you dance!”
National Lampoon in Christmas Vacation has become a modern day classis, I must watch and it keeps being hilarious year after year. Neighbour: “Hey Griswold, what are you going to do with that tree?” Walt Griswold “Bend over, and I’ll show you.” And then the Muppets Christmas Special, where the uncontrolled gang decides to bring Fozzy Bear’s mother a surprise visit. A turkey calls on the door. “I was invited for Christmas dinner by some Swedish guy.” Fozzy Bear: “Err… you are Christmas dinner.”

 The movie adaption of Irving Berlin's White Christmas is a true holiday classic.

Of course, there are more movies waiting fore the season, like The Holiday and Sun Valley Serenade. I’m just afraid that online movie shop will live up to its tradition once again not to deliver on the promised date, so Hello Dolly will have to wait for some day after Christmas. Apart from movies, I love good music shows during these days. But what I do miss today, with commercial television all around, and public broadcasting having to compete with it on ever tighter budgets, are the great quality shows you used to have during this season. Shows with live performing guests, with a genuine band or orchestra and a real audience are all too much replaced by an instant mix of clips shot against snowed mountains. I have no illusions here, quality will not come back.

 Ken Eberts Christmas card issued by Leanin' Tree.

Another tradition I value are the trusted old Christmas cards. I love Christmas cards, and the more traditional they are, the better it is. Painted snow scenes with cottages, robins on snowed branches… I love ‘m. Alas, they are getting rare these days, far too often replaced by cartoonlike Santa’s and Christmas bears… please, please send me a traditional card! Part of the Christmas card fun is guessing from who it came before you open the envelop. Recognize that writing? My love for Christmas Cards explains my shock when I read that a friend will not send Xmas cards anymore. I know that I simply had no time and was not in the mood to send them a couple of years ago, but that was an isolated event. It is fashionable these days among certain people to declare that they will not send cards anymore. So be it. But it would be fair to announce that in time, so that others had a choice whether to send those Xmas card sabotagers a printed wish or not. So there I am, having send a carefully chosen card, to read that this friend will not participate in this “pumping around of cards anymore”. Well, sorry that I have offended you by sending one. Can I have it back please?