If all goes according to plan we will be leaving the Netherlands in a month and a half. Since 1993 I have been flying back and forth between Amsterdam and New York, all the while trying to maintain both a fine art and professional architectural photography career. It has not been easy.

Amsterdam (4×5 film)

In the beginning the Netherlands offered a fresh start, a new relationship, and a chance to broaden my horizons. As a transplanted New Yorker, however, I found my new home baffling, contradictory, and most definitely not the progressive land of tolerance so widely touted around the world. To explain this conclusion requires going through a litany of complaints, mostly trivial, but cumulatively overwhelming. I won’t do that now.

It’s getting late in November and the days are growing short, the sun is low in the sky when it does show itself in this mostly dreary climate. It’s almost time for Sinterklaas to arrive on his steamboat from Spain accompanied by his Black Petes. The Dutch cling tenaciously to the iconography of Sinterklaas: the severe bearded man dressed in Catholic bishop’s attire, the black-faced afro-wigged Petes cavorting about. It’s a children’s thing, but it is promoted with what seems an almost manic enthusiasm by adults. To outsiders interlopers like me who cannot get past the racist imagery of Black Pete, the whole business is repellent–and in bad taste. It is cultural heritage as kitsch–not a uniquely Dutch phenomenon, of course–but especially egregious.

Sinterklaas and Black Petes (not my photograph)

One thought on “Amsterdam/Sinterklaas

  1. Jan

    I am very sorry to find yet another foreigner who doesn’t understand the Sinterklaasfeest. It is indeed a cultural thing, that is deeply rooted in our society and culture. It hasn’t got anything to do with racism. There are ancient old stories at the base of the whole thing. And thank god the Americans have their much more pc Santa Claus (wonder what he is based on btw).

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