A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
As Pelin pointed out in her post, the negative connotations of the name of the lovely city we live in serve as an object of ridicule for non-Leideners. An architecture student from Rotterdam, for instance, once accused Leiden of having nothing to offer when it comes to art. To the Rotterdamer, Leiden rests on being the city where Rembrandt was born with little else to offer by way of art and culture. Even though I have been living here only for one year, I felt immediately offended, and the deep need to prove him wrong. My local patriotism has only been intensified due to the recent activities of Drie October, so I decided to dedicate my first blog to Leiden’s blooming art scene.
“Innovative” is probably not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Leiden, but walk along the Kunstroute and it seems as if clever ideas are hidden behind every old historical building and beyond the beautiful canals that line the city. The Kunstroute, an event that takes place every September, gives artists in Leiden the opportunity to open their galleries to the public — and a perfect opportunity for students to check out if Leiden’s art scene is really just based on Rembrandt and the artistic hairstyling of Dutch guys.
At the first spot, a man gave me an impressive 3 cm-thick book, where all 90 artists were described – already a lot of potential to prove the Rotterdamer wrong. Though the outside is quite unimpressive, the building Haagweg 4 at the end of Witte Singel, with the smell of wet paint, the sinks filled with brushes and sponges and specks of color everywhere, made us immediately feel the creativity and innovation in this place.
Used as a high school in earlier times, it now gives artists a place to be creative, all as individuals, all different. Inside the mysterious building we met an array of interesting people: the communicative old women, who explained all her techniques to us; the young guy, balancing his cute little blond son in one arm, rearranging the picture with the other, and nonchalantly chatting with a customer at the same time; or the family who sat on the sofa, cuddling and drinking tea while the customers marveled at the art. For me the most impressive encounter in this building was the chic lady with a gorgeous huge hat on her head, which I thought would nowadays only be seen at royal events, who chatted with us in the most unpretentious way. Not only did she show us her art, but also the gymnastic routine she does every morning with her mouth to keep her face young and fresh, urgently suggesting us to start as soon as possible with it.
This wonderful experience in the former school might have been enough to prove that Leiden is artistic and creative, but we wanted to see more and ended up at a small gallery, drawn in by the red carpet extending onto the street. What happened there was far removed from any “normal” gallery visit. The women sitting behind windows, customers with forms in their hands waiting on benches outside, gave the impression of an old post office. The atmosphere was very welcoming, making us curious to see what it all was about. We waited patiently, trying desperately to fill in the form, which confirmed my embarrassing lack of the Dutch language, and which didn’t matter in the end as the artist was beyond exited to meet such curious international students.
Simone was her name – an impressive individual we had so much fun talking with that we completely lost track of the time. We began with the questionnaire she had prepared for her customers, and we ended up having a one and a half hour chat with her. The many words of wisdom Simone had to offer would be impossible to summarize, but I will try to share her main insights with you: 1. buying an egg cup made of steel (can be purchased for 2 euros at Ikea) and appreciating the beautiful sound of the eggshell falling into the cup will make every morning beautiful. 2. If you ever come in the horrible situation of losing your beloved pet, a huge picture of it in one of your drawer might be a solution for dealing with the bereavement.
3. Every blank envelop is a wasted one, so do something nice with it. 4. Write letters to strangers when you feel they deserve a compliment. 5. Take part in a demonstration that demands an assistant for the conductor in the NS Trains. Alert people who have toothpaste in the face. 6. If you ever need someone to come with you to the dentist, or make the first move on the dance floor of your party, you can book her for 70 Euros an hour. And last but not least:
The moral of the story: Leiden can be a creative place, you just need to open your eyes and look for it in the right corners.