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Delft: How a Girl and Her Money Were Soon Parted

sunny 20 °C

Wednesday, 23 April 2014
Delft/Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Today was one of the tour days that I’ve particularly looking forward to: the tour of the Royal Delft Porcelain Factory in Delft. But it was just like Christmas Eve: the tour was in the afternoon, so I had to wait through an excruciating morning of sailing to Pappendrecht (where the ship would drop us off and go into dry-dock for the propeller to be repaired). The waiting was made easier by the fact that we got to sleep in this morning—that’s right, no wake-up call for us this morning! (I’m all for getting up and going when on vacation—in fact, I don’t consider it a vacation well-spent unless I come home tireder than when I left—but it still is nice to sleep in every once in a while when you’re on vacation.) Then, Yenner, one of the Tauck guides, gave a very interesting and informative lecture about the history of the European Union. Since you weren’t here with me to be thusly enlightened, I took notes:

The current European Union (EU) had its conception in May 1950, when, wanting to contain German’s economy and thereby prevent future imperialism on its part, Churchill, Shuman, Monnet, Adenauer, and De Gaulle began negotiating a joining of the French and German economies in a trade zone. They figured that by linking the economies of these two traditional enemies, future wars could be forestalled since they would damage the economy of both nations, sort of like economic mutually assured destruction. This pact, which focused almost exclusively on the coal and steel industries, was formalized in the 1951 Treaty of Paris. This alliance was soon joined by Italy and the Benelux countries. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome created the European Community or Common Market, and extended the offer of membership to the entire European community. In 1973, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Ireland joined the EC, followed by Greece (1981—and I think we can all agree that might not have been the best move), and Portugal and Spain (1986). The former East Germany joined by default when the two Germanies were reunited in 1990, then in 1993 the Treaty of Maastricht (did I tell you we had lunch in the room where this Treaty was signed? It was at the fancy chateau.) formalized the European Union as we know it today. In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined, and in 2004, the following countries, many of them former Easter Bloc countries, joined: Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, and Slovenia. In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined, and Croatia came on board in 2013.

How does one become a member of the EU, you ask? Fortunately for you, I know the answer! The Copenhagen Criteria were established in 1993, and include:

1. Geographic criteria (the country must be in Europe, which excluded Morocco when they tried to join)
2. Political and legislative criteria (the country must be a democracy or free republic)
3. Economic criteria (the country must have a developed, mature, and robust economy)
4. The country must accept the obligations of membership (basically, agree to play by the rules)

It is important to note that the EU is distinct from the euro zone—countries can be members of the EU and not use the euro as their currency. For example, Switzerland participates in the EU, but maintains their own Swiss franc as currency, while Great Britain uses the British pound. Only 17 of the 28 member countries meet the criteria established to be in the euro zone. These are: must have a central bank; must have a budgetary deficit less than 3% of GDP (this is the one Greece lied about, by a lot…did nobody audit their books??) and national debt less than 60% of GDP; and meet targets for inflation, interest and exchange rates. Being on the euro is a good thing for the citizenry: estimates are that the euro saves European travelers alone over €10B/year in currency exchange fees alone. (And it really IS convenient when you’re traveling in Europe. One of the other passengers came up with the best analogy: imagine you had to exchange your money when you went from state to state in the United States…what a mess!)

It is ALSO important to understand that this is different than the Schengen Agreement, which allows for unfettered travel (no stopping at the border and showing your passport, no travel visas required, no impediments to working in a country to which you are not native) between member nations. There are currently 25 member nations in the Schengen zone. (This is, for example, why I don’t have stamps from Switzerland, Austria, or Slovakia in my passport—I traveled to those countries from another Schengen member country.)

There are several key institutions within the EU. The European Parliament consists of 762 members who are elected by their home countries, with membership being allocated by population, though each country has a minimum of six members. These members are separate from the elected local and national officials in a member country. The EU is headquartered in Brussels, but the EU Parliament meets in Salzburg, Austria. Next up is the European Council, which consists of the heads of state of the member countries; they officially lead the EU. The Council of Ministers consists of legislative and executive members, and they meet by area of specialty (agriculture meets with agriculture, education with education, etc.). The EU also runs the European Court of Justice, headquartered in Luxemburg, which is chartered to adjudicate litigation between countries, or countries and companies if there is a trade dispute. Last up is the European Central Bank, which is located in Frankfurt and is responsible for the euro currency (printing it and setting policy).

The EU flag is a field of blue with twelve gold stars, not because there are twelve member countries (there are 28), but because the twelve represents a perfect number (as in 12 months in a year, 12 disciples, 12 signs of the zodiac, etc.). The motto is “Unity through Diversity” and the anthem is the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, more commonly known as the “Ode to Joy.”

That’s probably about all you need, or more likely want, to know about the EU, but I will leave you with these little factoids: countries cannot be ejected from the EU, but the 2009 Lisbon Treaty established what is essentially a two-year arbitration process if a member wants to withdraw from the EU. And, prior to this year, any member nation had the right to block any piece of legislation it wanted to. Now, they are changing to a majority-rule approach, although if I understood Yenner correctly, it won’t be a simple majority, but rather a super-majority.

And that’s enough of that.

So, after lunch (don’t ask…I ate fruit and cheese), we motor-coached to the town of Delft, and more specifically to the Royal Delft Porcelain Factory, or De Porceleyne Fles. We were split up into two groups of 40 or so each (apparently I was not the only one who was so excited about going to the Delft Factory!) and assigned a Delft employee tour guide. Ours was Miriam (that’s not how she spelled it, but it is how she pronounced it) and she was a HOOT! The first thing we did was see a movie about the history of Royal Delft. It is based on blue-and-white porcelain objects and formulations brought to the Netherlands by Marco Polo. Originally, there were about 28 porcelain factories in the town of Delft, but now only Royal Delft survives—and it’s called Royal because it has a warrant from the ruling family of Nassau-Orange here in the Netherlands. There are a couple of different lines: the original stuff, which is made and painted entirely by hand, and the lesser-expensive Westraven line, for which the forms are made by hand but the decorations are machine-printed and transferred onto the porcelain just like an iron-on patch. And in case you want to know the difference, turn it over: the authentic, legitimate, expen$ive stuff will have a specific maker’s mark on the bottom. It is three symbols: a small, simple bottle over the entwined cursive initials TJ (the founder’s initials, and I could tell you what they represent if I had the book I bought with me, but I had it shipped home with the items I bought, since it was flat-rate shipping—less to carry!), and the word “Delft” written in script. On either side of this maker’s mark will be the initials of the master painter who painted it, and a two-letter code representing the year in which it was produced. If it doesn’t have all of that, it’s not the hand-painted stuff. Also, if you look at the image very carefully, you can see locations where the master painter put his brush down on the image, while the coloration on the transfer items is much more uniform. Furthermore, if there’s a scratch of some sort through this maker’s mark, it’s a factory second.

After the history video, we watched a second video showing the steps in the manufacturing process. A liquid dispersion of kaolinite and other clays (the exact formulation is a trade secret) is poured into a plaster mold. It is left to set for a while (the time depends on the size of the piece) so that moisture in the slip is absorbed into the plaster mold, and the clay forms a skin next to the mold wall. The remaining liquid slip is poured out, then the mold is opened. The leather-hard form is allowed to air-dry, then it is bisqued, or fired in the kiln, to about 1250 °C. After firing, the master painting lays a stencil of the design he has created (and until recently, all the master painters were “he”)—the stencil contains many fine holes, through which the painter taps graphite to outline the image he has created. The stencil is removed, then the famous blue glaze is applied. For my chemistry friends, it’s exactly what you’d expect: cobalt oxide. However, it looks black when it is applied, and shading is obtained by diluting the color with water. After the pattern has been completely painted, the item is fired again, which oxidizes the cobalt in the glaze to the magnificent blue you are so familiar with. The item is examined for flaws, then is packaged for sale. (Editor’s comment: the videos were pretty cute, because they were set up like you were moving through time in a time machine, and the manufacturing video had props that popped up at appropriate times.)

We got to see a master painter at work, working on a scenic plate design—there are floral designs and scenic ones. Then we got a tour through their own little museum, where they had a huge (at least 12’x12’) copy of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” done entirely on porcelain tiles. Miriam said it took two artists eleven months to do, and that if we wanted one, there’s a bit of a waiting period (told you she was funny!). They also had the “zero” number of all their limited edition items, such as their Christmas plates and bells (2014’s feature a squirrel, if you want to order yours now), and they said that the “1” numbers in the editions are given to the Royal family. After that, we walked through the factory itself and got to see the in-process work, including the green pieces drying, objects being fired, and the painted stuff before it is refired. It was much smaller than I thought it would be, and looks very much like a large pottery class!

And of course the tour ended in the gift shop! (No fools, they!) I don’t mind telling you, I was a little daunted. I had several people I wanted to buy Delft items for, and the gift shop was chock-a-block full of beautiful things: vases of all sizes and shapes, plates, Christmas bells, trinket boxes, little dishes, tea cups, these special flower vases with a hole for each stem (Voila! Instant flower arrangement!), their more art-deco pieces done by Dutch designers, and even little bottles they called tear bottles but that look like ring holders. How to choose? And how to choose quickly, because we only had about 45 minutes to shop, pay, ship, and get back on the bus. However, you’re talking to the woman who bought a house in three hours, so buying porcelain under pressure should have been a cinch. And I will tell you that the problem became much less daunting because the list of which was drastically reduced upon seeing the prices! So if you end up with a souvenir from Delft, that’s some serious love from me, more-so even than when I make homemade, REAL buttercream frosting for your birthday cake. If you don’t get a Delft souvenir, well, you’ll know where you stand. Suffice it to say, I got the things I wanted and got them paid for and shipping arranged and made it back on the bus with about five minutes to spare. And that’s where the girl and her money were quickly parted—but at least I got my VAT tax refunded since my haul is being shipped! (As I always tell you, if shopping were an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist.)

From the factory, it was a very short ride into the city of Delft, where we were dropped off at the Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church, which is not to be confused with the Oude Kerk, or Old Church. (Creative naming, yes?) to explore for about an hour or so. Ysofia gave us a short intro walk, then turned us loose. We hit the Old Church first, memorable because it contains the tomb of Johannes Vermeer, the “Girl with the Pearl Earring” guy. There were some lovely stained glass windows, a huge pipe organ, and lots of neat crypts with bas relief panels in the floor. But, beyond seeing Vermeer’s tomb, if you’ve seen one Gothic church, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Then we cruised some of the tourist shops, including a cheese shop with Dutch cheeses packaged for transport home (no…just…no) and several other shops selling Delft porcelain. We also found Julie’s Holy of Holies: a jewelry shop selling charms for her charm bracelet. She found an absolutely adorable wind mill charm—the vanes actually spin! And can I just say that the sales guy was a total BABE—should have gotten a picture of him, since he was definitely scenic!

We had about 15 minutes until bus pick-up, and unfortunately, I used 5 of them waiting to use the public WC, aka toilet, which cost me €, but was totally worth it because it was impeccably clean. That is one thing about public toilets in Europe: they may charge you a little bit, but you can clearly see what your money is getting you!

With 10 minutes left, we power-toured the Nieuwe Kerk (mind you, the differentiation between old and new is pretty minimal in that the Nieuwe Kerk is still pretty damned old: it was built in 1500 versus 1240 for the Ould Kerk). Again, lovely stained glass, including a very modern window that dates from the 1950s. It is also famous for containing the crypt of the Dutch royal family, and the tomb of King Wilhelm the Silent, also known as William of Orange, the first Dutch king of the House of Orange. We hit all the highlights and made it back to the bus boarding zone with three minutes to spare!

From there, it was a brief ride to Rotterdam—the ship’s prop was quickly repaired and it was able to sail here to meet us. We’ll be anchored here until midnight or so, then we’ll sail to Nijmegan, where the shore excursions are “art” or “war”. War is a guided tour of the battlefields around Arnhem, while Art is a tour of the Kroller Muller Museum, a huge van Gogh museum located inside De Hoge Veluwe National Park. The Dutch guy I work with, Erik, told me before I went that this is a great museum to visit, so I’m excited about our chance to see it tomorrow. Hopefully a girl and more of her money won’t be soon parted there, but I wouldn’t bet on it—you know how I love a good gift shop! Love from Rotterdam…

Posted by hidburch 13:23 Archived in Netherlands Tagged rotterdam european_union delft porcelain

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