Amsterdam gives mea cultural bounce

Leaving Amsterdam's Rijks Museum after a morning spent with Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, and other painters of the Dutch Golden Age, I came upon an outdoor basketball court on the Museum Square.

I had planned next to visit the Van Gogh Museum, but this would have been cultural overkill. Why not play basketball?

I joined the players. The Amsterdammers looked skeptical - an American tourist, and by no means a young one - horning in on their game. But as the ancient Greeks felt duty-bound to provide shelter to a stranger, so basketball etiquette requires extending a welcome to a newcomer.

I caught the names of a few players. Martin, a teenager who knows far more about American professional basketball teams than I do. Ricardo from Surinam. And Dean, a young black man who, I came to learn, excels at dribbling and driving to the basket.

In the games we played, I missed lots of shots. There were various reasons for this. In New York City, I play indoors on a wooden floor. Here the surface is asphalt. Then there was the different feel of an outdoor ball. The absence of a net on the rim, so critical when aiming. A metal backboard, instead of glass, producing strange bounces off the boards, even on layup shots.

But most responsible for my poor performance were the gusts of wind from the North Sea sweeping across the court. My well-aimed shots were being blown off course!

Because I play solid defense, something alien to the Amsterdammers and to some of my teammates in New York, I still contributed to the team effort.

The next day, I made up for my cultural delinquency and visited the Van Gogh Museum. One painting evoked powerful memories, "The Potato Eaters," a copy of which had hung by my bed when I was growing up.

Then I spent a day at Leiden, home of the university established by William the Silent in 1575 to commemorate the ending of the Spanish siege of the city during the Dutch War of Independence. The historian, C.V. Wedgwood, writes: "The erection of a column, or the striking of a coin, means little enough 10 years later. He sought instead a living monument which would grow with the reborn nation, and enlarge and refresh its national life."

Returning late in the afternoon by train to Amsterdam, at the Central Station I boarded trolley No. 2. It crossed the city's canals, bringing me to the Museumplein. I was delighted to find a basketball game in progress.

This time I shot well in every game. Weather conditions had stabilized. There was no wind. The asphalt, the outdoor ball, a netless rim, a metal backboard - all the barriers dissolved. Over and over, the ball sailed through the air into the basket. Dean described my shooting as "NBA-style."

I felt a part of Amsterdam. Here I was playing by the Rijks Museum and the Van Gogh Museum. Between games, I gazed across a splendid lawn at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's famous concert hall.

In the months and years ahead, when I listen to radio broadcasts in New York City of Concertgebouw concerts, I will recall fond memories of art and basketball on the Museumplein.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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