I have an irrational love of ships. The tall kinds, with big masts and sails. I love the sea, too, and everything that goes with it.
I really don’t know where this came from, because I grew up in the decisively non-watery state of Colorado. But since leaving I’ve fallen in love with the quaint beach towns of the Oregon and Michigan coasts, and the tall ships that anchor in San Diego or Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. It’s something romantic to me, something lost and beautiful.
I try to fight it, because there’s nothing great about being cramped on a stinky wooden ship with infested food for a year. And I know those big ships were used for transporting slaves, colonizing lands, killing native inhabitants, exterminating whales, and other atrocities. Really not something I’d like to glamorize. But I can’t help feeling a bit of love for a tall ship with unfurled sails, and for the people who braved the monsters at the edges of the world.
So it’s no surprise that the week the Scheepvart Museum opened next to us here in Amsterdam, after 4 years of renovation, I dragged Jesse to it.
The building itself was used by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a warehouse, but now houses exhibits on the Netherlands, the VOC, ancient globes, and parts of ships. The giant ship next door is a remake of the Amsterdam, which set sail in 1749 only to be wrecked by a storm off the English coast.
Inside the hold they have crates of spices that were brought back from the East. Cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and caraway to pad the pockets of merchants. Here you can even see the VOC logo–such a good marketing design for the 16th century.
The museum has ship masts and decorations, paintings, exhibits on navigation, whales, and the history of the Netherlands. There’s a whole room full of old globes, discolored and brown. The unknown edges of the creator’s world fell into guesswork and imagination, like the island of California, or India masquerading as North America. This room is my favorite.
I can see the big ship from our window and I admire it every time I’m outside. The thought that this very harbor where I walk is where ships set sail for years-long voyages is astounding. Imagine the excitement when a ship returned, and the citizens saw it gliding into the harbor holding long lost loved ones and treasures and the smell of the exotic East. And, slaves and the spoils of war and colonization.
I still get overwhelmed and excited by the stories, and by the thought of jumping on a tall ship and sailing across the world.