First days in Maastricht
The inner courtyard of the Kruisherenhotel Maastrich, The Netherlands. Friday night at 11:30 PM. Photo: JH.
It was warm in New York when we left on Friday night boarding a KLM flight to Amsterdam. At about midnight they served us a snack: a small bowl of pasta, a salad, a crabcake and something else along those lines (couldn’t identify), vegetables, plus coffee and dessert. Like I said ... a midnight snack. At that hour, on the ground, I wouldn’t have touched it. I wouldn’t even have thought of it. But ... instead 38,000 over the Atlantic, I helped myself. I noticed JH, across the aisle, had done the same thing.

Then I read thinking it would put me to sleep. I listened to KLM’s radio wonderful program of famous opera arias with Renee Fleming as the announcer (and sometimes featured singer). I wasn’t sleepy. About two I turned out the light, reclined the seat back far enough to be almost supine (we were flying Business) and tried to sleep. Forget it.

At 4:30 or 5 the stewardess came around with breakfast! Three and a half hours after our Snack: a cheese omelette served with home fries, peppers and onions and sausages, a plate of cheeses, croissants, a bowl of fresh fruit and a cup of yogurt. A banquet for the famished. More than I eat for breakfast any day of the week (almost always oatmeal and fruit). I must have been famished: I ate everything and had a couple more croissants for good measure. Call me a pig, a glutton; all appropriate. My waistline (a pleasant synonym for belly) had become a visible work in progress (a motion picture). And I finished off coffee, of course. I noticed JH across the aisle was doing the same.
We were briefly interviewed by a KLM purser, an attractive young woman named Irma van Mourik. EARrrr-ma a girl from the north of Holland but now living near Maastricht . Her job with KLM is making sure the guests are comfortable. (We were very comfortable albeit more than a bit stuffed). Mother of three — 7, 9, and 12 (two boys and a girl in the middle), Irma used to be a nurse. Her husband is an air traffic controller and works in Maastricht, which is why they moved from the north. She told me that many people fly into Maastricht for the Art Fair (where we were headed) on their private jets. Irma likes working for KLM. She often flies to New York and sometimes to Toyko. I asked who took care of her children when she was gone. Answer: her husband. Although, she added, she works 50% of the time and he works 80%, so she is often home with her children.
It was 32 degrees when we arrived in Amsterdam at noon (six hours ahead of New York). We were bound for the The European Fine Art Fair popularly known in America as Maasticht (for the town in which it is located), said to be the biggest and the very best in the world. We were met at Schiphol, (pronounced zippel) Amsterdam’s international airport by a young German named Patrick in a Volkswagen Phaeton sedan to take us to Maastricht which is about two and a half hours away on the highway. This car is a far cry from what we call a VW. In fact it bears no resemblance to the Beetle I bought in 1965 for $1800 (brand new). Instead it resembles a Mercedes, or a Beamer or an Audi (and carries a price tag from that automotive realm). We learn that it is the official transportation of the Art Fair. Twenty-five drivers, all of whom work for VW, have come from Germany to ferry us back and forth to the Fair and elsewhere.

Geography lesson: Maastricht is a city of about 120,000 localed in Holland very close to the Belgium and German borders. The Romans first conquered the area and named it after the river that flows through (the Maas) because it was (and remains a good port).

It is a very prosperous looking place, mainly low and with many very old buildings dating back centuries. It holds a great university and is headquarters for several large international corporations. It is also home to TEFAF (The European Fine Art Foundation — referred to by everybody as tea-faff) which annually holds an annual Art Fair for very high end art (Old Masters, Modern and Contemporary), fine antiques and jewelry. TEFAF is said to be the largest and finest Art fair of its kind in the world. Maastricht naturally became its mecca because it is geographically located at the center of Europe, close to Germany, France, Belgium, and Holland.

We had been booked into the Kruisherenhotel (pronounced croos-sherin) which is situated in the old part of Maastricht. No one told us beforehand that the Kruisheren was originally a 15th century monastery (of the crutched friars) that had been converted (it’s been open a little less than a year) in a sleek post-modern interior (for the most part keeping the gothic interior also). The creation of a Dutch hotelier, well-known throughout Europe — Camille Oostwegel, the Kruisheren evidently has been the talk of the Continent because of its astonishingly beautiful execution of the cultural and architectural juxtaposition.

Driving up to it (through the pristine, narrow medieval streets you come upon what to the American eye looks like a fair-to-middling sized cathedral except for its clearly modernized entrance — a shiny, highly polished brass horn-shaped cylinder that looks like it might lead into a disco or a fun-house. From that moment, you’re captivated like a kid is with the art of the new.
The sixty guest rooms (JH's pictured above left) are all different in layout and similar in design — white, small, (very very comfortable beds) with desks, small sofa, flat-screen TVs, ample sized bathrooms (with heated floors, large deep tubs and good lighting).
No visit to a new place (especially foreign land) doesn’t come without a snag or two. For example, just before going out to dinner on the first night, JH came to my room in a state of minor upset. Having showered and shaved and brushed his teeth, he helped himself to a plastic bottle labeled “Relaxing Water” sitting on a shelf over the sink. With no other explanation on its label, he mistook the liquid for mouthwash and duly took a swig, throwing his head back to gargle. And THEN: suddenly his mouth was on fire and he was overcome a terrible taste and odor! He spat the concoction into the sink instantly but still in a shock over what he’d poured in his mouth. When he came into my room, he was still in that stage of anger/shock and feeling ridiculous. He thought it was some kind of perfume, this Relaxing Water, and hoped he hadn’t poisoned himself. He hadn’t. It wasn’t perfume but astringent. Ugh!
Clockwise from above, left: DPC in the lobby and the entryway of the hotel; The hallway lights.
Inside the church sanctuary, under the vaulted ceilings four stories high and the tall chancel windows, they’ve constructed several facilities including conference rooms, a library, a bar, a glassed-in wine storage, sitting areas, a reservations desk and a glassed in elevator and a mezzanine which guests can breakfast. Within these great medieval walls of magnificent sobriety there exists a modern/post-modern whimsical yet highly functional hotel interior. Someone told me that many of the great collectors visiting TEFAF were anxious to stay here. Besides the hotel guests, the “lobby” is frequently visited by sight-seers, very possibly some who were unable to book.
A view of the mezzanine restaurant with lighting discs and their constantly rotating colors.
Our first night in Maastricht guided by Michel Witmer, the American art consultant and historian who is on the TEFAF board, invited us to a vernissage at the gallery of Robert Noortman, the leading art dealer in Maastricht who is also one of the founding members of TEFAF.
Champagne with a tour of some of Mr. Noortman’s Old Masters (including a Rembrandt portrait, above, right) and a beautiful still life by dutch master, Jan van Huysum (right).
After departing the gallery, we joined the other guests and boarded buses that took us on a half hour ride to Noortman’s 17th century chateau (complete with moat) set on a hillside by ancient Roman village several kilometers from Maastricht in Belgium. There were about a hundred guests attending, most, from what my ear could tell, Europeans — very few spoke English with an American accent. A large tent had been set-up connected to the house where a three-course dinner was served. Unlike what we’re used to in America, the courses were separated: first came the fish, pasta and salad course. When everyone had served themselves, the buffet was cleared away and the second course of meat and vegetables were laid out, all very elaborate and abundant and delicious. Thirdly came the desserts — everything accompanied by wines and champagne, or beer if one so desired.
L. to r.: Mrs. and Mr. Noortman; Mireille Serrano, Marie-Beatrice Lavau, and Ruth O'Hara.
The streets of Maastricht: First an outpost of the Romans, with its now ancients fortifications still extant, Maastricht is located on the highest ground of the Netherlands, impervious to the waters that might threaten the dikes all over the very flat and often-below-sea-level Holland. Over the centuries it has hosted a number of invaders, including the French and the Spanish. Although because it went undamaged in the Second World War, the older part of the city still retains its medieval streets and many of its buildings.

March 13, 2006, Volume VI, Number 42
Photographs by JH/


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