Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In the Shadow of Anne Frank's Tree

(the actual tree)
(the actual trunk)
(two of the actual _ as the lord is my witness _ no less than 10 camera crews that were wandering around the tree and various neighbors' backyards on Monday).

Well, we've been through the Anne Frank Tree discussion on this blog before, but it dominated the Dutch news cycle last week, and looks like it's going to do the same again this week.

I don't have anything more to add to the story. My "opinion," such as it is, is repeated at the very bottom of this post after the "MORE." I would emphasize I see both sides of the "cut it down" vs. "save it at all costs" argument.

But I want to do something completely different and lift the veil on the news-gathering process. I was waiting around for several hours today for the "stress test" on the tree to begin and I started talking to one of the neighbors who wants the tree cut down.

His name is Charles Kuijpers, and he's auctioning chestnuts from the tree on Ebay. Reuters did the story; Why did AP let it slide? "No comment."

In fact he had gathered a small pile of chestnuts before I started filming, and they're laying there on the wall.

He will apparently be testifying in court tomorrow, and I had some time on my hands, so I was trying to get him to talk about the tree.

I can't decide if what happens next is hilarious, depressing, or merely human. I kept trying to steer the conversation back toward the tree, but instead got dragged into a discussion of his (and my!) comic book collection instead. Life contains both comedy and tragedy, thankfully. I was partly having fun, partly interested in what he had to say, partly bound to be polite, and partly I didn't want him to dislike me, so in short _ I kept up my end of the conversation.

From my camera viewpoint, the tree is just out of sight to the left, and the Anne Frank House is just out of sight to the right (because I'm in the house next door).

I finally got the conversation back on track.

So what do we learn from this?

The debate over the Anne Frank tree is essentially one over what constitutes cultural heritage, and how far we should go to preserve it.
Anne Frank is the best known, most human face of the Holocaust, and her memory is sacred.
On the other hand, the tree is not Anne Frank, and saving it will not bring her back, nor is cutting it down an insult to her memory. All that lives, dies.

So, the tree is threatening an incomparably more banal, but nonetheless real cultural artifact: a first edition Donald Duck comic book.

Maybe I'm the only one weird enough to find the juxtaposition interesting, bizarre, pathetic, laughable. Tragicomic.

And _ did anybody notice? _ another amusing paradox:
I wouldn't have been there in the first place if it weren't for Anne Frank's diary, but this blog is my diary. Who knows what value this entry might have someday?

Furthermore, I must sadly conclude my old comic book collection is worthless.


Meanwhile, I was standing in the living room of Sylvio Mutal, a much different sort of neighbor who deeply feels that it would be a mistake to let the tree die. That Amsterdam is showing a failure of imagination here, because of minor fears about money, liability and above all else, having to `deal with it´.

As fate would have it _ and how else can you describe this but fate? _ Mutal, the other guy who wound up owning the apartment right next door to the Anne Frank House, just happens to have had a 40 year career as a U.N. expert on monument preservation.

And in his retirement, a fight over a monumental tree erupts outside the window of his study.

I mean really. What are the chances? What are the chances?

Mutal is colorful character, the kind of personality I've only come across a few times in my life: he exudes erudition, charm and worldly wisdom. An art collector. A polyglot. A bon-vivant. And he out-talks everybody in the room.

He told me the most, really the most incredible story. He said that only yesterday, while he was hanging a picture of the tree in his doorway, he struck up a conversation with an elderly Jewish couple who were passing by.

It turned out that both had been in hiding in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation _ just as Anne Frank was _ only both were never discovered and so survived. The wife was in Venlo (near the eastern border, where they speak Dutch with a German accent) and the husband in another Amsterdam attic. (!)

And _ wait for it _ the kicker: neither had ever been to visit the Anne Frank house.(!!??!!) They asked Mutal where it was, and he's pointing with his hand at his wall, saying 'right there. it was right there, right through that wall.' And the couple is saying 'oh, I thought it was somewhere else.'

Un-be-lievable. There must be more to that story.

Mutal is going to be devastated if the ruling goes against the tree tomorrow. We'll see what happens.

So, as promised, my comment, repeating from an earlier post: a quote from 'A Wizard of Earthsea,' by Ursula LeGuin. (as long as I'm putting my inner nerd on display with the comic book thing, I might as well go all the way...)

"Heal the wound and cure the illness, but let the dying spirit go."

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