Rembrandt’s The Night Watch

Rembrandt’s Night watch. Photo credit: By Rembrandt –, Public Domain,

A recent visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam revealed a surprising highlight. While I expected a crowd to surround Rembrandt’s famous “The Night Watch,” I hadn’t expected it to truly be completely surrounded…by a glass enclosure. Although disappointed a clear view wasn’t possible, I was quite fascinated by what was going on inside.

A glass enclosure around Rembrandt’s The Night Watch so restoration work could be done. (Parks 10/2019)

First, a little background on Rembrandt van Rijn’s largest work created in 1642 at the height of the Dutch Golden Age. Even though it is called “The Night Watch,” the official title of the piece is the not-so-short “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq.” Not surprisingly the title was shortened in the later 1800s to “The Night Watch” because of the moody use of light and shadows, and the varnish which had darkened with age. In 1940, the varnish was cleaned and daylight let in (so to speak). Many wonder if the title shouldn’t be changed to “The Day Watch” as the men are setting off to do their duty of protecting the city.

An angled view of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, with his hand outstretched ordering his men to set out, and his lieutenant. You can see a corner of the imaging equipment. (Parks 10/2019)

Commissioned by eighteen members of one of Amsterdam’s civic guard militias for their lodge where they practiced shooting, the painting features thirty-four Kloveniers (Kloveniersdoelen). The members of this militia were known as arquebusiers (soldiers armed with long guns) or musketeers. The eighteen sponsors were pictured in the painting and their names later added to a shield in the upper part of the painting by another artist. The original painting was actually much larger than we see today (it is now approximately 12 by 14 feet). When it was moved in the 1700s from the lodge to Amsterdam’s City Hall, it was trimmed down (I’m sure that action gives art historians heartburn), removing a few figures on the left and an arch near the top. We know this because surviving copies were painted showing the entire piece.

Usually these type paintings were staid with members sitting at a long table or standing. Rembrandt took a different approach and created a fluid orchestration with muskets being loaded, a dog barking, drums sounding, and members chatting. He even added a young girl (the company mascot), with a dead chicken at her waist (a symbol of the Kloveniers). Also, a close study of the painting revealed a man peeking over a soldier’s shoulder (both the chicken and the peeking man can be seen in the photo below). It is thought to be Rembrandt sneaking in a self-portrait.

Mascot with dead chicken and Rembrandt peeking over the shoulder of the soldier with the metal helmet. (Parks 10/2019)

Now, back to the reason for the glass enclosure around the painting. The painting has undergone restoration in the past to clean the varnish and also to repair attacks upon it. Sulfuric acid was sprayed on it, and in 1973 someone severely slashed the painting. Those marks can still be seen as restoration could not completely heal the scars. A museum placard claims the last restoration happened over forty years ago (after that slashing?). Since then, the varnish and overpaintings have discolored again, and the canvas is now slightly deformed. This time the museum is using advanced imaging techniques to obtain a complete picture of the painting’s overall condition and they are studying Rembrandt’s techniques. Once that is done, I assume they will proceed with restoration.

Moveable platform for the stereomicroscope. (Parks 10/2019)

The equipment we see on a moveable platform in the enclosure does stereomicroscopy. The platform moves up and down so every inch of the painting can be meticulously and microscopically studied with a microscope and computer. (Museum placard: The stereomicroscope has two lenses, one for each eye, to give the image depth. It magnifies the image about 6 to 50 times. Attached to the microscope is a camera, with which photos are taken of the highly magnified image.) I’ve included a few photos of the platform and the technicians/restorers working on the painting.

Restoration expert monitoring the stereomicroscope. (Parks 10/2019)

I wonder what secrets are being revealed on that screen. (Parks 10/2019)

They were filming while I was there, so somewhere down the road I suspect there will be a documentary on the restoration.

Filming the restoration work on The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum during October 2019.

Perhaps soon museum goers will once again walk the grand room and look through the arch to see “The Night Watch” once again clearly and freshly framed on the end wall. Now only people and equipment are visible.

Stay tuned for a fun surprise I discovered after visiting Rembrandt’s house. The Night Watch has been reproduced in sculpture and sits outside in a park. Watch for a later post with photos.

A Trip Down the Spanish Steps

In my recent thriller, To Die Again (see description at end of blog), the characters of my story are evading bad guys and do the unthinkable…they drive their small car (think Smart Car) down the famous Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy. Since I just spent some time in Rome and stayed not far from the Spanish Steps, I snapped a few shots to share and take you on a short journey down the famous Spanish Steps.


Few people are out because it is early in the morning. A neat piece of trivia. In the bottom right of photo you can barely see the top corner of a door. John Keats lived and died in an apartment there. (Photo S. Parks)

Considering the pride the Italians have for their historic landmarks, and the millions of dollars that have been put into restorations over the years, driving anything down the steps is an unthinkable act (and can land you in a boatload of trouble$). Drinking or eating lunch on the steps is discouraged. The steps have been, however, a prime meeting place for young and old alike, since their construction (see the crowds below).

The Spanish Steps on a summer evening 2018. (Photo S. Parks)

A little history might help to understand the what, why, and where of the Spanish Steps. The steps are technically called “Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti.” The 135 steps are located in Rome, Italy, and were built on the steep hillside to connect the Piazza Trinita dei Monti (under patronage of French king) at the top to the Piazza di Spagna (Spain) at the bottom. Or you could say it linked the Spanish Embassy at the bottom (which is now off the end of the plaza) to the Trinita dei Monti church up above. How old are these steps? Plans and ideas for the steps began in the 1500s but due to funding, and social and political disagreements, they did not get built until the 1700s. They were designed by Francesco de Sanctis and constructed from 1723-25. Now let’s start at the top of the stairs and work our way down. The explanations are in the photo captions.

At the top of the stairs is a plaza with the church Santissima Trinita dei Monti overlooking the hill. A road covered in square black pavers passes right in front of it. There also stands an obelisk, which is not Egyptian, but a copy made by Romans of an Egyptian obelisk sometime in the 1st to 4th centuries. It is believed to have been used in a private (ruling class) Roman garden. It was erected here in 1798. (Photo S. Parks)

The large convex curve in front of the obelisk is actually the top of the Spanish stairs. This vantage point offers a wonderful view of the city, including the dome of St. Peters. When the day gets busy you will see vendors here, selling flowers and paintings. On each side of the curve are entrances to the stairs as can be seen in the next photo. (Photo S. Parks)

This is one of the two entrances from the top of the Spanish Steps via the Piazza Trinita dei Monti. You can see a vendors umbrella not yet opened.

After you walk down one of the two upper entrance staircases (one can be seen on the left), they coalesce and end in the first of several platforms on the stairs. In the background, you can see the top floors of buildings constructed on the hillside along the stairs.

On each side of the platform above there are again stairs to each side and they continue down to a narrower platform.

This is the second platform from the top. I love the graceful curves and how easy these steps are to take. You hardly feel the climb going up.

This last section has a central and side staircases bringing it down to the piazza at the bottom. Also note the street straight ahead. It is one of the most upscale shopping streets in Rome. The taxi driver who dropped us off in the area told my hubby it wasn’t safe for me to be on the streets until after 7:30 at night. He then winked and said that was when the stores ($$$$) closed.

Much to my surprise, the early Baroque fountain at the bottom was actually built a hundred years before the steps in 1627-29. I’ve seen Fontana della Barcaccia referred to as the fountain of the long or old boat. It is believed to have been designed by Pietro Bernini (the father to the more famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini). The design was also supposed to be that of a sinking boat, and it is certainly sinking into the street.

Other fun facts about the Spanish steps:

-English poet John Keats lived and died (1821 at 25) in a house on the right at the bottom of the steps (26 Piazza di Spagna). I believe it is the Keats-Shelley House museum now.

-The last restoration of the Spanish Steps was in 2016 and Bulgari donated 1.5 mil toward the cause.

-The steps became famous to Americans after the 1953 film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. For younger folks, they also showed up in The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon.

∞  ∞  ∞

If you’re wondering about the book in which I used the Spanish Steps and parts of Rome as a setting for several scenes, check out TO DIE AGAIN, a modern day thriller with science fiction and romantic elements. Links to Amazon and other retailers can be found on my website by clicking here BOOKPAGE.

A woman who doesn’t die.

A human who isn’t easy to kill.

A man who murders for power.

Death doesn’t come easy to Dr. Mona Signoretti, who is closing in on a killer she has tracked for two thousand years. As part of a special FBI unit, her failure to stop him puts at risk the population of Earth as well as the mission to save her part-human race from destruction. When Mona’s undercover role is discovered, and her life-sustaining energy threatened, human FBI agent, Grant Thornton, is assigned to work the case and keep her alive—not an easy task in a world where enemies refuse to die.

Book one of this modern-day thriller series set in the ordinary world, mixes adventure with technology, and politics with science fiction. If you enjoy memorable characters, strong heroes and heroines, and a touch of romance, then dive into the world of Infinitas. Pick up To Die Again by an author of four national writing awards.

An Artist Room in Tokyo

On a recent visit to Japan, our last few nights in Tokyo involved a unique twist on hotel rooms. We stayed on the 31st floor of the Park Hotel with an amazing view of the city. What made this room unique from other floors of the hotel, though, had nothing to do with the view or room size. The entire floor is known as the “Artist Floor” where the walls of rooms have been painted by special artists. Each room has a special theme and design brought to life by a selected artist. These are not the designer stylish type themes you might imagine with fine decorating, but are wistful, bold, and playful worlds. Some themes had 3-D touches, bold colors, or even night stars. Can you guess our theme from this photo?

Does sleeping in the Zodiac room mean a year of good luck?

Yep, we were in the Zodiac room. A special placard on the wall had a message from the artist, Ryosuke Yasumoto, that explained a few interpretive twists he added to theme. The English translation isn’t the greatest, but that makes the message all the more fun.

“Welcome to the Zodiac room! 2014, when this artist’s room was created, is the year of the horse, and I was also born in the year of the horse. I just happened to fill this room with items from the Zodiac. I don’t know if I can paint it well, but I just let my brush run free. I painted a cat which was cheated by a rat so that it wasn’t included in the Zodiac. By the grace of God, I also painted a weasel. The 1st day of the month has a similar pronunciation to “weasel” in Japanese. I would be delighted for you to experience the interesting story of the Zodiac from long, long ago.”

The artist’s point about there being no cat in the Zodiac gave me pause. I’d never thought about that before. Cats have been our pets and helpers through the millennia, so why aren’t they in the Zodiac (or did the tiger take their place)? The Japanese zodiac (imported from China but with variations) has a twelve-year cycle with each year having a symbolic animal that corresponds to the year: Rat (born 2008, 1996, 1984, 1872, 1960, 1948, 1936, 1924, 1912), Ox (2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, 1925, 1913), Tiger (1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938, 1926, 1914), Rabbit (1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927, 1915), Dragon (2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, 1928), Snake (2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929, 1917), Horse (2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1943, 1930, 1918, 1906) , Sheep (2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, 1931, 1919, 1907), Monkey (2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, 1944, 1932, 1920, 1908), Rooster (2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, 1933, 1921, 1909), Dog (2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, 1922, 1910), and Boar (2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935, 1923, 1911). So what’s your year?

My hubby and I had fun following the artist’s design around the room and bathroom (where the rat played). A dragon took in the entire scene from the ceiling, a snake climbed the wall by the bed, a cat lingered near the window, and a mouse skittered near the headboard. You cans see the ox, horse, rooster, head of the rabbit, dog, mice (rat was bigger and in the bathroom), and tiger in the first photo. Here are a few more for you to enjoy.

The cat with a leash held by a monkey.

Love the forked tongue on the snake.

Here’s the sheep and another cat. The only animal I couldn’t find in the photos is the boar (and the mentioned weasel).

Lots of little mice played in the room.

Various themes on the 31st floor include Samurai, Lucky Cat, Bamboo, Castle, Kabuki, Haiku, Wabi-Sabi, Otafuku Face, Geisha Goldfish, Mount Fuji, and, our room, Zodiac. All the rooms can be seen on a page of the hotel website (click here). Thanks for stopping by True Airspeed Blog. Consider picking up one of my books for your travels.



Sirince, Turkey – Great Food in the Greek Village

Lucky are those who have Turkish friends. They are hard-working, fun-loving people who cherish family, friends, and their country, and love to discuss its history, politics, and food. When our friends heard we planned a visit to Turkey, they invited us over for some home cooking. The husband (Turkish) did the cooking, and after the fabulous meal, we couldn’t wait to go on our trip. He armed us with a long list of native foods and dishes to try (did I mention I gained weight on this trip). One warning he gave us (in jest), was that his cooking was better than anything we’d find in his country. After his delicious meal, we believed him.

Sirince shows its Greek influence. A view from where we ate lunch.

Sirince shows its Greek influence. A view from where we ate lunch.

Two weeks into our trip and healthy doses of great food later, I think we tried most everything on his list. No meal, however, quite rose to level of our friend’s cooking…that is until we went to Sirince. This small village that was Greek up until the 1920s, is a quaint, charming town. Tile roofs, white washed houses, and rolling green hills, make it a fun place to walk the narrow streets and paths, and to enjoy a leisurely place to eat with a pleasant view.

A rooftop view, great food, and friendly company made for a nice lunch.

A rooftop view, great food, and friendly company made for a nice lunch.

I mentioned earlier that our Turkish friend cherished his family, many who still live in the area of Sirince. So we promised to look up a cousin, Ali, at the Kirkinca Evleri Boutique Hotel (I’ll put the url address at the end in case anyone reading this would like to visit it one day). We couldn’t stay overnight, but came for lunch. Since I told him I would like to blog about our meal, he fed us dishes served at their restaurant, including their special (which was to die for).

A drink made from Elder Flower juice. Refreshing.

A drink made from Elder Flower juice. Refreshing.

The meal started with a refreshing, sweet and salty tasting, ELDER FLOWER drink. A piece of green apple and mint floated on top with a green grape at the bottom of the glass. Other drink accents could be peach, plum, orange, cherry, pears, or quince (a pear like fruit).

A quince is similar to a pear in look and taste.

A quince is similar to a pear in look and taste.

The first course consisted of a cooked dish of four greens (a type mustard green, Turkish chard, the other two I wasn’t sure of the translation) with yogurt on top. I can’t guarantee the spelling and the accented letters can’t be shown, but it is called: yogurtlu ot Kavurmasi (roasted seasonable herbs and vegetables). Accompanying that was a homemade pasta/macaroni dish with walnuts and melted stager cheese called cevizli kasarli eriste. Both were incredibly tasty.

Vegetable and pasta dishes.

Vegetable and pasta dishes.

The main dish and specialty of the house, Kirkinca Kabobi, came beautifully arranged on top of yogurt. This dish was beef marinated in wine sauce with oregano and decorated with Turkish red pepper and tomatoes. The beef melted in my mouth and took the honor of the best dish I ate in Turkey. Another tasty main entre was the chicken curry with onions, tomato, and mushrooms.

Kirkinca Kabobi (marinated beef) and chicken curry

Kirkinca Kabobi (marinated beef) and chicken curry

For a relaxing lunch, great food, and a delightful town to walk off all those delicious calories, visit the sleepy little town of Sirince. Many thanks to Mark, Ali, and Ali…you know who you are.

For more information check out the website of Kirkinca Evleri Boutique Hotel and their Kirkinca Arsipel Restaurant or contact them at

Another A380

Found another A380 to add to my photo collection of those that I’ve seen while travelling. This one is an Air France loading and leaving Charles de Gaulle International Airport. October 2, 2012.

Close-up of Air France logo on A380 parked at Charles de Gaulle

Air France A380

Nose of Air France A380