How to get a canal named after you – the story of Jacob van Lennep

Where I come from, a city landmark is given to the many, many people that made the city of Rome and country so great. They can be from ancient Rome, or Italians from the Renaissance era, up to great late actors, and everyone in between. Comparatively, the Jacob van Lennepkade, which runs through Amsterdam’s Oud-West, is one of the only canals named after a person. They’re usually named after a location, or a landmark, or one of those families that ran the city centuries past, but hardly any single person ever gets a canal all to themselves.

And not just any canal. It’s an artery, or in technical terms, a tributary, an essential lifeline into the city creating a path from the outer ring of water into the more historical, gorgeous part of Amsterdam. This is the fastest route to take to get into the city, and during summer it becomes a traffic spot for people getting to and from their dock sites. On Kingsday and Gay Pride, as well as the last night of the concerts on the canal in August, there’ll be more boats on the Lennepkade than cars on the road. Sometimes they begin at 6am; sometimes that’s when the party ends. In the summer when the windows are open onto the canal, you’ll hear so much music coming from each passing boat it’s like a radio is turned on. Birds, meanwhile, sing from sunrise to night.

Parallel to this is the Jacob van Lennepstraat. If the canal celebrates his impact on the city, then the street celebrates him as an artist, and all of his other accomplishments: maybe importing the first ever crate of figs into the US on his merchant ship, or translating Othello and Romeo & Juliet from English to Dutch for the first time (and rewriting some of the original text -based on principle!-). Maybe helping swipe out cholera thanks to a genius invention warrants both a street and a quay. If you, like me, were trying to think of how to get a canal named after yourself, then here’s a start. You might end up in the company of canals in general (Kanaalstraat), or even royalty (Wilhelminastraat).

At the beginning of that road is a large mural, a facade on the side of a building fifteen meters high, depicting a naked woman reading, unaware that there a man tripping in front of her. Gigantic text runs over it.


This poem is from a poem Van Lennep wrote called “Aan een Roosje”, to a rose. I’ve heard enough songs and read enough poems to get that the rose isn’t about a real rose. A tall woman, already naked and taking off her black shirt, is showing her “breasts, pale and tender.” He, wearing a suit with a pen in hand, trips over himself saying, “thousands and thousands kisses I give / to the shoulders, neck and chest/ and these two bulbs, white and round.”

Artist Rombout Oomen was assigned this mural from the city of Amsterdam and decided to depict this scene with the idea that it’d unite the neighborhood community. Oud-West is a total mix of religions, cultures and races, so this would have worked as a meeting and conversation point for everyone. It took one naked woman with a thick bush to bring out the close-mindedness that pervades Amsterdam’s liberalism. Before painting it, Oomen went to the residents to let them know of this plan, one that the city of Amsterdam both supported and funded. A few were unhappy with it, but did not force their opinion. Residents of mixed religions were also of the opinion that supported the freedom of having the painting if the neighbors liked it, even when they themselves didn’t. The painting began in 2004 and some of families living across the huge mural were enraged to find themselves with a large kut in their faces. Paint bombs were thrown at it, but the vagina was repainted right away. It didn’t matter that the artist had previously visited the offended neighbors for a one-on-one conversation to talk about their feelings, while still making clear that censorship is a huge violation of the Dutch constitution.



After another round of paint balls and a NO PORNO spraypainted at the man’s feet, Oomen repainted it one last time (as of now), only this time the great offense was pixelated. She stands before me on my daily route to work, undressing herself, and a blurred out kut that stands for freedom of art, of word, of progressiveness, yeah yeah women, and tolerance. That’s how you get a canal named after you.


Read more ]

Comments are closed here.

error: Content is protected!