018 / Images from Haarlem
September 7, 2021

Philadelphia is a 400 year old city, which is ancient by US standards. I was always attracted to the older buildings and neighbourhoods of the city, fascinated by everything from the architecture of factories, power plants, schools, train stations and homes, some of which itself was over 200 years old, down to the details of what sort of stones were used to pave streets.

My Uncle John would tell me exciting stories about Philadelphia in the 30s, 40s and 50s. About how he and his friends walked from South Philly to North Philly to go to baseball games at Connie Mack Stadium. How my Aunt Stella had a job in a cigar making factory. About how you could buy oysters from shops all around the city. I could feel the remnants of this vibrant past viscerally, it was entombed in the run down and abandoned storefronts on Richmond Street and Kensington Avenues, in the hulking masses of the Grain-O and Jack Frost Sugar factory along the Delaware River. It always felt to me like something was missing, as if some vital spirit had been sucked out of the soul of the city. This difficult to describe energy also affects the people that live there as well.

The vibe is different here in the Netherlands. The weather here is not amazing, and taxes are high. But there are many psychic benefits which come into play throughout my daily existence. Most of them are practical in nature–infrastructure, city services, access to nature, etc. I thought I’d put together a little photographic tour of some of the things I most appreciate about living in the Netherlands, focusing in particular on Haarlem, the city I now live in.

There are two markets each weekend in Haarlem. The Grote Markt ,which lies in the shadow of the St. Bavo Kerk (and also a site of public executions in centuries past) and the Boter Markt. As a kid in Philadelphia, my Uncle John would always tell me about the Dock street market, which must have had a similar feel. I think you could get a sense of what it was like today when visiting the Italian market, although if you watch footage of the market from the 50s and 60s, you can see it was a shadow of its former self by the 1990s. I like coming to these markets, which have been in operation for over 400 years.

I live just one station away from sheep and cattle filled meadows, ringed by irrigation canals and spotted with windmills. We like to walk or bike around the small villages, wandering far enough from the city to breathe fresher air, but still in sight of the 747s flying overhead as they make their landing approach at Schipol airport.

My habit of walking through a city’s streets, watching and observing, continues here in Haarlem just like in Philadelphia. Walking through the medieval sections of Haarlem, some 600 or 700 years old, I think about the stories of all the people that have lived in these houses and streets through time. I picture the chaos of the Reformation as the gold chalices and stained glass were removed from the St. Bavo Kerk, where Mozart would some years later play the organ as a 10 year old.

Philadelphia has no such comparison in terms of age. But other areas of Haarlem that have a more organized grid like street plan remind me of Old City in Philadelphia. The homes are quite like the Philadelphia rowhome, built for workers in nearby mills, churches and docks. Still other areas are reminiscent of any turn of the century Philadelphia neighborhood, with storefronts and corner bars, and you can glimpse what streets or shops might have looked and felt like 70 or 100 years ago. In any case, you can clearly trace the European roots of Philadelphia’s architecture, housing and industry. Living here in Haarlem has helped understand better what growing up in a neighborhood built by Catholic European Immigrants meant, and was able to redefine my Americanness.


Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Compare my photo above with the The Grote Markt, a painting by Gerrit Adriaensz made in 1696.
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers

Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers
Haarlem by Anthony Smyrski / Random Embassy Papers


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