The Dutch East India Company was the most powerful company the world has ever known. It was the first multinational corporation and the first to issue stock, and had the power to wage war, found colonies, negotiate treaties, execute convicts, and mint coins. It was much bigger than the English East India Company and for a century was the main conduit of wealth into northern Europe. It made the Netherlands fabulously rich, brought tea and coffee and chocolate into our lives, and transformed Amsterdam and Jakarta. It founded Cape Town. It founded New York.

In Amsterdam last week, we went to the VOC museum, which is large and excellent and includes a spice trading ship we crawled over from fo’c’sle to quarterdeck. There were twenty or thirty other tourists at the museum.

Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutchman who lived 37 years and produced beautiful paintings, including striking self-portraits. The story is well known of his dramatic final years, featuring a quarrel with Gauguin, mutilation of his ear, commitment to a mental institution, and death from a gunshot wound. In Amsterdam we went to the Van Gogh museum too. There were two or three thousand other tourists there.

[8 January 2015]