Around 11 yesterday, Nina and I catch a glimpse of blue sky from the north-facing window of her new studio in Maastricht. Since she has no study worries to take care of until her tutorial at 16h, we get into her car parked at the closest free parking spaces, behind the Kunst Front (Stichting Cultuurfront Europa- Lage Frontweg) and drive to Valkenburg. We find the town to be a much larger and grand place than we could have ever expected, perhaps in a reflection of the city-superiority mentality we have acquired in the three years of living in the capital of Limburg… we are quite surprised at the sight it.
Ancient castles and churches, mighty villas surrounded by fountains, expensive boutiques and countless restaurants offering menus way beyond our budget. Finally, our hunger brings us inside Jan Linders supermarket where we drink free coffee and tea while we chose some dips to go with our bread. I am delighted to find some canned Dolmades, which together with some juice complete our lunch on a sunny bench by the river. Over the stream, there’s an unusual sight to see. Many bridges serve as entrances to pretty houses built with local limestone: this scenery has triggered the imagination of local artists. Each little private bridge is home to a bronze statue which seems like it could symbolize the interests of the different owners. A naked woman watching the waters flow below her, a biker heading towards his old jewel, a little girl playing with a bird on a balcony with a massive bird cage.
We discover that Valkenburg is indeed a town of creative minds and tireless artists, as we enter the Gemeentegrot, “Cave Experiences”. The 70km of municipal caves under the Cauberg hill in Valkenburg are the result of man excavation over the last two millenniums to build roman villas, castles… most of the buildings in town, in fact.
Nina convinces me to not be lazy and take the walking tour, which I don’t regret after seeing the speed at which the little train tours around the caves. As a cave raver in Maastricht, I could only expect these caves to be something similar to the ones under Sint Peters, where I used to go dancing with friends in the weekend. But what we see is beyond all this: endless corridors, decorated by sculptures of ancient creatures that inhabited the chalk sea, by frescos of significant locations in town, by religious images and many, many signatures. This underground art ain’t no street art, but creative expressions dating back to the 19th and 20th century, when the artistic folk from town simply found it ideal to chill and create inside the 12 degrees celsius caves, carving into the soft limestone or drawing with burned wood. These fascinating caves, with 5 underground lakes full of drinking water served as a refuge to the population during war times and can potentially shelter up to 15 thousand people in case of an atomic attack!
After visiting the corridors, we are becoming convinced that the Valkenburgians really have it all, even though they cannot enter the underground at night to throw raves. But, again, we aren’t ready for the final cave experience: an installation of beamers around on the ceilings of an enormous hall present a super trippy combination of artwork from Impressionism and Expressionism to the ancient primitive art of the origins of man. Based on the themes of animals, women and hands (we don’t get the latter), art across time is projected on the limestone cut walls, to be distorted, mixed, dimensioned; creating a new understanding of the art as a primordial, undeniable and dynamic essence. We walk in the hall as the music blasts into bouncy beats, Nina and I dance around the cave in wonder and excitement, turning around to see all the different walls and how each one distorts the image through its own shape. But the show lasts 25 minutes, so we eventually sit down, relax and enjoy the crazy art combinations taking place. In the back of my mind, always trying to image what is going through the mind of the crazy VJ who came up with this stuff.