Netherlands - Around Amsterdam - North
( Originally Published 1922 )
To Marken—An opera-bouffe island—Cultivated and profitable simplicity—Broek-in-Waterland—Cow-damp—The two doors—Gingerbread and love—Dead cities—Monnickendam—The overturned camera—Dutch phlegm—Brabant the quarrelsome—Edam—Holland's great churches—Edam's roll of honour—A beard of note—A Dutch Daniel Lambert—A virgin colossus—A ship-owner indeed —The mermaid—Volendam—Taciturnity and tobacco—Purmerend —The land of windmills—Zaandam—Green paint at its highest power—A riverside inn—Peter the Great.
AN excursion which every one will say is indispensable takes one to Marken (pronounced Marriker) ; but I have my doubts. The island may be reached from Amsterdam either by boat, going by way of canal and returning by sea, or one may take the steam-tram to Monnickendam or Edam, and then fall into the hands of a Marken mariner. To escape his invitations to sail thither is a piece of good fortune that few visitors succeed in achieving.
Marken in winter wears perhaps a genuine air ; in the season of tourists it has too much the suggestion of opera bouffe. The men's costume is comic beyond reason ; the inhabitants are picturesque of set design ; the old women at their doorways are too consciously the owners of quaint habitations, glimpses of which catch the eye by well-studied accident. I must confess to being glad to leave : for either one was intruding upon a simple folk entirely surrounded by water; or the simple folk, knowing human nature, had made itself up and sent out its importunate young from strictly mercenary motives. In either case Marken is no place for a sensitive traveller. The theory that the Marken people are savages is certainly a wrong one ; they have carried certain of the privileges of civilisation very far and can take care of themselves with unusual cleverness. Moreover, no savage would cover his legs with such garments as the men adhere to.
What is wrong with Marken is that for the most part it subsists on sight-seers, which is bad ; and it too generally suggests that a stage-manager, employed by a huge Trust, is somewhere in the background. It cannot be well with a community that encourages its children to beg of visitors.
The women, however, look sensible : fine upstanding creatures with a long curl of yellow hair on each side of their faces. One meets them now and then in Amsterdam streets, by no means dismayed by the traffic and bustle. Their head-dresses are striking and gay, and the front of their bodices is elaborately embroidered, the prevailing colours being red and pink. Bright hues are also very popular within doors on this island, perhaps by way of counteracting the external monotony, the Marken walls being washed with yellow and hung with Delft plates, while the furniture and hangings all have a cheerful gaiety.
The island is flat save for the mounds on which its villages are built, each house standing on poles to allow the frequent inundations of the winter free way. If one has the time and money it is certainly better to visit Marken in a fishing-boat than in the steamer—provided that one can trust oneself to navigators masquerading in such bloomers.
The steamers from Amsterdam pause for a while at Broek and Monnickendam. Broek-in-Waterland, to give it its full title, is one of the quaintest of Dutch villages. But unfortunately Broek also has become to some extent a professional "sight '. Its cleanliness, however, for which it is famous, is not an artificial effect attained to impress visitors, but a genuine enough characteristic. The houses are gained by little bridges which, with various other idiosyncrasies, help to make Broek a delight to children. If a company of children were to be allowed to manage a small republic entirely alone, the whimsical millionaire who fathered the project might do worse than buy up this village for the experiment.
In the model dairy farm of Broek, through which visitors file during the time allowed by the steamboat's captain, things happen as they should : the cows' tails are tied to the roof, and all is spick and span. The author of Through Noord-Holland tells us that among the dairy's illustrious visitors was an Italian duchess from Livorno who ordered cheese for herself, for the Princess Borghese and for the Duke of Ceri. Everything in the farm, he adds, "is glimmering and glittering ".
One of the phenomena of Broek is thus explained by the same ingenious author: "By beholding the dark-tinted columns attentively one sees something dull here and there. In the year 1825, when the great flood inundated whole Broek, men as well as cattle flied into the church, which lies so much higher and remained quite free of water. By the exhalations of the cows, the cow-damp, has the wood been blemished and made dull at many places, chamois nor polish could help, the dullness remained." The church has beauties to set against the phenomenon of cow-damp, and among them a very elaborate carved pulpit in various precious woods, and some fine lamps.
Ireland tells us that the front doors of many of Broek's houses are opened only twice in their owners' lives—when they marry and when they die. For the rest the back door must serve. The custom is not confined to Broek, but is found all over North Holland. These ceremonial front doors are often very ornate. It was also at Broek that Ireland picked up his information as to the best means of winning the Dutch heart. "Laughable as it may seem, a safe expedient to insure the affections of the lower class of these lasses, is to arm yourself well with gingerbread. The first question the lover is asked after knocking at the door, when the parents are supposed to be in bed, is, ' Have you any gingerbread ?' If he replies in the affirmative, he finds little difficulty in gaining admission. A second visit ensures his success, and the lady yields."
I can add a little to this. When a young man thinks of courting he first speaks to the parents, and if they are willing to encourage him he is asked to spend the evening with their daughter. They then discreetly retire to bed and leave the world to him. Under his arm is a large cake, not necessarily of gingerbread, and this he deposits on the table, with or without words. If he is acceptable in the girl's eyes she at once puts some more peat on the fire. He then knows that all is well with him : the cake is cut, and Romance is king. But if the fire is not replenished he must gather up his cake and return to his home. A very favourite Dutch picture represents " The Cutting of the Cake ". I have heard that the Dutch wife takes her husband's left arm ; the Dutch fiancée her lover's right.
Monnickendam, on the shores of the Zuyder Zee, is now a desolate sleepy spot ; once it was one of the great towns of Holland, at the time when The Hague was a village. I say Zuyder Zee, but strictly speaking it is on the Gouwzee, the name of the straits between Monnickendam and Marken. It is here, in winter, when the ice holds, that a fair is held, to which come all Amsterdam on skates, to eat poffertjes and wafelen.
Monnickendam affords our first sight of what are called very misleadingly the "Dead Cities of the Zuyder Zee," meaning merely towns which once were larger and busier. Monnickendam was sufficiently important to fit out a fleet against the Spanish in 1573, under Cornelius Dirckszoon (whose tomb we saw at Delft) and capture Bossu in the battle of Hoorn.
Today Monnickendam suggests nothing so little as a naval engagement. People live there, it is true, but one sees very few of them. Only in an old English market town on a hot day—such a town as Petworth, for example, in Sussex—do you get such desertion and quiet and imperturbability. Monnickendam has, however, a treasure that few English towns can boast—its charming little stadhuis tower, one of the prettiest in Holland, with a happy peal of bells, and mechanical horses in action once an hour; while the tram line running right down the main street periodically awakens the populace.
When last I visited Monnickendam it was by steam-tram ; and at a little half-way station, where it is necessary to wait for another tram, our engine driver, stoker and guard were elaborately photographed by an artist who seemed to be there for no other purpose. He placed his tripod on the platform; grouped the officials; gave them—and incidentally a score of heads protruding from the carriages—a sufficient exposure, and was preparing another plate when an incoming tram dashed up so unexpectedly as to cause him to jump, and, in jumping, to overturn his tripod and precipitate the camera under the carriage wheels. Now here was a tragedy worthy of serious treatment. A French-man would have danced with rage ; an Englishman would have wanted to know whose fault it was and have threatened reprisals. But the Dutchman merely looked a little pained, a little surprised, and in a minute or two was pre-paring a friendly group of the officials of the tram which had caused the accident. I do not put the incident for-ward as typical ; but certainly one may travel far in Holland without seeing exhibitions of temper. I mentioned the nation's equability to the young Dutchman in the canal boat between Rotterdam and Delft. " Ah ! " he said, "you should go to Brabant. They fight enough there! " I did go to Brabant, but I saw no anger or quarrelsomeness ; yet I suppose he had his reasons.
The steamtram to Monnickendam runs on to Edam, whence one may command both Volendam and Purmerend. Edam is famous for its cheese, but the traveller in Holland as a rule reserves for Alkmaar cheese market his interest in this industry ; and we will do the same. Broadly speaking Edam sends forth the red cheeses, Alkmaar the yellow ; but no hard and fast line can be drawn. Were it not for its cheese market Edam would be as " dead " as Monnickendam, but cheese saves it. It was once a power and the water-gate of Amsterdam, at a time when the only way to the Dutch capital was by the Zuyder Zee and the Y. Edam is at the mouth of the Y, its name really being Ydam. The size of its Groote Kerk indicates something of this past importance, for it is immense : a Gothic building of the fourteenth century, cold and drear enough, but a little humanised by some coloured glass from Gouda, often in very bad condition. In the days when this church was built Edam had twenty-five thousand inhabitants : now there are only five thousand.
It is difficult to lose the feeling of disproportion between the size of the Dutch churches and that of the villages and congregations. The villages are so small, the churches so vast. It is as though the churches were built to compensate for the absence of hills. From any one spire in Holland one must be able to see almost all the others.
The stained glass in Edam's great church has reference rather to Holland's temporal prosperity than to religion. More interesting is the room over the southern door, which was used first for a prison, and later for a school, the library of which still may be seen. Edam possesses in addition to the immense church of St. Nicholas a little church of the Virgin, with a spire full of bells, badly out of the perpendicular. The town has also some interesting old houses, one or two of great beauty, and many enriched by quaint bas-reliefs.
The stadhuis is comparatively modern and not extern-ally attractive. Within, however, Edam does honour to three fantastic figures who once were to be seen in her streets—Peter Dircksz, Jan Cornellissen and Trijntje Kever, portraits of whom grace the town hall. Their claims to fame are certainly genuine, although unexpected. Peter's idiosyncrasy was a beard which had to be looped up to pre-vent it trailing in the mud ; Jan, at the age of forty-two, when the artist set to work upon him, weighed thirty-two stones and six pounds; while Trijntje was a maiden nine feet tall and otherwise ample. Peter and Trijntje were, I believe, true children of Edam, but Jan was a mere import, having conveyed his bulk thither from Friesland. Like our own Daniel Lambert, he kept an inn. One of Trijntje's shoes is also preserved—liker to a boat than anything else.
I have by no means exhausted Edam's roll of honour.
Shipowner Osterlen must be added--a burgher, who, in 1682, when his portrait was painted, could point (and in the canvas does point, with no uncertain finger,) to ninety-two ships of which he was the possessor. And a legend of Edam tells how once in 1403, when the country was inundated by the sea, some girls taking fresh water to the cows saw and captured a mermaid. Her (like the lady in Mr. Wells's story) they dressed and civilised, and taught to sow and spin, but could never make talk. Possibly it is this mermaid who, caught in a fisherman's net, is represented in bas-relief (as the fish that pleases all tastes) on one of the façades of Edam, with accompanying verses which must not be translated, embodying comments upon the nature of the haul by various typical and very plain-spoken members of society--a soldier and a schoolmaster, a monk and a fowler, for example.
Edam has yet another hero. On the Dam bridge are iron-backed benches which never grow rusty. a One owes this particularity," says Through Noord-Holland, " to the invention of an Edamer about 1569, who also took his secret with him into the grave."
To the little fishing village of Volendam, paradise of quaint costumes and gay prettinesses, artists invariably resort. Like much of Monnickendam, and indeed almost all Dutch seaside settlements, the village is, if not below sea-level, almost invisible from the water, on account of an obliterating dyke. At the Helder one can consider the rampart reasonable, but here, where there is no foe but the Zuyder Zee, it may seem fantastic. If we lived there in winter, however, the precaution would soon be justified, for the Zuyder Zee can on occasion roar like a lion. It is odd to reflect that Volendam, Monnickendam and Marken may become ordinary inland hamlets in the midst of green fields if the great scheme for draining the Zuyder Zee is carried through.
If the people and village of Volendam are to be described in a phrase, they may be called better Markeners in a better Marken. The decoration of the pointed red-roofed houses is similar ; there is the same prevailing and very ingratiating passion for blue Delft—and a very beautiful blue too ; the clothes of the men and women have a family resemblance. But Volendam is in every way better—although its open drain is a sore trial : it is more human, more natural. The men hold the record for Dutch taciturnity. They also smoke more persistently and wear larger sabots than I saw anywhere else, leaving them outside their doors with a religious exactitude that suggests that the good-wives of Volendam know how to be obeyed. The women discard the Marken ringlets and richness of embroidery, but in the matter of petticoats they approach the Scheveningen and Huizen standards. Their jewellery resolves itself into a coral necklace, while the men wear silver buttons—both coming down from mother to daughter, and father to son.
The fishing fleet of Volendam sails as far as the North Sea, but it is always in Volendam by Saturday morning. Hence if you would see the Volendam fishermen in their greatest strength the time to visit the little town is at the end of the week or on Sunday.
The day for Purmerend is Tuesday, because then the market is held, in the castle plein, among medieval surroundings. To this market the neighbourhood seems to send its whole population, by road and water, in gay cart and comfortable wherry. According to my unfailing informant in these regions, the Purmerend stadhuis, in order " to aggrandise the cheese market," was in 1633 " set back a few meters by screwing-force ". -
The excursion to Marken and the excursion to Edam and its neighbourhood take each a day; but between Amsterdam and Zaandam, just off the great North Canal, steamers ply continually, and one may be there in half an hour. The journey must be made, because Zaandam is superficially the gayest town in Holland and the capital of windmill land. In an hour's drive (obviously no excursion for Don Quixote) one may pass hundreds. These mills do everything except grind corn. For the most part the Dutch mills pump : but they also saw wood, and cut tobacco, and make paper, and indeed perform all the tasks for which in countries less windy and less leisurely steam or water power is employed. The one windmill in Holland which always springs to my mind when the subject is mentioned is, however, not among Zaandarn's legions : it is that solitary and imposing structure which rises from the water in the Cool Singel in Rotterdam. That is my standard Dutch mill. Another which I always recall stands, or stood, outside Bergen-op-Zoom, on the way to Tholen—all white.
The Dutch mill differs from the English mill in three important respects : it is painted more gaily (although for England white paint is certainly best) ; it has canvas on its sails ; and it is often thatched. Dutch thatching is very smooth and pretty, like an antelope's skin ; and never more so than on the windmills.
Zaandam lies on either side of the river Zaan, here broad and placid and north of the dam more like the Thames at Teddington, say, than any stretch of water in Holland. A single street runs beside the river for about a mile on both banks, the houses being models of smiling neatness, picked out with cheerful green paint. At Zaandam green paint is at its greenest. It is the national pigment ; but nowhere else in Holland have they quite so sure a hand with it. To the critics who lament that there is no good Dutch painting to-day, I would say "Go to Zaandam ". Not only is Zaandam's green the greenest, but its red roofs are the reddest, in Holland. A single row of trees runs down each of its long streets, and on the other side of each are illimitable fields intersected by ditches which on a cloudless afternoon might be strips of the bluest ribbon.
We sat for an hour in the garden of " De Zon," a little inn on the west bank half-way between the dam and the bridge. The landlady brought us coffee, and with it letters from other travellers who had liked her garden and had written to tell her so. These she read and purred over, as a good landlady is entitled to do, while we watched the barges float past and disappear as the distant lock opened and swallowed them.
South of the dam the interest is centred in the hut where for a while in 1697 Peter the Great lived to see how the Dutchmen built their ships. The belief that no other motive than the inspection of this very uninteresting cottage could bring a stranger hither is a tenet of faith to which the Zaandamer is bound with shackles of iron. The moment one disembarks the way to Peter's residence begins to be pointed out. Little boys run before; sturdy men walk beside ; old men (one with a wooden leg) struggle behind. It was later that the Czar crossed to England and worked in the same way at Deptford ; but no visitor to Deptford to-day is required to see his lodging there.
The real interest of Zaandam is not its connection with Peter the, Great but the circumstance that it was the birth-place of Anton Mauve, in 1838. He died at Arnheim in 1888, Neither Zaandam nor Arnheim honours him.