Netherlands - The Don Quixote Country
( Originally Published 1906 )
THE Knight of La Mancha would have had his hands full if he had attempted to tilt with all the windmills between Amsterdam and Koog on the Zaan. It is pre-eminently the windmill country, and one has to adapt himself to an entirely new environment even in this land of windmills. As James said, "It is jabberwocky."
We had to accustom ourselves, after we had seen Amsterdam's towers vanish in perspective, and entered the interesting Zaan, to a new order of things in heaven and on earth. It was decidedly unsettling to see the top of a prosaic warehouse suddenly sprout a pair of gigantic wings, to become aware, after much rubbing of the eyes, that the apse of a stately church in the distance was, to all appearances, gyrating in a fantastic pas seul. I confess I found it startling to see a gray-thatched roof lift itself, to all appearances, with a mighty heave several feet above its own ridgepole. More than one delicate spire I saw executing a fine "drop kick."
When to these optical illusions is added the clear-visioned fact that all about are scores of windmills large and small, whirling, clicking, sawing, grinding, crushing, hoisting for all they are worth to their owners; when upon the horizon numberless little white and gray canvas clouds are twirling in seemingly perpetual motion like automatic pinwheels; when it is seen that, in consequence, the air is filled both far and near with movement, the sky with rotating silhouettes, and the solid earth swept with shadows of long-armed sails, the reader may realize, perhaps, that a susceptible traveller in such parts is apt to find himself in a state of mind in which he questions his sanity.
But there is no monotony in this mill-land, and there is an exquisite harmony of color. One sees a gray mill, gray-thatched, white sails, and the wooden blades touched strongly with vermilion; an olive-green body, iron-rust red canvases and blades of solid white; a black buccaneer with white sails and black arms striped with bright apple-green. The combinations seem, infinite, but they are always pleasing.
The mills in the various provinces vary in construction and color as widely as the costumes of the provincials. Take, for examples, the stately mill, typical of all stateliness, on the Coolvest in the business centre of Rotterdam, the Maypole of Utrecht, all curving grace, the perfect type of a country mill, the great sawmill of rugged mass, straight line and sharp angle, near Zaandam, the old five-storied mill by St. Catherine's Bridge at Haarlem, the two noble ones at Gorinchem, including De Eendracht, the island grainmill in far-away Zierikzee,—all these express, as it were, the dialects of mill architecture; sails, blades, roofs, foundation, material, construction, thatching and coloring, all vary; and all together they lend to a remarkable land a charm which no other possesses.
It was a pretty sight to see the windmills put to sleep with declining day, the great arms rotating more and more slowly, the shadows on the meadows growing longer as they swept more and more lazily over the green, the almost imperceptible stopping; to see the furling of the great sails, and the miller making all fast for the night; to see him disappearing through the dark doorway high up on the encircling balcony, the closing of the door behind him, and with it the closing of the little industrial drama that is played out each day to the end; to watch, at last, the wondrously tinted twilight curtains, which belong to these northern latitudes, as they dropped upon the daily drama in this enchanted land.