Holland - Broek, Monnikendam, Volendam, Marken - By Steam Yacht
( Originally Published 1913 )
EARLY Monday morning we were to have started our motor-tour, but rain put an end to the plan. Pater, in negotiating for a comfortable F. I. A. T. touring-car, had stipulated that clear weather be essential to the agreement, so we had neither to go out in the rain nor to leave our car "eating its head off" in the garage—another argument in favor of hired cars. By half-past nine, a pause in the shower induced us to risk a wetting and undertake a boat trip to Volendam and Marken. Though the weather threatened to be variable, we hoped to appropriate enough sunshine to last during our landings.
The trolley ride to the dock was not without interest. Scoffy seized the opportunity of having a smoke, which is open to those occupying any of the seven "standing-room" places on the rear platform of a street car. In spite of such privileges, many a thing is forbidden in Holland; "If I live to be a hundred," Scoffy affirms, "I'll never forget the Dutch phrases `Geen Toegang' and `Verboden to Roken'—`No Admittance' and No Smoking.' " Much merriment was occasioned when the conductor raised the lid of a tin box to display his varicolored wares and Pater found himself able to purchase lemon-yellow "return" tickets in place of orange "one-way" slips. A saving race, the Dutch; if they do not all grow rich there must be something radically wrong.
Pater elected to be the first aboard the ten-thirty boat rather than last for the ten o'clock sailing. Making ourselves comfortable in wicker arm chairs at the stern of the pretty craft, we felt as though about to sail in our private yacht; nor were we at all disturbed in this illusion on receiving some pleasant neighbors, who passed the time of day, and a few remarks of common interest.
Our boat cut across Het IJ in a northerly direction to the locks of the Noord Hollandsch Kanaal. The broad, ducklike build, applied to both sailing vessels and barges, at once engrossed attention; it is doubtless due to a desire to acquire as much tonnage as possible in those shallow waters—the huge, wide, oarlike fins attached to sailing vessels (one on each side) being used in lieu of centerboards, to prevent drifting.
Holland is noted for its fisheries; it is said the Dutch took to fishing because the long, hard winters made beef and mutton very scarce. However this may be, fishing laid the foundation of a great industry and smoked fish proved of inestimable value in the merciless sieges of the Inquisition as well as in fortifying Dutch sailors against battles with foreign fleets. Entering the canal, we found it lined with fishermen; the rainy dawn probably accounted for this large number and for the presence, even, of several fisher-maidens. Involuntarily they contributed to our entertainment. The canal's level was quite high, so persons sitting on the banks had their feet close to the water ; our yacht drew about an eighteen-inch wave which washed against the shore with considerable force. When I add that fishermen not too deeply absorbed in their floats to raise their eyes, kept them glued on the passengers, your imagination can picture the rest; very few escaped a bath, while only a small number of those whom a "sixth sense" warned, man-aged to wriggle up the bank in safety. For each victim we gave a cheer, and three cheers and "a tiger" for a fisher-maiden who got thoroughly soused. Some lost their poles, and one his basket; but, I truly believe, not one lost his temper.
That much of Holland lies below the sea level was strongly impressed on us, for we sailed along the eaves of houses beside the canal and experienced the odd sensation of seeing only red-tiled roofs and treetops close by. The distant landscape presented the usual appearance: immense, fertile fields intersected by canals and ditches; occasional woods or thickets, generally of willow; the characteristic windmills and cattle; and, 2t intervals, beautiful roads lined with elms or pollard willows. The roads crossed our waterway on curious, high, wooden bridges—some nearly semicircular—mostly, pivoted swing-bridges or hoisting-draws. There was little traffic on the water. We passed a few snubnosed sailing vessels, whose crews had gone into harness on the towpath and were mildly assisted by a jigger sail at the stern. Two pretty girls, their arms full of flowers, waved the gay burden in friendly greeting. Besides these and a few children wearing bright jerseys and wooden caps, we saw hardly a soul except the fishermen.
After passing through a lock from the main canal into a smaller one, we proceeded at reduced speed, owing to the care necessary when steering a long boat in a narrow course, and also to a desire to wash out the banks as little as possible; for we were now running almost level with the fields and the shore was no longer protected by a continuous, stone retaining wall, merely by a few piles ; at times, there was no protection at all. As we advanced, our wash started up groups of sheep grazing near the water—many of them huddling together too scared to move; but the goats and the famous black-and-white cows continued grazing undisturbed.
So pleasant had been our journey that, before we realized it, the boat reached the dock at Broek-in-the-Waterland, the greatest "spotless town" of all Holland.
As we had hoped, Jupiter Pluvius withdrew his legions of moisture, and we were able to inspect the town in sunshine and in comfort. Broek is a pretty, sleepy, little village boasting a lake with a summerhouse—or music pavilion—at one end ; its streets are shaded by fine trees, and nearly all the houses stand in gardens; altogether, one receives the impression of a small park, while a few canals afford the additional charm water gives to a landscape. The houses, square in plan, have only one low story ; but their large, hipped roofs of red tile save them from being boxlike and commonplace ; some were brick and some wood—and though the latter were painted the much discussed, striking, blue, or green, they did not contrast disagreeably with their surroundings. The far-famed cleanliness was not unpleasantly evident and should not be counted against the place.
We strolled along a shady avenue, past church and town hall, to the celebrated cheese-farm shown to tourists. To call this a cheese "factory" might be misleading, for it is nothing more than a house of the foregoing description containing—as do many farm-houses in Europe—living-rooms, stable, hayloft, and dairy, all under one roof. Once within, we crossed the hall and entered the stable. Perhaps Broek's fame arose right here. Everything smelled of fresh paint, and the stalls—untenanted in summer—displayed exaggerated cleanliness. A neat oilcloth runner was laid along the foot of the stalls, and their floors were covered with fresh, white sand carefully raked into diamond pattern; each stall had a window with bright blue trim, and each window—O shades of Nottingham !—a neat lace curtain.
"Gee !" exclaimed the Youth, "a cow would have as much fun with that curtain as a Yankee with a piece of pie," and he forced the guide to admit that things "didn't look quite so clean in winter."
Near by, stood an appetizing pile of golden cheeses. In the next room the cheese is weighed, pressed, and soaked in brine; beyond, lay the dairy—a large, cool, stone-floored apartment containing the huge churn, or separator, and a galaxy of shining tin and copper vessels. Having peeped into the haymow, handy to the stable, we passed into the living-room which called forth many "ohs" and "ahs" from our feminine companions. Its walls and cupboards displayed an at-tractive collection of pewter and blue china; at one side of the room a great, projecting fireplace was flanked on either hand by curtained bunks for sleeping quarters, and at the foot of one was a little, walled shelf for the family baby.
There was barely time to explore the interior of the whitewashed church close by, for Mater and the Young Ladies suddenly became very busy trying to secure a photograph of a young, country priest who had joined the party, and whose costume seemed well worth recording. All black, it consisted of a long flowing coat with countless buttons, vest, knickerbockers, stockings, shoes with big buckles, and a squat, square, stiff hat; but for the presence of rabat and cross, and the absence of bright colors and silver but-tons, one might easily have imagined him just a handsome, prosperous young peasant in holiday attire. Fortune did not smile upon the "camera fiends" ; they lacked the boldness to "shoot a priest in the face," as the Youth remarked with a chuckle, and, though they waylaid him twice and chased him almost a quarter of a mile, no picture was acquired. Even the elements were against them, for a shower put an end to our visit and prevented a call at the tempting antique shop in a house along our road.
On the yacht, a table was spread under the awning of the after deck, and we welcomed the unexpected sight with all the delight due the Tischlein deck dich of the German fairy tale. "A good square meal," Scoffy affirmed, "and enjoyed at ease while the charming panorama continues to unfold before us."
Traffic on the highway which bordered the canal at this point greatly enlivened our passage. Work horses with huge collars, their harness profusely ornamented with shining, jingling, metal rings, patiently drew heavy, covered wains. A number of farm wagons of queer, boatlike shape caused Scoffy to discourse on the influence of the sea on Dutch wagons, but he promptly desisted when Pater said he had seen similar wagons among the peasantry in France and Germany. Quaint, high gigs passed us, their horses also equipped with high-peaked collars and be-ringed, be-tasseled harness. One gig, old enough to have come out of the ark, was—according to the Young Ladies—a counterpart of the one-horse shay immortalized by Holmes.
Thus laughing and joking, yet keenly enjoying the most trifling details of foreign life, we approached Monnikendam, our second stopping place.
"Now, children, put aside this levity for a moment and listen to me," said Pater. "Before you land, please note that Monnikendam is one of the `Dead Cities of the Zuyder Zee.' About 1572, when America was not even a fringe of straggling colonies clinging to the skirts of the forest primeval and the site of Nieuw Amsterdam still belonged to our copper-colored friends, the Manahatta, Monnikendam was making history. Together with Hoorn and Enkhuizen, she put Amsterdam to shame by manning a fleet of fighting ships and defeating Spain's Admiral Count Bossu, Governor of Holland and Zealand and member of the order of the Golden Fleece; destroyed six of his thirty ships, put the rest to flight, captured him and three hundred men and took away his Golden Fleece, 'tis said, as a trophy. Now Monnikendam is hardly more than a memory. And so with other great cities of the Zuyder Zee; betrayed by the treacherous shifting sands, they are mere caricatures of their former selves. Edam, once a prosperous city, has become a cheese-making village; Enkhuizen, once a city of forty thou-sand, with a fleet of four hundred fishermen and twenty men-of-war, a fine harbor, an arsenal, crowded warehouses and handsome residences—what is it now ? A dull town of scant six thousand, its harbor choked, its business gone, grass growing in the streets !"
Landing near the church, we traversed the village and met our boat which had meanwhile passed through several locks, at the further side. This great brick church, standing in a grove of noble trees, looked like the cathedral of a large city rather than the church of a sleepy village, and, but for Pater's explanation, we should have marveled at its size. The dark day made its bare interior gloomy and forbidding; we could scarcely see the fine altar screen, the pulpit of 1653, and the more important monuments. It was a relief to get into the open air, for the structure seemed like a tomb.
We walked along the main street, venerable seven-teeth century houses rearing their carved gables on either hand; many of them leaned over as if ready to fall and bury the whole place in their ruins rather than bear up in such a scene of desolation. The fine carved wood was covered with whitewash; a few tiny shop windows, cut here and there into the fronts, were filled with flyblown trinkets always for sale and rarely sold. Here and there a front was buttressed to restrain it from collapse, the buttresses projecting into the street.
Crowds of villagers followed us, children begging for cents while young girls and women offered articles for sale; many rushed from the houses hoping to profit in some way by the visit of strangers. Scoffy bought a child's cap from a girl who pressed her wares on him; as Mater seemed interested, one woman, standing in the rain, sold her a cap right off a baby's head rather than lose the chance to earn some money. Near the center of the town rose a fine standhuis tower mutely eloquent of days gone by. But the worst sign of decay was grass in the streets; for grass growing up through the pavement in a Dutch village is, indeed, the token of a sorry fall from high estate. The place looked inexpressibly pathetic in its living death—sadder than any "Deserted Village" or any Pompeii suddenly cut off in the fulness of its years. We soon tired of keeping Indian file in the middle of the street, along the narrow flags that stood for the medieval interpretation of a sidewalk and, striking across the cobbles, hastened our transit until it became a veritable rout. Withered hopes, undying despair, and who knows what old ghosts that stalked those crooked streets, seemed to drive us on. Our talk grew hushed, and it was with a feeling of positive relief we hurried aboard the yacht where we again dared raise our voices in idle chatter.
Soon a considerable stretch of water separated us from this spectre of the past and the boat headed for a fishing village up the coast of the Zuyder Zee. To the left, stretched the long low shore with occasional roofs, windmills, and spires breaking the monotonous outline, and presently a forest of masts, partly hiding an irregular background of gaily colored houses, disclosed itself as Volendam—beloved of all artists.
The landing was made inside a massive stone break-water whence a crazy wooden footbridge brought us on shore once more. The sun, as if anxious each place should havé its proper setting, decided to unveil his shining face again; the gay colors of native costumes and the bright touch of flowers in cottage windows enhanced the cheerful scene. Pretty girls, wearing dainty white lace caps with flaring ends like wings, strolled down to meet us. Their dark waists were relieved by square-cut white yokes edged with color, and their short skirts—one might almost call them kirtles—of bright blue or gray had a curious, broad, light-colored band below the waist. Swarthy fisher-men in red jerseys and wide trousers—the noisy sabot on their feet—squatted on steps or lounged at street corners. Far from abashed by a stranger's scrutiny they seemed quite able to return a stare with interest, and we again received the impression that we were the "sights" and they the observers.
As before, the captain of our vessel assumed the position of guide, leading us along the principal streets as well as through winding back alleys which one could hardly dignify with the name of thoroughfare; up steps and down he went, around corners and over bridges, till we lost all sense of direction. It was amusing to become acquainted with back-yards that boasted duck ponds, canals and drawbridges. The houses, so tiny as to suggest doll houses, were of the wooden clapboarding familiar to Americans, and were painted in the primary colors with their trim picked out in harmonious tints or in clear white. Nor did the captain fail to take us inside a house—a large one (!)—with two rooms on a floor; four people made a room seem crowded, and the ceiling was uncomfortably close. It was the usual small Dutch interior, the most prominent feature being, as always, the blue tiling of the fireplace. A shining copper kettle was singing on the hob; there were no pictures, the walls being covered with kitchen utensils and nice old china; the only furniture was some chairs, a table and a big clothes-chest; small, neatly-curtained bunks formed the sleeping quarters, for one bed would have filled the entire room.
Outdoors, the sun was shining brightly and cam-eras were busy. Evidently the fisher-folk had learned the purpose of a camera and knew what was expected of them, for they at once assumed obvious poses and waited for the shutter to click. When Mater essayed to photograph two women some one raised the cry of "Pictur', pictur'," and the little group was rapidly augmented from all the near-by houses.
"Scoffy," said Mater, "you give that woman some-thing when I get through; I asked her to pose, and I guess that she expects it." Hardly was the camera closed when a dozen hands were outstretched and a dozen voices shouted, "Monee, monee !" Mater fled, laughing heartily at Scoffy's plight. He, poor man, gazed in confusion at the clamoring throng; it seemed as though each person must be waving at least two—if not three—hands close to his nose; so, singling out a skinny claw that appeared to belong to one of the original old women, and dropping a ten cent piece in it, he hurriedly followed Mater's retreating figure.
"Gosh !" he panted, "I wonder if they will give that old woman a beating and put her to bed without supper, for interfering with the rights of the young and strong." "Never mind, Scoffy, you stood your ground nobly; I'll do as much for you some day." So she did, before the day was over. Poor Scoffy ! At the very last street corner he was stopped by a bevy of pretty girls and, since nothing short of violence could have liberated him, he purchased one of the very ordinary lace caps the girls sell at a price worthy the fine ones which they wear. But he managed to square ac-counts by means of his camera.
We were all making for the boat, and two village girls (the most popular "subjects") were slowly strolling behind us, comparing notes on their ill-gotten gains. "Fine chance for a free picture," murmured Scoffy, "though it's pretty far off." So saying, he pressed the bulb. Far as it was, their sharp eyes spied him and with a shrill cry of "Monee !" they started in pursuit. On the sea wall he had a clear track, whereas the girls on the footbridge found their course impeded by pedestrians, and so, amid the cheers of his friends, the rash photographer gained the boat in safety. Just then the lines were cast off and we started for Marken.
The island of Marken is an unusually strange place ; cut off from the main land in ancient times by an incursion of the Zuyder Zee, it has retained the manners and costumes of six centuries ago and for many years was an object of curiosity even to the Dutch. Despite its dikes the low land is still subject to inundations; in such an event the clusters of houses on their elevations are separated into several little colonies, and communication is then maintained by small boats. There is a church, a municipal hall, a schoolhouse, a cemetery; the pastor's house is the only stone dwelling and his garden boasts the only trees on the island. The population of one thousand consists entirely of natives, for no one, it is said, marries outside the island; they do conform to the demands of modern civilization to the extent of importing a pastor, a doctor and a schoolmaster, and besides the three R's the children are taught history.
As Marken is a fishing village the men set out for the fishing grounds on Sunday night, returning the following Saturday morning. They wear dark flannel shirts or jackets, generally gray, adorned with but-tons in the shape of coins or medals handed down from father to son for many generations; their breeches are black or dark brown and, though very baggy, are gathered tight at the knee—thus resembling knickerbockers, while the trousers of Volendam men are more like long trousers cut off above the ankle. Black stockings, sabots, a bright handkerchief loosely knotted around the throat, and a felt or fur cap complete the costume.
The women's dress is extraordinary. They wear the same two-toned kirtle as the Volendam girls, but with this a sleeeveless waist or bodice of rich red elaborately embroidered in gold and colors, which, as it takes years to make, is also handed down from generation to generation. The lacking sleeves are supplied by those of a red-striped shirt or chemise, covering the arms to the elbow. Children's costumes are similar. Another interesting feature is the headdress, a lace turban completely covering the ears and often richly embroidered or edged in color; the hair is worn in two long, curled tresses which, hanging in front of the ears, fall down over the bosom, while a square-cut bang is brushed down flat to the eyebrows. As our boat made the landing a number of these strangely at-tired villagers approached.
"Aha !" quoth Pater, "the audience having arrived, the curtain goes up and the performance will begin."
"Land sakes alive !" cries Mater, "what queer looking critters."
"Yes," chimes in the Youth, "and to think of their buttons being a hundred years old ! Gee ! Just imagine, if you were to give your suspenders an extra hitch and one of your grandfather's life-saving medals popped off into the water."
"And, good gracious !" exclaimed one Young Lady, "just think of making a horrid spot on your great-grandmother's best stomacher without her knowledge and consent."
Amid the bustle of landing we heard a shrill voice ashore calling, "Casey, Casey !" "Everybody else keep back," said some one, "Casey's at the bat." Casey proved to be a four-year-old, proudly wearing a battered straw hat with his native costume ; whatever "Casey" may have signified in Dutch, it certainly lent a very ludicrous touch to the situation and, I may say, "brought down the house."
Two little toddlers confidingly put their hands in Mater's as she walked towards the village, and one alongside Scoffy showed the same intention ; but Scoffy resolutely kept his hands in his pockets and refused to be cajoled. "I'll bet those kids are trained to go holding hands like that," he remarked.
Judging by the absence of masts from the landscape, the fishing fleet was away, but there were a few men in native costume around and plenty of women and children of all ages. Ahead of us, on the brick-paved path leading to a distant group of houses, were two boys carrying a young pig in a wicker basket, and we all wondered whether that, too, were only part of the show. Several miniature canals were crossed on planks and other frail bridges. Near one we saw a woman washing clothes at the water's edge—a simple means of attaining a laundry with running water; she looked so busy and so utterly unconscious of our presence that we decided she, at least, must be genuine. At our destination we found the usual house open for inspection ; it was much like the one in Volendam, with perhaps even more china displayed on the walls—and every piece "an heirloom."
"I wonder if any of it is for sale," whispered one of the party.
"Of course not," was the reply, "they're heirlooms ! But just the same, I'd hate to offer a dollar for one of those plates; I'm afraid I'd soon own the whole place."
Clothes-chests were opened, and when the family wedding dress—also handed down—was displayed for the edification of the ladies, the men made room by waiting in the street. No one inquired whether toll was taken after the show was over, for a subsequent incident set all doubt at rest. On the way back we passed a tiny girl sucking her thumb in the shadow of a corncrib; this necessitated a stop for another picture. "No! it wouldn't ask for money, would it?" cooed Mater, pinching the youngster's pink cheeks, "but it shall have it just the same!" and forthwith she corrupted the child forever by forcing a penny into its tiny fist.
At the boat landing Mater had occasion to rescue Scoffy as she had vowed to do. He stopped to take one more picture of the "little lambs" and his group was, as usual, augmented by every child within hail; the picture taken, he was confronted by the customary financial crisis. He handed ten cents to the big girl, nickels to the little ones; the additional hands embarrassed him because some of their owners had no claim beyond the fact that they got there in time to collect, but he hoped to smooth his way to the boat by a rapid distribution of coppers. It was no use—"silber! silber!" they screamed; his "little lambs" were suddenly transformed into a brood of longlegged harpies fighting over their prey.
Meantime Mater rushed aboard the boat for help. "Pa," she cried, "throw a handful of silver on shore for those greedy things, before that poor boy has his clothes torn off his back." "Pa" responded promptly and, during the confused scramble for the elusive coins, Scoffy made his escape.
In the light of all the foregoing it is amusing to read what the Italian Amicis had to say of the people of Marken as he found them in 1874. "The greater part of them," he writes, "never see any other land than that of their dear little island. They are poor, but knowing nothing of any better condition and having no wants or desires that cannot be satisfied they are unconscious of their own poverty. Among them there is neither change of fortune nor distinction of class. Everybody works, nobody serves. The only events which vary the monotony of their lives, are births, marriages, deaths, an abundant catch of fish, the arrival of a stranger, the passage of a vessel, a tempest on the sea. They pray, they love, they fish. Such is their life; so generation succeeds to generation; preserving unaltered like a sacred heirloom, the innocence of their manners and their ignorance of the world."
A merry party gathered on deck for the return trip; our neighbors had odd experiences to tell and many jokes to relate. Purchases were compared and freely discussed; considerable comment was called forth by the children's caps Scoffy and Mater had purchased, and commiseration was expressed for children who had to wear at one time a linen hood edged with lace, a plain linen cap with black edging, a strip of red flannel to show off the lace on the third hood above, and finally, a bright red outside hood of a design like the old-time Cashmere shawl. "If those youngsters can survive all that," exclaimed one lady, "I don't wonder Dutch peasant women can wear thirteen petticoats at once with never a protest."
The gentleman lauded the practice of having a but-ton atop a boy's cap. They thought it must prove a priceless boon to a bachelor, who is otherwise constantly exposed to the danger of having his hair pulled for calling a "him" a "her."
A sudden downpour of rain put an end to conversation and turned our thoughts to the queer and constant change of weather. This was as capricious and treacherous as the great Zuyder Zee has always been. At the beginning of the thirteenth century the province of North Holland adjoined Friesland, and the land now at the bottom of the sea was a fruitful country dotted with towns and small lakes. Then came the first ominous inroad of water from the north, and fifty years sufficed to change the map of Holland.
It is a long, gloomy tale of lives lost and cities destroyed. When the hungry waves seemed to have reached their limit the Hollander and the Frisian drew a breath of relief and, behind new-formed dikes and bulwarks, began to build new cities. But peace was not yet secured; though its waves were beaten back, the sea laughed its victims to scorn and, marshalling its changing currents and shifting sands, blocked up the new ports and doomed them, one by one, to join the Dead Cities of the Zuyder Zee.
As we sailed across the Zee's surface now, under the murky sky, the water turned a chilly, ominous steel-gray. A curious cruciform buoy swung on the waves, like a great iron cross marking the graves of those poor souls below, while its bell tolled a fitful requiem. At a distance, in the faint light, two fishing boats lay almost becalmed ; against the gray water they showed black, even to their flapping sails, and looked for all the world like two big ravens slowly circling near. Yet as we gazed, golden patches of water and sunlit villages showed on the horizon; in a few minutes the clouds broke and we were bathed in a flood of sun-shine. The water now turned a beautiful green; little waves, purple on their shadow side, raced across it; cool salt air blew in our faces, and our day regained all the dancing, quickening lure of the sea—that subtle lure fatal to those who yielded to the tempting voice and settled along this shore.
Drawing near home we passed many ungainly vessels at anchor. Their strange rigging, the tiny cabins with flowers and bird-cages in the curtained windows, the white or green trimmings of railings and deck-houses, and the curious green animals used as figureheads—these all looked so attractive that we wished we could stop and go aboard.
As we passed a grim island-fort Pater figured out we must be right over the great Pampus sand bank that once threatened the port of Amsterdam with destruction, and caused the burghers to work in mad haste building dikes, locks, and jetties, and digging a canal westward to the North Sea. Soon the fantastic spires of Amsterdam loomed up before us.