Dale Says

January 12, 2007

A Sense of Holland

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 5:51 pm

Tulipmania
Parallels have been drawn between the dot-com Internet stock frenzy and “tulipmania,” a similar situation in 17th century Holland. In 1634, tulip bulbs became a status symbol for Dutch upper and middle class people, and over the next three years, much of the population engaged in tulip trading. Homes, farms and property were mortgaged to finance the purchase of tulip bulbs, which at times sold for thousands of dollars apiece. Traders began to care less about the flowers than the fortune they might make. Three years later the bubble burst, and bulbs sold for a fraction of what they had a few days earlier. The Dutch economy was shaken to its roots, and while the tulip trade did not disappear, it took years to get back on its feet

We noticed them first from the windows of the bus, as we rode to the start of our bicycle tour near the northern Holland town of Hoorn. Piles of purple and red tulips had been cut and moved to the edges of the flat, green fields. The driver patiently explained them to us.

“They’re tulip blossoms. The growers cut them to divert energy to the bulbs. The bulbs are the valuable part.”

So we sat and stared at what must have been millions of tulip heads, waiting to be turned into compost. We thought how precious they would be back home, and wondered if they were used for anything.

“Some of the growers tried feeding them to their pigs,” the driver said. “But pigs don’t seem to care for them much.” We didn’t know then how much we would connect with those piles of tulips, each in our own way. We took hundreds of photos of them, and jumped in the piles, and threw handfuls in the air.A couple of us made “tulip angels” by lying in the piles and flapping our arms and legs, as though in a pile of snow. Our Christmas cards that year included a photo of us buried in a pile of red blossoms, each of us holding a tulip by the stem in our mouths, like flamenco dancers.

Make Room for Water
The Dutch have always had a love/hate affair with the sea. They rely on it for agriculture and transportation, but they have fought for centuries against its floods, which have wreaked havoc on the land. They have grown to think of water as an adversary, to be collected, contained, and sent back to the sea. Over time, they have worked out a covenant with the sea, which they call “uimte voor water” make room for water.

We rode through headwinds and rain to Kinderdijk, to see the windmills. Only six of us made it all the way; the rest either chickened out and stayed in bed or turned back part way through the day. The six survivors included Joanne, a spunky woman in her 70s, who with her husband, Ted, was a veteran of more than 20 bicycle tours.
As we approached our destination, the windmills emerged through the mist like gigantic electric fans. We were impressed with their magnitude and as we rode closer with the size of their blades. One of them was open to the public, and we went in, feeling like the tourists we were. The entrance was small (about the size of a public elevator). It smelled musty  the smell of dampness. We climbed the steps to the keeper’s quarters, at the midpoint of the blades. There was a small wooden bed, a washbasin, and an arched window. We looked out the window, over the canal, where our windmill and its 18 companions stood as lonely sentries, guarding the polder.
As the giant blade passed our window, its shadow temporarily blocked the light. We felt the power of its movement, gathering force as it sped downward, then pulled back up by centrifugal force and the strength of its hub. We weren’t prepared for the whooshing sound that followed in the wake of the blade’s passage. We stood for a moment in awe of this mighty force. It reminded us of the beautiful, yet terrible struggle of man against nature  a battle the Dutch (and mankind) will likely continue to wage as long as we are around to fight it.

Kukenhof
In the 15th century, Dutch countess Jocoba van Beiren gathered flowers and herbs for cooking in the woods of her estate south of Amsterdam. This pristine place was known as “keukenhof,” or kitchen garden. In 1949, the estate was turned into Keukenhof Gardens, an 80-arce showcase of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other flowering bulbs that flourish in the rich coastal soil near the town of Lisse. The gardens, which consist of six million flowering bulbs, include exhibits, art shows, and a summer flower displayA defining moment of our bicycle tour of Holland came at the end of a long, tiring day of riding. We had pedaled into a cold wind for hours, and the final destination was a place we had heard about, read about, and eagerly looked forward to the famous Keukenhof Gardens.

As we rounded yet another bend, the wind still blowing string, we had to reach a little deeper to keep from turning back. But around this bend, to our surprise, the wind delivered a sweet perfume  a fragrance in the air. Fields of purple hyacinth surrounded us, their bell-shaped buds in bloom, casting their aroma in the air for all who passed by to enjoy. We stopped our bikes and stood inhaling the elixir. It made us forget our freezing hands and aching muscles and made it all worthwhile. Now we could ride on forever if necessary.

At Keukenof, we were enthralled by the colors, made even more vibrant by the grayness of the day. We walked past beautifully mixed plantings of every kind of tulip, which stood in perfect unison: armies of splendidly-cloaked soldiers, tall and proud, their brightly-colored headdresses a perfect symphony of color.

About the author:
Dale Fehringer is a freelance writer, editor, and documentary video producer. He spends his free time exploring the world and occasionally writes about his adventures. Dale lives in San Francisco where he shares office space with his wife, Patty, and cat, Molly. He can be reached at 415.602.6116 or by email at dalefehringer@hotmail.com.

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