This week, I have received 292 visitors from the Netherlands, mainly because I posted a recap of a lecture by a celebrated Netherlander. In all my excitement, I forgot that yesterday was Koningsdag, or perhaps I'm just nostalgic for the days of Good Queen Beatrix, and the 'old' April 30th celebration of Koninginnedag.
Years ago, I had the great good fortune to be in Amsterdam for Koninginnedag. I had traveled to the Netherlands with one of my housemates (at the time, I was living in a house owned by a cousin of a high-school classmate of mine, with a bunch of guys I'd known for years- it was like living in a beach house without an ocean), and we had done enough research to know to bring orange shirts. Even better, another old friend of mine who was living and working in Warsaw at the time, and his brother who was living in California, were both in the Netherlands at the same time, so we had the perfect amount of travelers to share a rijsttafel, or a bottle of jenever. Being rogue adventurers, we went a bit off the beaten path- one memorable occasion saw me confronted by a local in a bar in the Jordaan district:
"What are you doing here?"
She wasn't convinced: "No, the tourists are in Leidseplein, the tourists are in Rembrandtplein. What are you doing here?"
"Honestly, we're tourists."
"You're not tourists, you're freaks!"
Now, that's a compliment... As I said, we got a little bit off the beaten path, trying to scratch a bit beneath the surface. As a New Yorker, there are echoes of home all over the Netherlands- Breuckelen, Haarlem... I took a day trip to Rotterdam to check out the unusual post-WW2 bombing architecture, and we all took a train to Haarlem and took a local bus through the polders and bulbfields to Noordwijk aan Zee and back again. Wherever we went, we met with the warmest hospitality, and a genuine interest among the people to share their culture with us.
It all culminated on Koninginnedag- upon getting up and looking out the hotel window, I saw a sea of orange-clad revelers. My friends and I went from bar to bar, partying with the friendly Amsterdammers. At one point, I was 'adopted' by a family- mom, dad, and their eight year old daughter were all together in a local tavern, and they took the time to explain the significance of the various patriotic songs that the crowd was singing. I had the overwhelming sense that the crowd was filled with a deep sense of pride without the slightest bit of jingoism... theirs was the pride that says, "This is who we are, and this is who we love" without the need to claim that who they were and what they loved was better than anyone else's culture. They felt it very important to share their pride with visitors who wanted to get somewhere beyond the tourist experience... not tourists, but friendly 'freaks'. It was a wonderful experience, and I really can't say enough about Hollanders.
Here's wishing a happy belated Konigsdag to the influx of readers from the Netherlands... a few years back, I posted the video for the sentimental song Het kleine café aan de haven, but I figure that this is a perfect opportunity to post a live version:
The sentiments expressed in the song are so universal that the song has become a standard in several languages... I like it because it reminds me of all of the little cafes in which I found such a welcome.