Sunday, August 14, 2011

Last(ing) Impressions, Part II

View from terrace
The evenings were long in mid-summer in the Netherlands. Dusk came upon us only at 10:00 P.M., which gave us ample time to stroll, read, or daydream. It was relaxing to climb up to the third-floor terrace of Sonja's house in Zaandam, to chat while taking in the view. In the distance we could see the churning arms of the modern counterparts of traditional Dutch windmills. Depending on which way the breeze was blowing, we might catch a whiff of the chocolate factory a few miles away, or perhaps the more rural scents of outlying farms.

Directly below the terrace, we could see the canal behind the house, and across the canal, the neat homes of the neighbors.

It was on one such evening that I realized that pretty much all aspects of Dutch history and culture could be traced back to the two essential elements before me at that very moment: wind and water.

The water of course, is ubiquitous, whether in the form of canals, lakes, or the sea. And the wind  --  well, the wind enabled Dutch engineers to pump the water, beginning in the 14th century, by means of inter-connected windmills, creating dry land from lakes and marshes.

Land created by this engineering feat allowed the population to expand and establish dairy farms; hence the delicious Dutch cheeses we learned to enjoy. Windmills also ground grain to feed cattle and to bake bread; sawed wood to build homes and ships; and even ground pigment for paint  --  the green paint for the traditional houses of Zaandam, but also the pigments used by the classical Dutch painters.

Pigment-grinding mill at Zaanse Schans

The wind also billowed the sails of Dutch ships that carried the seafaring merchants of the Dutch East India company far afield in search of exotic spices, and those of the Dutch West India Company to New Netherland to barter for furs from the Native Americans.

It was this trade in beaver pelts that brought my earliest Dutch ancestor, Cornelis Van Slyke, to the New World in 1634.

One day while exploring the city center of Amsterdam, I was amazed to come upon a house built that very year:

1634 Doorway

A doorway into the past if there ever was one!

(Many thanks to cousin Robbertjan for the photo of the mill in Zaanse Schans.)

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