SOME TOWNS

HAARLEM is the capital of a province, and has the airs of a minor
metropolis. When we moored in the Donkere Spaarne, all the architecture
seemed to be saying to us, with innocent pride, that this was the city
of the illustrious Frans Hals, and the only place where Frans Hals could
be truly appreciated. Haarlem did not stare at strangers, as did other
towns. The shops in the narrow, busy Saturday-night streets were small
and slow, and it took us most of an evening, in and out of the heavy
rain, to buy three shawls, two pairs of white stockings, and some
cigarettes; but the shopmen and shop-women, despite their ignorance of
English, American, and French, showed no openmouthed provinciality at
our fantastic demands. The impression upon us of the mysterious entity
of the town was favorable; we felt at home.

The yacht was just opposite the habitation of a nice middle-class
family, and on Sunday morning, through the heavy rain, I could see a boy
of sixteen, a girl of fourteen, and a child of five or six, all dressing
slowly together in a bedroom that overlooked us, while the father in
shirt-sleeves constantly popped to and fro. They were calmly content
to see and be seen. Presently father and son, still in shirt-sleeves,
appeared on the stoop, each smoking a cigar, and the girl above, arrayed
in Sunday white, moved about setting the bedroom in order. It was a
pleasant average sight, enhanced by the good architecture of the house,
and by a certain metropolitan self-unconsciousness.

We went to church later, or rather into a church, and saw beautiful
models of ships hung in the nave, and aged men entering, with their
hats on and good cigars in their mouths. For the rest, they resembled
superintendents of English Sunday-schools or sidesmen of small parishes.
In another church we saw a Sunday-school in full session, a parson in
a high pulpit exhorting, secretary and minor officials beneath him, and
all the boys standing up with shut eyes and all the girls sitting down
with shut eyes. We felt that we were perhaps in the most Protestant
country in Europe.

In the afternoon, when the rain-clouds lifted for a few moments and the
museums were closed, we viewed the residential prosperity of Haarlem, of
which the chief seat is the Nieuwe Gracht, a broad canal, forbidden to
barges, flanked by broad quays beautifully paved in small red brick, and
magnificent houses. A feature of the noble architecture here was that
the light ornamentation round the front doors was carried up and round
the central windows of the first and second stories. A grand street! One
properly expected to see elegant women at the windows of these lovely
houses,–some were almost palaces,–and one was disappointed. Women
there were, for at nearly every splendid window, the family was seated,
reading, talking, gazing, or drinking tea; but all the women were dowdy;
the majority were middle-aged; none was beautiful or elegant. Nor was
any of the visible furniture distinguished.

The beauty of Haarlem seems to be limited to architecture, pavements,
and the moral comeliness of being neat and clean. The esthetic
sense apparently stops there. Charm must be regarded in Haarlem with
suspicion, as a quality dangerous and unrespectable. As daylight failed,
the groups within gathered closer and closer to the windows, to catch
the last yellow drops of it, and their curiosity about the phenomena of
the streets grew more frank. We were examined. In return we examined.
And a discussion arose as to whether inspection from within justified
inquisitiveness from the street. The decision was that it did not; that
a person inside a house had the right to quiz without being quizzed. But
this merely academic verdict was not allowed to influence our immediate
deportment. In many houses of the lesser streets tables were already
laid for supper, and one noticed heavy silver napkin-rings and other
silver. In one house the shadowy figures of a family were already
grouped round a repast, and beyond them, through another white-curtained
window at the back of the spacious room, could be discerned a dim
courtyard full of green and yellow foliage. This agreeable picture,
typifying all the domestic tranquillity and dignity of prosperous
Holland, was the last thing we saw before the dark and the rain fell,
and the gas-lamps flickered in.

[Illustration: 0087]

We entered The Hague through canals pitted by heavy rain, the banks of
which showed many suburban residences, undistinguished, but set in the
midst of good gardens. And because it was the holiday week,–the week
containing the queen’s birthday,–and we desired quietude, we obtained
permission to lie at the private quay of the gasworks. The creators
of The Hague gas-works have made only one mistake: they ought to have
accomplished their act much earlier, so that Balzac might have described
it; for example, in “The Alkahest,” which has the best imaginative
descriptions of Dutch life yet written. The Hague gas-works are like
a toy, gigantic; but a toy. Impossible to believe that in this vast,
clean, scrubbed, swept expanse, where every bit of coal is scrupulously
in place, real gas is made. To believe, you must go into the city and
see the gas actually burning. Even the immense traveling-cranes, when
at work or otherwise, have the air of life-size playthings. Our quay
was bordered with flower-beds. The workmen, however, seemed quite real
workmen, realistically dirty, who were not playing at work, nor rising
at five-thirty a.m. out of mere joyous ecstasy.

Nor did the bargemen who day and night ceaselessly and silently
propelled their barges past us into the city by means of poles and
sweat, seem to be toying with existence. The procession of these barges
never stopped. On the queen’s birthday, when our ship was dressed, and
the whole town was flagged, it went on, just as the decorated trams and
tram-drivers went on. Some of the barges penetrated right through
the populous districts, and emerged into the oligarchic quarter of
ministries, bureaus, official residences, palaces, parks, art dealers,
and shops of expensive lingerie–the quarter, as in every capital, where
the precious traditions of correctness, patriotism, red-tape, order,
luxury, and the moral grandeur of devising rules for the nice conduct of
others are carefully conserved and nourished. This quarter was very well
done, and the bargemen, with their perspiring industry, might have had
the good taste to keep out of it.

The business center of The Hague, lying between the palaces and the
gas-works, is cramped, crowded, and unimpressive. The cafés do not
glitter, and everybody knows that the illumination of cafés in a capital
is a sure index of a nation’s true greatness. Many small cafés, veiled
in costly curtains at window and door, showed stray dazzling shafts of
bright light, but whether the true greatness of Holland was hidden
in these seductive arcana I never knew. Even in the holiday week the
principal cafés were emptying soon after ten o’clock. On the other hand,
the large stores were still open at that hour, and the shop-girls, whose
pale faces made an admirable contrast to their black robes, were still
serving ladies therein. At intervals, in the afternoons, one saw a chic
woman, moving with a consciousness of her own elegance; but she was
very exceptional. The rest might have run over for the day from Haarlem,
Delft, Utrecht, or Leyden. In the really excellent and well-frequented
music-halls there was no elegance either. I have never anywhere seen
better music-hall entertainments than in Holland. In certain major
capitals of Europe and elsewhere the public is apt to prove its own
essential naïveté by allowing itself to be swindled nightly in gorgeous
music-halls. The Dutch are more astute, if less elegant.

The dying engine of the yacht lost consciousness, for about the
twentieth time during this trip, as we were nearing Amsterdam; but a
high wind, carrying with it tremendous showers of rain, kindly blew us,
under bare poles, up the last half-mile of the North Sea Canal into the
private haven of the Royal Dutch Yacht-Club, where we were most amicably
received, as, indeed, in all the yacht-club basins of Holland. Baths,
telephones, and smoking-rooms were at our disposal without any charge,
in addition to the security of the haven, and it was possible to get
taxicabs from the somewhat distant city. We demanded a chauffeur who
could speak English. They sent us a taxi with two chauffeurs neither of
whom could speak any language whatsoever known to philologists. But
by the use of maps and a modification of the pictorial writing of the
ancient Aztecs, we contrived to be driven almost where we wanted. At
the end of the excursion I had made, in my quality of observer, two
generalizations: first, that Amsterdam taxis had two drivers for
safety; and, second, that taxi-travel in Amsterdam was very exciting and
dangerous. But our drivers were so amiable, soft-tongued, and energetic
that I tipped them both. I then, somehow, learned the truth: one of the
men was driving a taxi for the first time, and the other was teaching
him.

[Illustration: 0094]

After driving and walking about Amsterdam for several days, I decided
that it would be completely civilized when it was repaved, and not
before. It is the paradise of stomachs and the hell of feet. Happily,
owing to its canals and its pavements, it has rather fewer of the rash
cyclists who menace life in other Dutch cities. In Holland, outside
Amsterdam, everybody uses a cycle. If you are ran down, as you are, it
is just as likely to be by an aged and toothless female peasant as by
an office boy. Also there are fewer homicidal dogs in Amsterdam than
elsewhere, and there is the same general absence of public monuments
which makes other Dutch cities so agreeably strange to the English and
American traveler. You can scarcely be afflicted by a grotesque statue
of a nonentity in Holland, because there are scarcely any statues.

Amsterdam is a grand city, easily outclassing any other in Holland.
Its architecture is distinguished. Its historic past is impressively
immanent in the masonry of the city itself, though there is no trace of
it in the mild, commonplace demeanor of the inhabitants. Nevertheless,
the inhabitants understand solidity, luxury, wealth, and good cheer.
Amsterdam has a bourse which is the most peculiar caprice that ever
passed through the head of a stock-broker. It is excessively ugly and
graceless, but I admire it for being a caprice, and especially for being
a stock-broker’s caprice. No English stock-broker would have a caprice.
Amsterdam has small and dear restaurants of the first order, where a few
people with more money than appetite can do themselves very well indeed
in hushed privacy. It also has prodigious cafés. Krasnopolshy’s–a town,
not a café–is said in Amsterdam to be the largest café in Europe. It
isn’t; but it is large, and wondrously so for a city of only half a
million people.

[Illustration: 0099]

In the prodigious cafés you perceive that Amsterdam possesses the
quality which above all others a great city ought to possess. It
pullulates. Vast masses of human beings simmer in its thoroughfares and
boil over into its public resorts. The narrow Kalver-Straat, even in the
rain, is thronged with modest persons who gaze at the superb luxury of
its shops. The Kalver-Straat will compete handsomely with Bond Street.
Go along the length of it, and you will come out of it thoughtful. Make
your way thence to the Rembrandt-Plein, where pleasure concentrates, and
you will have to conclude that the whole of Amsterdam is there, and all
its habitations empty. The mirrored, scintillating cafés, huge and
lofty and golden, are crowded with tables and drinkers and waiters, and
dominated by rhapsodic orchestras of women in white who do what they
can against the hum of ten thousand conversations, the hoarse calls of
waiters, and the clatter of crockery. It is a pandemonium with a certain
stolidity. The excellent music-halls and circuses are equally crowded,
and curiously, so are the suburban resorts on the rim of the city. Among
the larger places, perhaps, the Café Américain, on the Leidsche-Plein,
was the least feverish, and this was not to be counted in its favor,
because the visitor to a city which pullulates is, and should he,
happiest in pullulating. The crowd, the din, the elbowing, the glitter
for me, in a town like Amsterdam! In a town like Gouda, which none
should fail to visit for the incomparable stained-glass in its church, I
am content to be as placid and solitary as anybody, and I will follow
a dancing bear and a Gipsy girl up and down the streets thereof with
as much simplicity as anybody. But Amsterdam is the great, vulgar,
inspiring world.

Continue Reading

THE ZUYDER ZEE

WE reached the Zuyder Zee, out of a canal, at Monnikendam, which is a
respectably picturesque townlet and the port of embarkation for Marken,
the alleged jewel of the Zuyder Zee, the precious isle where the customs
and the costumes of a pure age are mingled with the prices of New
York for the instruction of tourists. We saw Marken, but only from the
mainland, a long, serrated silhouette on the verge. The skipper said
that Marken was a side-show and a swindle, and a disgrace to his native
country. So I decided to cut it out of the program, and be the owner
of the only foreign yacht that had cruised in the Zuyder Zee without
visiting Marken. My real reason was undoubtedly that the day’s program
had been upset by undue lolling in the second-hand shops of Monnikendam.
Thus we sailed due north for Hoorn, secretly fearing that at Marken
there might be something lovely, unforgetable, that we had missed.

The Zuyder is a sea agreeable to sail upon, provided you don’t mind
rain, and provided your craft does not draw more than about six feet.
It has the appearance of a sea, but we could generally touch the bottom
with our sounding-pole; after all, it is not a sea, but a submerged
field. The skipper would tell inclement stories of the Zuyder Zee under
ice, and how he had crossed it on foot between Enkhuizen and Stavoren,
risking his life for fun; and how he had been obliged to recross it the
next day, with more fatigue, as much risk, and far less fun, because
there was no other way home. We ourselves knew it only as a ruffled
and immense pond, with a bracing atmosphere and the silhouettes of
diminished trees and houses sticking up out of its horizons here and
there. When these low silhouettes happen to denote your destination,
they have the strange faculty of receding from your prow just as fast as
you sail toward them, a magic sea of an exquisite monotony; and when you
arrive anywhere, you are so surprised at having overtaken the silhouette
that your arrival is a dream, in the unreal image of a city.

The one fault of Hoorn is that it is not dead.

We navigated the Zuyder Zee in order to see dead cities, and never
saw one. Hoorn is a delightful vision for the eye–beautiful domestic
architecture, beautiful warehouses, beautiful towers, beautiful
water-gate, beautiful aniline colors on the surface of dreadful canals.
If it were as near to London and Paris as Bruges is, it would be
inhabited exclusively by water-colorists. At Hoorn I went mad, and did
eight sketches in one day, a record which approaches my highest break
at billiards. Actually, it is inhabited by cheese-makers and dealers. No
other town, not even Chicago, can possibly contain so many cheeses
per head of the population as Hoorn. At Hoorn I saw three men in blue
blouses throwing down spherical cheeses in pairs from the second story
of a brown and yellow and green warehouse into a yellow cart. One man
was in the second story, one in the first, and one in the cart. They
were flinging cheeses from hand to hand when we arrived and when we
left, and they never dropped a cheese or ceased to fling. They flung
into the mysterious night, when the great forms of little cargo-steamers
floated soundless over romance to moor at the dark quays, and the long,
white English steam-yacht, with its two decks, and its chef and its
flulfy chambermaid, and its polished mahogany motor-launch, and its
myriad lights and gleams, glided to a berth by the water-tower, and
hung there like a cloud beyond the town, keeping me awake half the night
while I proved to myself that I did not really envy its owner and that
the Velsa was really a much better yacht.

[Illustraion: 0070]

The recondite enchantment of Hoorn was intensified by the fact that the
English tongue was not current in it. I met only one Dutchman there who
spoke it even a little, a military officer. Being on furlough, he was
selling cigars in a cigar shop on behalf of his parents. Oh, British
army officer! Oh, West Point Academy! He told me that officers of the
Dutch army had to be able to speak English, French, and German. Oh,
British army officer! Oh, West Point Academy! But he did not understand
the phrase “East Indian cigar.” He said there were no such cigars in
his parents’ shop. When I said “Sumatra,” he understood, and fetched
his mother. When I said that I desired the finest cigars in Hoorn,
his mother put away all the samples already exhibited and fetched his
father. The family had begun to comprehend that a serious customer had
strayed into the shop. The father, in apron, with a gesture of solemnity
and deference went up-stairs, and returned in majesty with boxes of
cigars that were warm to the touch. “These are the best?”

“These are the best.” I bought. They were threepence apiece.

A mild, deliciously courteous family, recalling the tobacco-selling
sisters at Zieriksee, and a pair of tobacconist brothers in the
Kalver-Straat, Amsterdam, whose politeness and soft voices would have
atoned for a thousand Schiedams. The Hutch middle and upper classes have
adorable manners. It was an ordeal to quit the soothing tobacco shop for
the terrors of the long, exposed Iloorn High Street, infested, like
too many Hutch streets, by wolves and tigers in the outward form of
dogs–dogs that will threaten you for a milt and then bite, in order
to prove that they are of the race that has always ended by expelling
invaders with bloodshed.

I was safer in the yacht’s dinghy, on a surface of aniline hues, though
the odors were murderous, and though for two hours, while I sketched,
three violent young housewives were continually splashing buckets into
the canal behind me as they laved and scrubbed every separate stone
on the quay. If canals were foul, streets were as clean as
table-tops–cleaner.

The other cities of the Zuyder Zee were not more dead than Hoorn, though
Enkhuizen, our next port, was more tranquil, possibly because we arrived
there on a Saturday evening. Enkhuizen, disappointing at the first
glance, exerts a more subtle fascination than Iloorn. However, I
remember it as the place where we saw another yacht come in, the owner
steering, and foul the piles at the entrance. My skipper looked at his
owner, as if to say, “You see what owners do when they take charge.” I
admitted it.

We crossed from Enkhuizen to Stavoren in bad weather, lost the dinghy
and recovered it, and nearly lost the yacht, owing to the cook having
taken to his bunk without notice when it was imperative to shorten sail
in a jiffy. The last that I heard of this cook was that he had become
an omnibus conductor. Some people are born to rise, and the born omnibus
conductor will reach that estate somehow. He was a pleasant, sad young
man, and himself painted in water-colors.

[Illustration: 0076]

I dare say that at Stavoren we were too excited to notice the town;
but I know that it was a busy port. Lemmer also was busy, a severely
practical town, with a superb harbor-master, and a doctor who cured the
cook. We were disappointed with Kampen, a reputed beauty-spot, praised
even by E. V. Lucas, who never praises save on extreme provocation.
Kampen has architecture,–wonderful gates,–but it also has the crudest
pavements in Holland, and it does not smile hospitably, and the east
wind was driving through it, and the rain. The most agreeable corner
of Kampen was the charcoal-heated saloon of the yacht. We left Kampen,
which perhaps, after all, really was dead, on September 21. The morning
was warm and perfect. I had been afloat in various countries for seven
weeks continuously, and this was my first warm, sunny morning. In three
hours we were at the mouth of the tiny canal leading to Elburg. I was
steering.

“Please keep the center of the channel,” the skipper enjoined me.

I did so, but we grounded. The skipper glanced at me as skippers are
privileged to glance at owners, but I made him admit that we were within
half an inch of the mathematical center of the channel. We got a line on
to the pier, and hauled the ship off the sand by brute force. When I had
seen El-burg, I was glad that this incident had occurred; for Elburg is
the pearl of the Zuyder. Where we, drawing under four feet, grounded at
high water in mid-channel, no smart, deep-draft English yacht with chefs
and chambermaids can ever venture. And assuredly tourists will not go
to Elburg by train. Elburg is safe. Therefore I feel free to mention the
town.

Smacks were following one another up the canal for the week-end
surcease, and all their long-colored _weins_ (vanes) streamed in the
wind against the blue sky. And the charm of the inefficient canal was
the spreading hay-fields on each side, with big wagons, and fat horses
that pricked up their ears (doubtless at the unusual sight of our blue
ensign), and a young mother who snatched her rolling infant from the hay
and held him up to behold us. And then the skipper was excited by the
spectacle of his aged father’s trading barge, unexpectedly making for
the same port, with his mother, brother, and sister on deck–the crew!
Arrived in port, we lay under the enormous flank of this barge, and the
skipper boarded his old home with becoming placidity.

The port was a magnificent medley of primary colors, and the beautiful
forms of boats, and the heavy curves of dark, drying sails, all dom
nated by the toeing streaming in the hot sunshine. Every few minutes a
smack arrived, and took its appointed place for Sunday. The basin seemed
to be always full and always receptive. Nothing lacked for perfect
picturesqueness, even to a little ship-repairing yard, and an
establishment for raddling sails stretched largely out on green grass.
The town was separated from the basin by a narrow canal and a red-brick
water-gate. The main street ran straight away inland, and merged into an
avenue of yellowish-green trees. At intervals straight streets branched
off at right angles from the main. In the center of the burg was a
square. Everywhere rich ancient roofs, gables, masonry, and brickwork in
Indian reds and slaty-blues; everywhere glimpses of courtyards precisely
imitated from the pictures of Pieter de Hooch. The interior of the
church was a picture by Bosboom. It had a fine organ-case, and a
sacristan out of a late novel by Huysmans.

The churchyard was a mass of tall flowers.

The women’s costumes here showed a difference, the gilt casque being
more visibly divided into two halves. All bodices were black, all
skirts blue. Some of the fishermen make majestic figures, tall, proud,
commanding, fit adversaries of Alva; in a word, exemplifications of the
grand manner. Their salutes were sometimes royal.

The gaiety of the color; the distinction of the forms; the strange
warmth; the completeness of the entity of the town, which seemed to
have been constructed at one effort; the content of the inhabitants,
especially the visible, unconscious gladness of the women at the return
of their mariners; the urbanity of everybody–all these things helped
to produce a comfortable and yet disconcerting sensation that the old,
unreformed world was not quite ripe for utter destruction.

All day until late in the evening smacks ceased not to creep up the
canal. The aspect of the basin altered from minute to minute, with
disastrous effect on water-colorists. In the dusk we ferreted In
a gloomy and spellbound second-hand shop, amid dozens of rococo
wall-clocks, and bought a few little things. As we finally boarded the
yacht in the dark, we could see a group of sailors in a bosky arbor
bending over a table on which was a lamp that harshly lighted their
grave faces. They may have thought that they were calculating and
apportioning the week’s profits; but in reality they were playing at
masterpieces by Rembrandt.

Continue Reading

DUTCH WORK

We passed through Rotterdam more than once, without seeing more of
it than the amazing traffic of its river and its admirable zoological
gardens full of chromatically inclined parrots; but we stopped at a
minor town close by, on a canal off the Meuse, Schiedam. Instinct
must have guided me, for the sociological interest of Schiedam was not
inconsiderable. Schiedam is called by the Dutch “stinking Schiedam.”
I made a circuit of the town canals in the dinghy and convinced myself
that the epithet was just and not malicious. On the lengthy quays were a
large number of very dignified gin distilleries, whose architecture was
respectable and sometimes even very good, dating from perhaps early
in the last century. Each had a baptismal name, such as “Liverpool,”
inscribed in large letters across its façade. This rendering decent and
this glorification of gin constituted an impressive phenomenon. But
it was the provinciality and the uncouth melancholy of the apparently
prosperous town that took my fancy. We walked through all its principal
streets in the rain, and I thought I had never seen a provinciality so
exquisitely painful and perfect. In this city of near thirty thousand
people there was not visible one agreeably imposing shop, or one woman
attired with intent to charm, or one yard of smooth pavement. I know not
why I find an acrid pleasure in thus beholding mediocrity, the average,
the everyday ordinary, as it is; but I do. No museum of Amsterdam, The
Hague, or Haarlem touched me so nearly as the town of Schiedam, which,
after all, I suppose I must have liked.

Toward six o’clock we noticed an unquiet, yet stodgy, gathering in the
square where is the electric-tram terminus, then a few uniforms. I asked
a superior police officer what there was. He said in careful, tranquil
English:

“There is nothing. But there is a strike of glass-workers in the town.
Some of them don’t want to work, and some of them do want to work. Those
that have worked to-day are being taken home in automobiles. That is
all.”

I was glad it was all, for from his manner I had expected him to
continue to the effect that the glass-workers had been led away by paid
agitators and had no good reason to strike. The automobiles began to
come along, at intervals, at a tremendous pace, each with a policeman by
the chauffeur’s side. In one was a single artisan, middle-aged, with a
cigar in the corner of his mouth, and a certain adventurous look in his
eye. The crowd grimly regarded. The police tried to seem as if they were
there by accident, but obviously they lacked histrionic training.
In short, the scene was one of the common objects of the wayside
of existence all over the civilized world. It presented no novelty
whatever, and yet to witness it in Holland was piquant, and caused one
to think afresh and perhaps more clearly.

At night, when it had ceased to rain. I was escorting a friend to the
station. Musicians were climbing up into the bandstand in the same
square. It was Wednesday, the evening of the weekly municipal concert.
The railway-station, far out, was superbly gloomy, and it was the only
station in Holland where I failed to get a non-Dutch newspaper. The
train, with the arrogance of an international express, slid in, slid
out, and forgot Schiedam. I emerged from the station alone. A one-horse
tram was waiting.

The tram, empty, with a sinking, but everlasting, white horse under a
yellow cloth, was without doubt the most provincial and melancholy thing
that destiny has yet brought me in contact with. The simple spectacle
of it, in the flickering gaslights and in the light of its own lamps,
filled the heart, with an anguish inexplicable and beautiful. I got in.
An age passed. Then an old workman got in, and saluted; I saluted. Save
for the saluting, it was the Five Towns of the eighties over again,
intensified, and the last tram out of Hanbridge before the theater-tram.

An age passed. Then a mysterious figure drew the cloth off the horse,
and the horse braced up all its four legs. We were starting when
a tight-folded umbrella waved in the outer obscurity. An elderly,
easy-circumstanced couple arrived upon us with deliberation; the
umbrella was a good one.

We did start. We rumbled and trundled in long curves of suburban
desolation. Then a few miserable shops that ought to have been shut;
then the square once more, now jammed in every part with a roaring,
barbaric horde. In the distance, over a floor of heads, was an island of
illumination, with the figures of puffing and blowing musicians in it;
but no rumor of music could reach us through the din. The white horse
trotted mildly into and right through the multitude, which jeered
angrily, but fell back. An enormous multitude, Gothic, Visi-gothic,
savage, uncivilized, chiefly consisting of young men and big boys–the
weekly concert of humanizing music!

[Illustration: 0057]

I left the tram, and walked along the dark, empty canal-side to
the yacht. The impression of stagnation, tedium, provincialism was
overwhelming. Nevertheless, here, as in other towns, we were struck by
the number of shop-windows with artist’s materials for sale. Such was
Schiedam. If it is asked whether I went to Holland on a yachting cruise
to see this sort of thing, the answer is that I just did.

After a few weeks I began to perceive that Schiedam and similar places,
though thrilling, were not the whole of Holland, and perhaps not the
most representative of Holland. As the yacht worked northward, Holland
seemed to grow more Dutch, until, in the chain of shallow lakes and
channels that hold Friesland in a sort of permanent baptism, we came
to what was for me the ideal or celestial Holland–everything done by
water, even grass cut under water, and black-and-white cows milked
in the midst of ponds, and windmills over the eternal flatness used
exclusively to shift inconvenient water from one level to another. The
road is water in Friesland, and all the world is on the road. If your
approach to a town is made perilous by a succession of barges that
will obstinately keep the middle of the channel, you know that it is
market-day in that town, and the farmers are rolling home in agreeable
inebriation.

The motor broke down in Friesland, and we were immobolized in the midst
of blue-green fields, red dogs, the cows aforesaid, green milk-floats,
blue-bloused sportsmen, and cargoes of cannon-ball cheese. We decided to
tow the yacht until we got to a favorable reach. Certain barges sailed
past us right into the eye of the wind, against all physical laws,
but the _Velsa_ possessed not this magic. We saw three men comfortably
towing a string of three huge barges, and we would tow. Unfortunately
the only person, the skipper, who knew how to tow had to remain on
board. The cook, the deck-hand, and I towed like Greeks pulling against
Greeks, and could scarcely move one little yacht. The cook, neurasthenic
by temperament, grew sad, until he fell into three feet of inundation,
which adventure struck him as profoundly humorous, so that he was
contorted with laughter. This did not advance the yacht. Slowly we
learned that towing is not mere brute striving, but an art.

We at last came to terms with a tug, as our desire was to sleep at
Sneek. Sneek is the veritable metropolis of those regions. After
passing, at late dusk, the mysterious night-watchers of eel-nets, who
are wakened in their elaborate green-and-yellow boats by a bell, like
a Paris concierge, we gradually emerged into nocturnal Sneek through
a quadruple lane of barges and tugs so long as to put Sneek among the
seven great ports of the world. And even in Sneek at nightfall the
impression of immense quantities of water and of greenness, yellowness,
and redness was continued. It rained, as usual, in Sneek the next day,
but no rain and no water could damp Sneek. It was the most active
town any of us had ever seen. It must have been the original “hive of
industry.” It was full, and full of everything. The market was full of
cattle, pigs, and sheep, crowded in pens and in carts; calves, prone,
with all four legs tied together, filled acres of pavement. The cafés
were full of dealers and drovers, mostly rather jolly, being served by
slatternly, pleasant women. The streets were full of good shops, and
of boys and girls following us and touching us to see if we existed.
(Dreadful little boors!) The barges were full of cauliflowers, cabbages,
apples, potatoes, sabots, cheeses, and barrels. The canals were full of
barges and steamers.

And immediately one sat down to sketch a group of craft one learned that
nothing was stationary. Everything moved that floated–everything on
the surface of miles of canal! Everybody, without haste, but without
stopping ever, was tirelessly engaged in shifting matter from one spot
to another. At intervals a small steamer, twenty, thirty, fifty,
eighty tons, would set off for a neighboring village with a few
passengers,–including nice girls,–a few cattle, and high piles of
miscellaneous packages; or would come in from a neighboring village. The
kaleidoscope was everlasting; but it did not fatigue, because it never
hurried. Only it made us ashamed of our idleness. Gently occupied old
country-women, with head-dresses of lace-work and a gold casque, the
whole ridiculously surmounted by a black bonnet for fashion’s sake–even
these old women made us ashamed of our untransporting idleness.

[Illustration: 0063]

Having got our engine more or less repaired, we departed from Sneek, a
spot that beyond most spots abounds in its own individuality. Sneek is
memorable. Impossible to credit that it has fewer than thirteen thousand
inhabitants!

As, at breakfast, we dropped down the canal on the way to Leeuwarden,
a new guest on board, whose foible is the search for the ideal, and who
had been declaiming against the unattractiveness of the women of Munich,
spoke thus:

“Is this Dutch bread? I think I should like to become a Dutchman, and
live at Sneek, and marry a Dutch girl. They have such nice blue eyes,
and they ‘re so calm.”

I remarked that I should have thought that his recent experiences in
Munich would have frightened him right off the entire sex. He said:

“Well, they ‘re all beautiful in Vienna, and that worries you just as
much in another way. Sneek is the mean.”

Continue Reading