Chapter XIII. Around Amsterdam: North
To Marken - An opera-bouffe island - Cultivated and
profitable simplicity - Broek-in-Waterland - Cow-damp - The two
doors - Gingerbread and love - Dead cities - Monnickendam - The
overturned camera - Dutch phlegm - Brabant the
quarrelsome - Edam - Holland's great churches - Edam's
roll of honour - A beard of note - A Dutch Daniel
Lambert - A virgin colossus - A ship-owner indeed - The
mermaid - Volendam - Taciturnity and tobacco - Purmerend - The
land of windmills - Zaandam - Green paint at its highest power - A
riverside inn - Peter the Great.
An excursion which every one will say is indispensable takes one to Marken (pronounced Marriker); but I have my doubts. The island may be reached from Amsterdam either by boat, going by way of canal and returning by sea, or one may take the steam-tram to Monnickendam or Edam, and then fall into the hands of a Marken mariner. To escape his invitations to sail thither is a piece of good fortune that few visitors succeed in achieving.
Marken in winter wears perhaps a genuine air; in the season of tourists it has too much the suggestion of opera bouffe. The men's costume is comic beyond reason; the inhabitants are picturesque of set design; the old women at their doorways are too consciously the owners of quaint habitations, glimpses of which catch the eye by well-studied accident. I must confess to being glad to leave: for either one was intruding upon a simple folk entirely surrounded by water; or the simple folk, knowing human nature, had made itself up and sent out its importunate young from strictly mercenary motives. In either case Marken is no place for a sensitive traveller. The theory that the Marken people are savages is certainly a wrong one; they have carried certain of the privileges of civilisation very far and can take care of themselves with unusual cleverness. Moreover, no savage would cover his legs with such garments as the men adhere to.
What is wrong with Marken is that for the most part it subsists on sight-seers, which is bad; and it too generally suggests that a stage-manager, employed by a huge Trust, is somewhere in the background. It cannot be well with a community that encourages its children to beg of visitors.
The women, however, look sensible: fine upstanding creatures with a long curl of yellow hair on each side of their faces. One meets them now and then in Amsterdam streets, by no means dismayed by the traffic and bustle. Their head-dresses are striking and gay, and the front of their bodices is elaborately embroidered, the prevailing colours being red and pink. Bright hues are also very popular within doors on this island, perhaps by way of counteracting the external monotony, the Marken walls being washed with yellow and hung with Delft plates, while the furniture and hangings all have a cheerful gaiety.
The island is flat save for the mounds on which its villages are built, each house standing on poles to allow the frequent inundations of the winter free way. If one has the time and money it is certainly better to visit Marken in a fishing-boat than in the steamer - provided that one can trust oneself to navigators masquerading in such bloomers.
The steamers from Amsterdam pause for a while at Broek and Monnickendam. Broek-in-Waterland, to give it its full title, is one of the quaintest of Dutch villages. But unfortunately Broek also has become to some extent a professional "sight". Its cleanliness, however, for which it is famous, is not an artificial effect attained to impress visitors, but a genuine enough characteristic. The houses are gained by little bridges which, with various other idiosyncrasies, help to make Broek a delight to children. If a company of children were to be allowed to manage a small republic entirely alone, the whimsical millionaire who fathered the project might do worse than buy up this village for the experiment.
In the model dairy farm of Broek, through which visitors file during the time allowed by the steam-boat's captain, things happen as they should: the cows' tails are tied to the roof, and all is spick and span. The author of Through Noord-Holland tells us that among the dairy's illustrious visitors was an Italian duchess from Livorno who ordered cheese for herself, for the Princess Borghese and for the Duke of Ceri. Everything in the farm, he adds, "is glimmering and glittering".