29 December 2010


This far-stretching flat landscape of Holland is something beautiful to see, flying over the dikes and polders, standing atop the sand dunes at the sea's edge, or riding across the country in a fast train. One can see the farms and distant cities getting smaller and smaller on a horizon that seems to never end. The wind and the water of this flat land have powered windmills and watermills for grinding grains and spices, sawing timber, and draining water for centuries, and although the number of mills has dwindled from about 9,000 to 1,000, these post-mills, ground-sailers, and octagonal top-wheelers still punctuate this famous flatness with centuries-old Dutch charm.

The paintings of Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Ruisdael immortalized these old mills in their time. Being in the presence of these bits of history as I commute every day, I can't help but sketch the moments when the ochreous Dutch sunlight brilliantly illuminates a mill against dark storm clouds in the distance, or when I see bits of old windmill history in one of Holland's many museums. It makes me nostalgic already, the knowledge that once I leave Holland, these tiny ink and graphite drawings of mine will be all I'll keep of the immense emotional impressions these old mills make, standing and creaking just before me.

A Dutch film maker named Menno Mennes has produced a set of Holland Heritage videos that I absolutely love. Here's a short film by Mennes, "Levende Molens van Holland," or "Living Mills of Holland."

12 December 2010


Snug in our little brick house on a cold Saturday in November, Yves and I yawned into a quiet day with an espresso and lots of blankets. It wasn't long before I heard some sort of clamoring on the canal outside, and when I drew back the curtain, I was unexpectedly filled with all the exhilaration and excitement of a 5-year-old girl. Amidst the shrieks and tears of the little child inside me, I flung open the door and ran to the canal edge. The drawbridge was raised, and through it came a royal procession of majestic boats. Perched aboard the glorious lead ship was Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten. They waved as they passed me and my little house, and crowds of fanatic children ran waving and screaming after them at the canal's edge. Having awakened that little 5-year-old Laurie with my heart beating fast and my eyes open wide, I couldn't bear to wait for Yves or even tell him I was going, and I ran along with the other Dutch children to Leiden's main square.

The children were dressed in royal velvet costumes of gold, violet, and ruby. Some cheered and screamed in a frenzy, and some stared silently in astonishment at the goings-on. All the people in the city must have been there, including Yves who finally found me in the crowd. Acrobats catapulted through the air, dozens of helpers dressed as Zwarte Pieten with bright velvet costumes threw pepernoten (gingerbread biscuits) from boats, and Sinterklaas rode his white horse through the crowd to the stadhuis (city hall), with a parade of such gaiety and musical celebration following him that the holiday season's inspiration spread for miles around.

Sinterklaas is celebrated in The Netherlands from his November arrival by steamboat from Spain until Saint Nicholas' Eve on the 5th of December. During this time, children put out their shoes each day with offerings of carrots and hay for Sinterklaas' white horse. If they're well-behaved, they might find their shoes filled with candy and little gifts in the morning. Sinterklaas songs are sung and speculaas, marzipan figures, and alphabet-shaped chocolates and pastries are enjoyed by everyone. I will miss Christmas back home in Wisconsin, but oh, how I do love Holland!