Wooden Shoe Makers, Cheese Makers and Windmills, Oh My!

Wooden Shoe Makers, Cheese Makers and Windmills, Oh My!We were told that we could only get breakfast at the restaurant from 10:00 to noon, but we had a tour booked for 10:00 this morning. We arrived at the restaurant at 8:00 just as they were opening and they graciously said we could have breakfast then without a problem. Our tour included four stops and a good deal of history about the country. The guide repeated everything in Dutch, English, French, and Spanish. She explained how what was the country was flooded with water since it is under sea level. Around 1400, monks built a ring shaped dykes on the sandy banks to hold back the water and prevent further flooding. As a dyke was built, the sea left deposits of more sand and clay against the outside walls. When they were big enough, more walls were built around them extending the land out farther and farther. Using this technique, islands became part of the mainland and the boundaries of the country could be expanded. If it were not for the dykes, the most of the country would be under water. Because of the reclaiming of the land, the soil is very fertile. Their major crops are sugar beets, potatoes, and grains. Much of it is used for pastoral land for cows and sheep. Trees are planted to use the trees roots to anchor the land and avoid erosion. A lot of reclaimed land is also from draining lakes, called polders. Holland had a tremendous number of lakes. As of today, 450 lakes were drained dry to reclaim the land. Once this area is drained, the rainwater and the water that seeps up through the ground needs to be drained. If this were not done, a polder would return to being a lake within two months. Sluices were built to drain the water at low tide, windmills were used at one time to pump the water into canals, but now modern pumps are used.The first stop was at a wooden shoemaker’s factory. Wooden shoes are the traditional footwear of the Dutch people. Although you would not think it is still a popular custom if you are in a major city, the wooden shoemakers still produce 3.7 million pairs of shoes. At one time the rich people were the only ones who could afford them. Wooden shoes or clogs are still worn mainly by fishermen and farmers. At one time, you could tell what part of the country someone came from by their shoes. They keep the feet warmer in the cold, cooler in the heat, and dry all year round especially in muddy fields. Poplar and willow are the woods of choice for wooden shoes and when the wood is still wet is the best time to cut them. Now machines produce most of the shoes, but there are exceptions. In the town of Marken, young men make a pair of shoes for his finance as a wedding present. The shoes have very intricately carved designs on the tops and sometimes sides. Popular designs include birds to symbolize fertility, the bride’s name and the date of the wedding. The village of Hindeloopen had a custom of colorfully painting their handmade shoes.When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher Ms. Brooks had visited Holland during her years of travel. In the classroom she displayed a pair of wooden shoes that she had brought back with her. They were just plain wooden shoes, nothing special, but it stimulated an interest in Holland for me and I have been fascinated with it ever since. At the end of the school year, I was helping Ms. Brooks clean closets and at the end of the day she gave me those shoes. They were my prized possessions and I still have them today. That day will forever be engraved in my memory and so will Ms. Brooks.Next to the shoemaker’s are some of Holland’s remaining windmills. Some date back to 1672. At one time, Holland had 10,000 windmills and they were used for everything from pumping water, to pressing oil out of seeds, and all kinds of manufacturing. When electricity was discovered and technology to harness it, the need for the wind power has made them obsolete. There are only 1,000 windmills left and the government protects all of them.Stop two was the cheese maker. This is where the cheese is still made by hand. Although seventy-five percent of Holland’s cheese is exported, all of that cheese is machine made. All hand made cheese stays within the country except what tourists drag home from these tours. Holland has fifteen million cows and only eight million people. Even after seeing the cheese factories in California and other places, this is still a fascinating visit, but this is my fourth time on this very tour, so I may be applying for a job as soon as I learn Dutch, French, and Italian. It is not that I love this tour so much, but it is a good general tour. The first time I was alone and each successive time was with three different people who I felt would really enjoy it and so far I have not been disappointed.Our third stop was the harbor and old fishing town of Volendam. When the Zuiderzee was closed off from the North Sea in 1932, it cut off most of the fish, so now eel is the main fish. As we walked to the water, Ron was not too impressed. The main street along the water is full of shops catering to tourists. Since this was a short stop, we did not have time to do much here, but we managed to wander through a little bit of the neighborhood, where the homes are traditional little wood houses. Ron lightened a little at this point and started videoing the homes. Many of the women in this little village still wear the old traditional costumes. It consists of a multicolored collar, a striped apron, and a black dress underneath. On weekdays, the women wear a black cap, but on Sundays they change to white. This is a Protestant community. We did not see anyone in their costumes since we did not go into any of the shops, just not enough time.Finally, we passed Monkendam on our way to Marken. Monkendam is a little community that was dammed by monks, hence the name. It has a lovely church that is now Protestant. Marken is another community of fisherman. They live in very tiny homes that all are traditionally painted green with white stripe molding as a decoration. This is a very strict community of Protestants that also wear costumes of a traditional nature. When I was here in 1983, one woman offered a tour of her house as a way of making extra money. At that time, I went through it. To the left of the front door, is a room at is about five feet by ten feet. It is filled with furniture that is covered with photos of her family. She raised six children in this home that did not have indoor plumbing. The main room is fifteen feet by twenty feet. This is the living room, the dining room, the recreation room and whatnot. Cut out of one wall is a rectangular area, which is about six feet in length and about four feet high. It has a mattress in it. This was the ‘bedroom’ for all six kids. They all slept in this area together. The parents had a small bedroom upstairs, but that was the only room up there. Off of the living room, is the kitchen. There would be no way for me and another person to stand in the kitchen at the same time; it was that small. There are no closets in the home. It is something to do with the religion, but all clothes are kept in boxes that are decorated in pretty wrapping paper. They have special costumes that they wear on Sundays.I had not seen this woman or her home since my first visit, so I asked the tour guide why? She said the lady died about ten years ago and her nephew owns the home now and keeps it exactly like it was. He only opens it during high tourist season. It was disappointing to know that the woman died. She is on every tourist book cover and many postcards of Amsterdam and the area. As I walked to where her house was, the door was open and a sign welcoming visitors was set outside. I ventured in and it was exactly like I had remembered it. An older gentleman welcomed me in so I asked if he were the nephew. He was and I told him that I had fond memories of his aunt from many years ago. I really had wanted Ron to see this house coming from a family of seven children to see how this family had to manage. Unfortunately, he had wandered off when I stopped to speak to the tour guide and the next time I could find him was when we were due back to the bus. In front of us on the bus was a couple that I am surmising were British based on their accents and manner of dress. It is funny what age does to a man’s hormones. After a certain age, we start growing hair aberrantly. If men were supposed to have hairy ears and eyebrows that reach our hairline, why does nature wait so long to wake up and start the process? But it does, it waits until many men have long since cared about their having a facetious appearance and few don’t do anything about this unusual situation. That was the case with the man sitting in front of us. There is something about ear hair that is long enough to make Rapunzel jealous that captures my immediate fascination while at the same time, I wanted to take a curling iron to it and at least style it in some creative way. It must be the former hairdresser in me that is excavated to the surface once again. It was the same with the eyebrows. His were bushy enough to pluck and make paint brushes with. He had enough hair in his eyebrows that he will never need to worry about getting hair transplants from a stranger. There was enough to harvest for more than one season. What I am really curious about is what his wife thinks about all of the superfluous fur. Did she realize that when she said, “I do” that the man she was promising a life with would metamorphosis to this? I wonder how many times she has wanted to attack him with scissors in his sleep. Excuse me a minute, I have to check and see if my ears need plucking.When we returned to Amsterdam, we went to see the St. Nicholas Church, which is across from the Central Station. It had just reopened again after years of renovation. I don’t ever remember it being open on previous visits. It was not a lavish church, but somewhat interesting. The organ pipes were huge and that was impressive. Monks staff it and they hold vespers and Gregorian chants there beside masses.Wandering from the religious to the more seedy part of life, we walked to the famous Red Light District. This area consists of three canals of prostitutes, sex shops, and live sex shows. Prostitution is legal and regulated in Holland. The prostitutes have a trade union, pay taxes and have all of the benefits as any other worker in the country including healthcare, Social Security, paid vacations, and holidays. When we came across the first of these little storefronts windows with red velour drapes in the background and a stool in the forefront, I asked Ron if he knew what these were? He responded with “Little reception areas?” I laughed then went on to say they are reception areas alright. This is where the prostitutes sit to negotiate their services and then they have a bed behind that curtain for when a deal is reached. As we continued walking, we saw quite a few sitting in their spaces, making suggestive signals to us. When I was here with my friend Kim, she protested to a man that was hawking one of the live sex shows that there were no men behind those glass showcases and wanted to know why. He jokingly replied that if she could find him a man that could do an eight hour shift, he would hire him.