Thursday, July 17, 2014

Zaanse Schans

The Letter Z.

My husband, Gem, immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands with his family when he was nine years old. A couple years ago we had a wonderful three week holiday there. We brought our granddaughter, A, who was nine years old at the time, with us. One day we took a day tour to the countryside to an area known as Zaanse Schans which is a fully inhabited, open-air conservation area located just a few miles north of Amsterdam. Zaanse Schans was named in 1574 when a Dutch Governor by the name Diederik Sonoy built it to prevent the Spanish troops from invasion. ‘Schans’ actually means Fortress. It is located in Zaandam, near Zaandijk in the municipality of Zaanstad in the province of North Holland.

At Zaanse Schans you get a vivid impression of the Dutch way of life in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are authentic houses, a historic shipyard, a cheese and dairy farm, an old fashioned grocery store, and above all, many windmills.

                          My granddaughter and I by one of the many windmills.

It is a place often referred to as an open-air museum because of its extraordinarily well preserved architecture and traditions.

We wandered around drinking in the beauty and peace of Zaanse Schans for several hours.

A litle girl hidden by grasses almost as tall as she is. A loved the freedom. The melody of the wind making constant rush-rushing sounds as it blew through the waving grass was lovely.

The grasses don't hide Papa quite so well.

It was very interesting to see the group of people dressed-up in traditional Dutch clothing. Gem remarked that they were dressed just as his own grandparents and great-grandparents would have been. He explained this to A and she thought they looked cool, and expressed her desire to own a pair of wooden shoes.

The black and white Friesland cows were charming. They must lead an idyllic life for a cow, free to roam the countryside with an abundance of fresh, green grass. No wonder they produce such delicious cheese and creamy milk.

A was very excited to see a swan for the first time. We watched his graceful swimming and preening for a long time.

We will always remember the sound of the rushing grasses and the abiding peace of Zaanse Schans.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Strange Fruit

To you dark blackberry succulent dreamer,
I bring you my strawberries of romance,

My blueberry stained fingers,

My bitter lemons of transcendence,

My red cheeked apples of exultation,
My purple laden vines of the night,
My crushed raspberry hopes

My pungent lime ecstasies.
My consummate deliciousness

And juicy tender lips.
Strangely desirous to know
The earth is a good earth.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Matched Set

The above photograph taken in May, 1958 outside our Wandsworth, London house, is of my mother, me, and my new baby sister, Connie. I was sixteen months old and wearing a new red and white organza dress sent to me by my Canadian grandmother. Note the tiny white gloves. Apparently by that age I was already quite capable of putting them on myself, although it took me a long time to accomplish the task. As we only lived in London for the first two years of my life, I have no memory of that house or its environment. My mother tells stories of how I loved to feed the ducks at Wandsworth Common, and would try and make sure each received its fair share, admonishing certain bolder ones "not to be greedy." The dress in that picture was to be the last I had individually for a very long time.

The second picture was taken about a year later, of Connie and I at the ages of two and half and one. The dresses were red with white lace trim and we wore red leather shoes to match. This was the beginning of a trend that would see us dressed identically all through childhood until we were about eleven and ten, when a rebellion of sorts took place.

I am the oldest of six girls and my mother generally dressed us in matched sets; Connie and I, and then the next three sisters (Amanda, Suzanne and Alice) born five, six and eight years after me. My youngest sister, Hannah, arrived much later, when the rest of us ranged between fifteen and seven, and thus she was spared the years of identikit clothing. On special celebrations, such as Christmas and Easter, we girls were often dressed five-of-a-kind. I especially loathed these occasions. Reminiscing once with my sister Alice about this, she told me, "You think you had it bad! What about me? I had all the other dresses to grow into! I wore that green velvet Christmas dress for about ten years!" I hadn’t considered it from that point of view before, and she certainly deserves sympathy.

The matched sets of clothing didn’t stop at just the dresses. It applied to coats, shoes, cardigans, and even nightgowns. We were allowed more freedom with our play clothes, but for every other activity, we left the house starched and ironed and clad alike.

The sixties were in full swing and I yearned for the psychedelic patterns and bright colours that my friends wore.

Perhaps what I yearned for the most, though, was a pair of shiny, white Gogo boots. I envied my friend Linda, proud possessor of a pair. However, my mother thought Gogo boots were ’unseemly’ or ’crude’. In fact, she once referred to them as “prostitute boots’, a term my sister Connie and I didn’t understand, even after we had looked it up in the dictionary.

My mother was decidedly old-fashioned. We girls wore smocked dresses with sashes, or pleated skirts with frilly blouses. Our footwear was leather or patent-leather buckle shoes. I didn’t own a single pair of trousers until I was thirteen. For my twelfth birthday I asked for something I had never had before … an outfit of my own choosing, modern, and exclusive to myself. My mother granted that wish. She took me to London for a shopping trip, and I have never forgotten the joy of that special day. I can close my eyes and still see the dress I chose … navy, yellow and white swirled in a psychedelic pattern with trumpet sleeves and a belt around the middle. It came with a little triangular matching head-scarf of the same fabric.

I wish I had a photo of me wearing that dress. It was styled something like this, but not as short and with a higher neckline.
Alas, I was never able to convince my mother about those Gogo boots!

Oh, the thrill I felt when wearing that dress; the first awakening consciousness of the power of my femininity. Many years later when watching my own daughter make her first foray into a style of clothing not chosen by me, I became fully aware of the bittersweet act of letting a child go. I knew then what my mother felt that day as I preened before her in the kitchen. It is a peculiar ache, the mingled emotions of love and regret. Yet, together they create a whole and balanced beauty. A matched set, as it were.

(This is a Sepia Saturday post.)