Category Archives: Amsterdam
IJburg is a brand new neighborhood constructed on artificial islands in the IJ Lake. There are 6 islands. I went there today to investigate a neighborhood of floating houses. There were about 70 or so floating houses. Half of them were individually designed, quite modern, and chic. The rest were clearly all made in a series by the same designer in a project by one developer. Many houses had large floor to ceiling windows to take full advantage of the nautical ambiance.
You know that feeling you get when you look at gorillas through the glass at the zoo and feel sorry for them? I felt very intrusive walking around the docks of these houses and peering inside. I just snapped off a couple pictures very quickly then moved on out. It felt a little bit to me like I was looking at some of zoo animal–houseboat-dwelling-human. This neighborhood has gotten a lot of media attention since these houses were towed into their permanent moorings. I got the sense these aqua-humans were fed up with the curious visitor after being on the receiving end of their a few chilling glares.
I spent the rest of the day soaking up Amsterdam.
Tomorrow, I have a plane ticket to Stockholm. My mission is to get to Rome before my flight to Argentina takes off on the 28th of October. I’m planning to stop by some other cities that face huge problems with water that will only be exacerbated as seas rise–Copenhagen, Hamburg, and Venice all have some very interesting projects related to what I’m investigating. But, I wouldn’t be opposed to being swept off my feet by a Swedish girl and just row her all around Scandinavia like a viking. I’ll let you know what happens.
I’ve spent 66 days in the Netherlands. 1/6th of the year! (What?!–I feel like I’ve been here a long time, but as soon as I leave I’m sure it will feel very short. Time is a funny thing, eh?)
I need to give a special thanks to Berend, Marco, and these hooligans for putting me up with places to live, pretending to be my friends (as hard as it might have been), and making me more than at home during my time here. It’s been wonderful.
With the 1st XV Rotterdam Student Rugby Club.
Before I left, RSRC gave me a club tie as a departure gift. I left them with my USA bandana. I drew the Bowdoin Rugby crest on it and signed it. They put it on the club bear and put the bear up on their memorabilia shelf.
Dirk and Vasco with the BRFC ‘murica bear.
Tracy Metz, Amsterdam Framer, and Koen Olthuis
Here’s an excerpt of the match report Archie, my roommate from Glasgow wrote. I didn’t play because of the egg sized mound I grew on my forehead after getting knee’d in the head last weekend. I’m traveling quite a lot in October and I want to keep the limited mental capabilities I have working in ship shape. But still I got a shout-out!
The game started brightly for the Rotterdammers, within 5 minutes putting pressure on the men from Utrecht. The ball was snapped out inside the 22 from captain Mikey ‘12:30 SHARP’ Hornby to stand-off ‘Uncle’ Archie Pollock, pop-passing to new boy Sander Korel, who bashed his way through 3 defenders to crash down for 5 points. It was the first showing of a strong game from the young upstart Korel, who was to finish as joint man of the match. More points soon followed, as Dirk ‘here comes the hot stepper’ de Raaff ghosted by the Panther defense, breaking his side stepping virginity past one player in a particularly strong solo run. The step was so powerful however, that it damaged his tendons, and de Raaff will now be sidelined for several months, along with other notable injuries Pieter ‘we score more points, we win de game’ Joosse, Frank ‘crabhand’ Nijenhuis, ‘Bram the tram’ van den Pasch, and ‘so good they named him thrice’ Samuel David Bruce, who expertly donned the club bear mascot outfit and added at least 10 points to the score line.
On friday I took the train up to Amsterdam to meet Tracy Metz, a journalist who recently published a book called ‘Sweet and Salt: Water and the Dutch.’ The book is a beautiful artifact. It explains how the Netherlands’ manages its complex and dynamic relationship with water and points out what the rest of the world can learn from the Dutch. Alongside co-author Maartje van den Heuvel, Metz’s writing and use of photography, art-historical analysis, and architectural design shows how the Netherlands’ battle with both sweet (fresh) and salt water has evolved over the centuries.
Her book has put her into the global spotlight. She’s the spokesperson at water management conferences, a lecturer all over universities in the U.S., and a go-to for journalists and writers investigating these issues. Although she described herself as “no expert,” she certainly is.
Here is one of my drawings featured on Metz’s twitter:
Ms. Metz told me that she is shell-shocked about the success she’s had on her book. She hears her name called all over the place, but automatically thinks ‘who? me?’ We talked for an hour about the research I’ve done so far. She seemed to enjoy flipping through my sketchbook. Her lunch date at the end of my hour with her was with the Consul General of the United States in Amsterdam, Randy Berry. From the State Department: Mr. Berry’s career with the State Department has also taken him to postings in Bangladesh, Egypt, Uganda (twice), and South Africa, as well as Washington DC. Mr. Berry holds a State Department Superior Honor Award, and is a nine-time Meritorious Honor Award recipient. He speaks Spanish and Arabic. It was very cool to get to shake his hand and tell him about my Watson project. He told me he could connect me with some people in places I’m heading out to later on in the year.
Later on that Friday afternoon, I stumbled by a print shop. Reproductions of old maps of Amsterdam caught my eye. I went inside and started chatting with the shop owner, an Amsterdammer who has lived in the city his whole life. I never caught his name, but he started telling me some pretty interesting things–his hypotheses about why the Dutch are the way they are. Growing up, his Dad was a collector, so thats how he starting getting into collecting maps, prints, etchings, and other artworks that he now sells in his tiny little underground shop. He sells original works and reproductions. The shop owner seemed to be very knowledgable about Dutch history–probably because he knows a lot about the background behind the images he sells. These three things from our conversation stuck out–
1. Because of the North Sea fishery there was always a great abundance of fatty, fresh herring. The Dutch never had to worry about feeding themselves and could focus on other issues, like patching up and draining their deltaic landscape, building ships, making trading routes, and inventing technology. The fish set Dutch up on a platform for success.
2. Because of the nature of the delta landscape, survival required co-operation. The Dutch needed to work together, look each other in the eye, make compromises, quell their individual egos and work together to create a landscape that was habitable. They needed to use their collective talents. This essentially explains how the water boards began. Dikes were built by the farmers who would directly benefit from them. But as the systems for water management became more complex, they needed an overseeing body to govern. Nothing could be accomplished alone.
3. Because of the work required on the land, the Dutch were naturally tall and built…during the Roman ages, Cesar’s royal guards were often from the Netherlands because of their beastly stature.
It was a fun experience, getting some Dutch cultural history from a guy in a printshop.
Today I traveled to a suburb in between the Hague and Delft to meet an architect, Koen Olthius who exclusively builds on water. In 2007 he was #121 on Time’s list of the world’s most influential people. He was such a friendly, outgoing guy and instantly made me feel as though he was as interested to talk to me as I was to talk to him. Besides all the fascinating things he taught me about his work and how it has developed over time, I saw first hand how important it is to treat people you’re with with interest and kindness. My hour with Koen Olthius reminded me of this article here, where the author talks about his encounter with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). In short, the author meets Hugh Jackman on the street and has a great first impression. Here’s the short of it:
In three minutes, Hugh Jackman turned me into a fan for life–but he didn’t sell me. He didn’t glad-hand me. He just gave me his full attention. He just acted as if, for those three minutes, I was the most important person in the world–even though he didn’t know me and has certainly forgotten me.
Just like a CEO, as an entertainer he is his “company,” and even though I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, I now see his “products” in a different, more positive light.
That feeling totally occurred after my meeting with Mr. Olthius. When I got there, one of his colleagues gave me a free copy of his book, ‘Float!’ We sat down and talked, the whole time he explained things, he’d diagram what he was saying on architecture tracing paper so I have this long 8 foot string of tracing paper with a visual transcription of our conversation. It’s very cool.
I’ll say more about our conversation in the next post. But this is a fantastic overview of his vision. Great for anybody interested in urban issues and/or architecture!
His main point is to make cities more dynamic by opening up space up inside the city by building on a floating foundation. In doing so, he can combat a number of problems that arise from urban growth and climate change.
It was an absolute treat to talk to him!
Tomorrow, I’m back up to Amsterdam to meet a professor at the University of Amsterdam. Prof. Dr. Jeroen Aerts works at the Institute for Environmental Studies. He is a professor in the area of risk management, climate change, and water resources management.
I have a painting in the works of Tracy Metz, but I unfortunately ran out of paint and don’t think it’s worth it to spend money on more because I don’t to lug it around as I travel around Europe in October.
Wall of Fame
I have moved back to Rotterdam. I’m spending a month in the apartment with the rugby team. I feel like I’ve fulfilled a mini-Watson objective, settling down in a place for a month with people who I didn’t know when I left home for a price more reasonable than anything you can get through a commercial enterprise. Plus, it’s a cozy nook and who doesn’t like to have a rugby ball to cuddle with at night? The younger guys on the team call this place the ‘retirement home’ because the residents range from 25-29 (25-62, most players joke). Every elderly person needs a resident nurse though…I think I’m prepared for that role.
Coming back to Rotterdam sort of felt like coming home. It’s become familiar. I know the layout and neighborhoods of the city and I have friends here. It would have been cool to try to establish something similar in Amsterdam, but I have the whole year to learn new places. Why get rid of something good once you’ve found it?
This morning I had my second visit to the Rijksmuseum to take a closer look at the Dutch master’s paintings in the Gallery of Honor. The first time I went to the museum I wasted all of my energy enthralled in the model ships, medieval weapons, and ornate furniture that I was too tired to take a look at the paintings. I was honestly pretty flabbergasted by some of the detail work in Vermeer’s Milkmaid painting. I wasn’t impressed, or even interested, by his representation of the figure, but his craft depicting the bread, basket, tapestry, and tablecloth is just sensational. He painted the still life on the table with a photographic realism. It was painted in 1658. How can something sustain its clarity for that long!?! I mean..preservationists and art historians but you have to give credit to the man’s skill.
The most special part of the Rijksmuseum is seeing 800 years of artifacts organized and time-lined. It’s pretty incredible to be able to see the transitions and tangents the craft of painting went through after the 17th century. And it’s awesome to see early traces of expressionism and very abstract brushwork in work from the 1600s!
I’m proud to announce my biggest accomplishment of the week: posting on the Heineken Beer Factory wall of fame for this performance.
It was open monument day in Amsterdam yesterday so I joined up with two Bowdoin Juniors, Sierra and Melody, to see some of the canal houses, churches, and the Heineken beer factory.
Also I explored ‘golden age’ canal houses and the Oude Kerk, the oldest church in the Amsterdam:
It’s quite a trip to think that the Netherlands was once one of the richest countries in the world with a global influence through its maritime trade. Amsterdam was a center for wealth. Walking along the canals you can see clear evidence of this in the elegant townhouses dated from the early 18th century.
Saw Portugal. The Man last night. Rock on! They were good, not mind-blowing. But…the lead singer wore a thigh-length raincoat with the hood up for the whole concert. I dig.
One rainy afternoon, I passed the Anne Frank House, where the young diarist lived in hiding during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. I noticed that the rain had washed the line away. The queue, which usually wraps around the entire block was shortened to just a few people. It was getting dark and I was surprised it was still open, but took the opportunity to take the tour. Now a UNESCO heritage site, the museum Anne Frank House guides you through the hidden annex to see preserved artifacts. A lot remains unchanged. To get up the stairs to the annex, you have to slither through a crack behind a bookshelf and up a steep staircase. A few of Anne Frank’s quotes are elegantly painted in different places around the rooms.
There were only a few people around me as I tiptoed through the house in Anne Frank’s footsteps. It was a very ghostly, ominous, and incredibly sad experience. The whole tour had my emotions stirring and tears finally came after I saw video footage of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, describing reading the diary for the first time after he knew his daughter would not be return home from the concentration camps.
Here are two postcards I picked up. On the left is Otto Frank revisiting the annex after the war. On the right, the girl who dreamed of becoming a famous journalist.
Amsterdam is a really beautiful city. The whole place is so dynamic. Sometimes adjectives sound so cliché. I’ll describe with nouns: Bikes bikes bikes. Music. Trams. Bikes. Beer. Trees. Bridges. Potted plants. Tourists. Museums. Bikes. Pot. Bikes. Red lights. Water. Houseboats. Fearless pigeons. Pigeon runover by bike. Pot. Beer. Bridges. Rain. Bikes. Rain. Bikes. Rain. Music. That wasn’t my ‘experience’ but it describes things you might see and think about if you were a robot walking through the city.
It was interesting to see the strains of ‘touristy’ areas that run through it, then rewarding to find the pockets that appeared to be much more authentic. SInce I lived a little ways outside the central canal district, I biked through wonderful local pockets. On bike, I could cover a lot more ground and I think I got a good sense of the city. Amsterdam uses its limited space very efficiently and there are so many funky shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. It’s the love child of a quaint small european town and a global metropolis. I’m reading about the urban development of the city and the construction of the canals now. Pretty interesting stuff. I’ll make a more informative post when I feel like I have something significant to say about them. The canals are gorgeous.
I have two drawings that I need to touch up–I’ll post them later on tonight.
The yoga apartment was cool, but very solitary. Feels great to have people to chat with and laugh with and just hear footsteps down the hall. It helps my imagination from thinking up horror stories about things that happen in yoga studios to dashingly handsome 22 year olds when they stay in Amsterdam on their year of Watson Adventures…I have quite a few of those if you’re interested.
Today I walked amidst a millennium of Dutch historical artifacts at the Rijksmuseum.
Water is a very obviously reoccuring theme in the museum. Many of the artifacts give testimony to the Netherlands difficult relationship with water. There was a painting from the 1500s showing the effects of the St. Catherine’s Day flood that devastated Dordrecht. There were countless paintings of dikes, polders, and windmills. Walking through the museum was like seeing the history of the Netherlands in a chest and many of the items had to do with water.
The museum was just recently reopened after closing for a major renovation in 2004. The building could be more impressive than any single work of art in the building. In the basement, where the special collections of medieval artifacts, weapons, and ship models, the interior is designed dark and cavernous resembling drafty damp dungeons and evoking an essence of the middle ages. The lobby is a modern atrium that is exuberantly filled up with light that reflects off the marble surfaces. Outside are gardens, cafes, and sculptures. Here’s a drawing I did of a man investigating a Henry Moore statue.
I was biking along one of the canals, just cruising, when I came upon this.
The first thing that caught my eye was the dumpy boat with the windsurf boards. As I investigated the building in the background, I recognized the words on the top floor, Felix Meritis. Only a few hours earlier I had seen a few group portraits of members of the Felix Meritis, an old social club for Amsterdam’s upper middle class. Back in the late 18th century, when there was still nobility in the Netherlands the Netherlands was no longer a global power, but it was still a rich country from maritme trade and wealth was distributed quite evenly. Members of the upper middle class would join this group, which translates to mean ‘happy by merit’ to talk about art, science, international trade and so on.
After I made the connection between the painting and this building, I rode my bike to the next canal bridge, parked my bike at front and pushed on the big wooden door. It slid heavily open into a reception area. It turns out, since the social group was dissolved, the building has been renovated and is now used for gatherings and private functions. There was a woman there who took me up onto the roof and gave me a brief tour. It was pretty special!
For the rest of the day I continued to bike around, explore, eat a burrito, take some photographs, and made this drawing:
I also found an awesome bookstore and subsequently discovered a great book on the urban history of Amsterdam. I have a lot of questions about the development of the canals so hopefully I’ll be able to dig through it for some answers.
Here is a drawing of the North Holland sea-dike. The primary coastal defense along the North West beach of North Holland where there are no naturally existing sand dunes to protect the low-lying fields from storm surges.
Yesterday I went to see this band Bahamas.
He played a completely acoustic show and played mostly his slower love songs. I looked around the small basement venue and realized I was the only person at the show alone…bobbing in a sea of couples. Poor, lonely me, right. It was great just to listen to a great musician. He was a fantastic guitarist and actually sounds the exact same as he does on his records, something I can’t say for most pop stars these days.
Bahamas ended with that song above, lost in the light, which is undoubtedly the band’s most famous song. He goes, “Isn’t that song cool…haha…I wish I could write all my music like that.” They went off then came back for an encore and he started telling a story about traveling musicians back in the day before the time of the big touring bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones when artists would travel in groups. An artist would go on, play their one big hit–for example Elvis would come out “You ain’t nothing but a…” play the song and if the crowd liked it, they would cheer and ask for another song, where the artist would just play their big hit again. Then he goes, “I’m just not brave enough to play the same song twice…I wouldn’t want it to get eaten up by the internet or anything.” (He was quite a funny guy so I’m not really doing him justice, but I’ll continue). Someone from the crowd interjects, “do it.” There was a little bit more back and forth then all of a sudden the crowd starts cheering wanting him to play the same song again. So then as a joke, he starts playing the first quarter of the song in minor chords…and it sounds terrible…but he keeps on going making the crowd laugh. So here’s my favorite quote he said, “Well that was a big side track. You know when you go to a liquor store and buy a big bottle of booze…and there’s a little bottle of something, like tequila, attached to the neck of the bottle…and you get the booze and decide to drink the tequila anyways…yeah that’s what that was like.”
Maybe you had to be there.
Yesterday I went to the Van Gogh Museum and center for contemporary art. No outstanding stories so I’ll just give you some pictures I took.
And to wrap up: a drawing of Eddy Moors of the Delta Alliance
And my own artwork from the Van Gogh Museum:
The difference between biking in Amsterdam and biking in Rotterdam is like changing levels in Frogger–the game where you make the frog hop across the 8 lane highway–from ‘beginner’ to ‘you will not make it out alive.’ Bikes clump together like schools of fish, but when the schools cross each other it’s like back in the days of the school yard playing British Bulldog. There so much more to look out for, but also so much more to distract you.
This is very common. Good looking girls on vespas. #thingsilike Notice my shadow on the bottom right.
This picture reminds me of the introduction my advisor, Mr. Tyler, gave to the Goodwin House dorm my first night as a boarding student at Milton Academy. “Hi, I’m Mr. Tyler. I like fast cars, fast bikes, and fast women.” I had no clue what he was talking about as a boyish 14 year old…but he clearly made a lasting impression. #whataguy
On Thursday, I went to Wageningen University to meet Eddy Moors, a hydrologist affiliated with the University. Mr. Moors is part of an organization called the Delta Alliance. The Delta Alliance connects cities all around the world, aiming to improve climate adaptation and resilience. The organization shares research, hosts conferences, and has established wings in San Fransisco, New Orleans, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh, the Netherlands, Cairo, Dhaka, Shanghai, and Brasilia. The organization is trying to grow and organize access to additional funding. Mr. Moors mentioned the possibility of connecting with the World Bank to work in partnership on projects.
Eddy Moors recommended that I try to use my drawings and paintings to show the advantages of a more watery world. By controlling excess water and safely letting it into areas of cities, you can use its advantages and ecosystem services, Eddy told me. By trying to visualize what future cities in my drawings and paintings, it might be more constructive to show the successes, not waterlogged downtowns and doomsday ‘day after tomorrow’ types of images, he said.
It was satisfying to make a connection within the Delta Alliance, an organization that has a global reach. I got some additional contacts from members of the Knowledge for Climate program in Utrecht and the name of the director of Delta Alliance’s office in Dhaka.
For the next ten days I’m an Amsterdammer.
Amsterdam is a very pleasant town. I’m living five minutes outside of the central canal district of the city on a high street that looks like it could be in any part of the world. There is a super market and plenty of restaurants. In a hop skip and a jump, I can get into the gorgeous center of Amsterdam laced with canals, cobblestone streets, and eclectic architecture. The streets are inviting and encourage the pedestrian to wander along. It’s quite funny: you cross a bridge and all of a sudden you leave the ‘non-conventional’ enter the ‘unique-to-Amsterdam’ central canal district as if you’ve passed through the gates of a theme park.
I’m living in a small yoga studio, with a bedroom and a kitchen. Basically I have the whole apartment to myself because yoga only happens a couple times a week.
It’s going to rain all week, but that’s perfect because I was planning on hitting the museums anyways. The Rijksmuseum was recently renovated and just re-opened, then there’s supposed to be a great contemporary art museum, and the Van Gogh Museum should be awesome. I also did some research on the music scene here. I’m getting sick of the droll of the overplayed european ‘deep house’ music. I discovered a venue only five minutes from my apartment where three great North American bands are playing for only 10 euros! The Heartless Bastards are playing on Sunday night:
Bahamas on Monday:
Next Sunday, Portugal. The Man:
Adapt or drown: Water Management in the Province of North Holland
“My father was born in that windmill,” Jos said as he briefly took his hand off the stick shift and pointed across the boggy landscape of the province of North Holland. Now unused, windmills across the Netherlands are reminders of the country’s rich history of land reclamation. Roughly one third of the country lies below sea level; the water was pumped out to create land for agriculture, livestock, towns, and cities. I heard those familiar words, “God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.”
Essentially, the Dutch build bathtubs by raising the sides of the tub with dikes and levees then pump the water out to create a polder. The windmills were the original pumps. Since the 1700s, they have been replaced by coal-fired and steam plants, and now they are completely powered by electricity. The windmills, although they are no longer functional, are a reminder of how long the Dutch have been at work creating the landscape they take for granted today.
Jos Besteman is the director of legal affairs for the Hollands Noorderkwatier Hoogheemraadschap, one of twenty-five water boards in the Netherlands. A Water Board is a public office in charge of preventing floods, keeping the land dry, and treating wastewater. If your affair falls under any context of ‘water management,’ then water board is in charge.
The water boards were some of the earliest democratic institutions in the world, developed in the Netherlands in the 13th century by councils of farmers and landowners who shared common interests in protecting their land from water. Since then, the original 1,500 water boards have consolidated into 25. The province of North Holland is one of the largest boards. Much of the province used to be a patchwork of lakes, so the Hollands Noorderkwatier Hoogheemraadschap has a lot to monitor.
It is an unusual form of governance, and likely unrepeatable in other part of the world. The boards were established even before the formation of the modern country. If one was set up in another part of the world, there is no simple way to answer the question: who should pay for a specific water defense? It would be difficult to assign the boundaries of a New York City water board and even more troublesome to convince all residents to the benefits of paying a water-management tax. Already in the Netherlands, the public is discontent about the premium they have to pay for flood defense. “We need a storm,” one of Jos’s colleagues told me, “people need to be convinced that this is actually something worth paying for.”
In fact, water management is so engrained into the Dutch landscape that most of the Netherlands doesn’t even consider the benefits the thousands of kilometers of dikes, pumping stations, and storm barriers provide them with. Water is the Dutch condition, but it is so transparent that most cannot even see what it actually does. The Dutch don’t even think about water.
“The local football fields here actually shift, depending on how much water is saturated in the ground below them. The players have no idea.”
Jos Besteman drove me out to the ‘weak point’ of the coastal flood defenses a 30 foot tall dike along the beach. The dike grows out of the landscape like a significant rumple in an otherwise completely flat carpet. The curved hump of compounded clay breaks the force of currents, wind, and waves. It is much stronger than a flat concrete wall would be. The dike stretched for over 60km and is a primary defense from the North Sea.
At first impression, I couldn’t understand why the massive structure, recently renovated in 2007 was the weak point of the defense. It came clearer once I climbed on top of it. To my right was the whitewater of the North Sea and to my left a small farming village, seemingly playing Russian roulette with the forces of nature. “So a little water spilling over the top would be bad, but the real disaster occurs if part of the dike caved in,” I hypothesized.
“The town has relocated about 5 times in its history,” I was told. “The ruins of the old town are lying right there under the sea.”
“When’s the next move?”
“At this point, there is no where to go. These people will stay and fight the water, or be swept away with it.” For now, the town needs to rely on the computer systems, geologic modeling, knowledge and insight of the water board and the good faith in the firm protection of the dike. It’s not just the proximal towns relying on this construction though.
“The whole system of dikes and levees is so connected throughout the country. Everything affects something else. Engineered constructions in North Holland are what keep Amsterdam, 80km to the south protected from the sea.”
I thought of the works of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer, and other Dutch masters, the churches, museums, and bridges whose longevity is dependent on the storm defense I was standing on. Then I thought about the masses living in Amsterdam—the commotion in Centraal Station, the buzz of the cyclists alongside the canals, and the stoned teenage tourists wandering through the city corridors, all completely oblivious to this impressive structure. It is just one impressive piece of the network that keeps the country dry.
Yet still, this dike is a concern for the water board. It was the weak point of the whole coastal defense. The dike was built as a substitute for sand dunes in the only stretch of coast where sand dunes do not exist naturally. When I first noticed the sand dunes in the hazy horizon, I finally understood why there were perceived shortcomings of the dike defense.
In contrast to the expansive fields that could be likened to the plains of the Midwest, the dunes looked mountainous. During my six weeks in the Netherlands, I have become well adjusted to living on or below sea level, and playing rugby on the unofficial lowest rugby pitch in the world. My knees began to shake as I climbed the 52-meter dunes, the tallest topography of North Holland. The dunes stretch inland 5km from the coast. “This is the safest place in the Netherlands,” Jos told me, “this is where I’d come if the dikes break.”
“You wouldn’t retreat to Switzerland?” I asked, thinking what I would do in the situation.
Jos smiled, as if I had asked a silly childish question. He thought for a second then softly remarked, “My family can be traced back 500 years to tribes that lived on this land. They say my great-great-great-great-way-back-great grandfather was one of the initial investors on one of the earliest polders (reclaimed land). My cousins are farmers here. I am one of my only friends who haven’t left this area. I married a girl whose family has been on this land for 200 years and mine has been around for 500.”
Jos had grown up in this region, commuted to the University of Amsterdam to study and never left. He told me, “If you ask anybody working at the waterschap why they are working here, the vast majority will answer ‘because I love this land and I want to work to protect it.’”
For the Dutch, protecting their land from the looming threats of the water is a source of national pride and personal pride. It is their country, the land, and their history at stake. The idea is engrained into the motto of the Royal Family, “Je Maintiendrai.”
I will maintain.
Here Jos Besteman explains the evacuation strategy of North Holland: