Sunday, May 8, 2011

Country Road

Yesterday was the Nederlandse Vereniging van Jachthoornblazers bugling contest. The Dutch don't have a strong gun culture, but shooting, hunting, and the skills that surround shooting and hunting are kept alive by nature-lovers. And also by crazy old coots who long for the good old days :-) Yes, Karel has a funny costume and an even funnier hat. He's expressly forbidden me to post pictures, though, so you'll have to get your kicks from the photo gallery on the website.

Aside: Not that I could have gotten many decent photos, anyway. Yesterday was a beautiful day in Neederweert, which was great for getting a nice tan, but the sun absolutely murdered any chances of getting the lighting right. Not without screens, at any rate.

But I'm digressing. The Dutch countryside, it turns out, is apparently peppered with small musea staffed by volunteers demonstrating daily life in the days of old. It's sort of like a Renaissance faire, except without pretty dresses and far more quaint. Ladies spin wool, and men demonstrate how to operate the bandsaw from hell. There were lots of hands-on exhibits for the kids, such as "how people did the wash back then", which invited you to wash some modern clothes in a zinc tub, with your choice of a washboard or a hand-agitator, pass it through a hand wringer (ye-olde version, but same idea) and hang it up on a line. The one the bugling contest was at yesterday was based primarily around the late-nineteenth century, but others, like the one around Arnhem are themed earlier.

In the US, there's the cult of the working man, which explains the popularity of shows such as "Deadliest Catch" and "American Chopper". People like watching underdogs come out on top. In the Netherlands, you have the cult of the farmer instead, which is kind of weird in a country where there isn't much land...but subconsciously, every Dutch person wants to be a farmer, wear wooden shoes, and milk cows.

I'm exaggerating less than you might think. Dutch culture--the food, especially, but also the frantic cleaning and brick roads and high degree of cooperativity--is essentially a farming one, and more specifically a dairy farming one (Dutch butter was renowned back in the day). During the Golden Age, Dutch society was comprised of many small farmer, each with his own cows, so in order to generate butter and/or cheese in the quantities required for sale, they pooled the milk. This meant that everybody had to adhere to the same strict qualities of cleanliness, and timing, or else nobody would get paid. A lot of Dutch culture can be traced back to the days of milk and honey. Well, mostly milk.

But I like these kinds of museums, too. I do admire the skills and ingenuity involved to craft a bucket out of wood, for example, or how to tell the temperature of your steel by the color. Don't get me wrong: I couldn't imagine my life without the Internet or the computer. But I could imagine life with some chickens.

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