Dutch Skaters, World Problems
In the Netherlands, the canals have frozen over for the first time in years and the Dutch are strapping on their skates and having a blast, albeit with a few bumps and bruises. But the politics are never far away, even in what you’d think would be a feel-good story. First, there’s the environmental angle:
In the 19th century, when Hans Brinker, the hero of the novel in which he tries to win a pair of silver skates, coasted along Holland’s ice, the canals froze almost every year. But water pollution and climate change have made this so rare that today a boy of 15, Brinker’s age, may never have seen a frozen canal, or at least remember one. Until, that is, this year.
Then there is the cultural and political angle:
“For us, it’s in our genes,” said Gus Gustafsson, 68, a retired insurance executive, explaining why he and his wife had rushed out to buy new skates and take to the ice under a cloudless blue sky. “It was like a frenzy that came over people, including lots of kids, like my granddaughter, who is 5.” With thousands of others, they skated northeast toward the cheese capital, Gouda, then toward Utrecht.
With an influx of immigrants, the country has been struggling to maintain what it considers its Dutch soul, and Gustafsson was one of many here who thought the skating experience enabled the Dutch to reconnect with their identity. “There were only Dutch people on the ice,” he said. “I saw no people of Arab descent.”
But Andre Bonthuis, who has been mayor in this town of 23,000 people for the past 20 years, said he had seen Indonesians and Moroccans, among other newcomers to the Netherlands, on the ice. “It’s rather new for people from Morocco,” he said. But he agreed that there was something very Dutch about canal skating, which is depicted in paintings by Dutch masters as early as the 17th century.
To be sure, a couple interesting asides. In particular, the second provides Americans a little glimpse into the mindset of an average European. But I’m just glad the Dutch were able to skate.