October 26th, 2012
But there’s no bridge from anyplace I’ve lived to the Dutch polder. This is nothing like anything I have ever known. If my love of California came through the front door and my love of Scotland through the side, this sudden, inarticulate love of the Netherlands is the unexpected guest who appears one day in the living room, ringing no bell and answering no invitation. And yet, here it is, and it draws me out of the house and away from the cities every bright day. I go out for half-hour rides and come back three hours later, windblown and bright-eyed.
And the Noord-Hollands polder through which I’ve been riding is the real deal, the unfiltered, unadulterated Dutch landscape, served neat. It’s undiluted by tulips and uncut by the tourist trail. It stretches out northward from the urbanized shore of the IJ to the Afsluitdijk, making up the land between the North Sea and the IJsselmeer. The fields are punctuated by towns and villages: Purmerend, Volendam, Alkmaar, Heerhugowaard, Den Helder, Edam, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Schagen, Heiloo. Straight, elevated canals and swift roads cross them, taking the people and the freight to and fro. But the land between is filled only with a kind of vastness: long, straight lines of pasture under the endless, endless sky.
Abi Sutherland declares her love for the flat, Dutch landscape. I’ve always found Noord-Holland, that stretched out farmland north of Amsterdam, to be dull and depressing, the worst part of the Netherlands but Abi shows it can be beautiful too.
So did Jacques Brel decades ago, talking about Vlaanderen, but it could be Holland as well: