Tuesday 4 January 2011

The Dutch Go Bonkers!

I am back from Holland (I use the term broadly - The Netherlands always seems a bit of a mouthful to my mind), and am pleased to report that I found Mr Bonkers much improved on my return - particularly on the health front. I should perhaps abandon him more often when he is feeling under the weather, as it may accelerate the recovery process. Though my money's on the curative effects of the two bottles of Ribena he consumed in my absence.

The Californian Road Trip post remains imminent, but meanwhile I feel moved to comment on a couple of Dutch cultural oddities which struck me while I was over there.

Firstly, the Dutch appear to be a nation of pyromaniacs. The setting off of fireworks in Holland is confined to New Year, so this compressed time frame seems to create a tinderbox mentality - or might I mean a hothouse mentality? Either way, to say the Dutch go overboard when it comes to seeing in the New Year with fireworks is putting it mildly: an estimated 65 million euros' worth of the things go up in smoke over the festive period - including several hundred thousands of euros' worth in my friends' street, at a conservative guess - some of them directly over my head. Yes, this is the first time I have ever felt as though I was literally inside a firework display, and I could liken the effect to a cross between the opening credits of Star Trek and 3D TV. And on New Year's Day, there's the inevitable thick carpet of confetti and spent cases to scuffle through - like autumn leaves, but with a telltale note of sulphur.

As one travel site puts it: "(The Dutch) stay at home and celebrate quietly with the family until midnight, then dash out on the streets and indulge in a freestyle orgy of pyrotechnics."

I should also point out that there are two types of firework: the traditional rocket and Roman candle variety, which burst into showers of colourful sparks, and the other kind, so-called "duizend klappers" - which are the mother of all bangers, basically - acoustically akin to heavy artillery, rocket launchers, machine gun fire and the occasional 200 lb car bomb. The loud and startling reports from these incendiary devices reverberated round the neighbourhood from early morning till the small hours. Several of our party remarked that it felt like being in a war zone - images of Flanders Field, Beirut and Baghdad flashed before our eyes as we hunkered down in our friends' living room, reaching for the lids of tins of Quality Street and shortbread by way of improvised body armour. I probably left the country just hours before the shock and awe mutated into full blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

And then the second cultural oddity of the weekend was the annual New Year's Dive or "Duik" at Scheveningen, a suburb of The Hague. On New Year's Day, somewhat the worse for wear after the drink, merriment and fire-raising excesses of the night before, around 10,000 Dutch people of all ages - and clad in outfits of varying degrees of scantiness and/or whimsy - rush into the sea on the dot of 12.00pm, briefly get wet and rush out again, before changing en masse (and with barely a shred of inhibition amongst them) in a communal tent erected for this purpose on the sand.

Although I just happened to have bought a swimsuit the day before, I was not so foolhardy as to go in myself, though about half the 15-strong contingent from my friend's village braved the waters, including my fellow countrywoman and owner of Meg, the pipped pageant pooch), though she may have been ever so slightly cheating by wearing a wetsuit... Everybody - "divers" and spectators alike - received a carrier bag from the sausage company sponsoring the event, containing a dayglo orange bobble hat, dayglo orange gloves, a tin of pea soup bearing the legent "dive hero", and a commemorative bookmark/medal, rather optimistically stating that the water was "scrummy", if my rudimentary grasp of Dutch serves me.

And there was one more surprise to come that weekend...In Spakenburg, a sleepy and picturesque fishing port to which we made an excursion on the last day, my friend pointed out a perfumery shop in an alleyway called La Ruelle. The staff were visible inside merchandising the shelves, but the sign on the door clearly stated that the store was "gesloten", so I contented myself with peering through the window.

Imagine my surprise when, nestling amongst the Amouages, Serge Lutenses and Etros - remarkable enough but not completely unprecedented in a small village on the continent - I spied a full shelf of Parfumerie Generales. At 30% off no less! I only know of one retail outlet in the UK for PG (Les Senteurs) and 1-2 at most in Paris. So how come a little shop in Spakenburg in Holland had managed to acquire the line? Does Pierre Guillaume have business connections with Holland? Maybe there is some kind of reciprocal trade agreement in place: perfume for gerookte paling perhaps (smoked eel, a Spakenburg speciality)? Or aged Gouda, cheese graters, Delft tableware, or maybe even the dreaded "duizendklappers"....though for the sake of those poor citizens of Clermont-Ferrand, I do hope not.

And finally, a big thank you is due to our hosts in Hoevelaken for their unstinting hospitality, bottomless wine cellar and banger-free bolthole.

Photos of fireworks from Wikimedia Commons and panoramio.com, photos of New Year's Dive from Wikimedia Commons and Clare Chick, photo of Spakenburg from toeristeninformatie.nl, photo of La Ruelle from the shop's website.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great deal of fun.

My father is very fond of those noisy-bang fireworks (although I think it's largely due to his jollity at seeing everyone else jump, either that or his underlying boyishness).

Glad to hear that Mr Bonkers is no longer a lump of snot and misery. Note to self: see if any Ribena is to be had stateside.

So did you buy any of those 30% PG bottles?

Vanessa said...

Sadly not - the shop remained steadfastly shut all day, and if the SAs did catch a glimpse of my eager, thwarted nose pressed against their window, they certainly weren't letting on... : - )

MyPerfumeLife said...

Sounds like an interesting trip. Even more envious of your planned California trip.

Vanessa said...

Hi MyPerfumeLife,

Aha - the Californian trip has been and gone in fact - it's the post about it that is planned, but work keeps getting in the way...!

Carol said...

what's a 'banger-free bolt hole'?

*waves* good to see you back, Bonks!

Vanessa said...

Nice to be back, Bloody!

That phrase simply means a haven from these pesky "duitzend klapper" bangers (as in noise-only fireworks). : - )

Carol said...

oh now I get it! thanks!

ScentScelf said...

So the banger wasn't mashed?

I started off nearly organized in thought as I clicked on the comment link, but your Bonky exchange with Bloody about the bangers put me in a bit of a kerfuffle. Which, truth be told, I had had to already wrangle once, with the dangling of PG at 30% off in my field of vision. I, too, would have been nose to glass, willing somebody, SOMEBODY, to arrive and open the shop.

But, more or less composed...I wonder about the connection between the Hollish dip in the sea and our own Polar Bear Swims, which are often on the first day of the New Year. With lake swims, the effect is sometimes more chilling than ocean dips, as early onset of freezing weather and (relatively) smaller and shallower areas to affect can make for a frigid experience.

Not that I would have put my nether ends in in the Netherlands.

Glad you had a swell time! Welcome back.

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

As it happened, the staff were in that perfume shop all right, on step ladders putting stock on shelves. But notwithstanding their tantalising offers, they weren't opening before they were good and ready (which, unlucky for me, was the following day)!

I bet lake swims would be colder than the ocean, though the North Sea was pretty nippy last weekend by all accounts.

lovethescents said...

Oh I wish that shop had been open! What PG would you buy given that 30% off???

JoanElaine said...

Happy new year! I'm happy to hear Mr. Bonkers was alive and kicking upon your return. I can't believe he polished off two bottles of Ribena! Has his complexion developed a slight purple tone?

The Dutch New Year activites are quite similar to ours here in Canada...fireworks here, there and everywhere, and a heart-attack inducing dip in icy waters. I celebrated in s slighty more self-preserving manner by laying on the couch eating chocolate and dousing myself in Shalimar.

I'm curious too about what PG scents you would have selected!

Angela Cox said...

Now Vanessa ,here's a tip DO NOT MOVE TO READING. The fireworks here start on August 2nd ( Guy Fawkes day I think..no that's November 5th ). They get very big during Reading Festival of "Music". Then the local kids pop into the fly-by-night fireworks shop for bazookas for the weekend . If my sister was still in A&E she'd no doubt be helping sew limbs back on and send kids to Maxilo-facial depts. all over the country. As our Police don't carry guns on a regular basis we sit wondering which neighbours have had a serious row or has the revolution started or is it a coup in which my N.Z citizenship might come in handy and if not the Canadian embassy might take us in. On New Year's Eve huge ear-plugs help a little . I think what makes me saddest is the lack of historical knowledge that has them ignore November 5th . I used to love it , small firworks , jacket potatoes cooked in the ashes of the bonfire . I have nothing against my catholic friends and maybe blowing up Parliament sounds good but I quite like Protestants being allowed to worship being a Quaker. I am not sure it's P.C to celebrate Nov. 5th so we don't other than to discuss it with Holly .

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

Bois Naufrage!

Vanessa said...

Hi JoanElaine,

Interesting to hear that the Canadians are prone to reckless festive acts too, and I commend you for your more Health & Safety-conscious approach to seeing the New Year in. Though I suppose there is always a small nut-choking risk with chocolates.

: - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Angela

Oh my goodness, I will most certainly give Reading a wide berth. Probably a whole swathe of the M4 corridor from Swindon to Hendon Services just to be sure.

Imagine what mayhem and dereliction the Dutch could indulge in if they had access to "fly-by-night fireworks shops" at other times of the year?

Or there again, maybe it is like 24 hour licensing hours or being married? I think there may be a point in there somewhere about lack of urgency and moderate behaviour.

Unknown said...

I always love an outsider account of my fellow countrymen's peculiarities. (À la The Undutchables - you wouldn't have happened to read that one, right?)
You're spot on with the licensing period suspicion. Lighting fireworks at any time of the year has been deemed a criminal offense, with the exception of Old Year's Day (December 31st) into the morning of New Year's Day. The pent-up sulphury anticipation leads to droves of people stocking up on illegal types of firework months in advance in Belgium, where laws are more lax.

And a perfume shop in *Spakenburg* of all places? I know of one or two in Amsterdam that stock PG, but certainly not at a 30% discount. I may have to venture that way sometime soon.
(By the by, Jan 1st is a holiday, but many stores use it to take stock of their inventory. To balance the books and such. Hence the ladders.)

Happe New Year!

Vanessa said...

Hi Arachne,

I did wonder if you might come across my post. : - )

Have not read The Undutchables, though it sounds as though I would enjoy it. My friends told me a few more quirks to do with etiquette at parties, around birthdays, eating in other people's homes etc. They are in fact not Dutch themselves, but South African.

Yes, the "pent up sulphury anticipation" was palpable - and smellable! I didn't know about the cross-border firework running though...

Do get over to Spakenburg if you have the opportunity and bag yourself a bargain - or maybe ring up first to see what PGs they have in and what the original retail price was that they are discounting by 30%! Everything is relative after all...