Saturday, February 25, 2012


Elements of the Dutch landscape - 1

My wife and I are halfway through the "Green heart of Holland" walking book. The walks are 10 - 15 km in length and at our snails pace each takes 3 hours of more. My wife hates it when I take photographs because she wants to walk, not to stand still. But I cannot resist.

Hitland - Capelle aan den IJssel - Towards the river
Gradually patterns emerge and beg to be recorded, documented  and shared. They are not spectacular and the reader may ask: "so what?". But for me there is a big difference between knowing something unconsciously and really becoming aware of it. What was background suddenly becomes foreground.
I'm playing a psychogeographic game of "go fish" with myself. I'm making a collection of "elements of the Dutch landscape". Each time I get a set of five I publish it. This means that the most obvious patterns will be published first. This is intentional because the most obvious patterns are sometimes the most invisible patterns (see E.A. Poe: The purloined letter).

The flatness
Somehow the flatness seeps into your pores and drains energy from you. The flatness is beautiful and is covered  by vast protestant skies. But it reveals everything at a glance and has no hidden corners and no subconscious. An inhuman Cartesian geometry of pure thought. There are no mysteries here - everything is like it is written, all content must be taken literally, no hidden meanings, "sola scriptura". The huge eye of God sees everything. No country for magicians and occultists.
Hitland - Capelle aan den IJssel - Towards Rotterdam
The landscape is unbounded and the eye finds no rest because lines of sight run to infinity. In hilly country I can breathe more easily. I don't need mountains, small hills are enough for me. But you have to travel far to find any. In the Dutch flatlands there is no visible history - the landscape is medieval but hides its age. Hilly country reveals its age more easily.

The classic poem
The most obvious elements of the Dutch landscape have already been listed by Hendrik Marsman (1899-1940) in his famous poem about the Low Countries - in a beautiful translation by Paul Vincent:
Memory of Holland

Thinking of Holland
I see wide-flowing rivers
slowly traversing
infinite plains,
rarefied poplars
like lofty plumes
on the skyline in lanes;
and submerged in the vastness
of unbounded spaces
the farmhouses
strewn over the land,
tree clumps, villages,
truncated towers,
churches and elm trees -
all wondrously planned.
The sky hangs low
and slowly the sun by
mists of all colours
is stifled and greyed
and in all the regions
the voice of the water
with its endless disasters
is feared and obeyed.
I've made a list of landscape elements that I have noticed independent of this beautiful poem and that I will write about.  It's interesting to speculate why I missed the others, because they are very true also:
  • Noticed : wide-flowing rivers, infinite plains, poplars in lanes, skyline, submerged farmhouses, vastness of unbounded space, truncated towers, churches.
  • Missed : tree clumps, villages, elm trees, low sky, sun stifled by vapors.
And I don't really have a good idea why the landscape is so flat. Is it because it's an alluvial plain? Or is the flatness artificially enhanced by centuries of water management and peat burning? I will have to research that.

Horizon illusion
Woerden - On Google maps
Strangely enough these oppressive "infinite plains" and "vast unbounded spaces" look larger than they are. In the picture above the village of Kamerik is barely visible at the horizon. This is only 4 km distant. But still it looks infinite and unbounded. Not only in a photograph, in real life it also feels endless.
Hazerswoude - On Google maps
The same illusion occurs in Hazerswoude. Here the windmill of Rietveld is visible on the horizon, and possibly the poplars of the Spookverlaat and Galgweg ("Ghost-lock" and "Gallows-road" - I only noticed these names while searching Google maps - there must be some history behind this). The windmill is 1 km away and the poplars 4 km. Again closer than they appear. The same happens when we're walking: we reach distant-looking landmarks earlier than we expect.

Many different translations of the Marsman poem
Detailed explanation of one translation of the Marsman poem
E.A. Poe - The Purloined Letter
Explanation of the Ghost-lock name
Map of the area from 1773

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