I'm almost at the end of my time in Amsterdam and I've been busy trying to cram in visits and events that a few weeks ago I seemed to have so much time to see. Then, because I've been busy, which inevitably means lots of walking, I've been tired in the evenings. Blogging has suffered, so my post on Queensday is a bit late as the day itself was last Tuesday. But I did want to write something about it because it was such an Event (with a capital E).
Queensday celebrates the Queen's birthday. Well, it celebrated the past Queen's birthday. Now that the Netherlands has a new King it will be Kingsday and from now on will be celebrated on his real birthday - 27 April. This year it was also the day that Queen Beatrix abdicated from the throne and that the installation of the new King Willem-Alexander was celebrated. Some thoughts on that later.
Queensday is rather amazing for an outsider. It's partly a massive garage sale, partly a street party to which everybody is invited, and generally an occasion for much good-natured, noisy, letting your hair down. Everybody dresses in orange (because the Dutch royal family comes from the House of Orange); t-shirts, hats, feather boas, or sometimes whole suits. Early in the morning people set up tables or lay out blankets in the street with whatever is to hand - clothing, toys, bric-a-brac, cupcakes, orange juice, apple pie and (occasionally) handmade craft items. Many of the stalls are managed by children and most items are sold for just a few euros.
Some of the residents just set up tables and chairs by the canal and spent the day having a long, crowded, noisy, boozy picnic in the street:
This last week or so I've been staying in a house on the Brouwersgracht canal and so I had an excellent view of the activities on the canal. Pottering along the canals in whatever kind of boat is available seems to be a popular Amsterdam activity, particularly at the weekend. On Queensday, taking to the canals on a boat increases a hundred fold.
Some of the boats seemed quite civilised, with family members, dogs, pots of coffee and the inevitable apple cake. But most were crammed full of people, dancing (yes, dancing), drinking, and with music blaring so loud that the panes in the old windows of my house constantly vibrated. I kept waiting for someone to fall overboard, or for 'canal rage' to develop as the boats waited to pass under the narrow bridge at the end of my street, but none of this happened.
Despite the chaos and noise it all seemed very happy and good-natured. Afterwards, the mayor reported that there had been no misadventures on the day, other than the arrest of two republicans who were protesting against the King's installation, and even then the policeman who carried out the arrest was required to apologise to the people arrested and reportedly take them a bouquet of flowers. The Dutch take their flowers very seriously.
In the lulls between jostling my way through the streets and anticipating disaster for the boats in the canals I watched the abdication and installation on television. As the commentary was in Dutch I could only watch and deduce and wonder about the goings-on. In comparison with British royal events, it all seemed low-key and much more affectionate and personal. To begin with, Queen Beatrix, like her mother before her, had chosen to abdicate to have a monarch whose world-view is more resonant with the current zeitgeist. The abdication was a simple ceremony in which Beatrix signed a document which was then witnessed by the king and queen to be and members of the parliamentary cabinet. There were misted eyes, fond glances between the queen and her son and daughter-in-law and hugs and kisses.
Later, the ceremony in which the king was installed was very straightforward (even though he wore a rather magnificent ermine cloak and the new queen had a very sparkly diamond and sapphire tiara.) Essentially the new king gave a speech and then he and the members of parliament swore to uphold the laws of the land or some such. Everything is much simpler when it has no religious component. The old queen, now again a princess, sat with her three small, blond grand-daughters and again the informality and fondness of their relationship was evident.
I was fascinated by the dress code - or lack thereof - for the event. Some of the male parliamentarians - particularly those of the left - turned up in open-neck shirts and informal jackets. Some of the women wore pants or simple dresses. Others had taken the opportunity to dress up with grand hats (the women) and morning suits (the men). The grander guests must have received clearer instructions. The princes and princesses from other countries, such as Charles and Camilla and 'our Mary' from Denmark, were quite formal, with the women in long gowns and hats - a rather odd combination not called for by many occasions. The numerous women of the Dutch royal family, aunts and first cousins, also wore hats and long gowns, but they also had trains to their dresses. I imagine there must have been lots of phone calls and emails to check what each other was wearing.
I thought it was a successful combination of ceremony and informality. As one of my Dutch friends who is a republican said, the current royal family are so successful in building a relationship with their people that they make it hard to be a republican in the Netherlands.
And of course, the flowers for the occasion were wonderful.