Kings and Queens

It is April 30th, Koninginnedag (Queen’s day). This is the one day every year where the people of the Netherlands abandon licensing laws and take to the streets to sell all their old junk.

Aside from the obligatory lurid orange that must be worn I have always loved Queen’s day. Over 10 years of living in Holland and I still can’t quite handle the intensity of that orange colour. It’s so orange; it’s on the edge of being alarming. From a distance it looks like there are hundreds of people in those high-visibility vests and there must be some kind of massive rescue operation in progress. Queen’s day is like the biggest street party / jumble sale you can imagine, a sea of orange inflatable crowns and comedy sunglasses coupled with plenty of rummaging. It’s a great chance for kids to strut their stuff, they drag their drum kits and guitars out into the road and busk a few coins. You might pick up an antique camera or a pair of new shoes for a euro a piece, grab a couple of tomato plant seedlings, then stop off for an 11 year old to make you a pancake or tell you a joke for 50 cents. If the weather changes and you need a wind-cheater which is often the case, you can simply buy a jacket with some loose change, and dispose of it again at the end of the day, or keep it in your cupboard with all the other junk and sell it on Queen’s day the following year. Unlike the rest of the time in which I find Holland to be an overly bureaucratic country, a country with no mountains except paperwork mountains, today the normal law of the land is suspended.

We have set out our wares, toys, books, baby clothes, shoes, and we’ve baked flapjacks. We’re here with the neighbour’s kids who have brought the 20 cent grabbelton (lucky dip). The sun comes out. S goes shopping with daddy and picks up a toy Swissair airplane that seems to keep him happy for the rest of the morning. A is wearing her party skirt printed with tropical fruits and a garland of orange flowers. She scoots up and down with her friend. They buy a skateboard for 2 euros.

An English couple passes by and spots all our English kids books. A grandma buys a wooden xylophone for her granddaughter. A heavily pregnant woman is interested in the baby dungarees, but haggles me down 50 cents. She eyes my old baby-names books.

“What are your children called?” she asks

We obviously pass the test, because she decides to take the books.

My homemade flapjack is selling like hotcakes. You see how I do that? Blending the British baking tradition with this very uniquely Dutch occasion. What seamless integration! I am the Queen of Queen’s day.

By mid afternoon we’re winding down. The landscape of the street is changing from jumble sale to beer festival. I reckon I could sell anything to these drunken folks, but I’ve had enough, so we pack up the bakfiets (container bike) and head home. The kids run off to the street party and go on the bouncy castle. I unload the leftover bric-a-brac and turn the telly on for a few minutes to see what’s been going on in Amsterdam. Today is also the day of the coronation. Queen Beatrix is retiring and handing over to her son. I realize that this is a historic event for the Netherlands, but personally I’m finding it hard to get excited about the new King, the very non-descript Willem Alexander. I am not a royalist at the best of times but now I’m even further out of the loop. What I know about Willem-Alexander is this:

He cares a lot about water. He attends all kinds of international conferences where he speaks about water and sanitation, and probably dam-building, being that he is Dutch. He is noteworthy for being not very noteworthy .i.e. he is a normal man, which makes him very appealing to the Dutch. Be normal! I hear it all the time. It’s a no-nonsense; don’t show off personality trait that seems to feature highly on the Dutch agenda. Aspire to be normal.

There is a common Dutch saying that goes:

Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg

This translates as, “behave normal, that’s crazy enough”

So here he is with his Queen, Maxima (who by the way makes him a lot less normal. She’s originally from Buenos Aires and her father was a minister in General Videla’s government which makes him party to the all kinds of alleged ‘disappearances’ of political opposers of the regime. Probably not the kind of break with normality that might be desirable to spice up Willem-Alexander’s image.)

They are on a canal boat. This is perfect. Only in Amsterdam could a new King conduct his inauguration parade by boat. Willem Alexander and Maxima smile and wave. He is in a ‘normal’ suit and tie. She is wearing a glittering crown. It’s a regal as it could be with the wind lashing through their hair The three young Princesses are also waving. They have fixed smiles and they’re doing a great job considering that by the time I tune in, this floating parade must have been going on for hours.

Then we cut to a big crowd of people (in orange of course) gathered abound a stage and the Concert Gebouw Orchestra playing. And back to the boat, that seems to be docking. The King, Maxima and the three daughters are getting off the boat. The Orchestra is playing. What’s going on now? DJ Armin van Buuren who is some mega-world-dominating DJ usually found in Ibiza is taking centre stage. The violins segue into boom, boom boom. Cut down to the orange masses and there’s all that arms in the air stuff going on. This is weird. Or is it just me? The royals are on dry land now and making their way along a walkway and up the steps. I’m expecting the hardcore trance to announce their arrival onto the stage in some kind of spectacular crescendo. The King and Queen and the little Princesses arrive, they walk onto the podium. And nothing happens. Mr. van Buuren keeps going, the music bangs on. The crowd continues to jump up and down in their inflatable orange crowns.
Willem-Alexander and Maxima keep on smiling, but it’s all a bit awkward. They snake about through the Orchestra shaking hands with the musicians and shouting into people’s ears, like fans backstage at a festival. Maxima tries to keep her composure and look like she loves the music but her tiara bobs up and down inelegantly. The three Princesses smile and wave through their bewilderment. They look so small. There are still a few hours to go before the banquet in the palace. I bet they’re getting hungry.

I turn off the TV and go outside. The street party is in full swing. I grab a beer and watch my kids running about bare-foot. There’s a throng of children squealing and jumping on the bouncy castle. The orange is fading as evening draws in.

I’m glad I’m not a real Queen.

If you like this post please visit my other recent post about the coronation on ExpatsBlog:

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