Scheveningen Is A Whistler Nocturne

Nurtured in the salt sadness of the sea, Scheveningen is a Whistler nocturne. Its prevailing and distinctive tones are neutral and elusive. There are, of course, days when the sun is as clear and powerful here as elsewhere, but more often it is obscured; then the sky becomes pearly, the sea opalescent, the shore drab and dun. Presently a thin fog drifts in, or vapors steal over the trees from the inland marshes, and all tints are rapidly neutralized into a common dimness of that vague and sentimental mistland so dear to the heart of the painter. This is the characteristic suspended color note of the average day at Scheveningen. It harmonizes to perfection with the sentiment of the environment and invests the region with a marvelous charm – peculiar, distinctive, and of the finest dignity.

The power of Scheveningen’s attraction, the force of its appeal, lies largely in its grim aloofness and selfsufficiency. It is unsympathetic, discouraging. It consistently dominates its visitors, and, indeed, with an easy insolence and indifference. Wealth and fashion may abide with it for a few days, under tolerance, but the impression of the temporary and migratory character of their sojourn is always present. Undistracted, the fierce and gaunt sea assails the stark and surly shore, and the grim fishermen stand by and have their toll of both. Of the presence of the strangers they are all but unaware. In a brief day the incongruous invaders will have gone, but this relentless warfare will continue unabated. All the way from Helder to the Hook glistening seas will hiss over the flat beaches, snarling and biting at the shoulders of the dunes. All through the long, bitter winter, without an instant’s intermission, the struggle will go on. It is, consequently, of the very heart of the charm of the place that one has the feeling of intruding on battle; of tolerated propinquity to Titanic contenders.

Loafing at Scheveningen is the apotheosis of idleness. The strong wind stimulates, the broad beaches delight, the solemn sea inspires. To this must be added the sense of strong contrasts. It emphasizes the impression of having dropped, for a time, out of the familiar monotony of Life’s treadmill; of being away from home; of both resting and recreating. It is present to the eyes in the eloquent disproportion between the vast Kurhaus and the diminutive homes of the villagers; in the incongruity of Parisian finery invading the savage haunts of the gull and the curlew. In the novel and bizarre activities of the fisher-folk, as in their theatrical surroundings as well, one finds just the right touch of the picturesque and the unfamiliar to complete the full realization of dolce far niente.

Of the fabled monsters of the wild North Sea the imaginative man will believe he sees one certain survivor in that languid sea-serpent of a pier -the “Jetee Konigin Wilhelmina” -that stretches its delicate length a quarter mile over the waves from off the drab sand dunes of Scheveningen. Its pavilion-crowned head snuggles flatly on the water. In the afternoon and evening, when its orchestra is playing, one fancies the monster is actually singing. At five o’clock, precisely, we have its last drowsy utterance as it drops off into a three-hours’ nap – quite as Fafner, in the opera, yawns at Alberich and mutters “lasst mich schlafen!” It must be admitted it is a highly pleasing song he sings, – a Waldteufel waltz, more than likely, – and we come in time to recognize in it the closing number of the matinee musicale. And then, like Jonah’s captor, he wearies of his living contents; and we see them emerge by hundreds, scathless and unafraid, gay with parasols and immaculate of raiment, and pick their way leisurely along his back until they have rejoined their friends in the voluble company that crowds the cafes of the Kurhaus. In a moment more the abandoned monster is fast asleep; which, by a familiar association of ideas, is a sign to the multitudes on the beaches that surf-bathing ends in just one hour.

Forthwith, there is a great bustling all along the shore side of the broad boulevard they call the ” Standweg.” Bathers pick themselves up regretfully from sunbaths in the soft, powdery sand and trot down for a final dip in the surf, and those already in hasten to convert pleasure into work with increased energy and enthusiasm. To all such the implacable watchman shall come within the hour and beckon them out with stern and remorseless gestures, and the curious little wagons they call bath-cars will engulf each in turn and trundle them up out of the water, while the nervous old women who look after the bathing-suits will hover about with anxious eyes and lay violent hands on the dripping and discarded garments.

And now a tremendous clamor arises from all the little Holland children, who, from early morning, have been indulging the national instinct for dike-building and surrounding their mothers’ beach-chairs with scientific sand-bulwarks against the imaginary encroachments of the sea. For lo! their nurses approach, wonderful in white streamers and golden head-ornaments, and visions of the odious ante-prandial toilet rise like North Sea fogs in every youngster’s eye until even dinner itself appears abhorrent. Vagabond jugglers run through their final tricks, fold their carpets and steal away. Itinerant peddlers redouble their efforts and retire disgusted or jubilant as Fortune may have hidden or shown her face. More than ever does the sea front take on the appearance of a long apiary, with the hundreds of tall, shrouded beehives of beach-chairs emptying themselves of their comfortable occupants and being bundled by bee-men in white linen to safety for the night. And of all the odd sights of Scheveningen certainly no other will remain longer in mind than this curious, huddled colony of beach-chairs. What a pleasing and cheerful spectacle! Thronging the shore for quite a mile they contribute to the local picture decidedly its most jolly and fantastic feature. Between the beach-chairs and the boulevard there is a picket line of prim little peaked white tents, with the top of each precisely matching all the others in an edging of stiff, woodeny scallops; now that the flaps are thrown back and the sides rolled up, we see tables and chairs inside, with evidence of recent and jovial occupancy.