Scheveningen: The quiet-coloured end of evening smiles

To the eye of a man taking his comfort at the pretty little Cafe de la Plage on the Kurhaus terrace, all this bustle and late afternoon animation is bound to prove decidedly diverting. The broad, paved plazas that lie like carpets between him and the dunes are steadily filling with. a considerable proportion of the thirty thousand Hollanders and Germans who summer here, and acquaintances are exchanging civilities and joining and taking leave of little groups in a way to make the general picture a brilliant, restless, and bewildering interweaving of color. As the open-air tables are filling, the activity of the waiters approaches hysteria, and the verandas and saloons of the ponderous Kurhaus begin to hum with the advent of the evening guests. Copies of “Le Courrier de Scheveningue”pass from hand to hand as the curious scan the lists of the latest arrivals or look over the various musical programmes of the evening. Out on the terraces, the ornate little newspaper kiosks attract groups of loiterers and gradually take on the character of social centres, and as these companies increase, one thinks of stock exchanges and the rallying about the trading standards. The matinee at the Seinpost concludes and out troops its audience to swell the human high tide. Bright bits of color are afforded by the blue uniforms and yellow facings of Holland infantrymen dotted here and there in the press. It is odd to see the usually arid and monotonous dunes grow brilliant with an artificial blossoming of fashionable millinery, where by nature there is nothing better than a scraggy growth of stringy heather, a little rosemary and broom, or the dry stem of the “miller.”

It is at this hour, when “the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,” that the stolid natives array themselves and sally forth, like Delft tiles come to life, to the amused amazement of the visitors. Your Scheveningen man is wont to go about his duties, during the day, flopping vigorously in vivid red knickerbockers, voluminous as sails and quite as crudely patched; but when he makes a point of toilet he appears in gray homespun, the knickerbockers cut from the same pattern as the red ones, but there is a jacket closed up to the chin with two rows of large buttons, a red handkerchief twisted about the neck, a small cap with a glazed peak, and, of course, the wooden klompen. Such a display richly deserves attention, but what can the poor man expect when his wife appears in her full regalia! She, too, is shod with klompen, – though you have to take that on faith in view of the dozen or two of petticoats that balloon above them, – and her waist is a gay butterfly of variegated embroidery, while her headgear is about the most incredible thing conceivable. You might, at a distance, mistake them for bishops with their mitres tilted back at a rakish angle. Nor is it always of the one pattern. Usually it is a sort of long white cap of linen, embroidered at the edges; and the wearer adds a touch of coquetry in the shape of a long curl hanging at either side. But not infrequently you see a formidable contrivance of vastly more consequence; it consists, first, of a skullcap of polished gold or silver, technically known as a hoofdijzer, pierced at the top for ventilation and cut to leave room for the exposure of the forehead, and over this is drawn an elaborate cape of lace, with gold ornaments of spirals and squares dangling over the ears. This triumph of millinery never fails to elicit cries of delight from feminine visitors, or to set mere man to chuckling. It is most likely to form a part of the impressive gear of the nurses from the provinces, who have more money for such uses than the wives of the fishermen; and the things that are told to newcomers as to the significance of this or that ornament is the boldest advantage ever taken of innocent credulity. They undertook to tell me that you could distinguish between married, single, and engaged women by glancing at the ornaments – I wonder if you can! It is said that parents present their daughters with this headdress on the day of their confirmation; and that it is a fine sight to behold the array of them at kermesstime with their wearers, six or eight abreast, arm in arm, rushing down the streets in the odd dances peculiar to those festivals, droning monotonous tunes.

To my way of thinking the unflagging industry of the Scheveningen women is a matter of quite as much note. One seldom sees them without their knitting, even when they are recreating, and as they stroll along, laughing and chatting together, their fingers, all unnoticed by them, are flashing with extraordinary speed like things of an independent volition. Many of the women wear no sleeves and take great pride in their strong, round arms; and this, I am told, is the case even in winter when they are cracked and purple from exposure to the cold.

The faces of the elder fisher-folk are studies in wrinkles. Their eyes are brave and quizzical, but with a certain settled hardness, not perhaps to be unlooked-for in men and women who come of a stock that for five hundred years has forced even the savage North Sea to yield them a livelihood. They show next to nothing of humor, but rather a stern and weary hopelessness. Strong faces are these, hard, weather-beaten faces, but eloquent of tenacity and desperate courage. They have been called “the most poetic and original of all Hollanders.” They are grave, dignified, and self-reliant; and as they pass you by they show their invariable courtesy in a bow and a quiet “Goe ‘n Dag.” One has only to see them to feel the propriety and justification of the boast in their national song: –

“Wilhelmus van Nassouwe, Ben ick van Duijtschen Bloedt!”

Fishermen naturally suggest ships, and if you glance down the beach you will usually see several of them drawn up to the edge of the water, with the red, white, and blue of Holland at the masthead. During the midsummer season the fishing-fleet is away on the cruise for red herring off the coasts of Scotland, but there are always a few that could not get away, and so we have the famous Scheveningen bom on its native strand. How the artists have delighted in these lumbering, flatbottomed tubs, ponderous of mast and weathered of sail! Mesdag, Maris, Alfred Stevens, and the rest have familiarized the world with this fantastic and picturesque craft. Who would buy a painting of Scheveningen unless it showed a bom or two hauled up on the beach? And that is precisely the raison d’ etre of the bom – it can be hauled up on the beach. Otherwise, what should a Scheveningen fisherman do with a boat, having no deep-water harbor at hand nor anchorage facility? There have, through the centuries, been many other styles of Dutch fishing-boats, – busses, loggers, hookers, sloops, pinken, etc., – and at times, when the forehanded Hollanders have made away with the lion’s share of the foreign catch, outsiders have lost patience and classed them all as “Dutch toads”; but there have been no boms but Scheveningen boms. Nowadays they have had to build them larger and they do not beach so easily, and it is probably only a matter of time when steam vessels will supplant them altogether; but when that evil hour strikes the chiefest picturesque glory of this little village will have forever departed.

There used to be vast excitement, in the old days, over the first herring catch of the season, and it was always hurried ashore and conveyed to the king’s table with no end of flourish and punctilio. Over at Vlaardingen they used to post a watchman on the church tower, and when he made out the first boat coming in he would hoist a blue flag and all the people trooped joyfully down to the wharves shouting a song called “De Nieuwe Haring.” Scheveningen, indeed, still presents one of its most picturesque scenes when the returning fishermen arrive and their catch is auctioned off, down the beach near the lighthouse, with much more of gusto and excitement than you would imagine these phlegmatic people could muster. The shrewd Scheveningen fishermen have learned how to eke out the bare three hundred florins they realize from a year’s fishing by turning new tricks in the way of rope-spinning, sailmaking, ship-building, and curing and smoking the herring. The fish go into this latter process as ” steur haring” and emerge as “bokking” – if that means anything to anybody!