Friday, April 30, 2010

A Day Fit for a Queen

After non-stop sun for well over a week, Queen's Day in the Netherlands was ushered in with a thunderstorm. Seemingly only minutes after the guide and I saw our tour members safely back to our hotel, the heavens opened. But this was Queen's Night - basically, an excuse to party on into the wee hours since the next day is the national holiday - and a little rain couldn't stop us from heading back out to the streets. Crowds packed the Amsterdam city squares, dance music blared from stages, and orange was everywhere.

This morning, too, orange was the color du jour. Alongside the red, white, and blue stripes of the national flag of the Netherlands flew orange ones in honor of the royal family. Queen's Day is, in fact, one of the only times when the royal orange can be raised with the flag. In such a tolerant country, it comes as a surprise to me that such a thing is so strictly regulated, although it lends a special flair to the bright banners.

While Queen's Day is, more or less, a celebration of Dutch independence, it's not fully clear what about this day makes it patriotic, other than the fact that Orange, in honor of the Duke of Orange, who helped liverate the country from Spanish Hapsburg rule, is everywhere. Besides the wearing of the orange, the day is celebrated by turning entire towns and cities into one gigantic flea market. On this day, anyone can sell anything (anything legal, that is), with no permit required. Little girls make cupcakes, college students mix cocktails, and a vast array of junk, ranging from orange leis to used comics to every article of clothing imaginable are on display.

Some get creative - electonic keyboards are set up on street corners for young musical geniuses to showcase their talent and maybe earn a few coins, a wishing wall becomes a place for people to write their wishes on orange post-its in exchange for a donation to help girls in need in Indonesia. "Your wish is absolutely guaranteed to come true," the woman promoting the wishing wall assured me. If that's true, we can all look forward to world peace in the near future. One young man even set himself up as a target for throwing raw eggs - for a fee, of course.

The entreprenurial spirit of the people, and that Dutch way with money, shine even when the sun doesn't. According to the local news, those who were planning on selling in the city planned to make an average of eighty Euros today. Talking with two girls who had a spread set out to raise money for orphans in Ghana, I learned that they had already raised fifty euros, all before noon. With a donation of two more from me, they were well on their way to surpassing the eight Euro mark. Further into the neighborhood, however, a man who convinced me to spring for a fifty cent cup of coffee to comlement my cupcake, noted that he had sold very little. So little, in fact, that he had slashed his prices by half.

"I'd rather sell some coffee for fifty cents than no coffee for one Euro," he told me, while his wife sat in the window of their home with the coffee maker ready for another batch. Dutch practicality wins the day.

As the rain started to clear away, streets and canals become more and more crowded with partiers on foot, bike, and boat. The party will last late into the night, I'm sure, but in the meantime I'll be on my way to Barcelona. Which is just as well, considering that another night of less than five hours of sleep would probably not be the best way to start off my next tour. Not to mention the fact that my orange shirt, purchased yesterday for the big event, probably would smell even less sweet after another night surrounded by spilled beer and various kinds of smoke wafting through the air... this is Amsterdam, after all.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy a last few hours in the Netherlands, and wish everyone, Queen included, a very happy holiday.

No comments: