Tag Archives: sea

Vlieland – Birthday island

 

Vlieland island

 

Earlier this week I celebrated my birthday. Up to 10 visitors are now allowed onto the camp site for parties and birthdays. However, I decided to celebrate over a 10-day period: some days the weather has been autumnal – cold, wet and windy. Inside the caravan I wouldn’t have been able to guarantee the 1m social distance. Besides, after months of social isolation, lockdown, shielding, I was desperate for proper contact and conversation with family and close friends. It was a marvellous extended week!

I vividly remember another birthday. With a close friend I had an overnight stay on Vlieland, one of the Frisian Islands in the Wadden Sea. We travelled by ferry from Harlingen (a peaceful 90-minute journey), stayed overnight in Hotel De Wadden that once was the island’s marine college, rented bikes, ate fish and chips, bought cranberries which grow there. We were blessed with the weather: sunny and a breeze.

 

A major storm in 1296 separated Vlieland from the mainland. It’s hard to imagine how important the island once was: in the 17th century hundreds of trading and whaling ships would have been afloat nearby. The tides and winds have shifted and changed the shape of the island. Now, it is only about 12 kms long and 2 kms wide at best and, mostly dependent on tourism. Visitors are not allowed to bring a car across – bring your own bike or rent one!

Vlieland ferry

 

Vlieland

Empty days
cycling on white paths
crushed shells
bless the lighthouse
on this island

Full nights
dreams of fishes
frogs, berries, seals
the white ferry
resting

Birthday
blessed July
sky, salt breeze
You look younger
on this island

A cylinder full of the rushing sea …

 

Mesdag 4

Panorama Mesdag is a cylindrical painting, more than 14 metres high and 120 metres in circumference. It’s a view of the sea, the dunes and Scheveningen village as it was in 1881. It’s the oldest 19th century panorama in the world in its original site.

Ever since getting my caravan in Holland, I’ve been visiting several times a year. When I am standing on the circular viewing platform in the centre, I know I’m just 14 metres away from the canvas. I know it’s all an illusion, but I can hear sea gulls, I get the salty tang, I see clouds pass by and the sun break through.

Mesdag 3

Painting the enormous canvas was a team effort: Hendrik Willem Mesdag with his wife Sientje and various able painters from the Hague. Other panoramas portray violent scenes (the battle at Waterloo, the Crucifixion of Christ). Here it’s visible silence, still as the hourglass (Dante Gabriel Rossetti), the tranquility of everyday life. A few fishermen are messing about with their nets, the boats are beached, the cavalry are walking their horses on the sand, women are chatting in a doorway, a dog lies down quietly.

Before the camping closes and I lock up my caravan, I will go and stand on that viewing platform again and say my goodbyes to Panorama Mesdag. The poem is by my friend Keith Lander.

 

 

Mesdag trieneke

The Mesdag Panorama
after a panoramic painting by Mesdag in The Hague

I’m on a school trip to The Hague
transfixed by the Mesdag Panorama,
especially the seascape stretching away
from the viewpoint on the man-made sandhill,
with fishing boats moored on the vast beach,
a troop of cavalry men in training,
and, joy of joys, a donkey ride.

When no one is looking I climb
over the railings onto the sandhill
and, without looking back, skip away
laughing and tumbling down the slope
towards the beach, the north sea breeze
in my hair, to run behind the military
and have endless rides on the donkeys.

Forty years later, a bored business man
with time to spare before an appointment,
I visit the Panorama and remember
I’ve been there before as a schoolboy.
As I stare at the seascape again I see
the boats on the beach, the military men
and a lost boy waving from the donkey ride.