Sunday, 17 May 2009

places I remember: Scheveningen

Every week, I’ll write a little piece about the places I’ve lived or visited, based on my own feelings, thoughts and memories – and most likely a bit of history.

Scheveningen, The Netherlands - I was born in a mansion in the posh part of Scheveningen. Not that my family were posh – it was where the maternity clinic was housed. After being kept there for eight days (I believe that was the rule for both mothers and babies in those days) I was taken to the fifth-floor walk-up that was my parents’ first home (fourth floor if you’re European).

Just ten days old, all bundled up of course, I would be taken for walks out on the boulevard in a November storm. It’s difficult to tell whether my fascination with storms is due to nature or nurture, but either way, I obviously inherited it from my parents. When I was older, I would stand between the window and the curtains at night when I was supposed to be asleep and watch the rain, clouds and lightning. Only a couple of years ago my mother told me that she and dad would often lie in bed with the windows open to do the same thing.

I don’t remember anything from the time we lived there, we moved to Delft the month I turned two, but until recently most of the family on my father’s side still lived there, so we did visit. Mostly I remember the street my grandparents used to live on – there was a church right across from them, and behind that was a school playground. But we weren’t allowed to cross that on our own because the street was too busy.

By the time I can remember, the backroom had been opened up to join with the front room, leaving only one bedroom and another small space that was now in use as hobby-room, so I could never figure out where my grandparents and their five children slept. Even knowing what I know now, it must’ve been cramped – but they were pretty well-off.

Originally, Scheveningen was a fishing village in the dunes on the North Sea coast of The Netherlands, but it has long since been swallowed up by the government residence, The Hague. They managed to maintain something of a separate identity, though - I once heard a saying that ‘The Haguers are the jellyfish the Scheveningers threw over the dunes’, of course I couldn’t possibly comment – and those in-the-know will recognise my last name as a typically Scheveninger name.

My paternal great-grandmother wore the traditional dress of Scheveningen (click on the pictures for enlargements). Looking back I think it’s a shame I didn’t really connect with her, but she was ancient, hard of hearing and used to sit in the corner of my grandparents’ front room holding court with the adults. I don’t think us kids running around amused her. Generally were said hello, were given something to drink and then sent to the bedroom to play on the Atari.
She always wore a black skirt down to the feet, white underskirt, black shoes and stockings, black apron (for widows and on Sundays, every-day wear was blueish-grey stripes, or possibly checks for work – clogs were work-wear too), a long-sleeved, buttonless blouse (also black for her, but traditionally they could be coloured, usually in pastels) and a shawl that almost completely covers the upper body. In fact the ends were tucked into the front of the skirt. The white fabric or lace cap was held in place by an ‘iron’ (usually silver) and two pins. The ends of the iron are decorated by two “books” on the forehead.
I got completely distracted writing this part, researching the traditional dress and even finding patterns for the skirt, the apron and the shawl. If only I knew someone who can sew! I guess I could start with the shawl, I know they were sometimes crocheted or knitted – I’ve seen it on my great-grandmother. I don’t want to wear them full-time, but I’d like a set so that I can when I feel like it.

The picture above is part of Panorama Mesdag, a 14-meter-high (46 foot) 360° degree painting of Scheveningen, the dunes and The Hague. It was painted in 1881 and has a circumference of 120 meters (131 yards). Click on the picture to see the whole thing.

It is said (I can’t find confirmation) that the word Scheveningen was used as a shibboleth to identify Germans during World War II, seeing as they can’t pronounce it correctly. Nor can most others, to be fair.


Joe said...

I like this post. Thanks for sharing.

I find it so amazing that your great-grandmother still wore the traditional dress in your lifetime. I had a great-grandfather who died at age 102 in 1985; I never really "connected" with him either.

I remember reading in my younger days about the pronunciation "test" you mention in the last paragraph.

I hope all's well with you. Stop by my "place" again sometime!

SubtleKnife said...

I was secretly on your place this afternoon at work. All the pictures were blocked. I'm going there right now.

Christo said...

My father is from the Netherlands, and I used to practice my Dutch with my grandmother while growing up. I took a class in Dutch in college (three students, go figure) and was told of another shibboleth used during the war: "Achthundertachtentachtig gaskacheltjes in de Schevinengse strafgevangenis." I asked my grandmother about it but she didn't remember that from the war. (BTW, pardon my spelling if I'm way's been about 20 years since my college courses and about five since my grandmother died).