Tonight, I joined Arie Jan on the couch to watch the 8:00 news to catch up on world events. Something serious must be going on inside Holland, I thought, as there on the screen was a somber looking Dutch man speaking before an expansive collection of brightly colored microphones. His countenance, continuously lit up by flashes of light, suggested there were more reporters at this live news conference then there are Stroopwafels in Holland.
Had there been an international attack I had somehow missed out on? Or maybe Holland was pulling out of the European Union? Was Queen Beatrix okay? Was Holland sinking into the ocean at a faster rate than earlier calculated, putting us all in imminent danger? I tried to connect the gravity of the image before me with the weathery words I was picking up: lakes, water, ice, snow, freezing point, centimeters, volunteers, ice thaw.
“Oh My God,” I said to Arie Jan. “Is all of this about whether or not that big skating event will go forward?”
“I’m afraid so,” Arie Jan said. “The Dutch take their skating very seriously. Either that, or there’s not much going on in the world.”
Well, in the world of skating, Elfstedentocht is a big deal. It is described as the world’s largest speed skating competition, going through eleven cities and traversing close to 200 kilometers. And, it is only possible if the weather conditions are just right–e.g. if enough rivers and lakes and waterways that form a contiguous skating path through the eleven cities have reached a deep enough freeze.
Thus, it requires the cooperation of not only thousands of volunteers, but of mother nature herself providing the right conditions and the Elfstedentocht commission verifying that the conditions are suitable. And sadly, despite the one day of snow we had last week, and despite all of the Dutch already out there skating on every patch of frozen water they can find, the conditions were not yet up to par for the world’s largest speed skating competition to go forward.
But after 15 more minutes of continuous news coverage, I switched to BBC without too much flinching on my husband’s part to discover that indeed, the rest of the world was still out there, covering stories that had very little to do with speeding across the ice.
If you are Dutch and you are reading this right now, then my apologies to the insult I am bringing on your motherland. But really, 15 minutes of prime time news coverage for live footage on whether or not the 11 city skating event will go forward? These are the moments when living in Holland feels more like being a member of a provincial town where all eyes turn inward toward the upcoming parade or pageant, than an internationally renowned country that influenced far-reaching parts of the world through its seafaring, trading and business practices.
Now, if I only knew an elfstedentocht economist who could explain the monetary benefits of 200 kilometers of speed skating, or a sociologist or historian who could enlighten me on how this race is connected to the sinew that binds together the Dutch national spirit, then I might just see that elfstedentocht is not only plausibly linked to the origins of Dutch worldliness, but does indeed warrant 15 minutes of prime time.