Tourist Flowers


Knowing that they are considered quintessentially–or stereotypically–Dutch, like windmills and dikes, I refused to like tulips for the longest time. I felt they were tourist flowers.

It wasn’t until a few years before I left Holland that I learned to appreciate them—big bunches, which I allowed to droop quite a bit in the vase before sticking a pin through the stem right under the bloom, to prevent them from drooping even further. Informal, floppy groups of color, preferably with a few petals lying around on the table. Intimate, not at all like the stiff, straight soldier-like flowers in endless rows in huge fields on calendar photos.

I have lived in America for seventeen years now, and recently my mother-in-law sent me a series of pictures in one of those forward-email things. They were photos of the tulip farms in the Netherlands. Some aerial, others taken from the ground at interesting angles, all of them showing the stunning colors of Holland’s most famous flowers in lines and stripes of bright floral knitting. This is one of them.

So many Americans, when they hear that I’m Dutch, tell me that they went to Holland and were amazed at the tulip farms. Well, I hereby shamefully confess that I’ve never seen them. Nope, never. I lived in Holland most of my life until age 34, and I never went to see the tulip fields in bloom. Come to think of it, I did see some  smallish ones in passing on the train, on my way to Enkhuizen when my parents lived there, but I never paid them much attention.

Now I look at those pictures and I could kick myself. They’re beautiful! But at the same time I hate thinking that, because it’s a sign that Holland is no longer completely my home if I begin to see things like tourists do.

My then future husband lived in Holland with me for seven months, from September 1991 to March 1992. After that we went on a long trip around America and Canada for three months, after which he stayed in the U.S. to look for a job. If he had stayed in Holland longer, I’m sure we would have gone to see the tulip fields in May, because with him I went sightseeing more than I ever had before in my own country.

We went to the Rijksmuseum, to The Hague, to Rotterdam, and later with the kids we went to Madurodam, which I’d seen once as a child fresh back from Australia. That was also the first time I ever visited my grandfather’s hometown of Harlingen in Friesland or the Apenheul, where squirrel monkeys run loose and jump on your head.

But when my husband insisted on taking the kids on a tourist boat around the canals of Amsterdam, I didn’t join, feeling that that really went too far. I was Dutch, dammit; this was my country. I wasn’t a bloody tourist.

Well, by the time we get around to going to Holland again, I will  probably be a bloody tourist, shamelessly taking pictures of everything, oohing and aahing like a total American. Of course, we’d be going during the summer vacation, so too late for tulips. Oh well, maybe when the kids are in college.

By then I might have finally caved and become an actual American citizen, so I won’t have to feel as weird about it. I’ll take pictures to my heart’s content, from every angle, with different skies overhead (if I’m lucky) and behave the way I did when I used to go on vacation in Britain.

There I went everywhere with my camera hanging from my neck, taking pictures of everything British because I loved it there and wanted to capture the mood and the essence and the colors and the light. That was back when I took Holland for granted, thinking it was flat and boring and too darn small…

Will I ever go on a canal boat in Amsterdam? I don’t think so, but check back with me in another ten years.

Photo: I couldn’t find who took it, but if anybody knows, give me a comment so I can give him/her credit.

2 responses to “Tourist Flowers

  1. Growing up in a tourist Mecca like Orlando, I’ve always hated looking like a tourist. You can imagine how much conflict this creates in me when I love to wander around taking photos. That’s one reason why I usually take my dog with me. Most tourists don’t go places with that big a dog. 😉

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  2. Funny! You must have a very well-behaved dog. There’s no way i could take a picture with our bouncy labradoodle on the leash. The thing was that in England I also didn’t feel like a tourist. I always felt more like a photojournalist, even though I wasn’t. Something about having a camera made me very daring.

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