I've always sort of had a thing for that whole Bavarian-Biergarten-Girl look. What's not to love about pigtailed Alpine maidens with powerful forearms popeyed from lugging liters of Pilsner, short twirling skirts, and breasts wedged into a corset? A scantily-clad Fräulein bringing you beer? Add some meat roasting on a spit and you're all set. Welcome to Walhalla.
Last October we took a day trip up to the German village/eternal Christmasland of Frankenmuth, Michigan. On the drive there I said to my wife, "All I want from today is for a girl in a dirndl to bring me a beer in a giant glass shaped like a boot." Another boot filled with Franziskaner, Heidi? Well, if you insist! Unfortunately, wherever we went, the middle-aged and modestly-costumed schnitzel schleppers explained in thick Michigan accents that they didn't have boot glasses. "I guess you'll have to wait for Ye Olde Renaissance Faire to see corseted bosoms," my wife said, patting the back of my hand. I glared at her and put "dirndl pattern" on my mental list of things to google.
This past weekend we traveled across the state to western Michigan, the omphalos of New World Calvinism and the place to where my reformist Dutch forebears followed their Indian guides and finally said, "Eh, dit is goed enough." We were there once again for the annual Tulip Time Festival, arriving just in time for the big high school Klompen Kompetition. Nubile teens from Holland and the surrounding communities of Drenth, Overisel, New Holland, Vriesland, Zeeland, and Zutphen converge costumed in wooden shoes for a klomp off in the city streets. I think it must have something to do with meeting Title IX requirements, because no boys participate. Instead, the tallest girls with the broadest shoulders wear boy costumes. And fortunately, the sturdy Dutch-peasant gene pool of the region provides for an ample number of tall, broad-shouldered girls up for the task.
As the high school girls klomped on, my mother-in-law explained that the local reformed Christian high school didn't have a Klompen team for years because dancing was verboden. The administration eventually relented and the team quickly rose to become a local Klompen powerhouse. Still, it made me wonder: was there really anything sexy about Klompen?
Dutch dancing is somewhat bewildering to witness. The dancers line up for blocks and dance around in wooden shoes to music piped into the streets by a speaker stolen from an Arby's drive-thru back in 1985. The girl costumes are like a fundamentalist-Mormon take on traditional low country dress. Some even wear lace hats with wire springs called "kissers" that extend outward from the face. These were, of course, designed to prevent kissing (sort of Calvinist chastity hats). The dances have no actual basis in Dutch folk tradition, but were invented by a high school gym teacher during the Great Depression. While some dances encourage same sex hand holding (sexy), others include finger-wagging choreography that seems to discourage taking it to the next level (bummer):
When the high school dancing ended, the girls wandered off with friends wearing 21st-century American Teenager costumes of short shorts and sweatshirts with the word Hollister printed across their chests.
Then a few hundred middle-aged women started synchronized klomping all the way down Eighth Street:
At that point the verdict was in. Those parochial school elders were correct to permit this exception to their general prohibition on dancing. They should rehabilitate sex offenders by making them watch this in prison, I whispered to my wife.
So Tulip Time is no Oktoberfest. The Dutchigan equivalent of Oktoberfest is sitting in an empty auditorium while asking an elderly woman in a lace hat to bring you a second ice water and then leaving her a 15 cent tip. This guy provides the music:
Some day, I hope to travel to the real Netherlands and ride around on a sweet bike soaking up the gratitude from the general populace that my conservative ancestors and their ilk left those levee'd shores so that marijuana could be decriminalized and hookers permitted to slowly sway in storefront windows. But until then I have Tulip Time, which I enjoy for more than just the opportunity to make fun of my own people. I also enjoy the FATBALLS:
Oh, and Tulip Time is fun for the kids:
This year both of mine appeared in full costume. This was done solely so that we might one day expose their love interests to these photos. My son's little blond mullet poking out from under his cap might be the Dutchest thing I saw all weekend.
I spent part of Friday morning scouring the racks at Bibles for Belgium (my favorite Holland thrift store). Just before leaving empty handed, I spotted a 1970s Volendam costume on a rack near the cash register. The size looked just right for my wife, and I would have totally been willing to spend several nickels more than the $15 asking price. It took some convincing, but she was a good sport and agreed to wear it for a photo:
Afterward, I whispered in her ear: Can we maybe take this up a bit, and add a corset?
Why stop there, she said, When I could also serve you a Heineken in a wooden shoe.