For the average tourist in The Netherlands a visit to Marken and/or Volendam is an essential part of the holiday. Some people think that this influx of tourists is a modern development, prompting locals to walk about in costume and ‘perform’ for the visitors. What many people don’t realise is that this has been happening for a long time and that tourism has been an important source of income for these villages for over a century. In the late 19th century foreign travel became more affordable and was no longer the privilege of the aristocracy and nouveau riche. Even though it was still out of reach of most people, numbers were starting to increase.
The Botor Chaperon is a silly book that describes the holiday of four young people who travelled through The Netherlands in a boat, around the turn of the century. One of the protagonists is Dutch and he is a bit cynical about their visit to Marken:
Marken, with its tall-spired church, soon appeared to our eyes, the closely grouped little island-town seeming to float on the waves as San Giorgio Maggiore does at Venice, in the sunset hour.
In spite of my sneers at the island theatre and its performers, eagerness betrayed itself in the manner of my passengers, as we approached Marken, full petrol ahead.
“They see us,” I announced, as we drew near enough to make out that a crowd of huge green and yellow mounds massed in the harbour were hay-boats. “They’re congratulating themselves on an unexpected harvest, as the big audiences for which they cater every morning and afternoon in summer are gone for the day. When we arrive, there’ll be a stage-setting and a stage grouping, which would make a ‘hit’ for a first act in London.”
Still nearer we came, and now we could see men and women and little children playing at unloading the hay with pitchforks from boats large and small. It was the prettiest sight imaginable, and one felt that there ought to be an accompaniment of light music from a hidden orchestra.
The women and children of Marken have made the fortune of the little island as a show place; and to-day they were at their best, raking the golden hay, their yellow hair, their brilliant complexions, and still more brilliant costumes dazzling in the afternoon sunlight.
We landed and nobody appeared to pay the slightest attention to us. That is part of the daily play; but I was the only one who knew this, and seeing these charming, wonderful creatures peacefully puruing their pastoral occupations as if there were no stranger eyes to stare, I was reproached for my base insinuations.
“How could you call them ‘sharpers?'” cried Phyllis. “They’re loves – darlings. I could kiss every one of them. They have the most angelic faces, and the children – why, they’re cherubs.”
After having been invited into one of the fishermen’s homes some photographs are taken and the question of a ‘tip’ is raised:
Starr came to ask me if I thought the dear thing’s feelings would be hurt by a small offering of money.
“They may, and probably will be – if the offering is small,” said I, dryly.
“What are you insinuating?” exclaimed Nell.
“I don’t think they’ll refuse money,” I said. “In fact, they expect it.”
Their offering is not deemed generous enough, although they clearly think it is, and they are chased back to their boat:
Thus we left them, and I saw that the ladies were thankful to be safe aboard Lorelei again.
“Fiends!” gasped the Chaperon, gazing shoreward in a kind of evil fascination. “And we called them angels and cherubs! I think you are good, Jonkheer, not to say ‘I told you so.'”
“They’re terrible – beautiful and terrible,” said Starr, “like figures that have been brought to life and have sprung at you out of a picture, to suck your blood – in answer to some wicked wish, that you regret the minute it is uttered.”
They seem to be aware of the effect that tourism, even in its early days has had on the local culture:
“Tourists like ourselves have spoiled them; they were genuine once,” I said. “Probably Spakenburg, which is so unsophisticated now, will be like Marken one day; and even at Volendam, though the people have kept their heads (which shows they have a sense of humour), they’re not unaware of their artistic value.
They could not have been more accurate in their prediction. Spakenburg and Volendam now also create spectacles to attract tourists and the income that they bring.