Hans Brinker’s Crazy-House

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Are you as afflicted by the ice-cold January weather as we are here in the Netherlands? Those of you dear readers living in the Southern Hemisphere – my statistics tell me that there are a few – I exclude from the get-go, but otherwise a story-book January does seem to be in effect in Europe, North America, and throughout Asia.

Love that or hate it (I’m not so enthusastic, to tell you the truth), there will always be winners emerging from this situation. Among these are clearly Holland’s ice-skate sellers, as we see from an article in Het Parool (Gekkenhuis [“Crazy-House”] at ice-skate factories).

The unnamed reporter from the Dutch news agency ANP sought out for his/her story the firms “Viking” in Almere and “Zandstra” in Joure (a city in Friesland, the Dutch province especially known for its ice-skating ardor). They’re likely not the only ones in the Netherlands, but provided some good material nonetheless. Normally, says Viking director Jaap Havekotte, they sell around 20,000 pairs of skates per year; this year they are on track for 50,000 or 60,000 pairs. “Our skates are flying out the door,” says the Dutchman. (Yes, that’s really the quote: Onze schaatsen vliegen de deur uit.) Zandstra spokesman Marco Vlap doesn’t want to reveal exact numbers, but confirms that his firm is also working like mad but probably won’t be able to keep up with this year’s demand.

Actually, points out Havekotte, last winter in December (2008) we also had a bit of a cold spell that set people to skating and so brought with it elevated sales figures. He doesn’t have to explicitly say it, but in most Dutch minds it had yet another effect: raising hopes for the holding of the Elfstedentocht, an eleven-city race over the frozen streams and canals of Friesland that occupies an honored and central place in Frisian and Dutch culture and is held whenever ice conditions permit – which they last did only back in January of 1997! Think of the Super Bowl – to come up with an American cultural equivalent – but one strictly subject to the weather year after year for its happening at all! (You can check it out at the Elfstedentocht website, including the race-route, but the text is available only in Dutch or Frisian!) The cold didn’t last long enough then for that, but maybe it will this time, in which case you can expect some tenths-of-a-percentage point to be shaved from the 2010 GDP in the blizzard of sick-days taken as people flock up to Friesland and/or in front of their TV sets.

While you’re waiting to see if that happens, this article in English (“Amsterdam prepares canals for ice skating fun”) tells of our fine city’s preparations for letting people skate on certain of the historic canals, should the cold weather indeed continue. Personally, I sincerely hope that it won’t, but nonetheless those measures now being undertaken are mainly banning boat traffic on certain of the canals to protect the forming ice. You can peruse a map here showing to which stretches of which canal that ban applies, as well as the accompanying detailed list.

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