Marken in winter wears perhaps a genuine air; in the season of tourists it has too much the suggestion of opera bouffe. The men’s costume is comic beyond reason; the inhabitants are picturesque of set design; the old women at their doorways are too consciously the owners of quaint habitations, glimpses of which catch the eye by well-studied accident. I must confess to being glad to leave: for either one was intruding upon a simple folk entirely surrounded by water; or the simple folk, knowing human nature, had made itself up and sent out its importunate young from strictly mercenary motives. In either case Marken is no place for a sensitive traveller. The theory that the Marken people are savages is certainly a wrong one; they have carried certain of the privileges of civilisation very far and can take care of themselves with unusual cleverness. Moreover, no savage would cover his legs with such garments as the men adhere to.
What is wrong with Marken is that for the most part it subsists on sight-seers, which is bad; and it too generally suggests that a stage-manager, employed by a huge Trust, is somewhere in the background. It cannot be well with a community that encourages its children to beg of visitors.
The women, however, look sensible: fine upstanding creatures with a long curl of yellow hair on each side of their faces. One meets them now and then in Amsterdam streets, by no means dismayed by the traffic and bustle. Their head-dresses are striking and gay, and the front of their bodices is elaborately embroidered, the prevailing colours being red and pink. Bright hues are also very popular within doors on this island, perhaps by way of counteracting the external monotony, the Marken walls being washed with yellow and hung with Delft plates, while the furniture and hangings all have a cheerful gaiety.
The island is flat save for the mounds on which its villages are built, each house standing on poles to allow the frequent inundations of the winter free way. If one has the time and money it is certainly better to visit Marken in a fishing-boat than in the steamer—provided that one can trust oneself to navigators masquerading in such bloomers.
The steamers from Amsterdam pause for a while at Broek and Monnickendam. Broek-in-Waterland, to give it its full title, is one of the quaintest of Dutch villages. But unfortunately Broek also has become to some extent a professional “sight”. Its cleanliness, however, for which it is famous, is not an artificial effect attained to impress visitors, but a genuine enough characteristic. The houses are gained by little bridges which, with various other idiosyncrasies, help to make Broek a delight to children. If a company of children were to be allowed to manage a small republic entirely alone, the whimsical millionaire who fathered the project might do worse than buy up this village for the experiment.