The Dutch mill differs from the English mill in three important respects: it is painted more gaily (although for England white paint is certainly best); it has canvas on its sails; and it is often thatched. Dutch thatching is very smooth and pretty, like an antelope’s skin; and never more so than on the windmills.
Zaandam lies on either side of the river Zaan, here broad and placid and north of the dam more like the Thames at Teddington, say, than any stretch of water in Holland. A single street runs beside the river for about a mile on both banks, the houses being models of smiling neatness, picked out with cheerful green paint. At Zaandam green paint is at its greenest. It is the national pigment; but nowhere else in Holland have they quite so sure a hand with it. To the critics who lament that there is no good Dutch painting to-day, I would say “Go to Zaandam”. Not only is Zaandam’s green the greenest, but its red roofs are the reddest, in Holland. A single row of trees runs down each of its long streets, and on the other side of each are illimitable fields intersected by ditches which on a cloudless afternoon might be strips of the bluest ribbon.
We sat for an hour in the garden of “De Zon,” a little inn on the west bank half-way between the dam and the bridge. The landlady brought us coffee, and with it letters from other travellers who had liked her garden and had written to tell her so. These she read and purred over, as a good landlady is entitled to do, while we watched the barges float past and disappear as the distant lock opened and swallowed them.
South of the dam the interest is centred in the hut where for a while in 1697 Peter the Great lived to see how the Dutchmen built their ships. The belief that no other motive than the inspection of this very uninteresting cottage could bring a stranger hither is a tenet of faith to which the Zaandamer is bound with shackles of iron. The moment one disembarks the way to Peter’s residence begins to be pointed out. Little boys run before; sturdy men walk beside; old men (one with a wooden leg) struggle behind. It was later that the Czar crossed to England and worked in the same way at Deptford; but no visitor to Deptford to-day is required to see his lodging there.
The real interest of Zaandam is not its connection with Peter the Great but the circumstance that it was the birthplace of Anton Mauve, in 1838. He died at Arnheim in 1888, Neither Zaandam nor Arnheim honours him.