Z is for Zuider Zee ….

Z is for Zuider Zee ….

As I sit down to write this and rifle through the research, it struck me. It’s been twenty-one years. Twenty. One. Years. For me, that’s beyond sobering. It means that there’s a better than even chance that people I worked with at The Rijksmuseum voor Scheepsarcheologie have passed on. It means that young, aspiring archaeologist Herre is approaching 50 (as I am). It makes me wonder about the National Geographic photographer…that couple from Texas A&M, and others who participated in the excavations of the koopvaardij schip (merchant ship) M11 or the punter in Workum where we drove the boer  (farmer) mad with impatience as we dug it out of his sloot (irrigation ditch). Bike rides to Kampen in Overijssel, the train to Stavoren. The wild van rides back and forth to Workum with a man named “Harm” at the wheel (don’t get me started on the jokes about “staying out of Harm’s way.”)… all the edges of what was once the Zuyderzee…

The Zuider Zee was, basically, that open part of the mitten that is The Netherlands. In the Roman times, it was a marshy area replete with peat bogs, but the 12th century, it was more of a series of lakes and channels. Industrious individuals, keen to capitalize on Baltic trade and woo the Hanseatic League, widened the inlet. A flood in 1282 broke through the works at Texel.  The worse flood of 1287, named St. Lucia’s Flood (December 14th), saw the seawalls fail completely, and between 50,000 and 80,000 people died. Even today, it remains the fifth largest flood in recorded history.  They rebuilt the seawalls and dikes, and tried everything to stabilize this sort-of-inland sea. But, the North Sea is a tempestuous thing, and storms to the north rocked the Zuider Zee, turning it into a “veritable cauldron” resulting in more ships being lost.

You have to remember, a good part of The Netherlands is below sea level. I always loved the joke (and I think it was Monty Python) that The Netherlands has the potential of becoming the largest country in the world because of their floor control and land reclamation programs.

The Zuider Zee is now only memory. In the last century, the earth and sea works became more formidable. The Nederlanders had had quite enough of THAT with all the flooding a death. The result of some of this was the reclamation of Flevoland (Flevopolder if memory serves—be kind, it’s been YEARS). That’s where Dronten is. In 1992, Dronten, Ketelhaven was nearly the end of the Earth, it seemed. That’s where the Rijksmuseum was. That’s where we started digging up that Merchantman (with Hanseatic trappings) in that farmer’s field. That’s where I learned to seriously dig Nederlands archaeology (partly because of the amount of koffie involved, but mostly because everyone was friendly and took it upon themselves not to speak English during breaks, and that just allowed the Americans in the group to attempt to get our brains around the language, and that was all sorts of awesome). I should mention that I didn’t actually learn to speak the language. I did learn the proper way to say alstublieft  (please) and dank u wel.  Strangely enough, I can still read bits of it, and understand bits when it’s spoken. You know, twenty-one years later. And it was from my Nederlandse vrienden that I picked this up (and the Texans never quite understood it).

It’s a mannerism. It’s a mannerism I particularly like. Several of of the boys in The Fishing Widow have it because, well, I have it. It’s always said with a smile, it’s not something to put anyone off, but if you’re unfamiliar with it, you might think that the person saying it to you is unsure, or wary, or thinks you’re just nuts (and that’s why it drove the Texans mad). Ja, wel  For the boys, it translates as, “Yeah, well..” For our purposes, it would go down like this:.

Texan (like he’s from Texas A&M or something): We think this is a discrete feature aft of the mast step.

Jaap (smiling and saying it slowly): Ja wel, it’s very good.

Because Jaap (or any of the others) would draw out that Ja wel, the Texans believed that the Nederlanders didn’t believe them. I mentioned to one of the Texans, that Ja wel actually translates into English as, “Yes, very good!” or something like that. Jaap was being enthusiastic, but the Texans couldn’t see it.

Twenty-one years on, I’ve found YouTube videos of Ketelhaven. The Museum is still there, there’s a large restaurant. I remember the circle, square, and triangle sculptures along the road. Batavia is in the water; when I was there, she was still under construction, and what a construction that was! I remember the bike rides from Dronten to Kampen on my days off’; catching the train to somewhere and wandering around just being. I’ll mention I did most of that traveling by myself. But, dredging all this up (no pun intended), it really does make me think. I need to go back and show this place to the kids (and the husband). And also let you know, if you’ve not been to the edge of the Zuider Zee … it’s a place to go before you can’t go anywhere anymore…


Poetry Form:  ZaniLa Rhyme

The ZaniLa Rhyme is an interesting, modern repeating form. This form was created by Laura Lamarca, and consists of at least 3, 4 line stanzas.

The rhyme scheme for each stanza is the same as Long Measure,

a. b. (c1. c2.) b.

Instead of being Iambic   Tetrameter it has a syllable count of

9. 7. (9.) 9.

Line 3 is a Repeating Line, which contains an internal rhyme and is repeated in each alternate stanza as in the first   stanza. Each even stanza line contains the same line but with the two parts of the internal rhyme swapped. There is no maximum poem length.

(from www.thepoetsgarret.com)

At the Edge of The Zuider Zee


A trowel in hand, I kneel in the dirt

Digging up bits of the past

The koffie is on, it won’t be long

This vessel will be free at long last.


Work at the edge of the Zuider Zee

Boats stop to give us a look

It won’t be long, the koffie is on

Excavation is better than books!


Centuries ago when hard ground was sea

Men and their ships plied the waves

The koffie is on, it won’t be long

They have found it! The newspaper raves


The photographer came with her gear

She set up at dawn’s first light

It won’t be long, the koffie is on

She shot us from morning until night!


Twenty-one years ago, how time flies

Photographs, memories, fade

The koffie is on, it won’t be long

‘Til to Flevoland my feet have strayed.




3 Replies to “Z is for Zuider Zee ….”

  1. I’m from South Africa and, apart from Afrikaans being my second language, I studied Nederlands at University. I absolutely love your story. Thank you…

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