National Geographic : 1908 Sep
AS SEEN FROM A DUTCH WINDOW* BY JAMES HOWARD GORE, PH. D. PROFESSOR OF MATHEMATICS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN looking out upon the busy life of Holland, one does not look "through a glass darkly." If so, it is not because the window-glass is not clean. The fondness of the Dutch for window-washing is innate and of an cient origin. Guicciardini, who gave to the world in 1567 his graphic description of the low counties and their people, said the pleasure of walking along the streets of a Netherland town is marred by the danger one continually runs of being sprinkled by the pumps with which the servant girls wash the windows. But that was in the good old times of long ago. Now the servant girls do not wash the windows, at least not in the cities. Here the windows are attended to by a company-that is, one of many compa nies, for there are so many that they now add to their signs and business cards the date of organization. When I first saw one of their carts loaded with ladders of various lengths and pushed by men dressed in white, I thought they were house-painters who had forgotten their brushes. But in a few days I saw one of these ladders deftly hoisted in front of my window, and before the thought of fire and rescue formed itself in my mind, a white-coated man was washing my window. He did it well and quickly. Quickly, of course, for the company received only two (Dutch) cents for that wash, and of that amount the workman has only a share. For this reason, and because of the lively competition, the carts of the "Glasen wascherij" companies flit rapidly from place to place. A householder subscribes for the services of these window washers, securing a visit once a month or more frequently, if he desires, and pays two cents a window, large or small, first story or fifth. In Holland, as well as in other parts of Europe, the method of subscribing for a service that is somewhat regular is quite common; and if you wish to pro vide for a contingency that may happen, but which you hope may not occur, you can protect yourself by insurance, be it the breaking of a window or an attack of whooping-cough. My window is not only clean, but is provided with "spies," sometimes called "busy-bodies," as the outside mirrors are named. My battery of spies enables me to see at a glance what is transpiring up the street and down the street, as well as who is at the door, by merely sitting at the window. The second house on the right is a public-school building, one part of which is the district police station, and now and then an image is caught in the mir ror of some malefactor brought to judg ment, attended by the usual crowd of curious idlers. It is a veritable judg ment. The inspector at once has a pre liminary hearing, a sort of grand-jury trial, and dismisses the prisoner, imposes the fine, or, if the charge be serious and well-founded, remands him for trial. Should the culprit be found guilty of some minor misdemeanor, a slight im prisonment is imposed. While great rigor is observed in seeing that the full time is spent in prison, the days of serv ing the sentence is optional, provided the offender is a man of property or can fur nish adequate security. One of the common offenses is the failure to observe the sign that is posted at the beginning of some of the streets: "It is forbidden to drive in here." In passing, it might be said that this forbid ding notice does not signify, as some writers on Holland have asserted, that the leaning houses threatening to fall make the street dangerous. It simply means that the traffic is so great that * By courtesy of the Holland-America Steamship Line.