Monthly Archives: February 2022

The Polish Elfstedentocht (NL Embassy in PL)

Have you ever heard of the Polish Elfstedentocht? It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Dutch love ice skating. At the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Dutch team once again won multiple medals on the ice. Possibly the most famous and thought-provoking ice skating tradition in the Netherlands is the so-called Elfstedentocht (Eleven-City-Tour), a tour of almost 200 km via eleven towns in Frisia, skated on natural ice. The first Elfstedentocht was held in 1909, and a total of fifteen tours have been skated thus far.

The Elfstedentocht also has a Polish connection. In 1985, when it looked as though the real Elfstedentocht could not be organised due to unfavourable weather conditions, several Dutchmen and -women travelled by bus to Poland, where an alternative tour was planned. Unfortunately, on the night they arrived at their hotel, it was announced that the real Elfstedentocht would be held after all! The skaters did their best to organise a swift return to the Netherlands, which at that time – with the Iron Curtain still in place – proved quite the challenge. In the end, most of the Dutch skaters made it back home in time. One of the men who hurried back was Rein Jonker, who was a contender for the tour’s title. He finished in fifteenth place, however. The following year, at the fourteenth Elfstedentocht, Jonker came in second.

This does not mean that there was no alternative tour in Poland. In fact, Polish versions of the Elfstedentocht were organised in both 1985 and 1986.

More information can be found here.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 27.

A Polish Queen and a Dutch Poet (NL Embassy in PL)

In 1648, around this time of the year, the Polish queen Marie-Louise de Gonzague-Nevers will have received a pleasant letter from the Northern Netherlands. None other than the famed poet and diplomat Constantijn Huygens wrote to her, offering her a personal gift: a copy of his recently published ‘Pathodia sacra et profana’, a collection of psalms and musical compositions with texts in Latin, Italian, and French. The letter itself was written in French – the queen’s native language – and Constantijn signed it in Holland on 6 January. Taking into account a delivery time of a few weeks, this means that the book must have reached Warsaw by the end of January or beginning of February.

Constantijn clearly tried to impress and flatter the queen. He referred to her brief stay in the Dutch Republic in December 1645-January 1646 – an episode we discussed some time ago: “Your passage alone has perfumed the air of these provinces so much, and you have left such strong impressions of your multiple excellent qualities and universal knowledge of all that can be called beautiful, that ultimately, Madam, all those who in some way profess to love beauty, have desired to bear witness to that which art or nature has bestowed upon them in that area.” The author then humbly introduced himself as “one of those fortunate unfortunates”, since although he missed her during her presence in Holland, “the distance from here to the furthest north would not be large enough to prevent me from always seeing and admiring you, as if you had never left Amsterdam”. “The furthest north” was Constantijn’s way of referring to Poland. Whereas Poland is nowadays commonly seen as an Eastern European, or possibly a Central or East-Central European country, authors in the 17th century universally described it as a part of “the north”, just as the Dutch Republic itself.

Finally, Constantijn presented the actual subject of the letter: his book, which “throws itself at Your Majesty’s feet”. Constantijn argued that the queen might like it, since it was printed in Paris, and claimed that he was forced to send it to her, merely because others had threatened to do so without his knowledge, which would “rob him of the opportunity, for which I have waited so patiently, to tell you how much I honour the grace which I ask of you, to be regarded with all respect and submission”. With this mix of false modesty and abundant admiration, Constantijn obviously wanted to win the queen’s favour. Considering his prominent position in Dutch politics, his book and letter can be seen as diplomatic tools, used not only for the author’s personal gain, but also aimed at strengthening the bonds between the Dutch Republic and the Polish court.

Did Marie-Louise like Constantijn’s gift? Sadly, we do not know how Marie-Louise responded, but as she was an active patroness of poetry, she may have spent many hours enjoying Constantijn’s writings.

The French letter and a Dutch translation by Rudolf Rasch can be found here.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 26.