Saturday, February 11, 2012

deep-freezing identity

climate, weather & culture

 In the following, you will find some quotes from an article in the New York Times from February 2009, with the headline "A rare deep freeze warms the Dutch soul". Please take your time and consider each of the statements thoughtfully. It seems to be a good exercise to find out what we talk about when we talk about the weather and / or climate change. 
Having done so, maybe you have some time to go out for a walk. In Hamburg, nearly everybody is out on the frozen Alster lake today - maybe to find out how it feels to be Nordic and to warm their Hamburg soul. Try yourself, wherever you are.

In the 19th century, when Hans Brinker, the hero of the novel in which he tries to win a pair of silver skates, coasted along Holland’s ice, the canals froze almost every year. But water pollution and climate change have made this so rare that today a boy of 15, Brinker’s age, may never have seen a frozen canal, or at least remember one.

With an influx of immigrants, the country has been struggling to maintain what it considers its Dutch soul, and Mr. Gustafsson was one of many here who thought the skating experience enabled the Dutch to reconnect with their identity. “There were only Dutch people on the ice,” he went on. “I saw no people of Arab descent.”

But André Bonthuis, who has been mayor in this town of 23,000 people for the past 20 years, said he saw Indonesians and Moroccans, among other newcomers to the Netherlands, on the ice. “It’s rather new for people from Morocco,” he said. But he agreed there was something very Dutch about canal skating, which is depicted in paintings by Dutch masters as early as the 17th century.

“Water is our friend, and 10 percent of our area is water,” he said. “From the oldest days, in very little villages, people could skate to each other.”

Mr. Bonthuis, 59, said he skated with friends recently but also spent a lot of time just skating meditatively alone, leaning slightly forward, arms crossed behind the back. “It’s nice to skate when there is a beautiful view of the fields,” he said. “You see a lot of people skating alone.”

Asked whether the skating frenzy had an economic impact, or perhaps had helped the Dutch forget the downturn, he replied: “Everybody took days off.” He added: “A lot of Dutch canceled ski holidays, so that hurt the economy, at least in the ski resorts.”
But over at Haitsma, a big hardware and skating supply store, Henk Haitsma, 62, the owner, was not complaining. His shelves were swept clean. “I sold 3,000 to 4,000 pairs of skates in the last 10 days,” he said. In that time frame he would have sold several hundred in other years.

Oddly, though, the cold swept across only the southern Netherlands and not the north. That mattered because this year is the 100th anniversary of the first race across frozen canals through 11 cities in the north, and it has been repeated every year in the past century when there has been ice.

(But maybe this year, in February 2012, the race will be possible again.)


@ReinerGrundmann said...

Yesterday I went out jogging in a park near Birmingham. The park has seven little lakes which are frozen but no ice skaters were seen. Dog owners were anxious to keep their dogs away from the surface of the lake. But they will have had a warm Brummy soul nevertheless.

I feel rather shattered after such a long break from running.

Werner Krauss said...

any feelings about your British-, English- or Germanness while jogging?
Just asking because I was fascinated that in the above NYT story from 2009 people talk about questions of belonging, of Dutchness, of inclusion and exclusion, when talking about the freeze. They are pretty racist, right? And I love the photo - almost impossible to decide whether it is a painting from the 17th century or a photo from 2009. The water, the ice, the people, the windmills - a deep freeze that lays bare identity.
This weekend, the Hamburger Abendblatt showed a black woman on the frozen Alsterlake; her first contact with ice, and the ice means an important step towards becoming more "integrated" - at least, that's the moral of the story. Those things happen when we talk about the microclimates we celebrate when extreme weather events happen.

I try to make a link to the "scientific" climate debate, where questions of culture are strictly ignored or maybe: kept unconscious.

The Vahrenholt debate is as much a cultural debate as it is a scientific one. When reading in the Vahrenholt book this weekend, it became obvious that climate science always means something additional. For Vahrenholt, it is against the "eco-dictatorhsip", against Greenpeace, the IPCC, but there are also many other things hard to identify. The permanent lament, the polemic, the scorn and so on tells stories which are not that easy to decipher. But also those who argue against him have a political or cultural agenda; they re also involved in taking sides, forming groups, becoming part of something (our "we" debate).

There is this deep wish to separate science from culture / politics and let "truth" decide who is right or wrong (see comments to your above post on creationists etc); but maybe that's impossible. Sure, there is good and bad science, but to sort this out doesn't resolve the cultural and political wars and battles.
I am not the one to judge this, but sometimes I think climate science is completely unable to cope with this burden.

Rob Dekker said...

(But maybe this year, in February 2012, the race will be possible again.)

Werner, it is nice to see that you share some of what we Dutch call "elfstedenkoorts" (11-city fever).

This happens every time when there are a few nights of -5 to -10 C frost. The entire country turns their attention to the ice masters of the 11-city tour committee. That is one of these rare cases when we Dutch let go of our normal down-to-Earth, two feet on the ground, and common-sense nature and feel the passion and excitement for ice skating and a shared emotion of what the NYT rightfully calls the "Dutch soul".

Unfortunately, most years the fever dies early. We have not seen any 11-city race this century, and I'm pretty sure this year will be no exception. Weather forcast for the coming week is well above freezing, with rain, and that just does not help if you want some ice.

Meanwhile, here in California, we are having the mildest (and driest) winter in a long time, and the cherry-blossom is out. I can't remember it being out this early, and I've been here 20 years.

One question for you : what did you actually want to say with this post ?

Werner Krauss said...

Good question, Rob. What did I want to say? (who am I to know?)

In an impulse, I wanted to reclaim climate from those unnerving scientific debates. There is more "in the air" than only statistics. Climate is too important to leave it to notoriously conflicted climate science.

First step is to open the window and to find out what is in the air. The NYT article serves well as a good and rich example (and confusing, too - the nation, the Arabs, climate change). Climate is what we inhabit, it is our life support that also contains our societal genealogies (?). We have to make it our own, to actively inhabit and to design our (micro)climates.

More important were follow up steps (still to be defined):
how to legitimize oneself to take action on behalf of our micro-climates (without anxiously waiting to be legitimized by science)?

Input welcome!

@ReinerGrundmann said...

when I saw the anxious dog owners I was tempted to do what is described in an old poem which I remember through my Germanness:

"Ich will es einmal wagen,
Das Eis, es muß doch tragen. -
Wer weiß?"

Read it here (with translation)

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Apparently dogs can cope better with ice than humans, here is an example from yesterday. Pity I cannot include the picture from the story, would make a nice contrast to the Breugelesque picture of this post