The recent changing of the guard within the Dutch monarchy did not make for quite the same sort of watching as the last time around.
Thirty-three years ago, although far from being a newcomer to the Netherlands, I was definitely still finding my way through what seemed a very mysterious code of national customs and historical meaning. The abdication of the reigning queen, Juliana, in order to pass the crown to her eldest daughter, Beatrix, was therefore an opportunity I welcomed – not because I was terribly interested in royalty, but rather due to my hunch that following the events would yield a bit of the insight I was searching for. So, almost in spite of myself, I ended up watching every moment of every televised detail that was broadcast on that investiture day. Later summaries in the media, I suspected, might not include the clues I was hoping to gain.
Watching something may show the unexpected . . .
Indeed, I came away from that day of television with several gems I might not have picked up on otherwise. The sight of several hundred members of the government standing up individually when called and either swearing allegiance to the new queen or (as a handful opted) promising it told me I was living in a place that was clinging to ceremonial protocol while trying to be forward-thinking in its execution. As just one other example of the treasures gleaned from watching non-stop, I will say that people obviously do not think about the cameras trained on them from every angle; the complicated dynamics between the former queen and her daughter as well as with her husband were visible for all who cared to see.
Who is watching whom?
This time around – the investiture of the crown prince succeeding his mother – although I am still puzzled by numerous elements of what a friend is pleased to call “the Dutch mystique”, I could not face an entire day of watching television, nor was I even close to being as interested as I had been. The news summaries, however, were kind and generous for my purposes, giving me a rich gift. From the moment I heard (and saw) that the abdicating monarch was hosting a farewell dinner in the Honors Gallery in Amsterdam’s newly-renovated Rijksmuseum, I have been wondering what it would be like to dine under the gaze of the fine fellows in Rembrandt’s Nachtwacht (The Night Watch). Could one actually manage to eat anything under those circumstances? People wait for hours just to catch a very fleeting glimpse, obstructed by hordes of tourists, and here was an invitation to gaze upon it (except for Queen Beatrix and those next to her, who had their backs to it, but could instead take in other components of a collection unsurpassed in the history of painting) the entire evening while pretending to have dinner. Should one eat anything in such a situation? I suppose one would have to try, for the sake of the chef and the royal hosts.