For 10 euros at a paint mill outside Amsterdam we bought a wood windmill construction kit as a souvenir to build back home. Tonight we cracked open the box, unpacked the pieces on our rug, found ourselves faced with a more complex construction project than we imagined and no instructions for assembly.
We found two pieces of advice on the back of the box. One: that we should mark each wood piece with numbers at the positions shown on the included chart. Two: that we should use the picture of the windmill on the front of the package as a guide. We turned over the box and stared at the photograph of a real windmill with grazing sheep in the foreground.
There was such complexity and attention to detail to make us wonder if this was a to-scale model of an actual windmill. There, too, were mistakes in the numbered chart, the only piece of instructional material we were provided. Somehow those two things together made the experience feel very Dutch to me.
Our second night in Amsterdam, we were talking to some young Dutch guys at a local bar. They had just graduated college. I asked them what their plan was, when Global Warming came, and the sea level rose. The tall one, the one in the middle, replied, “Easy, build more dams.” The Dutch, I learned, were the best at building dams.
Among all the little details–the joints, windows, structural beams inside the roof dome, turning vanes, a counterweight–my favorite has to be that the blades were cut and mounted at such an angle as to make it very believable that, were it windy in my apartment, this wooden model windmill might be able to do some work.
Somehow, building this little windmill brought it all back to me. The animal smells. The bracing wind. The country roads that rose out of the water. The rush of standing next to the giant turning blades of the paint mill, craning my neck to look up.