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Sometimes, when the news is getting depressing, I still can’t speak Dutch, and the kitchen is a pile of dirty dishes, I feel the need to be impressed by something. There are all sorts of impressive people out there doing impressive things, but today’s installation comes from something that’s all around me right now: the Dutch countryside.

The thing is, technically speaking, most of the Netherlands shouldn’t exist. It should be a marshy swampland of wet weeds, fit for nothing but muskrats and birds. Or just an expanse of blue sea. But a long time ago a few Dutchmen and women decided that they’d like to live here, please, and could it be a bit drier? They drained the marshes, dug canals, set up dikes to hold back floods, and created a country. As the popular saying goes, “God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland.”

The pictures below, stolen from my friend Wikipedia, illustrate how much of this country should be water. The whole island of Flevoland (with the capital Lelystad) was “made” as recently as 1950. You can see the comparison of a-long-time-ago to today, and how Amsterdam is plunked right in the middle of that big blue spot. That’s water, friends.

Amsterdam is built on old wooden piles driven into the soft sand beneath the city. This blows my mind when I sit down to really think about it. This whole city is built on some rotted wooden posts, and here we are driving cars and bikes and trams all over it? Why are we still here, and not sunk into the mire like anything else that weighs more than a duck?

The answer to that is Dutch engineering genius. And concrete, which they switched to from wood when it became available.  I can’t give you a deep, scientific explanation because I don’t understand it myself with all the dikes and pumping. It’s enough to me that this city is here, that it’s below sea level, and that it’s people happily ride bikes down the streets, not worrying about sinking into the depths.

Pretty impressive.

Unfortunately, my kitchen is still a mess.

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