Hals at Nightfall

The “war against water,” the Dutch struggle to wrest their country from the sea, is strangely invisible now. Concerns about global warming are just that, global. The little local struggles — the rush to get the livestock to higher ground, the nervous pacing along the village dam — belong to dangers from olden days, like getting shipped off to suppress a tribal uprising in Sumatra, or contracting cholera from shit in the canal. Only the very old recall the last time things went wrong. The North Sea Flood of 1953 occasionally resurfaces in black-and-white photographs and television documentaries. Every Dutch person has seen these images, but they look as remote as the folk costumes that the people in them are wearing. Almost nobody has experienced the old ancestral terror: that water, looming, lapping, leaping, waiting to whisk you away. This is because the flood of 1953 was the last of

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