The young girl sat on her dad’s shoulders. Waiting. Not a muscle moved. Fidgeting is apparently not allowed at such heights. The rest of us stood on our toes, dancing back and forth, trying to get an early peek. After a while, we began to envy the young girl. Her back and shoulders were comfortably curved as she held firmly around her dad’s neck. No doubt, his was a supporting role. You need a pair of sturdy shoulders? One dad coming right up.
Suddenly, the band began to play the national anthem. Everyone sang with great fervor. Of course, not a word was understood by me. But people began to tear up with the music. Sobs were heard. Just as I began to tear up, the balcony doors opened. The Queen and King appeared. We all shouted, and clapped, and waved . . . and they waved back.
Yes, it is true, and I haven’t even told you about the carriages.
It turns out that on this day in the Netherlands, Prinsjesdag, the King opens the yearly legislative session with an address to the parliament. Thousands of Dutch wait outside the Noordeinde Palace for the King and Queen to appear and travel the short distance to the parliamentary buildings. But, this short trip is not by bus, or tram, or bicycle. Nope, it’s in a Golden Carriage.
The first carriage was black. Impressive. A footman walked next to the two horses calming them, while the driver sat stolidly — with his tri-corner hat perched atop his powdered wig, whip in one hand, reins in the other. A character from another time.
The second carriage was identical to the first. But by now, the late September sun was shining off the high gloss from the black finish reflecting the excited crowd back onto itself. We all cheered.
Ah, then the third carriage arrived. The Golden Carriage. Eight horses. At least as many footmen. Gold leaf blazing in the sun. A gift to the former queen of the Netherlands in 1898, it is brought out of moth balls only a few times a year for special events. Prinsjesdag is just such an event. We cheered with delight.
The King of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, is the first male to rule in over a hundred years. A big deal, you’d think. However, the Dutch seem to only mildly tolerate him — somewhat like a younger brother who is not quite up to snuff. In the Dutch press, his photographs usually show him as befuddled or just a little off. It seems unfair for all the good work he does diplomatically and for Dutch business. But so it goes in families.
As for Queen Maxima, she is considered the best thing King Willem-Alexander has going. Smart, beautiful, always says the right thing at the right time. She greatly enhances the street cred of the King. She is loved by one and all. Without a doubt, she is the belle of the ball. And today she is waving to us from the Golden Carriage in a red floor-length Valentino gown. Exquisite.
So I ask my Dutch female friends about this mystique of the Golden Carriage.
“Every Dutch girl dreams of riding in the Golden Carriage,” they explain. “You know, it’s the classic story of the Princess and the Frog.”
The Princess and the Frog? Mmmmm, . . . generally, this is the story where the frog helps the princess in return for a kiss. The frog meets his part of the deal. When the frog asks for the kiss in return, the princess demurs. After a bit of tension, the frog is kissed, he turns into a prince, and the happy-ever-after ending takes place. Simple.
But why is the story of the King and Queen of the Netherlands the classic story of the Princess and the Frog?
“Because many of us dream of finding a prince and riding in the Golden Carriage,” say the Dutch women.
“Unfortunately, Queen Maxima kissed the frog and he remained a frog.”
And the Dutch women fall over each other laughing.
This is the same king, by the way, who visited Emmetsburg, Iowa, just the other day. King Willem-Alexander stopped by to promote a Dutch-U.S. plant that brews up ethanol using the inedible parts of plants. His little visit was picked up by most Iowa papers, national radio and TV news, and the New York Times. He looked splendidly regal as he toured the plant and cut the baling twine for the grand opening. He said all the right words, shook Governor Branstad’s hand, and said hello to our own United States Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack. A great success.
But not in his own country. In Holland, all rise for Queen Maxima. And for King Willem-Alexander? Not so much.
Back at the palace, the little girl finally dismounted from her poor father’s shoulders. She had waved with the rest of us. When she got down, she picked up a cardboard mask of the royalty. A Queen Maxima mask. And off she and her father went. He following dutifully behind.
And the Frog King? He just kept waving from the balcony. Making sure we all got our money’s worth.