Yesterday on my lunch hour, I tootled downtown to observe the Ancient and All-Hallowed Photo-Op of the Dutch Street Scrubbing that’s acted out, year after year, to kick off Albany’s Tulip Festival. No, that is not the official name of this event. And I hadn’t attended one in ages, not since I dragged my own wee girls to watch the young ladies from Albany High don their billowy cotton dresses and their clonking, cuspate wooden clogs and mop, if that’s the word, a few feet of lower State Street in a chipper approximation of bygone Netherlandish practices.
My girls are no longer wee. Not to imply that they’re excessively large, either. But one of them, this year, was tapped to participate as a Dutch Scrubber, thus prompting my mid-day parental tootling.
Watching her, I felt proud. That’s my daughter wearing the clogs! Yay! How grown-up she is! How adorable, clutching her broom! Smiling with her classmates with the Capitol looming behind them, under rain clouds that spit and threaten a downpour! How happy she looks, scrubbing away! How competent! How at ease! How can I get her to do that at home!
I also wondered, as I often have over my 23 years here, why the city of Albany doesn’t better capitalize on its history. Or not “better.” Try “at all.” Depending on how and when you define and peg its genesis (at its 1686 charter? at its settlement in 1614? at Henry Hudson’s arrival in 1609?), it’s either the oldest damned city in the country, the second-oldest damned city in the country, or one of the oldest damned cities in the country.
In any case, it is REALLY FREAKING OLD. Did you know that? I bet you didn’t know that. Even if you live here. And so I ask: Why do tourists have to drive elsewhere for historic reenactments of quaintly hoary quasi-educational rituals performed by young people in uncomfortable clothing? Why must we confine ourselves to the Ancient and All-Hallowed Photo-Op of the Dutch Street Scrubbing? Why not build a model Fort Orange? Why not hire a full-time phalanx of smiling gals in pointy wooden footwear to entertain busloads of downstate school children and their exhausted chaperones?
This is not my idea. Smart people have floated it off and on for some time now, but watching the Dutch Scrubbers yesterday reminded me that this fine, quirky city should be doing a much better job at owning and exploiting its fine, quirky history. I don’t know why it hesitates. Must have something to do with its congenital geographic inferiority complex: in short, Albany’s too close to New York City to think too highly of itself.
When the ceremonial scouring had come to a close, and the girls had stopped smiling, and all attendant media had gathered up their cameras and left, I went over and said goodbye to my own Dutch Scrubber.
You look beautiful, I said.
“Thanks,” she said.
Your face must hurt from all that smiling, I said.
“It does,” she said, but somehow she managed a grin.
Will you be scrubbing the kitchen floor like that? I asked.
“No,” she said. And her grin grew even wider.