Heritage Kitsch

by Mieke Valk
inspired by Mieke Valk’s demo-lesson

As I walked into the shop, I rolled my eyes a little. The shop was like every other tourist shop in the Netherlands, with two glass windows filled with traditional tourist trinkets: various sizes of wooden shoes painted in yellows, reds, and blues; wooden windmills; and pink, orange, red, and purple wooden tulips. There was also a section dedicated to cows: t-shirts, kitchen towels, aprons, spoons. I was on my first solo trip to Europe to visit family, and my cousins were showing me around their town, 30 minutes north of Amsterdam. The shop was around the corner from the cheese market, where we watched people dressed in traditional attire roll very large wheels of cheese around. I was 16, and my cousins ranged in age from 16-20. Too cool for heritage kitsch, we were about to leave when one of them grabbed my forearm and pulled me inside the shop. 

“You do need a little souvenir to take with you to remind you of the cheese,” she said as we walked inside. I wandered around the shop, passing the wooden shoes, windmills, tulips, and cows, until a display near the register caught my eye. It was a small, metal countertop display, with square, ivory alphabet beads and letter cords hanging from the arms of the display. 

“Do you want to make a necklace,” my cousin asked with a smirk as we walked toward the display. 

“Not really,” I responded, “but look at the sample they made.” She looked, and said, “Yeah, it says Mieke…it’s your name.” I was in awe. All I could do was look back at her and smile. I lovingly took the sample to the cash register and paid for it immediately.  We left the shop, and as we were walking away, I explained my happiness to her. 

    “Growing up in Florida, you are surrounded by tourist shops where you can get everything with your name on it…keychains, shot glasses, Mickey Mouse ears, t-shirts, and beach towels, just to name a few. My name was never there. Ever. All I wanted was a normal name, like Sarah or Mary or Patricia. And even now, at 16 years old, I always look for my name on random items. So today, when I saw my name on that necklace, it made me happy.” 

    “Wow,” she said, “I didn’t think about it like that. But you do realize that your name, Mieke, is basically Mary in Dutch?” 

    Laughter floated up through the summer air as we walked back to the cheese market.

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