At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Sometimes I enjoy taking a good look at the search criteria that draw readers to my blog. Like almost all scribblers, I have an overblown ego and a neurotic urge to find out more about the people who pay attention to me, and consequently an almost maniacal need to cater obsequiously to their needs.

Recent criteria may take more effort than I want to expend, however. Given that I am also a lazy ass.

Please consider:

Crazy in Kelantan.
Happy otters.
How are Cantonese women in bed?
How to cook dry sea cucumber.
Marin county slut exposed.

There. Right in the centre, number three, is the question that makes the whole endeavor curious. Obsessive and peculiar.
It's the scientific mind.

"How are Cantonese women in bed?"

Under normal circumstances, probably asleep. That's how.

If, like my apartment mate in the other room, it is a certain time, they are grumpy and suffering from, and I quote: "bad-ass cramps". Please note the position of the hyphen. Correct placement is very important.
She's an exemplary Cantonese woman.

"How are Cantonese women in bed?"

Well, when they are tired, and they consider sleep a desirable thing, they will naturally end up in bed. That is how. They are very similar to most people in that regard. Perhaps even more so.
Comfortably curled up and dozing.
As I've heard.

Here's an informative video from youtube that answers NONE of your queries.



Huzza for the gioventude de Saldigna!
Such bra' laddies, din ye think?

"But how are Cantonese women in bed?!?"

How on earth would I know? And, if I did, why would I detail it? I'm a single man, and I would rather not think of such things. It disturbs my equanimity to consider the matter. Perhaps, if you are really curious, you should ask that question of the Cantonese women themselves?
Make sure to query a representative sampling of them.

How are you in bed? Are you comfortable?
Would you like another blanky?
A fluffy pillow?

Field research. It's an invaluable source of scientific data. Do the leg work yourself, and report back to the mothership. Where they are curious about Cantonese women.
In bed.


If you are interested in the first criterium, here: 'crazy in Kelantan'.
For happy otters: the internet is filled with happy otters!
The fourth item: 'how to cook sea cucumbers'.

And for the last?

I'm afraid that I know nothing at all about Marin County sluts.
Maybe you have me confused with someone else.
My exposure to Marin is limited.
No slut awareness.


As always, I am keenly interested in feedback; my readers fascinate me, and their curiosity fills me with wonder. Please feel free to let me know what you are thinking right now, or ask any number of questions, even ones that might be too personal for a face-to-face encounter.

For instance, how I am in bed.

So, how am I in bed?

And probably reading.
I do not fart under the covers.

Unlike the Cantonese woman in the other room, I never wear socks to bed. My feet benefit from a bit of cool air at night, it makes me a more comfortable person.

There are stuffed animals everywhere.

I never sleep nude.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


The yowling could be heard nearly a block away. It was horrible, ghastly, stomach-clenchingly excruciating, and white. Because ONLY white people in their mid to late twenties treat karaoke as a means of mass-torture. Crank up the volume, everyone to the mike, and scream your silly guts out.

Ah, good clean fun.

My friend the bookseller remarked that if he could go back in time, he would kill the inventor of karaoke. But that it would not help, because karaoke was inevitable.

There are two things baffling about what we encounter every week:

1) Why does Ms. Wong tolerate bad white behaviour?

2) Why do whites behave so badly?

The young white bros had, by their singing, chased away the middle-aged Cantonese gentlemen (cheery free-masons, all), who normally congregate at that place. If Mandarin songs sound twixt sappy and crappy, and Canto-pop has a weirdness all its own, then White songs sound like something Charlie Manson would have performed before repeat-stabbing his victims to death and leaving rude misspelled statements scrawled in blood all over the walls.
Anthems for psychopaths.


Four white males, one South Asian, lots of booze, and a popular hard rock anthem by American slasher band 'Guns N Roses'. Did you know that the song lasts for twenty minutes? The neighbors probably didn't either. Somewhere in Chinatown some little tyke probably asked his mother "why do the white folks hate us?" In another apartment, a grizzled veteran of the campaign against the Uighur irridentists fervently wished that he still had his service weapon ("ah, Kalashnikov, my sweet, sweet friend"), while a college student wondered if academic success would take her away from such brutality.

Society is dominated by mean stupid white people, but surely somewhere there is peace?

The four white gentlemen tortured us with a few more chansons. Then Ms. Wong bought them several tequila shots before they left to go 'express themselves liberally' in the nearby dark alley.
They were soddenly, filthily, plastered.
Ghoulish nightmare fiends.

Their South Asian associate was not nearly so smashed, and with the keen intelligence of his kind (Desi Computer wallah) probably resolved to never tell his Maa-Baap about life among the savages, or ever introduce any of his coworkers to people he truly cared about.
Although he may have been warmly supportive.
Of their brain-cell killing tendencies.
No curry for you, stupid gaura.

You know, white people used to be such a well-behaved temperate bunch. Almost as if they were hesitant about making utter spectacles of themselves in public.

What happened?


The situation with young white people in San Francisco is really very similar to American Tourists in Europe; you only notice the idiots and vulgarians, whereas the quiet well-behaved ones do not stand out.
Not irritating means not counted.

There are probably sheer tonnes of clean unobjectionable white twenty-somethings in this city, leading lives of genteel internet-yuppie poverty and picking up after themselves. Nice folks you wouldn't mind having as neighbors.
If only you could see them, and figure out what they are.
But they are discreet, and quite invisible.
Still pink and polite.

As much as we were able, the Bookseller and myself resisted Ms. Wong's attempts to get us squiffy. Given that she is a dangerously determined person, we succeeded in that endeavor as well as could be expected.
But we left there walking upright, and engaged in sensible clearly enunciated conversation. Which we maintained all the way to the intersection of Hyde and Pacific where customarily we part ways.
It was still a beautiful night.

See you next week.
Zei gezunt.

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All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


This blogger loves military music. And small green heroes. Especially small green heroes who do military music.

Consequently how could I keep from alerting you to this stellar bit of Amphibiana?



Sing it out, brother man. Frog. Brother frog.

I am a frog, and I support this message.

Vote more frogs into high office.

Our country deserves it.

Think green.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Years ago, just to piss-off a food purist who had joined our group when we decided to go have sushi (I didn't invite the shmendrik, someone else did), I told the staff at the restaurant to "deep fry that sucker". And, being Chinese and running a cheap sushi dive in the bowels of the industrial hinterlands of San Jose, that is what they did. When 'Whitey' wants it dumped in the fryolator, we will do that for 'Whitey'.

We'll even ask him if he wants the avocado and crab roll battered first.

That person never "volunteered" to join us again.
We enjoyed dining there many more times.

Most people are not food purists.

Fetishists, yes, definitely.

As well as food-phobic.

With that in mind, I offer the following list of six aquatic creatures that are extraordinarily good to eat, as well as very healthy, secure in the knowledge that most white people in the United States are so darned scared of fish that they will do nothing with the knowledge, except perhaps deepfry something and serve it with tartar sauce.

"Hey Mom, lookit, we're eating fish!"

Six healthy aquatic beasts.

In order:

1. Mackerel.
2. Tuna.
3. Salmon.
4. Oysters.
5. Sardines.
6. Herring.

[SOURCE: Telegraaf - De zes gezondste vissoorten.]

They are nutritious and delicious. I will not offer any recipes. Either you already know what to do with these, OR you don't, and encouraging you will deplete the supply available to the rest of us.
Nobody wants that.
Just keep buying canned tuna.
It's good for you.

It's a pity that eel, mussels, and crab didn't make the list. But who knows what the seventh and beyond are, maybe they did. I think the reason why the list ended at six is because of herring.
Which is the very nicest fish in the world.

Start with mackerel. End with herring.
That's beauty right there.

For more on those two items, see here:
Mackerel is not herring.

Further to herring, permit me to quote from a blogpost written several years ago which, for some odd reason, pulls in nothing but perverted readers living in places like Russia and Abu Dhabi. Those people aren't my favourite demographic, so I will carefully omit all terms that might excite them. Especially late at night.


Edible herring is green. Meaning so lightly cured as to be by American standards raw, by Midwestern standards unidentifiable, and by Dutch standards food for the soul.

Or as you might know it, a 'matje'.

Matje means a herring caught in mid to late summer, from Middle Dutch ‘maagdje’ (little virgin), modern Dutch demotic ‘maatje’ – in reference to their not having spawned yet. The reason matjes are prized is because in summer they will have recovered from winter (during which they do not eat) and have stored up fat, often having a fat content of over twenty percent, and are in consequence tasty and toothsome.

In the Netherlands (and to a far lesser extent Germany and Scandinavia) the favoured treatment is removal of the gills, throat, and internal organs, with the exception of the alvlees klier (pancreas), whose enzymes will help ‘cure’ the fish. Immediately upon gutting it is lightly salted and packed in a cold place to ripen. The more salt is used, the longer it can be ripened.

According to Dutch food laws, it must be frozen (quick-freezing is best, as it keeps the flesh firm) for two days before being sold to the consumer, so as to kill the herring nematode. Hence those tasty fillets which you purchase from Van Altena’s spotlessly clean stand in front of the Rijks Museum will be completely safe – the more so because the merchant in question is well-known for the care with which he treats his fish, thawing them properly and keeping them chilled, nicely trimming and cleaning the fillets, and even chopping the onions precisely for the right flavour. Mr. Van Altena is an artist. A national treasure.

[Note: Piet Van Altena no longer sells herring in front of the Rijks Museum. He requested another water line to his stand in order to maintain his reputation for absolute cleanliness. 
A reasonable request, which was summarily refused. So he packed up and retired. 
Screw you, Amsterdam.]

In the the country districts away from the coast, the preference is for a saltier herring – probably because in the olden days only those held up well when transported. Traditionally the herring sellers would board the trains with buckets of herring to be sold out in the hinterlands, at the consumer’s doorstep. The delicacy beloved in Amsterdam would have been long spoiled by the time it was eaten under those circumstances.

The method used by the Dutch and Flemish for herring was discovered by Willem Beukelszoon Van Biervliet in 1380. Leaving the pancreas in ensures a fish which is tastier and keeps longer – in summer the pancreas produces a surfeit of enzymes which assist in the conversion of food to fat. And the fat gives the fish its divine flavour.

[Originally posted on Thursday, June 29, 2006.]

A shot of chilled Dutch gin ('Genever') is a marvelous addition to your herring feast. As indeed it is to any fine seafood meal.
But lacking that, ice-cold vodka.

Herring for breakfast.

I could do that.

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Monday, May 25, 2015


This being a holiday, my roommate is at home, rather than slaving in the saltmines of local gubmint. Which means several things, among them that I shall not spend much time here myself -- she's a non-smoker, and you know what those people are like -- plus trash on the telly starting at an early hour. While I despise the tacky reality shows of which she is so fond, I will concede that watching white people do stupid things and misbehave can be entertaining for a Cantonese person.

See, that's one of the reasons that they don't mind tourists flocking in to Chinatown.
Free entertainment. Street theatre. Crazy white folk.
That's a cabbage, idiot.

It also means that I shall hear things, which, taken out of context, paint a startling and peculiar picture.

Two sofar:

"Happy monkey dance, happy monkey dance!"

"You are not supposed to know of us; I am a pee-ninja."

That second one was because I mentioned that I had not realized that she was using the bathroom. It startled me, and meant an adjustment on my part. A gentleman does not interfere with a woman's time behind that door. Not, you understand, purely for chivalric reasons; we also would rather NOT know what people of that gender do in there.

When one lives with a Cantonese person, one must assume that unusual thoughts will be voiced. That's just the way it is. They wake up with electrical sparks in their heads.

Somewhere along the line she found the opportunity to inform no one in particular, à propos of nothing, and purely rhetorically, that her brain is so big and huge that it's delicious.

Another thing she said:

"It's a throw-back to Biblical times; white folks think that edible things can kill you."

This was about Caucasian neuroses concerning food. Not me, because I'm quite normal, but the rest of all of us whities. It turns out that we fear food.
I don't know why that is. I tried explaining that when we were crossing the prairies long ago, often our wagons would be attacked by gluten, animal protein (especially red meat), and refined flour and sugar, which made a deep-seated fear of good things to eat instinctive in our kind. The only thing that didn't threaten us on our long trek was tuna. Vast herds of canned tuna placidly roamed the veld, and made no sudden movements when our Conestogas lumbered into view.

We worship the canned tuna; it is comforting.

Her response was that I was nuts.

A little nik-nik mind!

White person.

It's going to be a long day. I need to smoke my pipe. And get away from this Cantonese woman who is wide awake, fully stimulated, and uttering statements that baffle and confound.

You know where I'll be.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015


Sometimes, though you might not understand a word, other people's music appeals. It evokes a mood, or speaks to the hearing-mind, in ways that are hard to quantify, difficult to explain.

Miss Matsubara Misao (松原操) was born in 1911 and passed away in 1984. Her heyday was during the nineteen thirties. Often she performed with Noboru Kirishima (霧島昇, 1914 - 1984). Their songs were sold under the Columbia label. She was one of that company's recording stars in pre-war Japan.


[Thirteenth year of the Showa. Source:]


[Twenty first year of Showa. Source:]

Alas, I have little else to mention about either performer. They were active in the movie industry. As I do not understand Japanese, the lyrics of these plaintive ballads are entirely beyond me.

The two of them were married in 1939 (fourteenth year of Showa).
They remained together for the rest of their lives.

He died of kidney disease on April 24, 1984. She rejoined him a mere two months later, on June 19, 1984.

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Indonesian shadow play performances take place after nightfall, because without dark the lamp will not cast images on the stretched fabric screen. But honoured guests sit on the same side as the puppet master, and are scarce aware of the silhouettes; they see the totemic figures move in full manipulation, brought to light and life by the voice that recites the tale and speaks for all the characters. For several hours, enormous deeds are done, fools make pratfalls, and gallant knights converse with supernatural beings. Armies assemble, landscapes are traversed, and courts intrigue.
Early there is great humour; children need to be entertained.
Later important matters are ellucidated for adults.
And long after that, some lessons.

[Many narratives are derived from the Mahabharata, which is the epic detailing several generations descended from Kuru (the Kaurava), and rivalry among two branches of that clan which caused a great war.
It is a multi-faceted and many layered tale, re-spun in numerous Indic and Indonesian languages. In Java it is brought to life with flat puppets cut from thick hide mounted on sticks, manipulated by a raconteur.]

By then, most of the audience may have drifted off, except for a few who have at last fallen asleep. Sometimes they wake, briefly, at key moments. An educated voice with clear diction dwells upon a passage. They recognize the scene, and comforted, sleep again.
At a different time it allcomes back.

Without the darkness, there can be no light.
If dreams are lacking, reality has no depth.

When I woke this morning I was still dreaming.


As darkness fell, the effect of Gatotkatja's ferocious assault on the Kurawa army grew more telling. With each airborne charge, swathes opened up in the ranks, none of the fighters on the ground could withstand the force that this club-wieding half-daemon unleashed upon them. Finally commanded by Duryodana, the honourable Karna employed the Indrasakti to slay Gatotkatja, Hidimbi and Bima's gallant son, and Krisna was happy. If such a weapon can be used only once, then Ardjuna was safe, and the war would be won by the Pandawa.

The sadness over the death of a beloved kinsman would be ameliorated by the victory of the side for which he fought. In his death throes the shining champion of Pringgandane took out a full brigade of the enemy army; thousands upon thousands of chariots and war elephants, and tens of thousands of footsoldiers and archers. Duryodana's misjudgement kept his entire army from being erased that night, but it was a success that would only last till dawn.

Tomorrow brought more destruction.

The key to Gatotkatja's personality is that he is god-descended on his father's side (Bima), and is half-ogre by maternal parentage (Hidimbi). Consequently that which is good in him has daemonic force, and that which is not good is tempered by his better instincts. Not a conflicted person, but a person of conflict, who is good to have on one's side.

Green-blue of face, with a big nose and a ferocious handlebar moustache. His profile is noble, strong-featured, not brutish.

Karna is, in many ways, his equal. Always loyal and protective of his friends, truthful, ethical, charitable of spirit, and in all ways admirable.
How did he end up on the side of the Kurawa?

During their youth, the Pandawa slighted him out of pride.
Duryodana offered him honest friendship.
No strings attached.

When he perished later on the field of Kuru, it was because his chariot wheel was stuck in the mud. He was, after all, of non-royal status..... and sabotaged by a Brahmin. Only after Ardjuna decapitated him was it revealed that he was actually Ardjuna's older halfbrother.

Indeed, when it's all over, Kunti still has five sons.
But in death his kinship has become known.
There is sadness at the loss.
One brother is gone.

There were five brothers. There were six.
But there are only five of them.

The great war is the strife of kinsmen, and because of their disparate natures conflict is inevitable. There is great goodness and chivalry on each side, as well as pettiness and a meanness of spirit.
What they cannot help doing will make their war inevitable.
And, in truth, one should not hold that against them.
They hold true to how they were made.

It is the gods that fail.

In the corpus of wayang literature there are trunk tales -- the lives and travails of the Pandawa siblings and their cousins on the Kurawa side, as relayed by epics seen through several layers of Insular translation and retelling -- and there are branch narratives, which delay the inevitable great battle between the two sides by showing us what the characters and their friends also did, or entertain us with great adventures that only connect to the tale by sharing the cast.

Most often, the entertaining branches are displayed. They are less weighty, but also less portentous. Wielding a trunk tale takes great control, and demands an important occasion. The people whose lives and deaths are detailed live again in the telling, in light and shadow, between dream and reality.

We do not want them to die. But that was centuries before our time, we can do nothing about it. A talented puppet master brings their shadows back, and they themselves are present in the periphery.

Were Gatotkatja and Karna friends? They were so much alike!

It seems almost inevitable that they must have been.

A good puppet master makes it so.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015


People have asked me why I hate white people so much, when I am one myself. Is it that I would have preferred to be Chinese? Do I have an overweening sense of self-loathing?
Actually, I don't. There are very many white people I am incredibly fond of. People like myself. And I kind of like most white people anyway.

[And no, I'm glad that I am not Chinese. Being New Amsterdam Anglo-Dutch American is a rich a rewearding smorgasbord of heritaginous yummy. We've got clogs!]

There are, however, three types of white folks who do not get my consideration. Because they suck.

'Dudes' visiting Chinatown.

People who write Yelp reviews.

Law-office types from the Embarcadero.

Oh, and also most Republicans, many Christians, and the entire friggin' state of Texas. But that goes without saying. Feeling physically repulsed by these types to the point of wanting to whip out a chainsaw and pull a Charlie Manson on their skunk-asses is, in fact, perfectly normal.
Everyone I freely associate with has similar reactions.

That's why we keep work and social life separate.

"Oh hi Rick, very surprised to see you; Matilda, this is Rick, he.... wait, don't kill him dammit!"

Too many witnesses.

Rick lives across the Golden Gate in Marin. I seldom go there socially. For obvious reasons. Imagine an entire county filled for the most part with entitled shmucks. My friends there are very charitable, they haven't put machine gun emplacements at the corners of their property.

Well, most of them.


[Source: Wikipedia and Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-291-1213-34, Dieppe, Landungsversuch, deutsche MG-Stellung.jpg.]

But the three types I singled out above (visiting 'dudes', yelpers, and law drones), are a particular type of pest the presence of which does much to diminish the quality of life in San Francisco, and whose speedy eradication might finally make this place redeemable after all.
No one has much use for them. They're lousy compost.
And if they go missing, no one will ever call the number on the flyer posted on the telephone pole except to confirm that they still haven't been found, and gloat.

'Dudes' visiting Chinatown.

Okay. Overturning garbage cans and banging on the metal shop gates makes you feel more like a man. Oh, such fun, oh, such hi-jinks, oh your creative zaniness! It's twelve o'clock at night. Some of the locals would like to shoot you. And if they ever do, just remember that this is Chinatown. Every one looks the same. Right?
You won't be able to tell who it is.
Neither will your buddies.

There was a street sign lying on the pavement in one of the alleys. It had come from around the corner. Care to guess which ethnic group decided to rip it out and dump it nearly a block away?

Not the Chinese; they ain't stupid.
Not the African Americans; they know that a trigger happy cop could pass by at any moment.
Yes, that's right; stupid twenty-something white guys, who know that no one ever shoots them when they're doing something egregiously dumbass, and consequently feel entitled to act like morons.
Especially when drinking with their friends.

People who write Yelp reviews.

Get off your high-horses. You paid six dollars for that meal, you didn't leave a tip, you raised your voice at the staff, and now you're on the internet slagging the food and ambiance. What gives you that right? Did you actually pay a decent price? Leave a reasonable tip? Or did you waltz your arrogant white ass into the place and start making demands while sneering and laughing at the same time?
Look, dilwad, stop pretending that you know 'F' all about food -- you yourself can't cook worth a damn and mess up teevee dinners in the microwave -- but just because someone is giving you more money than you are worth for being a hip young white person you think you're entitled to drag down someone else's business.

You are not Thai. You are not Indian. You are not Chinese. You are not Mexican. And in consequence, you are offensively ignorant about nearly everything ethnic that you eat, your expectations are riculously un-realistic, and your bloated sense of self-worth and entitlement is responsible for ninety percent of all the misery in the world.
Kindly shut yer hole, suck it up, and shog off.

Thank you, come again.

Law-office types from the Embarcadero.

You folks are not worthy. Especially when you are on the Number One California heading up Sacramento Street and acting resentful because the Chinese folks at Kearny, Grant, and Stockton ALSO want to get on. You probably spent all day on your fat bottom; they just got off work, and came here to pick up their kids and the fixings for dinner. No, they are not being selfish by trying to get on the bus that hordes of you are already riding in; they also must get home. They need to cook dinner -- you are just going to head out and have Thai or Mexican with the idiot that married you, then go back home to feed the Chihuahua and watch The Vulgar Twats of Orange County -- and they actually worked all day, so they are considerably more tired than you are. No pretense. They didn't yack on the phone or surf the internet during that time.

Yes, they would get off the steps so that the rear door can close. IF some of you fatasses moved further in. Go on, there's plenty of room. Instead, y'all just stand there, obdurate expressions on your faces, stolidly resentful of the fact that 'those people' are trying to get on.
Why can't they wait for the next bus, dammit?

Well, the previous two or three buses roared right on past these stops, because they were already filled with unpleasant law-office types like yourfatselves by Battery Street. Yes, there was room in the back of each of them. But hell will freeze over before you inconsiderate lizards will move. Once you've pulled out your cell-phones and started checking your text messages, you don't see or hear anything that might make you less the centre of the universe.

The bus only stopped here because some auntie got heart palpitations or had trouble breathing, and pulled the cord.

Oh yeah, you also occupied the seats up front for the old people and physically impaired passengers. But that's okay, they're only Chinese. They won't complain.
You're white, so you deserve it.

If any of the Chinese do get on, you'll kick one of their children, "accidentally". Because you "just didn't see them".
They're small, and won't say anything.
Even if they do, who cares?

BTW: I take the Number One California several times a week, usually heading back over the hill in late afternoon. It irritates me when I see the behaviour I have described above, which is almost every time. I have a sore leg and I'm middle-aged, but I always stand for senior citizens.
Please imagine what I think of some of the other passengers as we cross Nob Hill. My right leg is throbbing like nobody's business at that point, and I seriously want to damage several of the folks sitting nearby.
Why are all of you arrogant dills letting the side down?
Don't you have any self-respect? Any pride?
Or did your parents teach you badly?

You don't understand, do you?

You are not worthy.

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Friday, May 22, 2015


A new click-feature discovered on the internet is remarkably bad for my digestion. It's a series of videos of a man drinking wine. Which, quite naturally, makes me peckish. What with being in California and artistic myself and all. Wine defines the Northern California life-style. And that means cheese, and also some Genoa salami. Because wine alone makes you drunk. And it is far too early in the day for that.

The cheese was a nice salty aged cheddar.
In case you were wondering.
Next week: Gouda.


Intro (plagiarized directly from the source, Matt Bellassai's facebook page): "HELLO! THE FIRST WINE WEDNESDAY IS HERE. Introducing "Whine About It," a new weekly video series where I get drunk at my desk and then complain about stuff that doesn't matter. New episodes every Wednesday!"


HELLO! THE FIRST WINE WEDNESDAY IS HERE. Introducing "Whine About It," a new weekly video series where I get drunk at my desk and then complain about stuff that doesn't matter. New episodes every Wednesday!
Posted by Matt Bellassai on Wednesday, May 6, 2015


This week on Whine About It... lots of drinking. But more importantly, things people do that annoy me but shouldn't.
Posted by Matt Bellassai on Wednesday, May 13, 2015


This week on Whine About It... TYPES OF FRIENDS THAT ARE THE WORST. (Sorry if you're my friend.)
Posted by Matt Bellassai on Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You can find more of this lovable drunken elf here:

Word to the wise: he loves tacos.

And is positive about mayonnaise.

He has horrible nightmares about edible stuff.

I never knew that food delivery was such an important thing at the offices of Buzzfeed. It explains much. Busy little clickholes typing away furiously, in between eating Filipino snackfood, Australian snackfood, British snackfood, live octopusses, gluten, avocado, tikka masala burritos, bacon burgers, and salad.

At FweeBinc. there used to be buckets of engineer kibble scattered all over, just to keep the ravenous code monkeys from straying too far from their screens. It worked, but the rest of us didn't get any. I always rather resented that. On the other hand, I still have my trim boyish figure, whereas all of the programmers probably ended up fat.

Tikka masala tacos?


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Thursday, May 21, 2015


According to Playbuzz, I am a doctor. Well, not a medical doctor, but someone who has spent an awful lot of time in college. They based this startling claim on ten simple questions which anyone with a high school education could answer correctly.

"You enjoy academic settings, as they fit your balanced, self-aware personality. You are engaged in the entire scholarly experience, and always seek opportunities to enhance learning. You are hardworking, and won’t let any challenge stop you from achieving the best grades possible. Good for you, Professor!"
End quote.

The only academic setting I am likely to infest is the television room in my apartment when my co-resident is not watching Real Housewives. Although in all fairness those shows function as a means of seeing what non-Chinese American women are like, which is clearly "crazy". Being a Chinatown-born San Franciscan, she is at times completely baffled by the shaggy weirdness that white and black America represents.
Once you cross the bridge, you are in a foreign country.

She's also got Aspergers, so it's all different.

Real Housewives: documentaries!

File under : 'how to'.


As you may guess, I am not a Chinatown-born person. Nor even a native San Franciscan. And unlike my apartment mate, not female.
My ancestry is Calvinist American, I was born ("ripped") by Caesarean section in Hawthorne General Hospital down in Southern California.
When I was two and a half years old we moved to Europe.

I came back for college when I was nearly nineteen.

After several years I promptly dropped out.

Art. Art history. Comparative religion. Mediaeval history, Dutch history, South-East Asian history. Tang Dynasty. Malayo-Polynesian languages. Anglo-Saxon. Dutch literature. Printing technology (lithographic and high-speed offset), Heidelberg Degel. Kodak 150 AF. Mechanical draughting, Engineering draughting, Wiring schematics.


Merck Manual, Thirteenth Edition.
Modern Marine Engineers Manual, Volume 2.
Mathews Chinese-English Dictionary.
Piekerans Van Een Straatslijper.
Ada, by V. V. N.

I am nowhere near getting my PHD.

Me, doctor? Hoohah!

The television room has a monster tube made during the seventies and hundreds of books. It would be called 'the bookroom', except that both her room and my room also have hundreds of books. And, though it is small and cramped, I spend more time in the teevee room than in my own room. Because that is where the computers are set up.

On my non-working days, such as today, I enter early and peruse news articles and wikipedia, as well as the odd scientific journal and books on-line, for several hours. Often with two or three screens open, one of which may be youtube featuring military music to a backdrop of Girls Und Panzer or Civil War photos.

There is no way I would ever describe myself as "intellectual". Simply "literate". Books are a way of life, albeit one that in the computer age seems to have become unusual.

When I first moved into this apartment there were over a dozen bookstores within easy walking distance. Now one has to go further afield to find even one.
A life entirely without books is almost not worth living.
I say 'almost', because many people live thus.
But they are mighty dull company.
Cell-phone drones.

Our ancestors could scarce have dreamed of modern life.
The computer age was not on the horizon, their world was expanded entirely by the printed page. Books were a constant, for several generations.

Nor could they have imagined a world without books.
Twitter and clickbait sites would be inconceivable.
It was a more innocent and informed age.

Still, awfully flattering that Playbuzz thinks I've got a PhD.
Their standards must be very low.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Something reminded me of Thanksgiving today. Which, as you know, is an all-American holiday celebrated by people who are profoundly grateful that they are not middle-aged old grumps lacking kin or loved ones in the area where they live which is San Francisco. The normally inclined.
Married or related, with two kids, cat, dog, and goldfish.
It's like Christmas and Passover in that regard.
Also celebrated by regular folk.

Last year I did not celebrate. Nothing unusual there. Instead I spent several days dwelling on the unfairness of it all, and feeling profoundly grumpy. This year I know exactly what I'm going to do. I shall head down to Chinatown, and have a club sandwich and a hot cup of Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at the Washington Bakery and Restaurant.
I might even have TWO hot cups of tea!

San Francisco is a much happier place if you wear a sweater. Ever since the middle of April it has been cold and rather gloomy here, which will continue from now pretty much until Christmas, briefly interrupted by an anaemic Indian Summer of all of two weeks anytime between the end of July and Halloween.

Thanksgiving in Chinatown, especially for the single male grumpy pipe-smoker, absolutely requires a nice warm sweater. If I am not spending the festive day with anyone else, it will probably NOT be a particularly clean sweater. Instead, it will be kind of fusty because of all the pipe-tobacco it has been around, and require a stitch or two here and there. There may be an elbow hole, invisible underneath my jacket or coat.
After all, who would need to be impressed?

The Hong Kong style club sandwich

Fried egg, avocado, bacon, lettuce, tomato. All between toast. With a small quantity of very decent French fries in the centre of the plate. There's a jar of chilipaste on the table. It's all very clean, bright, and cheerful looking, and everything within their sandwich is fresh. The careful and conscientious construction of this edible art was sealed with a cocktail pick through each quarter sandwich, The streetscape outside, visible from the front tables,  features people traversing the pavement, such as middle-aged ladies and their teenage children, grampa and his adorable little granddaughter, uncles heading home for dinner, aunties gabbing about shopping, and young couples looking for a quiet place to eat and hold hands.
Plus baffled tourists and the occasional loony.

It's a splendid place to hide from everyone.

The people who work there know me.

But I am otherwise invisible.

It's very reassuring.


Other holidays coming up which I may spend there: Fathers Day, July Fourth, Saint Swithin, Labour Day, Rosh Hashana, Simchas Torah, my birthday, The Feast of Crispian, Halloween, Saint Nicholas Day.
Plus Christmas, New Years, and Valentine's Day.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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While typing a comment underneath a posting in a pipe tobacco forum, a thought came to mind: "you have to coddle your tobacco before it can coddle you". To many pipesmokers this will seem quite axiomatic, while for addicts of foul aromatic mixtures and most non-smokers it will be baffling.
Pot smokers, of course, either understand it as a zen-like gestalt, or go 'huh' before drooling melted icecream into their beards and forgetting what was just said.

["It's all about good karma, man, and the Grateful Dead."]

No, the pot didn't make them do that, they were like that to begin with. Pot appeals to people with no greater talent than being self-impressed dingbats. It releases their inner fool.

In real life, though, the same principle often holds. Jobs and relationships benefit from being treated properly, and will be more rewarding in consequence.

I'm fairly certain that spouse-abusers and people who constantly whine about their work lead rather unsatisfying lives, and neither their loved ones nor their employers look upon them with any great favour.

And sometimes they'll blame everything on that dang computer.

[BTW: this is a metaphor. But not a very loose one.]

I learned years ago not to vent about too many things, because helpful friends would then always jump in with suggestions about how I should take charge. The purpose of venting, they failed to realize, was NOT a demand for change, but a steam off-letting. Insofar as I took their irritating advice to heart, I learned how to ignore the steam. Do not give people an opening to tell you how you could do everything better.
It will not build-up inside, that's often a load of bollocks.
No, there is no delayed expression of "trauma".
Pop-psychology doesn't work here.
I am perfectly fine.

Years ago a friend -- someone whom I choose not to ever see again, because she's a self-absorbed drip with a law degree -- was whining about how something made her feel. Oh, it was terrible! She was hurt! While everyone else present made soft gentle soothing sounds, I put some extra preserves and butter on a hot toasty bagel, and wondered if her cats were as unimpressed as I was.

Encouraging her to vent simply made the problem worse. It acquired a life of its own, and subsequently at every meeting she brought it up, no matter how irrelevant the context. She let it fester, and revelled in her sense of injustice. All the rest of us got to hear about her, from her.
It became one of those defining factors.
A familiar signature quirk.


The realistic approach would have been to face the subject, recognize what it represented, admit a certain level of co-stupidity, and move on.
Did I mention "self-absorbed drip with a law degree"?
It's fundamental to the discourse here.
Describes her perfectly.

Many fairly intelligent people cannot understand that while it's all about them to themselves, it isn't to anyone else. And lawyers are often too intellectually pushy and narrow-minded (a skillset which led them to law) to acknowledge or even respect other people's boundaries and realities.
Plus many of them like the sound of their own voice.
They cannot understand why we don't.
Maybe we're stupid?

In mittn drinnen, if you are wondering why I was using melted butter and preserves on a toasted bagel, it was because there was NO smoked salmon or whitefish. She was a vegetarian, and refused to have ANY animal protein in the house. If you even mentioned it, you would get a long lecture about how as a modern liberated soulful lesbian she would not tolerate the murder of another being, it went against everything that she stood for and represented the cruelty and oppression of stupid male meat-eaters and obedience to the diktats of society. She felt healthy and pure since she stopped eating meat, and everyone should follow suit.
Put meat out of your mind. Think tofu. Only tofu.

She fed her cats non-meat canned food.
There were no neighborhood birds.
Probably no mice either.

Don't let what you dislike define you. Be realistic and flexible, acknowledge that there is more than one way to skin the cat.
Allow yourself to be entertained.
Eat meat occasionally.
And coddle.

If you cannot enjoy the happy tweet of songbirds, eat them.
You need the protein, you're looking wan.
Delicious juicy meat!

[BTW: this is a metaphor. But not a very loose one.]

Feel free to share things that made you happy in the comments; I enjoy hearing about stuff like that.

You must step away from the marijuana and silly vegetarians, little bunny rabbit, and come to the meat.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015


For the second evening in a row she's in there mastering the Brussels Sprout. It is a mystery. Personally, though I spent a large part of my youth in the European country (the Netherlands) that grows far more of them than any other place, I am not so obsessed with these globular vegetables.
They're okay, I suppose. Sometimes good to eat.
But I have no personal stake in it.
I am not 'vested'.

These are not small experimental quantities either, but entire pan-loads. Please imagine how the house smells right now! Tomorrow, which is one of my days off, I shall need to open all the windows and air the place out thoroughly. Except for her room, of course. It's not that I want her to come home to stale farty vapours in her bedroom, but IF the windows must be opened, THEN pipe-smoking may and should take place.
Which means that I need to firmly sneck her door.
So that none of the pipe-smoke enters.
I am a considerate man.
Not evil.

But it would be forward of me to figure out how to open her window.

On the other hand, with any luck, while I am still struggling to remain asleep, she'll be clanging pots around in the kitchen at early dawn, frying herself up some bacon for a nice greasy all-American breakfast.

I like bacon, but it's a lousy wake-up food.

Great morning smell, though.


Despite her being a person of pure Cantonese extraction and familial environment, and having grown up in Chinatown in a not-entirely-English-speaking-household, she's very white in her sensibilities.
It's probably that streak of Lingnanese adaptability.
They are completely food-obsessed.

I should probably mention that she also experimented with avoiding gluten, like many other people I know. But that lasted only three weeks before she angrily and operatically concluded that white people were batshit crazy, humans had eaten gluten for thousands of years, why, it was the very staff of life, and far too much delicious stuff contained gluten that she couldn't understand how all these insane Caucasian gluten haters managed to keep from killing themselves maybe it was because they had no taste buds to begin with poor dumb brutes after all they kept eating white-folks food except for those times when they timorously ventured into Chinatown to order sweet and sour pork for crapssake stupid tasteless heathens!

Sweet and sour pork!

Good lord.

Meanwhile, the little round Belgian cabbages. Mountains of little round Belgian cabbages. Can't get any more whitey-white foodwise than that.
It is the epitome and paradigm of utter whiteness.
Culinary Caucasitude to the max.

Can't wait until she figures out how to make cavolini di Bruxelles con mollica di pane e colatura di alici.

Yeah, no. I can't figure out all these crazy people who have forsworn gluten either. Maybe they're just too, too special. Maybe they're embracing the spoiled brat within after all these years. Maybe it's "meaningful".
Maybe they should've been spanked more.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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Yesterday afternoon I ventured into a place I haven't visited in years.
It is well-known among a certain population group for its roast duck and roast pork and charsiu and soy sauce chicken and white-poached chicken and stewed pigs tongue with tseet gwa.....
But five years ago, after my relationship with Savage Kitten went down the skids, I put that place off-limits once she started hanging around with Wheelie Boy and took him there. For a while it just had too many bad associations. Even when I started to get over it all, I didn't feel inspired to go there. There were other places, that she didn't know about.

Didn't want to run into them supping together.

Fortunately, that will not happen there, ever.

Wheelie Boy is abnormally sensitive to salt.

And, at times, a trial to eat with in public.


Okay, that felt good. Truth be told, the main reason I hadn't gone there for years is also because the fat guy with the cleaver who worked behind the counter always chuckled at my accent. I'm self-conscious about sounding clumsy when speaking Cantonese, and no one likes to be someone else's free theatre.
Especially when the amused person responds in Toishanese.
But that was several years further back, and in addition to my speech in Cantonese having improved a bit since then, I have concluded that as long as my goofy gibberish establishes me as being on an equal footing with all the other knowledgeable diners, everything will be perfectly fine.
I communicate exactly what I want; that's all that matters.
And let us not forget that I read it from the menu.
That's not bad at all for a white boy.


Well, perhaps referring to myself as a white boy is a bit self-serving. Haven't been a teenager in several years. But I still feel profoundly boyish, albeit not as energetic. Nor as crazy as I used to be.
The occasional bout of arthritis has a dampening effect.
It kinda forces one to act more mature.
Creaking... it's a wake-up.

But dammit, I am not old!

So, like a typical carefree young college student, I went tripping in and ordered the chiu pai siu ngaap fan. Before the food came, the waitress brought me a bowl of lou fo tong. It as a wonderful meal. Yes, their siu ngaap is still delicious! I think the staff has changed quite a bit over the years, as none of them were recognizable. But their roast meats look as good as ever, the neighborhood folks still start crowding in once the second batch of siu ngaap and charsiu is brought out, and they still speak country-side Toishanese, rather than Cantonese. Heck, I was probably the only person there who did not speak Toishanese.
I'll go there more often, now that the dam is broken.
Roast duck rice is powerfully tempting.


For those who don't know, Savage Kitten WAS my girl-friend for several years, and IS my roommate. Despite no longer being "involved", we still get along rather well -- she voices for all the stuffed animals also living in the apartment, most of whom enjoy mouthing off at me and try to steal my wallet when I'm not looking -- and we trust each other to a very great degree. She's got her room, I have mine.

No, she never brought Wheelie Boy to this neighborhood.
He is, at times, a bit trying to be around.

Last night she spent hours in the kitchen experimenting with Brussels Sprouts (球芽甘藍). Which I know are 'kau ngaa gam laam' in Cantonese, though I've never seen them in Chinatown. Hanging around with me exposed her to a whole world of white food.

That's why she also knows about herring and gehakte leber.....

I am not difficult to dine with in public.

Also, not old.

烤球芽甘蓝 would be go great with 燒鴨。
But I'm not goint to tell her that.
It wouldn't be proper.

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Monday, May 18, 2015


There are precisely three reasons why America is the greatest country in the world. Only three, and they aren't what you would expect.


We're nearly an entire continent, sort of. Almost.

We've got the Grand Canyon.

And we're China's biggest customer.

It certainly isn't education, health, housing, medical care, nutrition, low infant mortality, freedom, equal justice, or public good. Nor cuisine and culture. No, ideals and high morals aren't up there either, and we haven't been a shining beacon in years. Disneyworld and fastfood don't rank.

Nor is Texas a reason. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Realistic people know that we have sunk.

The rest of you are crazy.

And stupid.

Fortunately some of us live in San Francisco, where most of the rest of you aren't. Yes, you come and visit occasionally -- we know it's you, because of lumbering size -- but we take some comfort in a more varied and interesting cultural spectrum, a far better selection of things to eat, more bookstores per capita than many other places, and the fact that we are the very end of the known universe, far away Texas and Baltimore.

It ain't much, but it's something.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015


Like a few other individuals, I am one that rare breed that hardly ever gets the flu. What that really means is that I probably get infected just as much as everyone else, but without manifesting any evident symptoms. About four years ago I felt ill on the cable car, and was fine the next morning.
Four years before that I had a fever for two days.

But that, basically, has been the scope of it.

Consequently I am quite insufferable.

I gloat in my health.


No longer. For the next several months, or maybe just weeks -- or even only two or three days -- I shall be properly humble. Onset of flu Friday afternoon, in the middle of cigars. Miserable by nightfall.
Felt like death warmed over all day yesterday, weak and achy, and upon getting home went to bed after a brief insane blogpost. This morning I still felt nasty as all getout, but I headed over to Marin County nevertheless.
It would have been unfair to other people if I had not done so.
Probably the worst I have felt in years.
Dizzy, listless, feverish.

I couldn't even enjoy fine tobacco, believe it or not!
Both Friday night and Saturday night I slept fitfully.
Strange dreams, chills, and bladder breaks.
Today was altogether sickening.

Right now?

I feel fine. Not entirely over it yet, but heck, perfectly okay. My appetite is back, and I'm fighting an urge to go out for a drinkipoo. Go party with the crazy drag queens around the corner. See, they sing very well, and are great fun to be with. And they don't mind tobacco at all.

Haven't felt so utterly splendid in days.

Life is darn good, if you ask me.

Tomorrow gonna be neat.


To celebrate, I think I will keep an eye peeled for random female charm, cheerfully alert to lithe figures and bright, bright eyes. And small hands. Especially small hands. Brilliant fine-boned women, oh yes.
Plus cups of hot beverage, and a baked product or two.
A long stroll with a loaded briar, aged Virginia.
Radiating the very best of health.

I shall ride the bus back and forth, glowing with vigour.
The very image of manly polish and vibrancy.
Which is my normal rosy state.

I hardly ever get sick.


By the way: Everytime you enjoy a quality tobacco product, a tofu-snarfing angel dies. Usually in Berkeley.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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It struck me the other day that men and women do not communicate very well. And that's largely because though we may speak the same language, we mean different things. A woman, for instance, will say "oh that purse is just darling", by which she means "surely you remember that my birthday is coming up soon". The man will think "what the hell, it looks stupid, I hope that it cost less than fifty bucks, I'll surprise her some time".
And: "did she have a birthday yet...., how old is she?!?"
Poor fool, it does NOT cost less than fifty bucks.
More like the price of a box of cigars.
Or ten boxes of cigars.

A woman will also exclaim "oh isn't she just precious" about another woman. Unlike her previous positive and loaded remark about the dreadful purse, what she really is saying is "good lord, she's dumb as a brick, please keep her the hell away from me".
The man, taking his good lady's words literally, proceeds to invite the dingbat to their dinner parties for the next ten years.
Because she's a precious person, and sisterhood is powerful.
His wife has so few truly precious friends.
He just wants her to be happy.

*      *      *      *      *

Shortly after the adorable little Asian American cigar aficionada came in with a male companion -- she bought several lovely sticks of excellent provenance, Nicaraguans, so I guess she's dumped the nimnoo she was seeing who believed cigars were unladylike -- three blondes waltzed in.
Unlike the aficionada, they were as near to braindead as I can tell.
Synapses exceedingly rare, scattered, and entirely off-target.
They spoke women-speak, like, darling!
Totally ding effing bat.
It was a trial.

For the benefit of my fellow men, here are some key phrases that may be utilized by women, with translations into normal speech. Like with all peculiar foreign languages, there's a nuanced approach, and different possibilities to take into account when construing.
More so if blonde and bourgeois.
Especially suburban.

"You can smoke cigars on the back porch, I don't mind."

Meaning A: We're probably going to get divorced within the year.
Meaning B: My mother is SO coming to stay with us.
Meaning C: You will never live this down.
Meaning D: Buy me that handbag.
Meaning E: We aren't going to have sex anytime this month.

"Oh I just love the smell of a good cigar!"

Meaning A: It keeps all other women away from you.
Meaning B: You smell like a rubbish dump.
Meaning C: Mom was right about you.
Meaning D: Can't stand it; handbag.
Meaning E: No sex this year.

"You can have the lads over for sports and pizza."

Meaning A: Their behaviour is a great source of material for my book.
Meaning B: The basement needs to be cleaned up soon.
Meaning C: I'm putting you on a diet, lardo.
Meaning D: An expensive handbag.
Meaning E: What makes you think we're ever having kids?

"Pipes are SO manly! You remind me of my dad!"

Meaning A: Me date YOU?!? You're off your nut! But seriously!
Meaning B: It's been twenty years but I still have nightmares.
Meaning C: Drooling and leaking. Do you do that too?
Meaning D: When was the last time you bathed?
Meaning E: You will NEVER have sex!

"A man with a pipe looks very intellectual!"

Meaning A: You look like a dried-up old lizard.
Meaning B: Damnation, you're a boring prick.
Meaning C: I'm not listening at all right now.
Meaning D: I know how to spell "ennui".
Meaning E: You have NO sex-appeal.

Obviously, not all women are like this. Some of them are much more like the lovely feminine cigar aficionada, who backslid so splendidly after avoiding cigars for several months last year. Thank heavens that period of her life is over. She really doesn't need some prissy noodge telling her to act more ladylike and abstain from cheroots.
Who the buggery heck does that ridiculous busybody think he is?
She's strongminded and has excellent taste in tobacco.
What a waste to let that go to waste.

Plus we understand clearly what she says when she talks, no interpretation is needed.

She speaks like us. She's a genius.

Welcome back, Suzie.

We missed you.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015


A few years ago my friend the Bookseller (who sometimes comments here styled as various types of 'amphibian') remarked that my blog seemed devoted to Balkan Sobranie. It irked him. He was far more interested in food posts and mentions of snarky Cantonese women, and there was not nearly enough of that. It was far too monochromatic.
Well, I like both food and snarky Cantonese women.
But beyond a certain point not much can be said.
Both of those things are very nice indeed.
And they are absolute necessities.
Which often go together.
That is all.

[Note of explication: good food is something you will frequently find in the vicinity of snarky Cantonese women. Because in addition to taking your ego down a couple of notches, they like nothing quite so much as scarfing down wonderful things tastefully prepared. That is why they can be easily introduced to French cuisine, Dutch raw herring, Indian curries, and Japanese raw fish. All of these things are excellent to eat, in the vicinity of Cantonese women. You may have to put your big ego on hold in the meantime, though.
They like tilting at windmills, and yours is a monster.]

Balkan Sobranie, however, is the subject of memories made golden and more diverse with each passing year. For the very simple reason that there is nothing quite like it, in a field awash with very similar tobacco mixtures.

It was invented a century ago by a fervid political activist from Odessa, who after spending time in Czarist jails and being contentious during the Bulgarian question, bailed out to England and became a tobacco company representative. Initially he commissioned a line of cigarettes featuring Balkan leaf, eventually he had built up enough relations with tobacco brokers and retailers that he devoted his energies solely to the company he had started. Dovid Rothshtein's obsession with Balkan politics can be seen in the names of his products: Balkan Sobranie - Original Smoking Mixture, Balkan Sobranie - Virginian No. 10 , and Balkan Sobranie - No. 759 Mixture.

[Respectively: white tin, yellow tin, black tin.]

There was also something called The Balkan Sobranie Flake.
The first three I have smoked; not the last one.
It came in a green tin.

Both the Original Smoking Mixture (white tin) and the 759 (black tin) were top-notch woman repellant; I did not realize that at the time.
But it explains much about my subsequent life.

[I used to be in a relationship with a Cantonese woman. My ego held up quite well, and I think that precisely that became a problem. Since breaking up with me she has had an involvement with someone whose ego benefits enormously from being taken down a peg. Sometimes she's like a cat chivying a rodent. Pat, pat, pat.... swat!]

The person who introduced me to the white tinned mixture was a tobacconist just off the Eindhovensche Weg in Valkenswaard, near the Hertog Jan College. I was fifteen, and I wanted something similar to a mixture which he no longer had (Balmoral Pijp Tabak) and which by now has probably not been available for decades. Opportunistically, but wisely, he suggested that I try this strange white tin with a badly drawn landscape on the label. Two peasant women and a line of carts heading toward a distant city.
He had tons of it. I think a travelling salesman had persuaded him to buy a truckload years before, and the refined pipe men of the area had refused to try anything which looked so odd and exotic.

It was a revelation. For the next two years, my face was wreathed in smiles, and my social life went down the tubes. Because, you see, it stank most marvelously. There was a great nose-feel to it, and from the first moist bowl to the last dried shreds several days later, it brought joy and a savage pleasure to my stunted teenage soul. While appalling all right-thinking people, and getting me thrown out of local cafes.

It was very lovely stuff.

Especially compared to the exceedingly nasty aromatics for which Holland is known. Back in the fifties Dutch tobacco companies ramped their foul experiments with vanilla, caramel, and fruit essences into overdrive, and wrecked the world of fine smoking by introducing several perfectly horrid concoctions which soon dominated the market and became the standards by which all other tobaccos were judged.
Women loved the sweet cloying fragrances, relatives did not object to the funk of cheap perfume, and their men had no taste. Between those two factors, the approved pipe smell fast became nasty and sweet.
Those were very bad times.

The names Clan, Sail, Amphora, and Royal Theodorus Niemeyer Tabaksfabrieken still fill me with dread.

[For some reason I am reminded of a Cantonese woman at a nearby pizzeria, with two male classmates. She was in heaven savouring every bite of cheese pie (dammit, I should've memorized the toppings for future reference), and they were somewhat pre-occupied with the ballgame on the telly. They may not have been idiots when not distracted by manly spandex botties.]

Most Dutch companies felt that ten percent Latakia (a dark smoke-cured leaf from the Levant, which adds a resinous sooty perfume while making blends smoke cooler) was more than enough. Balkan Sobranie white was fifty percent, and the black label was sixty percent.
It was exceedingly un-Dutch.


One day the inevitable happened; my tobacconist ran out. And it was several weeks before he found another source. It did not taste quite the same, which baffled me. A year later when I returned to the States after sixteen years in Holland, what was on the shelves here was also different.
I didn't realize it at the time, but the difference was age. My tobacconist in Valkenswaard had been sitting on those tins for several years, and they were marvelously well-aged.

In fact, by that time it wasn't the same as it had been anyway.

Throughout the sixties and seventies there were minor changes; first Syrian Latakia was phased out -- solid tobacco houses often had a supply of various components to last for several years, so introducing Cyprus Latakia to the stockpile made for very gradual blend shift, the loyalists would not notice -- and by that time the Redstone family was no longer passionately committed to the field that their ancestor had exploited, OR to tumultuous Balkan and Russian political events.

[The original family name is variously given as 'Rothshtein'. 'Rotenstein', and 'Roitenshtein'; these translate easily into an Anglicised 'Redstone'. It has never been good to be too obviously Jewish in England.]

The famous Yenidje tobacco -- probably a trade name for Balkan leaf that David Redstone had invented, as it simply means 'new settlement' in Turkish -- was not available either, and several interesting blending Virginias were also a thing of the past.

Then Gallahers Tobacco Company in Belfast ended up with the blend, and over the next decade bollicksed it up so badly that it became no longer worth making. Before they did that I purchased nearly a hundred tins, of which, despite the interval of three decades, I have enough left to smoke only Balkan Sobranie for eight or nine months.

[It's all mine! No one is getting any!]

In the years since I got word that Sobranie was being sold to Gallagher, numerous imitations have been invented. None of them are precisely like the original, many of them are absolutely stellar. Not wanting to rapidly deplete my stash I ended up smoking many other mixtures.
Some of which I have also stockpiled.

Greg Pease has made quite a number of lovely tobaccos.
Cornell & Diehl have done likewise.
And the Danes.

[Over two hundred tins of Greg Pease's mixtures. Mostly English.]

The basic premise for an English-style or Balkan blend is up to half Latakia (40 - 50%), up to a quarter Oriental leaf (20 - 25%), and the rest fine Virginias (25 - 40%), including some nicely aged stuff.
Sobranie in it's original form had over sixteen components, but necessity forced changes, and nowadays the number of varietal Turkish tobaccos and interesting flue-cured blending products is severely reduced, and much that was peculiar has been standardized out of existence.
The perfume cannot be recaptured.

What has regrettably stayed the same is the universal repulsion many women feel when confronted with the odour of Latakia. Which, to a man, smells divine. It is very strange.

[Experiment with this: Ten or eleven parts Latakia, Five parts Turkish, Four parts rubbed-out medium flake, Two parts red ribbon, One part black Virginia Ribbon. Real black Virginia helps carry the Latakia, avoid plain black Cavendish and similar oddities.]

As a teenager, it was always a victory when I had enough money for a tin of Balkan Sobranie. I would happily go toddling off to the tobacconist to purchase my tin, and either crack it open then and there to greedily stuff a pipe, or go around the corner to the youth club (Parsifal), to enjoy a long slow twilight reading, smoking, and drinking tea in the otherwise empty cavern, as Netherlandish dusk slid into a cold darkness with streetlights in the distance. In autumn it often rained, and bicyclists holding umbrellas would glide past, dead leaves would slither along the gutters, or flurries of water would blatter the pavement.
That smell of creosote, so evocative, so redolent.

Balkan Sobranie was a natural part of life.
Smoky, leathery, and luxuriant.
But only I thought so.

Civilized people at the Auberge Central or the Bellevue on the Market Square would protest if I smoked that, and several times I got kicked out of Jo Den Urste or De Swaen because the ladies (even if not a single representative of that species was present) found it offensive.
Go forth and stink elswehere, you heathen!

So naturally I did.

Yes, I like women. Especially when they are intelligent and opinionated.
Snarky, food-obsessed, and full of piss and vinegar.
I don't think they make those anymore.
They were always scarce.
Now more so.

In that day and age, as an overly informed American teenage transplant with peculiar pipe-tobacco, rather than a standard-issue Dutchman smoking acceptable shag ciggies or factory mades, the concept of connecting with the other gender was thoroughly ridiculous.

Oh, there was more to it than that, but multilingual, literate, and fond of stinky tobacco were the most noticeable factors.

Nowadays, when I have a snack and a cup of tea in Chinatown, I light up a pipe afterwards. I think the women who work at my favourite bakeries and snackshops think of it as an acceptable eccentricity peculiar to middle-aged white men who speak Cantonese, and I doubt that they are as rigidly fastidious as the people in Valkenswaard.
I'm smelly, yes, but all white people smell.
It's just something we do.


There are a few lesbian non-smokers I knew over in the East Bay. Due to involvement in political activism I had to associate with them frequently for several years. They loathed the smell of good tobacco, while finding nothing objectionable about the rank odour of marijuana, which makes me nauseous.
They also let fly stupid opinions about food at the drop of a hat; eating meat is as much a sin and a perversion as smoking tobacco.
Pipes are nasty, meat eaters universally brutes.

Balkan Sobranie would have sent them into a frenzy.
I am so glad I no longer know them.
They were very irritating.

But I wish Balkan Sobranie were still around.
The old stuff; not the Arango version.
It's fun, but not the same.

Imagine the smell.

I realize that I need to find a companion who rather likes peculiar middle-aged men and doesn't mind the fragrance of old-fashioned pipe tobacco. Someone who reads a lot, and avoids smelly unguents, frilly shit, and the Hello Kitty gestalt.

I've got a few extra pipes.
Suitable for a woman.


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