At the back of the hill

Warning: May contain traces of soy, wheat, lecithin and tree nuts. That you are here
strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton.
And that you might like cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Thursday, November 21, 2019


One of the themes to which my apartment mate occasionally returns is that martial arts are not for everybody. She's been doing wu-shu for years, and she's got belts in aikido. So she's more of an expert in this field than I am.

"We never shouldha' taught you guys kungfu, now you're all making movies in which great white master goes around beating up little yellow people!"

Mm, okay? As the only white person in this household she can't be referring to me. My cousin's brilliant kid makes movies, I don't. I have nothing to do with the movie industry. Zero.

And I'm fairly certain Sammo Hung has never played a little yellow person.

Are there many movies in which big white men go around terrorizing little old Cantonese ladies?

But I know what she means. White dudes have rather fallen for the magic and mysterioso elements, and Caucasian martial artist movies make some of them feel much less like putzes. Grashopper.
Gandalf with lightening moves.

Besides, she's a little yellow person.

As white people go, I am not a giant, and it turns out I am only three or four inches taller than her. I not sure exactly how much, because miss Mak over at the hospital measured me recently and stated confidently that I am five seven -- until then I had always thought that I was five nine, so I argued with her, and we compromised on five eight -- and my apartment mate's height is slightly taller than the average Cantonese woman. But she weighs about one hundred and five pounds, which is only forty pounds less than me.
And some of that is because I have a thick head, I'm sure.
She's fine boned, I'm not.

On the other hand, I've seen several white women recently who make me feel shrimpy. Which is a good reason to never visit the Midwest.
Or the South. Texas especially.

What we really need, cinematically-speaking, is a movie in which a normal size man such as myself beats the living snot out of a football player.
After already trouncing him or her at chess.

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


Well shucks! The baker at one of my regular places for Hong Kong style milk tea is on vacation till the second week of December. No baked goods! No lo po bing (老婆餠). No dau saa bing (豆沙餠). No ji baau dan gou (紙包蛋糕). No cha siu sou (叉燒酥). No daan taat (蛋撻). No po lo baau (菠蘿包). No naai yau baau (奶油包). No hap tou sou (合桃酥).
Mat dou mow laaa! 乜都冇啦!!!!

How about a sandwich? Mm, no. Don't want it. I may be so white I glow in the dark, but I really was looking forward to a wintermelon pastry with my milk tea. So I'm devastated. Bereft. Deprived. Forlorn. In deep sadness.
Despondent. Feeling a lack unto the very fibre of my being.

I'm sorry, but your sandwich does not inspire me.

No wonder the place was so quiet.

The waitress had noted my deep longing for a lo po bing from a mile away, and had approached trepidatiously. Her hesitation was understandable.
She knew she had nothing that would satisfy.

While enjoying my cup of milk tea, I observed the middle-aged couple along the opposite wall eating noodle soup. The woman, with her fingers clenched firmly and precisely around the chopsticks, fished morsels from her bowl, the man let his soup cool so he could dig in without discomfort. They seemed delighted in each other's company, and obviously had similar tastes and a shared sense of humour. Two people growing old, comfortably together.

Tea-pot Uncle was also there. Near the front, but not in his favourite seat; that table was occupied by a young white couple.

Some of the usual old ladies were at a back table facing the entirely empty baked goods counter.

Other than that, no one.

Perhaps I should have had some noodle soup. Tea with nothing to eat with it is dry and uninspiring.

Now I know how Washington felt when he couldn't get any lo po bing.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019


The problem with foccacia is that it is too tall. Once you add extra cheese, an anchovy, and Sriracha hot sauce, and toast it gently so that the cheese melts, you end up with the perfect delivery system for hot sauce to your mustache. Just did so. Delicious. Savoring the afterglow here for a while, but I'll wash my face and brush my teeth before I go out. Just in case.

Earlier today I wondered "what if there were giant spiders, carnivorous, who came from space? And decided that we made good eating? And what if shortly thereafter they discovered that bacon was even better? Would they then cherish us as the species that knew how to cultivate bacon?"

"Sorry! Mistakes were made. We love you!"

Because, of course, the pigs would take one look at those giant spiders and totally freak-out. Unlike most humans, who would see a stupendous crab feast, or wonder whether their medication was playing tricks on them. The pigs would run off in porcine panic, and mankind would start heating butter, building larger cauldrons, and sharpening knives.

For the first several months it would be brutal culinary warfare.

Perhaps that is why the aliens haven't contacted us.

We know too much about chili-crab.
And crab with garlic.

Crab-flavour foccacia. Now there's a thought.

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It never snows in San Francisco. Which you know. And it isn't often that one actually misses snow, but the visuals of a snowed-under urban environment are evocative, if you come from a place where it did snow occasionally. The audibles evoke too. Palloof, palloof, palloof; your footsteps in the fresh layer, compacting it toward the pavement. The soft wiri-wiri of bicycle wheels.
The "otherwise" silence.

North Brabant in the snow at night has beautiful villages. Dusk comes early in winter, and the sparse streetlights illuminate eery vistas of otherworldly white down fading streets to the next light. Market squares are quiet, still, peaceful. Because no one really wants to go outside. The churches on those squares are more spare, more elegant, more sharply shaded.

Karel and I were in the same class, and we had gravitated toward each other because of shared languages and preferences for tobacco. Quite unlike many pipe-smoking Dutch teenagers back then, he much preferred non-aromatics -- Baai tabak (Maryland ribbon blends) when there wasn't enough money at the end of the week for a tin of Dunhill 965 -- and he spoke English and Indonesian as well. My English was naturally better than his, his Indonesian was more fluent. But we both usually spoke Dutch together, though speckled with foreign terms.
Many of those terms were German.
It was an affectation.

He and I were the star students for that language at school.

[For me it was a tin of Balkan Sobranie, on the first day of the week, when money was hot in my pocket; I would happily toddle off to the tobacconist for that fresh tin. But of course Baai tabak if I needed extra money for books. English tobaccos were more than twice the price of Dutch products. That tobacconist is mentioned HERE, by the way. There was a very limited spectrum of English tobaccos in Holland at that time: Dunhill, Capstan, Balmoral, Balkan Sobranie white. Rarely Astley and Rattray.]

I cannot remember the name of the village where he lived. It was on the train-line between Tilburg and Breda, and he stayed with an aunt in Eindhoven during the week for school. One weekend I went to visit him there, and in early afternoon it started snowing. By twilight everything was blanketed, and because his parents had gone to Utrecht for the weekend, and neither one of us were brilliant cooks, we ate out. A small comfy restaurant owned by an Indies couple on the market square, distant kin of his. It was nearly empty, and very quiet. We got a table at the window looking out on the square, where the only patches not covered by snow were dark circles under the row of pine trees in front of the restaurant.

[Unlike many Indonesian eateries, which had cheesy design schemes with wayang puppets and batik patterns in simplistic woodwork, browns, golds, pale ivory, and black, Uncle had chosen greens and yellows, large leafy patterned screens, and white walls, above the wainscotting which ended four feet from the floor. With the high ceiling, the place was different. Calm. It felt spacious despite being small. None of the usual paintings of palm trees, paddies, and volcanoes. Nice.]

Soto ayam: yellow curry chicken soup with noodles, chicken chunks, tauge, and a few large slices of fried potato, plus a halved hardboiled egg in each bowl. Comforting. Especially given how cold it was outside.
Turmeric, ginger, lemon grass, temu kuntji.
Crisp fried shallot shreds on top.
Sambal on the side.
And krupuk.

After we had finished eating, we had coffee. Uncle (the owner) asked "koud hari ini, ja, willen de heren een jenevertje mischien?" ('cold, eh, do the gents want some genever?). Nou, ja. Well, yes. Coffee and genever are a nice combination. But that does rather invite smoking. Is that okay? And of course it was. Uncle sat nearby with his coffee and a small cigar, Karel and I filled our pipes, and the three of us puffed in near-silence while looking out over the wintry scene. Once in a while a pedestrian would pass -- palloof, palloof, palloof -- but otherwise there were no signs of local life.

There was a small bowl of Droste dark chocolate pastilles on the table.
I've always liked dark pure chocolate, it's such a clean taste.

Dunhill Mixture 965 & Balkan Sobranie Standard Mixture.


I had a black purplish straight bulldog pipe in those days.
It was left in behind when I came back to the U.S.

Shortly after six-thirty we paid and departed.
Te'ima kasi, s'lamat pak, s'lamat, s'lamat.

Karel walked with me to the station.

At Eindhoven station I had some coffee in the upstairs restaurant, before catching the bus back to Valkenswaard. By ten fifteen I was having the last pipe of the day at the Bellevue doors down from our house near the church.
I could've gone to the Auberge Central, but the boss there had told me in no uncertain terms that my preference for Balkan Sobranie standard mixture was not winning me any friends, and I should smoke something "nice".
Like Clan, or Amphora.

Dark white winters should always smell like Levantine tobaccos.
And Indonesian spices.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019


Tonight there will be no jollification, because my regular drinking buddy ("The Book Seller") is in New York on vacation, visiting the ancestral sod. As he does every year.

He's a very moderate drinker. I am a complete tea-totaller.
Which I did not use to be. Rather fond of a drop of whisky now and then, which, intellectually, I still am. But I do not miss it. I abstain.
Start the evening reasonably sober, and, in the past, unless a particular bar owner demanded "hey have anudder g'dammit" and poured without waiting for a demur, end the evening quite nearly as sober.
Moderation, old boy.

My favourite intoxicant is caffeine. Which is why this afternoon I went to Chinatown for lunch at a chachanteng. Bittermelon omelette over rice, copious hot sauce, one cup of milk tea.

It was obvious that the two people to the left were eating together out of habit, not because they enjoyed each other's company. They spoke hardly a word, barely interacted, and did not share food. Just happened to be at the same table at the same time. Their married life must be a blast.

I ate alone, and but for the lack of pleasant company, shared food, and witty conversation, enjoyed it immensely. Haven't had a girlfriend in many years, and intellectually I miss that, but that absence does not faze me.
I can observe other people's fond togetherness.
Or whatever that is that they do.

The two couples to the right were, all four of them, verging on repulsive. Dull faces, uninteresting conversations, and poorly chosen dishes on the table. But they had more going for them than the folks on the left. Younger, and they wanted to be together. There was plenty of evidence of that.


Afterwards, lighting my pipe fascinated a small three or four year old girl, who stared at the performance with radiant happiness on her face. Oh boy, a kwailo with a wooden thing in his mouth! Flame! Clouds of smoke!
How very interesting!

She herself was equally look-worthy. The cutest little moppet.

Benton Pipe, Select grade. Early two thousands.

I don't mind the wonderment of little tykes at my oddness at all. There's often a joyful flabberghastion in their eyes, and possibly I am the most exciting thing they saw all day.

Adults usually have a more judgmental attitude.
"It's tobacco, therefore it must smell bad."
"Let me signal my well-bred disgust."
"Or frown a bit. As I should."

There's something magical and inspiring about a well-made properly taken care of pipe, with its patina of age, that children and many elderly country gentlemen recognize. Not instinctively, but quite consciously.

The delicate old-fashioned fragrance adds to that.
Because that's how life should smell.

Solid quality.

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


During the night I woke up remembering a girl from Valkenswaard. She had been sweet on me when I was fifteen and she was twelve, but I had been too dense to actually pay attention. A very nice girl. She'd still be three years younger. And six inches shorter. She was quite cute.
If I had stayed, instead of coming back to the States .....

I do rather wonder to which school she would have gone. Her older sister was in my class in both grammar school and the first years of high school, and what I remember most about that person was that she had an extremely effective and vicious kick. My shins bore witness.

For new arrivals and outsiders, towns in North Brabant at the juvenile level can be quite cold. Both girls and their horrid little brother were originally from somewhere else. The long slog out of being "strange" is paved with scholastic merit; we were lucky that team sports and cheerleading never were a thing there, and as far as I know still haven't made an impact.

At some levels, small Netherlandish towns are like living among Hobbits. Unpleasant cold hobbits. Pieter Bruegel's peasants as a stubborn know-it-all snooty bunch, with personal habits directly out of Lord of the Rings, the bad side. Superficial, distrustful, and rather ignorant. And always right.

People half-way between Gandalf and unwashed louts.

At another level, there are chess clubs at academic schools, with regional championships, and smoking tolerated as a means of waging psychological warfare against the other side. The camaraderie of political clubs advocating burning this entire rotten social construct down. Bright snarky teenagers talking philosophy, the likelihood that Brederode and Vondel had venereal disease (dreadfully common in the sixteenth century), and the latest Monty Python episode. Plus the discovery of French, German, and English.
Because foreign language learning opened up windows.
Like Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury.
As well as several snooty Englishmen.

High school memories are more rose coloured than grammar school. In all honesty, that's because of caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and books. The four substances in which we all indulged, that suffused our progress and our entire life-support system.
I have no clue what the students at the bricklayers and housewifery high schools experienced; they've all grown up to be marginally alcoholic lower middle class voters for the Christian Democrats and the PvdA.
They probably have good secure lives.
Un-exciting. Comfortable.


The girl I remembered probably went to the Atheneum or Gymnasium after grammar school. Exposure to Latin and Greek, and eventually escaping the damned hobbits. Four to eight years of college, followed by metropolitan modern life in A'dam or Utrecht, or perhaps a university town.

I don't know.

But she's still considerably shorter than me, and three years younger.
Cute and intelligent then. Undoubtedly still that way.
Become the mother of elves.

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Monday, November 18, 2019


At this very moment I have an almost unconquerable urge to finish the last of the kringle, devouring it to the very final crumb. But I will resist. Because my apartment mate may want to have that piece for breakfast, and there is at present no way of finding out what her food plans are tomorrow morning, without disturbing her in her room and so maybe actually putting the idea in her head. She might gallantly say "oh go ahead", and tomorrow morning think unhappily "damn, he did".

Besides, I had some cheese earlier, I've indulged nicely.

So I resist. Eventhough I already had a piece, and the lingering taste memory of almond paste and flaky pastry is playing a number on me. Just like it did with the tub of ice cream last week (gone), the chocolate chip cookies (gone), and the butter cookies (gone).

Something about sweet things demands my slavish attention.
And addict-like behaviour.

There are two (!) boxes of cookies near my laptop.
They are as yet unopened boxes.
I shall resist!

Thoughtfully I swirl some coffee over my tongue, temporarily soothing the attention-craving taste buds. Should I light up a pipe, and wander around the neighborhood until the urge passes? If so, which pipe? What tobacco?


Perhaps one of the Comoy's squat bulldogs (wondering now where I put the Sasieni of a very similar shape), and some Sam Gawith Golden Glow.
A nice comforting bright Virginia broken flake, with an appealing sweetness. Golden Glow is a tobacco which isn't complex, but does have an enduring charm. Fresh, herbal, carotenoid-rich. Delightful and summery.

It's a bit too late in the evening for a full bowl, though.
Perhaps I'll trigger the neighbors tomorrow.
Quite the cheering prospect.

That and kringle.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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One of the people with whom I associate in Marin sounds exactly like Beaker on the Muppet Show. If Beaker could actually talk. I dare not say more, lest you guess who. This is problematic. Despite my frequent mention of stuffed creatures, and a liking for small cute entities, I find that voice and those speech habits particularly unappealing.

If I had a rubber chew-toy, I would chuck it at that person.

Shut up, and stop saying "me"!

That's what blogs are for.

This blog is a means of communicating, as well as a one-sided conversation. None of the boys in the backroom at work read it, which is just as well. Few of the people in the East Bay with whom I used to associate do so either.

As near as I can tell the current readers are pipe smokers, food mavens, alcoholics, and a few perverts in Pakistan looking for naughty pictures.

There are no naughty pictures here. The closest I have come is careful illustrations of pipes and Hello Kitty.

Not going to show any Hello Kitty images in this post, they're all over this blog; all you have to do is look.

Food is mentioned an awful lot. Some Dutch things. Animals. Chinatown. Language stuff.

I haven't mentioned monkeys and crows nearly enough.

That needs to be corrected.

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Sunday, November 17, 2019


Either the esteemed member of the judicicial branch will have apoplexy OR it will be an orgasm. In that easy chair in the back room while watching the Forty-Niners on teevee. Which today he was. Periodically the loud shouts from that area disturbed me while working. And it would have been nicer if Smyrna Pete had come in while it was on, because I really did NOT want to hear all about his alcoholic neighbor losing fingers in the belt-sander.
Yeah, um, heard every damned detail.
No ball game screams.

I really do like most of the people I get to deal with on a daily basis, but some of them lack "social polish". In addition to their mom dressing them funny, them eating to much, and smelling bad. They keep me young.

Besides the esteemed member of the judicicial branch and his suspicious enthusiasm over team sports, there were just a few others present during the ball game. R the Subcontinental and R the Occidental, Pat D and Pat N, and Dodgy. And also the boss' daughter, who is a pleasure to work with because she is competent, and very tolerant of grumbly old coots such as myself and all the aforementioned chaps.

We didn't have to light the fireplace; screaming kept them warm.

I don't think you would call the backroom cozy without the fire on, but 'heated' certainly applies.

Not being myself in any way interested in the game, I spent the time when work slowed down putzing with Italian pipes and investigating the comforting aspect of Virginia flakes and Virginia Perique blends. It was quite enjoyable, provided I remained at a safe distance from the baboons and their loud banana frenzy. The Forty-Niners may have won.

Boys, please don't wet your diapers. Or the feminine under garments that at least two of you are wearing under your clothing for good luck.

Shiny yoga pants were invented for Football.
Ham and pineapple pizza too.

When I left I was high as a kite. I swill strong tea while at work. Had several cups. Smoked a nice blondish Virginia flake, a loose-spun coin, a sample of something dark from Freybourg & Treyer that a friend had given me, Orlik's Golden Slices, and one of my own mixtures. At least I did my part to leave the place better smelling when I left than them. They huffed cigars.

Comoy, Peterson, Peterson, Stanwell, and Charatan.

I smell like your favourite college professor.
They whiff like piles of compost.


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In two weeks we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving. By which I mean all the rest of you, because for nearly a decade I haven't, and for several years before that it would be a day later than everyone else anyhow. I was in a relationship then, and because my significant other had never told her folks that she was living with someone, she went over to a relative's house (that being very much an obligatory attendance) on Thursday, I would do nothing, and the next day I'd roast a duck for our dinner.

It was a very American Chinese celebration. She was Chinese American, the duck would turn out Chinese, and the sides I prepared were rather more Chinese than typical white folks chow.

I am not Chinese American.

But I understood why she never mentioned our relationship to her kinfolk.
Some Chinese Americans are a bit freaky about kwailo boyfriends.
And some kwailo boyfriends are not very social.

Since our break-up I haven't roasted a duck. That's something I can find easily in Chinatown anyhow, and while I resent the question that is always asked by everyone ("how was your holiday ours was super totally fabulous let me tell you all about it in overwhelming detail") and sort of miss the damned turkey, I am, as you may have guessed, not very social.

Never-the-less, I have strong ideas about celebratory feasts.

In particular, I believe that there are FOUR things which should always be on every holiday dining table. In addition to rice and fried noodles.


The first one mentioned is a mixture of spiced toasted coconut shreds and peanuts or cashews perfect for adding a bit of textural excitement to curries and rice, the second is mashed hot chilies with other additions like garlic, fish paste, or lime juice, which may or may not have been fried, the third is a pickle made with salty and sour brine (often sliced chilies and onion in lime juice, tamarind, and fish sauce), and the fourth is Indonesian style sweet soy sauce.

Without these four "condiments", it's just a dolled up dead bird with bland muck on the side. At the very least, have some hot sauce handy.

Candied yams, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, and boiled lima beans, are just plain boring. How come y'all get so damned fat?

The less said about cranberry gloop, the better.

Stuffing is often horrid too.

"How was your holiday ours was super totally fabulous let me tell you all about it in overwhelming detail!"

Serundeng, sambal, atjar, and ketjap manis. Plus two or three curried items, maybe pindang telur, a few sayurs, and rice. Gai choi with oyster sauce. Spicy stir-fried stringbeans. A tangy clear broth soup.
Mashed potato with bacon or duck fat.

Who invented this holiday anyhow? Severe Protestants?!?!?

I have some serious doubts about you lot.

Get with the program!

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There are far too many spoons in this apartment. Over the years, while the grocery store around the corner was in business, occasionally I'd cruise into their housewares section and purchase stuff. Bowls. Strainers. Plastic. And stainless steel cutlery. Particularly spoons of a narrow range of dimensions, because spoons of the right shape for hot beverages are "perfect", precisely like a crisp five dollar bill, which is the most useful denomination.
Do not ask about my wallet at this moment.

The perfect tea spoon is not, in fact, a tea spoon. It's a dessert spoon, one step down from a tablespoon. An actual tea spoon is rather useless, unless you serve sambals in little porcelain bowls.

And even for sambals, a dessert spoon is better.

I have never mentioned this radical theory to any of my relatives. Not to my grandmother, who adhered to British ideas of tea service, nor to my mother, who abjured sambals. Nor, even, to my apartment mate. Who would look at me funny. And very likely conclude for the umpteenth time that she was living with a stark raving loony.

When things are the correct size and dimensions, they look fit for the job.

Precisely like the Peterson System Standard.
As pictured below.

Peterson System Standard, shape 307.

A beautiful bowl that feels comfortable in the hand. Bent shank and stem, nickel band to keep the wood from being damaged when the pipe is taken apart, the curve is not too deep, and there is sufficient distance from the mouthpiece to burning tobacco to keep the smoke out of your eyes.
It just looks "right". The quintessence of pipeness.
As a tool for smoking it looks the part.

I have several.


NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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Saturday, November 16, 2019


For the benefit of pipe smokers, and only pipe smokers, seeing as no one else is likely to find any of this fascinating, here are links to essays containing short reviews of some pipe tobaccos. So mostly men.
Though some are, regrettably, hobbits.
Well, maybe there might be some women who are interested (Mary in the Carolinas, for instance), or even impressionable young ladies looking for something to enjoy of an afternoon with their tea.

Men. And hobbits.

SUNDAY, JULY 15, 2012
Exceptionally good stuff, old-fashioned blends.

About Samuel Gawith tobaccos

Stuff produced by six misanthropes in an old brick building in the Channel Islands surrounded by fish.

Old-school Burley concoctions.


Ashton pipe tobaccos, some of which are reprehensible.

This company no longer exists.

Taking the list of tobaccos that You. Must. try. To Call. Yourself. A. Man. to the nth. degree. There are several you shouldn't.


And lastly, because these days I smoke mostly Virginia-Perique blends and flake tobaccos, this:


As a personal eccentricity, I am somewhat obsessed with the idea of a young woman deciding that she should smoke a pipe, and do it well.
So avoiding aromatics and Latakia overloads, eschewing too much Perique, and determined to not abuse or hotbox (overheat) her briars.

If I were a young woman, that's what I would do.

Nice pipes are very feminine.


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A picture on the internet of a pipe and a book inevitably brought me to a famous manga (Japanese illustrated story or set of stories). No, not as some of you might suspect, Ranma 1/2, which is good reading because of the excellent illustration style of the author and shouldn't be read in public lest people think you a skeevy sort, but Azumanga Daioh.


Written by Japanese author Kiyohiko Azuma, the narrative about a group of high school students is formed by a series of four panel strips. It is funny, occasionally surrealist and off the wall, and insightful as well as gripping. Naturally it appeals much more to a female audience than to the menfolk, and I cannot imagine the typical all-American male finding it in any way exciting. There is no football, there are no great sports praestations, and there is neither nudity nor beer. There are no pipes or tobacco either.

It ought to be required reading.

Pursuant yesterday's picture, one person asked: "when someone posts a pic with a pipe and a book, how many others do a search to see what point they're trying to make ?" Because there were several layers of possible message to the juxtaposition.
Which I hadn't thought about, because I also saw the tin of Royal Yacht pipe tobacco in the photo, and immediately thought two things:

A) That smoker has some "questionable" tendencies;
B) Possibly a fan of Dutch and English princes.

All you need to know about Royal Yacht pipe tobacco is that a well-known member of the pipe aficionado community in Texas once made a group of his friends sick by having it as the tobacco in a smoking competition; the winner threw up before accepting his prize, that being a full sealed tin of the mixture. It is strong and bizarre, and maybe I should buy another tin.
Seeing as I last smoked it over a decade ago.


As a teenager I read all of Rudyard Kipling during my first years smoking a pipe, plus all of Georges Simenon, and all of Vladimir Nabokov. As well as The Merck Manual, thirteenth edition. That last one details the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, of almost all the diseases known to man.

Yes, there was no television in our house, and video games had not been invented yet. How did you guess?

Now, when I look around the room where I'm typing this, the books that immediately jump out at me are Emes Ve'emunah (by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff); Culinaria - the United States - a Culinary Discovery; French Consular Dispatches on the Philippine Revolution (Camagay); Age (by Hortense Calisher); and Liefde en Schaduw (by Isabel Allende).
This room is a mess, by the way.

Another thing I notice is a row of dried-out rambutan on a tray.
One of these days I'll put little eyes on them.
Space aliens.

It's rare that I read a book while smoking a pipe. At work I smoke, and on the afternoons of non-work days, when I wander around Chinatown I smoke. In the mornings of my days off I scope out news on the internet during my coffee while waking up, often with a pipe in my mouth. But because I am not a member of the smoking lounge, and do not have a comfortable garage with an easy chair and an up-to-date ventilation system, or a house-mate tolerant of tobacco, I do not laze about with a book while smoking.

One book I did manage to read most of while at work was Head, Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Throat Emergencies, An Issue of Emergency Medicine Clinics. Which someone had left in the back room. It was fascinating.

My job does not involve any of that.

We went to Devon on vacation once. Which, when you really think about it, was an odd thing to do. Normally, people living in Northern Europe prefer a sunny part of the world during summer, given that grey, rain, and overcast, are things they've already experienced fully.

We were in England, and it poured.

For five weeks.

I spent many happy hours in the hotel library with my pipes, tins of Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture, and books. It was a wonderful vacation.

[NOTE: The current iteration of Balkan Sobranie is NOT the same is the pre-Gallagher version by any standard. But it is a decent product in the same vein, and the tin-note is recollective.
I have rather enjoyed smoking it, and have stockpiled a few tins for a rainy day.
There are more perfectly calibrated Balkan blends on the market.]

The winter storms are coming soon, but there are few places to smoke indoors in San Francisco, and none of them are book-friendly. So when it's wet, after having a cup of milk-tea and a snack in Chinatown I will seek sheltering awnings in front of closed shops and enjoy my pipe while observing people.
In Chinatown nearly everyone has a relative who smokes.
Or possibly is the relative who does so.

Perfumy matured Virginias.
A thoughtful smoke.


It may be time to open a tin of McClelland soon. That venerable company specialized in hard-pressed aged Virginias, and though they shut their doors in January of last year, I have a fair amount of it left.
Several different blends.
I have always appreciated them and their products more intellectually than in actual practice; much of what they manufactured is good for savouring while bemoaning the horrid state of the universe and the uncomfortable sogginess of one's rear end in inclement weather.

The answer to the question what point someone is trying to make when they post a picture of a pipe and a book is that they live alone.

It's probably not deliberate.


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Friday, November 15, 2019


One of my friends, both realworld and Facebook, is a bartender well-known for getting people drunk out of their gourd. Happily drunk out of their gourd. Not me, because I am an abstemious sort -- more so because neccessary medication and booze don't combine well -- but other people. Very many other people. What I'm saying is that he associates with drunks a lot.
But he has the personality quirks that suit that.

On social media the other day he sent this out into the void:

"I was dreaming that I met a talking raccoon named James that lived in my mom's backyard shed. He let me massage his paws and liked it when I scratched his belly even though it tickled and made him giggle. Like a little raccoon giggle."
End quote.

There is much going on in this charming dream. Almost makes you wish you were there. His dreams are better than mine.

I hope his mother has an apple tree in her back yard. Shed-raccoons probably love crisp apples in Autumn.

A plate of cookies now and then would also be appreciated.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019


Uncle Stinky Kwailo was cold. His fingers were quite blue from the frigid wind outside combined with Raynaud's phenomenon. Unkle Stinky Kwailo had just finished smoking a pipe, outside in the bitter cold, and desired some warmth and comfort. And what's this? A hospitable establishment beckoned. Uncle Stinky Kwailo went inside for a cup of hot beverage.

Oh joy.

Uncle Stinky Kwailo surprised the heck out of the little girls at a nearby table by ordering in Cantonese. As, naturally, one does when requesting kong sik naai chaa (港式奶茶) and jaa choi yiuk si ho fan (榨菜肉絲河粉).

Uncle Stinky Kwailo was not too disappointed when the owner suggested lai fan (瀨粉) instead, as they were entirely out of ho fan (河粉).
Lai fan is very similar to Chiu Chow kwee tiao (潮州粿條).
Good fried, more delicious in soup.

Uncle Stinky Kwailo was, however, disconcerted when he realized that fingers that are numb and blue, from the lack of circulation caused by Raynaud's phenomenon, had difficulty with chopsticks.

Uncle Stinkyy Kwailo cursed a blue streak under his breath, hoping that the little girls would not hear it.

It was never the less an excellent repast. My fingers had recovered by the time I went outside for another smoke, slightly over an hour since I came in. The wind had lessened, and Rainaud's did not crop up again. Late in the day there's always that bitter blowing breeze downslope from Russian Hill and Nob Hill through Chinatown and the nearby Financial District, which is made worse by the funnel effect of the buildings.

指尖變蒼白,(因為)無血液循環 。

In Chinese, Raynaud's Syndrome is 雷諾氏綜合症 ('leui nok si jung gap jing'), a name in which only the last three syllables are really intelligible, as they mean "syndrome" (綜合症 'jung gap jing'). The first three syllables are phoneticisations for "Raynaud's" and don't mean bupkes in Cantonese.
As is the case with many phonetic transcriptions.

It's also called 雷諾現象 ('leui nok yin jeung'), Raynaud's Phenomenon.

Freely cut-and-pasting from Wikipedia in Chinese:

Trust me, a medical person would have scant problem with this description,
but the rest of us might find it somewhat hard to understand.
Slapped into conversations, it's messy.

Ji-jim pin chong-baak, (yan wei) mou huet-yik cheun-waan.

Fingertips turn pale, (because of) no circulation.

It's a pain in the sphincter.

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There are times when I regret the preceding decades. I really could've done everything more intelligently, could've gotten married had kids, could've won the Nobel prize, and could've smelled better. Then I remember that the smell is fine, everyone else is defective. There is always a whiff of pipe tobacco.
And that is exactly the odour there should be.
A nineteen forties fragrance.

Yeah, I wasn't even born then.

In the eighties, I reeked a bit too. Old-fashioned tobacco blends, strong tea, and fried Indonesian chili pastes. For some reason I remember my youth as being rain-sodden and cold, but this may be entirely a subconscious influence from where I grew up, that being the Netherlands. Which has been described, along with Northern Belgium, as having the climate voted most likely to lead to depression among expats. When you're there it's normal. Grey, drenched, bog-like, and overcast; with a resident population that visually resembles Vincent van Gogh's 'The Potato Eaters', a grim bunch.

They really do look like that.

A bit less scrawny than then, as the potatoes are now usually deep-fried and served with similarly prepared snacks (frikandel, kroket, bamischijf, berenklauw, loempia), which provide insulation against the climate as well as Germans, Frenchmen, and other drunken louts, but substantially the same.

The pipes are still part of my personal perfume, along with tea, dead leaves, and wild animals. But Americans have less fondness and scant talent for deep-fry cuisine. Our French Fries are often lousy, and the less said about fried chicken or fish 'n chips, the better. We do donuts well.

Fortunately one can buy chili pastes here, as well as many of the ingredients of typical Dutch Indonesian sambals and stews.

Current smells: Virginia pipe tobacco. Salted fermented black beans. Fried spices, plus coffee, tea, ginger, and cardamom.

Don't worry. Be happy.
Eat your potato.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Over the weekend I stuck my nose into a tin of Cornell & Diehl flake and inhaled deeply. Sheer heaven. The sliced rounds from a different manufacturer also smelled wonderful, but that may have been because of five years maturation.

This old badger likes his stinky stuff.

Plus setting fires.


None of the three blends with which I experimented over the weekend are suitable for young people, unless they are exceptional. All three will appeal primarily to arthritic men who have survived youth and are settling in to a graceful middle age surrounded by their stamp collections, boating memorabilia, and seventies rock and roll posters.
Again, not children. Normal folks.

[For the record: I do not collect stamps, never boated, and dislike 70's music.]

By Cornell & Diehl
Red and blonde Virginia flake.

A sumptuous and delightful pressed Virginia for quiet enjoyment. Rich and fruity from the carotenoids, an easy smoker, and a superlative blending tobacco. Golden blonde, mostly. Smoked slow it is exceptional.

Ideally, one would enjoy this product with some sherry under peaceful circumstances, perhaps in one's own living room, ensconced by the fire, with a thoughtfully written news magazine. Except of course that nowadays the living room is off-limits for Uncle Crotchet and his pipe, we mustn't use the fireplace because of the asthmatic orphans downwind from here, and there were screaming sports fans in the backroom.
I do not watch sports at all. Ever.
It was extremely good.
Several bowls.

Savinelli, via MacBaren. 
Virginia, Burley, and dark-fired African.

Smallish loose roundels of spun tobacco with a toasty spicy tin-note. It smells comforting, like a good aftershave or the living quarters of a favourite college professor, maybe hosting a mathematics get-together. In this day and age he'd be fired for smoking around students, because they're fragile, and mathematics is hard and genderist in any case. It is very enjoyable in the pipe. There is a sweetness that builds, and the fire-cured tobacco behaves modestly. Indeed, it does have Burley, but not too much.
This resembles the current versions of Three Nuns.
Only a minor amount of Perique.

Tea time of the gods. Kick the children out into the yard, shut the windows, and ignore the howling storm this evening. It is bitterly cold outside, but those whelps can handle it. Back in my day we'd play outside in all weather, dressed in nothing but a potato! Kids these days!

I have enough to last through winter.

Samuel Gawith
Pressed Virginias, Latakia, and whisky.

A smoky reek from the open sample tin, which I've been slowly but steadily depleting for a while now. First tasted this four years ago when someone brought it to the meeting of the pipe club. This tin is not from then. It is is amazingly comforting on a cold morning, the Latakia is noticeably present, but this is by no means a Levantine overload for young whippersnappers. Rather, this almost defines old codger tobaccos. Restrained and moderately spicy, not subdued but diplomatic. If you wore tweeds and often finished your days with Scotch whisky, this would probably be your regular smoke.
Goes well with a cup of strong Pu Erh tea.

My apartment mate would quite likely consider this the quintessence of stinky old toad, and object fiercely to me lighting it up.

All of these were enjoyed at work, where there are no angry vegetarians, anti-vaxers, gluten-phobes, or fiercely disapproving puritans of the anti-tobacco type. While there I swill strong tea throughout the day, and gaily light up my stinkiest pipes. The tin of Opening Night is there.
I need to buy some for home.

The only fly in my ointment was the presence of other smokers. Some of whom like sports and have odd personal philosophies.

I do not like sports.


At home on my days off I often have a pan on the stove with half a dozen dried Chinese dates (紅棗 'hung jou') and a couple of thick slices of ginger simmering for two or three hours, to disguise the fact that I have been smoking. The result is a refreshing beverage that's good over ice.
So far my apartment has not wigged-on to this subterfuge.


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Last night on the mezzanine we looked across the intersection and noticed that the neon light is broken again; the sign says "NG 20'S', precisely as it had for many months a few years ago. And we came to the conclusion, based on that, that what this town needs, desperately needs, is a theme nightclub celebrating Saigon in the nineteen twenties. It should be a place where drunken Frenchmen can be insulted by slim angry Asian women. Actually I'm the one thinking about the abusive Asian women and repulsive frogs, my friend was just focusing on colonial officials slowly devolving into drug addicts like the gentlemen in the alleyway with the guitar, bad grunge rock, and dreams of moderate acceptance by a cynical music industry.
The usual Tuesday night jaunt, but in a quieter city.

[Tuesday night jaunt: It's our tradition. We meet once a week in Chinatown when he gets off work at the bookstore. I will have spent half an hour before then wandering around the quiet neighborhood smoking 'The Pipe for watching rats in Spofford Alley'. First a burger joint, then a bar, lastly the karaoke dive for "entertainment". Neither of us sing.]

He drinks whiskey, I have since February avoided alcohol except as a solvent for tar, carbon, and nasty encrustations in briar pipes smoked by men who like aromatic tobaccos (1Q, RLP 6, Captain Black, Cherry blend), never clean their equipment, and have degenerate personal habits.
Nowadays I drink tea at bars, but tip as if I'm a real person.

A nightclub with noodle soup (phở bò or phở gà) and French pastries.
Strong coffee, salt plum soda, and grilled fatty pork.
Sounds like a little slice of all-right.

As long as the music is NOT French, but perhaps jazz or tangos. Those classic French chansons would drive everyone to suicide.
We can't have that, it's bad for business.

It even sounds like a good place for breakfast. What I'm having now is hardly a healthful replacement -- instead of chilled coffee and hot noodle soup with basil, rau răm, galangal, and lemon grass, it's strong hot coffee and the first pipe of the day -- but still a great way to start a morning.

[The first pipe: Today it's Doblone D'Oro fulled rubbed out, in the pipe a co-worker once described as "an ugly brown H", which description still amuses me because it is actually a handsome straight billiard, shallow blast, with "Hardcastle" clearly stamped into the bottom of the shank. A very nice smoking briar.]

That nightclub should be a noisy bustling place. Especially in the morning. One of these days I should make it a point to head over to the eatery in Chinatown which does fish cutlets, pork chops, and steamed dumplings for breakfast. Not that I am a hearty eater so early in the day, but just because. Fish cutlet and a fried egg. Dumplings. Noodles. Hong Kong Style Milk Tea.

[Hong Kong Style Milk Tea: Strong black tea made good by the addition of condensed milk, served boiling hot. Stir it to dissolve the excess gloop at the bottom of the cup. If you plan to go up twenty stories of bamboo scaffolding in the middle of a typhoon, this will prepare you for that. The restaurant also does Hong Kong French toast.]

No, degenerate Frenchmen with suicidal habits do not go there.
Neither do alcoholic retired British rubber planters.
Except for colour they are unnecessary.


There is a slightly spicy taste to this pipe tobacco. When I got up I had considered opening a tin of Samuel Gawith's Golden Glow (a beautiful carotenoid-rich blonde broken flake) or Dunhill's Dark Flake (perfumy, ethereal, subtle, and soft), but instead I'll save those for when the rains come. I fondly remember smoking both of those under a metal awning of an abandoned storefront near Chinese Hospital, or down on Washington Street across from the herbalist where I used to go. Near where I've often had rice stick noodles in clear broth with juicy grilled pork and beansprouts (燒猪肉河粉 'siu chü yiuk ho fan') or 涼瓜豬肉飯 ('leung gwaa chü yiuk faan'; bitter melon and pork over rice).

They've got excellent Vietnamese coffee.

NOTE: when single men get older, they sometimes do weird things. Like eating an entire quiche lorraine in the middle of the day, as a conflation of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Extra cheese on top. And hot sauce. It was a good quiche, but it was not a good idea. It influenced the entire rest of the day, and sleep after returning home.


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When I returned to my street yesterday evening I could hear the ruckus from two blocks away. Two black women arguing. Expressing themselves, pithily, while walking a dog.


"Bitch don't you insult my momma bitch, dontcha even dare call my momma a bitch, bitch! I didn't say nuttin' about yo momma, bitch, bitch get a hold of yourself. Bitch. Hey you leave mah dawg alone, bitch! Well pull that bitch mutt back, bitch!
Gonna slap you! Bitch outta mah face!

It's a full moon. And not as cold as it was a week ago.
I passed them, turned the corner, and headed down the block to the doorway of my building. While I was smoking a pipe there I could hear them returning, and see them crossing the street.
Still making each other out for 'bitch'.

I've always had a soft spot for people who hate each other.
Especially when they make a performance out of it.

It's good, though, to keep some distance.
Stay out of the firing line.
Or strike zone.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019


On one of the forums, a friend requested that he not be addressed as 'sir'.
He's in a part of the country where that's not common.
Might even be 'sassing'.

I have reached the age where people often address me as 'sir'. Which is disconcerting! I still envision myself as the young rowdy who tossed the consulate filing cabinet out of the second floor window to the street below, where the contents were set on fire. And I still feel very very young.
Now youngsters offer me their seats on the bus. Dammit.

There are a lot of Chinese people in SF, who were raised to respect elders. And white folks such as myself look prehistoric by their standards.
Many Chinese people of my age have no wrinkles. I have two.

If I were a werewolf, this would not be an issue. Abundant facial hair would cover up the signs of any age. The problem is that my whiskers (goatee and mustache; a ring beard) have white. Perhaps I need to howl more.

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