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.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Much has passed. I believe I may have been an irritating boy during my youth; it took until my mid-twenties before I quieted down. Tendencies and manners have changed even further over time, but certain ticks and details remain, crystal clear.

Something about summer evening light reminds me of Valkenswaard. Brightness in the western sky, colours intense yet muted. Often I would be in the hayloft (the upstairs living room) occupying the easy chair near my father's desk, reading and smoking my pipe, while he went through technical articles painstakingly marking them up in preparation for eventual publishing. It may have been mere engineerese, but that did not mean that slapdash English from his British colleagues, or twisted techno-Dinglish from Dutchmen had to be tolerated. I think he enjoyed his work; I certainly appreciated the wonderfully gibberant examples he read aloud.
It was an uphill battle; neither the English nor the Dutch would ever admit that their command of the language was less than perfect, and the very idea that an American had a better ear and eye appalled them.

My dad did not object to my smoke, but my brother did. Of us three he was the non-smoker. He would be at his desk at the far end, irritatedly clacking chess pieces while replaying the games of dead masters. At that age I had no patience for tobacco intolerance. Everyone smoked. That was the way it was supposed to be. There were several tobacconists I patronized, and the town had a history of cigar factories. Nonsmokers were a queer minority.
I have since then realized that abstinence from a fragrant habit does not necessarily indicate severe moral failings.

Summer in Brabant is an extremely pleasant time, and I still cannot fathom why so many locals headed south to Spain for six weeks. From everything I heard their vacations involve lying near-nude on hot sand, in between bouts of food-poisoning and overmuch uncleanliness.
It seems an absurd waste of effort.

I guess it is a needed breaking out of ruts. Life can be boring if every day, month after month, it remains exactly the same.
Societies need that change of pace too.
Much changes over time.

Valkenswaard no longer has any cigar factories, and smoking is not permitted in bars, cafes, or restaurants. One hundred years ago it was cigar-rolling that lifted the town out of the funk of utter poverty, now it is a bedroom community for the industries of Eindhoven, and a party venue for the entire region.
More bars per capita than any other place in the Netherlands.

[CIGARS: Hofnar cigars was founded around 1900, the name dates from 1919 when one of the owners (Alexander Wolters) attended the opera Rigoletto; hofnar means 'courtjester'. The factory closed in 1990. Willem II cigars still exist, but are now merely a trademark of Swedish Match. The company was founded in 1919, taken over by La Paz in 1989, and by 1999 the buildings had been torn down. Many other cigar factories had already started disappearing before WWII, other than Hofnar and Willem II none survived by the sixties. BARS: Drinking establishments are all over town, most concentrated near the Market Square, along the Luikerweg and Leenderweg, and near the intersection of the Frans van Best Straat where the trainstation once stood. The town has a hard working police department.
RESTAURANTS: Greek, Italian, steak house, and French bourgeois, along with local haute cuisine (so-called "Burgundian", because Brabant was once part of that realm), cheap Dutch fast food (also known as 'Vette Hap', which means 'greasy mouthful'), three very much beloved Chinese restaurants (Peking, Hong Kong, and China Garden). But the food scene too has changed, I believe there is now a Subway sandwich shop smack-dab in the city centre, along with the inevitable Palestinian Grillroom. There might even be an Indian vegetarian dabba somewhere, as well as a fish and chip shop for drunken English engineers.]

My brother and I were the only English-speakers in our grammar school, and likely represented the overwhelming majority of English speakers of our age in town. Naturally we spoke fluent Dutch.
Most Dutch people at that time were convinced that Americans spoke perfectly dreadful English, which many were at pains to let us know. But in Dutch, because their command of English was quite fragmentary.
I am still surprised that the Netherlanders are famous for multi-linguality; certainly there was little evidence for wide-spread linguistic talent then.
Although in all fairness I should mention that in those days I did know people who spoke German, French, English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Malay, and Italian, plus various dialects of Indonesian and Chinese. Several of whom actually lived in town.
Most of them identified themselves as Dutch.

We always identified ourselves as Americans, which must have been unendingly irritating to many of our associates. "What's they point", they might well have asked, "when you speak such perfect 'Nederlands', but are without doubt below par in English?" And that, precisely, was the reason.
If one assumes that Americans speak lousy English, and therefore my brother and myself must be quite unable to form complete and correct sentences in that language because of our regrettable background, that can only mean one thing.

[Quod erat demonstrandum (that's Gaelic for "you peasants are a bunch of idiots").]

We didn't have many friends during that period, but in retrospect it was more because of our cultivated otherness, odd interests, and stand-offishness, than any lack of social graces on the part of neighbors and acquaintances. Most Dutch, though unbearably stubborn and always right no matter what, are actually warm friendly people, and many of them have their own interesting peculiarities.
Living tightly packed in a small country inculcates a tolerant manner.
They'll happily ignore almost anything, if the company is agreeable.

I think I'd probably get along much better with those people now. I've changed in the intervening years, and I am not the same blister I once was. In honest retrospection, there was much that was solid there.

But I couldn't live there again; I have changed too much.

And they and their town have changed too.


The sunlight on Larkin Street near the corner of Clay, where St. John's Methodist Church stood until a few weeks ago, is quite beautiful in early evening. Slanted, bright, and inducive of a recollective mood. I've taken to smoking deep rich pipe tobaccos while walking after tea time. My dad used to smoke similar products, I believe. The hint of fire-cured Kentucky, and the fullness of brown medium Virginias, seems a memory that connects to him. There must have been something decent to smoke in the Netherlands in those days. The affectation for stinky aromatics had probably not come to dominate the market yet, and likely some of his English colleagues brought back tins of good stuff from Blighty.
Plus there was that excellent tobacco shop in Den Haag.
They had their pipes made in London.

I myself preferred Balkan Sobranie, though if I had spent too freely of my argent de poche, I would settle for a pouch of baai tabak (Vier Heeren Baai, Voortrekker, Coopvaert), sometimes even Porto Rico ('krulsnede').
I rarely smoked cigars in the house, except when the Mormon boys came around. It was clean tobacco, how could even they object?
Perfectos, half-coronas, and seƱoritas.
Stuff like that had built the town.
Good products to be proud of.
I knew it irritated them.

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