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.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


The other day a Dutchman passing through the San Francisco Bay Area to celebrate a wedding reminded me of a place I last visited in 1990, in the centre of Eindhoven. Now, I should mention that there isn't much reason to go to Eindhoven, as it is scarcely the epicentre of anything. Not culture, not cuisine, nor a vibrant community of interesting and peculiar expats.

Eindhoven is the town where Philips Electronics was born.

It's a rather somnolescent burg in the Dutch deep-south, surrounded by smaller somnolescences. Yes, they have a technical university there, as well as an art museum, and an opera house. But other than that, nix.

Like many such places, there is one section of town where the rowdies congregate, another section where you might find some very good used bookstores, and a few ultra-pretentious restaurants filled with snoot, and catering to snoot.

The rowdies are on Stratum's Eind, which is where the road to Waalre begins. It's around the corner from where English engineers work.
Two blocks of bars; no wonder the Englishmen like it.

One of the best second hand bookstores is De Slegte, a chain present in a number of other places besides Eindhoven.

I can't remember the best restaurants in Eindhoven.

There are somewhat too many 'Ollanders, Englishmen, and Germans, living in Eindhoven to make it really feel like a civilized place. That has a depressing effect on the cuisine, unfortunately. None of the three groups mentioned are known for refined taste.
Besides, they all head to Stratum's Eind to get drunk every day, because they cannot understand the locals. It's not a question of language -- natives of North Brabant speak excellent English -- but one of attitude.
A conversation with a native is an inspirational roller-coaster ride of perfectly logical free-association and the completely sensible leaps of reason that lead to good comedy and madness.
Either that, or they're up at The Trafalgar Pub, cheering on soccer teams not deserving of our support while getting shitfaced. Which is typically English and German, as well as Dutch.


Eindhoven used to have numerous cigar factories, such as Karel 1, which made several grades and vitolas, and catered to all classes. There were many other factories, all told more than two hundred manufacturers and several hundred brands and trademarks, but all have disappeared. The industry started in the snuff trade of the eighteen hundreds, which rolled carottes for grinding, and ended in the changing tastes and economic dynamics of the recent age.

Still, without cigars, this part of the world would have been much poorer, and probably deathly dull. Fine smoke funded what could be called a small renaissance, better nutrition, and a whole lot of education.
The region was culturally enriched because of it.


I went to see my father before he died, and stayed for over a month. Among other things I did while there was revisit the places of my mis-spent youth. Many of which were tobacco or book related. Both smoking and reading added light to the limited horizons of rural life. Which, being fluent in English as well as Dutch and the local jargons, was perhaps more limiting for us than the other denizens. North Brabant at times seemed very Edward Goreyesque; a bleak and victorian provinciality, with blasted heaths, abandoned glue factories, and deftige middle-classes who would have been suitable as administrators of orphanages.

Such things as streetlights, hot and cold running water, central heating, television, prophylactics, and plastic, were not universally common yet, modern housing was still on the wish list.
By the time I left Valkenswaard in 1978, almost everybody had access to such things, and the majority of the population occupied dwellings that had been built in the last decade; row houses of identical or similar pattern, all much the same size, with a shed out back at the end of a short yard. Well over half of the town had not been there before.
Like Eindhoven, the population had exploded since the war.

[Valkenswaard is a settlement ten kilometres south of Eindhoven, currently counting slightly over thirty thousand souls, and probably two hundred plus drinking establishments. The large number of cafés is not unduly indicative of alcoholism, but reflects the common practise of using a cafe as your living room. You drink coffee there during the day and evening, have a nip or two, and meet and entertain friends there. On Market days you relax a bit after shopping. When church lets out, you wash the unforgiving attitude of the local pastor out of your ears entirely.]

After I returned to the United States, my father sold the house on the market square, and moved to Woensel. In 1990, when I visited, his residence was the operational headquarters of my exploration.

Yes of course I bought books. Do you really think that Dutch books are available in the United States? When I stumbled into Schiphol Airport for the return-flight, I had five more satchels than when I came, and seemed a foot shorter because of the weight.

But after acquiring a few new tomes one day I also craved a smoke.
So I went to a cigar store I remembered from over a decade ago.

Kleine Berg 80
5611 JW Eindhoven
Tel. 040 - 2448948


Note: the store used to be on the High Street at number 5. You might remember them from that era. There was a café next door. They've been around since 1926. 
Painting from 'Eindhoven in Beeld'.

In a city which counts as one of the nurseries of the Dutch appreciation for tobacco, in a region once dominated by factories treating that noble leaf, Piet van Kuyk is never-the-less as close to heaven as you can get.

It's an old-fashioned tobacconist of a type that is far less common now than before, and unlike many of the smoke-shops that once speckled every urban neighborhood, this store carries a very full selection of pipe tobacco and Carribbean long-filler cigars of high quality.
LFD, Padron, Arturo Fuente
Hoyo de Monterrey, Partagas, Upman
Fonseca, Ramon Allones, and San Cristobal
Alec Bradly, Avo, Cuesta Rey, Davidoff, Leon Jimenes
All the famous brands you would expect in a major metropolis.

And Cubans. Plenty of Cubans.

On that Day in October of 1990, I walked in looking for good Dutch cigars.
I left with two boxes of truly exquisite tuitknakjes (a type of small perfecto), by a manufacturer I cannot remember. Before I returned to the United States, I stocked up on four more boxes of fifty each.
Yes, the aroma of a fine Dutch cheroot is a potent reminder of home. Eindhoven and Valkenswaard both used to reek fragrantly of Besuki leaf, and Sumatra wrappers.
Nothing brings back memories so strongly.

There is little reason to visit Eindhoven. But Piet Van Kuyk's cigar store is worth a pilgrimage.

The title of this post is a reference to the nickname that Eindhoven once had: La Ville Fumée ("smoke city").


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