Sunday, April 05, 2020

IT SMELLS LIKE DUTCH SWAMP

At nine fifteen it was raining steadily, whereas at seven o'clock it had been dry and warmer than I had expected. So the first pipe of the day was enjoyed mostly in the portico of the building, listening to an angry crow nearby. Not entirely sure it was the same crow during that entire period; there are other crows in the neighborhood, and the two or three distant birds sounded just as displeased by the inclement weather.
The seagulls paid it no nevermind; they're cool with wetness. They swooped low over Polk Street, having come further inland and closer to the ground than they would have a month ago.

Across the street a resident has her bed right up by her window. During rainy weather and a lock-down, she spends her time laying there looking out. Maybe she also reads, or blogs furiously, or perhaps not.
You know, she probably needs a cat.


On rainy days such as this I remember the house in Valkenswaard, and the upstairs living room. Spacious, my father's desk in one corner, my brother's desk diagonally opposite. Bookcases. Couch. Globe. Victrola (just a record player, but the word 'Victrola' was used for such things once, and having moved to the Netherlands, our American vocabulary was somewhat dated).
A collection of Atlasses, next to the Horizon magazines.
Reference books. Scientific American.
Larousse Gastronomique.

[My mother's desk was in the downstairs study, mine was in one of the front rooms.]

What do crows think about the rain? Judging by their cawing, they don't like it. Which one can understand. Normally when I smoke a pipe now I walk around the neighborhood, which my doctor would probably like, even though such exercise does not balance out the evil of tobacco, and any health benefit is logically devalued by that horrid habit.
He would not understand that the smell and feel of a pipe, especially a briar which one has had for years, is good for the mind. It's quite comforting, therapeutic, companionable, and recollective.

Ah, that fragrance. Mood inducing.
Returning memories.


The bookstore (Priem's) on the Eindhovensche Weg. The cafe with the reading room. The back table at another place with fresh daily newspapers and weekly magazines in Dutch, German, and English. Crusty old farts and their cigars having coffee and a genever. Herman heating up rabbit skin glue, while coffee keeps warm on the stove. No, rabbit skin glue is NOT for repairing rabbits, sorry, but is used in musical instrument making. Arnoud and his cottage at the far end of his parent's property, with the coal stove.
The watermills; Venbergen, and Dommelsche.
Rain on summer afternoons.
Market square.



Somewhere nearby I should be able to find shredded coconut. It's been too long since I made seroendeng. That smell, and the textural effect are also mood-inducing.

[Serundeng: a mixture of toasted coconut with spices, and, if you are from Java, some stinky shrimp paste. Additions can be peanuts, or seaweed, or toasted slivered onion. If you are not from Java, you are probably Dutch. It's added as a crispy touch to curries, stews, whatever. Very important! Indonesians exiles have been known to throw potato chips or funyons on their gulai because there was nothing else!]


For one cup of coconut shreds, half a cup of peanuts. Minor amounts of trassi or shrimp paste, ground coriander, turmeric. And no more than a quarter cup tamarind water (two TBS lime juice may be substituted) a teaspoon of sugar, ditto salt. Mix, let stand for a while, then gently toast in the fry pan till entirely dry and lightly browned. More or less. Vary judiciously. Remember, it is not supposed to be sweet, unless you are from Central Java. In which case you probably want to add two to four tablespoons of palm sugar.


The fragrance will fill the house, better than pipe tobacco.
Married men might suggest this to their wives.



Other recollective aromas are ketjap manis (sweet soy sauce), jasmine tea, lemons, frying chili paste, telur pindang, and over-ripe apples and pears.





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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

What, please, does "trassi" mean?
Aunty Kiki

The back of the hill said...

Trassi is Indonesian dried fish paste or shrimp paste, made by a process of fermentation. Blachan is similar, but for wetter. To some it is an acquired taste. Filippino Bagoong may be substituted, or a few dashes of Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce.

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