Tuesday, June 20, 2023


On one of the pipe smokers pages there's the usual waffling about Tolkien and Lord Of The Rings. Which is slightly peeving, because sheer repetition does not make me any fonder of that author and that book. My mother admired him, so I read two thirds of my way through the monumental work, before deciding that all in all it didn't quite interest me. Did the same with Salman Rushdie's most infamous work. Yes yes, quite brilliant, but, um, bleh.

Seizing on familiar themes and repeating them has the effect of lessening their appeal. Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling were also pipe smokers. And we should be grateful that the pipe smoking community has not child-like fixated on those balls and bounced them all over till they deflated. Jean - Paul Sartre likewise smoked a pipe.

No one models themselves on the man.

Personally, I very much like the books by Georges Joseph Christian Simenon. Also a pipe man. But when I read them as a teenager I took pipe smoking quite for granted -- very many people smoked pipes then -- and what struck me most particularly was the frequent lyrical mention of food. His heroes liked to eat.
The Maigret novels would be far less without the Chief Inspector's taking lunch at bistros or having supper at home cooked by his admirable spouse. In this we see a fascination with tasty dishes which is utterly Belgian, though naturally shared by the french.

I had already spent many happy hours browsing through cookbooks and the Larousse Gastronomique before I picked up my first Simenon book. And as I now remember those days, I am flabbergasted that my mother wasn't as in love with the bistros and dining tables of that world as I became.

Fictional food made the real tobacco in my pipe taste better.

Valkenswaard, where we lived when we were in Europe, did not have the Frenchified culinary attractions of Belgium, nor did Eindhoven, the nearest metropole. But I fondly remember the various lovely things that were locally available: fried foods, beautiful patat frites, seafoods, refined pastries. And Dutch-Indonesian dishes cooked by family friends, and later by myself. Plus there were trips to Paris, Antwerp, and Brussels. I think I would have died inside if I had been stuck in some place like Kansas or Detroit.

When I returned to the United States there was more food to discover. For the past several years I have been near Chinatown and North Beach. And San Francisco, though sometimes snootily precious and pretentious, is no culinary backwater.

One of my favourite Chinese chefs on the internet reawakend an appreciation for béchamel, key to several chachanteng specialities. I wonder if Maigret would have enjoyed Chicken à la King. I'm sure he would have. Good chicken, lovely porcini and chantarelles, plus minced fresh chives. Over white rice. Or, perhaps heretically, with lovely crisp fries.

What is this juvenile love of Hobbits, second breakfast, and long churchwarden pipes?
How about fixating on Sesame Ginger Chicken, and Pork Balichao instead?
Jordalu Sali Margi, or Boeuf Bourguignonne?

Bacon and eggs if you must.

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