Snufjes uit de Franse Keuken

By Heleen A.M. Halverhout

My mother-in-law rather liked to cook. She liked buying cookery books even more. So when she died a few years ago, we inherited her collection of cookery books. It is entirely possible that she had bought this slim volume when it was new — her collection has books from 1950 to about 1990.

  • Author: Heleen A.M. Halverhout
  • Title: Snufjes uit de Franse Keuken
  • Pages: 116
  • Published: 1953
  • Publisher: Uitgeversmaatschappij C.A.J van Dishoeck

Quite a few of those books have photographs so faded that they wouldn’t look out of place in Lilek’s Gallery of
Regrettable Food
. (Note though that Lileks apparently doesn’t know that photographs fade over time, and that he prefers modern high-tech food photographery to piccies of edible food.) This book, fortunately, has charming illustrations in pen and ink by Rein de Looy.

The author of Snufjes uit de Franse Keuken has published a few more cookery books, and was apparently enough of an authority that she has also published in English Dutch Cooking and Dutch and Belgian Cooking — still available, both new and second-hand.

That being said, in the fifties, the Netherlands appeared to have been a culinary wasteland, despite the best efforts of Werumeus Buning, and people were still afraid of the soupçon of garlic and the dash of vin rouge. Not only that, but even the most basic of kitchen work needed to be explained.

Still, some of the recipes are very useful. Now we have our own vegetable plot, once or twice a year we have really fresh peas. Halverhout gives a very attractive recipe for a soup made from pea shells.

And while her attitude is one of superiority, it is never condescending superiority. That alone is rare in Dutch cookery books from this time.

With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It — Chemical ecology and the origin of human diet and medicine

By Timothy Johns

I am not an ethnobotanist. What I know about organic or anorganic chemistry would fit in the RAM of a first issue ZX-80. But With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It still held me spellbound. The author, Timothy Johns, manages to present his difficult and to me unfamiliar subject with admirable clarity. His prose is seldom dull, the book has been organized in the most transparent fashion and the ideas he presents are thought-provoking.

  • Author: Timothy Johns
  • Title: With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It — Chemical ecology and the origin of human diet and medicine
  • 356
  • Published: 1990
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press
  • ISBN: 0-8165-1023-7

Of course, I am not qualified to give an opinion on the scientific accuracy of the facts Johns presents, except in as far as that I can see that he has been as careful in his fieldwork and library work as a good field-working linguist. Combined with the generally laudatory comments I was able to find on the Internet, and the personal recommendation of Dorothy J. Heydt, I cannot but conclude that I can trust the facts he presents.

Both in the introduction and in the last chapter, Johns goes beyond the bare facts and gives his interpretation of their meaning. His message is clear: we will have to heed the old biblical admonition to eat not just the fat, the sweet and protein-rich, but that the health of man is dependent upon the ‘bitter herbs’ — the allelochemical components of plants that may be toxic and bitter, but are necessary nonethelss. His second message is even more important: given the enormous dependency our system of medicine has on plants, we need to be careful not to destroy the botanical diversity that still remains. And we need to be careful not to foist our agricultural technology on peoples who have already adapted to their particular situation. Their ways may be primitive; they may still be better than our ways.

With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It contains eight chapters:

  • A Model of Human Chemical Ecology
  • Biological Adaptations for Dealing with Plant Toxins
  • Technological Methods of Detoxification
  • Domestication as a Solution for Dealing with Plant Toxins
  • Human Perception, Cognition and Behavior in Relation to Plant Chemicals
  • Reconsidering the Model of Human Chemical Ecology
  • Plant Chemical Defenses as Determinants of the Human Diet
  • The Dietary Basis for the Origin of Human Medicine

Additionally, there are two appendices, a bibliography and an index, of course.

Whenever you want to really go to the source of discussions about human preferences for food, the origin of human medicine or the relations between human and primate use of food, then this book is the place to go. Even for a complete layman in the field, it presents the necessary data and theories.

(Note that I have read the original 1990 hardcover issue. It is possible that the paperback has been expanded or corrected or even abridged.)

Aanzien 40-45 — vijf jaar bezetting in Nederland en België

By N/A

Reviewed by Boudewijn Rempt on March 16, 2003

The United States might — arrogantly — assume hegemony over the world, thinking it is the richest state, the last superpower, a nation with a manifest destiny, forget that the rest of the world pays it five hundred billion dollars a year, making them the best paid mercenaries in history, they still do not know what war is, what occupation is.

  • Author: N/A
  • Title: Aanzien 40-45 — vijf jaar bezetting in Nederland en België
  • Pages: 215
  • Published: 1975
  • Publisher: Amsterdam Boek

We do. We, the European states who have bled during two world wars. Who have paid more than a symbolic price (war bonds anyone?) for our liberty. We know what happens when a foreign nation conquers your nation, your country. Tramples your customs and installs a government that conforms to its ideals. We’ve had Seyss-Inquart.

It’s a fashion nowadays to say that the Dutch during the war did nothing to hinder or obstruct the Germans. That the actions of the resistance were occasional displays of misplaced heroism. That our people did not hide enough Jews; that too many men willingly went to Germany for the Arbeitseinsatz. That our people were cowards, and that there was nothing to be proud of in our conduct during the the war.

Mostly by historians who weren’t there, though. Who, having read their primary and secondary sources, in the comfort of their studies achieve a detached and considered conclusion.

Well, fuck them all. What they (re-)construct doesn’t tally with the memory of my grandparents, of my parents. My mother’s father escaped from his Kriegsgefangenenlager in Poland and walked back to Amsterdam. (Americans, please put your ruler on your map of the world, and calculate.) My father’s father’s father hid onderduikers in the attic of his
saddlery.

Sure, there were a lot of Quislings. No one ever said anything else; and in this book a lot of attention is given to the traitors. And their fate. Aanzien 40-45 is still war propaganda, though, even if it was published thirty years after the fact. Fifty years after the war people started to forget how bad it had been…

And who will be considered Quislings in Iraq? Saddam’s cronies? Or the government in exile? I am sure that the Iraqis in Baghdad feel oppressed; but will they be any less oppressed when their country is occupied by Americans? (Or, more likely, by German and Dutch troops, once the Yankees have gone, as they have in Afghanistan. We might pay the USA a lot of money, they never deliver, in the end.)

Bitter? Yes. I wish my grandparents had been ready to talk about the war before they died. But the experience was too much for them. Even my mother, born in 1939 never talks about the war, even though she assures me she remembers altogether too much about it.

British Architecture and its Background

By John B. Nellist

Achitecture is a hobby of mine. Or rather, I love good buildings, and I often need a handbook to help me design buildings for novels or roleplaying games. So when I happened upon this volume for the bargain price of f17,90 (original price 38s, online available for about $35,-), I snapped it up immediately.

  • Author: John B. Nellist
  • Title: British Architecture and its Background
  • Pages: 361
  • Published: 1967
  • Publisher: MacMillan and Co

And very right I was to do so, too. This is a book out of thousands. It makes good its promises; and it does tell the reader in loving detail about British architecture (and its background).

It’s important that a book on architecture is written with love and appreciation for what is described. All too often, architects dismiss the silly function-follows-form designs of the past as passé; and then are surprised that nobody wants to live in the Black Widow in the Hague. (Architecture is a subject I can rant on ad lib. The beautiful proportions of the Amstel railway station in Amsterdam have been obscured by shop booths for too long. It is being restored now, and, please, go and take a look. It’s the last truly beautiful building built in Amsterdam, and dates from the fifties, showing more affinity with the the iso-standard European palace layout pioneered by Bernini, than with the iso-standard railway station layout.)

Anyway, the book under review combines a deep insight in the subject matter with extremely clear and engaging expository prose in the best traditions of engaged writing, well chosen illustrations to the text and perfect renderings of facades and equally helpful maps.

This book is a treasure on my shelves.

And I found it very interesting to learn that some castles in England have two completely separated living areas. One for the lord, one for his retainers. If his retainers were to rebel, he could close them off completely. Shows unusual foresight.

And I want to visit Wells.

Epitoma Rei Militaris

By Flavius Vegetius Renatus

Vegetius’ Epitoma Rei Militaris is, essentially, an agitprop pamphlet written to inspire his nation to revert to the grand military tradition of their ancestors. The book seems to have been written during the reign of emperor Valentinian II (375-392) or Theodosius I (379-395 ). At least, it’s not clear to me which emperor Vegetius dedicated it to. Since the Sack of Rome occurred only a little later, in 410, we can conclude that he failed in his objective. But he did write a book that has been the constant companion of military leaders through the ages.

  • Author: Flavius Vegetius Renatus
  • Title: Epitoma Rei Militaris
  • Published: 2001 (1767)
  • Publisher: Mads Brevik (Penguin)

Recently, a fresh Dutch translation of Vegetius has been published. Of course, I only read the review and announcement on a Saturday evening, and I couldn’t rush out and buy it; so I went to Google and searched for Vegetius. There is no Vegetius in Project Gutenberg, but Mads Brevik has prepared an electronic version of the 1940 reprint of the 1767 translation of the first three books. Together with the Latin text, I was able to get my fix instantly. I bought the Dutch translation by Fik Meijer today, but haven’t read it yet.

According to my sources, Vegetius cribbed this comprehensive introduction to the best practices of the Roman army from a variety of sources: Cato the Elder, Cornelius Celsus, Paternus, Frontinus, and the regulations and ordinances of Augustus, Trajan and Hadrian. The book is divided into four parts:

  • The Selection and Training of New Levies
  • The Organization of the Legion
  • Dispositions for Action
  • Attack and Defense of Fortified Places and Naval Operations

The fourth book is more of an afterthought, and consists of the two parts mentioned.

I have catalogued this review under Reference rather than Classics, because that’s how I used it. You see, I’m busy writing a novel, when not writing book notices, hacking or sleeping. The second one, to be exact. In this novel, a young woman becomes advisor to the emperor, and she brings with her a copy of the book Lua Kelamach — On War. It’s chock-full of good advice on selecting troops, training troops, organizing troops and deploying troops.

Sounds familiar? I invented this imaginary work before I’d even heard of Vegetius. In fact, I didn’t know about Vegetius until I read that review of the new translation in the newspaper, two weeks ago. Just as silly a coincidence as naming the setting of the novel Andal. The two books are so isomorph, that I fear that readers will assume I simply nicked Epitoma Rei Militaris

For my purposes, Vegetius, with his constant appeals to return to the rugged vigour of the ancients and their precise, smooth bureaucracy is perfect. That’s just the message Manxu is bringing to the emperor. As for the book’s worth as a guidebook to generals, who am I to argue? Plenty of military leaders throughout history have considered themselves military geniuses just because they’d got their Epitoma in their saddle-bags.

But if a general doesn’t know already that he should train his soldiers before going to battle, would he be able to learn that from a book?

Most of Vegetius advise boils down to: train your troops. Organize them. Pay them. Keep them well-fed and healthy. Don’t rush in, but use spies. Make sure your front-line men can be relieved when they’re tired. Stab, don’t hack. Make sure you’ve got a base to fall back to. Make sure you’re not surprised by the enemy. Make sure you reward good men, and punish slackers. Be vigilant. And, above all, be prepared.

Everyone know all those things already, don’t they?

In fact, the reason that Vegetius didn’t delve deeper into the res was that he wasn’t one of those rugged, well-trained, experienced officers he’s talking about. He might’ve been a comes, but he was also a hack, who gathered his book together from a wide variety of sources, and who didn’t check his facts any too well. Scholars more knowledgeable than me are quick to point out that part IV is mostly fiction. And when the going gets complex, as when describing the field formations of the Roman Army, Vegetius retreats behind a barrier of vague language — so vague in fact, that the Dutch translator had to consult subject experts because he couldn’t make chocolate from the Latin.

All in all, even these failings make the book more valuable for my purposes. You won’t hear me complain…

The Lord Peter Wimsey Companion

By Stephan P. Clarke

Yesterday, in an imposing carton that my kids are using up to create jewelry and photo mountings, my copy of the Lord Peter Wimsey Companion (LPWC, because I can be lazy if I want to, and have to take some care with my wrists) arrived. I don’t claim to have read its 773 pages yet, but I’ll be dashed if I don’t give it a notice.

  • Compiler and editor: Stephan P. Clarke
  • Publisher: The Dorothy L. Sayers Society
  • Published: 2003
  • Edition: Second, first printing
  • Pages: 773
  • ISBN: 0-9518000 8 6

A noble book is a like a song to my soul — the original, in Lord Peter Views the Body, the story of Uncle Meleager’s Will, has this about an old book. But a new book works just as well, if it’s a book like the LPCW.

Don’t be fooled by the meager pagecount — only 773 pages, which, surely, cannot do justice to all the allusions and context the Lord Peter Wimsey books contain. These are larger-than-A4 pages. And the print is very small.

Inside the book you find information on anything that might be obscure in the LPW books — books that since they were first published seventy years ago might be supposed to contain a lot that was clear at the time but is dark at present. There are maps (for instance of Talboys or Pym’s), explanations of the constant allusions that are the result of the novelist’s habit, notes on popular culture of the thirties and cross-references for characters, places and other items worty of note appearing in the books.

The latter I consider superfluous; I know the books by heart, so I don’t need to be reminded about Bill Thoday, for instance. But the maps are a delight. And, being comparatively (to DLS, that is) illiterate, I never knew how much was quotation, and whence the quotations came.

It’s a pity, though, that the contributors haven’t been able to trace some of the famous phrases that I’ve always considered quotes — phrases like ‘I have no information on that point’, that occur both in Gaudy Night and in the Unpleasantness in the Bellona Club have a ‘quoty’ ring to them.

Did I need the ten lines on Karl Marx — no — but I did need the explanation on ‘Marx said that man…’. (p. 385). And so the book is like a singularly rich beach, every ten grains of sand one of gold. I wish there were a like companion to Wodehouse. And to Martin Lodewijk’s Agent 327.