Saturday, 30 May 2009

Out of town, out of place, out of mind

Being a dedicated city-dweller, I once stayed at a homestead in the neighbourhood of Dalfsen, a village in the wild, rural east of the Netherlands.
A friend of ours had rented an in-house apartment to prepare in relative seclusion for his grades in history, and begged us to come over and join him for a couple of days. My wife and baby daughter slept in the guest-room of the owner, and I made myself comfortable on a settee in the hall-way.

Beside the house there was a small terrace, where we spent quite some time having tea and talking in the benificent shade of a majestic lime tree. The weather was beautiful, and we really went 'rural', as we gathered fresh nettle tops, of which my wife cooked an agreeable cream soup. Its taste remembered of spinach, though slightly more delicate.
The next day, embolded by this first sally into the unknown delights of Nature's culinary resorts, I made myself a dandelion sandwich - leafs, stem, and flower, on a bed of radish and cheese, between two buttered slices of bread - and ate it to my wife's derision, and the exhilaration of our friend. They didn't care for a bite.

Once back home, I sent the owner of the house a letter to thank her for her kindness to let us have the spare room for free, and I enclosed a sonnet I wrote in honour of her splended linden tree.

The Linden Tree

The linden tree stands all benign,
Its branches spread so fair.
I love the sight of its design,
Its gentle heart-shape, debonair.

Its tender leafs enhance the blue;
With rustling voices by the breeze
They chant their merry hymns and true
In praise of heaven, earth and trees.

A charming fragrance fills the air,
Which gladly with my soul agrees:
Abundance of flowers, free of any care

Bemuse so many honey-sucking bees.
If only we would meet somewhere
Its divine essence may grant us peace.

Ronald Langereis © 1978

The magic is, the silhouette of the tree resembles the outline of its leaf, inverted...

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Snow Whiter and the seven shades of pale

Do you believe in a fairy tale, like the winner of the latest Eurovision Song Contest? Then you may believe in a pundit's tale too, like home prices on the rise again, unemployment statistics dropping, banks lending, and consumers spending, before Santa Claus is coming to town.

Let me tell you, I heard the very tale myself, and I don't buy it. I think we've let things slip out of hand. We've been too complacent of late, and now the bogeyman is coming to strip us of our treasured trinklets, and of our life savings into the bargain.

We had no money to start with, but we took out liar loans to buy MacMansions we couldn't afford. We saw our friends driving Porsches, and prayed to the Bank for a Mercedes Benz. After all, we had to make amends. As our home equity kept rising, the Bank obliged. And then we prayed for a flat-screen TV, and a cappuccino machine, and toys and gadgets for our kids.
And the Bank refinanced our debt for a nice fat fee, of course, but who cared?

After a while we got bored stiff in our over-sized house, sipping latte from the cappuccino machine, and watching the late show on the home cinema. Now we would go for some real fun, and we went to the Bank for the third time, and prayed for a night on the town.
We got it all, and we spent it all, up to the last line on our last maxed-out credit card.

As you may know, in a fairy tale the third time is final, so, after this triple debt orgy the piper suddenly changed his tune. At first, we didn't even notice. We loved to live so pleasantly, live this life of luxury, lazing on a sunny afternoon. But the Bank giveth, and the Bank taketh away. By then, we'd quite forgotten about the second phrase of the sentence.

There were things going on in the world, things we'd been busy zapping away from with the remote of our flat-screen TV. Big banks going bust, car makers dropping by the roadside, the value in our 401K's halving, malls emptying, housing getting into a tail-spin, oh, the horror! And we started to get mail, snail mail, obscene letters from Repo Man. And every month half a million of us are getting a pink slip out of the blue.

We called the Bank, praying for a refi, and we found the lines clogged. Save me, we cried, save me, save me from this squeeze. I've got a big fat mortgage trying to break me! But this time the Bank was adamant. It couldn't spare the money. It needed all the dough it could lay its greedy hands on to shore up its balance sheet, to write off the tsunami of loans going bad. In its turn the Bank now was praying for a bail-out itself to the even higher powers.

These Higher Powers feed on emanations of arcane science, and generate insights, which by their very nature are beyond the realm of human comprehension and accountability. Moreover, these Higher Powers are in possession of a magical contraption, by which, if they so decide, they can evoke credit from thin air. In a world that is living and breathing by credit alone, the word from their lips is considered in awe.

And so it came about, that these Higher Powers, seeing credit crunched, and swirling around the black debt hole in an ever quickening fashion, against all human reason and free-market values, decided to wave their magical wand, and open the credit spigots full tilt to beat the sucking force of the black debt hole to it.

As far as debt holes go, the depth of this one is estimated at north of US$600 trillion. The Higher Powers together, so far, have washed away the as yet unimaginable sum of US$3 trillion in bail-out money for the ailing Bank, a mere half percentage point of debts outstanding, and we, credit-strapped as we are, will pay dearly for their folly in terms of a lower standard of living for decades to come.

Here the fairy tale popped. We're left standing in a waste land, on a road before an ancient porch, bearing on its frieze a vaguely familiar inscription: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch' intrate.

You may say I'm a doomer, but I'm not the only one. Maybe one day you'll join us, and the world will be a brighter one.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Living off the waste land

Deer steak from the Waterleidingduinen [Dune resort of the Amsterdam Water Board], wine from Vondel Park *), wild rabbit from Westpoort industrial estate, anything on your plate can be of urban provenance.

Imagine the shelves of supermarkets emptying fast, local food stores shutting down for days, or even weeks. It's not that improbable, a pandemic of pig flu, or a truckers' strike can do the job. Where would us city-dwellers turn to for our supper?

Should we savour sauteed tulip bulbs, like our grand-parents did during the starvation winter of WW II? Or would we resort to the oldest ways of food providing, and revive our dormant hunter-gatherer skills? Even in the built-up areas of our major cities there's ample opportunity for urban hunters and gatherers to catch a furry, or feathery friend, and to take home a rich harvest of fresh and healthy veggies and herbs for free.

I gathered from the web site of 'Het Parool', an Amsterdam daily, an article about urban foraging by an artistic couple, Wietske Maas and Matteo Pasquinello. Wietske is of Tasmanian birth, but of Dutch parentage. In her former life she was exhibiting in art galleries in Australia, but as of today she and Matteo have become hunter-gatherers in the Amsterdam outback.
Sander Overeinder, chef of restaurant 'As' [reminiscent of 'axis', as well as of 'Ashes to ashes', definitely not of 'ass'!], served their booty, diced and sliced to culinary standards, to a jury of artists and natural scientists.

The four-course experimental dinner consisted of:
1. a consommé of Chinese mitten crab, fished from the 'IJ' [~pron. 'eye'] in Amsterdam's western harbour area;
2. a fresh salad of hawthorn, comfrey, and lime-tree leaves, collected in the 'Amsterdamse Bos' *), a vast park to the south-west of the city;
3. and to add something of substance, collars of eel from the Petroleumhaven [litt. 'Kerosene Harbour', but it's only a name].
Some ingredients had to be bought, though: risotto rice, shallots, and lemons.

"We've been hunting with Piet Ruyter," said Wietske, "one of the last remaining eel fishers. And Martin Melchers, the city ecologist, showed us where to hunt for mitten crabs and American river crayfish. The vegetal components of the dishes I collected myself in Wester Park *) and Sloter Park."

*) Short descriptions of Amsterdam parks.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Love found

I bring word from the North Country Fair
Where the winds are blowing on the borderline
I've found the girl who's still living there
And who once was a true-love of thine...

Monday, 11 May 2009

Love lost

Si vous vaguez à la Foire du nord,
Où les vents soufflent à la plaine levée,
Souvenez de moi quelqu'une là-bas,
Celle qui jamais
était ma bien-aimée...