Crazy From The Heat

Thermometer*Pffff* Hotdamn, last few weeks the weather here has been HOT and last week we even had a heatwave. During daytime 27°C – 34°C and in the nights around 15°C with a relative atmospheric humidity between 75% and 85%. Normally after work I go downstairs (I work from home 3 days a week), relax a bit, cook, eat and then I crawl behind my laptop with a nice pipe to do research and work on the blog. Nowadays I sit sweating behind my iMac in my underpants with the fan whirling at full-blast trying to do my job. Afterwards I cook as easy as possible (one-pan dishes, bread, cold meat/fish-salades), watch a little bit of TV (the living room is the coldest inside area of the house) and sit outside with a pipe. Exhausted.. Some people have all the energy with this heat but because of my ehmm.. pretty full posture I am just glad I can do the things I have to do. Nothing more..

Sheep-in-the-Mist-6757-585x390We Dutch often refer to the Netherlands as our “chilly frog-land” (koud kikkerlandje). This Dutch expression reflects the way we see our own country most of the time: cold and damp. Ok, Holland is certainly not tropical but neither is it frozen. Meteorologically speaking, the country is located in a temperate weather region with moderate temperatures. Our capital, Amsterdam, is on roughly the same line of longitude as let’s say Calgary in Canada, Warsaw in Poland and the city of Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia. But unlike them, we enjoy the warm benefits of the Gulf Stream (the global air current which draws tropical air from the Caribbean area up to the north-west of Europe). This means Amsterdam has warmer average temperatures than its sister-cities I just named. Whohoo!! Unfortunately this airflow is occasionally (but often rudely..) interrupted by colder continental air from eastern central Europe.

europa_niederlande_im_unterricht_karikaturWith the North Sea on our western and northern coasts, marine conditions play a major role. So weather at the coast is often quite different than the weather in inland areas. Coastal areas are generally more temperate: wetter and cooler in the summer and wet but warmer in the winter. The inland areas, especially to the south, often experience the highest national temperatures in the summer and the coldest in winter. Despite the higher average inland temperatures, there are more hours of sun per year at the coast. German tourists have known this for years and traditionally head for our beaches during summers to dig pits in the sand..

3868311238_aa09956b00There are few extreme weather conditions in Holland. Ok, once every 3 year we have a heatwave, like now.. But within these limits the overall weather can only be described as changeable. “Niets zo veranderlijk als het weer” (Nothing is as changeable as the weather) is a much used expression. This means that it occasionally gets rather cool in summer and rather warm in winter. The winters can vary from mild to very cold indeed but temperatures below -10°C  are rare. Of course the harsh winds can make it feel a lot icier.. The sheer flatness of mountain-less Holland (our highest “mountain”, the Vaalserberg is 322,7 metres..) means that weather and temperatures can change quickly without warning as weather rushes unhindered across the country. Our successful use of the famous windmills exploited this phenomenon. Cold fronts from inland eastern Europe can abruptly drive sun-lovers (and Germans) from the beach in the middle of summer while sudden cold waves can occur in the middle of an otherwise mild winter. But we don’t mind that last thing because it often means we can enjoy our national sport once again: ice-skating.

Thunderstorm above Olst where I live

Thunderstorm above my home-town

Like now in the summer, Holland has more than its fair share of hot, clammy days. Cycles that begin with a day or two of sun, gradually overwhelmed by increasing humidity as atmospheric pressure increases. The cycle ends in a predictable, often spectacular thunderstorm (just had one), which clears the air until the next cycle comes along a day or two later. So at the beginning of such a cycle you best keep the house dark and doors and windows closed to keep the heat outside. Just when the inevitable thunderstorm has passed you can throw everything open to let the cooler air cool off the heated house.

GL Pease Robusto ©GL Pease

GL Pease Robusto ©GL Pease

It seems that with the change of the seasons my taste for certain tobaccos also changes. In wintertime I smoke all kinds of full latakia mixtures and in autumn and spring sometimes a Virginia or a VaPer gets added in the rotation. But with these hot days I hardly smoke blends with the dark leaf. It is just too.. Demanding, too heavy, too dark for my palate.. Two exceptions, after a thunderstorm you can smell the wet earth in the air and when I then sit outside I like a good spicy balkan blend. Also mr. Pease made a blend called Robusto which was inspired by the famous Balkan Sobranie Virginia no. 10: Virginias, orientals, a bit of latakia and a bit of cigar-leaf. Especially that last ingredient goes well with the heat. Cigar-leaf was made in and for hot weather.

50 gr. of pure Semois tobacco

Pure Semois tobacco

But in general summertime for me is the time for all kinds of Virginia tobaccos, VaPers, aromatics and Semois. The Virginia tobaccos I smoke must preferably be light, so I regularly go for Orlik Golden Sliced, the similar Jurewicz Neumarkt Special 2002 and Capstan. The king of VaPers, Escudo, is too heavy for me in summer. But it’s cousin Peter Stokkebye Luxury Bullseye Flake with the cavendish core just fits the bill for me. The few aromatics I now smoke are DTM Sweet Vanilla Honeydew and Planta Black Vanilla. The Belgium Semois leaf seems almost made to smoke in warm weather. Maybe because of the light cigar-like taste. When I put some in one of my corncobs it is pure bliss. Not too demanding for the palate but interesting enough to keep the attention.

Anyway, I am going to enjoy a glass of cold Belgium beer and a pipe filled with Robusto. Latakia fumes have the handy characteristic that they keeps those damn mosquitoes away. It is not often that Ellen sits close to me when I smoke a mixture with the dark leaf. But she hates the blood sucking insects more than the smell coming from my pipe hehehe..

Smokin’ Easter

$T2eC16dHJGoE9nuQg1-kBQ62)2sZz!~~60_57When I look around the living room I see a lot of Easter paraphernalia.. Wooden eggs, candle-eggs, bunny-miniatures, chick miniatures etc. In short, my girlfriend loves to decorate the house because it is almost Easter. I just like to sit and relax in my chair while smoking. I don’t have much up with religion and holidays, except for the days off of course. But I like the tradition, the history.

Eastre / Ēostre / Ostara

Eastre / Ēostre / Ostara

The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with a festival in which they commemorated their goddess of offspring and springtime: Eastre (or Ēostre / Ostara). In the 2nd century Christian missionaries encountered the tribes of the north with their pagan celebrations. In a clandestine manner they attempted to convert them to Christianity.

It would have been suicide for the very early Christian converts to celebrate their holy days with disregard to the celebrations that already existed. To save lives the missionaries cleverly decided to spread their religious message slowly throughout the populations. They allowed them to continue celebrating pagan feasts, only in a Christian manner.

The pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of year as the Christian resurrection of Christ. So it made sense to alter the festival itself by making it a Christian celebration. This way converts were slowly won over. The early name, Eastre, was eventually changed to its modern spelling: Easter.

$T2eC16ZHJGkE9no8iMJ9BQ7bQR0Zwg~~60_57Today Easter exists of several days of which these are the most important:
Palm Sunday: The Sunday before Easter Day. It is to commemorate the last journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. People then cut palm branches to spread on his path as he rode to the city.
Holy Thursday: Here in Europe Christian monarchs used to wash the feet of poor people on the Thursday before Easter. This in memory of Jesus’ act. The new pope Francis breathed new life in this tradition. Also on this day Jesus ate and drank with his followers. This meal became known as the Last Supper, because Jesus died soon after.
Good Friday: The commemoration of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. I can remember eating meat was not allowed by my parents on this day. So we just had fish or bread.
Holy Saturday: Part of the mourning period which begins on Good Friday. Also a day of cooking and preparing for the feasting the following day to celebrate the resurrection.
Easter Day: The commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus. Of course a symbol of that is the egg out of which a bird hatches. And a lot of eggs are eaten during the feast that day.
Easter Monday: The ideal day to get up late and relax. Here in Holland a lot of people go to furniture mega-stores which are open.
Ascension: The 40th day from Easter day on which Jesus ascended into heaven.

$T2eC16N,!)cE9s4PsSkSBRNN,VkU9g~~60_57The Easter bunny is not some modern invention. The goddess Eastre (see above) was worshipped through her earthly symbol: the rabbit.  The hare and the rabbit were the most fertile animals known and they served as symbols of the new life during the spring season.

The Germans brought the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America.  The bunny as an Easter symbol seems to have its origins in Germany. It was first mentioned in German writings in the 1500’s. The first edible Easter bunnies were made in Germany during the early 1800’s. Not of chocolate but of pastry and sugar.

German settlers believed that a white hare would leave brightly coloured eggs for all good children on Easter morning.  So early American children built nests of leaves and sticks in their gardens. This way the Easter hare could fill it with coloured eggs.  By the 19th century the Easter hare had become the Easter bunny. Children were spoiled with baskets of eggs, chocolates, candy chicks, jelly beans and other gifts on Easter morning. By the way, originally Easter eggs were painted with bright colours to represent the sunlight of spring.

"Paasbrood" in the shape of a bunny

“Paasbrood” in the shape of a bunny

Here in Holland Easter Day is known as “Paas-zondag” and there is a special Easter meal. Often the table is decorated with coloured eggs and so called “Paasbrood”, which is a sweet bread with raisins. In my youth my parents also hid chocolate eggs throughout the house. I had to search them and when I got near a hidden egg my parents would say “hot!” When there was no egg where I was searching they said “cold!” Needless to say that in my later years I knew all the secret hiding spots.

Easter bonfire

Easter bonfire

Nowadays I live in the east of the Netherlands where almost every village lights an Easter bonfire on some grass-land. People begin collecting wood for the fires weeks in advance. Often that wood exists of old Christmas trees. Of course each village tries to outdo the others by building a bigger and better fire than its neighbours.

$T2eC16ZHJIYE9qUcOuT9BRU)2-,Yuw~~60_57Last but not least; where does the pipe smoking bunny comes from that is depicted on many old postcards? Simple: Anthropomorphism. Say what?? Anthropo- morphism is the attribution of uniquely human characteristics to non-human animals or objects. Rabbits on Easter greeting postcards were often given human characteristics such as being portrayed as wearing clothing and smoking pipes.

So relax, smoke a pipe and have a good meal. Happy Easter!

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