Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Of smoked eels and a happy life

So you are at a party. It’s an after dinner affair where you get to drink red wine and nibble on cheese, savouries and in this particular one, a huge chocolate cake. It’s August in Amsterdam and so naturally everyone is joyous and extremely sociable. And you are enjoying a pleasant conversation with two affable Dutch men. The interest and appreciation on both sides is mutual. And the talk moves across places, cultures and ages touching upon many a wondrous thing that would be better chronicled in a well-written book not too long maybe around 300 pages.

Among other marvelous things the conversation dwells upon the subject of eels. Smoked eels to be precise. Beside the smell and the flavour the word invokes a vivid memory. Visions of little Dutch villages, windmills, tulips and other such clichés and buckets of eels. Caught by the father and cleaned by a neighbour for 10 cents per eel and later smoked in the backyard under the father’s strict supervision. But that was some sixty plus years back. Now the seventy four year old sister climbs four flights of stairs with a small 500 gm bundle of smoked eels. And when he opens the door she offers him the package and almost out of breath whispers, “Happy Birthday.”

And then the two men start chuckling. “I hate smoked eels,” the one who is the brother says, “had too many in my childhood. Now I just want to have a long life.” And so the conversation pleasantly moves on along the Lauriergracht.

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