Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy St. Nicholas Day to van Stockum Fans - Dec. 6

St. Nicholas Day has great significance in Holland, Belgium and much of Germany - at least the equal of Christmas as a day of gift-giving. With New York still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, it is notable that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of millers and sailors, Holland and New York City. Hilda van Stockum's book Kersti and St. Nicholas (1934) which was just republished (2010) for $13.99 after being out of print for 50 years and available only through rare-book dealers at $200 for a good copy..
This is what the Dutch call a 
"Speculaas Moulin" - a windmill 
cookie, with almond and ginger 
spices. In Belgium they are called
"Speculoos" cookies. In both 
countries they are a specialty of St. 
Nicholas Eve (Dec. 5) and Day.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of many countries, cities and groups, including millers, sailors, children, incarcerated people, Holland and New York City.

At left is a cookie my wife Alice purchased yesterday in Belgium. It is a St. Nicholas Day specialty. It has a windmill on it because Holland it's specialty of Holland and other low countries threatened by floods.

Hurricane Sandy recently shut down much of New York City and reminded us of the Dutch skill at keeping out water. Much of Holland is at or below sea level and the windmills were used to pump out the "polders", the areas surrounded by dikes (Dutch word for embankments).

The Port of Rotterdam is a great example of Dutch engineering to keep water at bay. It is also where my mother, Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006), was born. (Her father was a naval captain and she grew up near naval bases.) Her book, The Winged Watchman (1962), was republished in 1997 after 20 years being out of print. It has sold 45,000 copies in the reprint version and has been optioned for a movie and is in process of being the subject of a comic book. It is about  This book by my mother has special relevance in light of Hurricane Sandy, which caused most of its damage because of flooding and caused most of the lost economic activity because of the electricity outages.
First published in 1962, The Winged 
Watchman has sold 45,000 copies
in reprint since 1997 and was 
optioned  for a movie.
The story is about a family that lives in an old windmill during the Nazi Occupation. Two boys aged 10 and 14 join the Resistance. The book shows how the windmill did their work when the electric mills were starved for fuel during the Dutch famine.

New York City has lost the skills of its Dutch colonists and Hurricane Sandy did major target="_blank">damage to the areas of NYC near water. If the Dutch were still in charge this wouldn't have happened. NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo has assessed the damage statewide as $33 billion and has called for $30 billion in Federal aid. Speaker Christine Quinn has put the New York City damage (which would fit within the statewide number) at $26 billion and has called for $20 million and a surge-control system to prevent 15-foot waves from cascading through New York City streets.

Bring back the Dutch! They first came to New York when the Dutch East India Company in 1609 sent English navigator Henry Hudson to explore the river now named after him. He went far upriver into what is now Canada and wrote back to his sponsors that beavers lived on the river in abundance. A Dutch settlement, New Amsterdam, was founded in Manhattan largely to support trapping beavers and sending them to Europe for women to wear. The New York City coat of arms has two beavers on it as well as a four windmill wings in honor of the Dutch settlers.
Seal of the City of New York..
Note windmill wings and two

The Dutch have been facing these flooding problems for many centuries. Their world preeminence in building windmills to pump out water also made them experts in making sails for the mill wings and this helped make them a global naval power for a time.

After the English took over the Dutch colony in 1664, they renamed it New York. The city grew most rapidly when the Hudson River became the gateway not only to upstate New York but also, after the Erie Canal was built, to the Great Lakes.

The Dutch have developed many kinds of technology to deal with today's challenges to their flood-threatened system of polders. New York needs to get their advice. And The Winged Watchman provides both a history of the importance of windmills in Dutch history and an education in the ways to deal with flooding.

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