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Monday, December 2, 2013

December 6 - Happy St. Nicholas Day (Updated Nov 18, 2016)

Kersti and St. Nicholas, 
St. Nicholas is the patron saint of millers and sailors, Holland and New York City. My mother Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006) loved St. Nicholas, as is clear from her book Kersti and St. Nicholas (1934).

St. Nicholas appears the evening before his feastday, i.e., the evening of December 5.

Kersti was republished in a new edition by Boissevain Books in 2010. It is available currently on Amazon for $13.99 after being out of print for 50 years and was available only through rare-book dealers at $200 for a good copy.

This is a "Speculaas Moulin" - a 
Dutch windmill cookie, with almond
and ginger spices. In Belgium they
are "Speculoos" cookies. They 
are specialty of St. Nicholas Day.
At right is a photo of a cookie my wife Alice purchased in Belgium. It is a St. Nicholas Day specialty. It has a windmill on it because it's a specialty of Holland and other low countries threatened by floods.

Hurricane Sandy a year ago 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 pump out the "polders", the areas surrounded by dikes (Dutch 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 ports and naval bases. Her book, The Winged Watchman (1962), was republished in 1997 after 20 years being out of print. It has sold nearly 50,000 copies in the reprint version and has been optioned for a movie. The 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 50,000 copies in
 reprint since 1997. It is now being
considered for a mini-series.
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 damage to the areas of NYC near water. If the Dutch were still in charge this might not have happened. Bring 'em back!

The Dutch 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 north 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
beavers.

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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