Botticelli to Van Gogh

May 4, 2021

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Titian ‘Noli me tangere’. ( Don’t touch me) 1511-12

When Annette and I received the invitation to catch a bus to our National Capital Canberra, to see an international exhibition of  paintings on loan by The National Gallery , London, we did not hesitate and jumped on cheerfully, together with many other art enthusiasts. The bus was full. We had a coffee break at Lake George which had hardly any water but that was compensated by some home-made cake and a cup of coffee. I had coffee with two sugars. Why not, at my age? Annette had a coffee too. There were about 8 men and well over 50 women. Sad proof that males seem to disappear of late.

The Canberra exhibition offered a rare opportunity to see not only Van Gogh and Botticelli, but also works by Vermeer, Van Dyck, Cezanne, Monet, Titian and many others. The above painting by Titian was one of many that  struck me, especially when the title stated,  ‘Do not touch me’. Titian was about 20 years old when he painted this scene depicting Christ and Magdalene. Looking at it with my twentieth century eyes I can only assume that Magdalene was sorely tempting Christ. Reading up about this painting it deals mainly from a religious point of view with the notion of the rebirth of Christ and the adoration of Magdalene in the presence of her Lord. Nothing inappropriate was intended nor happening in this scene. However, Titian being hardly over his teenage years would have the testosterones that I imagine were just as rife during his time as they are now. Did he really not see a connection between the woman reaching up and the scantily draped man? What I thought so wonderful was the combination of the drama between Christ and Magdalene and the beautiful story of the landscape, the sea and this village perched on top of the hill. It all made for truth and conviction. The art reigned above all else.

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Vincent Van Gogh ’13 Sunflowers’.

With Vincent there can be no guessing. His work was of the most urgency. It was all he could do to stop the daemons in his head. Oh, the poor man, and how the brother Theo played such a pivotal role in at least giving Vincent the support he craved and needed to paint. He often went hungry and mad at the same time. He did not find, could not find peace, and vented his anger and confusion by painting with a mania that must have perhaps given him some degree of relief. One almost feels guilty looking at his work. He never sold a painting. No rich aristocratic benefactor for him, no Royal Court commissions, nothing!. His output was prolific, especially during the last two years of his short life. He could only paint, nothing else would work. And now, we are the benefactors. Apparently there are still over seventy of his works missing, many disappeared during the last war, taken by art looters. The output of art by Vincent was over 2100 works of which 860 were paintings. Vincent was 37 when he suicided by gun. Theo was 33 when he died of sadness and ill health. They are buried together.

How fortunate we are to now look at his work. I hope dear Vincent has found the peace he so craved.

A cube of sugar and the war.

April 23, 2021

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Gerard on the right getting a tubbing.

It’s funny how memories go hand in hand with ageing, almost as if begging not to let days go by, and so inexorably lead us to the grand finale, our final hoorah. I just thought I will tell you about a peculiar memory that hasn’t faded with the passing years, even though it is of such little consequence or perhaps it is, precisely because it so persistently lingers. 

This memory goes back to around 1945/46 when Holland was dealing with the results of ‘the hunger winter’, and scores of adults but especially children were suffering from serious nutritional deficiency. Food had run out and during the last few months of the war the importation of all food was stopped. The cities suffered most from this food shortage. I was born in Rotterdam 1940 which had the added disadvantage of having been bombed at the start of the war

The Famine Ended 70 Years Ago, but Dutch Genes Still Bear Scars – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

The Dutch government decided to send the children suffering from severe malnutrition and at risk, to camps to try and fatten them back to normal safe levels. I was one of those children chosen to go to those ‘fattening up’ camps. I can’t describe the anguish I felt leaving my mother and forcefully being torn away. Of course, the pain of separation was soon sweetened by the availability of food. I was five and knew hunger. A main source was bean soup and a cube of sugar before bedtime. The communal bedroom had many beds and the children were told they could only sleep on their right side.  Was it to protect their frail undernourished hearts? I used to be clever then, and slipped under the sheets and turned around to the other side as a ploy to overcome that strict rule. 

During the next year or so I was sent to three of those children colonies and each was of six weeks duration. I remained skinny and still am today. But, now comes the sugar cube memory so get a bit closer to the screen! The first children’s colony I was sent to by the Dutch health authority was at the coast within walking distance of the beach and North Sea. The female staff made up of young girls had the job of feeding us to better health and we were weighed daily to see if this was happening. As I stated before, all I remember was eating soups made of beans and long walks along the beach. It was during one of those beach walks that the nursing girls put up a competition to see who could climb a large sand dune the fastest. The prize would be a sugar cube.

You can imagine how I coveted this prize. I ran and clawed my way up to that dune and came up first. I was so proud. I expected the prize to be given after we got home to this fattening up facility. But, to my bitter disappointment, I did not get it, nor during the next few days. I decided to take it into my own hands and reminded the girl; where is my sugar cube? Even then I did not receive it. I keenly felt this but waited till the girls were all having their teatime that I went to their staff room and asked there and then for my prize. It was then that I triumphed and received my sugar cube.

I have never forgotten.

The Covid Jab and low Ejection Fraction.

April 13, 2021

 

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Surely I am not the only one to suffer from Covid vaccinations news overload? For more than year now whenever a radio or TV is turned on we are inundated by endless Covid news. From every conceivable angle the subject is discussed ad nauseum. It has even overtaken news about cricket or masturbating politicians concentrating over desks or sending lewd messages while the Chamber is in ‘progress’, or is it process? One sees those puckered up faces of politicians on TV offering the latest about the pros and cons of Pfeizer versus Johnson & Johnson, or AstraZenica. There seems to be dangers lurking about and experts are then hauled in front of cameras giving us the percentages of fatalities. One doctor offered the rather becalming  bit of information that the rates of people being taken by sharks is greater than succumbing to a jab by a vaccination needle. The elderly especially need not panic!

That latest advice about sharks getting to me in preference to death by needle gave me the impetus to brave up to the quack and get my vaccination jab. I had already filled in the form asking about my history of past ailments or disabilities. Most questions were answered in the negative. I have been remarkably free of needing limbs or parts exchanged and apart from low blood pressure and low ejection fraction, I am in good nick. I try and aim for doing my 5000 steps a day and with my recently found love, my ejection fraction is hopefully looking upwards as well. I am so lucky and never felt as happy as I do and enjoy now.

As I mentioned before, I had filled in the form already and my appointment was yesterday. The Medical Centre is just around the corner from me and this Centre was one of the first ones to give the AstraZenica vaccination to those over seventy. Being eighty years old I bravely held off till all the controversy about who dies and who doesn’t as yet, and having regards to the results of deaths by clots monitored by Norwegian experts giving percentages versus those in Germany, got passed and becalmed the anxious elderly that I walked into the Medical Centre yesterday at 3pm exactly. They asked, after I obediently stayed behind the red tape on the floor; what is your name? I said ‘Gerard Oosterman.’ This was followed by; Date of birth please! I was then directed to a room and told to wait for Doctor Jenny. I was soon taken to the friendly Doctor who asked about my low ejection fraction. I had filled in the form and given the information in the positive, to the question; do you take any blood thinners?  She wanted to know the level of low ejection fraction which normally ought to be over 50%. A few years ago it was at 28% which the doctor thought too low and indicative I must have had a heart attack. Not that I ever felt I had.’ Apparently you can have heart attacks without being aware of it.  She seemed amazed I was sitting opposite her with my burden of low ejection fraction. She looked me over, trying to conceal her amazement or was it admiration? 

Anyway, nurse gave me the jab and I felt nothing. All is good. In twelve weeks I get the second one.

It just shows there is hope for all of us.

 

Respect for the Agnostic Atheists, please!

April 2, 2021

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As Easter goes, I generally find religious holidays a bit hard to get through. I remember when spending time in Indonesia one forgets about holidays’ or even the days of the week. Each day seems a celebration of life and it is non-stop. I never forget the first day we set step on Australian shores. It was in 1956, January and in Fremantle-Perth which at that time was a small harbor-town nestling on the edge of the Indian Ocean. It was a Sunday and as we were warned before leaving Holland; ‘the English Sunday’  is something to be avoided at all cost. England’s Sundays were notoriously quiet and given to exuberant dinners of cold cabbage with cups of tea. Of course, Australia at that time was seen as an outpost of the UK. True to the dire warnings, that Sunday in Fremantle the town was totally deserted. The only people wandering about were Dutch migrants from the boat looking a bit nonplussed. The heat was palpable and the tarred roads were shimmering.

European Continental Sundays were for going out and walk the streets, go and have a coffee with friends, play cards or promenade through the town squares. A celebration of working week’s end. A joy with sharing wines and roses. Not in Fremantle Australia though, and especially not on a Sunday. It was surreal, walking through those empty streets and nobody about. It wasn’t a good start and oddly enough, after my marriage returning from Finland by boat in 1966, we landed in Fremantle and again on a Sunday. It hadn’t changed much. It was still eerily quiet but the birds were lively, possibly showing the future. Of course today, it is  throbbing with life and bubbling café lattes.

(20+) Watch | Facebook 

But, going back to religious holidays, how many do still go to church and listen to pulpits’ amblings and wonderings? Of course, living in the kitchen of give and take we ought to respect those that still do believe in a heaven for the pious and hell for the heathens, but can we, as a compromise to the Atheists, keep shops open on good Friday? I could not believe being told yesterday that all shops would be closed. I have family coming over and I am short of tinned (Italian) tomatoes for a nice chicken curry. Does the absence of open shops and tinned Italian tomatoes make us better people?

Respect for the Atheists please

French Onion Soup.

March 23, 2021

IMG_1711Onion soup

These are real onions.

Before anyone thinks about making this soup I would like to stress that the main ingredients are onions. Without them I cannot see how a genuine French onion soup can be made. Going around the shops I have noticed that increasingly foods are being substituted by artificial ingredients. Manufacturers are  following demands, often by the newly-wedded, for instant foods that preferably can be put into squeezable tubes, not unlike toothpaste. Cheeses, some vegetables such as carrots, cauliflowers and herbs are now available in tubes that can be squeezed onto plates making for instant meals. I have yet to see onions in tubes but no doubt scientifically bent manufacturers are feverously working on that.

The secret apart from using real onions is in the stock and the art of caramelizing the sliced real onions. I peeled and sliced 6 brown onions and in a heavy red coloured cast iron French pot slowly cooked them with about 60 gram of unsalted butter for about 40 minutes, till the onions got that golden brown colour. I then added sliced garlic and thyme. (not from a tube!) My first attempt then by adding a Campbell 1 litre of beef stock and cooking it slowly for another hour was a bad mistake. It tasted too salty.

After almost two hours of stirring, cooking and not having Annette to console me, this disappointment was not easy to bear but I reared up and got an inspiration which you readers might remember if you too are making a faulty French onion soup. I took a colander and drained the salty liquide into the garden thereby saving the cooked onions.  No doubt the salvia will benefit from this added real fertilizer. I then rushed over to the Farmers Market in Bowral through storms, flooded roads and severe tempest and bought a Maggie Beer beef stock. Maggie Beer is an Australian food Ikon well known for her stocks and brilliant recipes. I added this new stock to the caramelized onions and added some bay leaves and this time it was perfect.

of flooded plains

Of flooded plains

Of course on hindsight, it would have been better to make own stock by slow cooking a piece of cow with herbs and spices. Anyway, I put the French onion soup in the fridge together with a dozen rock oysters and a bottle of French champagne and now feverishly hope for the weather to turn sunny and thus enabling my darling Annette come and drive here, to sidle up next to me sampling the soup with gruyere cheese on toasted French bread, sip champagne while sliding the oysters down. And then some more!

It will be heaven on earth!

 

 

 

 

 

And the rain my drink. Han Suyin.

March 19, 2021

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Annette and I were planning to visit my brother up north  for this week-end but she  pointed out that the weather predictions were dire, The advice was to limit all driving to the essentials only. Pictures of flooding roads are already on the news even before the bulk of torrential downpours have even started. Red lights are flashing and the latest on the news now use words like ‘calamitous and dire’. Not at all encouraging especially considering giving up on a romantic week-end catching up on love and family. Still, the car being swept up into a raging torrent would not be anyone’s idea of romance or re-kindling family ties.

blob:https://www.9news.com.au/eba0716c-7611-4390-9897-208b0c58d761

Some residents are now advised to leave or risk having to be evacuated from rooftops if the predicted flooding  eventuates over the next few days. It is often one thing or the other in Australia. I copy a famous poem by Dorothea Mackellar.

My Country – I love a sunburnt country

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft, dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of drought and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die –
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold –
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

Dorothea Mackellar

The above photo is our first house that we lived in between 1968-1973 and like all the places we lived in, very unique and beautiful. It looked out over the harbour towards the famous Sydney Harbour bridge. The bank manager giving us a mortgage thought we were mad; ‘it’s nothing but a shed’, he said. 

Overcoming changing service providers!

March 12, 2021

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If you thought dealing with Covid 19, suffering lockdowns, cooking fresh artichokes or your relationships/marriages were difficult, nothing compares with changing Internet providers. I am only just now recovering and surviving after almost two weeks of total mayhem and incapacitation. I don’t know if I will have the will and aptitude, morally or otherwise, to do this ever again!

As always on waking up I normally go downstairs, after putting on socks, and checking the mirror if I am still around, and light up the gas and put the kettle on for a cup-o-tea. I used to have percolated coffee but wasn’t too keen on the bout of the intestinal percolating afterwards. It’s part of ageing. It is tea now but with two sugars in compensation. I have been told by my dearest Annette to try and gain more weight or at least not lose any, but she was pleased to know that since we met a couple of months ago, I put on 2.6 kilos. Love is  rich in all sorts of good ingredients and beats eating McDonalds at any time.  I now try and follow up by having generous ladles of vanilla ice-cream mixed with Greek yoghurt and a spoonful of real maple syrup before bed-time but after Netflix’s Schitt’s Creek. It all helps!

After the morning’s rituals I go and check emails and that’s when I had another notification from my new provider that I had almost used up my internet allowable usage and that my internet speed would be ‘shaped’ to 32 kbps until the start of next month’s billing period. Can you believe it? After trying to get help following the suggested help line from my new provider I was, as always, brought to a rage having to push numbers to get to the department that deals with my problem. Of course, not a single real person to get help from. I hung up and decided to fill in a ‘satisfaction’ form the new provider sent me.. I had a choice of giving stars ranging my satisfaction from 0 to 10. I filled in 4 which is ‘unsatisfied’. I was then asked to give my reason for this low evaluation. I wrote then I was ‘close to losing the will to go on’. ‘I am at breaking point’, I added.

That brought an immediate reaction from the new service provider. A nice man called BOB rang me. He had a strong accent and I guessed he might have come from an African background. He was very concerned and patiently guided me through the process of getting it all to work. It looked as if I had multiple accounts and he ever so calmly simplified everything. He was a real person, not just a button. It was all sorted out after about twenty minutes with Bob. I was so grateful and told him he was most helpful.

And that’s what makes modern life so hard. Where are the people? What happened to service from living helpers?

Of egg-cups and silver teaspoons,

March 6, 2021

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During a discussion this morning around the table at the famous Bradman’s cricket café called ‘Stumps’ the subject of  life’s final journey came to the fore again. With ageing it seems that the subject of embracing death go hand in hand with the popularity of funerals. It’s time for many of us to consolidate those facts. Nothing gets the talk going more than to delve in what is yet to come. Many of us talk about the benefits of over 55 residential homes with nurses and other care facilities. The snapping of nurse’s rubber gloves entices many it seems.

It’s been almost a year since I moved into my new place. I remember being overwhelmed by so many boxes that I filled with so much that had morphed into ownership and possessions during the years. Where did it all come from?. Why did I have so many spoons and other metallic utensils, eleven egg-cups? Three cast iron fry pans when frying food became outdated at least 15 years ago. Do people fry their food still?  I have at least 30 or more tea towels and mountains of cushions and cushion covers. And to think that during my move I drove endlessly up and down to the Salvo’s and Father Riley donating lot of things. They knew me by first name! ‘Oh, here comes Gerard again’, I was greeted by.

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So, despite all the donations and giving milk-crates and boxes away to charity, my house still is filled with things that I don’t really use or want to impose onto others when the time comes. I believe the norm is (after the final Coffee) that the Salvos turn up and take it all. I have hand crocheted or hand-laced table cloths and even a bedspread that was laced by Helvi’s mother. A work of art, but it was never used. Do people still use serviette rings or the before mentioned egg-cups? I give my boiled egg the freedom to roll around my plate. I have paper serviettes and eat mainly using my fingers now. I know my father brought us up to slice  bananas and tomatoes with knife and fork. You failed there dad! 

Here something light-hearted but more serious.

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Table service for two

February 24, 2021
IMG_1647sushi train

IMG_1636sushi train

People’s fascination with cafes and restaurants still does not seemed to have peaked. Our post Covid economic recovery now is heavily reliant on the reopening of eating places. Ordinary people are now burdened by this Government to increase their patronage, and not to stop using those venues, no matter how this last year has exhausted, not just their will to keep going, but also their finances. And that is apart from those establishment themselves trying to keep heads above water. Often severely financially tired chefs would feature being interviewed on the TV while listlessly stirring a wooden spoon in a pot of gruel while facing a single diner, if not a totally empty café. There were so many lockdowns, lockouts and group limitations of no more than five or seven, that cafes were either knocked out or buckled under.

This Covid now has peaked and in Australia at least there hasn’t been any new cases and if there are, they are confined to just two or three people locked in hotel quarantine that are using aerosol nebulizers whose covid loaded vapors seep underneath doors or through air conditioners. TV is also showing  politicians baring a single arm, smiling a bit sheepishly getting the first of the vaccination jabs. A problem now popped up is getting people actually interested in getting the vaccination. There have been almost as many shark attacks than people getting the Covid of late. 

In this spirit of helping the country recover financially, my new found love Annette and I now have visited a number of well established eating venues that managed to withstand Covid and the shifting tectonic economic plates. One of them was a Japanese sushi bar. I have often stood still watching people eating and picking little plates that go around and around on some kind of rail system. I loved watching it and was mesmerized yet did not have the courage to ever try it out. It seemed such an advanced way of eating and I was conscious of my ineptitude of what would be  a form of eating of which my ignorance would show as soon as I walked into such a bar. I have great difficulty in showing airs of confidence or ‘nous’ especially in public. Fortunately, Annette has no qualms about this and I followed her bravely and with some nonchalance. It works by the platters that the food comes around and around with in being of different colours and each colour has a price that differs from the other platters. When one has eaten enough you simply take the empty different coloured platters to the cashier and you get the bill.

It was a unique way of dining and we loved it. I know a sushi train bar here in Bowral and we shall try that out next time.

I will keep you informed.

Rotterdam, my city of Birth and Berkelouw’s books.

February 13, 2021

Rotterdam, was the city I was born in on The 7th of August 1940 a few months after it was bombed by Germany at the beginning of WW2.

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Gerard on the right (looking already bewildered.)

The story below is what I gleaned from the Berkelouw’s bookshop website. Berkelouw Online Bookstore So I quote.

“The story of Berkelouw Books begins in Kipstraat, Rotterdam, Holland, in 1812. Solomon Berkelouw traded in vellum-bound theology books which were en vogue in the early nineteenth century. Publishers of the period were certain of selling publications as long as they dealt with theology. Solomon peddled his wares on Rotterdam Quay and his clients were mainly owners and skippers of the barques that brought grain and other agricultural products from the provinces of Zealand and Zuid Holland to Rotterdam. The owners of barques were well to do citizens with a growing interest in education. Not much is known of Solomon Berkelouw except that his bookselling career came to a sudden and unfortunate end. On a late winter’s afternoon, with snow falling thickly all around, Solomon attempted to cross an icy plank that connected a customer’s ship to the wharf. Halfway up, he lost his footing and fell into the freezing water. Before anyone could fetch help he drowned, his jute-bag full of books sinking with him to the bottom of the icy harbour.

Solomon’s young son Carel was determined to carry on his father’s trade. He put the business on a more stable footing by opening a bookstore at the Niewe Market in Rotterdam. Under Carel’s direction Berkelouw Books prospered and he later moved to a larger premises at Beurs Station, also in Rotterdam.

Carel’s son Hartog Berkelouw continued to expand the family business. After serving an apprenticeship with his father in the Beurs Station store, he opened a new shop at Schoolstraat, Rotterdam. It was Hartog who first began issuing the catalogues that gained Berkelouw an international reputation. In 1928, the firm was granted membership to the prestigious International Antiquarian Booksellers Association. Business subsequently increased and Hartog’s children, Sientje, Leo, Carel and Isidoor, all became involved in the book trade. However, the Second World War intervened, introducing a dark chapter into the history of the Berkelouw family. During the siege of Rotterdam, Berkelouw Books’ premises were bombed and its entire stock destroyed. Amongst the lost books was a collection of antique bibles thought to be the most valuable in all of Europe. Further tragedy followed – Sientje and Carel became casualties of the war. As Leo had left the firm many years earlier, the once thriving business was brought to a standstill – the work of four generations of Rotterdam booksellers virtually wiped out in just a few years.

Immediately after the war, Isidoor Berkelouw began to re-establish the firm. He set up business in Amsterdam and began conducting successful book auctions. However, Isidoor was keen to move the business out of Europe. The Berkelouw collection had already been destroyed once and he did not want to see it happen again. In 1948 Isidoor liquidated his company and made the long journey to Australia. Shortly after arriving in Sydney, Isidoor issued a catalogue, generating immediate interest amongst book collectors around the country. He set up shop at 38 King St, Sydney and conducted book auctions on a regular basis. As Berkelouw’s clientele and stock expanded, headquarters was relocated to 114 King St and Isidoor began to share the management of the business with his two sons, Henry and Leo. By 1972 the Berkelouw collection had grown to such a size that it was forced to change premises once again. The firm made a brief move to Rushcutters Bay, then in 1977 took a quantum leap relocating entirely to ‘Bendooley’, an historic property just outside the beautiful village of Berrima in the Southern Highlands of NSW.

In 1994, the sixth generation, Paul, Robert and David Berkelouw, returned to Sydney, opening its now landmark store in Paddington. Five years later another Sydney store was opened in the cosmopolitan suburb of Leichhardt. Since then, Berkelouw Books has opened further stores in Sydney and Eumundi on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. All our stores offer an extensive, interesting and eclectic new book selection covering all interest areas with a special interest in Children’s Books, fine stationery, as well as a hand-picked display of rare books. Our Paddington, Leichhardt and Eumundi stores have a vast selection of secondhand books. Adjoining many of our stores are the Berkelouw Cafes, a great place to relax and enjoy ambience.

Today Berkelouw Books is Australia’s largest rare and antiquarian, secondhand, and new bookseller. We have an overall stock in excess of 2 million books, many of which are listed and available for purchase here.

Thus the romance of books is engendered. Thus too, the association of books and Berkelouw continues. An old and fruitful tree of Rotterdam, Holland, now firmly planted in the soil of Australia.”