My mother grew up in, as she would affectionately say, the rat infested slums of Amsterdam (complete with tales of giant rats crawling inside the toilet bowl and sleeping two to a bed). I finally had the chance to visit this half of my ancestral homeland for the first time two weeks ago. My trip was interlaced with the obvious activities (a trip to the Rijksmuseum, exploring the canals) and the less typical ones, including a visit to Dapperbuurt to see where my mother grew up (in a milk bar on Von Zesenstraat).
One connection that people often have with their ancestral culture is via food. That works a little better with the other half of my family (from Bergamo), but still, there were a few traditional Dutch foods that I was looking forward to. Few would say that kroketten scale the heights of culinary achievement, but I was pleased to get to eat some again for the first time in 30 years or so. (As someone who appreciates an Australian meat pie, I am no stranger to food products made with unidentifiable meat sources.) But by far my main culinary desire was in eating smoked eel, which has always been on my list of all-time top ten foods. It’s something that one could buy at the Victoria Market in Melbourne, but the Polish-Ukranian-Russian versions available in the US are over-smoked and over-salted, and so while decent are not quite up to snuff. I found some fillets here, but after a tip from Hendrik Lenstra, I went to one of the markets and found some whole ones at a stall. I bought two and ate them on the spot. That’s not quite accurate, I actually moved a few hundred feet or so away from the market before sitting down and consuming the spoils of my search:
I spent the second week was at Oberwolfach. I wondered whether it was my third or forth time there — it turned out to be my sixth. There were the usual bridge games with Henri Cohen, Don Zagier, and Mark Watkins, as well as a chess game on the giant board against a mystery opponent (who turned out to be Noam). One analysis of the game suggests that I lost, but an argument can be made that Noam left before the final lecture so that it is a win on time for me. Mark Watkins pointed me towards the following amusing pair of positions:
It turns out that this collection of pieces is (typically) a win for white in at most 517 moves. (Here “win” does not mean mate, but rather until White captures one of black’s pieces at which point things become easier.) The two positions above are the board after Black has made his 250th move and 450th move respectively. You are supposed to guess which is which. In other words: you may not be able to compute the best-play sequence of 200 moves, but can you at least tell in which board White is closer to winning? The answer can be found in #370 here.
Next time I’ll talk about the mathematical highlights of my trip, and I promise I’ll get back to Scholze soon.