Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Robert St. John: A Bridge Not Too Far At All

YPRES, BELGIUM— Friendships in the 21st Century carry a different dynamic. A constant connection throughout the World Wide Web has its share of positives and negatives. Many spend more time looking at small screens and stupid videos that make no sense to me. My 21-year old son finds them hilarious. There’s that, but I also have a world of information at my fingertips. As a child I had a set of World Book encyclopedias in our house. That was my sole source for information unless it was a library day.


I could spend my remaining column inches touting all the negative aspects of the internet and its undesirable effects on society. But there are plenty of other places where one can find such discourse. Today I will focus on friendships. 


The World Wide Web has— at least in my case— made it easier to connect, and to stay connected, with people. I value the relational aspects of life and I am probably the primary one in my friend group who keeps in touch, from childhood friends through present day acquaintances.


At 10-years-old my mother sent me to a summer camp on the Cumberland River in Tennessee. Camp Hi-Lake was a great place to spend four weeks and I am sure she didn’t mind the break. I made friends with several other boys my age. My best friend there was Bobby Woldt from Waco, Texas. We hung out all month and were best pals.


Over the years I’ll think about that kid and try to search for him online, to no avail. There was also an associate pastor/youth director at my church who made a positive impact on my life in high school. I occasionally try to find Jim Darnell online, without any success.


Had Facebook and Instagram been around in the 1970s I am sure that we would still be connected, and I would know what each of them has been up to over the years. We may not have ever again been in each other’s presence, but the connection would be there. I feel connected to the friends I have made since the advent of the internet and social media. Last night’s dinner host is the perfect example.


In 2014, I co-hosted a European tour (my first) we called Battlefields and Baguettes. A friend and learned war historian, Andy Wiest, handled the day duties taking us to World War I and World War II battle sites and cemeteries, while I hosted the evening’s dinners in locals-only establishments. We arrived in Ypres home to some of the most brutal fighting ever recorded, and had a free night. I chose to take the opportunity to investigate the restaurant I booked for our group’s dinner the following night. It wasn’t good. I immediately cancelled the reservation and started looking for an alternative.


A restaurant that caught my eye was located a little out of the city center on a small island in a small lake. It was near closing time by the time we reached the restaurant Pacific Eiland, but I met the owner, Chef Robert Van Eygen— a tall Belgian with boundless enthusiasm, a passion for hosting, and a true hospitalitarian— and asked if he could accommodate a large group for the next evening, and he didn’t hesitate. Van Eygen offered some of his house-smoked salmon on the spot, which was, and still is, the best I have ever tasted. I made sure we added that to the menu of the next evening’s dinner, and my wife and I stayed and visited for a while.


The next evening, after a long day trudging through WWI trenches and cemeteries, we walked across the bridge to Pacific Eiland and had a meal that landed at number one of my top 10 meals for that year. 

There is something magical that happens when a group gets together to share a mean, and everything goes as planned.  That was one of those nights. 

The conversation was lively, loud, and filled with energy.  At the end of the meal, Van Eygen - in a very European moment - manned the stereo system, cranked up some 40-year-old British disco music, and our guests danced throughout the restaurant. 

It was a fitting end to a memorable meal. 


The only reason that dinner didn’t end up as the number one dinner on my 2014 list is that he invited us to his house for dinner the following evening and that was the most memorable dinner I enjoyed that year. Here are my journal notes from dinner at Van Eygen’s home.
The meal started with cured ham and hard cheeses, which were passed, followed by oysters, freshly shucked by our host. Next the chef served shrimp croquettes, followed by foie gras with fig compote, and his house-smoked salmon.

As the sun began to set, we moved to another table across the lawn under a quaint pergola and were seated next to a roaring fire where we ate king crab and rice.  A very European cheese court was served after the entrees and the meal ended with homemade ice cream, brandied fruit, and an apple tart that I picked up from a baker earlier in the day. 

The dinner was very good, the company was better, the conversation was lively, and the entire experience was one of those moments that tend to happen when all the stars align and people from two very different parts of the world come together over food.  In that moment, friendships are made and lifelong memories are established. 


Van Eygen and I follow each other on social media and have checked up on each other when newsworthy events have happened in our areas of the globe, but I knew I would return one day. Last night we did. It was great to see him again. He welcomed us on a new bridge he just built that incorporates the word “Peace” in 86 languages, which represent the languages spoken by all the countries that fought in this area during WWI.


When we arrived, he was on one side of the bridge, and I was on the other end. We met in the middle. It was truly a metaphoric moment.


His enthusiasm hasn’t waned. The quality of his food and service at his restaurant Pacific Eiland showed that he’s still a man at the top of his game. Though the house-smoked salmon has somehow gotten better.


The evening ended up with the stereo cranked and the lights down, but this time I— to settle a bet when the USA soccer team lost to The Netherlands— was the one singing. I chose “Sweet Caroline,” because I knew my group couldn’t resist joining in on the chorus. Van Eygen joined in, too. A great time was had by all.


The ball is in his court now and I look forward to his trip to the States so I can return the hospitality he has so graciously and enthusiastically shown to my guests and me.



Smoked Salmon Spread


All of the usual accoutrements are here although in different form. Must be made one day in advance. Smoked trout could be used


8 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced 
8 ounces cream cheese, softened 
1 /2  cup sour cream 

1 /2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp hot sauce 
1 /4 tsp old bay seasoning

1 /8  tsp Creole Seasoning

1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbl fresh lemon juice 
1 /2  cup green onions, minced

1 /4 cup capers, chopped

1 /4 cup parsley, chopped

2 Tbl fresh chopped dill

1 /2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground


Line a 4-cup round mold with plastic wrap. Using half of the salmon slices, make a star pattern on the plastic wrap. Chop remaining salmon into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside. 


In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, sour cream, and mayonnaise until creamy and well combined. Add hot sauce, Old Bay seasoning, mustard, lemon juice, and Creole seasoning stirring well. 


Into mixer, fold in chopped salmon, green onions, capers, parsley, dill, green onions, parsley, and pepper. Place cream cheese mixture into lined mold. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 3 hours. 


To serve, place the bottom of the mold in a bowl of warm water for 10 seconds. Remove all plastic wrap and invert mold onto a serving plate, gently shaking to release. 


Serve with toasted French bread croutons, pita triangles or crackers.


Yield: 8-10 servings


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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS