When someone on the phone—the doctor’s office, the bank, the credit card company—asks for my name, I always offer to spell it out—it’s a pretty uncommon surname. So far as I know, there are somewhere between 10 and 20 Nosowitzes in the world, and they’re all closely related to me. Because it’s uncommon, and because it would be a problem if my bank writes my name down as “Moskowitz,” I err on the side of caution. “N as in Nancy, O, S as in Samuel, O, W, I, T as in Thomas, Z as in Zebra,” I chant.
Imagine setting aside a wheel of cheese at your wedding. What would it look like if it were served at your funeral?
If you were lucky, it would look like one of the wheels in Jean-Jacques Zufferey’s basement in Grimentz, Switzerland: shriveled and brown, pockmarked from decades of mite and mouse nibbles, and hard as a rock. You’d need an axe to slice it open and strong booze to wash it down. This is the rare cheese you don’t want to cut into when it’s aged to perfection. A fossilized funeral cheese means you lived a long life.
In the winter of 1944, the city of the Hague was going hungry. In fact, all the cities of the western Netherlands were hungry. Railway workers and the country’s government in exile had defied German occupiers with a strike. In response, the Nazis significantly cut off the country’s most populated region from food supplies. The canals also froze, making transportation and escape impossible. What resulted was the “hunger winter,” a famine of unprecedented scale.