The Week In Radio

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The Independent Culture
AS ONE of the most coveted spices in 17th-century Europe, nutmeg (Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Radio 4, every day) was alleged to constitute a cure for everything from dysentery to the plague. Its astronomic price meant that the Elizabethan cure for flatulence - nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon and 12 other ingredients - was available only to the feasting rich. The inaccessibility of the tiny Moluccan Banda archipelago, the original source of the nutmeg tree, led to more than 60 years of intrigue, conquest and counter-conquest by the Spanish, the Portuguese, the English and, most ruthlessly, the Dutch.

With Drake's indomitable freebooting circumnavigation in the tiny Golden Hind were evoked William Hawkins's enforced luxury sojourn of six years at the court of the Mogul Emperor Jehangir, and Willoughby's futile "short cut" via the fabled North East Passage. Perhaps the most significant by- product of all this colonial expansion, though, was Henry Hudson's discovery, on his expedition of 1609, of the island of "Manahatta" which the English were allowed to hang on to by the Treaty of Breda with the Dutch in 1667, in exchange for the "Spice Island" of Run, thus indirectly sealing the fate of New York City.

Chicago (Crossing Continents, Radio 4, Thursday), unlike New York, has just been re-elected as the murder capital of the US, and was described as "being at war with itself", a sure way of maintaining this pre-eminence. As gunshot survivors in a street game of wheelchair basketball pointed out, in too many gun dealerships, "if you got the money, you get what you want". An average of seventy-five handguns per day are recovered by the Chicago police department, summarising a saturation in violence that makes a mockery of the Constitutional "right to bear arms" accorded to 18th-century militiamen.

Last week, Michael Frayn discussed Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and Marguerite Patten discussed Quail Pudding. This wide intellectual catchment would have appealed to Vladimir Nabokov, whose centenary, along with Humphrey Bogart's, falls this year (Mr Nabokov's Blues, Radio 3, Sunday). Nabokov's extraordinary succes de scandale with Lolita has obscured the fact that, until that point, he could have been described as an amateur writer but a professional lepidopterist.

His work at Harvard in comparative zoology established him as a world- class blue butterfly specialist. "Words pass, bugs stay," he quipped to his friend Edmund Wilson.