Category: Discoveries


How uncomfortable is it to feel that one has to do well in an area in which one has no competence whatsoever? My answer is very.

When I was 17 years old, my brother had a friend named Jon. Me and Jon also became friends for a couple of a couple of years. He belonged to a family that played tennis almost every day, all year round. I was invited to join their tennis club (Roomburg), got lessons and played a lot in the afternoons. The club was situated in a nice part of town and it was very close to the home of my friend.

I was not good at tennis at all. I certainly liked being in the open air and I liked sports. But even though I had been participating in swimming and waterpolo competitions, my arms were not strong enough for the game and I also had difficulty with all the running from left to right and from front to back while anticipating where the ball would come from.

The club held tennis competitions in summertime and it was decided that, despite the abyss between Jon’s level and mine, we would pair up in the mixed doubles.

I find it difficult to admit how utterly nervous I was before it started! I was almost shaking when I arrived at Jon’s house. Jon’s mother, who disliked me a lot, came outside and noticing my nerves, handed me a pill that would calm me down. It was Valerian. My mother used it: as a liquid in a little bottle. She would sometimes take some drops when my father made her nervous with his demands and restfullness.

What I remember from the game is how Jon and I were able to gather some odd points, because of his competence and my mad play. Now and then our opponents were thrown off by it. We didn’t win, of course. It was the first and the last tennis competition I ever participated in.

Playing a part

I remember it all very well, even though it is many decades ago. I was 19 years old, a student. Me and my friend K. went to many cultural events together: we saw famous short movies during lunch time as well as performances by the LAK theater, that was housed in the stately building that stood on the most famous canal in town. There we saw The Man with the Flower in his Mouth, written by Pirandello, starring students Rob E. and Peter X. That was, I think, the first time that I heard about the Nobel Price Winner Pirandello, whose plays I would later read (all of them) and see on stage (several of them).

One day K. and I went to an audition that was held in the attic where the LAK theater resided. The floor was filled with young students,who were expectantly waiting for their turn. When I was called, I had to sit in front of all of them and read some sentences. Of course, I do not remember which text I had to read, perhaps I did not know it at that time either. What I do remember, however, is the magic that grabbed me as I started speaking and that cast a spell over the audience. A very strange experience.

I received the news that I was chosen to be part of the comedy De Verwarde Jalousy, written by W.G. Van Focquenbroch (1640-1670) who had been inspired by Moliere’s Sganarelle. As well as the character ( of the student) in Ionesco’s The Lesson, together with Rob E., who was at the time one of the the inspirators of the LAK theater.

I got the script of Focquenbroch’s play, read my part with awe and did not know exactly how to proceed. I had little experience with drama; ballet I was more familiar with. At the first rehearsal, I had a difficult time. Everybody seemed to know how to read their parts, but the intonation of the rhymed verse had to be explained to me line by line. Another thing that happened and that bothered me a lot was the attitude of a young woman, who was not in our play but had starred in other productions. She was nasty to me, f.e. she was always looking at me angrily. Because there were a lot of people around, I soon forgot about her.

The regular rehearsals were hard work, but at the same time I liked it very much. More and more, the part grew on me. My friend K. was involved in making the scenery: pretty 17th century style facades. They had openings in them through which the actors peeped her heads, when they were not performing. A very inventive idea.

The play was a huge success. We went to Wageningen to take part in the Stutofes contest, a nationwide event for amateur students, and won a prize. Later, in the summer, we also went to Zagreb (Yugoslavia) to perform at a festival.

I had heard some rumours that it was Rob who had chosen me, because he wanted to make a pass at me (or so it was said). This explained the nasty conduct of the girl, as she felt rejected by him. And indeed Rob and I did saw each for a while, but as I was a bit terrified of him (he was older than me) and also secretly in love with someone else, it soon ended. Not long after that he got engaged with the girl who had the leading part in Focqenbroch. A much better choice, I think. Hundreds of people came to their lavish engagement party that was held at outside of her father’s factory, which is famous for their household oils (and peanut butter). Later I found out that the engagement was called off.

One day Peter X. came to visit me in my father’s bookshop where I worked and after some small talk, he suddenly bluntly said: “You know, you can’t act at all”. I knew then that I wasn’t going to star in the Ionesco play.


Where are words located within our body? Or sentences, for that matter? They keep coming when we want to talk or write or even when we just want to be quiet. And if they are stored somewhere, how are they stored? Are they all sitting next to each other? Perhaps in the order in which you first heard or understood them? Can we know more about this questions by thinking about it?

What about the words of a foreign language? Are they kept in a different compartment or are they grouped together around a particular concept, for example love (‘liefde’, ‘Liebe’). But then what about ‘amour’, which is a completely different word? I know from experience that when I am speaking German, for some reason I have almost no access to my French vocabulary.

What about this case? As a child at school we had to learn the names of each train station on every railroad in the country. To do so, the teacher pointed at dots on a blind map with a stick and asked us to name the stations, as if we were travelling by train. The route we take frequently now, from Arnhem to Utrecht, has a station (Veenendaal-De Klomp) which name I can never remember. However hard I try. Why is this the case? Should I ask what Freud would make of this?

Then, I recall having a dream in which I was able to converse in a unknown foreign language. Of course, when I woke I wasn’t able to do this anymore. A mystery? Are there perhaps words that do not come up, because you have no use for them?

Another thing to consider is how the first words for objects in the prehistoric age arose and whether the first people were surprised to discover that they could understand each other.

The other day I walked past a front door with the name ‘Kikkert’ written on it in old fashioned lettering. I instantly remembered that this was the name of the pianist, who played at the balletschool I mentioned in my previous post. If you’d had asked me then, I would have said: “Not for the life of me!”

Mission impossible

I am twelve years old. I have been taking ballet lessons for several years. The ballet school is on Rapenburg (Leyde), a very long canal with stately houses and the old university. Our classroom is on the third floor of the building. We are taught by An Pasman, accompanied by a young man on the piano. We are all girls. In preparation for our performance of Sleeping Beauty extra rehearsals are needed. One evening, after class, my teacher asks me to stop by the young woman who dances the part of The Angry Whitch. She lives with her mum on Hooglandse Kerkgracht, which is not far from my home.

Me and my friend Hansje walk along Rapenburg until we get to Nieuwe Rijn, the canal on which we both live. She has to turn left to get to her home, whereas I have to turn right. Today, however, I have to walk straight ahead through a narrow alley, then around the Hooglandse Kerk (an old church) onto the Hooglandse Kerkgracht, which is a former canal. It’s pitch dark and walking through the alley scares me to death. This is impossible! I cannot do it, especially now that it’s so dark and the gigantic gothic church looks ominous. I get more and more afraid. Without further ado, I run home.

The next morning, before school, I set out to Hooglandse Kerkgracht. I ring the doorbell. The first floor window is opened and a woman leans out. What do you want, she asks. I give her the message: there will be an extra rehearsal at the end of the afternoon and her daughter’s attendance is required. She tells me that her daughter has already left for work (in The Hague) and that she cannot be reached by phone. Now I understand the urgency of reaching her last night. At my next class, I’m faced with a very angry An.

Why didn’t I just ask my friend to come with me? Or ask my brother to accompany me on this mission? It did not cross my mind to ask my parents for help. All alone, without helping hands, I keep struggling.

Know thyself

Know thyself is an often cited quote. It was invented by the ancient Greeks, who carved it into the temple of Deplhi. Many books have been written about why the Greeks were so wise. It is speculated that it was because of the climate. Another, perhaps more convincing, theory is that it might be because of the fact that the elite had housewives and slaves which allowed them to spend their time to think and reflect.

I never understood how one acquires self-knowledge. Of course, there are the simple things. Like the fact that I need at least eight hours of sleep each night, whereas someone else might only need four.

But then there is the fact that I never sleep well after a journey. Everytime I drift away, I immediately wake up again. This continues throughout the night. It is only in the early hours of the morning that I manage to fall asleep. But it hasn’t always been like this. When I used to go on business trips, I always slept fine the first night but then hardly slept at all during the second one. What does this tell me about who I am?

My mother loved the comfort of her own home. My father, on the other hand, was always planning new adventures. If they had known themselves better, they might have been much happier. When they were old, however, they always stayed at home. Then my mother started asking him if they would go on holiday again, to which my father replied: it’s holiday everyday at our home. So who were they really?

These simple examples show how difficult it is to know yourself, given the fact that you change.