At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


The high-school I attended in Valkenswaard no longer exists. It was torn down years ago, and the school system has changed sufficiently in the Netherlands that one cannot accurately describe it as having heirs or successors. Even certain terms used to describe education no longer resonate.
I have remained particularly fond of that institution, however, because that is where I proved myself incapable of speaking Latin or passing French.
Marks of stubbornness more than rebellion.
Regrettable in retrospect.

My French teacher, mijnheer Staals, was baffled at my brilliant inability. Surely someone with so Francophonic a vocabulary as a literate English-speaker should not have issues with the language of Hugo, Dumas, and Flaubert?
I had much opportunity to exhibit my word-hoard, but at that time I just wasn't interested in serious study of Frog-speak. If I ever meet him again, I will sincerely apologize for my inattention and flightiness.
He was a good teacher, and a good man.
And he had a sense of humour.

There are a number of other teachers to whom my apologies also need proffering. None of them are physical-education faculty, as they by their foaming-at-the-mouth enthusiasm for sports and exercise did more to encourage sedentarianism than could possibly be imagined.
Except, of course, for those students who excelled.
Thank god team-sports did not rank high.
We were mostly academic.


In my first year I failed phys-ed so badly that the school demanded attendance at summer sessions. When I stubbornly insisted on taking remedial algebra instead, they accepted the compromise. In the second year the disciplinarian in charge of exercise decided that as the three required hours were bunched up together on Monday morning, he would have us trot along an extensive route through the local woods while he followed behind in his automobile.
Having stashed pipe and tobacco in a hidden pouch, I veered off-course as soon as possible, and spent the next few hours reading and smoking. Except for the time when it snowed, when I walked briskly just to keep relatively warm. On one of those frigid days, while already on my third pipe, I passed by an outlying classroom and observed other students inside, avidly listening to a geography lesson. The walls betrayed the subject.
Those long runs were extremely enjoyable, in retrospect.
Quite possibly character-building.

During those years I did not form any great attachments to other students, and while I was already fascinated by the opposite gender, falling in love and even developing a crush on a classmate were furthest from my mind, and certainly very un-real prospects. Girls were always the people you went to for algebra-coaching, or whom you tutored in English. Fellow-students, classmates, and occasional co-conspirators. Colleagues, equal members of the gang, perfect young ladies, and therefore entirely off-limits.


Very few of the girls ever used make-up, and then both subtly and sparingly, so that they could wipe it off before going home. I suspect that lipstick and eye-shadow were the most scandalous thing that they hid from their parents.
But they did not need it. I remember a number of them as being pretty, and very charming besides. Any young woman who can rattle off an entire passage in fluent Latin of French will be infinitely attractive. Especially if she's not even five feet tall, and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette at the time.

Until we were sixteen or seventeen most of us had early curfews, and as an indication of precisely how innocent those times were, none of us had even heard of teenage pregnancy (except me - I had read about it in Time, Newsweek, and The Saturday Review).
Alcohol during those childish years was readily available -- the Dutch have always had very casual attitudes towards juvenile indulgence -- but both common sense and limited funds meant that jollification was kept to one beer. Many of the students were acquainted with tobacco; that too was limited.
As a pipe-smoker, I was socially handicapped. No-one could rely on me for an emergency smoke, and I must confess that it wasn't until I had been back in the States for quite a while that I could even roll a decent cigarette. Everyone else happily passed pouches of dark shag back and forth and made smokes for the less dexterous students during recess. Women, it should be mentioned, have more able hands; often their cigarettes were picture perfect.
It's a very appealing skill to have.


During my last few years in Valkenswaard I frequently went to Parsifal in the evening, as it was a place were many of my acquaintances could be found. Parsifal was an institution peculiar to both the time and the place, being a club or society sponsored by the municipality, which was meant to keep us off the street, and easily observed by the police should that prove desirable. Such an institution is called a 'jeugd soos', and usually has a license allowing it to sell beer and wine. The clientele consists of teenagers twixt fourteen and forty.

Such places usually reeked of dark shag tobacco, and the conversation was often political. Most of us would have one beer, nursed over a period of several hours, and a few of us would do our homework there. Given that by that time I had discovered expensive English pipe tobacco, I always drank tea. It cost far less, and I could make the pot last all night. I spent a lot of time at the long table reading books by Nabokov or Kipling rather than at the bar chatting, and regrettably that also limited my exposure to the fairer sex.

The dope-smokers were out in the back yard, by the way.
Pot costs money: English pipe tobacco funds.
Dira necessitatem tabacum est.
Hashish lost out.


Since returning to the United States I have re-lived much of the time spent in Valkenswaard. In the main, I still have affection for the place, and I can still understand the local dialect. I would have liked to have visited my old school, but it no longer stands. In the eighties, Parsifal had to move out of the building in which it was located. If it still exists, it now caters to another generation.
Everyone has dispersed since then, and few of us still live in town.
There really is almost no reason to go back.
It's a very different place now.

And I'm a different person.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older