The working week was rather nondescript: I can’t say that of the work anything stood out. The classes went as expected, with hardly any untoward events. It was not boring though. You cannot ‘get’ boring when you encounter topics ranging from black holes to turtle propagation, to fundamental cancer research, to legal issues surrounding the freedom of information. It’s total immersion in mental gymnastics to try to understand what students and others are doing. You can see the work as cognitive therapy: it’s supposed to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Though what happens to my brain after retirement is uncertain: work-planning-in-progress at present.
The week had its highlights though: a delightful farewell dinner among some friends for a colleague. Excellent food in Portogatelo, a new Portuguese restaurant in Maastricht. And we discovered a seriously good Portuguese red wine. Unfortunately, we had too much to remember the name! It was even harder the next morning, trying to cope with urgent work.The week ended with a visit to the open day at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital/Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. This was where my wife Eva was treated extensively for cancer. The hospital and the Institute is celebrating its centenary this year. Nurses dressed in 1913 uniforms greeted visitors at the entrance. It was also a great pleasure to meet the doctors again who had treated Eva, including her ‘lead-doctor’. 1913 continued to feature at a spectacular concert later in the Concertgebouw. Ligeti’s Atmosphères, Prokofiev’s Piano concerto no. 3, with the excellent Behzod Abduraimov, and then Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), played by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, had its dramatic (near-riot) debut with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in 29 May 1913. This was the third time I’ve heard it in its centenary year: each time more magnificent than the last, but this time we were so close to the orchestra as to be almost playing in the horn section. Wonderful. Those who know me will know that 1913 has powerful memories for me: not that I was alive then! But I studied that artistic year in some detail when I lived in Paris. Apollinaire’s Alcools was published that year, as was one of the greatest influences on me, Blaise Cendrars’ La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jéhanne de France, a harmonica book – livre simultané – illustrated by Sonia Delaunay-Terk. Only about sixty copies ever printed. A beautiful facsimile adorns my wall.
And books remain important. A friend from Spain sent me the Goodreads.com’s link to an interview with Donna Tartt about her new novel The Goldfinch. One sentence rang out: “Basically I can learn almost anything from a library book.” Q.E.D.?