Latest Articles, Columns, Short Stories

-Recommendation Letters Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

‘As a natural leader, he always takes the lead and knows how to motivate others ... Curious and creative, he takes the initiative to go off the beaten path. He loves intellectual challenges, which cannot be complex enough for him. His analytical qualities and scientific interests are beyond his years. In addition, he has a strong empathic capacity.”

That’s a fragment from a letter of recommendation written for the son a friend of ours for admission to a very selective private school. Mind you, this is for kindergarten. The boy was five. His intellectual achievements so far consist of stacking blocks. And what toddler does not go off the beaten path, especially at the table with a plate of pasta in front of him or her? Six letters were needed when applying to this school, which the parents had set their sights on. Once he was admitted, they hoped, he would surely be on the fast track to a top-notch high school, then on an Ivy League university.

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-Fulfillment Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

I am driving through the tranquil New Jersey countryside near Robbinsville when a mirage suddenly rises out of the mists in front of me. It is the gigantic Hindu temple BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. This fairytale building, the largest Hindu temple in the world, is breathtaking in its splendor: sculpted Italian marble, Turkish limestone, almost Gve million man-hours of carved Indian sculptures. This improbable exotic sight is only a few miles away from the bare and austere Protestant church in the nearby town.

I take off my shoes and walk inside in my socks. People sightseeing seem to Joat between marble pillars embellished with carved elephants. Worshippers exuberantly pour water over the head of a sculpted child in an idyllic garden. The mood of the whole temple is festive. The elephants are happy, the dancers in the murals are smiling, the golden images of the gods are festooned with Jowers. Outside this morning there was frost on the grass.

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-Carillon Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

‘Time in the Netherlands sings,” wrote the Italian Edmondo De Amicis in 1874 in his book “Olanda,” referring to the sounds of the omnipresent carillons that accompanied him on his journey through Holland.

Princeton has its own version. At regular times, the fourth University Carilloneur, Lisa J. Lonie, climbs the 197 stairs of the Collegiate Gothic Cleveland Tower and starts to pound 20 tons of bronze bells with her fists and feet. A tsunami of sound pours out over the quiet town. Closing windows and doors makes no sense. Everyone in the widest range of earshot is recruited into her audience.

To quote Bertus Aafjes: “The whole sky is saturated with sound in an instant. It grumbles, it thunders, it hails, it clatters and suddenly there is another burst of sound.” The firmament is played, nothing less. Think of music as an atmospheric phenomenon.

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-Meanwhile 2 Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

I am seven years old. I have left my school early. The teacher has sent me to the house of my best friend, Tilly. She lives a short distance outside the village, in a farm between the meadows. Today she stayed

home because she did not feel well. I’ve walked this road often, but never without Tilly. It’s a little after 12 noon, hot and quiet. A few birds are perched on the barbed wire fences. There are deep cracks in the dirt road, and I do my best not to trip over loose stones. My knee socks have sagged, as have the hems of my green plaid skirt. The school is far behind me, a dot on the horizon. In front of me I see the low roof of Tilly’s farmhouse. I stop, hearing an airplane that traces a wispy line high in the sky. I follow it with my Dnger.

And then it happens. Out of nowhere I realize, in full force, that I am “Me.” Not my parents. Not Tilly. Just me, myself, and I. I exist. Here and now. I awake to my own life, in which I play the leading role. It is an overwhelming experience. I have crossed a threshold. I left one world and, with the shock of recognition, have discovered my own. How long I stood there on that sandy road under the burning sun with my new insight, I do not know. Not even how the rest of the afternoon went. I know I did not tell anyone. I never forgot, but I could not explain it either. But from that moment on, everything was different.

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-Michael Graves Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

One day he appeared, standing pontifically on our stovetop.

The gleaming Alessi Whistling Kettle that belonged to my

roommate. She could not stop talking about it. We finally

would have modern design in our humble student dorm. And

affordable, too. Of course, it was a lot more expensive than

the HEMA Whistling Kettle we already had, but, she said,

well worth the money.

I could not share her enthusiasm. I thought it was odd, with

its cone-shaped shiny belly. And then that red bird that

whistled when the water came to a boil. It was funny the first

time, but would I have to endure this every time I heated up

water for tea?

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-Nothing Goes Unnoticed Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

A dozen people sit down at a huge conference table on the 25th

8oor of a skyscraper in Manhattan. In the middle of the table is a

long slit bristling with charging outlets. One at a time we plug into

the slot our smart phones, notebook computers, and iPads, and

settle in behind our devices.

On the screen of the woman sitting next to me an image of a red

beating heart suddenly lights up. She blushes and quickly deletes

it. Zip! The man across from me pulls his iPad out of its charger

and stands up to take a panoramic picture of the view of the

Freedom Tower under a sky Jlled with snow 8urries. Back at the

conference table he sends off the photo in an email. Zip!

My shoes get entangled in a jumble of cables under the table.

Where are they going? Where is that place where all our

messages, photos, fears, losses, and desires are sent forever?

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-Doris Duke Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Americans like to say that behind every great fortune is a
great crime. But that is hard for me to imagine as I walk
through the bucolic Duke Farms on this sunny autumn day.
My guide is my gardener, William. He grew up near this
2,000-acre estate in Somerset County and became fascinated
by its bountiful trees and plantings. And he was equally
fascinated by Doris Duke, the remarkable, star-crossed
woman who inherited this extraordinary place. She led a life
filled with money and all the misfortunes it can bring.
Doris was the only child of the exorbitantly wealthy tobacco
manufacturer James Buchanan Duke, the philanthropic
maker of Lucky Strikes and Camel for whom Duke University
is named. When he died in 1925, the bulk of his estate went to
the 12-year-old Doris, whom everyone then named “the
richest girl in the world.”

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Pia de Jong: Teaching Math in America

US 1 Newspaper

-Math In America Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Is there anything more di0cult than being a public school teacher
in America? Yes, being a math or science teacher in New York
City. If you are teaching in New York, you start with the problems
that all teachers struggle with: students with behavior problems,
demanding parents, apathetic parents, administrative burdens,
paltry resources, long hours, and skimpy wages. Many teachers
take two jobs just to get by. Then in New York, you can throw into
this combustible stew the social issues around inequality,
violence, and racism. Add to that the particular obstacles math
and science pose for many students.
There are nearly two thousand public schools in NYC with more
than a million children. Many teachers have so little money for
their supplies that they dig into their own pockets to buy pencils
and paper for their pupils. Little wonder that some give up and
are lured to Wall Street, where the salaries are many times higher.
What’s the solution? Begin by throwing a party.

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-Microaggressions Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

There is a fast-growing inequality in American life — in political correctness and its consequences. You can see the fault lines most clearly between generations. The baby boomers and older people are acting and talking the free-wheeling, damn- the-torpedoes way they always did. Politicians routinely resort to offensive language, the president ridicules the appearance of women, and the government itself tries to reverse LGBT emancipation. Younger people like millennials, on the other hand, are becoming more and more Dnely sensitive to offensive statements, and never mind how small or unintended. This subject is central to the curriculum taught to students on every high school and college campus.

Last week I greeted one of my daughter’s Latina friends from across the street. “Hi, Louisa,” I called. My daughter turned to me in shock. It was not Louisa, but Mariana, another Latina girl. “Mom,” she protested. “That is one of your typical micro- aggressions. You give the impression that you think all Latinas are the same.”

I did not deliberately intend to insult the girlfriend by confusing her with someone else of the same ethnicity, but of course it was too late. I did not get away with saying that their hairstyles were very similar. No, I was unintentionally a racist.

It was time for my daughter to give me a crash course from her school curriculum about “micro-aggressions.”

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The Weather Girl

The Princeton Echo, Noeember 2018

-Hurricane Florence Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

I used to have a little weather house that looked like an Alpine chalet. When the sun shined, the cheerful girl in a dress came out her door. But when rain was forecast, she vanished indoors and the little man appeared with his umbrella. That meant closing our windows and getting out our rain ponchos.

The modern weather house is the television. When bad weather is ahead, such as recently with Hurricanes Florence and Michael, the meteorologists appear on the screen, decked out in rain suits, waders, sou’westers, and of course gripping a huge microphone while they shout into the teeth of the wind.

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Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition
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