“Princeton is in the at midlands of New Jersey, rising, a green Phoenix, out of the ugliest country in the world.”
That’s how F. Scott Fitzgerald described this university town in 1927.
In 1930, the British satirical magazine Punch published a cartoon of a boy, lying on his side on the lawn, reading a book on relativity. When asked where his sister is, he replies, “Somewhere in the absolute elsewhere.”
When I think about what I miss most about my native country, the short list starts at my kitchen table with two things: fresh-baked Dutch bread and its closest companion, Dutch cheese.
I have come from far away, but now I’m finally on the Olympus of American journalism: the famous high-modernist Time-Life building in midtown Manhattan. Here the magazines that I grew up with — Life, Time, People — were published. They determined my image of America and the world. It is no coincidence that this beautiful skyscraper is used for the exterior shots on Mad Men, so aptly does it bring to life the 1960s.
I recently visited the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, the oldest learned society in the country. There I saw an extraordinary document: one of the surviving original journals of Lewis and Clark.
The official kickoff for the American summer was Memorial Day. Steaks are slapped on the barbecue, swimming pools are opened. The grass, which a couple of weeks ago was still hidden under a blanket of snow, has reasserted itself. America remembers its soldiers killed in action, preferably with a parade, which, surprisingly enough, is a festive event. And my new home town of Princeton, NJ, where I moved two years ago from Holland, is no exception. I take my place on Nassau Street, next to a couple of children. They’re carrying little flags that are being handed out for free a short distance away. The man on the sidewalk across from me is carrying a piece of cardboard with “Vietnam veteran” scratched onto it in pencil. He looks pretty seedy with his long, stringy hair and dirty clothes.
I was sitting with my young children in Amsterdam on a hot day in July, when a florid-faced man holding a crumpled map sat down next to me. He wiped his brow and said his name was Howard. He was a tourist from Texas. He told me that I lived in a great city. You take your time here, he said. But Howard said he would only spend one day in Amsterdam. Tomorrow he would do Paris.
Dorothea von Moltke is the co- owner of Labyrinth Books, the high-quality bookstore in my home town of Princeton, NJ. She speaks with a slight German accent, even though she was born in America. As we walk among the shelves of her store, she explains its name: “A labyrinth is a place to look and get lost. To gather knowledge, to weigh conflicting ideas against each other and find beliefs. But a labyrinth without minotaur is just a maze. Books should also let you struggle with the unknown, with your own demons, so you find out who you truly are.”
Everyone has their own reasons for living in a privileged town like Princeton, New Jersey —but Jim McCloskey’s are different. “I live in Princeton,” he says, “because it is located exactly halfway between the East Jersey State Prison in Rahway and the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.” McCloskey visits these prisons frequently as part of his pioneering Centurion Ministries program to free wrongly convicted prisoners.