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easy and beautiful !

Long live mature women also,

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Sunday
Jun062010

Van Gelder Reporting

Well Sarah, my good friend and fellow teacher,

Where do I begin? The antibiotics are working their silent miracle and yes, I'm starting to improve.

First, let me ask you a question. What does the smell of privet blossoms have in common with the smell of cigarette smoke? In Holland, when I was in grade one, our neighbour's nanny would take her fifteen minute breaks sitting at their front door on a wooden fold-up chair smoking Export A's (strong unfiltered ones in those days). I could see her puffed blonde bangs and the crown of her head peeking out just above the privet hedge that separated the two houses. Down her head would go with the inhaling and up it would bob when she'd blow out again, a little series of cottony puffs floating up into the air. That strange pungent odour of the newly formed blossoms mingled with that of her smokes, seemed almost erotic to my eight-year-old sensibilities. Still today, my olfactory senses always on high alert, it is this combination that for me heralds the true lazy hazy days of summer. It's like déjà vu when my neighbour comes out to smoke (except there's nothing erotic about it!).

Of course there are all the other significant events that each year mark summer's arrival. St. Hildegarde's is wrapping up with exams, concerts and boarders are leaving to return home to Hong Kong and other foreign destinations. The annual recitals that take place within the stone walls of its gothic chapel never fail to move me. All these years, I still get goose bumps as these girls have the capacity to move me with their multi-talented performances. 

Beneath a backdrop of a tender nativity scene, the silvery tones of an accomplished flautist floated to the rafters on a Saturday afternoon and bounced from wall to wall. The grade twelve student stood poised, dressed in white gossamer layers of a cotton mini, bare arms enfolded over her shining instrument like an attentive lover. It was her graduating year. A piano selection, Chopin's plaintive B minor Prelude, sounded more Russian than Polish, heavy, and very dour for a player of fourteen. Such a setting! Think of Joanna Trollop's novel, The Choir, its pages saturated with stained glass, oak pews and all the accoutrements of an Anglican house of worship. A colourful wall mural celebrated a biblical mother and child, the good St.Anne and her young daughter, Mary; such work of art no doubt the efforts of the ladies of Hildegarde’s chapel committee. And then, being temporarily distracted, my eyes rested on a book of worship sitting on the book rail in front of me. It fell open and I read: for all these mysteries - for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works - I thank you. Even an atheist would not fail to be moved, Sarah.

But not all was ecstatic at year's end. Some little ones exhibited performance anxiety, a phenomenon that usually presents in pre-puberty. The little performer was convinced she would not remember her piece. Her tears were profuse and lasted throughout the entire concert, till her Kleenex was well scrunched and sopping. No amount of comforting seemed helpful and the shame of it was that she was one of the most talented players there. Of course, there were other gems of players: nine and ten year olds entertained with schmaltzy movie-score-like pieces such as Melancholy Reflections, a Nocturne with arpeggiated ascending bass lines beneath a floating melody, and a feisty stomping dance by Kabalevsky called Chastushka. Candy broke my heart with the Dinosaur Stomp, her body supplying the movement for every missing downbeat. She just had that rhythm.

The year-end meeting was a different story. Things were spelled out, fast, precise and made crystal clear.  From here on it would be this way and that way. I have seen much change at Hildegarde. Gone are those after school cocktail hours of intimate hobnobbing of which I, young and green, partook. Gone - the relaxed chats on flowered couches in the general staffroom that took place at any time throughout the day. Accountability became the unspoken buzzword. 

Forgive my diversion. 

We were thanked, yes, en masse (read your perfect description about how admin.doles out compliments), and were quickly dismissed. An awkward quiet registered the exit of each solemn administrator and stricken musician, one person at a time, slipping out noiselessly through the oak doors. A group of us, aghast, hung back and chomped away voraciously at the leftover sandwiches (cream cheese and pineapple). The compromises of the next academic year weighed heavily on us and would affect our teaching styles, our incomes, our lives. Take it or leave it and let us know. So we get to think about things for a few weeks. Maybe you will have a future in training management, or teachers, in Emotional Intelligence, Sarah. Think about it. Such input might have done wonders for our meeting. I have always loved Saul Bellow's wise words, literalism, factualism--will smother the imagination altogether ... and the spirit, I might add.

My guitar-playing colleague and I sat later on cold metal bench in a nearby park overlooking the lake. It was misty and damp in the early evening hours. He confided that he had felt degraded at the meeting, had been taken for granted and that his twenty years of energetic teaching and genuine collegiality had surely not been appreciated. He will not be returning to Hildegarde in the fall. As for myself, I have decided to go with the flow for another year unless I end up publishing my memoirs. Dream on Adria.

I wonder what BP is going to do before Paradise is totally swallowed up in the Gulf. On St. Hildegarde's grounds I focus on my elegant plane tree: dressed in army fatigues, it speaks to me of staunchness and solidity but above all, pure beauty.

Adriana Maria Van Gelder

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