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On dead mice and the tree huggers of UCM

On dead mice and the tree huggers of UCM

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

University prof. Ron Heeren shares a meal with independent sorority Ex Aequo

Loosely translated, ex aequo means “on equal terms” – and it gives a good sense of the sorority. “We don’t force new students to fetch drinks for the older students, or give them only one third of a vote when we make decisions”, says Sophie te Boome, waving a knife dangerously back and forth at the kitchen table. She has just finished slicing a pumpkin. There is one tradition, however, that freshers can’t escape: making pancakes at the ULV hockey tournament.

Then there’s the damescantus, also part of the sorority’s DNA. “Picture around 120 women at long tables swaying with the music,” explains Loes Remy, “singing Malle Babbe and Io Vivat and a few hours later sloshing beer all over the place and rolling around the hall.”

The women also celebrate “hangover Thursday”. This is a weekly gathering, in one bed, to eat breakfast together: chicken nuggets, a broodje frikandel, whatever – as long as there’s apple juice. 

We are sitting in a corner house by the train tracks, with a view of the domed church. Above the kitchen counter hangs a piece of wisdom on a tile: If you want breakfast in bed, sleep in the kitchen. “I wouldn’t”, Te Boome says. “Mice have been spotted.” Three members of the sorority live here, including Remy, who cleaned the place “like crazy” for the occasion. Her mother would be proud, she says.

Professor Ron Heeren arrives with two bottles of red wine, which he calls “talking water”. He also brings two copies of the Maastricht Yearbook, a chronicle in words and pictures of what happened in the city over the past year. Heeren himself – or rather, his lab in Randwyck – is featured.

“What do you actually do?” asks Camée van Bemmelen.

“We take molecular photos, at the level of a square nanometre.” Heeren studied physics in Delft, where he lived in the hallway of a student flat with seventeen others. “Needless to say, my parents didn’t visit often. I’ll spare you the details, but there were all sorts of things that moved.”

His daughter, who is now studying forensic sciences in Enschede, once asked him to take some molecular photos of the hair of her fellow students for a school assignment. Examining the hairs in a mass spectrometer, he discovered the residue of all sorts of drugs, in the case of one student at least 22 different kinds. Hair as biomarker for drug use!

With the appetiser served – champignon soup à la Roelse – the conversation turns to the students. What do they do? Susan Roelse initially studied at the Hotel School and is now doing the master Marketing-Finance at the School of Business and Economics. Te Boome started at University College, but didn’t enjoy it. Making decisions is not her strong point, so composing her own curriculum from more than a hundred courses wasn’t for her. She also didn’t hit it off with the type of students who choose UCM. “A quarter of them get around barefoot. Kind of elitist hippies actually.”

“Tree huggers, right?” Remy chimes in.

What is that red lamp? Heeren asks, pointing at a device protruding from a wall outlet in the corner of the room. “It scares off the mice with a high-pitched peep. They don’t like it”, Remy explains. Roelse once got the shock of her life when she saw one jumping out of the laundry basket. For Heeren it was the other way round: the mouse was frightened to death, literally. “It came wandering from the kitchen into the living room, looked up, saw me, jumped a metre in the air and dropped dead.”

Next – for the umpteenth time in this dinner series – the risotto arrives on the table. This time it’s pumpkin risotto, with pancetta and saffron. Perfect, Heeren says. “Not too cheesy, not too hard, a bit of crunch to it. Also nice is replacing the wine with Martini.”

“What about vodka?” Roelse asks. “We’re big fans of vofa: vodka with Fanta.”

“Sounds nasty”, Heeren shudders.

On request, the university professor (“is that a kind of super professor?”) gives an insight into his rather complicated personal life. In addition to the daughter in Enschede, he has a son who left just a few weeks ago for a gap year in New Zealand, and his wife works in Utrecht. “We have an apartment in Maastricht and a family home in Weesp. I used to play volleyball there too. I’d take the train to Weesp after work for volleyball practice, and come back the next day at 5.45 am.”

“Wouldn’t you rather live with your wife?” Remy asks.

“We were high school sweethearts; we’ve been together a very long time. My wife studied in Maastricht and was happy for me that I was offered a job here.”

“But isn’t it more important to be together than to live in a nice city?” Remy continues. “You actually choose to not live together.”

“Well look, if the one wants a change and manages to get a good job, the other isn’t going to stop them, right? I wouldn’t if it were the other way around. But yes, it did call for a few nice bottles of wine.”

Roelse turns to Te Boome: “You can do the dessert.”

“Do I have to cut it?” she replies. “I’m really bad at that.”

Yesterday the ladies followed a Heel Holland Bakt workshop in the Bisschopsmolen bakery. The result now materialises on the table. Ta da! Two different types of speltvlaai: cherry and apricot. The students learnt a lot: that meel and bloem are in fact different types of flour, that spelt – also known as hulled wheat – is not a superfood, and that a speltvlaai from the Albert Heijn contains just four percent spelt.

“I don’t want to cut it”, Te Boome continues. “I’m super uncoordinated.”

Roelse does the job herself, giving everyone a small piece each of cherry and apricot.

For Heeren the evening couldn’t have gone better. Nor for the students; they find it a shame that only the professor can give stars. If they were allowed to rate their guest, they would stick with the label ‘super professor’.

Ron Heeren * 53 * university professor of molecular imaging * married, two children * lives in Weesp and Maastricht

Loes Remy * 20 * second year medicine * president of Ex Aequo 

Sophie te Boome * 18 * first year medicine * secretary

Susan Roelse * 23 * fifth year master student International Business * member

Camée van Bemmelen * 22 * fourth year medicine * member

Score (maximum of five stars), given by Professor Heeren:

Hospitality: 4.5 stars “I felt as though I was at my own table at home. The only minus point was the coat hook”, where his jacket was squashed between the bars of the banister

Food: 5 stars “Great, I’d serve it myself”

Cleanliness: 4.5 stars “I got the impression I was strategically seated with my back to the room. Kidding, it looks fine, just a little less clean than my own house”

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