THURSDAY: Official opening on the balcony
Old telephones with buttons and dials still lie somewhat abandoned on the Minderbroedersberg footpath at 18:30hrs. How different from two hours later, when the parade of two motorbikes, ridden by and accompanied on foot by the three men from the organising Studium Generale, the brass band Harmonie Wilhelmina from Wolder, the local singing celebrity Beppie Kraft, the Executive Board and the Mayor of Maastricht, descends from the Berg amid great public interest, to end up at the Old Governement building.
This is where the official opening has been planned, with a genuine balcony scene. Before Beppie starts to sing – she is, after all, the ambassador of the Limburg Alzheimer Association – she calls upon everyone to donate money so that on 21 September – Alzheimer Day – the intended 250 thousand will be collected. A little later, the brass band starts off with the Maastricht anthem. Everyone on the balcony places a hand on their hearts, people on the street sing along. PAS has been opened.
The opening lecture is by Frans Verhey, UM professor of Geriatric Psychiatry, on Alzheimer, who tells the packed audience that a pill for this brain disease won’t be coming for some time yet, but that the image that dementia has, is too negative. “It is not necessarily a terrible disease. Of course, it is bad for a lot of people, but there are also patients who can live reasonably well with it, provided they get the right kind of support.”
Acrobats from Cirque du Platzak (Flat Broke) dance on a wire and a large ball in the garden of the Law Faculty. A little later, the Broken Ballerina does her bit, hanging from and dancing on a large long piece of plastic, high up in the air. Ohhh, exclaims the startled audience as she slips full speed downwards, to stop just in time before she hits the ground.
Around about eleven o’clock, some senior citizens get a lesson in the Maastricht dialect in a classroom. The younger visitors have then assembled in the Student Services Centre garden, which has been decorated with lampshades and clocks. This is where Oghene Kologbo & World Squad is playing. It’s swinging.
FRIDAY: “I’m the Terminator”
“Really tough,” a student commented, having just removed her ‘age simulation suit’. So that is how it feels to be old. Twenty minutes earlier, she was cheerfully awaiting her turn, laughing out loud. “Let’s see if I can still dance as an eighty-year-old,” she had said at the time.
It’s a demanding evening for researcher Miriam Reelick, postdoc student at Radboud University in Nijmegen and lecturer at Avans University of Applied Sciences. She travelled to Maastricht with her two age simulation suits to put them on anyone who was interested to try them out: a weighted-down black harness, knee and elbow protectors, special Velcro shoes, a neck brace, dark glasses and headphones. “I’m the Terminator”, one visitor jokes. Reelick accompanies ‘the senior citizen’ outside. A weird sensation, because the body shuffles forwards, careful, afraid of falling down steps.
Reelick: “We carried out research into the image that people have of senior citizens, and by wearing this suit you can experience for yourself what it feels like to be physically vulnerable.” One student is greatly relieved when he can remove the suit: “Horrible! I’m scared of becoming older.”
Pauline Dibbets, psychology lecturer at the UM, has not done any research into the fear of becoming older, but has done into the fear of spiders. Using an Indiana Jones type of game, she tells her listeners how she confronts people with their fear of spiders in her lab. The outcome? “If the reward is high enough, everyone will confront the spider.”
In the lecture ‘Are you afraid of …’ she explains what fear is – the difference between healthy and unhealthy fear – and how it works. What happens to people who have suffered a trauma and are dealing with a posttraumatic stress disorder? She subjects healthy test subjects to a traumatic experience. In a virtual reality lab, she confronts them with an assault on the street or a burning car – with a child in it – on the train tracks. She then analyses the reactions, whether the participants are still troubled by it days later, whether they start to avoid painful situations. When the thirty minutes are over, Dibbets shouts to the audience: “Anyone with a spider phobia?” No, fortunately not.
Magic without meaning is nothing; a trick, a gimmick. Magician King Robert is clear about this in his lecture Putting the sense into magic on the Bouillonstraat 8-10 (DKE). “You must have a story, explain why you are doing something. And while you are doing that, mislead your audience.” As an example, he does his cigarette trick, in which he changes an empty filter paper into a cigarette. “I can’t say: and now for the trick with the cigarette. That would be ridiculous. I can say that I’m nervous about my performance and that is why I have to smoke a cigarette.” The misrepresentation comes the moment he checks his pockets for a lighter. “When I am checking my pockets, people think: why? If I say I’m looking for my lighter, nobody thinks that is strange.” In actual fact, it is merely an excuse because that is when he secretly gets the real cigarette in order to exchange it with the filter paper later on.
Later that evening, at the Museum of Natural History, ecology consultant Ilja Zeilstra talks about bats. For example, that they eat three thousand insects every night and usually only have one offspring every year. All bat species are protected, which is the reason why Zeilstra and her colleagues are called in to assist with building projects. Plenty of bats can be found in Maastricht, no fewer than 16 of the 21 species that exist in the Netherlands. When the audience gets to use bat detectors (gadgets that transform the ultrasonic sound of bats into audible clicks for humans) in the museum garden, a common pipistrelle and a common noctule fly by.
Wendy Degens, Cleo Freriks, Riki Janssen