Before the professor arrives, a discussion arises about the name of the sorority, Missdaad. Does it mean anything? Apparently not. At some point in the past there was a vote between several names and this was the winner, according to Celine Notermans, who once asked a former member during an anniversary celebration. “But a name like that does bring certain possibilities with it. A handcuff evening, for example; being cuffed to someone the whole evening.”
Jos Kleinjans arrives at the same time as Katrien van Rangelrooij. This is convenient, because the doorbell to the old building on the Wijcker Smedenstraat has its quirks. “I think it depends on who’s ringing it”, muses Ilse Bekkers, who lives there. It’s not a sorority house; the rest are just visiting. The table has been nicely set, and Kleinjans places two bottles of wine on it. “Oh, how sweet, but we have our own wine”, cries Notermans. “Well then, I’ll just take them home with me again”, Kleinjans replies cheerfully. The tone is set for a jolly evening; that much is clear already.
The professor is surprised by the size of the group: just four students. “I thought a sorority would be bigger.” The full group actually numbers around twenty, but as Van Rangelrooij points out, “we don’t all fit, then it turns into a chicken coop.” Next he wants to know how the initiations work, and “whether you can also fail the hazing – otherwise there’s no point.” That he knows nothing about sororities or student associations is not unusual for his generation. “In my time it was as good as forbidden to join a student association. They were all fascists.” The students look at him in astonishment. He goes on, trying to coax the youngest, Anja Bekkers (‘Bekkers II’), to spill the beans about her recent initiation, but she holds firm: “I can’t talk about that.” When she explains that she also looked at other sororities before settling on this one, Kleinjans shakes his head. “How stressful.” As for having to see the group every week: “Gosh, there’s really no escape.”
Does it at least provide a “network for life”? “Maybe, that’s what they say”, Notermans says. “It is useful. There are older members who are already doing their medical internships, and one told me recently ‘if you want to organise something in Utrecht, just let me know’.” Kleinjans pounces on this with a broad grin: “Exactly! So it’s all just a corrupt stitch-up really.”
The mood is chipper. As the broccoli and courgette soup is served, Bekkers I asks the professor if he knows what the verb zooien means. He doesn’t, and so she explains that it refers to an activity whereby “the men tear at one another’s jackets and all the women run away”. Kleinjans sees parallels with his own plane of existence: “That happens with professors too. At conferences.”
Now it is his turn to be interrogated. Van Rangelrooij wants to know what toxicogenomics actually involves. “Explaining how damaging this soup is, for example, or this glass of wine”, the professor says. As an arts and culture student among the medical students, Van Rangelrooij has a tough time of it; the others already know things like what a genome is. It’s something to do with DNA, he explains, and the molecular process that determines how a cell functions. The three medical students pepper the professor with questions and Kleinjans, checking to make sure the reporter is writing everything down – he most certainly isn’t – responds enthusiastically, occasionally even in terms ordinary people might understand. The discussion ranges over the epigenome and hereditary qualities, “like those children born during the Hunger Winter – they’re predisposed to eat a lot later in life.” Bekkers I qualifies this: “Or to store a lot of fat, anyway. So you shouldn’t lose weight during pregnancy, that way your children won’t inherit that same predisposition.” You shouldn’t lose weight at all, Kleinjans adds. “You have all these toxins nicely stored in your fat, then they end up in your blood. We’ve studied that.”
How did he end up in the field? Starting out in pharmacology, he developed a healthy mistrust of the pharmaceutical industry, which had, he says, a great deal of influence. So he switched to nutrition and toxicology – “a good starting point for a cynical person like me” – and the next move was easy: “UM decided to invest in genome technology. The lab was right above our heads; all I had to do was go upstairs.” His point: that’s how simple things can be in an academic career.
Time for the main course: lasagne “as it should be”, a recipe of Van Rangelrooij’s, dutifully followed by Notermans and Bekkers I. “Genuinely Italian, nothing out of a jar.” But tonight’s dinner guest is a critical one. “I’m famous for my lasagne”, Kleinjans swears. What’s so genuinely Italian about this? Van Rangelrooij explains that it is made with ricotta, not béchamel sauce, and with mozzarella and Parmesan – no Gouda cheese here. At this Kleinjans admits he always just throws the mozzarella in the béchamel sauce. Oh my, says Van Rangelrooij, “that makes it very heavy.” “But tasty”, Kleinjans responds. Next he wants to know how they approached their task “tomato-wise”. Peeled tomatoes were off the cards, they say, because you need a blender for that and they don’t have one. Diced tomatoes it was. “It worked, I’m proud of you”, Kleinjans says. The students beam.
The guests are gathered in Bekkers I’s room, where a large crocheted blanket is hanging over a chair. It’s almost finished. “I made it during the science internship”, she says. Kleinjans laughs. “Oh yes, plenty of time for that of course.”
Dessert is announced. “Greek yoghurt with cinnamon, Bastogne cookies and raspberries”, says Bekkers I proudly. The conversation turns to cooking together, eating together, constantly what’s-apping one another and getting together as often as possible. Van Rangelrooij studies at FASoS on the Grote Gracht – Kleinjans: “FASoS? What is that?” – but is happy she is now following a minor in psychology. “Randwyck is super fun, you at least run into people there. At FASoS there’s nothing going on.”
The issue of the lack of women in medical science is raised. Notermans was once told that a woman who “wants a personal life and children is better off not becoming a surgeon.” The group finds that entirely inappropriate. “But you do have more women GPs”, Kleinjans says. True, Notermans replies, “both my parents are GPs”. Kleinjans, chuckling: “And are they both women?”
The professor asks about Maastricht as a student city and receives a flood of enthusiastic stories. The ladies then tell him about their excursion to Berlin, the next day. At this, Kleinjans recommends a restaurant where he was once served by a woman dressed in dirndl with an enormous dragon tattoo on her equally enormous bosom. “And this creature got bigger and bigger as the evening went on”, he recalls.