28 February 2007

A girl, a boy, a castle: part II

I left the story at the moment where I had decided to fly to Barcelona to meet my now-husband.

Once the tickets were purchased I got increasingly nervous. My instinct was to trust him, but nagging doubts persisted. What if this guy turned out to be wacko? What if I was getting myself into a sticky situation? I brought along contact information of another woman who lived in Barcelona, who I had also met at the seminar. And I also told myself that if things went really wrong, I could always check into a hotel or hostel.

The day of departure finally arrived. During the flight into Barcelona, I could barely sit still and was so nervous I was shaking. I was starting to think that all of this had been a very, very bad idea. I was not the kind of girl to just rush off and recklessly fly to another country to meet a guy. I was the kind of girl who was supposed to have met a boy at church, or to have fallen in love with a school friend. My mental love life scenarios for the future had always involved an all-American boy who was, I don't know, maybe a musician or poet, most likely an English major. And here I was flying to meet an older Spanish boy (at the time, I didn't really know what Catalan meant) who was, of all things, in political science!

At the baggage claim, I gathered my things, then headed for the bathroom to brush my teeth and make sure I looked OK. I decided I looked scared, but there was nothing to do but to walk through the arrivals portal. And there he was, right ahead of me. He looked different than I remembered him, but nothing I could pinpoint. We gave each other a nervous peck on the cheek, and I was relieved that he started out by telling me that he had run into some friends at the airport, friends from his year in Bologne at the Johns Hopkins SAIS program.

Great! Neutral territory. Let's go meet the friends.

Then the most extraordinary thing happened. I was introduced to the friends, an Italian guy who had just flown in for a visit, and another guy from Barcelona, and as I was giving the Barcelona guy the standard two-cheek kiss, I exclaimed in surprise, "I know you!!"

It turns out, two summers prior, I had been at Taizé (a monastary that welcomes thousands of interfaith young people to participate in their life of prayer every summer) at the same time as this guy, and we had spoken to each other on several occasions, mostly because I had wanted to practice my Spanish, and also because he had been interested in a Polish girl who was in my group. He had been a long-term resident, even considering priesthood, while I had just been there for a week.

What an amazing moment, and for me a clear confirmation that all was going to be well. Unbeknownst to us, M and I had a friend in common, and THAT VERY friend was at the airport at the VERY moment that I was arriving for the first time to Barcelona. Unbelievable.

He gave us a ride back to the city in his little car, and what I remember about that ride was the large dog that was our friend's family's pet: we were sitting in the back seat, and the friendly, hairy sheepdog, although sitting in the rear of the hatchback, draped his head between us and from time to time gave us a happy lick. I felt so reassured, and comfortable with M, and when he held my hand for the entire ride, I knew that everything was going to be OK.

Sure enough, the week was magical. M treated me like a princess, considerate in every way, and we got to know each other much better. He introduced me to Barcelona, and I fell in love with the city even as I was falling in love with him. His historian's eye showed me corners of the city in creative ways, and we strolled the streets and the beaches, ate tapas, and hung out with friends. I even met some of his family, but in a nicely low-key way, when we went to his parent's house just outside of the city. He had to work, so he would leave me with a metro card and the keys to his place, and I walked around Barcelona by myself, feeling immensely happy and wishing the week would never end.

It did, of course, but over the course of the following summer we were able to see each other quite a few more times; my brother and I stopped in Barcelona during our month-long backpacking trip in Europe, and M joined us in Berlin. And eventually, in September of that year, M flew to the US for the first time. Flew into New York, on September 10, 2001, to be exact. But that's another story...

[to be continued]


I apologize for being so very behind on blogging...I left a "to be continued" thing on a previous post that I really should continue. And we've been in two whole different countries since then, and I want to tell you about it. And it is about to be March. I don't know if that is apropos, but it just seems indicative of how FAST everything is moving. I've been married for EIGHT months! I've been living in Belgium for SIX months! And it all still feels so new.

OK, first things first. Two weekends ago, the Sunday and Monday before Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, we took a two-day trip with a couple of friends to Cologne, Germany, to whoop it up at Karneval! I had never been to any carnival celebration before, mostly because in the US it doesn't really exist unless you go to New Orleans. And my preconceived notions about carnival mostly came from pictures, involving the beads of New Orleans, the sparkly masks of Venice, and the feathers and skin in Rio.

Needless to say, Carnival in a cold country is bound to be a different animal. Also, I had imagined that there would be clearly defined boundaries between the participants in costume (the paraders and some locals) and the spectators not in costume (tourists and some locals). Boy, was I wrong. On Rose Monday, as it is called in Köln, I could probably have counted on one hand the number of people who weren't in costume. Including the four of us. M and our friend got scolded by a complete stranger for not wearing one.

And the costumes were incredibly charming and creative, often homemade, often groups of friends or family wearing the same costumes or variation on a theme. Like Halloween, but even better. Here's a group of people watching the parade, at a quiet moment:

Usually, everybody is screaming "karmelle!!!" and waving their hands in the air for the people on the floats to throw them candy or flowers. And they throw good candy! The take is almost as good as Halloween, especially if you work hard at it, lunging for flying sweets, and attracting the attention of the candy-throwers. They like to aim for someone so if you catch their eye... Our group carried an inverted umbrella for part of it, and got three big boxes of truffles! As in WHOLE boxes! As you can imagine, if you're not vigilant, this can be dangerous. M got pegged in the lip by a large chocolate bar, and it left a mark! Here's a picture of the candy-throwers:

The parades were very kid-friendly, and everyone was very friendly in general. Standing in the cold for hours (the parades go on and on) means you should be prepared, and people packed wagons full of food (and, of course, beer; these are Germans we're talking about). The man next to us offered us the cheese snacks they had brought, and despite our obvious touristy-ness (loud and clear, judging by our lack of costume), everybody was eager to tell us how great Karneval was, and thrilled that we were there. There is a huge amount of city pride, as a song and slogan attests, in the local dialect: "Mir all sind Kölle" (We are all Cologners).

The level of insider-ness and tradition, however, was clear. EVERYBODY knew the words to ALL of the songs that were ubiquitous in bars and in the parades. These are soupy, syrupy, oompah-oompah songs that are called "heart music," and as far as we could tell even the young people were cheerfully into them, singing along heartily. There are formulaic introductions to parades and when certain things are said, everybody yells "Alaaf!!!" I'm not sure what it means.

The parades were a wonderful mix of traditional costumes and horseback brigades, marchers in costume, cheerleaders, marching bands, kids and adults, and not overly elaborate floats, including one of Angela Merkel.

We stayed for two days and a night, and that was plenty. We didn't even drink that much compared to the locals, who apparently have unlimited tolerance for loud parades and lots of beer. You see the real diehards carrying beer glass holsters around their necks; all day long and all night long the party continues, for DAYS ON END! I don't know how they do it. I was ready to leave after two days. In those two days, our diet consisted largely of beer, candy, and street food; I don't think I ate anything remotely resembling a vegetable the whole time, unless you count fried potato pancakes with applesauce. This guy, pictured with our friend holding potato pancakes, apparently had an intravenous drip of beer:

We did manage to visit a couple of the classic pubs, where we got into the spirit of things, pounding on tables to the oompah music, and singing along when we could to the spontaneous eruption of patriotic songs. Our favorites were "Viva Colonia," because it was partially in Spanish, maybe, and "yadih yadih yadih yoh, yadih yoh, yadih yoh," because as you can tell, the words were a snap.

So, that was our trip to Cologne. Next time, I just need to remember to bring a costume.

As a parting shot, a group of bunny tough guys hanging out at a pub:

14 February 2007

Roses, daisies, tulips, snapdragons

Normally I wouldn't post about the sappy details regarding the flowers my husband sent to me this morning, but this has more to do with our neighbor and my bumbling French than the flowers themselves.

While I was drinking my coffee this morning, I heard the cell phone buzz. A message! Just the phone company telling me our calling minutes were dwindling. But I also noticed that there was a missed call from an unfamiliar number, at 8:15 in the morning. I must have missed it while I was still sleeping. I called it.

"Bonjour something something something..."

"Bonjour. Vous m'avez téléphoné?" I give my name.

"Oui, something something fleurs something. Quelle est votre addresse?"

OH! It's a flower delivery guy! He's here to deliver flowers! I'm looking out the window, but see no floristy vans or cars.

I tell him our address, and understand that he tried to deliver the flowers at 8:15 in the MORNING. Who delivers flowers that early? Anyway, I explain that I'm here, and he can bring them now or anytime. I think I hear him say that he'll stop by this morning.

But wait: he's trying to tell me something, in slow patient French to this lady who understands less than his five-year-old daughter. He already delivered the flowers this morning!! But to whom?

"Un homme a la troisieme etage." A man on the third floor.

"Mai, ne c'est pas que les fleurs sont pour moi? Je n'ai pas les fleurs." But are the flowers for me? I don't have the flowers.

Yes, yes. I gave them to this man. [Has me repeat my name and address. Confirms that I am the rightful owner of the missing bouquet.]

"Bon, je parle avec mon voisin." OK, I'll talk to my neighbor.

Or SOMEthing like that, because I was starting to get nervous and I don't really remember what I said except for the "voisin" part. My neighbor has my flowers!

So I go knock on his door. There is radio music BLASTing from inside. I knock louder. I continue to knock. I hear him cough. I knock again. No answer.

Unsure what to do, I go down to the street and ring his bell. (Which--this is ALL MY FAULT--has our name on it. I had mixed up the bells when I put the label with our name on it. I switch the names.) No answer.

I come back up and knock again. Still no answer, but a few more coughs. Is he sick? Can't hear me?

I'm starting to get teary. What if our neighbor has stolen the beautiful flowers my dear husband has sent to me and is deliberately not answering the door so that he can hoard them for himself?

I go back to our apartment, and write a note that looks something like this, in bad, rushed French:

"Bonjour monsieur,
C'est possible que vous avez des fleurs qui sont pour moi? Je suis la voisine à la côté, et j'ai téléphoné le floriste, qui m'a dit que il a donné les fleurs à quelqu'un à la troisieme etage. Si c'est vous, vous me pouvez donner les fleurs? Merci beaucoup."

I knock again (no answer), try to stick the note under his door, which doesn't work, and then leave it on the door handle.

Some ten minutes later, I hear his door creak open. He IS there. Another minute, and there is a soft knock on our door. I run to the door and open it, to a huge bouquet lying on the ground, his door swiftly closing, and an overpowering whiff of cigarette smoke (that explains the coughing).

I shout "MERCI!" to his door, and gratefully collect my flowers.

I have a sweet husband. We have an odd neighbor.

A boy, a girl, a castle

Disclaimer: it's Valentine's Day today, so I'm allowed to be mushy.

Ironically, although this might have been the first year of our nearly six-year relationship that we would have been together on the holiday, the Mr. is in Strasbourg this week and won't be here until Thursday. Not that it's so terribly important, because I'm as fed up as anyone with the whole overabundance of red and hearts (although Brussels is nicely low-key on the subject). But it's still nice to have a day for recognizing the importance of love (and loved ones) in our lives, and a day that prompts us to tell each other just that. And to eat chocolate.

So I thought it would be a good time to get down on paper (as it were) the story of how I met the Mister. This story is what some of my friends at the time called "a real life fairy tale." You know, in the end it's just a boy and a girl who love each other (eew, am I quoting a Julia Roberts movie?), but some of the elements--a castle, the Mediterranean, midnight by the lake, lost and found letters, even 9/11--have a fairy tale flavor.

It was March of 2001, and I was working in Salzburg as an intern at a place that puts on week-long seminars for participants from around the world on a variety of topics (arts, sciences, education, politics...). It's unlike any other seminar-type place, though, because everyone stays on site at a luxurious Austrian castle overlooking a lake with a view of the Monchsberg. There's a pub in the basement where the real bonding happens, a gilded dining hall, and every participant ("fellow") and lecturer ("faculty") comes away with a list of forty new best friends.

I suppose you can see where this is going. I was an intern, and I remember putting together the "welcome" bulletin board for that week's European Democracy session with everybody's photos and, as I usually did, noting who were the Spaniards (so I could practice my Spanish). This curly-haired guy, however, caught my attention from the first. Although he remembers that I passed out the programs at the very first lecture and that he said hello in German (thinking I was Austrian), I don't remember that moment.

Instead, I remember hanging out in the Bierstube (and pouring beers, as was also sort of part of our job description as interns) one evening during the week, and talking to some Russian dude. But out of the corner of my eye I saw the curly-haired Spanish guy and saw him approach. I don't remember what we said at the first, but I do remember that was when he found out I spoke Spanish, and that the Russian dude was forced to drift away in the face of our jabbering away (and blatant ignoring of him). That night, we stayed in the Bierstube talking until the wee hours of the morning. About what, I only remember vaguely: archeology (he had studied and worked as an archeologist), Spanish vocabulary, and opera (his favorite was Lucia di Lammermoor).

The following nights, more of the same. The night before the last day of the session, I attended a lecture and lingered afterwards, deliberately started a conversation with one of the other Spanish fellows in hopes that my curly-haired fellow would come find us. And find us he did. We spent another night not wanting to leave each other's side. I remember I tripped back to my room and could barely fall asleep.

It was the night of the farewell banquet, where everyone gets dolled up, and I was wearing my best velvet dress. As I walked towards the sweeping staircase between the cocktail reception and the dining hall, there he was, coming in the opposite direction. He said "Qué tal?" and I didn't know what to say, because of regular shyness compounded by language. "Bien?" he said, and I nodded. I found out later he had deliberately turned around and walked towards me in hopes of sitting at the same table. As an employee, however, I held back with the others until all the participants had been seated, and only then joined a table. The table I joined? Was his, of course, but with a cushion of some other people between us.

After the banquet, there was a dance, and when he finally found me sitting in a corner, we got up to go downstairs to the Bierstube, which we thought would be quiet while everyone was dancing upstairs. But someone else had had the same idea: a cadre of Russian fellows had brought their personal supply of vodka down to the Bierstube, and a large woman with smeary lipstick and a strange knit checkerboard skirt suit was drunkenly warbling Russian at the top of her lungs. We sat there and watched this bizarre scene, aware that in a few short hours, his early-morning flight would depart. I think we even played ping pong, not knowing what else to do.

Eventually, everybody else came down to the Bierstube to continue the party, and we danced. We danced like we had never danced before, and never since. It was kind of Spanishy music, and it was the sort of thing where everybody else stopped dancing and watched us: he took my hands, and told me just to look at him, and the music took hold and I followed his lead. Normally, I would have been dying of embarrasment to dance in front of others, but in that moment, the others hardly existed. Later, someone (a co-worker, I think) told me that he had never seen anything like it.

The night went on, others continued dancing, and we went outside, where the weather was frosty, and sat on a bench overlooking the lake. The lake was ringed with lights, sending a magical glow towards us, with mist coming off the warmer water in the cold air. We kissed and were quiet, at a loss for words. Then, without warning, I got up and ran away. Yes, RAN, as in full speed towards the buildings and my room. I didn't even know why. I didn't say good night, I just ran. Before he knew what I was doing, I was gone.

In retrospect, I think it was a combination of things. I didn't want to say goodbye. I thought that the most likely scenario was that I was falling for a typical Latin lothario, a guy to whom I was just a little fling. For me, all of this was a Very Big Deal, really the first time I had ever experienced something like it. And it was just this inexperience that made my right brain tell my left brain that this instinctive trust was risky. I was sure that he would depart for Barcelona and that would be the end of that. So in order to not have to say farewell, in order to avoid facing any false hopes, I ran.

And sure enough, I didn't hear from him after he left early the next morning. I consoled myself, thinking he didn't have my contact information. Maybe my logical brain was right and he had already forgotten about me. But two days later I discovered, nearly simultaneously, that he had written profusely to my unchecked non-work e-mail account (an address had been published, unremembered by me, in the session facebook), AND that he had left a handwritten letter the very morning he had departed. It had been in my mailbox the whole time, hidden under a pile of work mail. Enclosed in the letter was a calling card. He wanted me to call. He wanted me to come to Barcelona.

Overwhelmed, I didn't respond right away. I remember agonizing over what to say to him. I felt that as much as we had talked during the previous week, there was still so much he didn't know about me, or I about him. Did we share the same religious faith? Importance of family? Is he in this for the short haul or the long haul?

After writing that message and sending it, I thought that I would never hear from him again. That he would consider this all too intense, that these questions would send him away. But the opposite happened. He wrote back nearly immediately, reassuring my doubts, affirming that his fundamental beliefs squared with mine, and continuing to want to see me as soon as possible.

At this point we began to talk on the telephone, and I would regularly return to the office after dark (as I had no phone in my room) to talk to him for long stretches at a time. And always he would ask when I would come to Barcelona. Finally, knowing that with this act I was potentially changing my life, I bought tickets to fly to Barcelona for Easter week.

{to be continued}

12 February 2007

Le nouveau appartement

This is our new living room! I am so happy with this apartment that I just may never leave. I am a homebody to begin with, so the combination of a place that suits me and has space and non-moldy air just might mean they have to toss me from the windows to get me out of here.

Or food. I think food might possibly entice me to leave. Tonight I plan to make the mushroom soup (since I have leftover funghi from last night's mushroom risotto) but I'm going to have to make the arduous journey down the stairs and across the street to buy soy or sour cream, lemon, and onion. And some crusty bread.

One thing that is incredibly pleasant about this apartment (having just spent half a year going to the laundromat) is that we have a washer/dryer. BUT: why must they make European washing machines so incredibly confusing and so incredibly slow? Why did washing a load of laundry in Indiana take less than a half hour and drying not much longer, whereas here, washing is nearly an hour and drying, sometimes twice that? I do realize that this machine is supposed to run on the electricity it would take to power a lightbulb or something, but still.

The buttons are mysterious and apparently meant to be pressed in arcane combinations in order to get what you want. Just give me a temperature dial and a clothing type dial and I'm happy. This? Is crazy. The manual is in every language but English and Spanish, so my afternoon leisure reading has been deciphering the mysterious button codes in French. I suspect that even if I understood all the French, there is no doofus-proof step-by-step explanation for what to press when. Instead, there are long descriptions and complicated charts of all the possible kinds of laundry that you would ever want to wash and which buttons you might be able to push--or not--in those situations.

The numbers: are they times or degrees? The swirly symbol: spinning or rinsing or drying? What's the difference between the line in a triangle and the line in a circle? Two lines in a rectangle? My time in the laundromat by our old place has given me a basic familiarity with the codes, but it still seems that one must be an initiate in a secret society in order to unlock the path to clean clothing and linens.

I can't do laundry into the wee hours of the morning because tomorrow I have to get up extra early so as to allow time for the new half-hour long walk to French class. I can't say that I'm terribly upset about that on-foot commute, though, because it gives me an excuse to stroll past several preferred shops, including an English-language bookstore with a nice selection of world literature, the macaron place, and a store called Dille & Kamille, which is full of charming and affordable Flemish housewares. And guess what? I have a legitimate excuse to go there, because we need stuff like a bath mat and toothbrush holder. Because, did I mention? We moved!

[Update: title change. A French apartment is of the male persuasion, I just realized.]

09 February 2007

Moving Day

8 am: Wake up, stumble down the itty bitty stairs for the last time, and see that it's snowing! For the first time this winter, the snow is sticking to the ribs of the city. Feel so happy that I don't care that it's 8 am and that this might affect plans for the whole moving thing.

9 am: After a happy snowy walk to French class, am conjugating verbs--the new teacher is walking around checking our chops. By the way, the new prof is awesome! This has nothing to do with moving day.

12 pm: Back home after French class, I stare worredly at the modest pile of boxes that we have accumulated over the past two days. Wonder if we are really moving today. Snow is melting.

1 pm: After having desultorily packed a few boxes, I make a lunch trying to use up whatever heavy canned or jarred objects we have in our shelves. This involves kidney beans, capers, and tuna fish. I continue meanwhile to pack whatever fits into the few boxes that I have at hand. Look! The plates fits perfectly in the Brita pitcher box!

2 pm: The Mister arrives for lunch. Realize the plates are packed. We eat lunch from bowls. We still have not rented or reserved any sort of moving vehicle. Wonder if we are really moving today. Decide it's not the end of the world if we have to wait until the weekend.

3 pm: Pack most of contents of wardrobes into suitcases, and throw bathroom soaps and shampoos and things into plastic bags. Decide we have too many bottles of shampoo.

4 pm: Undergo a futon-wrapping exercise that involves wrapping an entire, very heavy mattress in a big sheet of plastic and lots of packing tape. Am proud of self.

5 pm: M comes home just after Polish neighbor rings at door. Polish neighbor has been hired to help us move. We like him very much, especially after he stopped being drunk and sketchy all the time. M has gotten tip from co-worker regarding Taxi Vert, a truck service that works like a taxi (and tip was suggested by moi! as he was leaving from lunch I said "ask about Taxi Vert!). M calls Taxi Vert.

5:15: Taxi Vert number 1 arrives. Driver comes into apartment and says No Way José. But in French. He has a very small taxi vert. We need a very big one. He will send a big one.

5:16: I am throwing the entire contents of my desk into whatever containers I can locate. I find myself putting the following inside of a baseball hat (a free gift from the inn where we honeymooned): two decks of cards, four coasters, a pair of goggles, the keys to our apartment in Barcelona, two boxes of matches, and two half-used tealights. (I know because I just looked. These things are still inside of said baseball cap.)

5:20: Taxi Vert number 2 arrives. This is a humongous truck, complete with driver, into which will fit all of our worldly belongings. It even has an elevator! It is raining. I guess we really are moving today!

5:30: I am throwing the rest of our clothing into random piles and bags so as to empty the furniture, because M and the Polish neighbor and the Spanish neighbor and the Taxi Vert driver are taking furniture away as quickly as I can clear it of random items. The house is emptying more quickly than I had thought possible.

6 pm: There is still tons of room in the Taxi Vert, so everybody is grabbing anything they can find. I have to yell at them not to take piles of clothing that are still not packaged in any form whatsoever, and the computer bag and my purse and the broken stuff that's going to be thrown away.

6:30: I am in the Polish neighbor's tiny car. He doesn't know how to get to our new house, but we ride off into the city. I manage to direct him there and not get hit by a tram car. I like talking with the Polish neighbor, because his French is as bad as mine.

7 pm: Almost everything is out of the moving van. The vestibule is filled with our stuff. I am embarrassed about our random belongings and bags of shampoo sitting there. While the boys unload the van, I have started to carry things up to the fourth floor (third floor in European, but let's not fool ourselves). I am already huffing and puffing and sweating and trudging.

7:15: I meet a new neighbor. He says he is quite new as well. He has a dog who is very fat with short legs and is climbing up the stairs slower than I am. I am relieved to have an excuse to climb more slowly.

7:30: We are happy that we have a Polish neighbor, because he is carrying some really heavy things by himself all the way up the stairs. M and him together carry the really really heavy things and I have to NOT look because I am convinced something is going to tip over and cause a scene of great carnage.

7:45: We are all sweating a lot. We are moving. I find myself becoming very familiar with the stains on every step of the stairs. My favorite is the one that means I am almost to the top. I am glad it is not August.

8 pm: All of our things are, miraculously, inside of our new apartment! We thank the Polish neighbor profusely and pay him a lot extra and say goodbye. We have Moved!

06 February 2007


That's what Dr. Cliff Huxtable would say to his scalliwag kids, and I guess it has entered my brain as a catchphrase of sorts, through osmosis during all those years of watching the Cosby Show. It's a nice way to get down to business, serious and lighthearted at the same time.


We're moving! I knew this before, of course, and so did you, but this week is a week of action. Last night we went to our new place (dragging random bags of things on public transportation, as I predicted we would) and moved some furniture around, and basically just tried it on for size now that it's ready for us to arrive. Today will be a day of collecting boxes, and filling them up, and we may even go to the new place to spend the night.

Moving is exciting for several reasons, but one of the reasons I like it best is that you get to arrange everything, to find just the right place for objects to live. I like unpacking suitcases and putting away clean dishes for the same reason: it's all about putting things in their places. Everything gets to be organized, you see. Forgive me if my tidy side is making too much of an appearance.


We were in Barcelona this weekend, and had a lovely time with the Mister's family. The best part was arriving; Barcelona, the place in and of itself, makes me unaccountably happy. M's father picked us up from the airport, and as we had to pick something up in the city before heading to the outskirts, we made our way through a succession of neighborhoods to avoid the beltway traffic. I just watched the streets unfold, charmed to pieces by the happy bustle and stroll of so many people. At seven pm, everybody and their brother is out, just for the sake of being out, and all of the stores are open and beckoning. In contrast, if you drove through the outlying neighborhoods of Brussels at seven pm, you might think that the plague had suddenly struck everybody dead.

But, as my new French teacher said today (started a new semester! taking a morning class! fulfilling new year's resolution to get up earlier!), Brussels is a city that requires you to suss out its secrets (er, but she said it in French). In Barcelona, everything is at your feet begging for you in warm, glowy colors. Here, you have to nibble away at the rocky gray surface before finding its chocolate--or perhaps beer-flavored--center.

I think I just mixed a lot of metaphors, but I need to go pack some boxes, so we're going to have to live with it.


01 February 2007

Nephew and nieces update

My sister must have read my intense transatlantic mindwaves and sent some new photos of my nephew. In one, he is watching the snow fall outside the window with his dad, and they have their hands up and fingers outstretched, imitating the snowflakes falling from the sky. Imagine being a one-year-old looking at snow! This crazy stuff in the air! His big eyes and awed smile say it all.

This week, while M was on the phone with his mother, both of the nieces got on the phone. The older, in her best grown-up four-year-old voice, asked about our new apartment as though they were having tea and she had heard a rumor from one of the other society ladies about it.

The younger, during her turn, stayed silent as M called her name and said "hola!" But, when his mother got back on, she asked, "what did you say to her?" Because as soon as the gooberbaby got off the phone, she started wiggling her bottom and doing a little happy dance.

Sigh. Miss the nephew and nieces. Note to self: must live nearer to nephew and nieces. If not all at once, at least on a time-share program.

Putting my movie critic hat on

A pseudo-review of two movies recently seen, one with the Mister this weekend, and the other this evening with an old Salzburg friend who has recently moved to Brussels and with whom it is really really awesome to reconnect. We followed the movie with a meal at the charming little Moroccan place around the corner, and couldn't stop talking...finally we had to make ourselves leave because it is possible that the waiter was waiting to go home himself.


In the "Highly Recommended" category, "Little Miss Sunshine." I am probably the last person in the whole WORLD to see this movie, because I think it has been playing for ages already in the States and here ('cuz they equal the whole world, duh), but it was SO good that I actually found myself crying and laughing at the same time. The actors, including the guy from the Office, Greg Kinnear, and Toni Collette, are all solid, every one. The little girl who plays Olive, a children's beauty pageant contestant, is convincingly winsome, as is the guy who plays her brother. The best thing about the movie is the ending. I was quite certain that somehow Olive would be made to triumph over all the big hair/fake smile contestants and win the hearts of all the judges by her genuine talent. Or, that she would not win the contest but that she would have some heart-to-heart with her family about how winning isn't that important, after all. A message something along these lines comes through, but in an amusingly unexpected way. It's not a half-hour television sitcome wrap-up, at least.

In the "Not so Recommended" category, "The Holiday." I thought it might be redeemed by the fact that Kate Winslett is one of the leads, but in this double-couple romantic comedy, I was more touched by a side story, an old guy receiving a Hollywood lifetime achievement award, than anything said by the couples. In the Cameron Diaz/Jude Law pairing, nothing came off as genuine amore at all. In the Kate Winslett/Jack Black pairing, Kate Winslett came off as light years older due to the adolescent jokes of the latter. And she wasn't very convincing in the portion of the movie where she was meant to be wallowing in self-pity, because she's way too self-possessed for that.

The thing that really got to me was a schtick about how the Cameron Diaz character has an inability to cry (this is indicated in the opening scenes of the movie, when she tearlessly breaks up with her boyfriend, and throughout, as she attempts to make herself cry, which is supposed to be funny but is not). The Jude Law sensitive-widower-with-cute-children guy, however, is a real weeper (this by his own admission, never actually crying onscreen). I think there is an attempt to break gender codes that say the girl is weepy and the boy is stoic. But what, of course, is the whole goal of the movie? To make Cameron Diaz cry. To show that she's really a girl who has a heart. Or in other words, that she's really a girl. And, as I said, Jude Law never actually cries, and only once appears saddish.

This reminds me of some of the scholarly work done on nineteenth-century sentimental novels: as critics have pointed out, the novels are all about inducing tears in the reader. Everyone cries in these books, tears and weepage and fluids everywhere, men included. (Think Uncle Tom's Cabin, if you've read it.) If I remember correctly, it's meant to cause proper fellow-feeling and bind society together and clearly demark the right and the wrong, the belonging and the not-belonging. Writers like Poe and Whitman do some interesting things with these tropes of tears and fluids, as well. But back to the movie: it's interesting (and blatantly manipulative) how we're supposed to find an emotional release in the release of Cameron Diaz's tears. It fits in quite well with the whole tears and sentiment thing, except in this case it is very gendered indeed. And when she runs back into Jude Law's arms (see, I wasn't even wrapped up in the movie enough to remember the characters' names), it's just, well, kind of slow and boring, and is the one time in the movie that he is supposed to have been crying. But isn't.

Now I am going to take my movie critic hat off. It had a feather in it, and was a little bit itchy.