27 April 2007

Leaping leopards!

I don't know why little orphan Annie's exclamation of choice came to mind, but come it did, and one must not doubt the veiled mechanisms of the unconscious cogwheels. Maybe something to do with spring, as I've had G.M. Hopkins line in my head all week: "Nothing is so beautiful as spring, when weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush."

In fact spring has nearly become summer, in a strange turn of events for the Brusselsians, who are beside themselves with glee. I guess global warming is to their benefit. Brussels will soon be the Andalucia of Europe, perhaps?

I was prevented from enjoying the sun this week by the worst headache I can ever remember having, that left me moaning for two days, and wasn't great for my work. But gradually it got better, and yesterday on my way home from French, bearing an adorable little pot of Lily of the Valley, I couldn't help but stop at the hilly little park near our house, and sit and read, enjoying the sun and air. So, I guess the other way around isn't great for my work either.

I'm off, in a matter of minutes, to catch the train to Strasbourg, where I will meet M and his parents. We'll spend a couple of days there, and then they will come here for a couple of days, so I've been getting the house ready for an in-law visit, hooray!

That also means I won't see you again until next week, so leaping leopards! I'm off.

24 April 2007

So I hear

The accompaniment to my day:

From the front bay window, the ring of the schoolbell at the Institut des Filles de Marie, and the cacophany of children playing during the never-ending recess (I assume different classes take turns, otherwise I'm not sure when these kids study). They are amazingly capable of constant shrieking, making me never want to be a middle school teacher. Or at least one who has recess duty.

Also from the front, the swoosh of cars and the clatter and squeal of the trams. At night, the electric cables sometimes flash so you think there is lightning.

From the living-rooom-wall neighbor, a constant undertone of top-40 radio, punctuated by the channel's theme ditty, "Rah-dio Con-tact!" sung in that cheesy pseudo-chorus of voices that I so absolutely loathe and is one of the reasons I hide within my heart an undying loyalty towards public radio.

We only hear from the bedroom-wall neighbor from time to time. She plays a beautiful Moroccan music that, although it sometimes is on at 8 in the morning, is not terribly bothersome.

From the kitchen, the coo and chortle of the two pair of Wood Pigeons that live in the back garden trees. I am very proud of myself for painstakingly identifying these birds via online bird-identification guides, because while I knew they must be pigeons or doves, I didn't know what kind. They are certainly much more beautiful and peaceful than the peckish city pigeons, and their color is a breathtaking dusty lilac-gray, with an almost pink breast, and a ring of white and shimmery green around the neck. I want to paint my house in the colors of those birds. I also like them because they are always there, and always in pairs. The neighbor's cat sometimes tries to sneak up on them, but they always notice in time.

You know, with children and doves as my audible outdoor neighbors, this is a veritable peacable kingdom. A calming influence for when I might wish to smash the Radio Contact machine.

23 April 2007

If you check this blog regularly, I apologize

How scandalous of me to have not written for so long. Easter has happened, and with it endless choices for the kitchen we are putting in the apartment in Barcelona. Trips to the glass store for glass, the marble store for marble, the cabinet store for cabinets, and so on and so forth. Plus, lots of catalogues for the things there were no stores for. How is one supposed to know what it will look like when all of the pieces are put together? We hope good taste + good taste (times 46)(times tiny catalogue pictures) = a kitchen and bathroom in good taste. It was a hectic week, but progress is underway; most notably, there was a whole wall knocked out where we are putting the kitchen.

We spent our twelve days of Easter break in Barcelona first with my brother (in town for a visit the first weekend) and his girlfriend, then with our contractor, and then with M's parents on the Costa Brava. It rained the whole time, pretty much, but we have been amply rewarded since our return (two weekends ago already?) with beautiful weather in Brussels.

What of note in our little Bruxellois household has happened?

First of all, the girl whose furniture we are babysitting never showed up to get her stuff! We thought that we'd return from Easter to an empty house, but upon not hearing from her despite our e-mails, suspected that she had abandoned the idea. Sure enough, we later discovered that she still hasn't found a new place in Madrid, and so is putting off the moving truck. This is not exactly a problem, since we rather like her things, it's just that it would have been nice to know, as we are trying to figure out replacement furniture.

Second of all, I'm in the process of joining a large amateur choir called the Brussels Choral Society, and it's making me deliriously happy just to be able to sing (I've rehearsed with them for two weeks now). They're working on an upcoming concert of Fauré, Rachmaninof, and Duruflé, some of my all-time favorite music, so I'm pretty excited. My audition is this Thursday. Fingers crossed! Oh, and guess where the next concert will take place? The church of Chant d'Oiseau, which is of course the French for Cant d'ocell.

I've already gotten a nice perk from the choir: this weekend M and I got free tickets to see the Brussels Symphonic Orchestra that were offered to any BCS people who wanted to sing "Land of Hope and Glory" from the audience, during the final Elgar Pomp and Circumstance number, and we had a ball. They performed the Elgar Enigma Variations, a piece that I also adore, and the encore was the Colonel Bogey theme, which, as the conductor said, they would only perform "à la condition que vous sifflez"; we had to whistle the tune, conjuring up visions of cheerful campers wearing neck kercheifs, and leaving everyone with a smile.

This week we made a trip to the US Embassy here in Brussels, as we needed several documents notarized: a form to get a US taxpayer number for M so I can pay my NOT overdue taxes (living abroad you get a two-month extension, which I found out only ON April 16 when I remembered about taxes), and a form for me to get a new birth certificate from the State of Iowa (because the birth certificate with my date of birth on it is, according to the Spanish government, outdated, and they need a "current" one in order to process our Libro de Familia and recognize us as married. Makes sense, right?). Anyway, although once inside everything was as friendly and bureaucratic and waiting room-y as could be, the process of getting inside gives you the sense that the good old US of A is not exactly the picture of friendliness, even in matronly Brussels.

Unlike any other embassy on a whole street full of embassies, they had a huge swath of the avenue blocked off with manned police trucks and big X-shaped iron rods strung with barbed wire. As we approached, an armed guard approached us and in three languages asked if we were "just passing by?" or if we "have any business with the embassy?" We explained what we wanted, and he showed us which gate to enter. Several guards inside just stared at us when the door wouldn't open. Evidently, they only let one person in at a time, and you just have to wait your turn. Once inside, the screening of your belongings is much more personalized and detailed than in an airport, and they held onto my iPod, lipstick, and a tube of lotion while we went inside. The guard kept telling me that I didn't look at all like my passport picture (taken last year), and I didn't know if he was joking around or quite serious. I said I had gotten new glasses, so... He asked, are you sure this isn't your sister? Again, was he joking? Not sure.

Speaking of the Great States, I finally got tickets to fly there for three weeks in May. I'm giving a paper in Halifax, a new niece or nephew is due to be born, and a cousin is getting married. I plan on doing lots of hanging out with family and soaking up of New England. I also plan to buy shoes in my size (nonexistent here), file my taxes, and buy other random things that are more expensive or nonexistent here. Oh, and I guess I'll have to work! This week also brought a firm resolution to improve my working habits and get some tangible results. For one, I've got to write the paper for that conference!

What else? This weekend we saw both a high-speed police chase (two police cars swerving after a zipping motorcycle that then sped into a neighborhood park) and some sort of assault downtown at the Bourse (a guy running away, a guy covered in blood). We actually just missed seeing what had happened because M had stopped to buy me a rose. You see, on Saturday we celebrated Sant Jordi, the Catalan sweethearts' holiday that is actually today (but today M is in Strasbourg). Traditionally, on this, the day of Shakespeare and Cervantes' births, the day of Saint George, lovers give one another a book and a rose. To celebrate, we went to the English bookstore and each chose two books, one for ourselves and one as a surprise for the other. We actually ended up with a few more books than that (because after all, there was that 2 for 3 deal , and there was that half-price cookbook!), but ah how gleeful the feeling of coming home with an armful of new books! I can't wait to read them. I'm going to finish the Umberto Eco novel (The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna) I'm reading at the moment as soon as possible, especially since I'm not terribly enjoying the ending, so I can dive into The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, or maybe the Ian McEwan novel, or the Orhan Pamuk novel (he was this year's Nobel Prize winner).

Also this weekend I learned more about French politics than I had ever known. Just for starters, I had no idea that the elections were in two phases: first to establish the two front-runners, and then a second phase to choose the president. We went to the "Café Ségolène," the designated place in Brussels to watch the elections for supporters of "Ségo," although we were late and didn't arrive until after the big moment, with the closing of the polls and the first tallies announced. So it's going to be a race between "Sarko" and "Ségo," and it's going to be a traditional showdown between Right and Left. Speaking of "Ségo": why is the nickname for the woman candidate her first name, and the men all are known by their last? I can't help but be suspicious, because I've noticed this before. We have "Hillary" on one hand, and "Giuliani" on the other. My students would infuriatingly refer to any woman author by her first name, whereas there was no problem referring to the men by their last. Why is this?

Anyway, there's little doubt who I would vote for, if I was to vote, but I've admittedly watched little of the run-up and don't know enough about either candidate. I do know Royale (see, she has a last name!) is a buddy of both Dean and Zapatero, but I don't know enough about the details of her campaign promises, and I also know she's not favored to win, as the hype and enthusiasm surrounding her campaign has diminished quite a bit. At the café, where unbridled enthusiasm for Royale and rampant derision for the other candidates prevailed, it was fun to watch the commentaries, and see some of the presidential hopefuls from the pool of 18 or so appear on the news roundtable to speak to the French version of Diane Sawyer. These of course, were the candidates with somewhere in the range of 1 or 2 percentage points of the vote, the Green Party leader, and the Communist leader, for example. Oh, and I can tell my French is improving, because I could understand the post-election podium speeches, if not the whirlwind of commentary afterwards. C'est la politique.

So there's my update. I'll try not to go so long without writing before next time. A very belated Happy Easter, and a perfectly on-time Happy Sant Jordi!