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!

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