17 July 2007

Summer suitcase, or, la maleta d'estiu

It's one of those pre-departure evenings--you know the kind--of doing last-minute laundry, and taking out the trash, and putting things in semi-orderly piles so that the return view of the house in a month and a half isn't horrific.

Tomorrow we are off to Barcelona to begin, at long last, some semblance of a summer.

Although tonight it is back to pouring rain and chilly air, this weekend we actually did have something that felt summery: a couple of hot days, a bit of sunshine here and there, enough to wear sunglasses and sweat a bit--and a barbecue with friends, to boot. I've never been so happy to sweat.

I'm sure we're going to do a lot more of that (sweating) once in Barcelona, both for appealing reasons (say, weekends at the beach), and not-so-appealing reasons (the back-breaking labor of putting our house in order). But behind the unsavory prospect of hard work in the dog days of Spanish summer, sans air conditioning, is the exciting prospect of having a proper home of our own in Barcelona and getting it all set up.

I'm most eager to see how our house has shaped up now that the kitchen has been put in and the walls have been painted. The wall color question is making me the most nervous, because we had to choose paint colors via e-mail and internet, a process that I would not recommend, and M., who saw the apartment last weekend, is describing the colors as rather different than we had envisioned them. The calming light blue-gray that I wanted, for example, in the living room, sounds more like an energizing vibrant sky blue. Oh dear.

I'll do my best to update the blog with the results, and pictures, if I can get a card reader or magically make my computer acknowledge my camera's existence again. Also, I'm not so sure about the internet connection in our new place, due to Telefonica's notorious slowness in setting up accounts, so it may be spotty for a while. At least, however, I'm pretty sure it'll be sunny while the internet is gone, amounting to a kind of cosmic compensation.

11 July 2007

(Un)moving day

I am sitting in the midst of a house full of furniture in various states of disarray: dining room tables with their legs removed, a sofa wrapped in old curtains, a host of bubble-wrap sheaths, a mattress trussed up like a pork tenderloin.

All of this is happening because, some five months after we moved into the place, the previous renter has finally come back for her things. It took her a long time to find a new apartment in Madrid, so we forgive her. But still, we've been looking forward to this for a good long while, anticipating the day our apartment is really ours. Even the things we loved so--and she sure has some beautiful furniture (good bye red-orange sofa! good bye lustrous wood table! we will miss you!)--were still not ours, and thus imparted a feeling of sort of not really living in our own place.

Ever since we found out that this would be happening, less than two weeks ago, we've been feverishly trying to find furniture that 1. we can afford, and 2. isn't crappy. This is easier said than done.

We have mostly resorted to online classifieds, and fortunately for us, Brussels has a huge turnover population, what with people coming from all over to live here for a short stint at the EU institutions. Everybody and their brother is selling furniture. Unfortunately for us, ninety percent of what's available is Ikea furniture. Don't get me wrong: Ikea's great for some things, like odds and ends and decor and decent shelves and tables.

Last weekend we went to see a secondhand Ikea dining room table and chairs and ended up buying a bed from the people as well. They are moving back to Puerto Rico, and asked if we needed anything else, and we said a bed. Well, they said, that's great because we'd like to sell ours! Chagrined, they added, the only problem is that we don't want to sell the mattress. Perfect, we said! Because we have a mattress! And indeed, it worked out perfectly. Our futon mattress fits nicely in the frame, and the frame looks good in our room, and boy were we ever happy to have our queen-sized mattress back! (We had been sleeping on her full-sized bed for lack of a frame to put ours in.) It felt gigantic, like we could have bowling competitions right there in our pajamas!

For a while there we've had the house full: two sets of beds, two sets of dining table and chairs, etcetera. The only thing we can't find is a sofa, because--and here's my quibble with Ikea--all the cheap Ikea sofas that people are selling look pretty crappy. They look like Ikea, you know? Like that extra guest room futon that seems great because it's both a sofa and a bed, but in the end it's not good at being either. I speak from experience: we have a tiny Ikea futon that's the most uncomfortable thing to sit on, and one of the slats broke and a bolt busted loose while we were sitting on it. It looks like it's going to be our sofa for a while again, though, until we find something better.

Anyway, gotta go! The moving truck and its big fancy hydraulic lift is busy hydraulicizing up to the window. Eeeek! Here it is! Kind of creepy, you know? A big machine creeping up and appearing at your fourth-floor window?

10 July 2007

If they were pennies, I'd have a dollar

It's, um, hailing outside. Is that allowed to happen? Big pellets of ICE falling from the sky in JULY? Just wondering.

This meteorological phenomenon is probably Brussels' way of celebrating a momentous event: 100 posts over here at chez Cant d'ocell!

I know one hundred is a wee tiny number in the general world of blogging, but I'm actually surprised that I've managed to keep it up at a fairly regular pace these last few months, so Happy One Hundred Posts, little blog!

06 July 2007


If you say it fast, it sort of sounds like a teenager's exclamation, but the Ommegang is actually a centuries-old Brussels tradition, which we attended yesterday. (If "attended" includes watching the free parts and craning our necks from the outside to avoid paying for 60-euro tickets.)

A long time ago, when King Charles was in charge of half of Europe (you didn't know that eighties sitcom, Charles in Charge, was really about a sixteenth-century king, did you!?), he deigned to visit Brussels. Everybody turned out in their Sunday best, and put on a show of all their favorite tricks: knightly hoseback parades, peasant jigs, synchronized flag-tossing, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, the king and his upper-crust buddies munched on tasty snacks in the red velvet-lined pavilion overlooking the Grand Place.

Everybody had such a great time that they just never stopped doing it: every single year since then, they have repeated the spectacle, complete with people personifying the king and his court, munching on snacks in a red velvet pavilion, jesters running around in the crowds to make them laugh and/or uncomfortable, and a couple of guys in sixteenth-century janitor costumes who run out with a wheelbarrow and a straw broom to sweep up the horse doodoo (this we know because we were behind the bleachers and our main view was of these guys and their comings and goings).

Over a thousand people dress up in period costume, a huge array of styles and colors, and they make a procession on their way to the Grand Place in well-coordinated groups. Each group represents some sort of social class, profession, or political fiefdom, and most of them put on some sort of performance once they arrive. We caught the beginning of the parade--the mingling of old and new is quite amusing, as, say, the tram (plastered with fast-food advertisements) speeds past a calvacade of horseback knights and a bakers' guild.

After the parade passed, we took a different route down to the Grand Place in time to see some of the first groups arrive. The most amazing thing that we saw was the flag-throwing bunch: it doesn't sound like much, but huge flags twirled in the air and tossed from person to person in quick succession, all in swooshy color-coordinated motions, is pretty darn cool.

Once the first raindrops started pelting us, we felt luckier than the people huddling in blankets up in the bleachers, and headed to a cozy lambic pub, La B├ęcasse, to warm up over a beer.

04 July 2007

Nothing says USA like the big screen and a jumbo bucket of popcorn

While the fourth of July brings visions of beach blankets and barbecues, spitting watermelon seeds and setting off fireworks, here in Brussels it is raining in a cold, ugly, spit-in-your-face, "HAH! so you THINK it's the fourth of JULY!" kind of way.

So in lieu of any other way to say "rah rah hooray" America, M and I and an American expat friend are going to see the sneak peek of Ratatouille at the downtown cineplex. They have a full roster of previews of American movies today, and I guess it makes sense to soak in Hollywood's fireworks if we can't have real ones.

One year ago on this date, we were on our honeymoon in coastal Maine and we watched fireworks off the pier. The sky was so foggy that they were just soft watercolor smears, but it was very endearing in a small-town kind of way: kids with ice cream cones, hot dogs and lobster rolls, little flags, a bright red firetruck.

That's the America I miss sometimes: the America of towns where there is no gigantic cineplex, where everyone says hello, and where there is a general store on the corner. The America of front porches, lawn ornaments, and--you knew I had to say it--apple pie.

Happy July fourth, everyone!

02 July 2007

One year

Exactly one year ago today, the Mister and I became Mister and Missus.

What I remember of the day is all sunshine, flowers, and music, and the happiness--no, the blessedness--of knowing the man I love will be by my side for the best and the worst of life, no matter what.

It's been an incredible year, and has seemed both more than that--our wedding seems aeons ago, and we feel like we've always been married--and less--where have these months gone? It's already July again?

This weekend we took a trip to Luxemburg to celebrate, stopping in the capital for some sightseeing and super Italian food, and then on to the small town of Echternach, in the "little Switzerland" part of the country, on the German border, where there is a wonderful music festival every year. We heard a concert of 17th century popular music that was written for the journey on the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James)--a fabulous performance, and a great idea for a concert!--and the next day we went to an exhibition on the same subject, then touring the town and its surroundings.

Although both days we were there were low-country gray (somebody should market that as a paint color) and sweater-cool, it didn't rain until we were boarding the train to come home, so we can chalk it up as great weather.

In this village, it's possible to rent a medieval tower for your vacation, which looks like the coolest thing ever, so next time we'll bring a group and live like castle guards. It will definitely beat our dingy lodgings that were "recommended" by a friend of a friend, although they ended up being very romantic in a bohemian garrett kind of way.

The concert and the exhibition on the Camino de Santiago got me thinking about the journey metaphor, the road of pilgrimage, which was appropriate as we celebrated our first year of married life. We're only on the first stop at a wayside inn, still eager for the long journey ahead of us, but I know that our path, walking it together, will be a beautiful, joyful, and adventurous one.