31 October 2007

In costume

Happy halloween!

I was going to scour my photo archives for pictures of me and/or me and the Mister in costume from Halloweens past, but I think they're all either in hard copy only or on my backup hard drive, which would require labor--you know, plugging the thing in--to find, so instead I have found a mini gallery of what I think are infinitely better pictures. Sort of a catalogue of all the costumes that I found in my iPhoto library.

Cutest first. Last year I was in Vermont for Halloween, and got to witness our nephew's discovery of what Halloween is all about. At the start he was a little confused by the whole thing, but by the time my dad had taken him around to a few houses, he was all about Halloween. It doesn't take long to get a kid to appreciate the glories of people giving you lots of candy.

To up the cuteness factor even further, here is a photo of our niece and her little pal at carnival season last year. Do I not have the cutest nieces and nephews ever?

I rest my case.

Let's continue our perusal of the photographic archives. Here I am with my mom at my old abode, the House of Love. For the annual department Halloween parties, it was the Haunted House of Love. But the decor stayed up pretty much year round. Witness this photo, taken in May of 2006:

Hijinx at the House of Love were many. The following photo is me and my housemates in "costume," sort of. It's a brilliant card made by my housemate for my farewell party. It features me as Nancy Drew, and the two of them as other characters on the cover of The Secret at the House of Love. This is exceptionally fantastic for many reasons, including our love of Nancy Drew covers and the fact that the House of Love holds many mysterious secrets, one of which was that--I kid not--a wheelchair was one of our permanent furnishings. Nobody knows when it took residence at the house, but it was uncovered by some of our earlier housemates in a closet full of rubbish. It was a favorite seat for parties and in actuality proved terribly practical, because it could be driven from one room to the other. And also used for pop-a-wheelie tricks.

Now, switching gears (do wheelchairs have gears?), imagine my surprise when I discovered that I have more than one photo in my archives of random European men dressed in bunny costumes. Honest.



May your intake of candy be excessive, and may your dreams never be haunted by manic bunnies.

30 October 2007

Live, from the bus

This morning I was buoyed by the sight of blue sky and sun--it has been so many days since I have seen either. As I got dressed, full of energy to face this day, one that came with a long list of to-dos clenched in its fist, I looked forward to getting my sunglasses out of the backpack where they had languished since my surprisingly summery trip to the US at the beginning of this month.

But as I pulled on my jacket and gathered up my things, the house darkened precipitously. "Oh no," I muttered, "Can't you just wait?" Hurrying my pace, scrambling for the papers I needed for my visit to the parking reservation office (yet again), I glanced at the windows. Sure enough, the familiar sinister pelting of rain. Sighing, I grabbed my umbrella and put my sunglasses on the table.

I should be glad, at least, that I had warning in time to get the umbrella, because when I stepped outside the rain was coming down SO hard--I think the technical term is "cats and dogs." The kind of rain that had my pants drenched up to the knee in a minute, even with the umbrella.

I made my way through the downpour toward the office of "Administration Communale de Saint-Gilles Urbanisme et Travaux Publics." Fortunately, once there, the man understood my tortured French enough to grasp the problem, and a discussion ensued among him and several other jumpsuited public works men as to where the panneaux should have been placed, requiring specialized knowledge of the locale in front of our house. I even drew a picture, pointing to where--BOTH times--the signs had been placed and a big X where our window is located. Clearly, the two did not align. Someone brought up the friterie across the street as an orienting landmark. Yes, that's it! I say. In the end, I left with yet another "clear off the street-side parking" reservation, one that I hope will, this time, do the trick.

I caught the bus to head downtown--oh, did I forget to mention that that's where I am right now? I'm on the bus! writing longhand--for a visit to the costume store. Yes, that's on today's to-do list, given priority even over that conference proposal I have to write, because that I can do after 5:30 pm, whereas the stores, they close good and early in this wet, dark land called Belgium.

Why a costume store? I am hosting a petite soirée at my house tomorrow night that will be a mixture of Catalan All Saints (making panellets, little almond cookies, with a friend), Thanksgiving (making pumpkin pie), and of course, Halloween. That's where the costume store comes in. Normally, I endorse entirely homemade costumes, but this year I've taken it into my head to be Cleopatra à la Elizabeth Taylor, and I just can't get around the wig--everything else I can make, but the wig sort of has to happen.

And besides, it will be for more than one party. In Barcelona in a few weekends we're holding a similar party for all of our family and friends at our new apartment, sort of a housewarming event and, we hope, a way to institute a holiday celebration at our place. All Saints/Halloween is a good one, because people have the day off but don't usually have family commitments already, it's kid friendly and fun for all ages, and can easily combine American and Catalan traditions. Although, obviously, this year we'll be having it a little after the fact...

M. can go as Antony to match my Cleopatra for a good couples costume. Now that I write this, I can't remember if I've mentioned this to him or not. Hmmm... He'll be a good sport about it. We've been known to put together some successful costumes in th past, Bonnie and Clyde and Vermeer and the Girl with the Pearl Earring among them.

Oops, must go. Bus has arrived.

Hello again. Back on the bus, heading home. Mission(s) accomplished! I got a witch's wig that will do the trick, with long straight black hair and straight bangs. Several other stops produced some accessories. At Brico, Belgium's answer to Home Depot, I bought several meters of shiny gold chain that I can make into necklaces and hair adornment. Cost? 1-2 euros a meter. Cost for the stupid and fake-looking plastic Cleopatra jewelry at the costume store? 10-20 euros.

I also recharged my cell phone and went grocery shopping for the stuff I'll need for tomorrow. I had never shopped at the grocery in the center of town before, but I will do so again, because it was awesome! Large, well-lit, interesting food, great wine selection, and even good music (Jamie Cullum)! Although, as in every Belgian grocery store, there is one whole cooler section devoted to gross-looking mayonnaisey salads in every pastel shade of the rainbow, each one a mixture of some kind of meat and some kind of sauce. Ah, Belgians and their sauces [insert shaking head motion here].

Oh, and another thing about the grocery store: although our French teacher says they celebrate Halloween here--and judging by the costume store, they do--there was a noticeable lack of brown and orange M&Ms, or any orange and brown candy. I'm just saying.

Digression: Isn't that an odd phrase, "I'm just saying"? It really means the opposite of what it says; it means you're implying something that you're not saying. I had never noticed it until writing it down right now. Because usually it's something you're saying out loud, so I guess in that sense you are "saying." You're both saying and not saying. Isn't language wonderful?

Digression #2 [written in margin earlier]: This morning I read in the NYTimes that mice who are placed on vibrating pads for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, lose a significant amount of fat and gain considerable bone mass. They're going to start testing that on the elderly, but it makes me wonder (as I write this with shaking script and teeth clattering to the vibration of the bus) if regular bus riders (especially in Europe, where the cobblestones make for superduper vibrations) also have relatively less fat and better bone mass? Hey you scientists, you should get on that.

Anyway, we're nearing home and I feel happy to have completed my errands. There's even a little sun peeking out of the low clouds. I'll type this as soon as I arrive [editor's note: NOT].

28 October 2007

Yellowlegs and purple figs

The market today was full of beautifully autumnal foods, and even though the Mister is gone all week and I'll mostly be eating alone, I couldn't help but buy piles of mushrooms, figs, and other produce.

I even took some pictures (with the videocam, because our camera is broken!):

I'm a tad confused about which kind of mushrooms these are (they were two different purchases from two different vendors; in the picture they're mixed together). Are girolles the same as chanterelles? From a brief look on the web, I think what I bought may be two varieties of chanterelles, the ones with the brown stems being chanterelles jaunes. Not sure though, because at one stand the sign said girolles and the other had no sign.

I think in catalan they're camagrocs (yellowlegs) and rossinyols (nightingales). Translations of food names are so difficult, but oh so fun!

I know these come straight from the forest because while cleaning them I found all sorts of little surprises, included pine needles and moss and more than one little crawlie. I don't terribly mind (although I tend to drop what I'm holding like a hot potato if I see something move) because it means they are fresh and will taste the way the crunch of fall leaves sounds.

Now the question is what to do with the mushrooms? I think for lunch, in a few minutes, I'll sauté some of them and put them inside the buckwheat crepes I made yesterday, since I have leftover batter. If there are enough left after that, maybe a fall risotto...

Also, the figs, oh the figs! I've been buying them lately to put in salads with goat cheese, but since I have a whole little basket of them, I think I should try to make a tart or something warm.

The cookies I made yesterday are hiding in the background.

And what would Sunday be without the Herald Trib (featuring the Sunday crossword, of course) and a grainy baguette?

27 October 2007

Home pianoless home

Talking to my brother--with the miracle of video chat! saw his most adorablest dog for the first time!--I realized I had left the story hanging in the middle of the Mister's traveling travails.

He arrived safely, albeit five hours late, and with enough time to relax, talk, eat dinner (I made crepes for the first time in my life--why didn't anybody tell me they were so easy?) and to re-pack his suitcase, which he is doing as I write.

Also, the piano, it is not here. That which was likely yesterday was confirmed today with full cancellations of all of the people involved. I called the police so they could file some sort of document, and talked to them when they came, explaining the situation, although they refused to file any sort of document. (But I talked to them, in French, and they understood me!)

So the Mister is home, and the piano isn't. I'm just thankful it's not the other way around. Although it would be nice to have them both.

Mister in Roma

He got stuck there this morning--after waking up at an early hour to catch a taxi and a plane from Sardinia to Rome, discovering that a small light or something had malfunctioned on his plane and there was no promise of leaving for another five hours, at least.

This is bad news for a couple of reasons. One, it means less time at home between his arrival and his departure again in the early hours of tomorrow morning, when he leaves for El Salvador and Costa Rica. (Yes, this is a travelling month, indeed.) Two, if the delay continues for too long, he'll miss that departure, and that will put him in a pickle.

So I am praying that he can get on a different flight, or that they manage to get a new light for the plane lickety split. Sometimes it's the smallest things that cause a snag...

26 October 2007

The Lord does not want us to have a piano, it seems

I can't believe it. I can't believe it. I can't believe it.

They put the parking signs--to reserve our space for the piano lift--in the wrong place, again. We TOLD them and well that it had to be on the OTHER SIDE. We are in the same boat as yesterday morning.

Can I pick up the signs and move them? When it says police property all over them? And some poor guy finds his car in the no-park zone? What if I keep my eyes out and scuttle down and move them when there's no car? And if the car doesn't move?

I called the office but of course there is no answer and it's now almost seven pm. M is calling the police from Italy because he has the official papers with him (since he organized things on his way to the airport).

If there is no other remedy, we will have to cancel the lift to avoid paying YET AGAIN for their time. And the piano, meanwhile, is sitting in the entryway and annoying the neighbors.

I can't believe it.

Also, I short-circuited our electricity today.

The little earth we live in

While I was staying with my friends in Bloomington, we watched some episodes of a most marvelous BBC series called Planet Earth.

Actually, "we" is only true in part. I watched a couple of episodes with one of them, and then a couple on my own after they were both gone on conferences, feeling a little like an interloper but grateful for their in absentia hospitality. I watched them while eating crema catalana (Catalan crème brûlée--the Catalans invented it first, I do believe), the sugar topping caramelized to a perfect glassy burnt-sugariness with my friend's industrial-sized blowtorch.

I bring this up, full disclosure, because I think it's possible that the sugar high and vanilla euphoria of a perfect little pot of cream may have impaired my judgement on just how totally awesome these documentaries are. But I stand by my review, nevertheless, and am confident that they will prove to be just as awesome even when viewed while not under the influence of a creamy sugary dessert.

Sorry. I got sidetracked. Forward, ho! This series of nature documentaries is definitely the most impressive I have ever seen, in terms of outrageous fiming techniques (you keep yelling "HOW did they get that SHOT??!") and in terms of outrageous animal behaviors and creatures that you never knew existed (you keep yelling "This is CRAZY!" at whatever little baby squid or paradise bird or guano beetle they are focused on at the moment).

And it's not just the animals; as the title indicates, the focus is just as much on habitats and environments. Each episode is named after a habitat such as Jungles, Caves, or Deserts, and the processes of wind and water currents, volcanic eruptions, or plant life are equally as central as the animals.

The filmmakers went out of their way to film behaviors and events that have never before been captured on film: think snow leopards frolicking by their den, strange and rare mating dances, manta rays as big as a room. But the "normal" things become just as fascinating as the exotic, and the intricacies of life on this planet bowl you over in every shot.

Predictably, there's an ecological message in all of this. But you are never preached at. It's enough for the narrator, with his impeccable British accent, to note that the only nesting place of this flock of millions of birds is just one rocky outcropping in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic ocean. And then to show you how the birds feed the sea lions, or whatever, and the birds feed on the fish, or whatever. So you know, without preachiness, that if the waters rise, and this little outcrop is covered up, a whole lot of trouble is going to happen in the world. And that's just one small example.

So, all I'm saying is, stop global warming. And also: this baby is going on my Christmas list.

PS: there's a little preview video on the Amazon site. Go watch it. And also, if you have HD television, this might be the thing that's most worth watching in high definition, ever. There's a different version you can buy online to watch it that way.

Please accept our apologies

I realize, and I feel terribly sorry for, the fact that I haven't written in this blog for nearly a month. I was gone a lot of that time, and I made the mistake of storing up all the things in my head that I was going to write about, until the point came where it all seemed so daunting to make a dent in it and I just sort of put it off.

Which makes a good case for regular blogging, in the first place.

Among the things I want to write about are: the family reunion in Michigan, the week in Bloomington with good friends and the old IU haunts and profs, fall food, especially pumpkin pie, our new (hand-me-down) videocam, and other terribly important things I can't remember right now.

For the moment, I offer up the rambly post below, written about today's rambly day, which should give you a snapshot of what's going on with us at the moment, and bring you up to date on the piano situation. Spoiler: it's still not in our apartment.

Love and kisses and hugs and all of those sorts of things.

25 October 2007

From aliens to fish eggs

Oh, dear readers. It has been quite a day, a day whose tale must begin by gathering the threads of the piano saga. It is nearly two months since we purchased the piano, and it is still not in our apartment. As of today, it is forlornly sitting in the building hallway, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Only this week did we receive the money back from the first moving company. Meanwhile, upon my return from the US I discovered there were several calls from the store where we bought the monster. We called them, only to find that they had gotten so fed up with us not appearing to claim our purchase that they put it back up for sale.

This, needless to say, was perturbing news, and we insisted that they remove the for sale sign. They (justifiably) wanted us to pick up the darn thing, already. So we went a new route (the Mister had already found other potential carriers-up-the-stairs but we gave up on that plan) and decided to get parking reservation from the town government to park a lift, and coordinate the delivery from the store with the arrival of the lift and some extra hands, all designed to just get it up here.

That was all supposed to happen at 8 am, today. But what we discovered at about 7:30 am was that a car was parked in the essential space, and that the city had placed the no-parking-special-reservation placards on the wrong side of the building (for which we had paid 55 euros, of course). We called the number they had given us to get the police to come and move the offending car, several times, but we received brusque insinuations that our plight was unimportant to them and they were shorthanded anyway.

Meanwhile, the lift guys, who had arrived on time, are sitting there and eating our money. With their coffee and cigarettes. For breakfast.

The piano arrived at around 8:30, and everybody drank more coffee and argued and looked up at the windows and gesticulated. (This from what I could see by leaning out of the window where the piano was supposed to enter. The Mister was down in the thick of things.)

Eventually they decided to bring the piano into the building, and so they did. It is now sitting in the entryway, blocking everyone's passage and just inviting people to scrawl graffiti on it, I'm sure.

We paid the lift guys their 100 euroroos, which they had totally earned by sitting there and drinking coffee and gesticulating. So now we have paid some 150 euros to get our piano about half a foot further upwards towards our fourth-floor window. I had to leave for French, the Mister had to catch a plane to Italy, and I just wanted to cry. I had to say goodbye to him, arrive late to French, and find out I had done terribly on my last exam.

But: the Mister to the rescuuuuuuuue! After class I talked to him on the phone. It transpires that before going down to the aiport, he had returned to the parking-reservation place and insisted that it was their mistake (I made the reservation in the first place--in French!--and I can say with confidence that I indicated the CORRECT side/street numbers) and they should give us another free reservation. At the same time, he called the lift company and coordinated a time with them and with the parking reservation guy for this Saturday. And the lift guy said something about not charging us as much the second time, or something, so that's good news. Then, because without the original piano delivery guys who came with the truck this morning, we needed more lifters, he called our ex-neighbor, who agreed to come with some buddies. So he had it all set up before I even got back home.

Which was a relief. Because I was more upset this morning about the daunting thought of renegotiating and coordinating all these people, in French, while the Mister was on his trip, than I was about not having the piano. At this point the piano itself is a chimera, an illusion whose physical reality even now is masked by the hallucinatory fact that it is loitering in my building entryway.

So that was the morning. The afternoon didn't get much better. I took a nap, in part because I hadn't slept well last night. I had woken up this morning with specific, novel-length dream memories of watching a city-sized meteor land on Chicago, and the all-too-real aftermath of a major disaster. It included aliens who landed in various shapes and their alien animal species, and taking care of an alien who I wasn't sure but thought was an alien child. I even remember thinking about the theological implications of discovering that aliens were real, and feeling the old 9-11 kind of fear and chaos, even while I felt surprise that I felt resolute and maybe even brave. (PS: Did you see the series of NY Times articles on sleep and dreams? They were fascinating. Go read them.)

I didn't dream during my nap.

But I did wake up unaware of what time or day it was. Which is why, when the Mister called at around 8:30 pm, probably a few hours after I had woken up, and I looked at the clock, I started shouting. Because I was supposed to have been at choir rehearsal at 7:30. My one regular evening commitment, and I had missed it. Tonight was important, too: the orchestra conductor, the one who will be conducting us during the concert, was there to rehearse us. So I rushed out the door, grabbing my Messiah score, and caught the next bus. And of course it took me longer than usual to get there. I caught the last 50 minutes of rehearsal, though, at least that.

After a day like today, an upside-down and topsy-turvy day, one that started with disaster-dreams and ended with frenetic catching up to my regular schedule, I decided I needed a treat. So I stopped at the french-fry stand that's across the street from us. People have told me that this humble little trailer is actually well-known for delicious frites, but we had never tried them, probably because the last thing you're thinking about as you step outside your front door is "Where can I get some good snacks?" And also because, returning home, my mind is usually occupied with what we have in the refrigerator and what I can make with it, instead of the fried food across the street.

So tonight I tried them, and they were indeed tasty. Oily and hot and salty, freshly cooked, sliced from potatoes today.

And then I got another treat, only a couple of moments ago: the Mister called from Sassari, on the island of Sardinia, and he explained his utterly delicious meal to me. I was both glad I wasn't there (a bunch of older Italian professors speaking in heavy dialect) and sad to have missed the trip (I was planning to go, but it was two days of travel for one day of being there), but happy to eat vicariously through my husband's description of his glorious sampling of Italian regional foods. Including a wine that "tasted like flowers," a special myrtle grappa, and bottarga, which I've heard of but never tried--it's fish eggs that are salted, cured for several months, and pressed. It's used sort of like parmesan, grated over pasta, or served on bread or sliced as hors d'oeuvres.

On that culinary note, I need to escape to bed. I hope I will not have novelesque dreams that I remember in the morning. If I dream, I hope it will be of Italian food and the music I will play on my piano....one of these days.

04 October 2007

I am about to gush

...about being in Chicago, where it is WARM and full of sun and sidewalks and sweatpants. (Er, I don't mean Chicago is full of them so much as Americans are full of them, or fill them fully, if you know what I mean.) And did I mention the SUN? and the WARM?

I strolled around downtown today, blissfully happy, unconcerned even by the el breaking down and bums on the street. I bought overly expensive makeup that I am convinced is going to be worth it because it's one of those fancy things that is blush! and eyeshadow! and lipgloss! in one. And I bought that highly recommended Philosophy facial cleanser.

Plus: the nice people at Sephora gave me lots of free samples. Plus: behold, my buying power is great, for I come from the land of the euro. Although: sales tax? Whoa! All of the sudden at the register everything seems so much more expensive!

I also should mention how charmed I am by the green street signs that have their own little posts, and green highway signs.

And I ate Mexican food, one of those big burritos with black beans, and lo, I was content. And I drank Starbucks, unguiltily (I am opposed to the American invasion of it in Europe, but here, well, I just have two words for you: pumpkin spice).

Speaking of pumpkin, I bought two big cans of it to bring back to Brussels so I can make pumpkin pie. My longsuffering husband has promised me that he will carry them in his suitcase for me. (I don't know if he realizes how heavy those cans are.)

Speaking of the husband, he will arrive tomorrow, and then all will be right with the world. Then we will drive to Grand Rapids to experience the full impact of the gathered descendents of my great grandparents, who arrived in America 100 years ago. Given the family genes, it will be sort of like a blonde giant convention.

01 October 2007


Although the title of this post might suggest otherwise, I'm not exactly homesick (besides, in two days I fly to the US!). But it's a gray, spitting, Brussels Monday, and this poem I just found (in a book of German Expressionist poetry that I picked up for two bucks in Harvard Square) perfectly captures that gray feeling of exile and distance.


I cannot speak the language
of this chilly land,
nor walk in its pace.

The clouds that drift past
I also cannot read.

Night is a stepqueen.

I always have the Pharaoh's forests on my mind
and kiss the constellations of my stars.

Already my lips are glowing
and speak distant things,

and I am a colourful picture book
in your lap.

But your face weaves
a veil of weeping.

My shimmering birds'
corals have been gouged out,

on the hedgerows of the gardens
their soft nests are turning to stone.

Who will anoint my dead palaces--
they bore the crowns of my fathers,
their prayers sank into the sacred river.

~Else Lasker-Schüler (tr. Esther Kinsky)