30 March 2008

Blogging retroactively

Because I don't have brilliant ideas for blog posts at the moment, and by way of fleshing out the story of my stateside visit (retroactively filling in the gaps of those not very bloggy two weeks, especially for the benefit of my grandparents, who like to know what I'm up to--hi, grandpa and grandma!), I shall make post-trip comments on my pre-trip lists. As you shall see, I did a remarkably good job of accomplishing everything. That is the purpose of lists, and that is why I love them.

This was the to-do list:

Admire some pregnant bellies: We managed to get together with my sister-in-law and a dear high school friend, both named Jen, both pregnant, in a Mexican restaurant (see below--multitasking!) in Boston. Neither knew the other was pregnant, and it was fun for all of us to catch up. Also, regarding this note: upon arrival in Vermont, my dad, eager to detect some baby envy, immediately grilled me as to what exactly I meant by admiring pregnant bellies. Will I be getting pregnant any time soon? Ah, now there's a question.

Cancel a credit card: Even though I had to listen to a series of other possible credit card offers, at least they gave me the (exorbitant!) annual fee back. Also regarding the credit theme: In college I cosigned a loan for a friend who has no family. Hadn't thought anything of it for eight years, having completely lost touch with her. Now I discover that she has not been paying her bills, and that this can affect my own credit, informed thusly by several loan people who kept calling my parents' house. Not terribly fun news. And how on earth can I find her and beg her to pay her loan and not wreck my credit?

Solve the case of the missing Pottery Barn comforter delivery: In the category of best customer service ever, we went to see the people at PB to ask them about a wedding gift (I bought it using gift certificates) that never arrived, almost TWO years ago. According to their records, it had been delivered two days after the order was made, but they STILL reimbursed us for the whole amount. I LOVE American customer service!

Watch one of the nephews walk and listen to the other one talk, shower with as much auntly attention as possible: This was the principle activity whenever they were around. The little guy is walking like crazy, always with this grin of sheer joy on his face, joy at his self-propelled mobility. The older little guy is at such a vividly intense stage right now. We had Spanish lessons, and danced, and I taught the kiddo some cool moves like the crabwalk. One fascinating world-of-the-imagination thing that he has being doing lately is that he has some sheep, but he lost them. So he's always asking people, "Where are my sheep?" "Does mommy have my sheep?" "Do you know where my sheep are?" This is all very serious business, and you have to help him in his mission to find the missing sheep. He's like a little boy bo peep. This of course fit in nicely with the Easter theme, although I hope that it didn't mess with his mind that we had solid chocolate sheep for dessert on Easter and bit off their heads in due course.

Get certified copy of marriage certificate so stupid Spanish consulate will finally be happy with our paperwork and give us a Libro de familia: There are a lot of good reasons to be from a small town, and this is one of them. Instead of long lines and a huge embassy and bored people and red tape, we just waltzed into our little clapboard town hall and asked for a marriage certificate copy. The lady there, the one who does everything, asked me how Brussels was, and if I had gotten my absentee ballot for the primaries, and if I knew so-and-so, who is living in France. Five minutes, ten bucks, and a pleasant conversation later, I had my copy. If only things were this easy on the Spanish end of things.

Eat Mexican food: I ordered burritos and tacos and black bean anything every chance I got, even at not-exactly Mexican places. And we made quesadillas and taco salad, and I was happy.

Eat mom's food: I'll say. She made some of her classic dishes, and we all were super happy. She and I pored over cookbooks and food magazines and more than once, when one of us said, "Ooh, we should make that!", the other one had already bookmarked it in her head.

Drive back and forth between Boston and Vermont a bunch of times, soak in beloved scenery: Besides the trip up to Vermont and back to get to and from the airport, the Mister and I just made one fast trip, and crammed it all into two busy days. But I just love that drive, the views from the highway, the way the mountains welcome you as you travel further north, how the snow goes from nothing to little islands of snow in shady spots below trees, to full blown white coverage.

See some snow: Lots of it! We had some fantastic snow/slushstorms for the driving, which made for slippery roads and slow going, but we made it all in one piece. And it was worth it to see all the snow. And we went sledding! What's winter without a good slide down the hill in a flimsy piece of plastic? Infinitely better if a two-year old is sitting in your lap and you're both screaming and laughing.

Shop: Um, I'll say. Due to the fabulous exchange rate at the moment, the Mister and I were like pigs in slop. I am embarrassed to say that I got FIVE pairs of shoes, effectively doubling my footwear wardrobe. This should last me for at least a year or two. (Remember, I have yet to find a shoe store in Europe that carries shoes in my size, so it was kind of a necessity.) But everything was such a good deal with sales, and then with the exchange rate it was crazy cheap. The Mister bought two beautiful suits at one of those suit warehouse places, lots of dress shirts and ties, and blazers and pants. Clothes-wise I got a few things, including jeans, an adorable velvet blue coat lined in polka-dots, and a dress that hopefully will work for one of the weddings we'll go to this spring and summer.

Rifle through my things in my parents' basement, soak in beloved books (and snatch a few for expatriation): It's always kind of bittersweet to do this because I end up wanting to take all my books back with me. This time, besides a few that I grabbed for thesis purposes, I decided to take Anne Carson's translation of Sappho, If Not, Winter. I love that book and I can't wait to read through it again. Besides that, my parents gave me a bunch of novels to read, and I bought a good pile of books at our favorite Burlington used-book store. When I got back to Brussels, and stacked up all the books I had carried with me, I was amazed I had been able even to lift my suitcases. Oh, and the pile includes a Vermont cookbook, from which I have already made two recipes involving maple syrup and craisins, which I also carried back in my suitcase.

Hang out to the max with family and friends: As should be evident by now, I did lots of this! It was amazing to have the whole family together on Easter weekend, and just as fabulous to have my parents to myself during the week after Easter.

Celebrate Easter: Easter at our little white-steepled New Englandy church is so beautiful, and since I hadn't been to that service for years and years, it was especially nice to be there. My mom directs the choir, and it speaks volumes of her skills that a motley crew of singers from the church, including the requisite warbly old ladies and off-pitch "operatic" tenors, can sound as good as they do. In fact, they sounded fantastic. Plus, as always on Easter, there was a brass quartet, and at the end of the service, anyone can go up and sing the Hallelujah chorus with the choir. I sang with them, and just couldn't stop smiling as I watched my husband take pictures, familiar faces beaming from the pews, and a certain little two-year old who was stretching his mouth as wide as he could in imitation of our oval-mouthed hallelujahs.

25 March 2008

Easter week

I just made the mistake of checking Brussels weather, as I start to contemplate returning to it on Thursday. The thought is as unpleasant as the weather there, rainy and gray. At least I'll be returning to the Mister; the only advantage of him leaving three days earlier than me is that I am eager to get back to where he is.

Vermont has treated us well, in all of her late winter glory. Bright snow, brittle cold, frozen ruts in the mud, sap running, the sharp etch of the mountain against blue skies. We've seen some glorious sunsets, one of them peeking out from under the edge of a snowstorm as we drove up I-89, backlighting the snowflakes, and making me wonder if snow-rainbows exist. Another sunset painted the side of Mt. Mansfield a perfect pink.

Last night I walked to the end of the driveway and looked up at the stars. I had forgotten how brilliantly you can see the stars in a dark, clear-sky place. How they press down and around you and seem to speak or sing.

This has been a fabulous trip, and I seem to have lost my willpower to blog when the far more appealing option of hanging out with my nephews or siblings is available. Easter weekend went by so quickly (Happy Easter!) but it was wonderful, and the Easter service was so bubblingly happy and beautiful and Vermonty. Also, watching a two-year-old look for easter eggs is probably the most entertaining thing ever.

He has just learned how to leave phone messages, so we've received some gems this week, including one in which his one-sided conversation goes: "Hi" [pause] "gooood" [pause] "I love you" [pause] "Bye", then, in off-stage innocent consternation, "Why don't they answer?"

Let's see, other than nephew cuteness, there were plenty of card games, a lot of really and truly good food, my (little!) brother's 21st birthday, and a whirlwind trip to Boston during which we got to see some good friends and their babies (or to-be babies), tour my brother and sister-in-law's renovation, visit the MFA, and find some deeply discounted suits to suit the Mister for his new job (starting April 1).

I promise to get back to my regularly scheduled blogging once back in terra belga on Friday. Until then, I'll be soaking up my share of Vermontiness and eating more than my share of my mom's lace cookies.

12 March 2008

Two lists

Things I am going to do while in the US:

Admire some pregnant bellies
Cancel a credit card
Solve the case of the missing Pottery Barn comforter delivery
Watch one of the nephews walk and listen to the other one talk, shower with as much auntly attention as possible
Get certified copy of marriage certificate so stupid Spanish consulate will finally be happy with our paperwork and give us a Libro de familia
Eat Mexican food
Eat mom's food
Drive back and forth between Boston and Vermont a bunch of times, soak in beloved scenery
See some snow
Shop (see below)
Rifle through my things in my parents' basement, soak in beloved books (and snatch a few for expatriation)
Hang out to the max with family and friends
Celebrate Easter

Things I am going to buy while in the US:

Size 11 shoes
Cinnamon gum
Books of all sorts
American magazines that don't cost 9 euros
Philosophy facial cleanser
Macaroni and cheese
Aveeno facial moisturizer
Cabot cheddar cheese
Clothes, esp. suits for the Mister (exchange rate being what it is)

We're leaving in two days! Unfortunately, the Mister and I are on different flights. At least we'll end up in the same place, and at least he'll be there the whole time (we initially thought he'd be in Central America for the first chunk). Hooray for hometowns and family!

Just one link

...that I meant to include in my previous entry. The New York Review of Books' review of Oliver Sacks' book, Musicophilia.

Oh, but while I'm at it, also in the NYRB, Nicholson Baker defends Wikipedia and catalogues his fascination with it, especially his efforts to save articles from deletion (in the process defending the delights of arcane knowledge and the preservation of obscure information for its own sake).

He makes passing reference to Stacy Schiff's New Yorker article from July of 2006 (includes an amusing editor's note about the fake identity of one of its sources), but not the New York Times' article from July of 2007, which I remember bookmarking because I wanted all of my students to read it. (It's a nicely balanced answer to the beleaguered undergraduate's question: "Why can't I cite Wikipedia for my research paper?")

Also, by way of useful context for Baker's Wikipedia defense, the New York Times recently published a review and excerpt of his new book. Having read this, it does not surprise me that he's a fan of Wikipedia, because the book reads sort of like a wartime Wikipedia, in which he gathers snippets of newspaper accounts from the run-up to World War II and weaves them all together. The man went so far as to purchase entire molding archives--thousands of volumes--of various newspapers, in effect saving them from deletion, an act entirely of a piece with his Wikipedia obsessions.

Well, I guess that was more than one link. People, we live in a wiki, wiki world. (Oh, I'm not the first person to have thought of that phrase.)

And I have begun to wonder why my periodical universe is dominated by newspapers and magazines that begin with "New York."

11 March 2008

When words make a rainbow

Days and days of drizzle. The Mister's out of town. Bright spots: flea-market wanderings and Paul Klee exhibit this weekend, PSOE win in Spanish elections on Sunday, and the fact that we're flying to Boston on Friday! Haven't been to the US since October, and it's going to be great to see everyone, but especially the little squirts. Also, our concert this week at the Conservatoire, extra rehearsals, lots of singing. Looking forward to the concert high.

I finished Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia last week, which was a fascinating compendium of case-studies and research about music and the brain. I sometimes wished there had been more conclusions, more in-depth hypotheses, and fewer strings of anecdotes. But it was still a great read, and one that has gotten me thinking about the way I experience music in my own brain. The book makes the case for the many ways that music pervades our experience, inhabits our bodies, colors our perceptions, defines our very self. And I mean this rather literally, given that brain scans show just how musically involved is every last one of the mind's parts and functions--personality, memory, muscle and movement, social interaction...

A substantial chapter is dedicated to the phenomena of musical synaesthesia, introduced by a useful description of recent studies about synaesthesia in general. My husband is a synaesthete, and I'm fascinated by the topic in general, so of course this was especially interesting to me. He sees letters and numbers as colored; each letter of the alphabet has its own particular shade. He has a very good musical memory (despite having substantially less musical training than me) so I was bound to wonder if somehow this was related to his synaesthesia. Is a middle C bright green? Do certain melodic shapes have certain colors or textures? After some quizzing, this doesn't seem to be the case, but even he started to think about other synaesthetic possibilities more carefully.

The funny thing about people with any form of synaesthesia is that these sensory experiences are so "natural" and holistic that it almost is taken for granted, to the extent that many of them as children think that everybody sees/hears/tastes as they do. It's as if you suddenly realized that not everybody sees oranges as orange or apples as red. Asking a synaesthete about his or her synaesthesia is sometimes disconcerting, because he or she will seem so lackadaisical. It's no big deal, it's just the way things are. But for a non-synaesthete like me, my husband's way of seeing is utterly fascinating and akin to imagining a new dimension for every experience of letters, words, and numbers.

New research debunks the theory that synaesthesia is inherited, even suggesting that large percentages of children experience synaesthesia (perhaps we all, as fetuses and infants, lived in a synaesthetic bath of crossed sensory wires, slowly differentiating qualities of color, taste, sound, etc.), but I'd like to think that it is inherited, and that perhaps my and M's children someday will be like their father, seeing the world with an extra dimension of richness and color.

05 March 2008

Horizontal friends

Over the weekend in Barcelona, our principle task was to help the Mister's father insert made-to-measure bookshelves on our office wall. My personal contribution was of a less practical nature, however, because once I had moved all the piles of books into the hallway, I got lost in an organizational reverie, dreaming of how we will arrange them on the shelves (mostly his, since the majority of mine still reside in my parents' basement or in Brussels).

Should we separate the English books from the Spanish and Catalan books? Definitely not in the case of his history, political science, and philosophy texts, but perhaps in the case of novels and poetry? Should we organize the history and politics books by region or by time period? Should we go with the dewey decimal system? Such were my thoughts while the men hoisted heavy wooden slabs up to the ceiling. Poor division of labor, I know, but they really only needed two people...

The shelves still need to be stained or painted (another decorating dilemma that we must decide on shortly: any opinions? the photo I included here from Domino is a good idea of what the shelves will look like, over a narrower door and another case or two wide), but meanwhile I am looking forward to having a proper office, and a wall of books to gaze upon. I tend to think of my bookshelf as an extension of my inner self, which is why for years I carted books I was unlikely to need with me to college, to England, to Austria, to Spain. Even a little stretch of Rilke, Rukeyser, and Milosz at my side made me feel much more at home.

Which brings me to a philosophical difference between the Mister and I. He will buy a book even when he knows he is unlikely to ever read it, as long as it is interesting or useful or related to his field(s). I am becoming more like this, especially with my academic purchases, but my ideal has been to have read every word of every book on my shelf. The unread books stand out like sore thumbs when I look them, their forlorn spines cry out, saying "Read Me!" As I said, this ideal has become more and more unattainable, but is one that I still cling to. I suppose the rate of book purchases will always exceed the rate of reading, resulting in a library with unread books. And now that M. and I have merged libraries, the unread far outnumber the read. (Although here in Brussels, for instance, his books occupy one shelf and mine another, in part because mine are mostly literature and literary theory, and his are mostly history and political theory.)

Still, the excitement of an empty, newly painted bookshelf remains. A whole wall to fill with orderly horizontal friends, perhaps a few other lovely objects strewn among them.