Friday, November 28, 2008

Warning! You are a potential victim of this blog

The Belgian bloggers are quite upset, the emotions are stirred. The Controversion seems to be everywhere. It's war claims Houbi.
The following badge has been created by Adhese and spread (as well as other warning variations) while Houbi got creative with old war posters.

So what is it about? The Belgian minister for Defense, Pieter De Crem, was in New York with a delegation last week to meet with UN representatives. But the UN was gathering in Geneva so his appointments got cancelled. Apparently the group visited a bar , they were (quite?) drunk and openly talked about being aware of the cancelled meetings but deciding to go to NY anyway as some of the delegation had never visited the city and they didn't feel like cancelling.

The Belgian girl working in that bar was quite upset about their waste of Belgian tax money and posted about it on her blog. It must have been picked up I suppose, but 4 days later she's fired on the spot by her boss who would have received a phone call from th Belgian political delegation, which she mentions again.

In the mean time the story truly gets picked up by the Belgian media and Mr De Crem gets questions about his NY trip in the Belgian parliament. After first denying, then admitting the phone call, he all of a sudden claims the following in the house of representatives:

I want to take this opportunity and use this non-event to signal a dangerous phenomenon in our society. We live in a time where everybody is free to publish whatever he or she wants on blogs at will without taking any responsibility. This exceeds mud-slinging. Together with you, other Parliament members and the government I find that it’s nearly impossible to defend yourself against this. Everyone of you is a potential victim. I would like to ask you to take a moment and think about this.

Dangerous phenomenon? Without any responsibility? Everyone a potential victim?

Ok if he wants us to take a moment to think about it, then I will. Not because my opinion and post here is going to bring any added value in the controversy. Everyone else has already given all valid remarks. I want to post my reaction, simply because I am free to publish my opinion indeed. Whether Mr De Crem likes it or not, it is my right to express my opinion via any media, my blog included. If I want to write a long post why I see him as a representative of a group of sour uptight politicians that love to criticise any opponent's action but react very childish to any criticism they receive themselves. Why not? It might be subjective and opiniated, but I could publish that.

Let's nuance a little: Pieter De Crem gained his nickname "Crembo" within 2 weeks of being in function. He's not quite known for nuanced opinions and eufimisms. Isn't he the one who associates some of his political opponents in the family of "Osama Bin Laden and those who rape and cut off the ears of children"? So his strong remarks towards bloggers shouldn't surprise us.

Nevertheless he's the one who writes on his webpage as a welcome message.
Getting in touch with you has always been at the heart of my political engagement. Essentially, politics is a dialogue with the citizen. This conversation between you and me can be held in many ways. The internet helps close the gap between the citizen and the politician, it helps to close the gap between reality and policy as much as possible

Whaaahaaaa, internet helps to close the gap between the citizens and the politician, between reality and policy....but beware of the bloggers as they are a very dangerous species. yeah right, talk about empty words.

Look, let me be clear: I don't think the girl working in that bar should have blogged about her employer's customers. That's not really done. She claims she knew it was a risk (on a comment on the Facebook group that has been launched to fight her firing) but that she was too upset about the "vacation trip" that she thought it was her duty. Hmm tough call. I don't think I would have done it.

Nobody cares at all either whether De Crem and his delegation was drunk or not. So what. Belgians don't care, on the contrary. We keep electing ministers that are known to appear drunk in public and who's appearances are huge Youtube hits.
Was this an unnecessary trip to NY at the expense of the tax payers....that's something the parliament needs to watch, judge and control. And I would expect that this case would be easily verifiable.

So as a matter of fact this could really have been a non-event.
But if it was a non-event...why did the delegation bother to make the phone call to the bar and then deny it first? Why did they simply not ignore it and let it blow over?
Either the UN meetings were cancelled before they left and then he has to clarify himself in the parliament (and if he thinks his reputation has been harmed by the blog, there are legal steps that can be taken)....or they were not and then it's the blogster and the opposition in the parliament making a fool of himself.

But all of that should not touch the freedom of speech at all. Everyone can have an opinion and express it via any means. If one commits harm to one's reputation, there's legal measures to protect you from that. So it is wrong that you can't defend yourself, it's wrong that bloggers do not need to take responsibility (as does anyone who publishes / spreads news via other media!).

I can only conclude that Mr De Crem does not want to bridge the gap between the citizen and the politician even though he got elected by grace of the citizens. He is paranoia for the citizen's criticism and does not value it. He's a victim and we are dangerous!
If that's his attitude, he maybe should not have chosen a political career. Check this out, Mr De Crem.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

what I'd like to know tonight

Is there any American family gathering tonight around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving
....and not serving turkey at the meal?

I'm just curious. If you're out there....leave a comment

Anyway, whatever is on the menu, I wish you all a good time with your family. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai attacks

When fun exotic vacation memories have mutated themselves in an explosive nightmare at boiling point in the late night feel a big nod in your stomac.

Victoria Terminus looks like this at the moment

The magnificent Taj Hotel at India Gate is currently the scene of fire, explosions and hostages.

Shit!! What's going on?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fish and pumpkin

What do you do when a good friend comes over and she doesn't eat meat?
And you have a huge pumpkin laying around (and already a freezer full of pumpkin soup)? Then you need creative pumkin/fish recipes.

Anyone? You google. Simple isn't it.
And then you land here. Sounds good and not too difficult right? Well it is very good and not too difficult and to us it was a new combination of ingredients.


  • 2.2 lbs (=1kg) fish fillets or slices, Kingfish or Red fish
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 c. sliced onion
  • 1 tbsp. ginger powder
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. chopped pimentos (eum if you don't like spicy, take less....I unseeded our peppers but it still gave quite a spicy touch to the sauce. We liked it , but don't tell me I did not warn you)
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 c. evaporated milk (hahaha that made us laugh so much... do we have to gather milk condense? :p...ok wikipedia told us what we needed but we took normal milk nevertheless).
  • 1/4 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. cracker crumbs (we took chapelure)

1. Wash and dry fillets/slices. Place in greased baking dish.
2. Melt butter. Saute onions, ginger, garlic and pimentos over low heat for two minutes. Mix flour with milk. Add to sauteed vegetables and stir.
3. Add pumpkin puree. Stir mixture until thick and creamy. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
4. Pour sauce over fish fillets and sprinkle top with cracker crumbs.
5. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 25 minutes (190° C). We finished by putting the dish a couple of minutes under the grill. Serve hot, garnish with lemon slices and sweet pepper rings.

We served on pumkin mashed potatoes.

The recipe claims that it serves eight, but then it'll be an entree though. I think it serves 5-6 max. For us making the pumkin mashed potatoes took most time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

He's around!

Jenn in Holland announced him first,
Lies saw him already although vaguely, her children got some letters,
Kate really got a good view,

but last week I got to phone with Zwarte Piet! I must say I was a bit confused when a phonecall to my sister got anwered by a very young sounding Piet who told me that Sinterklaas had proclaimed that all children have been good this year. For a moment I thought I was talking to Stef but nope, the voice confirmed to me that he was Zwarte Piet.

So I wasn't too surprised that I saw Him coming by when leaving the public library.

But the Holy Man still keeps busy at his high age as he had visited my parents that same evening and had left them already some presents for Stef. Lucky boy

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How you end up hating snow

After some snow/hail/thunderstorm showers yesterday with alternating white/green landscapes all day, more "winter showers" had been predicted from the west this morning. But when we drove this morning to our parents, it was very dry and I didn't worry too much about the potential snow. Hey, this is Belgium right, snow falls 7 days a year and lasts on average 15 minutes before it melts. Since snow showers were predicted, the highways would be covered with a ridiculous high layer of salt.

During dinner snow flakes started falling down. Wow, nice. After a while the world started becoming nice and it looked very beautiful. I think it'd be cool to take Stef outside after his afternoon nap to play a bit.

  • 16u I start getting nervous that we still need to drive on to Jan's parents while the snow is really piling up outside (3-4 inches) and I start thinking that I don't want to drive through the snow in the dark.
  • 16u15 We leave and decide to check downtown whether the major roads are cleared well
  • 16u20 The city roads are not clear at all and traffic creeps at snail pace through the city
  • 16u25 We decide not to continue further anymore and look for a roundabout to turn back and start heading home now it's still light. We phone Jan's parents that we are not stopping by anymore. Cars in front of us make some scary slides.
  • 16u35 We are almost at the highway entry, 2kms from my parents door. Jan is making pictures of the beautiful landscape while I try not to focus too much on the car in front of me sliding sideways each time he tries to accelerate a bit.
  • 16u40 We see that even on the highway traffic creeps slowly and that snow has not been cleared properly . There's a lot of salt trucks out there, but when Belgium gets hit by a major snow storm everywhere in a couple of hours, they really can't cope at all. (And Belgians don't know how to drive through snow either).
  • 16u55 I'm already stressed out, need to pee and pull over to let Jan drive. The snow crunches loudly under my shoes.
  • 17u00 The news bulletin stresses that all the roads can be icy, that air- and road traffic is very much disturbed etc...
  • 18u00 The news bulleting stresses that all the roads can be icy, that air- and road traffic is very much disturbed etc... Hmm sounds familiar, didn't we hear this like....25 kms before as well?
  • 18u20 All people that phone the radio seem to be stuck in major snow traffic jams and complain about being hungry , bored, ....or they request snow songs, ask for jokes to tell, suggest mooning to the other drivers to make it a bit more exciting etc...
  • 18u35 We really need to have a bathroom stop again and we are anxiously counting down the kms for the parking at Groot-Bijgaarden just before Brussels. Only 1500 m anymore.
  • 18u40 Still in the traffic jam trying to reach the parking lot. Jan's mom phones to check whether we've still not arrived home. Not within another hour I fear.
  • 18u45 Finally we manage to leave the traffic jam and enter a very full parking lot. Jan and I both go to the bathroom in the service shop and due to a misunderstanding we both come out with potato chips and a big bottle of water. I have a pulsing headache.
  • 18u50 We are back in the traffic jam trying to merge in and then take the city ring of Brussels.
  • 19u00 The news bulleting stresses that all the roads can be icy, that air- and road traffic is very much disturbed etc... it's getting annoying to hear this news bulletin for the third time after having only travelled about 50kms so far.
  • 19u10 We finally can take the exit for the Brussels ring. The exit south has been closed of by the police as it's uphill and looks like an icy slide, so all traffic needs to head north anyway.
  • 19u20 We are a few kms further still trying to merge into all the other traffic lanes joining in. Traffic hardly moves at all.
  • 19u22 We count 2 trucks stuck on a slope on a right entry lane and one stuck truck on a left entry lane around Groot-Bijgaarden still in Brussels.
    Someone comes knocking on our door to ask whether we have any beer on board (I have beer publicity on my car).
  • 19u30 we are finally on the ring driving slowly. Traffic information on the radio says that part of the ring has been closed off because they need to spray more salt on a major viaduct.
  • 19u40 New traffic jam at Grimbergen....I guess we are inline because of the former announcement. My headache medication starts kicking in.
  • 19u50 Just before the viaduct we notice a small tv news truck with a camera man sticking out of the roof filming the traffic jam. My friend on the phone tells me there's no live newsfeed on tv. Oh bummer.
  • 20u00 The news bulleting stresses that all the roads can be icy, that air- and road traffic is very much disturbed etc... Really? Would anyone not know this already???
    Once crossed the viaduct, the road is totally snowfree! Wow we can reach the insane speed of 60kms/h
  • 20u05 We change highways and much to our joy, this highway is fairly calm and snowfree too. Wooooohooo, the end is in sight. My mom phones to check whether we've arrive .
  • 20u20 We are home. I am exhausted. We've travelled 100 kms.
  • 20u30 On the computer I read a dozen facebook statusses and blog posts about the joy of building snowmen, the beauty of the landscapes (seen from inside usually) and the falling snowflakes.

    Beautful? Cosy? Fun? My ass.....I can only resent snow tonight.
    But maybe tomorrow I'll enjoy the view (it's freezing tonight so it'll stay) when I don't need to use my car at all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That's what he does to me

Let me introduce Jan a bit more:

  • He's the type of guy that starts tickling you at a public event
  • He continues until you are laughing and crying at the same time and begging for mercy and try to grasp some breath
  • Then he points to all who is nearby "oh look look she's leaking" "look she can't stop anymore"
  • And he takes pictures of it all.

Yep that's what he does to me. What a funny guy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tourists in Ireland and at a Irish (&Scottish) wedding

15 months after attending a Scottish wedding Jan and I were now invited to another colleague's Ireland. Since neither of us had ever been in Ireland we didn't hesitate long to take some extra days off to visit Dublin and the countryside around.

We started off in Dublin, armed with a Dublin Pass in our pockets that gave us free entrance to a lot of major attractions. We wore our shoes out at Dublin castle, Trinity, St Patrick's cathedral, Christ Church cathedral, The Guinness Storehouse, The old Jameson distillery, the Kilmainham Goal, .... No wonder we dropped back in our room each night at a very very decent hour, totally exhausted from all the sightseeing . No wild nights in Temple Bar for us! We walked it all by foot despite the traffic lights and pedestrian crossings that were definately NOT pedestrian friendly (pedestrian lights that are for ever red, even if the car lights keep on changing for all directions, ....crossings that are only on one side of the crosspoint so you need to zigzag through the city or race across without any help. Argghhh...small point of frustration in Dublin). But it gave us the opportunity to feel the city, the walk along the river, feel the busy city quarters and the more remote ones.

What to recommend? The Kilmainham Goal, the city center Victorian jail that was into use until after the Irish civil war in the 20ies.

On our way from and to Cavan, we took the time to make some countryside stops to visit the countryside among other the megalithic tumuli in the Boyth valley (Newgrange, Hill of Tara, ...) as well as some ruins from medieval abbeys in the same area.

But of course our main goal was the wedding of this beautiful Irish - Scottish couple.

the bride and her beautiful friends....admired by the groom's tartan army present :)

It's always interesting to attend a wedding abroad to see the analogies and differences across cultures. As Ireland is a very catholic country, the actual service was very familiar.
The biggest difference (as was the case in Scotland) is the drinks that need to be paid by the guests at the bar during the reception (without appetizers) and the evening party. Even when it was the second time for us, it is still quite some culture shock.
The party after the delicious meal had a life band which gives a special atmosphere at the party, but it also restricts the music type variety played. But on this party it was the perfect mix: 2 hours with the band that let us swing and then followed by some hours of DJ work. And I've never seen a wedding with that many people on the dance floor all the time. The majority of the guests were constantly on the floor until the end! Coool. Must be the gaelic blood. Weddings with a lot of dancing are the best.
...and the party didn't end at 1AM as in the Netherlands & Scotland...but still earlier than Belgian ones.

(this little guy was definately the cutest Scotsman I've ever met!!)

Guess where I was last week?

Some pictures really give it away, others might cause doubt.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Facebook takes off in Belgium

A little less than 2 years ago I was flooded with invitations to join Facebook, sent by some of my Canadian friends. I didn't really know what it was about but after a couple of ignored e-mails I gave in and created a profile. Within 48 hours I was connected with 68 former classmates. Wow, cool. Now I had a way to stay connected no matter how many any of us changed e-mail addresses with notifications that get lost etc.

I started looking for Belgian friends as well, but the "Belgian network" had about 60 people in it at that time!

I read on other people's how addictive Facebook was, but I didn't feel inclined to log on each day at all. Ok, it was cool to find old classmates again, but it's not that entertaining either. More and more I added applications, played games now and then and cluttered my profile with received flowers, quizzes, and other type of applications. So I had some cleaning up to do.
Over the last year now and then I found some Belgian friends (most of them active travellers or expats), some joined on my invitation so I could chuck them some books now and then.

But over the last months Facebook really really took off in Belgium. My Belgian connections started picking up last summer. Each time I look up some friends now I find new ones. Over the last 10 days I connected to 6 high school friends, 8 close relatives, 4 youth camp leaders, ... (some of them with the remark "ah good to see you, did the hype catch you as well?") and I noticed a lot of familiar co-worker profiles. Facebook was on the radio with stories of people creating succesfully a group to find their stolen van on Friday. Facebook was the topic of discussion at the student pub reunion because most people got invited by a Facebook event and got the communication this way (and the turn-out was big!). Facebook was the running joke at a house warming party I attended on Saturday where any remark got countered with "oh I'll answer that in my status on Facebook" "that picture definately needs to get posted on Facebook" etc etc... Most people seem sceptic about the use of Facebook, nevertheless they all have joined.

Quite funny, I wonder how long it'll last before everyone loses interest and the profiles become less and less active. And how many more people I'll find in the near future. I personally actually enjoy it more than I did over a year ago.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Different perspectives

Last Friday Jan and I went to some sort of reunion party of his university friends in their regular pub ran by the student organisation. They called it the "Old fart party" and I (as an outsider who didn't even study in Leuven) must admit they sounded like that sometimes. Remarks like "Oh my gosh, those black spotlights in that corner...remember, we've installed those, they are still here!". Many stories came around, some more spectacular than others. I learned a lot about the events that had happened over the years in every corner of that pub.

I don't have such a pub in Ghent to go back to. Well the economics student organisation sure had their pub as well and it was always crowded, but I was hardly ever seen there. I often joke to Jan that if we had met during our college times, we would not have gotten along.
Looking back I know I've taken my studies too serious. My work ethics, discipline and perfectionism (combined with insecurity in the first years) didn't leave me much time for social activities. I didn't have a room in Ghent either so I commuted up and down by train each day for my classes. I didn't even have the feeling that I was missing anything. The student organisation only filled me with images of arrogance (a lot of rich "fils à papa") , roudiness and drunks. I don't like drunk people. When the conversations start growing louder with more hand movements and less content, I withdraw more and more. After my good results of the first years I did relax a bit, but developed my social life mainly in my hometown with my high school friends that I felt at ease with without ever putting my grades at risk.
Once working and being an expat in the Netherlands, I discovered a new side to life. Freedom to go out, go to restaurants and bars, hang out with friends, live through the nights sometimes without worrying about work the next time. It was very freeing!

Jan's quite the opposite character to me. He has no difficulty to have conversations with people he hardly knows. He seems to fit in all social groups right away. In his student life we probably would not have hang out together (hypothetically if we would have studied in the same faculty at the same time) as he was leading the student organisations (local ones and international ones!!), running the pub, ... when I would have been probably stuck in boring classes. His grades didn't quite ressemble mine, but I am aware that he did learn a great deal that period.

Anyway, I am glad we've met at the right time and found each other in the middle :)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Diving in Estartit at the Costa Brava

Estartit and the Medes Islands

When you drive to the Costa Brava at the end of October, you don't expect true hot summer weather anymore (although preferably warmer weather than the typical Flemish All Saint's day weather!). So it was delighting to see the temperature rise and rise when driving south: 3°C and foggy in Metz, 18°C in the evening in Lyon, ...23°C when arriving in Estartit the next noon. Darn, I only had one short packed and no sandals.

After 3 days however the weather gods realised they were exaggerating a bit and decided to go for the correct average temperature in October after all. A 15°C drop in temperature overnight is harsh! Ouch. We boarded the boat bravely after all, but at the sight of the choppy sea (and also after a very difficult dive the day before at Tasco Petit with too much currents for my comfort, my physical condition and my experience) I decided to stay on board as well as some other group members. Soon we could keep a fish feeding contest while hanging sick over side. Great...lesson learned: don't go and sit in the dark small boat toilet (where you don't see the horizon anymore) at a choppy sea even if you've taken 2 Touristils. In the end there was no current under water at that spot so the divers had made the better choice, but hey, hindsight is easy right.

In Estartit wind seems always to pick up towards noon when we returned in the harbor and after our return the boats stayed in. The bays we usually went to for an afternoon beachdive didn't quite ressemble the idyllic calm pictures below anymore so the dive had to get cancelled. Weather predictions remained very gloomy so we started to fear that our diving vacation had to end after 3 days already.

Diving at Aiguafreda and Sa Tuna....find the location of the divers in the last picture!

Herbs, hills, nature and spectacular views above Estartit

As expected the next morning when we were about to leave to the harbor, the diving center cancelled our dive trip as all boats stayed another day in the harbor. Damn now I was drowsy from Touristil for no reason :p. In order to stay awake and get out of the hotel anyway, we climbed the hill/rock overlooking the village to enjoy the "breeze" up there a bit more. Much to my delight we discovered high up there a landscape filled with thyme, rosemary and sage bushes. Ooooh it smelled wonderful. What a great nature.

(my enthusiasm must have been quite obvious as some dive club member surprised me yesterday by dropping off a huge back with long laurel and rosemary branches for me!!! How sweet. Can anyone tell me how I can preserve them best?? they're big branches cut 2 days ago? Pluck the leaves and try to dry them?).

Fortunately it didn't stay as freezing cold and the wind turned more favorable so after 2 days above water we could finish the week with another set of dives. I didn't dive as well as I could have done though. Somehow I was easily stressed and tired sucking air from my tank at record speed. Pff typical me. Looking back I realise I have not enjoyed the underwater beauty as much as I could have done, but that'll be a lesson for myself when I return.

And before we knew it, the sangria and abundance of chips and chorizo were a thing of the past and I could kick off my Touristil trip :p. And now I want to go back.

oh and to answer's Allie's question: our club's youth improvised on our last evening in Spain on Halloween a little party in the hotel. Good fun!