Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oops there are no more Belgians

Since the first of January 2009 Belgian has no official population anymore. No really, I'm not kidding! The Belgians have disappeared and nobody noticed. The customs had not even noticed we were still illegally carrying our old passports!

When I read this article last week I thought "only in Belgium :p" . So apparently there was a conflict between the department Statistics of the Ministry of Economics and the privacy commission who opposed them getting access to more data.

And as a result there's no more population statistics available since 1/2009. Pretty annoying for the growing cities who get subsidies based on their population statistics which now remain in the 2008 status :D.

But don't worry, the conflict would be solved and there would 'soon' be statistics again. Pheww. I hope they don't count us wrong.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Made in Belgium: Toots Thielemans

Without any doubt one of the greatest Belgian mucisians is Toots Thielemans. Toots is an world-wide well-known jazz artist famous for his whistling and guitar & harmonica playing. His discography, concerts and collaboration with other top stars is impressive, yet he remains charming and modest. I love his typical Brussels dialect which you don't hear as often anymore.

Far in his eighties he's still performing so enjoy!

Bluesette with Stevie Wonder

What a wonderful world (live in De Zevende Dag in 2008)

Soldier in the Rain (with Quincy Jones Orchestra) 1964

Intro "Witse" (Belgian police detective series)

Intro "Baantjer" (Dutch police detective series) - Night of the Proms 2008

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book hunting

"Maybe you can take your own cart, we'll never be able to stay close to one another in here"
"euh sure, how do we find each other again though? Do you carry your mobile phone?"

Off we went to meet the alphabet....the alphabet over and over again grouped in many different words, rearranged in different paragraphs, resulting in tables piled up with books.....a big fair with book stock sales.

You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but that's really the only way to move forward. Covers, first impressions & coincidence such as "oh that isle is way too crowded, let's skip it" decide which books get considered or overlooked. The selection is vigorously strict since we came walking (and if you only read one book per month on average, piling up novels doesn't make sense anyway. At least that's what I had to keep reminding myself.)

Now and then our paths cross again."Hey, what did you get" I asked curiously while checking his cart. I'm glad I didn't turn around when we started walking and when I regretted our little afternoon activity right away due to the icy wind cutting in my face. Clearly it's not because last time you went in exceptionally nice weather, that this would be the case every time. But we had walked on and now I was glad we did.

After 2 hours we gathered our little treasure : 6 novels (eg Isabelle Allende's 'Sum of our Days', Jodi Picoult's 'Salem Falls' :) :) :) ), a big do-it-yourself guide which is Jan devouring already at the moment and which will come in handy, some child picture books as presents, a herb booklet, a cocktail book, some comic strips and a computer guide.

It makes our very sore feet worthwhile.

Work in progress sounds like progress

"Is your house finished now?" some people ask referring to the major renovations we've done 2-4 years ago. "Which house is ever finished?" I usually reply. Seriously is there any Belgian who considers his house ever as finished? I don't think so. My parents once said "if you think you are done in your house, you are getting old!'. Much truth in that!

Anyway, we're truly not out of inspiration for the "continuous improvements" or the "finishing touch" chores in our house and now and then we do keep our plastering / painting / decorating skills up to date. That'll be important soon :p

Before: One of the corners of our house which I've skillfully managed not to get on picture so far, despite an entire post dedicated to our hidden staircase, was the badly in need of repair wall under/above the stairs.
big patches of plaster were gone or dangling loose showing some wooden beams, ancient electric cable tubes were idly still attached on the outside going from nowhere to nowhere, the wall was horribly uneven, ....

Intermediate : After some work around Christmas and this weekend, the wall , although not quite finished yet, looks already sooooo much more presentable.

Before: a marvellous bathroom with a tiny unfinished part under the cabinets.

Intermediate: a beam closes off and has had its first layer of primer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Shadow of the Wind

The books of Carlos Ruiz Zafon usually have a prominent place in the bookstores...Since the latest book came out in Belgium in spring 2009 they've always been placed on the best seller table. Somehow I'm always attracted to these books: the more I see them, the more I'm convinced it must be a marvellous book....I'm totally susceptible for book marketing :) but I'm also very stingy when it comes to spending money to newly launched books that I'm after all only going to read once. I had seen on my friend's book lists on FB that they had already read his book(s) I was more convinced that I had to read this.

So when I actually remembered to look up Zafon the last time I was treasure hunting in the library and I found both "The Shadow of the Wind" and "The Angel's Game" on the shelf, I did a little dance on the spot. I decided to start by the first book.

I read the >530 pages in 3 weeks which means something. Usually I don't nearly progress that fast. The book reads very smoothly.

It tells about Daniel who discovers a book "The Shadow of the wind" and gets intrigued by the mysterious author. He's unaware about the analogy of the author's life and his own. The events keep flowing and one by one the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. The setting is in Barcelona during times of the civil war in Spain.

Yet it's too bad that the cool concept of the "graveyard of forgotten books" where Daniel is introduced by his father and where he has found this special book, has not been used more. What a wonderful place that I'd love to get to know better!? Would the prequel Angel's Game use this more? I surely hope so.
And some things don't make sense to me: why have some details from the past such tragic consequences whereas other stories in the book get a lot of attention and yet nothing really happens with it anymore later.

There's a lot of characters that seem rather unidimensional and as a result I couldn't really related well to them. And I'm a bit too rational for stories about haunted houses, mysterious characters that give up their life for an impossible love they've never experienced, or they spend their entire life on a quest to take revenge for ancient harm, ... This last aspect of the book really reminded me of Allende's stories. Very often I think her stories are a bit over the top and hold too much fairy tale & mythical atmosphere, but yet I keep searching for her books. I wonder if it's a coincidence that two of the rare Spanish Latin speaking/cultural authors that I read share this same style of writing : is it simply the same style or is there a cultural bond?

Anyway, I'll be looking for The Angel's Game, but my expectations aren't as high anymore as before reading The Shadow of the Wind.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Made in Belgium: Bob Davidse

This morning we woke up with the news that "Uncle Bob" as he's known here had passed away. Uncle Bob is a Flemish television icon that has presented & produced children tv programs for 3 decades. His guitar lesson books gave him the name to have taught the people how to play the guitar. I might add to that he has also taught at least 5 generation of children how to sing. His songs have become part of our culture and will surely continue to live on and on.

This is Bob Davidse last time on stage in Antwerp last summer on a huge sing-along event, bringing his own well known "Vrolijke Vrienden"

Vrolijke Vrienden "Antwerpen zingt 2009"

Vrolijke vrienden - adopted by new generations

Intro Klein klein kleutertje...I think I've seen the rebroadcast of this as a baby

Intro Carolientje....Once again I watched a rebroadcast of Carolientje when I was a kid. I absolutely loved it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thought waiting queues

So my body isn't taking this unusual winter with recurring snowfall and cold waves very well (we call it a cold wave as soon the temps stayed below zero for 5 nights & 3 days) and it has gifted me another cold. So since Sunday evening I'm an effective snot producing machine again. I hope I still have antibodies left after last month's cold of the century to prevent me from the worst.

Anyway, I went to bed at time full of drugs in order to free my nose and ensure I'd sleep well. After all, I do need my sleep now right?

...and then I wake up at 2 AM with clear airways, breathing freely in and out through my nose just lovely. And an instant later my brain realises no longer being clogged up with snot and all of a sudden releases all the thoughts that seem to have been piled up in a snot queue for this moment. All the planning, to do's, ... that I hadn't completed in the evening because of my fatigue & cold all of a sudden take the rare opportunity to demand my attention . Ugh. That happened to me last time as well! Very strange to get those clear moments in the middle of the night.

Fortunately I managed to ignore them all rather quickly, turn around and doze off again. And now we're ready to tackle the day with help of nose spray and tissues :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Goofball jokes

Sometimes I'm tired enough to crack up over the silliest jokes and enjoy them for the remainder of the evening. You're a goofball or not I suppose.

Tonight this joke was part of a popular tv quiz : you had to fill in the last word and I was actively participating, guessed the word and then started laughing and laughing. :p

A Belgian, Dutch & French guy were in front of the firing squad.
They tried to escape by creating chaos & confusion.

The Belgian all of a sudden yelled "Tsunami". His tactic worked and while the squad turned around he managed to escape.
"Tornado" yelled the French guy....he too escaped.
And then the Dutch yelled...


Several weeks ago I heard this on tv in another hyped quiz

"Five elephants are under an umbrella. The umbrella is way too small for them all. Yet the elephants aren't getting wet. How is that possible? "
"It's not raining"

ok ok I know it's lame, but you should have seen Sien Eggers telling this joke. It's marked in all the newspapers as one of the best one-liners. It was totally hilarious.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Our snow master plan

For days now the east coast of the US has been in the news with blizzards, snow piled up and businesses & schools being closed down. The Belgians were jealous for all the attention, for the unexpected day offs, for ...

So when some snow got predicted for Belgium too, we all got an idea. The rumour spreaded quickly on FB , via e-mails, ... Suggestions were given to fine tune the ideas and tasklists were communicated. We were all buzzing of excitement! This morning we all started to bring our master plan to execution.

Many people jumped in their car and started lining up. Quite a few of them made some nice slides, bumped into each other and parked in the middle of the road pointing to the opposite direction. At 7 AM we had already created a traffic jam of 400 km. Quickly it grew and grew and by 8 AM we had managed a length of 800 kms. We phoned each other...more more, come and join, we can do this. We phoned so much that the mobile phone networks got overloaded. At 8:45 we got a total of 948 kms of traffic jam (regular day = 150 kms....former record ever is 520km) : we had succeeded in creating a total gridlock on the Belgian highways. Somebody didn't even know we had that many highways. Hahahahaaa nobody was going to get at work anymore, we'd get our media attention and our day off as well. What the Americans can, we can do better!!! We had managed to block everything before the snow plows had been able to ride out and act upon the predicted snow fall and before they had even started to clear the roads. The police ordered via radio and electronic road signs that all trucks must park aside immediately in an idle hope to untangle the puzzle and get us moving again. But it was all in vain, we had managed to create total chaos all day. Yeaaaah, how cool is that?

Radio programs changed their programming to allow special requests for the people stuck in the roads, road agencies apologised for being totally surprised by this amount of snow, the meteorologist claimed not being able to predict more accurately , the minister was interviewed and considers changing some laws.


yeah that's how it went. You didn't seriously think that Belgium had inflicted such a chaos because of 1,5 inch/ 3-4 cms of snow, right? Who would believe that?

Made in Belgium: Laïs

Belgium has a vibrant folk scene and one of the top acts is Laïs. These 3 hip young women are known for their polyphonic harmonious (a-capella) singing, often based on medieval international texts. Discovered by the folk group Kadril they got a first big career opportunity at the folk festival of Dranouter in 1996 and their passage their didn't go unnoticed in the folk scene. Their first CD in 1998 was a European success right away . New concerts at Dranouter followed, but also Rock Werchter, concerts abroad (eg supporting act for Sting in France in 99).

One of their first singles " 't Smidje" about a blacksmith and his unhappy marriage has become a well-known folk dance in Flanders even for non-folk lovers. It always amazes me to hear this being played at a normal party ...and to see all these teenagers lining up and starting to dance.

In the winter of 2008 the Belgian press all of a sudden discovered that there was a remarkable number of you-tube movies from Poland where you can see Polish kids dancing to ...indeed " 't Smidje" by Laïs. Nobody is exactly sure how they have become a hype in Poland but it's probably due to the many exchanges by Flemish youth organisations & Polish youth organisations. Quite funny!

Smidje - 1998

Smidje dance here in Belgium and examples from Poland here , here, here, here, here, ....

Dorothea - 2000

Le renard et la belette - 2002
This is a famous folk song from Bretany famous in France in the version of Tri Yann or in the version by Manau which I really really love! Quite different from Laïs. I love listening to the 2 versions after one another.

Kalima Kadara (end titles of Flikken in season 7)

Monday, February 8, 2010

21 years ago

I took off on my bike with mixed feelings. Frustrated that the summer vacation was over so quickly again and the good lazy life was over for the next 10 months, but also thrilled & excited & nervous for this new start. What would happen, who would be in my class, how many would be old school mates and how many new faces would be there? Who would be our teachers?

I peddled downtown on the road I had so often taken on my way to the music academy but now I'd turn off a little sooner...into the gate by the river where I had seen my sister turn off on her bike in the past when I was sitting in my parent's car. But now I no longer took my ride with my parents to the elementary school where my mom was teaching: today I was starting high school.

The school wasn't entirely unfamiliar since it was housed in the same block as the elementary school and on some rare occasions such as school parties or sporting day or ....we had been on the high school terrains. On some moments that we felt brave & rebellious we had managed to sneak out of the elementary school's playground, through the door & hallway leading to the high schools playground....only to feel being stared at in an unknown environment, clearly not belonging there and quickly running back with a pounding heart.

I crossed the street together with some other students via the bike entrance and turned off to the big L-shaped covered bike parking around the volleyball court where at night some nuns were seen riding slow bike circles as their workout.
So many bike racks....which one to choose and how would I ever find my bike again. Most kids seemed to know exactly where to place theirs, dropped it and walked onwards to the playground. I quickly put mine somewhere and memorized the rack number for tonight. I was certain it was obvious to everyone it was the first time I was there...but I had no other choice but to follow everybody else.

Fortunately on the playground I quickly found some of my former classmates trouping together in a little circle in the middle, looking around now and then to detect another familiar face and to wave them close by into a growing circle of familiarness in this new world.

One the school bell rang, most of the students lined up in rows in front of the building and all the newbies were painfully remaining in some cluttered circles looking around where to go. The new principle came into the door and took the microphone to welcome us all. All 1st years were asked to go to the gym where we were one by one call to follow our assigned class teacher to our home room.

In the next 2 ours we got assigned our seat in the class which turned out to be one of the "aquarium" classes giving out at the playground. The students coming by bike were assigned a fixed a bike parking in the range reserved for our class, ...the agenda's in which we'd need every hours subject for the next 6 years were distributed , ... Before we knew it 3rd hour had started and our Latin teacher walked in to teach us our first vocabulary list after which she promptly announced our first test for the next day.

And from then on we were on a roll, from hour to hour, from day to day until I was familiar with every corner of the school and all teachers and I would recognize the insecurity of the 1st years who were hesitating in the bike parking on Sept 1 in the next years.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

After 15 years I sound like a stranger

I remember my mom telling about her first college reunion. She was staring with her friends at those "old people" at the 15 year table.

A few weeks ago a high school friend asked if I had received the invitation for our 15 year high school reunion. What...15 years? What a mistake, I have been graduated for 10 years.
...Oh wait a minute, it's been 10 years since university, so 15 years from high school is no mistake at all. Gosh.

So on Friday evening I was asking my dad where to former all girls school has in the mean time merged & moved with the former all boys school where my dad used to teach. I must say that it ruins a bit your reunion and nostalgia trip if you need to go to a place where you have to ask where the toilets are and if half of the attending people & staff have in fact never been in "your" school. (it was a reunion of 5/10/15/20 & 25 years from both former schools)

Some of my classmates were so nice as to post themselves at the entrance of the buzzing big hall full of strangers and after some sms's we had also located the rest of our class in the far right end of the room :).

After one hour at least 5 people had commented on my "strong accent" that made it "obvious that I didn't live nearby anymore" and made it "audible that I'm not from the area anymore".
Great , I've never been particularly fond of my Antwerp colleague's accent , neither does the local Leuven accent sound to be jealous of to me, but nevertheless I must have eagerly adopted those into my language. I'm more flexible than I thought. "Just speak and I'll tell you where you're from" is such a strong truth in Flanders. Mind you I only moved 1 hour away ;) which was indeed 3 times as far as most of the others.

When I had trouble remembering most teacher's names, I realised that it had after all indeed been 15 years. I was glad enough none of them remembered my name either :).

As for my class mates....well due to facebook, the reunion wasn't as revealing as it used to be. Nevertheless I do enjoy these type of gatherings. Up to 20 years! Maybe then I'll have to book an interpreter though.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Made in Belgium: A Brand

In all honesty I had never realised that A Brand is a Belgian group if they hadn't been top of the bill of the Marktrock festival in Leuven, which had an all Belgian edition last summer. It's only after this summer that I started to pay attention when I heard them on the radio. And apparently I already knew several songs/hits from then although not very consciously.

Hammerhead - 2006

Time - 2008

Mad love sweet love - 2009