Friday, December 31, 2010

Winter (sport) vacation in Belgium

This is an exceptional winter....53 days with snow already in 2010 (18 in 2009, 2 in 2008, none in 2007...) but I love it.  As it gave me the feeling that this Christmas vacation was some sort of winter sport vacation....but still in Belgium.

Last week we strolled through some wonderful winter towns  and we enjoyed some skiing again (both downhill & cross-country) with visiting friends & family.

Monschau, Germany


Cross-country skiing at the Botrange

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Made in Belgium: TC Matic

At the end of the year it's time for a good party and hitlists with the best music all time. And some of Belgium's greatest all time hits are made by TC Matic so we can't miss those.

In April I had posted about Arno but the start of his career and his very best music dates back from TC Matic. (I had already several comments on my post of Arno that I had left out these songs) . So get ready for some avant-garde rock from the start of the 80ies.   Let's party.

Oh la la la

Putain Putain

Monday, December 27, 2010

Shiny isn't always good....but can be funny

At the end of December, a few days before Christmas, right before our vacation would start our exams ended. Aaaaah after a few weeks of enormous stress in our teenage life we could deflate and enjoy a bit of unofficial vacations while our teachers were correcting our exams and while our parents were still working.  We traditionally went hunting for some Christmas presents, we often went to Ghent by train to the movie theatre....and usually my friends came over to watch a video at our house.  We didn't have the habit to go and hang out at each other's houses at all, apart from some occasional visits during the summer and these post-exam video sessions.

We watched the "The Little Match Girl" TV movie from 1987 which I had taped once. By the time my parents came home they found much to their surprise 5 15-year old girls in tears with swollen red cheeks. But we kept assuring them that we were fine and that it was oooh so beautiful, after which they left us alone in the living room with our tear jerker.

Before dinner time everyone left and I took my bike to ride along through the winter cold up to the main crosspoint where everybody's roads would part.  2 went straight one, 1 turned left and the last 2 kept chit-chatting along at the traffic lights not wanting to part yet. There was still sooo much to tell and the afternoon had been so cosy. The lights turned red and green again and we were still there.

"Look there's someone walking back on the bike road there"
"She looks a bit like M"
The figure was waving at us with the arms high up in the air. 
"That is M!'"
For a moment we stared surprised in the dark at the walking figure, shiny in the reflection of the road lamps and then we got on our bikes to approach the trail of big grey circles she left on the concrete with each step.  Getting closer, it hit us that she was soaking wet.

"I rode into the gracht" she yelled half laughing, half crying.
We had to bite our lips not to start laughing at the sight of her dripping posture, clothes hanging heavily along her body.  I can't explain but there was something rather hilarious about that picture.
"My bike's still in the water, I'm gonna be late for dinner"  she now said with a rising level of panic so we bit our lips a bit harder, biked along her puddle trace until it lead us right to the edge of the water in order to look for her bike in the undeep ditch.  With a calculated jump across the water we positioned ourselves each on one side and we plunged our hands into the water. Accompagnied with quite some gigles and shrieks when we risked losing our balance, we managed to catch the bike frame and lift it up and set it on the road again dripping next to our shivering friend.

She almost took off because she really was late for dinner now and she still had to bike for another 45 minutes to home and I believe the cold had frozen her brain or so.  But we were in the majority to convince her that the only acceptable & smart thing to do was return with us to my home to get dry clothes and phone home.  She thought that was too much hassle, that my clothes would never fit etc  but she followed us nevertheless.

And so my parents were quite surprised again to hear 3 girls coming back in stumbling into the garage.  Some towels, a hairdryer, loaned clothes and a phone call later, M could finally hop back on her bike with the promise not to ride into the ditch again.  And I was left with a rather unusual Christmas memory that always leaves a smile on my face. Sorry M, I hope you warmed up fine.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lizard cage

I might have seen her books a few times already when checking if there were any unread books from Michael Connely or Beverly Connor on the library shelf. There were none this time of those 2 authors that I had not already read. So my eye had fallen on Karen Connelly's "Lizard cage" which ended up on my little pile next to my bed.

It was only later at home when I had started the story and had seen the reference to "Touch the dragon" on the backside that it hit me. Touch the dragon! Was this the same author? Really?

My sister had received "Touch the dragon" as a gift many years ago after her year as exchange student in Canada. She had given to me to read it after I had returned back home from my exchange. "Touch the dragon" is the story of a Canadian girl going on a Rotary exchange to a little village on the countryside of Thailand. The culture shock was immense, the language barrier huge and the struggles considerable. And yet Karen had managed to settle in and become part of the village life in Thailand and she learned to love her new environment.
I had loved the book as it was in some extent also my story. We were both united in our experience of travelling across the world at the age of 17-18 to settle in a new unknown family, new school, conquer language confusion etc. Her homesickness was mine, her love for her new friends and her new environment was mine as well. But her story also made my exchange seem so safe and easy. No matter how much I have loved my Canadian adventure and consider it as my second home country, I've always been left to wonder after reading Karen's book whether my personality would have matured a lot more if I had chosen a far more 'exotic' culture as country of destination.
Anyway...apparently Karen had grown into a successful author in the mean time.

When reading "Lizard Cage"  it is clear that she still holds very strong ties with Asia. The story is about a young political prisoner in Burma, locked up in harsh solitary confinement for writing popular protest songs. Despite the hardships, mental & physical torture he manages to impact the lives he touches in prison and outside and he can develop a friendship with a little orphan boy who tries to survive in prison as he has no other place to go to.  While in the background Aung San Suu Kyi gets released for the first time (which was very odd as just when reading that...she was released again last month), the story develops at the same time in a very suffocating and haunting yet very touching way. The fact that the book deals with Aung San Suu Kyi was a shocker as at first I though the story had been set several decades ago but , although fiction, this turns out to be about modern Myanmar.  I had some trouble to get into the story at first and I think I'm lacking some Asian cultural references and I wasn't used to the style of writing. Honestly, at the start I thought reading it to the end would be a struggle.  But when I was nearing the end, I was both addicted and also sad that it would end.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Made in Belgium: Milow

Traditionally all Belgians (and Dutch) gather up in the week before Christmas for the charity campaign "Music For Live" where radio Studio Brussel DJ's lock themselves up in a glass studio house on a busy market square with only liquids to drink while presenting 24/24 while the rest of the country pays for music requests and come to announce a long series of "xxx for live" actions. Schools bake cookies, divers jump in the cold water 'dive for live', we break the world record 'quiz for live', choirs join up for street singing 'sing for live', politicians don't tweet a week 'for live', ...   I'm sure someone even farts "for live". Hey, if it gathers money for the red cross, that's fine for me!  I sure enjoy the solidarity feeling and the good music.

This year's theme song is brought by Milow, so a good moment to introduce this singer-songwriter.
He has only created his first CD in 2006 although it seems as if he's already been around for ages (discovering other talents such as Selah Sue...right Betsy  ;)) . He caught the world's attention by covering 50 cent's "Ayo technology" in his very own style which is actually some of the few covers that is way better than the original.  

I like Milow, as long as I don't hear him too often.  In the latter case , he gets too whiny and repetitive and since he's scored some tremendous hits , I do dare to change radio station when he gets airplay.  But hey, it's Music for Live this week, so I'm 'blogging Milow for live' :p

Never gonna stop - Music for live  campaign - dec 2010

Ayo Technology -

Ayo Technology - live - 2009

You don't know

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snow delight (& snow horror)

Last winter we had our eye at our current weekend spot already and we were cursing that we couldn't go there yet given all the snow Belgium got last winter.

Ha, how happy are we to have a record winter already.   18 snow days by mid December: we broke the 1945 record (cfr snow during the Battle of the Ardennes). Airports close partially in Europe everywhere and have to host a lot of stranded passengers, trucks are forbidden to ride so supplies run low at places, trains don't ride as the personnel doesn't get at the train stations or track switches are frozen, ...  But it looks like I might experience my first white Christmas ever! Woohoo, that's about time.

So by now there's already 60cm of snow at the High Fens of the Ardennes. So apart from treating our muscles to some shovelling activities and some new cross-country skiing moves, we can profit a lot more of all the snow opportunities in Belgium's "snow walhalla" :p.  
So last weekend we went to a nearby calm small ski-hill where I could refresh my long forgotten ski skills. As you can see Belgium's ski-hills are impressive, huge & extremely challenging but I had good fun and regained some of my lost confidence to be on skis. I'm not quite ready to return to the Alps but it does feel like more. Look look, I don't plow constantly anymore ;).

The next day my brother-in-law came to sledge a bit with the kids. 

Unfortunately it was snowing massively, covering everything with a new thick white pack in record speed. As a result my fear of a long trouble some drive back to Leuven came reality.  All truck traffic had been forbidden in the south of Belgium, ...not that such a rule truly kept them from happily sliding along in the middle lane. Argh. The roads were greatly covered in snow as this amount of snow cannot be handled by the plows in Belgium so everything was creeping along. Pure horror for me, although it wasn't quite as bad yet as that worst snow drive. We only had 2h delay this time before I could crash in the sofa, dreaming about nice easy bunny-hills to ski and snow free roads.  And enjoy the fact that I have Christmas vacation and I don't have to leave the house if I don't feel like it

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Previous week

With newspapers reporting constantly the increasing number of train delays in Belgium, I took a train 1 hour early as 10 min connection cannot be trusted.  However the big board announced my reserved train with a big +55m in red next to the arrival time. Ugh.  My ticket wasn't exchangable but I got the advice to ask the train conductor whether they'd allow me on the previous train (which would pass by more or less when my train should have taken off).   I had nothing to lose when asking and I won my seat :)

In the cold and dark I found myself a spot on a tram riding through Amsterdam, crossing the grachten towards my hotel room where I'd spend the rest of the night in a warm bed.

The next day filled with meeting people, shaking hands, discussing projected phrases over and over again and expressing opinions carefully and then wondering how these came across being impressed by the people represented around the table.

Squeezing in a big room overcrowded with people, in search for some familiar faces...of which were surprisingly more to be found than anticipated. Beers, dressed up directors, dancing, ...maybe the Dutch didn't completely exaggerate the reputation of their X-mas party. Not quite the party of the century, but too much fun to leave before it was over :p.

Waking up tired in a pouring city on my first day of my vacation, seeking a dry refuge in the Rijksmuseum.  You can always count me in for a round of gazing at old master pieces, checking out the little details on the paintings and eagerly trying to absorb all explaining texts.  Time flies when you're having fun but usually my feet tell me I've got to move on.

Despite the rain I started walking across the city with my trolley towards the train's a pity to be in a city as Amsterdam and only spend time inside.  After a few minutes the rain transformed into snow and the little bridges turned into slippery white challenges and my trolley pulled heavier all the time.  

It took a little too long to figure out how to get my train ticket and find the correct platform so I had to wait for the next train. While crossing the Dutch countryside, I could see the landscape getting profoundly white and the traffic slower and slower. Waiting at the hotel lobby for Jan to make it there until we could head together to his company's X-mas dinner.  More shaking hands, having a drink, dinner and socialising a bit more in the bar.

Waking up in another hotel room, even more tired, ready to drive home before the new snow would hit our roads. Home sweet home :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

About shovelling and very hungry birds

A pretty active snow front has covered Belgium/ The Netherlands/ France & Germany yesterday and in Eastern Belgium there's now about 40cms of snow. Fortunately there was no new showers this morning in the east of the country so we were spared from the traffic chaos elsewhere.

Our neighbours deserve a shovelling medal!

But the last bit was still untouched white territory for us to clear ...

Our back terrace where I had left 4 seedballs last Sunday looked like a war zone for food while all off them had been eaten completely.  Holy , 4 of them in one week? Looks like the terrace has been a pretty crowded place.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Made in Belgium: Triggerfinger

A group that has only recently come on my radar is Triggerfinger.  I don't know a lot of them yet although they've been around for a while.   They have a super live reputation and it's quite noticable when surfing on youtube as almost all clips you can find are live concerts. Just recently they had a concert in the AB in Brussels which has gotten very very good reviews.

As it is - October 2010

New sensation - with Selah Sue - oct 2009

Short term memory love

First tast - 2008

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Slip sliding along

After 2 weeks of early snow showers and constant freezing, it had ironically started to thaw by the time we returned. Positive temperatures and drizzling rain is killing snow rather quickly so a lot of the nearby skihills were closing or had disappointly low snow levels left.  So we headed to Belgium's highest point nearby again hoping that that one or two degrees less there would make the difference and it did.  Much to our surprise it was very calm out there...clearly the rest of the country didn't belief there would be still snow left at the Botrange.

So my prediction came true: this is a post of cross-country skiing at the High Fens :)

I had attempted to cross-country ski once before...15 years ago in when I started off I gave a little shriek at every tiny bump on the trail, frightened to loose my balance whenever my skis would slide in any direction.  A man teaching a girl how to take a good posture, asked us whether we needed some teaching as well.   Tsss people jump to conclusions so easily these days ;)

Little by little I got more the hang of it and I felt quite proud of my own progress. That was of course until a local wooshed by with an impressive style and dito speed.  Ha,  I can slide in such nice big forward V's as well!  Well, after loosing my balance 3 times within one minute attempting to copy him, I decided a decent tourist style is good enough :). And now I can enjoy the feeling of some unknown muscles for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Made in Belgium: Soulsister

As a young teenager I really liked the music made by Soulsister.   The big hit "The way to your heart" even made it into the  Billboard hot 100. I remember asking an Australian exchange student very proudly if she knew the number after which she claimed they had an awful English accent. pffff, what did I know, I hardly spoke any English yet, let alone I would be able to distinguish the accent. I wasn't impressed by her criticism. Come on, they rocked and they were cute.

There was a brief reunion in 2008 but both Paul and Jan are back into their own projects so it seems. Paul Michiels seems to be more into jazz lately where I was very happy to read this week that Jan Leyers would work on a new travel/interview program & book. Looking forward to read/see the follow up to the "Road to Mecca" and the "shadow of the cross".

The way to your heart - 1989

Locks & Keys unplugged

Broken - 1993

Through before we even started

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Look who knocked on our door

The anticipation on presents and candy was big all afternoon, the activity rather hyper especially after a couple of false knocks on the door.

But finally Sinterklaas and 2 Zwarte Pieten arrived throwing cookies through the room and the noise got silent when Sinterklaas read out of his book. The kids sang some Sinterklaassongs rather reluctantly but were more enthusiastic when getting their candy and toys.  They hardly noticed when the Sint left again on his way to visit more children. He's still got a looooong night ahead of him.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Made in Belgium: Willem Vermandere

When I hear about the "renaissance" man who excelled in many different arts and didn't limit himself to one stream, I sometimes think of Willem Vermandere. He writes, he composes, he plays the clarinette and the guitar, he's a sculptor and he's a philosopher.   His music is sometimes playful and trivial but often very critical for our society, something I absolutely love.  It's pure and simple without much pretences with a day-to-day dialect used and roots in folk music.  Very often he writes very personal (a litany for the loss of his grandchild Rune, a song about his friend Steentje, ...)  , other times he links to current events in society.

I've seen him several times already at festivals or smaller concerts.  Always you see a wide range of generations coming to his music. 

Steentje - 1976
(the story of a friend missionary who went to Northern Alberta in Canada to live with the Cree Indians and who died there as a member of the tribe)

Duizend soldaten - 1976
(If you ever pass through the "westhoek" , through the rain and northern wind, you return in the time , you'll find the war here and the graves of thousands soldiers always someone"s fatur or someone's child.
we say it's going well in our country and we've locked the peace in our laws. We're still producing weapons but with much more intelligence now but only to prevent the war
It the war that you'll find here and the graves of thousands of soldiers , always someone's father and someone's child. Thousand and thousand soldiars.)

Laat mi ma lopen -
(Let me walk on through the streets, I have my love that I adore so much and I'm happy when I get to see her...)

Bange Blanke Man (Scared white man) -

(I saw Turks along the river, Marrocans in the city center of Ghent and on the market of Brussels I heard some Algerians with a weird accent.
I saw Chinese in Cologne, skinny man from Pakistan and in London I saw Sikhs from India wearing a big tulband.
all the children of Mother Earth are crying and singing at our door "Open the door scared white man)