Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Made in Belgium: Get Ready

When I grew up there were always "back to the 80ies" parties.   I had grown up stealing my sister's cassettes from her cupboard so I was more into 80ies music than my friends of my own age and I was convinced that 80ies music was way better than the contemporary 90ies pop & beats (I completely ignored rock at that age).

With quite some amusement I notice a huge "We love the 90ies" hype going on with several popular radio stations regularly scheduling top 90ies weeks and an explosion of 90ies music parties everywhere. There's a real revival going on and much to my surprise that music brings back so much more teenage & student live memories than I would have expected.  With hindsight I do belief the 90ies also brought us some great music.

One of the things I recently saw on tv was "Get Ready!".  I had completely forgotten that the 90ies was also all about popular boysbands and hysterically screaming girls.   And oh yes....Belgium did not escape that phenomenon. So this week I present you Belgium's most popular boysband from the 90ies  "Get Ready" who have had 11 number 1 singles between 1996 and 2002.....don't get me wrong, I don't blog about them because they were good. In fact they were that horrible that with hindsight it's incredibly funny and very amusing.  And because of that, they are going through a revival with a lot of performances over the last years and they are even launching a new album this year. Oh gosh , help us.   ;)

I still love you



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

High Fens on fire

So far for bragging about the hot dry weather in Belgium....a few hours after we left the Ardennes yesterday and litteraly drove by this road on the images which is only a few kms from our weekend get-away, the nature park caught fire. 

1000 ha of nature has been destroyed but the fire is now under control.  Let's hope the peat and boglands didn't get damanged deep inside too much so nature can reclaim over time.

At the horizon

Monday, April 25, 2011

A hot Easter in the east of Belgium

Our family came to the Ardennes this weekend to celebrate Easter there with us.  My nephew was delighted to discover that the Easter Bells and the Easter bunny had also passed by our little weekend house and started to hunt for chocolate eggs immediately. And then checked the garden another 10 times after we had reassured that surely he must have found already all eggs available.

Belgium turned out to be the hottest spot of Europe this week, with temperatures almost reaching 30C's at some parts (fortunately the high Ardennes are a bit cooler) and landscapes that look drier and drier after all those weeks without rain. We took the opportunity for a big Easter family BBQ.

After lunch we digested by the same walk we had done last week along the Warche. The abundant sun had turned all fields in alpine meadows full of flowers. The massive amount of dandelions created yellow seas and some wild jasmine bushes smelled deliciously.

Afterwards we all deserved a nice big ice-cream and some rest :p

Late at night, with the help of some cool Ikea lamps, it was still very cosy outside

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hop on Hop off in Amsterdam

The biggest disadvantage of  working abroad part-time and spending some nights per week in a hotel is the fact that you must go out for dinner on your own each night. So I gladly accept any offer from colleagues (usually other expats) to join me for dinner somewhere.

Last Thursday a local collague promised me to show me part of the city and I was really looking forward to that. We left the office and we started walking while she holds her bike at her hand.

"You'll have to hop on the back though a bit further"

We walk a bit further and then she says "ok hop on now"
Where I had expected her to stop and allowing me to go and sit on the back of her bike gently with one leg on each side and then take off, she actually started to peddle away and got me running behind her.

"Come on , jump, you can do it"
"What ? How?"
"Just jump on the back, legs both to one side"

Wtf? She meant it, she was simply biking away. If I didn't jump she'd be gone in traffic while I was still running on the side.  So I tried to launch a jump towards the back of her bike, failing to land on her bike of course. With some laughter she stops for a moment, and encourages me to try again.

The next 3 times I somehow land on her bike but fall off right away and but finally I land more or less stable on her moving bike, grabbing her middle for balance.  And off we were cruising through the streets of Amsterdam along the canals. Just when I start feeling comfortable and enjoying my bike taxi ride,  she tells me to get off again at a big crosspoint where she needs to stop.

And so on the other side I make my jumps again, succeeding now almost right away.  The process repeated a few more times, each time when traffic clogged and she had to stop and I gained the skill to launch myself from the sidewalk immediately on the back of her bike.

"Aaaah now you're an Amsterdammer, everyone who sees us know is convinced you are local, this is how we do it in Amsterdam"
"Is it legal to sit on the back of a bike?"
"Well, look around, you see many people catching a ride with someone else"
"Yeah sure but that's not my question, in Belgium you're officially not allowed"
"Oh.....euh, don't know, this is how we give someone a lift in Amsterdam"
"Ok, well thanks, it's great, I don't mind if you ride me all around the city like this"  and I enjoyed the views and the wind in my face until we arrived in the Jordaan quarter where we spent the rest of the very warm evening on a terrace.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Made in Belgium: Pitaboys

Ok this week I am not really contributing any "music"...but the hype of the moment.  The yell "Where is the party" - "here is the party" is heard everywhere. You can't have a drink somewhere without someone yelling "waar is da feestje" with the common response. It's THE yell and hype at soccer games at the moment, at music festivals, etc. And it has been turned in some horrible dance music :). But at least you all know if you are wondering where the party is: "here is the party!!!"

Waar is da feestje - winter 2010/2011

at soccer games

Pukkelpop festival - 2009

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tour de la Warche

Just a small walk around the village, along the fields, woods, Warche river and lake

Jan struck by the light

Monday, April 18, 2011

The spontaneity of a flashmob

It seemed like a standard sunny Saturday afternoon in Leuven

But look well...
Notice a camera just in front of the building on the right and one camera man on the left?

 And a way more visible camera and stage

 And big groups of colorful people in the background

I hang around because I knew what was about to happen.  Something that had long been announced in multiple FB statusses,   references to meetings, rehearsals, more meetings, agreements with city & police, logistic arrangements, FB event invitations. 

And yes, there they came ....once....twice .... until they had rehearsed enough and the real runs could take place ;). Ha, if you ever thought a flashmob was something sponteneous think again.

(sorry for the horrible sound of my mobile phone recording)

(the real thing, with professional camera's)

And this way the catholic youth in Flanders wants to attract the attention to the World Youth Day's that will take place in Madrid this summer. Since I've attended the World Youth Day's in Rome and in Cologne , I could only watch their enthusiasm with a lot of joy and I wish them unforgettable encounters in Spain!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Made in Belgium: Jo Lemaire

Jo Lemaire started her music career in the 70ies experimenting with different music styles over the decades. She broke through in 1981 with a huge hit "Je suis venue te dire que je m'en vais " (I came to tell you that I'm leaving) , a cover from Serge Gainsbourg.   After so many years it still gives me chills.

In more recent years Jo has been experimenting with French chanson and especially her Edith Piaff impressions are stunning. I've seen her live at Night of the Proms in 1997 and her voice is quite impressive!   Lately she performs in more intimate theatre shows as far as I can tell from her website and she's still quite popular in France as well. In Flanders we seem to have forgotten her a bit.

Je suis venue te dire que je m'en vais - 1981

Mon b√Ęteau

La nuit te ressemble

Rien de rien - Night of the Proms 1997

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

E-service inefficiency

Because I spend the majority of my working time in the Netherlands now, I must apply for a "sofi" number ( a Dutch social/fiscal identity).  In order to obtain one I must bring my own identity card and a proof of my address.

Ha easy because all Belgians have a small electronic ID with a chip and the government has been generously distributing ID cardreaders that give us access to online applications to access our files at the government, apply for documents, submit our taxes, or join child-friendly chat applications where you cannot hide under an alias. 

All city administrations have developed e-business services many years ago so I quickly log on at the website of Leuven, click on "proof of residence", put my ID in the reader and see all my official numbers, my names, ID card number etc appearing on the screen.   I hit on the confirmation button and get immediately a PDF in my e-mail.  Nice and smoothly.

Then I read what is on the screen and in the PDF.......It is simply a recognition that I've applied for a document.  I am still waiting for my proof of residence while my address is registered on the chip of my ID.   If they can read everything else on the screen, why not my official address and dump it on a nice form. Argh. What's the point of an e-form if you are doing it like this?  What an inefficiency and lost chance!!! Way to go Leuven. I am really curious now how long it will take them to treat my request.

So I tried something else and went to check my files at the Ministry of Internal Affairs to check my Population file there.  With 2 clicks I got the history of all my registered addresses and I could click to receive a nicely formatted certificat of residence stamped with the Ministry's logo and time of delivery etc.    Ha, much better service from that non-existing federal government.

Monday, April 11, 2011


"Do you have a government yet?"

"Hey congratulations with your record"

"Wow, your country is clearly proving that one does not need a government at all"

"Tesco claims to know more of their customers than the government.   Where I come from (Belgium) that's not quite an impressive statement".
"My country gets it's 4th election in 7 years. It could be worse, Belgium has still no government and broke a world record".

It's amazing how often our political situation is a topic of discussion abroad and how often I hear similar quotes. It's just as amazing how it is no longer a topic of discussion within Belgium at the same time. I wanted to check the newspaper today to see how the negotiations are going but could not see an article on the topic.  Don't get me wrong, we get plenty of bold statements and quotes from politicians  that trigger a sea of protest and irritation which on its turn sends of a new reaction.
But whether there's been negotiations today or meetings between which parties....I have no clue?

So what has happened over the last year:  Next week it's been a year since our government resigned and launched new elections.

Right after the elections there was quite some optimism as in each part of the country a clear winner came out: NVA in Flanders (Flemish nationalistic, right wing conservative)  and PS (socialist party, left in Wallonia).  As the political landscape wasn't as fragmented as feared those 2 winners were condemned to each other to find a compromise and form the government.  As the leader of the NVA gave the impression not aiming at the title of Prime Minister (ha, wouldn't that be ironic, leading a government of the country  you want to slowly dissolve), the PS and NVA had quite some optimistic initial talks at the start of the summer.

There were talks about state reform, federal budgets to get reassigned to regions, federal powers to get reassigned to both regions. For the first time I heard Wallonian politicians talking about content of state reform, something they had refused to do over the previous 3 years (leading to such a clear victory of Flemish nationalists, so they strategy had hit them in the face).   Yet their max give-in never reached the minimum of the Flemish nationalists and by the end of August there was a clear rupture in the mutual trust.  Leaks afterwards revealed that NVA didn't believe anymore in a solution with PS and PS didn't trust NVA anymore since they had broken some promises. Both PS and NVA lead a formation attempt in vain.

Our poor king assigned some mediators to win time and calm down the emotions again. Some more documents were written with suggested approaches but they were killed by the other parties.    

At the end of October, Van De Lanotte, an experience politician from the SPA (the Flemish socialists....seemed like a good cross-over between NVA & PS) was assigned to clear out the disputes and try to document a ground to continue the negotiations. He took a torough & discrete approach visiting all parties, national bank, budgettary specialists etc.   Surprisingly enough he never gathered the 7 "negotiating" political parties around the table one single time so basically they never met anymore together.  Yet he kept interviewing everybody and when his mother got ill and he had to take a break from his task, all newspapers were full of this non-progress. 
By the start of 2011 he produced a 60 page proposal on state reform , possible budget structures etc... None of the political parties was enthousiastic which seems to me that it met a decent compromis that hurt everybody a little.   The Wallonian political parties wanted to continue negotiating but didn't agree with everything,  NVA and the Flemish Christian Democrats didn't find this document could be a basis of negotiations.  Back to scratch. 

The king decided to turn things upside down and assigned a Wallonian liberal to lead the negotiations, a political party that had not been involved until now.  Maybe he could lead our country to an alternative majority and could his right-wing approach appeal the Flemish NVA.    But after 4 weeks he obtained no result whatsover and the distrust to all negotiators had only grown and grown.

In the mean time we broke the Iraq world record of country without a government.  Our population had finally lost some of its apathy and had celebrated this record in some absurd way. What can I say, we're the country of Magritte and Delvaux.

Over the last weeks yet another negotiator has stepped in but I hardly hear anything of his progress in the press. We only learn of federations between Brussels and Wallonia being made and Flanders now accusing them of preparing the break-up of Belgium. How ironic is that? Or other emotional discussions being fought in front of the camera's.  But which content is currently on the negotiation table if any, we don't know anymore.

We've learned recently that in fact we did not break the world record of governmentless country last winter just yet as all of a sudden it became clear that Cambodja had been almost a year without government and is still holding that current record.  Well....I am fairly certain we'll break that world record yet once again on June 1.   Each day a solution seems further and further away and new elections won't help either as the 2 major players are only going to grow bigger and bigger.

And so we have a resigning government who has been resigning for a longer time than it's been officially in power.  A resigning government that officially can only manage ongoing affairs but not take new decisions...yet out of necessity they've submitted the budget for the coming years to Europe, well, ...because we had to submit a budget.    And they've prolonged some economic measures eternally since the new govnerment, when it comes, can always cancel these immediately.  And this country with only a resigning federal government managed to engage itself in the Libyan war without any problem . More specifically the parliament voted pro unanimously since there was no opposition to give the parties in power a hard time.   And we've been praised as the most efficient and effective presidency of the European Union in the 2nd half of 2010 since our "resigning" ministers could have full focus on the European matter and had the time to prepare well.

Ha, and so we might pretend in some absurd way that we are more effective without official government than with. Don't let you get fooled though, we're not doing well.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Back on my bike after 1,5 years

Due to my operation last year it had been 1,5 years since I had been on my bike, but this weekend was so nice I couldn't resist.  Jan searched a 30 km tour on flat territory via the Flemish cycling road network and I enjoyed it very much.

self-portrait while cycling
Flander's scary wild-life ;)

cycling makes one thirsty

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Let's go outside

Sorry for all my friends that still see snow outside, but here in Leuven we feel that the summer is just around the corner and it feels great.

Friday, April 8, 2011

4 seasons in a day ...well or at least 2 in a weekend

We expect a beautiful weekend. Last weekend was great too and the entire week I had a half-finished post sitting here but could only find the time now to finish & post it :)

While I still read on FB so many statusses about fresh snow on the other side of the Atlantic, we enjoyed a first true warm day and we, Belgians, all got on the street collectively in T-shirt & short :).  While Jan and his dad finished off the flooring & ceiling of our new garden cabinet I went to choir rehearsal.  From there we went to enjoy the sunshine with friends at a late brunch. It was so lovely to hang out in good company while breathing in the sun as much as we could although we actually had to seek out some shade after a while.  This was no spring, this was summer! And I loved it.

Xbox games

Seven-league boots??

It was hard to believe on Saturday that the temps would drop overnight by more than 10C resulting in a grey & cold (and wet?) Sunday.  Yet indeed the sky wasn't very enticing when we got up. Soon it started drizzling and it didn't stop until late in the afternoon. A true fall day,  a perfect day to hang out in the sofa and watch the Belgian major cycling race on tv.  By the start of the evening I was so lazy & sleepy from not doing anything so it was time for a walk anyway.  And it was great out in the woods :)

Wild daffodils

The fact that the daffodils were out again , reminded me that we've made the exact same walk a year ago :p
Reinhardstein castle

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Made in Belgium: Broken Glass Heroes

Last week it was announced that the internationally awarded hidden camera program "Benidorm Bastards" has been sold to NBC where it will be hosted by Betty White.   The program that features elderly people taking the fool of youngsters has already been sold now to 20 countries and has already been aired in Belgium & the Netherlands.

For this series, Tim Vanhamel en Pascal Deweze were asked to write music that sounded very retro, as if it was made in the 60ies & 70ies.  This little assignment grew fast and they ended up producing an entire album. And their success helped the success of Benidorm Bastards and vice versa. I see the bastards when I hear them :p.

Baby Don't Worry

Let's not fall apart

Friday, April 1, 2011

Summer hour

Either I'm getting old or either we all jointly forwarded our clock by 25 h by accident last Saturday instead of 1 hour but I don't think it has ever bothered me so much as this year.  Zzzzzzzzz, can't get out of bed.