Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Hot Ad Campaign Blankets Brussels

Anyone moving through Brussels this week has been exposed to the hot new Diesel jeans billboard campaign. Commercial, of course, but also great photographic art.

My Favorite Podcast: "Street Stories" from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

As some of my friends may know, I love subscribing to podcasts from all over the world. These, of course, are radio shows that can be downloaded -- for free -- into your computer and then be synched into your iPod or other MP3 player.

Well, I listen to many of these, and the best I've ever found come from the Australian Broadcasting Company Radio National's "Street Stories." These are so well-written and well-produced that they put you right into the action; following the rule for good writing, they don't tell you the story ... they show you the story, even though it's radio and not TV.

Here are links to some of my favorite shows:

Be sure to visit the "Street Stories" website to download these and other programs, as "Street Stories" has now been discontinued. But it's being replaced by a new show, "360," created by the same team, led by Executive Producer Claudia Taranto.

Chocolate Cake and Norwegian Poetry

My Norwegian friend, Knut, invited me over Friday night to drink "the world's best coffee." (The fact that he works for the Nespresso division of Nestlé might make him a little biased.) So, the deal was: I bring "the world's best chocolate cake" and he provides the coffee. Thus, I bopped into Van Dender Chocolatier, which won a gold medal for best chocolate in Belgium a few years ago, and picked up one of their signature cakes. Here's Knut right after I arrived; he couldn't wait to get his hands on the pièce de resistance.

Here is the wonderful Van Dender chocolate cake:

After we devoured about three cups of espresso each (various flavors -- all great) and an equal number of slices of cake, Knut hauled out a big book of Norwegian poetry and started reciting some of his favorite poems for me. The effect was ... mesmerizing! The sounds of the Norwegian language are like none I've ever heard before.

Knut was very proud of the effect he created with his poetry reading, as you can see from this cocky pose. Another highlight of the evening: going through a big picture book of the cathedrals of Europe (Knut used to be a cathedral tour guide) ... which led to our planning an outing to Germany in the spring, where we can visit some of them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An Evening in Leuven

I took the train to Leuven (only 17 minutes) and met my friend Joey at the very modern train station. He took me on a mini-tour of the city (it was raining kittens and puppies); here he is posed in front of the very impressive City Hall in Leuven's version of the Grand Place.
Joey and his new boyfriend.

We went to a cool cafe in the Old Market Square and then headed to the university to view a film on racism in England. Afterwards, I jumped on the train back to Brussels and had the first class car all to myself (but, hey, it was only for 17 minutes).

Monday, February 16, 2009

The February EGG Party

Sunday was the monthly EGG party at the restaurant Le Cap. Here I ran into friends Alessandro and Knut ...

... and then some of us headed to the nearby Café Novo for a late dinner.

A Visit to the COBRA Exhibit

Saturday my friend Gabriel and I headed to the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts for the penultimate day of the COBRA exhibit. This was a postwar movement centred in Copenhagen, Bruxelles, and Amsterdam.

The exhibit wasn't too exciting, but it was great to be back in the museum, one of our landmarks in Brussels.

My Marathon Friday the Thirteenth

What a day this was! Here's my schedule:

5:00 a.m. Wake up to a cold, cold house.
5:20 Send text to landlord, complaining.
6:45 Send email to landlord, complaining.
7:00 Walk to Gare du Nord.
7:25 Take train to Braine l'Alleud.
8:00 Take bus to Waterloo; start walking to school.
8:15 Slip on ice sheet in parking lot of Carrefour.
8:25 Arrive at school.

9:00 Begin teaching Victoria Diaz y Fernandez. Help her get her copy of SpeedLingua working (partial success). Translate rude English terms for her.

12:00 Finish class; cadge a ride from Victoria to the station.
13:05 Arrive in Bruxelles; tram to Avenue Louise; walk to school.
13:30 Begin class with Soumia Hmimach.
15:30 Finish class; head home.
17:00 Begin 15-minute rest.
18:00 Drinks with Ludmilla and Marilyn.
20:00 Arrive at Belgaña; greeted warmly by Tom.

20:30 Joined by Gergely.

23:45 Off to the wild party of Maui Am Vill.
4:00 Leave party; taxi home.
5:00 Go to bed, after a long, long day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Shenanigans in the Kitchen

Seeking just a quiet dinner at Restaurant Belgaña, I instead got tossed into a crazy mock boy-fight with waiters Tom and Jimmy. So, in addition to another good meal, I got an entertaining two hours. Here are a few pix of our shenanigans.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

After Twelve Hours With Me, She's A Poet!

My recent student, Merel Olivier, was so inspired by our crazy two days together that she pounded out a pretty poetic essay in English. Take a read and tell me what you think:

Independence Day
By Merel Olivier

When I was younger I asked myself what will I be … but the nice song of Doris Day in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" left me with a “not enough” taste in my mouth … Even though I like to sing the song, “Que Sera, Sera,” ... Destiny ... Fate ... Yeah, well ... I’ve always been more a believer in “you make your own bed.” A little problem for a day-dreamer like me … My bed’s a mess. Or, as William Ernest Henley wrote: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” ... but I’m hardly keeping the boat afloat.

Paradox: that’s my middle name ... what goes with it: Procrastination. “Tomorrow”: this word should be banned from all books! Carpe Diem: Seize the day. Since 1989 I’ve been wondering how. I don’t think I’ve got the right book.

I’m not lazy, just happen to be my own motherly mom living “ostrichly.” I’m not undecided, only passionate about too many things to be able to sacrifice one idea and actually end up doing none. I’m starving for knowledge but knowing all the answers hasn’t made me the Yoda of the Jeopardy of Life.

I’ve got my wake-up call ... yeah, about that, to wake up has always been hard on me. I’m more a night person. But in this case what’s difficult is literally the next step. I get easily distracted by all the mirages shimmering on this road.

“It’s the journey that matters, not the destination” I get the concept but from time to time it would be nice to get somewhere ... ‘Cause for me every bus stop on the journey is a little destination.

But I’m in the mud, and this gooey, sticky, drowning, swallowing muck keeps me breathless. “The best is not to move,” they say ... True, true ... but I’ve mastered that and I’m still in it.

Thanks to “and they lived happily ever after,” I’ve got this delusion that I can be saved by Love … but no Prince Charming in the entourage to save me ... even then, that never worked ... It’s just me ... no magic wand on the tip of my finger either … “Use the Force,” hum ... just me, me and my brains …

Brains, nice brains ... only used for “head-storms.” ... Little neurons, I order you to redirect the impulses into my fingers, arms, toes and legs ... so we can say, “she’s alive, Alive.”

I will move at the pace of my heartbeat, following the drums that I’m enjoying fighting so much.

Still, I have to organize my thoughts and plan my actions. For instance, yesterday, thinking of just going to bed, I undressed in my room before taking my jammies from the bathroom. Of course, I have to pass in front of the bare kitchen windows first …

It’s only the beginning of the trip, learning to love to lose, that’s a leap of faith that I’m willing and able to take … without mastering “The Art of Losing” along the way.

Soon, I hope to be declaring the independence day of the United States of my heart, mind, body and soul. It’s under construction. This unblank page is witness. And, as the song goes, “The rest is still unwritten.”

‘Cause like I jumped off the Atomium, I’d like to yell everyday for the rest of my life, “YYOOOOOOOHHOOOEEEE”!

Help This Man Find A Girlfriend

My good buddy and current flatmate, Gergely [GAIR-gay] Gallo, a Hungarian stud (1,90 m, 85 kg, blond hair, blue eyes, works out at the gym three times a week), is looking for a girlfriend. Interested candidates can contact me, as I'm acting as his pimp/translator (he only speaks Hungarian, of course, and English). Working as a senior IT engineer for a major U.S. corporation in Brussels, Gergely holds a Master's degree ... and, usually, a beer mug in his hand. He's a great guy, a sort of 2009 version of a Knight in Shining Armor. (Yes, really: he's a true Boy Scout.) So, ladies, what are you waiting for? (Or, Mothers, what are YOU waiting for?) The line forms here ...

Happy Birthday, Marie-Françoise

Marie-Françoise Bernard, pictured here with husband Rob Spruit, is celebrating her birthday today. Happy Birthday! She and Rob recently danced the tango on their local community TV channel (they live outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, although Marie-Françoise is originally from France and Rob is from the Netherlands) and are becoming area celebrities. I hear there's a chance they may be asked to do a regular TV show ... (If you want to see how well they can interpret the pure Argentine style of tango, and how comfortable Marie-Françoise is before the cameras, check out their little video here. (You may want to fast forward through the introductory chit-chat with the host, but your interest will definitely perk up when the dancing begins. Man, it's hot!)

Got A New Teaching Buddy: A Crazy Kiwi!

No, it's not a local custom for teachers at Call International to type wearing gloves or mittens. But, here we have one of my newest colleagues at the language school, Shaun Barton. He's a Crazy Kiwi from New Zealand (where else would a kiwi come from?!) who's freezing through our winter (when he's not typing, he wears TWO pairs of gloves). Yeah, yeah, it's warm and sunny Down Under this time of year, but, hey, this is Belgium, man! We're gonna toss down a couple dozen beers on Friday night, so I should have some good info on him by the weekend. (And here he is in his alternate guise: Maui Am Vill.)

My Coolest Friend and I Are Planning A Jazz Nightclub in Brussels

Ted Richardson, my coolest pal
Oh, yeah, say it's impractical ... foolish ... silly ... But my coolest pal, Ted Richardson (visit his very cutting-edge website here), and I are gonna open a jazz nightclub here in Brussels. As soon as we (1) find the right space -- I've got one in mind already, and (2) find the right investors -- I want some Belgians involved, not just Americans. It's gonna be primarily a jazz venue (when we can get the right talent) but will also feature performance artists, poets, tango dancers, martial artists, hula dancers, half-clad "native" waiters and waitresses ... and, oh yes, great Cajun food: Ted's original recipes.

Not only can Ted cook up a storm, but he's a world-class oil-and-gas man, currently pulling together big prospects in Houston, as well as a well-respected jazz man, who's produced albums by some of the world's biggest jazz stars, including, most recently, Carl Saunders.

Is there a place like this already in Brussels? Are you kidding?! In Belgium? Think again, man. In Europe? Certainly not. It will be a one-of-the kind place, in a one-of-a-kind city ... run by two one-of-a-kind (does that phrase even make sense?) guys: Ted and me. Stay tuned for regular updates. P.S. If you want to invest, write me a letter explaining why!

Monday, February 9, 2009

My 14-Hour Teaching Day

Manuella Nganou Koutouzi explains the term "to juggle frogs" to a rapt audience of her fellow students in my class tonight. Never heard that expression? Neither have I ... but I managed to explain it anyway. Just another class.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"To be rich is glorious" -- Deng Xiaoping

Lying in bed this morning, luxuriating in the glory of being alive, I listened to one of my favorite BBC podcasts: "Peter Day's World of Business." (Check it out here.) He was in China, in Shenzen, to be exact, visiting an Irish entrepreneur who is on the cutting edge of the New Economy, Chinese version. Their tour of the city began at the statue of the dead leader Deng Xiaoping that beams down from a mountaintop. The statue's inscription was one of Deng's most famous quotes: "To be rich is glorious." I couldn't help but pair this thought with the article I saw last night on Reuters, about 90-year-old Ian Thiermann having to go back to work as a grocery clerk because he had lost his life savings in the Bernard Madoff swindle (you can read his sad story -- and those of other elderly victims of Madoff -- here). And I couldn't help but wonder: Just how "glorious" is it to be rich? I know a lot of rich people -- and am related to several -- but their lives don't seem all that "glorious," especially now, in the wake of the worldwide financial collapse.

Coffee With Belgian Poet Guido Vermeulen

Belgian Poet Guido Vermeulen

It's few poets who can compose in three languages, but Belgian bard Guido (that's pronounced "HEE-doe") Vermeulen is one: he can versify equally well in his native Flemish as well as French and English. Today I had coffee with him. What did we discuss? Affairs of state? The state of poetry? No, his recently dumped girlfriend and potential new acquisition. What better subject to talk about on a grey Brussels Saturday afternoon? In a Portuguese resto, with EuroSport flashing ski jumping from somewhere white and bright on the flatscreen? Much better than inching along Wilshire Boulevard toward the Beverly Center, I assure you! Check out Guido's blog here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Really Good Schaerbeek Resto

Belgaña Owner Tom Cansse With A Satisfied Diner

Ok, so, if you don't know Brussels, you don't know Schaerbeek (Schaarbeek, in Flemish -- get used to having two spellings, or even two different names for practically every place in Belgium). It's a neighborhood (they call them "quartiers" here -- that's French, of course) that's considered "in transition" from working class, retired folks, to ... yes, even here ... the dreaded "yuppies" (perhaps we should call them "Bruppies"?). Which means there's a cool mix of old, mangy town houses and shops and trendy new spaces (more of the former and less of the latter -- "pour le moment," as the French would say). Anyway, one of the best restos (that's restaurants) is Restaurant Belgaña, where the chef, Eric, offers Spanish specialities in addition to Belgian favorites. The lively young waiter/owner, Tom, will insult you (jokingly, of course) in three languages (his native Flemish, his reluctant-but-fluent French, and his eager, vigorous, L.A.-street-style English). You're gonna eat well here ... and not pay too much.