Sunday, January 31, 2010

Winter driving tip, from a Canadian.

This may seem obvious to some readers out there, however there are so many people here who don't seem to know how to get their car moving from a parked position when there is a bit of snow underneath it.  I keep hearing and seeing people everywhere who are spinning their tires rapidly, frustrated that they are not able to maneuver their car on the snow/ice.

Take this as a basic tip from an experienced snow and ice driver:

Do NOT push down on the gas as you normally would on dry or wet ground.  DO push very VERY lightly on the gas pedal.  You are aiming for a speed of between 5-10 km/hr to start off.  If you do this, the weight of your car and frictional physics will work to your advantage, and your car will move, very easily where you want it to.  Once it's moving, then you can speed up little by little, maintaining control of your car the whole time.

IF you are spinning your tires on the snow and ice, ALL you are doing (via the polishing motion of your tires moving rapidly and repeatedly over the same surface) is creating a smooth surface between your tires and the snow.  It will be harder for your tires to get a grip on that freshly polished surface.  IF you stop spinning your tires and try to move your car verrrry slowwwly off that smooth surface, it normally works.

IF you are STILL stuck, after trying to move verrry slowwly, put some grit under your tires, and then try the moving very slowly maneuver again.  Believe it or not, many Canadians keep a little bag of kitty litter or sand in the back of their car during the winter for such emergencies (which rarely arise since we pretty much all know about the whole starting-slow-from-stationary thing.)

If this helps just one person here with their winter driving, I'll be very glad.  I'm seriously considering translating these instructions into French and anonymously placing them on car windows in my neighbourhood, considering there are presently THREE different cars outside my house, all spinning their tires like idiots on about ONE whopping centimeter of snow.

So anyways Belgium... just thought I'd let you in on that little winter driving tip.  It's not your fault you don't get a lot of practice on the snow, but now you know.  I will say however, that you guys are champions at driving in really horrid rain, just so you don't think I'm being superior or something. :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Battle of the Bars: Chocolate with hazlenuts

Still sick, but I'm not going to whine today.  I found something in the backlog that I hadn't dealt with yet.


Purely for scientific reasons, I ate these both in the same day some time ago.
Côte D'or milk chocolate with hazelnuts 
&
Milka milk chocolate with hazelnuts.

Lets look at them unwrapped side by side, shall we?
left = Côte D'or,                               right = Milka.

As you can see, the Côte D'or bar is darker, which generally indicates a milk chocolate with higher cacao content.  The flavour of the Côte D'or was certainly richer, but still very much a milk chocolate, meaning creamy and not bitter.  Both bars were very sweet, though the Milka was definitely the sweeter of the two.  Texture-wise, the Côte D'or was smoother, with the Milka coming across as a little bit 'waxy'.  Last point: the hazelnuts.  There is a very good flavour that comes through with the hazelnuts in the Côte D'or, they are perfectly roasted.  With the Milka bar, the hazelnuts aren't very tasty at all.

As the price point for each bar is roughly the same (there has been at most, 10 cents difference in price between the two whenever I've seen them,) I'd say if you're looking for a good hit of chocolate with hazelnuts for a bit of added crunch and protein, you want to go for the Côte D'or.

Friday, January 29, 2010

My brain is sputtering along today (still sick)

How to be happy
when your brain isn't working:
write a few haiku.

It's only five tones
the next line having seven,
and then back to five.

Even a sick brain
that feels like it's in a vice
can squeak out that much.

********

Under my duvet
listening to the drizzle;
sick here in Belgium.

Eating horrid things
such as this Nougatti bar
won't make me better.

I am a machine.
The only thing I produce
is mountains of snot.

I'm bad at napping
but today I managed one.
It helped a little.

Now a cup of chai,
a dinner full of garlic...
Then I'll have stink-breath!

********
EDIT: (One last one because I found something out on the internets today...)

Herman Van Rompuy:
E.U. Council President,
writer of haiku.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blurgh.

I am sick.  It is miserable.  Though I can breathe my sinuses are heavy with a viral party, which are trying to make their way into my throat and lungs.  Viruses are assholes.

I sneeze occasionally.  I have nothing important to say but I feel like I should post, (I'm contemplating giving NaBloPoMo a shot in the future) so here goes nothing (really, it's nothing.)  Wallow with me a little, will you?

I almost made chocolates today.  Then I realized I still haven't found a needed tool here, so I didn't.  I thought momentarily about using my uninterrupted time to make macarons, but then realized our electric mixer is shit, and whipping the eggwhites in the process of making macarons will kill the motor, resulting in me not being able to make anything, at all.  DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG ITS BEEN SINCE I'VE MADE A PROPER TRUFFLE?  Much too long.  I have assembled almost all the tools needed now, and still this country mocks me by holding back just one or two needed things.  I think it's safe to say there will be no truffles for Valentine's day, nor will there be macarons.  That is a sad thing.

I can't wait to be in Toronto again.  This is a place where a diverse range of pastry tools of high quality are easily found, and fairly reasonably priced.  I miss dealing with my business there.  I miss being able to experiment and create new things in my kitchen there.  This kitchen here is more like an... alcove of doom.  Cooking is not a joy here, it is truly a struggle.  A struggle against a tiny space with awful layout, mostly crap equipment, and a severe lack of countertop.  It is so sad.  Boyfriend doesn't seem to understand this sorrow fully, except to notice that I don't seem to take the same pleasure in making food that I once did.  Why would I?  I had originally hoped that even if I couldn't do business here during this first year, that I'd at least have the chance to expand my skills by whipping up new kinds of awesome on my own time at home.  Haha.  How naiive I was.  We didn't even have a proper oven when I got here.  Now we have a semi-functioning one.  It lives in the garage.  Do you see what kind of situation I'm talking about now?  It is terribly demotivating.  I try to avoid thinking about it too much since it just makes me frustrated, and a little sad.

Fortunately, I will be in Toronto soon.  We have plane tickets!  I am so excited.  I wish I could spend a month there, or more, but no.  I don't get that much vacation time this year, so I'm trying to organize myself for the blitz of appointments I'll need to make with my doctor, accountant, the passport office, and so on.  In between those administrative doings while we're there I'll be trying to greedily inhale the essence of all my friends and family.  I miss them dearly.

But even my attempt at organization isn't working because the viral party in my sinuses has made my brain feel like it's being squeezed to the point where most thinking capacites have stalled.  Assholes!  Get out of my body!

I'm going to nap.  You've read enough of my sickly whining anyhow, no?
Chicken soup or other sick-person recipes, folk remedies, or immunity talismans are welcome.

P.S - I told you it was nothing.
P.P.S - I'm sorry.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Eat Like a Belgian : an introduction to Belgian food

What do Belgians eat, aside from croissants, frites, mussels, chocolates, and waffles?

The French pâtissier I used to work for in Toronto would have answered "Nothing!"  His unchanging (yet frequently used) joke about the Belgians was that it was all they ate, with heavy emphasis on the moules et frites.  Boyfriend graciously bore being the brunt of this joke for pretty much the entire time he was in Canada, and now that I'm here, I can say with authority that fortunately, the Frenchman was wrong.

It's not the easiest thing to explain or classify "Belgian food".  Many people like to say something along the lines of "French quality, German generosity", but it's really not that simple.  Firstly, quality is such a vague word.  While Belgian cuisine is certainly influenced by French and German cuisine, it is definitely distinct from both.  There are traces of influence from many of the country's previous occupants/invaders/rulers, including the Vikings, Romans, Spanish, English, Austrians, Dutch, Germans, and French.  (More recent influences affecting "modern Belgian cuisine" include Italian and North African.)

I'd have to say that the desire to begin with ingredients of high quality would be one aspect of similarity to the French.  Defining quality very simply, I can say this: It is a newsworthy scandal in Belgium when a butcher is "controlled" (inspected), and the sausages are discovered to have an incorrect percentage of fat in them, or not enough beef to warrant being called a "beef & pork" sausage.  For a society where "Fîlet American" (a dish involving raw beef and often raw egg as well,) can be found readily in restaurants, butchers, and supermarket delis, ensuring the ingredients are fresh and correctly prepared is important.

Serving size really depends on where you are, however it's definitely rare to have the "tiny morsel on a vast expanse of plate compensated for by a whimsical balsamic drizzle" sort of experience here.  Don't expect giant portions on account of the "generosity" reference, however.  I think the "German generosity" actually comes into play when you think about the way traditional Belgian cuisine sits, and feels in your stomach.  It's hard to find a meal that leaves you feeling like you weren't given enough here.  Even salads normally contain goat's cheese, chicken, beef or fish making them very satisfying.

Sadly for the arteries and colons of the Belgian population, the way fats are used in cooking also has something to do with this 'satiety' response Belgian food delivers.  Butter is sometimes used in frightening quantity, as is cream.  At times the fat is necessary for the dish to turn out as it should (frîtes, crème fraîche chocolate truffles,) but other times you can easily reduce the amount of butter called for, or use a lighter cream with no noticeable change in the dish that results.  Laying the fat on thick is more tradition than necessity with many Belgian dishes.  You've been warned!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Frenglish enigma

Try saying it with a French accent.


Yup.  That's an "easy peel" opening, folks.  Get it?

When I ask myself why this exists in the manner it does, my brain feels funny, as though I've accidentally started walking on mobius strip.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The morning after

Bear with me, I have a headache and am very slow in most respects today.  I'm recovering.

Brussels was a bust yesterday, as far as finding the things I'd hoped to.  It turns out the ONLY Guess Jeans store in all of Belgium is in Antwerp.  The Guess store in Brussels is actually a Guess Accessories store.  Had I been more observant in my internet doings from the start, I could have seen this on the Guess website.  It's just another reason to visit Antwerp I suppose.  Similar failures cropped up for us on the culinary tool hunt, and there were no art-visitations either.  Basically our plans flaked apart, and we left Brussels a little décu (disappointed.)  All big cities have their days where they just try to mess with you a little, and yesterday was ours.

As for photos... I have failed.  I am suffering broken promise guilt.  But!  I can provide a visual aid for this next story!  Ready?

What does this picture remind me of?


(Note: I don't know who this is, I just typed in "16 year old boy" and found this on Google images.)



Why, it looks positively like the 17 year old BOY who decided to make a very persistent play for me last night in the crowd at Transardentes.  Yeah.  He wouldn't quit either!  Despite my telling him I had a boyfriend and that it was IMPOSSIBLE since I'm 31, not to mention my LAUGHING at his attempts, he was all trying to grind up on me and touch me while I was dancing, asking me to look at him, or to kiss him.  Me, I was up front watching the djs, so I didn't really want to give up my place simply because of this annoyance.  With a man, I would simply have made a few targeted comments designed to destroy any shred of sexual self-esteem he might ever have had, but the worst part is some part of me just felt really like it would be wrong to crush the ego of what was clearly a misguided child.  Of course, the ideas for mean questions/comments still did come to mind, but I kept my claws in and dealt with the situation with what was more like ... parental gentility.  Bizarre.

I think that's all I've got for today.  My brain has stalled yet again in it's vodka-and-redbull ravaged state, and I need to find food and hydration.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday morning in Belgium

It's 8am, and we've stumbled across a show about a man who "strokes" male elephants and rhinos in order to assist with artificial insemination programs.  In just 7 minutes we've seen a man covered in elephant ejaculate, and a female elephant defecating on the man who was, erm, catheterizing her for insemination.  Action packed Saturday morning entertainment I tell you.  As the Belgian says: "C'est genial comme emissions!" (What a great show!)

Today we're off to Brussels to source a few things that seem to be impossible in Liege.  Like Guess jeans.  I'm not really a "Guess girl", however I have to say that their jeans make my bum look fabulous, and they validate my ego slightly by allowing me to believe that I fit into a size 26.  And since we're in the period of "The Soldes", they're on sale!

Now we are watching a man stroke Shamu, the killer whale.  Of this, the Belgian comments: "Putain, ça, c'est de la bite."  (F*^%, now that... that's a wang.)

I feel it's entirely inappropriate at this moment to tell you that we will also be heading into Alice Delices to pick up a few last needs.  They will be used for um, impregnating my truffles with ganache. : /

Now there is a woman scientist talking about cloning dinosaurs.  Like Jurassic Park.  But she's serious, and terribly enthusiastic about the idea.


Just another day in Belgium.

We may see about some art too.  We still haven't been to the new Magritte Museum, but more pressing for me is an exhibition of Frida Khalo works showing in Brussels just until mid-April.  We'll see how much we get around to.  Brussels lends itself very well to distraction, so how well we'll be able to stick to task is anyone's guess.

This evening we are off to Les Transardentes.  There will be loud music, dancing until morning, booze, and hopefully the having of much fun.  If I survive, there will be pictures tomorrow.  As for things bought during The Soldes, I'll give a rundown at the start of February, complete with pictures.  At that point you will be able to judge whether I lack good judgement or whether I absolutely scored.

Friday, January 22, 2010

FML

I have been working here now for 5 months.  When I started my job, introductions were not very clearly made, and in some cases not made at all.  I found that a little strange, but accepted it because it was a busy time in the hotel when I started, I wasn't sure what *was* the norm here, and I also wondered if it might not have been considered 'unimportant' for me to be introduced to others considering that for a good portion of my day I am alone or with clients, and only have light interaction with coworkers.

One of those coworkers, however, has been a regular thorn in my side.  The man spends a good 80% of his time talking about sexual matters, ogling, making innuendo, commenting on physical attributes of female colleagues, and generally behaving like a cochon (pig.)  I have tried to tolerate him and be respectful, considering that he is related to my boss, and considering that I am the outsider.  After talking with the native Belgians I know, it seems that to varying degrees, the sort of piggish behaviour which is strongly frowned upon and which often results in disciplinary followup in Canadian workplaces is (frustrated sigh) tolerated here.  This guy was definitely pushing it though.  It became difficult to listen to him, let alone to take anything he said seriously.  Today he asked me to call him "boss".  I scoffed and told him he was dreaming...

And then later I found out from another coworker, that he actually IS my boss.   Yep.  Not *just* related to my boss, but apparently they are at the same level, and he, the buffoon, the pig, is my boss too.  Fan. f-ing. tastic.
...

How is it that nobody, (not one person in 5 months,) provided me with this information?  This makes a strong case for proper introductions at work I'd say.  And while I am able to tolerate having a pig for a co-worker... can I really stomach having one for a boss?  I am at a loss for how to deal with this one.  Any advice, internets?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

News and Tedium

The joys of winter in a new place.  I have a crack in the corner of my lip.  Very annoying.  The internet tells me this may be a symptom indicating that I am deficient in one of several possible nutrients, or that I may be dying.  I'm hoping it's the vitamin thing.  Maybe it's related to the lack of sunlight?

********

Boyfriend and I will be assaulting the Soldes this weekend.  We are drawing up our battle plans in order to function as a well coordinated unit.  This will be our day's warmup activity prior to attending the Transardentes, a big ol' electronic music party evening (yes, essentially a rave,) of bass in ya face.  Updates and pictures to come.

********

I made dinner last night with camera in tow.  Sadly, I don't really think the food was terribly good (though Boyfriend disagrees) so I don't think I'll be posting anything about it other than to say this much: my philosophy about this sort of thing is that IF it's a pain in the butt to make, or creates a ton of dirty dishes along the way... it better be fantasticly delicious, and terribly worth the trouble.  But this meal wasn't.  There were lots of dirty dishes, and several pain in the butt steps.  It was sooo not worth it.
picture source : nataliedee.com

********

I haven't been sleeping well the past few nights.

I blame it on the horde.  The knowledge that I'll have to deal with them again slithers around in my mind like a snake in the shadows.  It feels like impending doom.

My anxiety might also have something to do with the 6pm coffee I had the past two nights, but I have to admit that on a primal level, the horde scares me.  Do they even taste their food or does it just bypass the tongue altogether on a direct route down the throat?  After wondering about the way they eat (because really it is both mystifying and frightening,) I marvel that there has not yet been a choking incident.  It is truly amazing how they inhale food.  I get tired just watching them eat.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Runaway, pt 2

Ok, after a good contemplative funk today in my bathrobe, (which went well into the afternoon,) I am over myself.  I don't feel the need to go anywhere, and I don't want to go anywhere to 'get away'.

It seems Boyfriend agrees that this whole thing is truly "a bullshit" we both decided to inflate, and understands that I don't hate his friends.  He knows why I am here, and I do too, so I don't feel such an urgent need to skulk off to Oslo, or Stockholm, or Dublin (though I *did* see amazingly cheap plane tickets for all...)

In other news, the Belgian postal system has proved yet again it's amazing competence.  Today I received my mother's Christmas present.  She sent it on the 12th of December, and paid a tidy sum to ensure it arrived to me not later than the 21st of December.  Today it finally showed up, almost a month late.  At this point, I'll just say I'm glad it came at all.

Runaway

This morning I tried to apologize for being abrasive in the 'espionage conversation' with boyfriend yesterday.  This, unfortunately led to a whole stupid re-hash of the argument, ending with me being asked why I am here.

So I'm looking at train tickets, plane tickets and so on to go and live up to the label I've been given of "enfant gâtée" (spoiled/poor baby), to sulk (ideally in other parts, since sulky meditation is never very pretty,) and to wonder seriously to myself "why AM I actually here?"

Well, I know I'm here because I love him, and I was hoping we could cohabitate and share life like loving ADULTS tend to do.  But I guess I'm asking myself if that is actually realistic.  Is it realistic to try to love someone who at least partly believes that I hate their friends, (which I don't) and that I'm spying on them, (which I'm not,) and that asks me why I am here (um, because I love you incredibly much, enough to leave my job and friends and life in another country to come here and work really hard at trying to be with you, duh.)

Some questions cut really deep when they come from people you care about.  But I've learned that usually when people ask you questions that cut you a little, it's a sign that maybe it's something you should really, seriously think about.  I've been asked few questions in my life that hurt a great deal to consider, but that have ultimately provided me a wealth of clarity in life.

So I'm trying to figure out where to hide myself for the next few days to have a little peace and think about it.  What the hell am I doing here anyways?  I have to say the question, to start, doesn't make me feel terribly wanted, which I guess is why it cuts me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My goodness where does the time go?

4 days have gone by and I was just in the middle of trying to clear up a blog-post backlog.  What happened?

1) A giant horde of people who eat like locusts descended upon the hotel.  You cannot imagine how UNprepared we were the first morning this group took their breakfast.  I am SO. NOT. JOKING about the locust-thing.  In a half-week, they've eaten the quantity of stock we normally go through in one full week, with a full-hotel.  And the hotel isn't even full!  It's been quite exhausting, trying to keep the horde happy and simultaneously keep the effects of the horde, um, less noticeable/disturbing to the other people in the hotel who don't exhibit locust-like behaviour.  I speculated to a colleague the other day that perhaps each member of the group has their very own "ver-solitaire" (tapeworm.)  They are a strange group.  I'm sure you'll hear more about them, since they're sticking around for awhile and they do odd things, like get dressed with the doors of their hotel rooms wide open.

2) I have been somewhat 'antisocial' of late.  It seems I've been getting sick, or having minor-culture-difference-breakdowns, or have been scheduled to work at all the wrong times, which has resulted in my not attending social dinner-y type functions recently with Boyfriend.  Supposedly his friends wonder if maybe I don't like them after my non-appearance at a birthday party, a dinner, and last night's dinner, so I put something on my facebook to reassure them that they are not offensive when I decided not to attend yet another dinner we were invited to last night.  Why didn't I go last night?

Remember that these are *Belgian* dinners, which means you drink too much while snacking on olives and talking for like 3 hours, and the real food actually only hits the table at like 11pm.  I've established that this formula, and almost all variations on it (with drink, without, with olives, or no,) inevitably makes me sick/unable to sleep/some combination of the two.  And I had to work (and deal with the horde) this morning starting at 6:30, and did I mention I'm fighting some sort of throat-disease-thing? (hurts to swallow.)  I'd be willing to make the sacrifice were it just me and my day off today, but it wasn't.  Boyfriend is irked by my dinner-reluctance, but I think he forgets to take into account the sickness, work the next day, the scary nature of the horde, and so on in my decision.  He probably thinks I hate his friends too.  That, and he thinks I'm spying on him.  More about this later, since I'm not done with the whole dinner thing just yet...

2.5) Belgians should learn to Brunch, I think.  They'd love it, because it's social, drinking is acceptable (well, it always is here,)  they could rise late from their previous evening of debauchery, and eat a bunch of sugar, starch, salt, fat and generally enjoy (or even ammeliorate,) their hangover.  But they're not big on Brunch, it seems.

Toronto is an awesome Brunch city, by the way.  Man, I miss Brunching.

3) Ok so now with the spying thing.  PA-RA-NOIA.  So, Boyfriend has sort-of quit smoking. It's been several months actually.  He still has the odd puff now and then (usually on the weekend) but for the most-part it seems he's stopped.  This is impressive to me, though I loved him just the same when he was a smoker.  It was impressive to me because it seemed he made the decision for his own sake.  But now I'm sort of wondering if he really DID do it for me, thinking I wanted him to stop or something, or what the deal is with his motivation here.  He did mention that he 'did it for me', or because of me, something like this.  Though I never asked him to stop, he stopped... but if I were I not in the picture he'd probably still be smoking, if I understand correctly.  Anyways I say this because motivation is a big thing for quitting smokers, and so I guess is guilt?  I'm not sure what exactly happened, so I'll just tell you - Yesterday I noticed that boyfriend's tobacco-bag looked different (yes he rolls his own and smokes them unfiltered.  It's probably good he cut back, non?)  Anyways, like I said, the bag looked different, and it was a Saturday,  (higher possibility of smoking,) so I asked "You smoked?".  This was just out of curiosity, but apparently I came across as suspicious, or invested, or something, because he said "why?"

Now I don't know about you, but usually I just ask a question because I want to know the answer.  So I repeated my question "you smoked?"  Dude started getting really weird, thinking my not answering his "why" question and just repeating my question was like, an interrogation, so he then asked me what I did to his bag of tobacco so that I knew.  Apparently he'd taken extra care to ensure he placed the bag of tobacco exactly as it had been before he'd smoked that day, and he SERIOUSLY THOUGHT I HAD PUT AN UNSEEN HAIR ACROSS IT, or something.  It just looked different to me than the last visual memory I had of it.  But the last visual memory I had of it could very well have been from last week, since though I have a visual memory, I don't really make it a point of cataloging my house and the whereabouts and exact physical appearance of each item on a daily basis.  Aside from items that are regularly misplaced (like boyfriend's glasses, my keys, and so on,) I don't really pay attention to where things are at all.  The proof is that I can never find a pen or a pair of scissors to save my life.  I *should* start paying attention to those.

...  Seriously.  If this conversation yesterday wasn't so weird and stressful, it would have been funny.

I was floored by this, the idea I'd be "spying" on his bag of tobacco, particularly since (though I *am* proud of him cutting back) I don't actually care if he's smoked or not, unless he has stinky smoke breath.  Before you go thinking I'm an evil girlfriend who doesn't care about her boyfriend - the reason I don't care is this: Everyone I know who is a smoker, who quits, never actually really quits.  Sooner or later they take a drag off a friend, or have a whole smoke to themselves, or break down and fall off the wagon, as it were.  So I don't have ANY expectation about his smoking.  I tried to remind him of this, and to remind him that I'd never had a problem with him being a smoker as well, but I think at that point in the conversation it came across more like "JEEZ!  I don't really care! I was just asking out of curiosity! F*&%!"  Yeah... maybe it wasn't that abrasive or maybe it was (it was.)  I had a bad day yesterday, and being accused of espionage was kind of something that pushed my 'freakout' button.

Really, who loves someone, lives with them, talks about sharing life and family and future - but also thinks this person they love, and live with, and want to share their life and family and future with is SPYING on them?  Does that make ANY SENSE?  If it does, please explain because I really don't get it.  I was so discombobulated by the thought that I began to wonder if *I* should be worried, since experience has shown me in life that people only say weird shit like this when they DO weird shit like this.  Am *I* being spied on?  I don't know.  But to be honest I don't really care either.  I decided a long time ago to just try to live life honestly and openly.  It was mostly because I'm a lazy: though I can lie and sneak with the best of them, I don't like keeping track of lies and secrets.  It's too much effort, and I like to keep my mind free for other things, like wondering why NONE (not even one,) of the horde staying in the hotel push their chairs in after they rise from sitting at a table?  It must be cultural.

Anyway, am I wrong at thinking the idea of ESPIONAGE in a loving and trust-based relationship seems completely OUT OF PLACE?  Please feel free to weigh in on this one by commenting a, b, or c:

a) Jessica, you clearly didn't get the memo: spying is the epoxy that strengthens a loving trust-based relationship.  Seriously get with it and show the man some affection by surveilling his every doing!
b) There is no place for love in the House of Spy.  Love or Spies, not both.  Ninjas however...
c) Um, Jessica, talking about your relationship in a detailed manner like this online makes me feel uncomfortable.  But have you seen that movie with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, where they're spies AND in love?  (In other words, c = Switzerland.  Neutral.)


Anyhow, I'm off to take some pain killers.  Dealing with the horde has aggravated my shoulder, which has been just peachy for quite awhile until yesterday.  One last bit of news for this post is that I saw more pigs!  On the bus-ride home from work!  About 20 feet away there were also some unsuspecting humans walking along too, but I was on the bus, which was whipping by, so hopefully we'll not hearof pig-attacks tomorrow in the news!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mid-backlog plea for Haïti

I wasn't planning on making an entry today, however...

I just wanted to let whoever reads this know that people in Haïti are suffering incredibly, after a 7.0 earthquake hit them quite suddenly yesterday.  They are in desperate need of help.  I'm not at all in an advantageous financial position, however I just got my butt online to Canadahelps.org and donated to a charity that provides potable water and potable water-solutions to people in Haïti.  I highly recommend that even if you can only afford 5 bucks, that you do a quick google search and donate as well, to the The Red Cross, to Yéle, to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), to *anyone* you find suitable to help these people in their FIRST aid needs.  If you can't liberate $5, at least take a moment to send a little love and strength their way, ok?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Backlogs and Progress: Piggins

There are wild pigs in these parts.  A fair number too.  The adults, known as "Sangliers" are big, and hairy, and kind of terrifying should you see them at the time of year when they have their young 'uns with them.  (We did have such an encounter one night while driving next to a forested area, and while I was overloaded by how cute the babies are... I was simultaneously terrified that the boar, who was staring us down, was going to charge.)  I had no camera with me that night, but just to give you an idea of the cuteness, here is a baby sanglier, known as a "marcassin".

(Not my photo - yoinked from a google image search.)

We happened upon the two parents with babies at the end of April, and there were no more sanglier-sightings after.  Until the day before yesterday!

We were driving by a set of "boules" (this is a location where people drop off their glass items for recycling...normally situated just outside of residential areas,) when I noticed a little gang of pigs gathered behind them!  Very excitedly I told Boyfriend he HAD to turn around so I could do a little pig-watching.

These guys are probably less than 2 years old.  Wikipedia informs me that Sangliers only travel in groups like this when they are young, and live fairly solitary lives once they are adults.


You can tell they are young as well because the adults are bigger in the shoulder.  And more intimidating.


Adults also have (very scary) protruding canine teeth - these guys didn't.  I was still secretly worried they might charge the car at some point though.


They really didn't seem to mind us at all though, they were too busy with their bag of spoils (someone tried to hide a bag of garbage behind the boules, tsk tsk.)


Hamburger!


The guy at the top had something the others wanted.


Fuzzy piggies.

It's true that my pictures are not at all ace.  Truth be told, after seeing the full-grown male boar on our first encounter, and seeing the posture he took as we slowed down our car to look at him and his babies (he was seriously sizing up the car,) I find adult Sangliers pretty scary, and I'm sure my hands were shaking a little as I tried to snap a few pictures of the ones we spotted at the boules.  They were bordering the edge of cute & scary.  What do I mean by scary?  Hmm - I know some people get scared over little things, so -> here is why I find Sangliers terrifying.  The adults are, well...  I'm going to use other people's photos (marked below with a *) to explain this...


*... big.  This is just the beginning of what I mean by "big."

*Bigger still, good shot of the scary teeth. (Did you know they can crush bones with their jaws?)

*eep.

Imagine running into one of these things in the forest?  It's why I never run in the forest with my ipod on here, because I want to be sure to hear if anything else but me is rustling the leaves on the ground.  Even the smaller ones can cause a fair amount of damage, and there is even special car-insurance for accidents involving Sangliers, not to mention road-signs warning drivers to be on the lookout.


Fortunately, they are mainly nocturnal...
...mainly.

If only they would stay tiny and stripey and cute, everything would be fine.  I'd keep one and call him Herman, or Chase, or Pigface or something.  Or, maybe not.

And now, the morning comic-read that prompted my decision to clear this bit of backlog today:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Backlogs and progress : going Gaga

I have new respect for Lady Gaga.  Again.  Here's why:  She can actually sing, play an instrument, and perform.  Videos to watch that prove it:

Gaga Live on "Taratata", (a French show.)  Here she sings "Poker Face" (I recommend clicking on the video labelled "Poker Face" first,) as well as "Eh Eh" (both a cappella,) all while improvising, speaking a bit of French and playing the piano.

Gaga live on "Rove" (an Australian show.)  Here she sings "Just Dance", and unlike most stars... the audio mix is about 20% backing track, and 80% live.  This is relatively unheard of in the lip-synching age of Britney, and completely respectable particularly considering she's DANCING pretty much the whole time she's singing.  Singing with an audio mix that is heavily live like this is not a risk most performers take when promoting their first album, because it's not easy to dance like that and sing simultaneously.  Props.

Gaga on "The Ellen Degeneres Show"  (an American show.)  Here she performs combining the a cappella-with-piano style and a closer-to-album-version of "Poker Face".  Again, very live.

The girl can sing, the girl can play, the girl can dance.  She is a credited song writer (not just for herself either), is willing to be unconventional and takes risks with how she presents herself.  She is not another pop-star under the control of her handlers.  She seems much more like a true artist to me than just about any other female pop singer out there.  I have to admit I like that, very much.  I'm still not a 'fan'... but I do like that she seems to be the one steering the ship.  I can respect that.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The last of the 9, the first of the 10

It's January, and I now have a moment to write.

The fêtes, the fêtes, the fêtes!  Here this means St. Nicholas, Noël, New Years, and Epiphany.  They are finally over.  Well, except for the unofficial fête which starts January 2nd, known as "Les Soldes" (The Sales.)  This is the relatively familiar-to-most-occidental-nations orgy of post-Christmas-discount-shopping.  We were out for a walk on the 2nd of January in downtown Liège, and it was frightening how many people seemed to be squished into one of my favourite shoe-stores.  I did notice from the window however that the (outrageously expensive) pair of boots I've been coveting for some time now is on sale, and this morning when I went to apply what I thought was just a needed re-coat of some waterproofing spray to my current pair, I saw that in fact a new pair of boots is actually now a need (my foot got wet the other day because there's a hole in my boot!)

It would be lucky timing I guess if I chanced upon a new pair of boots at a great price, however I'm dubious because The Soldes is a little like a game which I'm not sure I want to play.  The longer you wait, the more the prices go down, but also the less stock you have to choose from.  This is because the stores are trying to clear out their old merchandise and they only have a month to do it.  (Yes - like most other things in Belgium, The Soldes are also regulated.  They only happen twice a year, with the duration of a month.)  I guess we'll see.  I'm not big into fighting crowds for a thrill, however there are a few things I've needed for awhile which I just haven't found, and now with the death of my boots I suppose I should battle my way into the mêlée to see if I can't save a little cash on things I'll have to buy at any rate. I'll try to make my boots survive a tiny bit longer while I browse The Soldes, and maybe (hopefully) lady luck will smile on me.

I can't help but wish the hole in my boots would have waited a week or two to make itself known, as then I wouldn't be stuck with the need to venture in so early.  I'm more of this mindset when it comes to The Soldes : It's almost better not to look until the end, so as not to become too attached to anything or to know what you may have missed.  If you browse at the end and happen to find something you LOVE, well then it's a great score with no regrets, and you've essentially gotten away with murder, much like my friend, the darling Tea Party Crasher recently did.  But I did say "almost better", which I suppose means that subconsciously I've already committed to wading into the madness.  I suppose it's not so bad - the Princess Tam Tam and Etam stores have been begging me to look inside for AGES, and I've been really, really, really good about not shopping for anything other  than essentials in my time here... Did I mention that I forgot to pack my pyjamas when I came here, and have been sleeping in old boyfriend t-shirts for the past 9 months?  Really.


Enough about shopping though.

The evening of the 28th we celebrated both of us having a few days free together by visiting the Marché de Noël in Liege for one last walk around.

The Christmas market in Liège is unlike many in Europe.  Most Christmas markets have about 80% artisans, and 20% food vendors.  Here it's the inverse, but there is great variety in the food which makes it a fun place to go and have a drink, socialize, and munch.  Why yes, that *is* a Canadian vendor in this picture for those who noticed the flag.

There is also a ferris wheel to throw the kiddies on while you sip your hot spiced wine, or champagne, or beer...

This evening in particular we had some seriously amazing, (and correctly made with whiskey and fresh cream rather than Baileys,) Irish coffee as our apéro.  We then abandoned the market to eat at a little Vietnamese place we've recently discovered.

The following day was terribly hard.  We picked out bottles of champagne, and went to get side-by-side massages at a fancy-pants spa in Liège.  Actually, the masseuses had fancy harem-pants.  We had no pants, and were given little surgical-cloth/paper thongs to change into.  We found this simultaneously hilarious and mortifying since these paper-undies were one size fits all and both of us found that one size to be a little too big (and as a result, exposing!)  But, when you're there and you've paid to relax, you tell yourself that it's a professional working on you, and it's their own bloody fault if they get a view of something they might not care to see!

(There will be no photos from the spa.)

For those who take an interest in Champagne, this year we took a good sampling of Laurent Perrier by getting Perrier-Jouet, LP Brut, and LP demi-sec.  The Jouet was the best, and though the bottle claims it is a "grand brut", it doesn't seem terribly dry.  There is a delightful complexity to the flavour without any cloying or overly dry elements making it an enjoyable champagne that is slightly less dry and more tasty than Veuve Cliquot, but not quite as good as my reigning favourite, Gosset Grand Réserve.  I can safely say that Perrier Jouet is the 2nd best champagne I've had in my life, and I've been trying different ones for years now.

The 30th of December we hopped in the car to make our way to Strasbourg, France.  Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsatian region.  This picturesque region has changed hands between Germany and France at least 4 times, which has resulted in a blending of cultures that can be noticed in the styles of food, wine and architecture to be found there.



Strasbourg itself is not a giant city, but does exhibit some cultural and economic attractions that normally might only be found in larger cities.  It is the home of the Council of Europe and the European parliament, as well as the University of Strasbourg.  The central area of the city has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site, and because of these things as well as it's location in a wine region, along with the fact that many residents are able to speak French, German, and Alsatian, Strasbourg gets a fair amount of visitor traffic.  Including us!

Strasbourg is also situated in a microclimate, which resulted in some interesting weather conditions driving in, and back out.  It was raining for most of the way on our drive in, and as we got closer, we noticed some odd phenomena.  The rain that fell on the ground was rising back up through the trees as steam.  A lot of steam.  It looked as though the forests were on fire.  I re-evaluated my scoffing at the use of fog machines in movies that take place in European forests.

Sadly, I have no pictures of this natural phenomenon, since we drove through Germany on the way in, and I was too distracted by signs that said "Ausfahrt" (which means exit in German, however if you're English it seems more like something else,) and sandwich wrappers that said "Pute" (which is slang in French for man-whore.)  What can I say, I'm juvenile sometimes.

The weird weather continued all the way in though, so I DID take a picture after we'd crossed into France and it got all "Hound of the Baskervilles" on us.  At points the patches of fog were so thick that you couldn't even see 25 metres in front of you, which made for interesting driving.


We arrived safe and sound, checked into our hotel, and with the sun setting (as it tends to do around 4:30pm this time of year,) we set out to explore a little and to locate dinner.  The entire time we were in Strasbourg, we had above freezing temperatures, and no precipitation.  Perfect visiting weather!

The city was still afloat in Christmas merriment and lighting.

*sigh* Romantic lighting for a nighttime stroll.

I loved how each street was lit with different patterns of overhead lighting.  It made wandering around downtown both prettier and easier.  Some streets even had discoballs or crystal chandeliers encased in plexiglass cubes lighting the way!

The local Cathedral.  It looks best at night, as parts of it are more visibly under construction during the day. Not terribly impressive on the inside, possibly apart from the astronomical calendar that resides within.

Stasbourg's Galleries Lafayette: a cathedral of another sort...

Waiting for the tram to take us back to our hotel.  Strasbourg's tram system is very efficient and clean, not to mention decently priced.

The following day (New Year's Eve) we walked around and shopped a little, visited the Cathedral interior, and wandered the Marché de Noël to see if there were any treasures to be found (there were!)  We ate an early dinner at the Marché de Noël, stopped into the most insanely packed grocery store on the planet to get a bottle of Alsatian wine, and retreated back to the hotel to refresh and imbibe a bit.

I'm not really the sort to feel as though I HAVE to be somewhere DOING SOMETHING on New Year's Eve, and neither is Boyfriend.  For me, the big deal is January 1st.  I like to wake up and enjoy the unbelievable quiet that can be found on the morning of the 1st.  Tradition for me is to ensure the last taste of the old year is champagne, and the first of the New Year is also champagne, so each New Year's morning I sip a little champagne, and make myself a mimosa or two to enjoy while lounging a little, savouring the pristine nature of the New Year.

We figured originally that we'd go back out after freshening up and check out the city centre later in the evening, but honestly we FELL ASLEEP before midnight!  We were awoken by the sound of the fireworks going off after the clock had struck 12,  so we looked out the hotel window for a minute or two at the fireworks, gave eachother a sleepy kiss, and went right back to sleeping :)  New Years morning we lounged in bathrobes sipping mimosas and enjoyed the substantial and varied breakfast buffet offered by the Hilton before packing up and heading back to Liège.

I was a little sad after all our exploring though.  Strasbourg is a 4 hour drive from Liège, but happens to be a city that has several stores where it is ridiculously easy (compared to Liège) to find quality couverture chocolate, sugar-work and pastry tools, not to mention sweet clothes, a great cafe espresso at a reasonable price, and a nice variety of ethnic cuisines.  It has a larger population than Liège, and is more metropolitan-feeling in it's offerings, yet is more picturesque, more walkable, and has superb transit for when you don't want to walk.  I liked it there, and Boyfriend could tell... he asked me if I would be coming back to Liège with him.  *Sigh*  We'll be back.

Chitika