Friday, June 30, 2006

My favorite books

It’s time for my very first list. Before the boys arrived I read books all the time. Now I have much less time to read. The beauty of books however, is that the words, the images and the characters remain with you for a very long time after you’ve read a book. These are the books in particular that made an impression on me:

(In no particular order)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - 100 years of solitude

Umberto Eco - In the name of the rose

Anything by Charles Dickens - David Copperfield & Tale of two cities are my favourites, but most of his other books are just as amazing!

Per Anders Fogelström - Mina Drömmars stad

Heroditus - The Histories

Nathaniel Hawthorne - The scarlet letter in particular, but also The house of the seven gables

D H Lawrence - Women in love, but also some of his other books if I’m in the mood

Thomas Mann - The magic mountain – sadly I never quite finished this novel, however one day I will.

Thomas More - Utopia

Just about anything by Oscar Wilde

Leo Tolstoy - The death of Ivan Iljitjs (Smert Ivana Iljitsja) - short but great!

Marianne Fredriksson - Anna, Hanna och Johanna (also translated into English)

By Lovain

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The missing girls in Liege

Today the bodies of the two missing girls in Liege were found. A man has been in custody for a while but keeps claiming he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the 7- and 10-year olds. As a parent, I hold my breath.

When I first moved here, a man named Marc Dutroux was on the news all over the world. Reading about what he did makes one (almost) contemplate promoting the Louisiana, Mississippi or Florida legislations on this matter.

By Lovain

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Going to the emergency room in Leuven -1 fingertip

Saturday afternoon: dinner was just about on the table and we were getting ready to go to a party for a friend who recently received her doctorate in philosophy, when the Husband, who was chopping herbs, suddenly screamed out in shock. All of a sudden there was blood everywhere - and there on the cutting board was the Husband’s fingertip! The boys immediately rushed to: “Daddy, what happened?!” and “Daddy, did you cut yourself?” The husband was all the while moaning and I was trying to get his hand rinsed off and wrapped as I was looking for the phone number to the doctor on call. “Go to the ER” the doctor said “they should be able to repair the damage”. So I place the fingertip right back on the Husband’s finger, wrapped it up in gauze & tape and sent the Husband off on his bike to the Helige Hart Spoed (calling a cab would have taken far too long). 45 minutes later the Husband returned with a bandage around his hand.

Our health insurance here does not allow you to go straight to the ER, should you need immediate medical assistance. You have to call your doctor or the doctor on call first; otherwise the intervention will not be covered by your insurance. The first time we learned about this was when the youngest boy ran straight into a coffee table corner busting his eyebrow, bleading so much we couldn't see his eye, whereupon we immediately rushed to the ER – in my opinion a sound reaction from first time parents. When we later went to claim our reimbursement, however, we were informed that we would not get anything back, since we had not called the doctor first.

By Lovain

Monday, June 26, 2006

Celebrating a Swedish midsummer in Belgium

After living abroad a few years, leading a married life with an American in Belgium, I found myself slowly abandoning some of the less outstanding Swedish traditions; the traditions that you celebrate only in Sweden among Swedes: Våffeldagen (Waffle day- Annunciation Day), Semlaldagen (Swedish version of Mardi Gras), Valborg (30 April) and Midsummer just to mention a few. Since the birth of our children, however, I’ve started thinking about these traditions again, and now that I have a new career in which I actually relate to Swedes and Sweden, I find myself trying to recreate these partially neglected traditions.

Friday was Midsummer Eve. In Sweden everybody decorated a May pole and themselves with flowers, danced and got married, and a lot of people had dinner consisting of haring, new potatoes, and alcohol. The Swedes sat down around the dinner table, surrounded by family & friends and ate, sang drinking songs and drank “schnapps” (shots). As did we: my Swedish colleagues came over to celebrate midsummer with me. Since the tradition is lesser known outside of Sweden, to spare our neighbours, we refrained from dressing a cross with flowers as well as dancing around the latter. There was however flowers on the table, herring, potatoes, loud singing and plenty of drinking. The next day I was painfully reminded of what this combination inevitably leads up to: hangover. As a parent I don’t have the privilege to enjoy an extended traditional hangover anymore; the boys will rise with the sun no matter what I consumed the previous day; however I did feel “out of it” and when it was time for the boys to go to bed in the evening, I happily joined them.

The Husband, strategically, kept himself away from all this, having to work. Good move.

The drinking culture in Sweden is very different from anywhere I’ve lived. One does not drink very often - once a week at most - but when the Swedes drink, they DRINK. Of the four traditional days I mentioned above, two are associated with heavy drinking: Valborg & Midsummer. How they do it, I have no idea. I enjoyed the singing and the “skål!”, but really, once every few years is probably about what I can handle. For the next upcoming tradition “kräftpremiären” (the craw fish premiere) I will be in Sweden. Deus Misereatur.

By Lovain

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Observing summer in Belgium

People's behavior in this country varies depending on the season. We have now entered one of the most interesting seasons: summer. This is the season in particular when the Belgians’ behavior is altered.

Nobody is faster than the Belgians to undress as soon as the temperature and weather allow it. You know summer is here when:

-Students appear seemingly out of nowhere (read: student bars), and occupy every single square inch of the Leuven city park lawn wearing practically no clothes. They study (unsuccessfully as it turns out for 35% of them), juggle, play soccer and Frisbee, or unreservedly make out in the grass.
-Belgian women appear at the office merely dressed in a tank top and a short tight skirt, and
-Belgian men will stroll through town on a Saturday wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and flip-flops.

Combine this imprudence with the Belgians’ general disregard for personal hygiene and Belgian women’s partiality toward hirsute, and you might find yourself inclined to avoid public places all together.

However; in Belgium, the summer is a social call – an enthusiastic call to all, young and old, to participate in all the activities the summer has to offer. On any agreeable summer evening, you will find practically every Belgian occupant has gone out in town, found a terrace, and sat down to enjoy beer & people-watching in the sun. As if this jamboree is not enough, the city organizes free music festivals on July Friday nights, as well as other events: Hapje Tapje (a food festival), Marktrock (a music festival that transforms Leuven for 3 days into a music festival area) and the Jaarmarkt (a livestock market), just to mention a few.

In the summer weekends the entire country migrates to the beach. Cars filled with people, beach balls and sun block all line up on the highway, inching their way, trying to keep up with the over crowded trains. It is a type of pilgrimage. The coastal cities welcome everyone with open arms, offering over crowded beaches, cold and not-so-clean water, over prized food and stores that are open even on Sundays.

As an advocate of culture, as a parent, and perhaps even as a social being, I enjoy the summer and I gladly participate in all that it has to offer. We too go to the music evening, the beach and enjoy beer on the Grote Markt. They may have an uncouth perception regarding appearance, but the Belgians sure know how to make the best of the summer.

By Lovain

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Reclaiming our bed

After weeks of sicknesses and disruptions that had led the boys to need the immediate corporal presence of their loving parents around the clock, the husband and I decided to reclaim our territory last night. Big boys sleep in their own beds. The bunny, the doggy, the dragon and two boys all migrated back to their bunk beds: lights out, good night.

I was expecting at least the youngest one to wake up somewhere in the middle of the night and come into our bed, but when I woke up this morning, I was still laying on my back, all my limbs moving freely, unencumbered. The husband looked up and said “they must have died in their sleep”.

By Lovain

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Internet as a time portal; long lost friends revisited

According to an article in Aftonbladet, the internet has given our very first love a better chance to reflourish. It’s easier to look people up and regain contact via e-mail and chat. I will tell you about my first love another time, but the article did inspire me to take a few minutes and find out what happened to my husband’s old girlfriend and my old boyfriend. Are they married? What are they doing? Where do they live? Any kids?

When D. the guitar-playing redhead and I went separate ways, he was studying cultural geography at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. 5 minutes search on the internet let me know that he got married in Paris in 2004 (to a former room-mate of ours which he started dating around our break-up), he works as a web-designer for a prestigious PR-company in Stockholm, and he runs marathons. I even found a newly taken picture of him. He has a receeding hairline. Imagine that.

We already knew my husband’s ex J. the writer got married because she sent the Husband her wedding photo. We also knew where she lives and what she is doing because she sent the Husband samples of her work; she is an editor at a publishing house in Cincinnati, Ohio. I found several pictures of her, and on some odd website I read her story about how she met her husband in the Czech Republic in 1998. I read it out loud to my husband who immediately identified his own mentioning in the text (in bold):

“He was a master's student at a Prague university, studying computer science. I myself was a few months' shy of a bachelor's in writing. Our interests were polar opposites, ones and zeroes. [..] At the time, I was looking for a maudlin Continental philosopher who lived in a mostly depressive, reflective state -- not a man with a positive, idealist outlook who spent nights programming, networking and hacking”.

The Husband is not in a depressive state, however perhaps reflective. He is though, most certainly, a Continental philosopher; by the end of this year, if all goes smoothly, he should be a professor of Continental philosophy.

It has been 10 years: things have changed; our former friends have changed. Somehow the internet provides us not only with a search portal, however, but also a time portal, with the ability to reduce the time that passes between the meetings. We are able to reconnect with people we once loved, or at least find out that they are doing well and that they, like we did, moved on. If I were to run into D. the guitar-playing redhead tomorrow, it wouldn’t have been 10 years anymore, because I just saw him last week.

By Lovain