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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Assorted Adventures

Last weekend, we went to eat Turkish pizza with Brett's friend, Ilker, and his lovely wife.  Of course, they speak Turkish, Flemish, French and English.   There is a vibrant and busy Turkish neighborhood in Brussels. Ilker's extended family live in this neighborhood and they seem to know everyone.   I've always loved ethnic neighborhoods because it's like a vacation without taking a vacation and this neighborhood is an especially good example of that. 

Because Brussels is an officially bilingual city, street signs, most menus, and almost all store signs are in Flemish and French.  By the way, we found out from our cultural training teacher that Flemish and Dutch are the same language but are called by different names depending on where it is used.  There are some minor difference; the same as English in Georgia and English in California.  I always had my picture "taken" until I moved to Georgia where I had my picture "made."  Anyway, minor differences but essentially the same language.  But I digress.

In this neighborhood, stores signs, menus and everything else are only in Turkish and while stores close on Sunday in most of Brussels, stores are open on Sunday here because the population is largely Muslim.  The traffic which is always a little dodgy in Brussels is just plain crazy in these streets.  The medieval-built streets have parking on both sides and two-way traffic plus a tram and bus traffic.   We parked in an underground lot about half the size of our backyard in Lawrenceville with an incredibly narrow driveway.  I caught myself "sucking in" so the car would fit. 

  Turkish pizza is a long thin oval of very thin crust and different toppings (no pork, of course).  Mine was spinach and cheese.  It's served with shredded lettuce, onions and carrots and you top the pizza with the salad, fold it over and munch away.  There's also a hot sauce, a very hot sauce which Brett used and I didn't.  Then we went to a beautiful Turkish bakery for strong tea in beautiful little crystal glasses and assorted desserts--pistachio baklava and this amazing thing with sweet cheese, honey and shredded phylo all baked together.   Weight Watchers would not approve.

The French lessons are going pretty well.  It's tough to pull a language from the back of your brain  that you haven't used in 4 decades.  Brett seems to be picking it up effortlessly and everyone tells him what a beautiful French accent he has.  Nobody tells me that. 

But English is almost omnipresent.  We had to buy light fixtures for our house because they are not included.  After choosing some lights, we went to a counter to order them.  I said in French that I only spoke a little French when the cute and friendly salesman said "Any language you want." And then spoke to us in  very good English.  Polyglots everywhere.

It's so interesting to live someplace where everything is new.  We just found out that some beer and wine bottles should be returned for a refund instead of dropped into the "bottle silo".   Once we cracked the code, we found our local recycling place and took our returnable bottles, quite a number of them.  The bottle goes into a little port where it is spun around until the machine reads the codes and then whisks the bottle away.  The machine adds up the total and gives you a ticket to cash in for the refund.  Our garbage production is so minimal here--maybe half a bag per week--because the recycling system is so awesome.  Hey, USA, you listening??

This weekend, we are going to Berlin for 5 days.  Brett has meetings for 3 days so I get to stalk the many museums.  I've decided to put off any effort to diet until we return.  We have our tickets for our May trip to the United States. We'll be there the first two weeks in May.  We'll be in Scottsdale, Dallas and Lawrenceville and I can't wait to see everyone again.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

There's a petting zoo in my grocery store.

   The other day, Brett and I did a whole bunch of shopping.  Nothing glamorous, but usual, essential stuff to take care of the house and stock the fridge.  We've visited the big, the small and the really small grocery stores here but ,yesterday, we went to the good store--the Super Target of Brussels.  It's called Carrefours Planet.  The dry goods (clothes, household stuff, etc.) are on par with a Dollar Store or, maybe, WalMart.  Cheap Chinese crap.  However, the grocery store is better than any Whole Foods that I've ever visited with a few exotic exceptions.  We have tried to get the photos to come out right, but we just failed so turn your head or your computer to the left.

    First, there's a petting zoo in the store.  There's a pony, a little lamb, a baby goat, little baby duckies and a whole bunch of bunnies...BUT THEY ARE ALL DEAD.  The Belgians evidently like to eat a petting zoo.

Here are some of  examples.

The Filet de Cheval...little bit of Flicka, Mr. Ed, Black Beauty.  Nooooo!!!! This did not go in our grocery cart.  (It was a buggy in Georgia, but it's a chariot in Brussels.)  

Here we have a demi-chevre or half a  baby goat.  What's for dinner, Mom?  Oh, boy, half a baby goat.  The issue is that the Europeans are must more familar with their meat as meat.  Not like Micky D's or Chick-fil-A but here one sees the whole animal, looking very much like an animal, and, lately, the vegetarian stuff is pretty appealing.

The lapin is a bunny.  People here eat bunnies.  I do not eat bunnies.  One of my first sentences in French is "Je ne mange pas le lapin.  Je l'aime le lapin."  or "I don't eat the bunny.  I love the bunny."  I find it really upsetting that  my favorite furry forest friend is in the meat market at my grocery store.

 However, there are some good qualities as well.
The Fromagerie.....hundreds of different and beautiful cheeses.  Cheap and tasty and exotic and wonderful and a huge variety of cheeses.  Brett and I have been trying a lot of the cheese that isn't sold in the United States  because it isn't pasteurized.  We have suffered absolutely no ill effects from this cheese unless you count the excess calories and becoming a little "bound up."

Then, there's the BREAD.   This is Brett on one side of the Brett aisle and the next picture is part of the other side of the bread aisle.  You go to the store and buy FRESH hot bread.  All kinds.  We have a favorite--a big square loaf of crusty country bread.  And with the cheese...incroyable!!

Le poisson, le poisson, how I love the poisson!  Such a sweet little delicate crab!  We have a full-on fishmarket in our market.  I have (nor does Brett) no idea how to cook these fish with their heads and tails on.  But we will learn.  The North Sea is only an hour away (north, of course) so we will have the best sea food ever.
Finally, there is a beer-tasting and cheese-tasting at the grocery store.  With all due respect to Costco samples (which were pretty wonderful), this store has beer and cheese.  Of course, it took Brett three or four glasses (full glasses) of beer and a bunch of cheese to decide which beer he liked.  We bought all three.  The beer here is about 10% alcohol so that may have had some influence on his decision.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fatty on the Tram

   And I'm not talking about me.  (Though I can't say that the seats are very generous, if my posterior is on its best behavior, I can ride fairly comfortably).
    The fatty was in the hand of a somewhat disreputable young man who boarded the train with his friend.   He was standing directly in front of where I was sitting with a still-smoldering joint that would make a Rastafarian proud.  Just waving it around, no discretion at all.  And I happen to know that smoking on the tram is not allowed. Nor is eating and drinking, but I won't mention that to some other guy whose snarfing a baquette and washing it down with a Coca-Cola.   And I certainly will not say anything to Monsieur Doobie or his pal.
    By the way, if anyone wants to know about the bird I described on Facebook, I found out it's a Common Wood pigeon or Culver.  The bird is common in Britain and the continent.   
    I also found out that the people of Brussels don't handle driving in the snow much better than our friends in Georgia.  It took Brett two hours for a 30-minute commute.  Needless to say, he's enjoying a cocktail right now.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood!

      It's tough to learn a new language.  I had my first French lesson on Monday with a lovely young man named Betrand.  He's awesome and friendly and I get to spend 90 minutes with him twice a week.  My first placement interview placed me at "survivor French" but Betrand said I was more advanced so we played this board game in which I had to read and answer a question in French and when it was Betrand's turn, he answered.  Questions like "what would you do with a million Euros"  or "what do plan on doing for your vacation"(only in French, of course).  Simple enough.  Mais non!   I felt like I'd run a marathon at the end of the session.  It was exhausting. 
    This school's philosophy is that we learn languages best as a child so they don't stress a lot of grammar, vocab lists, conjugation or writing at first.  You just pick it up.  I think it's a good method because it forces you to speak and it's great in the class where Betrand knows I'm a beginner, but I'm still at a loss when it comes to chatting with people on the street.
    A very nicely-dressed lady asked me if I knew which tram went where (and I do, yay!), but I couldn't answer her in French.  Of course, she spoke English.  That's going to be a problem because when I try to belch out my French words, I immediately get answered in English. 
    Plus there are two other official languages, Flemish (Dutch) and German.  And I hear every European language spoken around me. 
     Even worse is the confusion I had with English speakers...a British couple I met at a business dinner with Brett.  Besides the linguistic differences, the couple (Gwynne and Una) took their golden retriever, Tess, with them to dinner.  Tess is lovely (nice name, huh?), but she is clearly a very pampered doggie.  She has her own place in the back of the car, her special diet and a ramp to get out of the car because she has a bad back.  She was perfect in the restaurant--no barking, whining, peeing, etc., though she did steal a few spilled frites that came her way.   (Martha and Kevin, next time we go out, we should take Lola and Stella.)   But back to the language issues.  I commented that the weather was really wet and gloomy.  Una said, "I know, it's terrible.  It's usually much colder."  Say what?  Next, we asked about a restaurant in Leuven.  "Is it good?" I asked.  "It's meant to be." she said.  "Oh, so it has a good reputation but isn't really good."  "No," said Una. "It's meant to be good."  Ummm, okay, I guess.
 We finally got around to uploading some pictures that go with last month's blog entries. I'll see if I can post them, but the blog instructions are in freaking Flemish because of our IP address, I guess? So wish me luck.

Leaving Lawrenceville...note the smoker all wrapped up for it's trip across the ocean.

Our house house...I miss it.  Miss my friends and family more.
Moving in!! Note Ikea boxes, tools and general chaos. 
The VERY tight spaces our movers squished into.  Big truck--teeny driveway, but apparently, it's okay to park and drive on the sidewalk.  I know I'm going to get PTSD from riding around here.  We've seen several accidents and one pedestrian run over!!!

Our wonderful, intrepid and very strong movers!!  Robin and Jean-Francois (Jeff, for short) were very impressive.  The two of them ran our furniture up four flights of stairs.  We treated them to breakfast, lunch and beer.  Plus a decent tip.

    Ready to go out.  Note the Church of St. Job (and not the porta-potty) in the background.