Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A very small lion

Normally I would be upset at having an 80€ bad haircut inflicted on me - I regard bad haircuts as acts of malice. But this, this is such an endearingly bad haircut that I can't be angry at it. You see, the hairdresser, and really I should have known the minute I set foot in the place, has styled my hair as if I were a somewhat aging political diva. As a consequence, I now look like a very small, well-dressed and well-groomed lion. I am exceedingly...soft. I have been permastyled.

You know it isn't actually too bad as a cut, it's just all the blow-drying and hairspray.

Never mind, I need to run off now to the airport to collect the Fiancé; I hope he has a sense of humour about hair. Also need to try to shake off the incredible tiredness that comes with not sleeping for more than five hours for nights and nights on end.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Erm

Participant sports/hobbies
Almost any participant sport or hobby can involve flirting. The level of flirtatious behaviour, however, often tends to be inversely related to the standards achieved by participants and their enthusiasm for the activity.
You will generally find a lot of flirting among incompetent tennis players, unfit swimmers, cack-handed potters, etc., but somewhat less among more proficient, serious, competitive participants in the same activities. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but before joining a team or club, it is worth trying to find out if the members have burning ambitions to play in the national championships or win prestigious awards for their handiwork. If you are mainly looking for flirting opportunities, avoid these high-flying groups, and seek out clubs full of happy, sociable under-achievers.


The idea of being a happy, sociable under-archievers is the most cheering thing I've read all day. This is from a guide to flirting I came across while clicking on the wrong link in yahoo. The internet is a strange place.

A sort of momentous day

Here endeth my corporate employment, that is to say, today. I have a job interview to conduct this afternoon and that is pretty much it. End of an era for the TDEC? Perhaps, but I can't say I am giving it much thought.

Tomorrow, however, I pick up the Fiancé from the airport at long last. Well, first I get a haircut, which is also important.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

You know you may have overdone it when...

You find yourself painting bathroom shelves and ironing the Canadian flag in preparation for your engagement party. Especially since the shelves are in my dad's house, which is not where the party will be held.

Next

On this godawful poxy morning I salute you and warn you that I am going to be posting erratically for the next while. Rather than posting, I will be busy trying not to beat people who are complicating my party affairs. Hopefully I will also spend some fun time with my family and friends, at the engagement party or otherwise. Although at this rate I am not counting on it.

The Fiancé arrives next Tuesday, which prospect is the only thing keeping me from locking myself in with a gigantic stack of Monty Python dvds and old Star Wars.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

80

Today the BBC turns 80. That makes it exactly one day older than Queen Elisabeth II, who turns 80 tomorrow. She will attend a "family dinner" hosted by Charles to mark her birthday. Just for a moment I thought - maybe it would be worth spending a lifetime being bored stiff by foreign dignitaries and you son Charles just to not have to organise anything yourself ever. Not to mention meeting Nelson Mandela and bossing everyone about.

Oh, and you get to ask diffult questions which people* then actually have to answer. I dare say I'd enjoy that.

*For those of you from non-monarchies, the Queen has a confidental chat with the Prime Minister every week. Apparently, for a sweet old lady she's pretty damn sharp, even a tad fierce. You go, girl.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

So there

I finished Wide Sargasso Sea instead of doing yoga this morning in my pre-work half hour. It reminds me of Under the Volcano, that other great depressing book I keep trying to get people to read. The effect of it is similar, though there are many other similarities which I won't go into now. I finished reading Under the Volcano on the Eurostar from London to Brussels, and burst into tears halfway through the last page. I think it is one of three books ever to have done that to me, the third one being, yes, Wide Sargasso Sea just now.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The longest distance


I told you I was going to read Wide Sargasso Sea. I have to say it is every bit as beautiful as I remember it, but the story is nothing like I remember. I guess I should mention that the idea behind the book is that it tells the story of the first Mrs Rochester. For those of you who haven't read Jane Eyre or milestone feminist literary criticism, I'll spoil the book and elucidate that reference. Mr Rochester is the man for whom Jane Eyre ends up working, and with whom she falls in love. There is that happy ending, but not before Jane has found out that Rochester's mad wife is living locked up in the attic.

Antoinette Cosway, a creole heiress from Jamaica, then, is the madwoman, and the reader follows the infinitely sad story of her destruction as seen by Rochester and Antoinette. It is a little reminiscent of A Streetcar Named Desire, with that same fragility, that same tragic inevitability and that same overpowering sexuality. Like the Streetcar, it is compelling, fascinating and utterly heartwrenching. It manages to give voice to all of the misgivings Charlotte Bronte couldn't voice.

Not suitable reading for any bride to be, but (so far) the best thing that I have read in a long, long time.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Newsflash

The good news is that I have just received my invitation to for the Fiancée visa interview. Moreover it will be while the Fiancé is here, so I can take him with me, which is great on a number of levels.

So on 8 May, at 2 pm CET, please think of us sitting within the confines of the US embassy in Brussels, and hope that they give me the visa.

The bad news, well, never mind the bad news. Let's read the good news again.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Right, I promised

More good things about Belgium, right?

Oh, of course:

Jacques Brel, the best singer to come out of the region, the most passionate, best songwriter of them all. There are a few bands worth mentioning, but no single person has ever done so much for popular music in Belgium, no kidding. Moreover, he is internationally recognised as a landmark figure, which is a rare enough thing for a Belgian. Only of course everyone thinks he French.
Do you know who the Belgian is with whom I am consistently confronted when abroad, the unfortunately and identifyably native Belgian subject of pointless international fame? Yes, that's right - Jean-Claude Van Damme. No one ever thinks he's French.

A small and insignificant country. Once upon a time I was sitting in an Edinburgh auditorium listening to a very mediocre lecture about Agatha Christie. The lecturer, who was English rather than Scottish, was on the topic of Hercule Poirot, Christie's Belgian detective. She was explaining that Christie didn't want a British detective as she felt the shadow of Sherlock Holmes loomed too large, and explained that that was why she made him a national of a small and insignificant country.
I remember that my American friends were up in arms about the phrase, but while the lady lecturer was without a doubt a later model from the old British Empire mould, I no longer get offended by these things. There is much comfort in being considered small and insignificant. Unlike the French, the Dutch and yes, the Americans, I never have to arm myself against prejudices and stereotypes, simply because nobody bothers to have stereotypes about us. It's almost as good as being Canadian.

Social security. It is good, and there is a hilarious spoof on American news ad to celebrate its 60 year existence. I'd link it, but alas, couldn't find it.

Walking. Belgium is highly urbanised and also small, which means that you walk a lot. It saves us a lot in fitness bills. Besides, it really is more fun to wonder around in the centre of a city that is car-free than in one that is full of cars...

That's it for now, more may or may not follow.


Mix tapes and yoga

I used to really love mix tapes, and now I really love mix CDs. As a consquence, I am making a series of mix CDs for my engagement party. This is silly, as it requires a lot of music, a lot of time, not to mention a huge stereo. Besides, I have decidedly dubious taste in music. Nonetheless, anything that provides me with an excuse to play You're the one for me, fatty* loudly, is worth undertaking. In addition it provides me with a reason to foist one of my favourite lyrics of all times on The People:

She said it was just a figment of speech
And I said, "You mean figure?"
And she said, "No, figment"
Because she could never imagine it happening
But it did.

Billy Bragg of course, the most endearing man in England. I saw him live a couple of times, and I respect him tremendously for his consistence in his political commitments. Mostly I think he is a great lyric writer** and a really, really touching man. Honesty and fervour, especially when combined with interpretative dancing, are hard to resist.

However, that was not what I was on about. Not that what I was on about was so interesting to begin with, so let me change the topic.

Yoga - for the first time in a while I did a reasonable amount of it this morning. It occured to me, halfway through a sun salutation, that I suck at yoga. Not only on account of my on-off affair with it, but because I can't bloody well concentrate. I have this problem with meditation as well. Meditation was scrapped. I stayed with yoga. The irony is that I am at my most creative when doing yoga. I never have as many ideas and plans as I do when trying to think of my breathing.

In truth, I just feel like a fraud. The body does as requested, but the thoughts are as rebellious as ever. The saddest thing is that I know it's great when my head does co-operate, it feels wonderful - but I can't get it to do so except very occasionally. My internal monologue is too damn loud.

Bleh.

Btw, no word yet on when (and whether) my visa interview will happen. Must not stress. Must listen to the Kinks.

*I love that song. Such a great title. Like Fat-bottomed girls (which I really need to add to the mix) it is one of those songs that makes me really. Is this a relic of my teenage complexes? Probably; but I love a good defiant song.
** I am not alone in this view. He got an honorary degree from some university for this one: He was trapped in a haircut he no longer believed in.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Librarised

Just to let you all know that I have, as promised, checked out Gravity's Rainbow from the library. I shall attempt to read it. But first I am going to re-read Wide Sargasso Sea, which I read years ago, and remember as beautiful. I remember nothing more, except the context in which I read it. I love the title.

Some time ago I was making a world map puzzle and found the Sargasso Sea, something which I never really considered the actual location of.

No, wait, I remember something else about it - the chill, the constant cold. Strange. I'll let you know how it is.

Best of Belgium


Once upon a time, I worked in a relocation company. Practically that meant that I helped expats newly arrived in Belgium to settle in. Finding houses, schools, fitness clubs etc etc. It was fun, and of course we got to hear lots of opinions about Belgium. My favourite remains the following - an Englishman, recently moved into a posh Brussels neighbourhood, calls me to complain that he has received a letter from the local authorities in French. The horror the horror. Why was it not in English? I patiently explained that official letters will tend to be the local language which, in his new home in Brussels, happens to be French, rather than, say, Dutch of German, both of which are also official languages in Belgium. I resisted the impulse to point out that in 15 minutes he can be at the South station, where he can take a train and less than three hours later be in London, where all official mail is in English.

Which brings me to the first good/bad thing about Belgium: we speak English, that is to say, most of us do. People enjoy speaking it, and are usually helpful and nice to foreigners who speak it. Knowledge of other languages is marker of education and an absolute necessity if you want a career in almost anything, including plumbing, hairdressing and shopkeeping if you live in or near Brussels. Any Belgian can tell you that a standard job description for a job anywhere in the country will require English, Dutch and French, often also German.

All of the above are good things, in my point of view. The downside is that we tend to go over the top a little, and value English more than Dutch especially (French is a so much bigger language anyway), and neglect it, undervalue our language and culture. I am not even remotely nationalist for either Flanders or Belgium, but in a country where the nationalist voice of Flanders has been hijacked bij a bunch of evil racists* I would be glad to see any form of national, or regional pride that focusses on our values as a country instead of on what the other (the Walloons, North Africans, Congolese,...) are supposedly doing wrong.

Food. Belgian food is fabulous, really it is. Not necessarily healthy, but good. Our breads and pastries (patisserie) are second to none, and as a nation we love 4-hour dinners with nice wine and calorific desserts. We love having beer** with a cheese plate a 3 a.m. The Dutch say that we are "Bourgondiers", ie from Burgundy, not in the literal sense or even because we were at one point part of that region, but because we know and value food. Of course, the Dutch couldn't cook an egg or brew a decent beer if their life depended on it, even they admit that. Anyway, our beer and chocolates are without a doubt (and I have tried many) the best in the world, but people need to be a little more experimental when they go to Belgium -there is so much more to discover.

Location, location, location. We are terribly well-located, which goes some way towards explaining why, historically, this region has been such a coveted piece of real estate, and so frequently occupied. These days you can be in Paris or Amsterdam by train in less than two hours, in London in less than three. If you drive in any direction you are likely to leave the country in 3 hours at most.

Education. Belgium has good and cheap education. Grants are still grants, not loans, and based on income, not performance. Don't expect to be led much - there is initially little individual tutoring in university education especially, as there is no money for it. My university, one of the oldest in Europe, is pretty good (though not as good as they think, pompous twits) by any standards, and very well respected. Anybody want to know how much debt I have? Not a penny, not one single eurocent of it.*** The same goes for most graduates.

Enough for now - more to follow. I think.

*Note that their site is in four languages. For all those non-Dutch speaking Flemish nationalists out there.
**This really is the best beer I have tasted, especially the Kriek. If you ever get a chance to drink, pay whatever you need to pay for it, it is one of the things that makes life worth living. If you don't believe me ask the Fiancé.
***Thanks mum and dad. Thankfully in Belgium parents traditionally pay for the cost of living in rooms.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

52%


I bear a 52% similarity to Keira Knightley*, according to these people.

Yeah, right.

Update: I just ran the test on a very similar photo, which, unsurprisingly, came up with totally different results. I am now 57% Anthony Kiedis. Hehe.

The Fiancé (yes, so I can't help myself, in spite of stacks of work) is 70% Matt Damon, which is really scary, but 73% Matt Dillon, which is better. Still, I think I like him more as himself than as Matt Dillon.

*Can I just say that I am intensely envious of Knightley's haircut in this picture? It is a great haircut. I miss my Hungarian hairdresser, I do. Alas, my excellent, gorgeous and cheap hairdresser is lost to me.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Favo(u)rite Things Part II

Houston. I really, honestly like Houston, which is so much greener than I would have expected, so much opener and cultured. I especially like the historic parts of the city, the Museum District, and the best brunch in the US, possibly the world. And Austin, where I would like to spend more than the day. I like the bats, the fact that you can walk places, the small shops and the t-shirts promoting said shops that say Keep Austin weird. It also has the coolest events.

Bookshops. Another unlikely thing to like about the US, but it has these wonderful, gigantic bookshops (bookstores) where you can have coffee and lie on the floor reading your favourite book as long as your not obstructing anyone's access to the children's section. And yes, I do (also) like Barnes and Noble, even if they are an evil empire supporting another evil empire. At least it is an evil empire with books.

Service. Those of you who have lived abroad or, god forbid, in the service wilderness known as Hungary, will know what it is to spend 50 minutes waiting for your dinner, and then to be treated with contempt for even asking when you will get it. Aaah, much praise may be heaped on the US service culture, where few things take more than 20 minutes and people actually tell you if you will have to wait and apologise when they make mistakes.

Pecan Pie. Which is delicious. Pecan pancakes too, and waffles. Maple syrup pancakes. Hmmm. The best artery clogging madness in the world (excepting perhaps the Ulster fry with sodabread).

JD Salinger. No kidding, he is one of my favourite writers of all time, and there are few things (including pecan pie) which are as good as his writings, especially the Nine Stories. I will defy gender categories* and say that yes it is a watershed book and yes I read that and The Catcher in the Rye at the age of 17.

People. I mean Americans. They are so much scarier sometimes than Europeans, but at the same time there are so many people who are much more idealist than you could be in Europe (bunch of cynics that we are), in a good way, and actively. So many people take a stand for their views in the best possible way, at a time when having the courage of your opinions is not the easiest thing. The extremes are well-represented, for better or for worse.

And with that, for now, I close my enumeration; feel free to make your own additions. One for Belgium will follow.

Friday, April 07, 2006

My Favourite (Favorite) Things

I was listening to Tom Lehrer just now and I thought - yes - that is a good thing about the US.

Tom Lehrer is wonderful, and has brightened many a dull weeknight of mine. I first found out about when a (former) friend randomly told me about The Hunting Song. He later gave me a tape after he came to see one of the shows I was in. More importantly, another friend gave me another Tom Lehrer tape years later when I thought people didn't make tapes anymore. It was great, and this was the tape I was playing just now.

Another thing - Monk. I have only recently discovered it on, of course, the BBC, and yes, its lightheartedness is a bit of a relief after all of the Quality British Detectives (I love those too though). The Randy Newman themesong is also great.

Come to think of it, Randy Newman is another thing that is wonderful about the US. Especially Baltimore, if only for that very first line. Anyway, Randy Newman is cool.

Cedar Key is also lovely, a not-too-touristy corner of Florida. And western Maryland. Which brings me to that all-important iconic American activity - roadtripping. Roadtripping is on of those great clichés that I still go for every day of the week. I am ambitious to the point of worrying my ever trip-willing Fiancé. Especially when uttering the following sentence:
"Love, can we drive to Graceland?"

Elvis is great, but I don't need to go into that one.

Oh, and I agree with both Drek and Slag/the Fiancé that Alyson Hannigan is, ooh, quite nice. Not to mention Jake Gyllenhaal, who has ousted many a charming Brit* from my actor-crush affections. Granted, a predictable choice, but admit it, how many people look that good in nothing but a santa hat?

Anyway, have to leave you all now. You can safely dread a sequel to this.

*although he really is a lovely bloke. Don't get me started on that one.



*Although he remains the only person I would cross the road to avoid

Update

Btw, nearly forgot to mention that today I mailed my papers to the embassy. Hope all is well and the invite me for an interview sooooooon!!!! This is where, if they are feeling friendly, they give me the visa...

Also, on a random note, check out the comment here - the one from Travis. You have no idea how funny that is to me.

People you never thought would

You will perhaps notice that there is a new link in my Blogs section. It is fairly self-explanatory. Still, it is odd; not only will I soon have a sister-in-law, but I suddenly find myself connected to someone - and in fact a whole family* - that I wouldn't otherwise know.

In my opinion there are two very distinct types of friendships/connections that you form in your life. The first group of friends are those you make because for some reason that person appeals to you. Common interests, common backgrounds, that sort of thing.

The second group of friends you form through circumstances. They are, perhaps, not the people you would normally befriend, but you nonetheless find yourself hanging out with them. Stellegasie is perhaps the closest example. I knew him for years before we got to be friends. We just happened to be in the same theatre group, happened to be taking the same classes. For the longest time I just thought he was weird; an opinion which has proved to be entirely justified. And then late one evening we just kind of bonded over gherkins on toast, and that was it.

Another example is my former flatmate in Hungary. She was living away from home for the first time and I was used to living with people who did their own thing and were, as she would say, northern. She is Turkish, and was looking for the sort of friend I am not. The cultural and personal differences were not to be sneezed at. We had tons of really bad fights, and lots of fun, and all of it was weird. Eventually I moved out to my own place, but oddly enough we had by that time become proper friends - and still are.

You see, it's those friendships that take you out of your comfort zone and your expectations that challenge your own views. They keep you from getting complacent. Huzzah for circumstantial friendships and all the mess they can make.

*Mind you, my soon-to-be-family-in-law is lovely, and well-nigh impossible to dislike, a fact for which I am particularly grateful.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Happiness


Have any of you seen the movie? Don't if you're feeling glum. Otherwise I recommend it.

I am looking at my recent blog entries and while happiness is not easily written I am astonished at the number of my bad moods. Am I so miserable? No, not really, I think.

What remains is: at home or not, engaged or not, busy or not, happiness does seem to be terribly hard work. I resist the impulse to ask the Fiancé if he is sure he isn't crazy for wanting to marry me. It's a start.

There is only one thing one can do about a mood like this - baby animals. If any of you are feeling like the world is a harsh place today, follow the link and click "watch report". Trust me on this one; you will feel better, or at the very least your brain will be shocked out of its maudlin ways.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Negative


I do not have HIV, syphilis or TB. I do not have convictions in Belgium, Hungary or the UK. I do not have history of drug abuse and I am not, as established yesterday, a terrorist.

Jolly good.

The things we do for love.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Statistics and old photographs

I have been looking at divorce statistics.

Risk assesment, as it were. Being well-educated and over 24, the odds are not too bad. My future home also is, apparently, low-risk. Of course the best thing is to move to Canada, where the divorce rates are about half to two thirds of the US one. I wonder if you can take out insurance.

I have also been looking at pictures of old loves of mine. Not in a deliberate bout of prenuptial nostalgia, but in an attempt to clean up the bombsite that is my room (it contains all my Hungarian stuff) in preparation for the arrival of my future parents-in-law. The pictures remind me what I saw in them, but all the same I am rather glad that is over with. Unrequited love, especially, didn't suit me. It is comforting to not care, to the extent demonstrated by the above link.

Thank god for the Fiancé. I was getting tired of falling for the wrong men*, and he's a great deal.

*and of the wrong, usually terribly dull and unattractive, men falling for me.

Really wanting to curl up and never think about it again

I have a toothache again. Which I could almost bear if:
a) my health insurance were sorted
b) it were on the same side as last time
Especially since the health insurance thing is due to my employer, and my teeth were extensively treated a month ago.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Party update

Update of the update: I just received my birth certificate, which means I am pretty much all set for the visa interview. I still need a translation of one document but for complicated practical reasons I will postpone that until I know the date of the interview. I also need to complete some more forms but those are pretty straightforward, and not as demanding as the biographic data sheet.

For the benefit of those of you who have never travelled to the US or who are US citizens, let me copy part of the declaration us foreigners have to sign every time we enter the country:

"Do you seek to enter the United States to engage in export control violations, subversive or terrorist activities, or any other unlawful purpose? Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization as currently designated by the U.S. Secretary of State? Have you ever participated in persecutions directed by the Nazi government of Germany; or have you ever participated in genocide?"

Right, let me think about that.

************************************

Actually more of a site update. The Fiancé has just put up Our Story on the website. It is somewhat less nauseating than some other people's, and it has moose. I really like the moose. I am really looking forward to the Fiancé teaching me how to do the site so I can fiddle with it myself. I love that kind of thing, and have Plans for the site. You didn't expect it to be just a cute and fluffy site, right? It's fun to see how it's expanded since we first started working on it...

Incidentally, one of my dad's photographer friends has volunteered to take pictures, so we will actually have decent pictures! Admit it beats getting tupperware as an engagement gift. Especially since I detest the official kind of wedding photography. *shudder*
Now I just need to get him to come over to Florida for the wedding as well.

Btw, have a look at this. Note the divorce name change one, snugly nestled in among the rest.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Domestic

Recently, that is, today, I have realised that I have not had a party-planning-free (including related issues) weekend since I got here. So much for spending time with friends; instead I spend my time unpacking boxes, choosing wallpaper for my dad’s bathroom (don’t ask), choosing wine and figuring out who is going to sleep where. Of my friends I have only seen Perelaar and Dana, though I have talked to a few more and was supposed to have brunch with another this weekend. The truth is that I am not as motivated as I would normally be too see them either, partly because I am so busy, partly because I know I’ll see them at the party*, partly because I haven’t spent much time with my family over the last two and a half year, so I enjoy just doing everyday things with them. Moreover I am living with my sister, and between her, her boyfriend and the kids there’s not much time to get bored.

There is all the paperwork and Consular Awfulness to be gotten over with as well, which absorbs any spare time and resources I might have.

The thing with being in your home country and with your family is that it makes your everyday life so very much easier. The things to fight for are fewer, you don’t have to invest energy in trying to get people to understand you – it makes my tolerance for bureaucracy much higher. It makes me happier, too. After a year of fighting for it every single day you find yourself not worrying about being happy. I miss my lover, of course, and I do get stressed out and annoyed, but being content is there as a sort of baseline.

I am very excited about moving to the US, and moving in with the Fiancé. Somehow that amplifies my enjoyment of this domestic existence. I should know as well as anyone that any place is at its most beautiful just before you leave it, and people at their most charming**.

*yeah, right. For about five minutes.
**except Hungary. Hungary was awful just before I left it. I was having constant toothaches and practical problems. It sucked.