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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Crosscountry skiing in Ceroux

Yesterday getting up, I saw the world in white from my bedroom window. Silently through the night a thick and heavy snow had fallen on Belgium. There was at least 15 cm. of good snow and it was still snowing. Cold magic white landscape. The birds hopping around were looking for food. I threw some bread but it went quickly to the bottom of the snow and more falling snow covered it. They would have to wait until we got organized with proper bird food.

In the afternoon I went shopping at the Brico in Ottignie, bought bird food and a very tacky green plastic bird-bath. It will have to do for now. I will buy a proper one in stone in the springtime to set in the garden in front of our living-room window.

Coming back home under a clear sky, it was then that I saw two siluettes gliding fast down a slope in the open country side.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Meaningful Legacy

Monday was a very cold day. Winter started the Friday before with cold and fog. By Monday the weather was set to an icy 4°C with wind from the North. It was the fitting day for Herman’s cousin Maurice's funeral. He was a very handsome man with an easy smile. Sparking blue eyes with a lot of mischief and fun. I had known Maurice now for more than 20 years. I saw him mostly at weddings, first communion and Christmas gatherings. Always smiling.

We arrived in Haaltert by 10:00 in the morning and went straight into the main square’s café. Inspector Maigret would have been very comfortable. Dark, smoky, old fashioned and full of old locals discussing the Sunday football game in very tight dialect. We drank a coffee to warm up and waited until 10:15 to go the St Gorik church. Christelle, Guido and Filiep were already there sitting in the men side of the church. Herman joined them and I went to sit in the women side, left, with the cousins and Maria, the widow.

St Gorik is a neo-gothic church built 1870 after the previous church burned down due to a fire caused by lightning . The brothers de Noyette did actually a good job with this one. They kept the design simple and they really got the acoustic right. This was very important for the music. The front of the church, the altar, and the casket were decorated with lots white flowers. I counted more that 300 people inside. It was packed.

The ceremony lasted around an hour with lots of music. The 1870 organ, made by father and son Vereecken of Gijzegem, sounded magnificent. A chorus with eight singers sang throughout the ceremony. We were all crying in the women side. The music made the ceremony twice as moving.

After Communion, the Mass ended and we followed the casket out into the village square. We walked after the funeral car through the streets of Haaltert for more than a kilometer in the cold and wind. I was arm in arm with Christelle trying to keep each other warm. On and on we walked all the way to the cemetery out of town. A pale sun came out around noon and the cemetery was illuminated. Every tomb was full of flowers. In the first week of November all the relatives wash the tombs and bring big pots of tiny chrysanthemums flowers. The cemetery was all yellow, white and orange flowers. A very pretty sight.

Each of us put a white rose on the casket and after hugging Maria and her sons we walked back to the village. We arrived back on the main square and walked into the “feestzaal”. That is the place where you go to celebrate after church occasions. A very handy place to go after christenings, first communions, weddings and funerals. And here a couple of hundred people sat for lunch – sandwich of preparé and cheese, sweet croissants and Danish pastries with lots of coffee. Also we drank beer, cola, and white wine and after a while with food and drinks the mood was festive and relaxed. The widow Maria and the sons Rik and Hans went from table to table to talk to everyone and we all talked about Maurice, his life and his sudden death.

Nobody could forget that his 95 year old mother Maria, in the old people home nearby, did not come to the funeral of her only child. She does not know her son died.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Frédéric, the gardener, came Friday with his proposal for the front garden. He will plant three kinds of roses, small, medium and big bushes all along the front. I am very curious to see how it will look next spring.

Instead of trees in the middle of the front yard grass he will plant two sorts of magnolias. He will put tree short ones of one color with a tall magnolia tree of a different color. That will take some years to look good.

In the back he has already planted a couple of hundred bulbs in the flower beds and in the forest. Yes, we have a tiny forest in the back yard. You really cannot access it easily. It is closed on three sides by the fence and one side by the giant rhododendrons so we really do not have an easy access to it. Frédédic has promised me three entrances to the forest and a man made path with dark barks to be able to stroll through. In the meantime he has planted tiny blue flowers bulbs that should appear in early springtime.

He has also filled the big long container along the tall barbecue window with tulip bulbs and on top a cover of winter violets. He promised he will clear some of the plants in the herb garden and make more room for me for extra herbs and maybe a couple of tomato plants next spring.

We are slowly slowly transforming this green garden into a flower garden. I need all the help I can get.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Last month we went to Los Angeles for a few days to visit Sarah. On Sunday morning in Santa Monica, with a beautiful sun-filled sky, Herman and I went for breakfast at “Le Pain Quotidien”. This bakery is a piece of Belgian territory. The shop is exactly like the one you find in Brussels, on the Place du Sablon, or in Waterloo, on the Chaussée de Charleroi or in Wavre downtown.

I understand now for the first time the feeling that an American could have going to a Starbucks when abroad. You get that feeling of being in a small piece of home territory away from home.

Le Pain Quotidien has the same smell of butter and bread, taste of coffee and chocolate paste, colors on the walls and floors, sound of classic music and crunchy touch of the best croissant that you could find here. All five senses go in perfect unison.

I know. You are going to tell me I sound like a commercial but I think this company has really found a way to differentiate the essence of very simple items into units of excellence and made it reproducible across the world.

It is what marketers call the ultimate customer experience. And they got it.

If you go to Le Pain Quotidien in Belgium you just feel that you are in a good place to eat. When you go to Le Pain Quotidien in LA and you are Belgian then you are not in a shop, you are literally back home in Belgium.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


You must admit that when it’s done well and everything works Opera is MAGIC.
This month we have being spoiled in Brussels: two Operas and both very well done.

First I went to La Monnaie, with my friend Bert from The Hague, to see “Il Viaggio a Reims” by Rossini at La Monnaie. Of course it was the legendary 1984 Ronconi and Aulenti production from Pesaro. What luck! What fun!

Then last night I went to the Bozar, with my nephew Stefan, to see “La Clemenza di Tito” by Mozart. Opera Concertante directed by Rene' Jacobs with the Freiburger Barockorchester. Well done!

I am not an opera critic but when you feel that you are looking a something very special you know it is good. Then if you are really lucky you get goose pimples on your arms and behind you neck. Opera gets physical.

There is much that can go wrong in an Opera:
a badly cast singer, an orchestra going every which way, a boring décor, stupid costumes, too dark or too much light, a confusing chorus, dull music and many many other details that will not make the Magic. I have been to Operas where it was too hot, too many people sick, where I could not read the libretto above, and so on and so on.

So you see when I tell you it was magic it means that nothing went wrong. Pure happiness!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Cat Woman

Carte Blanche: Herman

Dorien is our black cat. She was born sometime in 1987, nobody remembers exactly when, but we know where: Belgium, at my sister’s house. At the time we were living in The Netherlands in Den Haag. She followed us to Switzerland for 11 years and then back to Belgium last year. She used to warn us about imminent danger around the houses we used to live (squirrels, a lonely fox, a dog or another cat). These days we need to protect her, because she is growing older by the day.

She does not go far from the house, unless we are walking around the garden and she can take a stroll with us. At certain points in the house we strategically put some chairs , so she can still reach the windowsill when jumping to look outside of the house.
We notice that she is sleeping longer and only wakes up to ask for food or to complain about it. She eats more than she used to, but does not gain weight. Despite of her rather passive life lately, she remains a warm and welcome presence in the house we bought in Lasne.

She is unhappy when we are not around in her territory. Yes, after eighteen year, she has accepted to share her territory with us and sees us as an integral part of it. She only wants to go on vacation at my sister’s in Ronse, because she likes to be spoiled by her. It does look like the noise free environment of Lasne has made her a bit more silent, but the clean nature around her has made her more resilient to live longer. She may make it to twenty-five, who will tell.

Cats have learned how to co-exist with people in a lot of countries around the world, despite of the fact that they are not really the easiest animals to get along with.

We need to make sure that every politician gets one, becomes more tolerant, people and nature friendly. After all, this world is just a big territory.

Rhapsody in Brown

Yesterday Herman and I went to see Guido and Annemie's new apartment in Gent. The building is not finished yet. Maybe it will be done by next summer. But it is interesting to see the area. They are the first of a long line of baby boomers who will migrate back to the city centre in the next ten years. They will sell the big house in the country side and move into the city. All the cities will be redone in the next ten years to make room for them. As long as they work and drive there is no reason to move but sooner or later it will happen. It is the fall season of life.

The fall season is here in all its majesty. I love it. Its all brown. The trees go from yellow to red to rust to brown. In the forest, next to my house, the ground is covered by brown leaves from the maple trees. The ferns cover is also brown. The upturned ground in the fields, the dried corn stalks, the sugar beets hills on the side of the road, all in beautiful shades of brown.

Driving through Lasne you can see the king of birds standing, walking and running, never flying. I enjoy pheasants. The most elegant of browns, shining in the sun in pretty contrast with the dark green feathers and white collar. If I am alone on the road I stop the car and look at them. What a lovely sight.

Yesterday I went to Gent all dressed up in brown. I like to wear mono-colour outfits. Brown is the one I like the best. Light brown top from Globus, dark brown pants from Bon Genie, the darkest shade of brown suede moccasin from Bea Novelli, dark brown suede bag from Longchamp (this is second time I buy the same bag, once in Geneva and now in Brussels) , Nina Ricci marron glassé suede jacket (I think from Frankfurt airport five years ago), a light woolen shawl from Kashmir (a Chistmas present from Jenny) in many tones of brown and tiny reflecting crystals. The finishing touch was the long necklace in thousands of multi-coloured glass beads in all shades of brown Sarah gave me last Christmas. It takes years to reach such perfection. Fashion is not for me.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

My Secret Bird

I have to say I am quite disappointed about my garden in relation to the variety of birds that come here. In the summer I see some black birds and pigeons. Last winter, when I did set the bird feeder I saw finches. I am not sure if this is all there is in Lasne or it is my garden that is not properly planted to attract something more glamorous.

I do not expect migratory birds that need water but it would be nice to see something more exciting. I also do not recognise birds by listening, I need to improve there.

That said, there is one bird that comes in my front garden and I can glimpse sometime: my secret green woodpecker. You have to have good eyes to see him. Perfectly blending in the green grass, I only see him when he fly away scared by my passing shadow in the window. I wonder if he has a mate. He is always alone.

When I see him I smile and it makes my day happier.

Photo by Dave Appleton

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Broken Silence

Lasne is renowned all over the Brussels region for the tranquil, idyllic charming rural scenery. The rolling landscape gently invites walkers, horse riders and recently quad-riders into the valleys and scattered forests.
We live in a secluded street that must be one of the most silent spots in the area. So you would call it silence at the power of two. No cars, no children, a couple of barking dogs, a horse neighing, a private plane at low altitude and a few birds. These are the noises you hear sometime. At night it is even more silent. Then the voice of the wind through the trees is the only sign of a world out there.

We all have big gardens, some have big fields for horses. Just around the corner large fields of corn, soya and sugar beet extend into the next village. We hardly know or meet our neighbors not for lack of goodwill, but because we never see them. We do not have shops, or other reasons to congregate.

It is not a place for the weak and faint-hearted. You must be at peace with yourself to live in such a habitat. We are deluxe hermits feeding on some internal energy.

Some days ago we received a notice from a neighbor in the mailbox, informing us that he will give a big party. It very formally announced that the police and city hall have been notified and there will be noise and lots of traffic. We did not give it any thought because we were going to be away traveling.

Then yesterday a neighbor came to our house, a new one that I have never met before. He lives a few houses down my street. I am always happy to meet a new neighbor; I can add him to my list of people I know around here. After one year I have met seven families. Now one more, eight. He wanted me to sign a petition against the noise that the party had generated a few weekend ago. I was totally amazed that somebody would be driven to such an action for one party. It is true that the noise went until six in the morning and that it was very loud and sleep was difficult. A party is a party. It is not construction or low altitude jet airplanes' noise. It was a lonely isolate instance of joy and merriment.

I was not there, I cannot judge. I was in Milano where the noise is constant, the traffic is non stop. The claxons of tiny Fiats and supped up Vespas keep you awake night after night.

Can it be that noise in a silent place is noisier than noise in a noisy place?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Two number 13 and GPS

The confusion continues and it will take time to solve.

I live in a circular street. You come into it from the main road, drive around and you go out where you came in. Easy and simple. The problem is that if you turn left you come to my house and the street has a name, if you turn right the street has an other name. So you go from one name to the other circling around. Of course you have the same numbers on the houses. Two number one, two number two and so on. I live at number 13. The street names are poorly marked in places where you do not look. Most people, including Herman and I the first time, turn right at the circle so they drive in the wrong direction. They arrive at number 13 and stop, thinking they are at our house. Wrong! Delivery trucks, repairmen, friends and family all ring the bell of the wrong house and mostly they do not find anybody.

That number 13 belongs to a hard working family and during the day they are not at home. We have met them to get envelopes and packages that belong to us. They have also met half of the family and friends that came in June to our party and arrived at the wrong house with flowers and wine bottles.

Yesterday we went to the "la mairie" of Lasne, in Ohain, to ask if they could come and check the situation. They said they would, but it might take up to a year to fix it. The city buys street signs once a year.

We also hope more and more people will get cars with a GPS.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lost and Found

In a quasi-hidden pocket of my green roller, I have found the wooden knife I bought in Montpellier, Vermont in September. I was there with Sarah on our way to Montreal. This forgotten knife went, in my roller, to Paris, Geneva, London, Dresden, Lyon and Milano. Now it is finally home in Lasne. Its beautiful, smooth, sensual, sharp. I do not know what to use it for. For the moment I will just look at it.
As you can see I have travelled across Europe these past few weeks. I have brought back small things from each place: a Christmas tree decoration from Montreal, a book from Paris, a special hairdryer from Geneva, a Penhaligon's Violetta perfume from London, a tiny Meissen porcelain box from Dresden, ripe persimmons from Milano.
In Lasne you can buy handmade fresh chocolate from La Cabosse d'Or and delicious apple cakes from Michel in the little square in Ohain.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hello, here is a new blog

I guess you were all waiting for me to start one and here it is.

Today the weather is really showing the colours of fall around here. Grey and white, pale sunshine and rain. The cat does not know if to stay out or come indoor. Too hot in. Too cold outside.

I called the gardener, Frederic, to find out what are we going to do for the front of the house. Last week we had a long meeting with the plant and flower specialist from the local garden centre. He sent a drawing and suggestions for the planting. I insisted on roses everywhere. He was not happy about the choice but at the end I have a good proposal for roses.

Frederic will look at the catalog and the prices and get back to me with the final proposal.

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