First off, apologies for taking such a long blog leave. But the silence speaks for itself. La vie en Belgique has decelerated considerably from the frenzy of the first month. Now it’s all quite quotidian, slowing to pedestrian pace…
Speaking of pedestrians, I’ve been attracting strange looks again. The hair is no longer an issue since I’ve been keeping it under wraps (literally) by wearing my Antarctic-adventure-worthy hat – ear flaps and all. I blame Autumn. The leaves are so stunning I can’t help but stand and stare. One day I wanted to pick up almost every single one I set eyes on! I’ve amassed quite a collection, each one varying in shape and shade. Now they are tucked into the thick pages of various door-stop style books around the house. Knowing me I’ll probably forget to take them out again and they’ll be left for someone else to find… There’s something quite cruel about pressing them though, don’t you find? Squeezing the vitality out of their veins until they are lifeless, brittle beauties.
Back to food. DID YOU KNOW that the first ‘Le Pain Quotidien’ opened in Brussels? And just around the corner! If you’ve never been, then I can recommend it highly. Although it’s pretty pricey daily bread if you ask me!
British stereotypes reap their benefits. I don’t think I have ever had so many cups of tea before moving here. Beyond the 4 o’clock tea ceremony however, marmalade and lemon curd have made a guest appearance in the fridge. The family bought them as a goût de chez moi for me – how sweet is that. How they are eaten, however, has been highly amusing… Picture the scene. Just back from lectures; the children pile in from school. Kettle on, boiling, squeal, boiled, tea, brewed, milk, mmm. Les enfants source the biscuits. Out comes the marmalade. Lemon curd follows closely behind. Spoons delve into jars. Marmalade and lemon curd spread all over biscuits. Catastrophic sugary mess. I started to explain that I (and most Brits?!) only ever have a thin layer of marmalade on toast in the morning and lemon curd fairly rarely (when on earth DO you eat it?) but they were lost in their happy delusion of being like English children who apparently eat these strange jams with everything. Too sweet.
Several of you have inquired as to why exactly I find choir so funny. In short, it is because of how seriously everyone takes themselves. I have never been in a room with so many tight-lipped, eyebrows-raised, huffing and puffing singers – and I’m a Brit! And rehearsals have only been getting funnier… The corny Christmas repertoire is in full swing and as the only native English speaker there, I was nominated to read out the words for pronunciation purposes. Hearing everyone sing “Toe-asting marz-mayloes een zee snoh” was heartwarming to say the least.
Last night’s rehearsal took a turn for… the strange. Forty minutes had already passed. The conductor was getting grumpy – tenors still squawking. Suddenly, a rapping on the giant chapel doors. I’m closest. I offer a nervous “Hello?” Conductor continues conducting stamping his foot, red-faced, fed up. I turn to open the double doors. They swing back to reveal… St Nicolas (equivalent of Father Christmas)! Whopping great white beard, huge golden staff, flowing red velvet cloak and signature pointy hat. It turned out to be one of the tenors – absolute joker! He proceeded to climb the narrow stairs to the pulpit and watch the rest of the rehearsal from on high. Totally bizarre. To my dismay, the conductor obstinately refused to acknowledge St Nicolas’ arrival – we had to wait a whole hour to be given sweets!
A peculiarity of Brussels seems to be their penchant for music in public places. Rather than buskers in stations, there are speakers hidden everywhere (I’m still on the lookout for them) which blast out a wide array of chansons 24/7. I’m grateful that the transport DJ of my local station has taste (some stations seem to play James Blunt on repeat). Nonetheless, it’s quite strange being greeted by what I call the ‘Métro jukebox’ every day – especially when it’s usually Duffy pestering me to meet her at Warwick Avenue.
I feel like the babysitter of Brussels at the moment. Most nights this week I’ve either been devising dance routines with children, reading them The Smurfs in French and convincing them that witches don’t exist while I wait for them to go to sleep so I can write this. A particular highlight (or lowlight?) was Tuesday evening. My persuasive skills were pushed to the limit. Definitive conclusion: Halloween should be banned. Every child last week complained of nightmares and fear of witches. I am now renowned for having special anti-witch powers. This week saw a particularly low point of persuasive tactics as I resorted to convincing a little boy that the lion on his duvet cover would protect him… This week, however, it has been bandes dessinées galore – for those unaccustomed to Belgium, these are the (crazy) craze: comic books. Who knew The Smurfs could cause such angst? Not me. Until I saw the translation: Les Schtroumpfs. Try it. Not only is the vowel sound hideous but the word is employed as a verb almost every other word – it’s Smurf language, don’t you know. And frankly impossible for me to pronounce. Harriet’s authority smashed into smithereens: absolute laughingstock.
In other news, my most recent nickname is Arête. Meaning? Fishbone. In a fit of panic that her son would eat the bone lurking on his fork, the mother cried “Attention, il y a un Harriet!” by mistake… Fishbone, Harriet, Harriet, fishbone. One and the same.
Feeling old moment of the month: 11 year old explaining with sincerity that I just wouldn’t be able to understand some things about schools these days…
“Harriet, tu vois, à ton époque des choses étaient différentes”.
Since when did I belong to another era?!
Written with love from Harriet.
Now I’m looking forward to hearing from YOU.