Monday, July 31, 2006

A face on a wall, Antwerpen

Gaston Feremans, Toondichter 1907 - 1964

Imagine ...

Zena el-Khalil : co-founder of xanadu*, an art space located in New York City and Beirut, dedicated to helping young artists who are not interested in commercial galleries and, aljisser, a USA based organization that works to promote the work of Arab artists is writing a blog ...

She's writing about how it is to be in Lebanon these days ... about the foreigners she's helping, the dogs they are forced to leave behind, her friend with cancer, the massive oil slick that is destroying Lebanese coastline and how it feels to be an artist who has been told to leave ... leave a sick friend, her dog, her art supplies, letters, photographs, her art...

An extract: but, i do not want to be just another war victim... that perhaps next week you will forget all about me. i don't want to live a life of war. i did not ask for this. i do not want this. i had another life. one that was directed by me. one that i was in charge of. decisions that i made by myself. responsibilities that i set for myself. i don't want to be a war story. do you understand what i am trying to say? i just want to be me. live the life that i spent shaping and moulding for myself. follow my dreams. carry out my projects. paint what i feel like painting, and not what is imposed on me.

Grafitti I

A poem to the public ... found while wandering

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Homesick, again ...

I woke homesick ... the first words out of my mouth were 'I want to go home'.

I'm homesick for my daughter, my granddaughter, my family and friends; for balconys that look out over harbours or gardens; for the smell of the sea or a lake with shores that are empty of people and wild in ways that New Zealand does so very well.

Perhaps I am homesick for that feeling of being so far from the rest of the world, somewhere clean that isn't too crazy or rude; where shopkeepers recommend you pop into 'Pete's store down the road' if they don't have that thing you wanted to buy.

Maybe it was a desire for regional air; the peat forest floor scent of the Catlins or a Fiordland beech forest; the smell of the sea when you walk along any coast; the sweet smell of wild Thyme in Central Otago and ecetera.

Permission to work in Belgium is getting closer, I should be allowed to earn money by September ... touch wood for luck ... I want to fly home for Christmas.

Let's see how it goes.

English Translation of Zidane's Coup de boule

The Zidane headbutting incident has created all manner of humourous comment ... and for some reason, I can't resist them.

Gert came home full of laughter the other day and played me this Zidane song .

Click the play button under the banner that reads 'Coup de boule'.

The translation to English ...

Watch out, it's the head butt dance
Head butt, head butt
Head butt on the right
head butt, head butt
head butt on the left
head butt, head butt

Come on the Blues! Come on
Zidane has hit, Zidane has struck
head butt X4

The Italian was hurt
Zidane has hit
The Italian's not well
Zidane has struck
The ref saw it on tv
Zidane has hit
We lost the cup
But we had a good laugh

Zidane has hit, Zidane has struck
Head butt x4

Trezeguet didn't play
When he played he messed up
He wrecked it all
We lost the cup
Barthez didn't stop a thing
Even though it isn’t that difficult
The sponsors are all furious
But Chirac spoke well

Zidane has hit, Zidane has struck
Head butt x4

Look out it's the head butt dance
Head butt, head butt
Head butt to the right
Head butt head butt
Head butt to the left
Head butt head butt
Head butt to the front
Head butt head butt
Head butt to the back
Head butt head butt
And now, penalty
Watch out, he is ready to kick
1,2,3 he missed

Zidane has hit, Zidane has struck
Head butt x4

We had a good laugh
Zidane and Trezeguet
We lost the cup
Zidane and Trezeguet
We had a good laugh
Zidane and Trezeguet
We lost the cup
Zidane and Trezeguet

Orhan Pamuk, 'Who Do You Write For?'

Erkan's blog ... source of many interesting things offered up this Herald Tribune article by renowned Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk.

That is the question.

For the last 30 years - since I first became a writer - this is the question I've heard most often from both readers and journalists. Their motives depend on the time and the place, as do the things they wish to know. But they all use the same suspicious, supercilious tone of voice.

...It is because all writers have a deep desire to be authentic that even after all these years I still love to be asked for whom I write. But while a writer's authenticity does depend on his ability to open his heart to the world in which he lives, it depends just as much on his ability to understand his own changing position in that world.

There is no such thing as an ideal reader, free of narrow-mindedness and unencumbered by social prohibitions or national myths, just as there is no such thing as an ideal novelist. But a novelist's search for the ideal reader - be he national or international - begins with the novelist's imagining him into being, and then by writing books with him in mind.

Truth and Beauty

Sometimes, I feel the need to mix beauty and truth ... both exist.

Sunflowers in full bloom, stories of entire families wiped out while they sleep.

The innocence of children as opposed to the body counts from places like Rwanda, Iraq, Lebanon and New York city's 9/11.

Anne Frank's hiding place and canalside cafes on a summer's day.

All exists, side by side, I do know it ... but I wonder, if we remain silent, are we complicit?
Iraq coalition casualty count .
U.S deaths: 2574
U.S wounded: 18777

Iraq Body Count .
Minimum number of Iraqi dead: 39460
Maximum number of Iraqi dead: 43927

An Interesting Article

“The trend toward secrecy,” Associated Press president had been pointing out, “is the greatest threat to democracy.” writes Alison Weir in her article titled Associated Press Omissions.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

An interesting angle on the story ...

Laila is a Guardian journalist living and working in Gaza.

However she's presently travelling in America and wrote this: Its difficult blogging from way over here. I feel impotent, a far-and-away observer, distant and a little too comfortable. and I don't like it. its so easy to get lost here in your own little world, whatever that world is; its not wonder the average American knows-and cares-so little about the outside world; Between the longest work hours on the planet and corporate-controlled media in the hours you do have to yourself, I don't blame them in some ways. That, and insanely expensive health insurance. More on this later.

Her friend writes to her from inside Rafah ...

el vergel

I went wandering yesterday in Brussels and was introduced to el vergel ... the traditional latin american and mediterranean restaurant on Rue du Trone.

The company was superb - 4 women, 3 nationalities; interesting women and good conversation, with much laughter as stories were told.

The food was delicious and the staff were friendly which is something I've learned not to take forgranted in the way that I did back in those days of living in friendly old Istanbul.

Afterwards, Shannon and I hunted down and caught a bus out to Everberg ... much Belgian complication and things I won't write of until I feel human again.

Some things are hilarious only when presented in a particular light and driving through Brussels after 2am on the way home isn't conducive to finding the angle to create laughter as I reconstruct that tale for you.

Meanwhile, meet Shannon and Gabe's newest addition to the family ...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Poetry Thursday

Erica Jong is a favourite poet of mine, and much as I wanted to post one of her poems about sex for last week's Poetry Thursday assignment, I chickened out after about 30 minutes and took it down ... she's explicit and delicious but I feared for those unfamiliar with her beautiful, bold writings.

This week's Poetry Thursday assignment is a poem about food ... and as Erica has poems for every occasion, I thought I would share something sweeter from her.

Her poems are here

It begins like this:

The Raspberries in My Driveway
Nature will bear the closest inspection . She invites us to lay our eyes level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.

The raspberries
in my driveway
have always
been here
(for the whole eleven years
I have owned
but have not owned
this house),
I have never
tasted them

Always on a plane.
Always in the arms
of man, not God,
always too busy,
too fretful,
too worried
to see
that all along
my driveway
are red, red raspberries
for me to taste ...

You can read the poem in its entirety here .

A True Story ...

The heat is unravelling me ... I swear.

I've worked all morning and had no clue about my psychological decline until I found myself, tv remote in one hand and bath towel in the other, heading off to shower.

I made a note to self to return the remote to the lounge after my shower ... of course I forgot.

Suddenly aware of hunger pangs, I had decided to shower before loosing myself on the general public. We were briefly down around 22 celsius as a thunderstorm made a punitive attempt at arriving ... we're now experiencing an intensely muggy kind of Singapore heat and my body has become a braided river system of sweat. (Apologies to those with delicate constitutions).

I set forth ... painkillers and crossiants were my goals.

We have 3 apotheeks close to home ... THREE!

But to backtrack, this is Belgium, land of the unions ... a special country.

The land where the neighbourhood Post Office closes between 12.30 and 2pm so the staff can lunch together; the nearby supermarket closes on Thursday's ('Is it really Thursday?' was my conversation with self on reaching its closed doors.) Ahhh well, that's probably why the first of the 3 Apotheeks was closed (Pharmacist for those back at home, hmmm Eczane for Turks).

Okay, I retraced my steps some and wandered off along the main shopping street ... checking my favourite white bread bakery was open as I passed by, terrified it too might close for lunch while I was searching for painkillers.

First corner ... and the 2nd Apotheek was closed.

I walked on, knowing they couldn't all be closed on a Thursday but you know how this story goes ... of course they're all closed ... it's Belgium, it's holiday time, it's lunchtime, it's Thursday ... who knows why they're all closed, sweat was running over my eyes, blurring my vision by now.

And so it was back to the bakery, still open thank god but my usually helpful baker lady was having a 'special' kind of day.

I asked for 'een whit broed'. She reached for the wrong one, I said Nee, and pointed to the shelf above. She brought both to the counter.

I said 'Niet cut' struggling as ever over the Dutch word for 'cut' since the Dutch word for 'divorced' settled into my mind during the crucial 3 second moment of learning a new word.

She got that so we moved onto the fact I only wanted one loaf of bread. I think she was playing with me ... it's the only explanation. I said more than once, quite sweetly too, 'Een whit broed'. Gesturing with one finger even ...

She wasn't budging and it was too hot to continue and so that's why it is that I have two uncut loaves of rather nice white bread in the kitchen ...

Now to test whether my tongue has formed a callous at the point where it rubs itself against my sharp little broken back tooth ... I'm talking again, although I think I was too grouchy for Gert to have enjoyed my 24 hours of silence-by-broken-tooth.

May the gods of happiness be smiling on you ... because I do believe they were playing with me.
A new angle on the Zidane headbutting incident .

I can't read Italian so hope the written content is okay ...

Street Photographers ...

iN-PUBLiC was set up in 2000 to provide a home for street photographers.

They write: Our aim is to promote street photography and to continue to explore its possibilities. All the photographers featured here have been invited to show their work because they have the ability to see the unusual in the everyday and to capture the moment. The pictures remind us that, if we let it, over-familiarity can make us blind to what's really going on in the world around us.

Over the last few decades the phrase 'Street Photography' has come to mean a great deal more than simply making exposures in a public place. Photographers like Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Joel Meyerowitz have forced a redefinition of the phrase that has many new implications.

Primarily Street Photography is not reportage, it is not a series of images displaying, together, the different facets of a subject or issue. For the Street Photographer there is no specific subject matter and only the issue of 'life' in general, he does not leave the house in the morning with an agenda and he doesn't visualise his photographs in advance of taking them. Street Photography is about seeing and reacting, almost by-passing thought altogether.

For many Street Photographers the process does not need 'unpacking', It is, for them, a simple 'Zen' like experience, they know what it feels like to take a great shot in the same way that the archer knows he has hit the bullseye before the arrow has fully left the bow. As an archer and Street Photographer myself, I can testify that, in either discipline, if I think about the shot too hard, it is gone.

If I were pushed to analyse further the characteristics of contemporary Street Photography it would have to include the following:

Firstly, a massive emphasis on the careful selection of those elements to include and exclude from the composition and an overwhelming obsession with the moment selected to make the exposure. These two decisions may at first seem obvious and universal to all kinds of photography, but it is with these two tools alone that the Street Photographer finds or creates the meaning in his images. He has no props or lighting, no time for selecting and changing lenses or filters, he has a split second to recognise and react to a happening.

Secondly, a high degree of empathy with the subject matter, Street Photographers often report a loss of 'self' when carefully watching the behavior of others, such is their emotional involvement.

Thirdly, many Street Photographers seem to be preoccupied with scenes that trigger an immediate emotional response, especially humour or a fascination with ambiguous or surreal happenings. A series of street photographs may show a 'crazy' world, perhaps 'dreamlike'. This is, for me, the most fascinating aspect of Street Photography, the fact that these 'crazy', 'unreal' images were all made in the most 'everyday' and 'real' location, the street. It was this paradox that fascinated me and kept me shooting in the 'everyday' streets of London when many of my colleagues were traveling to the worlds famines and war zones in search of exciting subject matter. Friends that I met for lunch would, just be back from the 'war in Bosnia' and I would declare proudly that I was just back from the 'sales in Oxford Street'.

Bootblog travel

Bootblog's code of ethics made me giggle some ...

A sampling:

1. Listen to your gut

2. Find your own piece of quiet

3. Spend a lot of time seeing not much rather than not much time seeing too much and that will allow you to strike up a conversation with at least one local an hour even if they do not understand you nor you them ...

9. Any member seen riding an open-top double-decker tour bus around any major city shall be subject to immediate dismissal.

10. Suitcases (even the rolling backpacks) are not acceptable and grounds for dismissal.

11. Take your troubles from home along with you, but ditch them by the side of the road at the first opportunity.

12. Be so polite that you are occasionally mistaken for a Canadian.

A denial of human suffering ...

I just read this thoughtful article titled The Dismissal over at

It's worth checking out, particularly if you have experience of beggers who have broken your heart a little.

The author, AJ Hoge, is a wandering freelance writer and the editor of Hobopoet A Weblog for Neo-Nomads. He currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand.

A few sites I like

I've been web-wandering this morning and decided to share some of my favourite sites ...

Dan Eldon was a Reuters photographer, stoned to death by an angry mob in Somalia back in 1993 after the UN bombed the suspected headquarters of General Mohammed Farah Aidid. He was only 22 and had already lived an interesting life.

His sister and mother picked up where he left off with It's extensive and full of interesting things.

David Rozgonyi has a travel site that is delicious to wander though. His homepage seduces me both with its colour and content.

Far Flung Magazine seems to have some rather good writers and I found Molly Beer's article titled 'As You Set Out For Ithaka' a pleasurable read.

Part of me wishes I had researched Amsterdam before the two visits I made without Alison. Gonomad has a nice little brief guide to Amsterdam .

Just a few ... wanted to record them for me.

Tot ziens.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

You know when it's 36 celsius (at least) and like most Belgians, you live in an unconditioned house, and when the air outside is hotter than the hot air inside and you fall asleep on the floor in the lounge and wake grumpy because one of your teeth broke yesterday and the sharp edges rub against your tongue painfully whenever you talk, eat or drink water and the tram that you have to catch has absolutely no air conditioning and it's hotter inside the tram than the very hot outside and the lawyer who is writing up the 300 euro contract that District Huis says you need keeps you waiting 20 minutes after you rushed through the heat to him to avoid being late out of courtesy ... then you remember he kept you waiting that long last time which was why you packed that book in your bag.

It was one of those days.
The Stanford Prison Experiment : In 1971 researchers at Stanford University created a simulated prison in the basement of the campus psychology building. They randomly assigned 24 students to be either prison guards or prisoners for two weeks.

Within days the "guards" had become swaggering and sadistic, to the point of placing bags over the prisoners' heads, forcing them to strip naked and encouraging them to perform sexual acts.

The landmark Stanford experiment and studies like it give insight into how ordinary people can, under the right circumstances, do horrible things ...

Conclusions of the failed experiment: The experiment's result has been argued to demonstrate the impressionability and obedience of people when provided with a legitimizing ideology and social and institutional support..

In psychology, the results of the experiment seemed to entail that the situation caused the participants' behavior rather than anything inherent in their individual personalities.

In this way it is compatible with the results of the also-famous (or infamous) Milgram experiment, in which ordinary people fulfilled orders to administer what appeared to be fatal electric shocks to a confederate of the experimenter.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Statue in Handschoenmarkt, Antwerpen

Graffiti Park, Antwerpen

I love this suit and a baby piece on the wall there ... the grass growing out the shirt is a nice touch.

A small insight into living with Europe's heatwave

These days I dream about air conditioning, fans and a swimming pool out on the balcony ...

And do you know what horrifies me about this?
It's that I complained about all those months of zero celsius and no sun in winter.
Now it's all about 30 celsius+, sweat and mosquitoes.

I've just returned from a mission to the bedroom.
I removed every piece of clothing and bedding.
I swatted every mosqito that moved.
AND THEN I sprayed insect killer.

I hate insect killer.
I won't have plug-in insect killer in the house but the 90 million mosquito bites itch when I sweat ...

All I want to do is lie on the floor because the floor doesn't reflect my higher than average body temperature back at me but the floor isn't comfortable.

Perhaps I'm a spring/autumn kind of woman ... definately a complainer.

Excuse me.
Quite simply, the goal of terrorism is to create terror and fear.
Fear undermines faith in the establishment.
It weakens the enemy from within ... causing unrest in the masses.

Terrorism is not an expression of rage.
Terrorism is a political weapon.
Remove a government's facade of infallibility, and you remove its people's faith.

D. Brown

Monday, July 24, 2006

Amy Gahran posted this interesting article on internet users:

Yesterday, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released an intriguing new report: Bloggers: A Portrait of the Internet's New Storytellers

A few highlights:

* 39% of net users (about 57 million American adults) read blogs -- a significant increase since the fall of 2005. And 8% of net users (about 12 million American adults) keep a blog.
* Most US blogs are personal journals. Most bloggers do not consider their blogging journalism. However, 57% of bloggers include links to original sources either "sometimes" or "often." And 56% spend extra time trying to verify facts they want to include in a post either "sometimes" or "often."
* 54% of bloggers are under 30.
* US bloggers are evenly divided between men and women -- so anyone who continues to ask "where are the women bloggers?" is probably not really looking. (I'm sure this will be a huge topic of conversation at the upcoming BlogHer conference, which I'm attending.)

These were the most common primary blog topics cited:

1. "My life and experiences:" 37%
2. Politics and government: 11%
3. Entertainment: 7%
4. Sports: 6%
5. General news and current events: 5%
6. Business: 5%
7. Technology: 4%
8. Religion, spirituality or faith: 2%
9. Hobbies: 1%
10. Health: 1%

Pew surveyed 7,012 US adults by phone, including 4,753 internet users, 8% of whom are bloggers.

District Huis Monday ...

I knew it would go wrong ...

We arrived early and were allocated a number. Our turn came and it was the woman who had previously approved the papers I had, telling me I would have to get another birth certificate, with Apostille ... the woman who told me that my passport wasn't enough proof of ID, the one who wanted one other paper as well.

I wasn't sure that I liked her ...

So she took our papers and went back to some paperwork she had been working on when she invited us in.

I raised an eyebrow and looked over at Gert. He raised an eyebrow too.

We were patient, I had a book and two booklets in my bag. I muttered to Gert about reading.

When her paperwork was completed, she looked through our papers and said they were fine but she wanted originals.

I said, 'See I told you something would be wrong' to Gert.

He pointed out she had approved them last time. He showed her the ticks she had made on the list she had presented me with ...

When someone finally riles Gert, he is impressively businesslike and rational while being firm.

She came round.

Oddly enough, this woman who had the power to say I had to bring in original documents, suddenly had the power to accept the copies.

She disappeared with the papers and came back with a colleague. They were discussing someone else's problem. I pulled the cultural centre's booklet out of my bag, Gert and I discussed coming movies she and her colleague worked on some other more interesting problem.

Eventually she returned, the phone rang. She answered it.

Call over, we moved on ... cash was required, we were 5euro short.
Gert raced out to the money machine.

Gert had just returned with the money when one of the district alderman came in and said him, 'I saw your car and I've been searching the building for you'.

I didn't see our immigrant processing woman's face but she must have wondered some why the alderman was looking for Gert.

The aldmerman left after a short conversation but within moments the district council chairman popped in to chat with Gert (open plan office).

The immigrant processing woman was looking less comfortable at this point in time.

Finally papers were signed, it was over ... one hour and 10 minutes after beginning.

We burst out laughing on the stairs. Gert would never use anything about what he does to get different treatment however it was a hilarious ending to an appointment this immigrant woman had been dreading.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

It's about being human ...

Wandering woman posted this moving story about some Spanish shrimp fishermen who cared enough to risk a lot.
'The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people: these have not been surgical strikes.

If they are chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation.'

The minister added: 'I very much hope that the Americans understand what's happening to Lebanon.'

Kim Howells
British Foreign Office Minister

Imagining Ourselves ... IMOW

Unable to sleep, I read.

And reading led me through the world, quietly researching the stories of people until I stumbled upon this really interesting site

Can a conversation change your life?

Founder and Director of Imagining Ourselves writes: I started the Imagining Ourselves project in the Fall of 2001, in the wake of September 11th. I felt helpless about the state of the world, and struggled with how to make a difference. The spark came during a casual breakfast with a girlfriend. We brainstormed about showcasing the vitality of our generation as a way of inspiring young women to action.

Since then, I have talked with thousands of young women in every corner of the globe, and have been stunned by the courage and accomplishments of our generation. We are not only participating in record numbers in the workforce and educational arenas. We are also charting new paths in our families and in our personal lives-- and contributing positive solutions to the most serious problems facing our communities.

Many doors have been opened to our generation of women. It is now up to us to decide how to use these privileges to create the world we want to live in for generations to come. By adding your voice to this conversation, you have the opportunity to inspire your peers to create the better future that is possible only through our collective efforts.

World Pulse Magazine is worth checking out too.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

District Huis, Monday ...

I can't describe how good it feels to wander in Amsterdam, come home, download and work with the photos I took ...

I'm glad I am alive to enjoy the advances in digital photography.

I always 'see' things, being able to record and play with the results immediately is sublime ...

Moving countries has cost me, photography was part of the 'loss'.

District Huis visit Monday ... let's see what they have to say to me this time. I've been in Belgie a year now, I'm curious to hear what new thing they might offer up as an obstacle.

A friend laughingly asked me to record my response to anything ridiculous, since the pressure is clearly building inside me.

I held back when an official called me a liar, stating with certainty that her staff wouldn't have said that ...

Ohhhhhhhhhh yes they did lady, two of them did.

Next visit and a quiet smile of disbelief when they told me that my passport wasn't enough proof of ID ... and I had to pay various offices to copy my passport details onto an official piece of embassy paper and then have it stamped over at their foreign office.

Oh yes, I do love District Huis visits ...

Meanwhile happy happy summer ... it's raining today, I do believe the temp is finally under 30 degrees C.

Bridge ... Amsterdam

Fountain, Amsterdam

In the news ...

The Independent had this interesting front page, with story.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Woman on a Bicycle, Amsterdam

The colours on her skirt added to the colour in the riverbank scene.

Amsterdam Bicycles

I love the bicycles there ... this may become clear.

Wandering in Amsterdam

We were walking here Wednesday, on one of the hottest days of the year ... today I'm back home in Belgium and again, it's too hot to dream of moving, except to the edge of the pool that we don't have.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Quick Post ...

From the Ibis Hotel in Amsterdam, where they charge .30cents per minute for computer time, a fact I find slightly distressing.

ML flew out to the States this morning and Alison is coming through on the train from Brussels as I type this. We're off to play with our cameras in Amsterdam ... wish us luck.

Yesterday I was reading my map in a square ... as you do, and a clown appeared at my shoulder. The clown hijacked me and as he led me by the hand through the pub I noticed the 200+ spectators watching and laughing as he incorporated me into his act.

Kisses were exchanged, I escaped in full blush, as kiwis do when kissed by a stranger in front of many strangers ... ahhhh, Amsterdam eh.

Obviously lingering on this computer means I'll go without food. Back home in Belgium tomorrow, with a full update and photographs from this sojourn.

1.17 minutes to go ...

Tot ziens from the expensive place.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Laughter in our Elevator ...

Who could have imagined that pressing one's face up to the small frosted glass window on the tiny elevator door that services our building would have caused Gert and ML to roar with laughter that could be heard all over the building as they travelled up to the top floor?

There was me, trying to be adult but for the accidental pressing-of-my-face-against-the-window-as-they-passed-by, trying to laugh quietly while gasping for breath as I continued to climb the 100+ steps.

Yes, I've been climbing the stairs ever since the night of the trapped-in-the-elevator-with-3-others incident.

Laughter, as in childish delight from moi, combined with my gasping for breath, mixed with sounds of raucous hilarity from inside the elevator ... whatever will the neighbours think?
Perhaps this post over on Belle's blog says it all ...


Perhaps we should be less concerned about what the large news organisations are publishing as truth and more interested in what the independent reporters on the ground are writing and what the people themselves are experiencing.

We have always waited years for 'the truth' of the various conflicts ...

Who taught us to discount the credibility of those people who are actually there, like the reporter and citizen of Gaza or the woman twice-nominated for literary awards for those outside observers who work for large multi-nationals?

Why not read accounts from those 'on the ground' like Jonathan Cook and Robert Fisk ... people who have published books that give other views ... what frightens people so much about studying all angles?

We're living in 'interesting times; I feel like one of the mass led by a few in terms of what is done in my'name' ... do we become culpable by virtue of our silence?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Canon EOS 350D

My photography has changed or so it seems to me ...

ML surprised me by gifting us my longed-for Canon EOS 350D camera body when she flew in from the States. And so it is that I no longer require a dog or a cat ... I have a camera that carries no film or developing costs; truly sublime.

I've had trouble putting it down, I feel like a kid who wants to take the EOS to bed and wake up with it still in my hand.

Sometimes friends simply surprise me in the most stunning of ways ...
A huge thank you to the woman who has always flown into each of my worlds, packing laughter and kindness into the many suitcases she carries on the back of her world-wandering broomstick.

On the 13th day we rested ...

Oddly enough, household chores seem like a much-needed break and after a morning of cleaning all feels almost normal in our still hot Antwerpen world.

ML has known no other weather while here, complaining to her may prove impossible in the winter ... Europe has only shown her the hot and the sun-filled type of day.

So we've set up the balcony furniture in anticipation of reading and eating out there. The plants have survived our absences and bookmarks have held places in books.

Yesterday we wandered into the city, dropping off films I had taken of ML and Al before leaving last week. We spent a couple of hours exploring Ruben's house with audio guides. It's well worth wandering through if you find yourself in the city. He was one of Antwerp's most famous sons, a leading painter and businessman back in the 15th century.

Lunch was a Brussels waffle ... (whisper) covered in whipped cream with ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Barely able to waddle, we caught Tram number 8 and rode out to the new Court House, picking up the second set of translated Birth Certificate documentation for moi.

I have to visit the local District House with the new set of paperwork Monday ... I'm expecting them to ask that I experience rebirth in order to be allocated a completely new birth certificate, and I imagine they will want me to be born into another family with a new name thereby invalidating all previous paperwork I've gathered for them during the last year.

Far-fetched and downright impossible you think? I'll let you know Monday afternoon.
But wait ... there's more! I forgot, the Notary needed a lot of time to draw up a contract for us. Okay, so the District House visit is off until he gets back to us at the completion of his very serious task ...

We picked up photos and rode home on Tram 11, completely exhausted.

Clean and quiet today.

Almost 3am ... can't sleep, did a quiz thing ... erg

Why can't I resist these?
Clearly they perpetuate myths about self and okay, that has a certain charm at 3am.

Neal posted this one and I needed to know what I was ... forgive me.

You Are A: Pony!

ponyWho doesn't love a pony? You are one of these miniature horses, renown for your beauty and desired by many. Full of grace, you are a beautiful and very special animal, full of strength and majesty.

You were almost a: Puppy or a Lamb
You are least like a: Chipmunk or a GroundhogThe Cute Animals Quiz

Friday, July 14, 2006

Brussels ...

I love having guests, each new person gifts some new thing in the places I live ... it's always been that way and ML and Al have been no exception. Yesterday I saw Brussels in a new way.

We began at the famous Atomium . You haven't heard of the Atomium well ... it was designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn for the International Exhibition of Brussels back in 1958. The Atomium is a structure that is half way between sculpture and architecture, symbolising a crystal molecule of metal by the scale of its atoms, magnified 165 billion times.

It's an impressive wee place, with a restaurant at the top of the 335 foot high structure. The spheres have a diameter of 59.0 ft and weigh 2400 tons ...

Photographs taken, we caught the metro into the city, abandoning our car in a shady place because the temperature was once again in the high 20's. We wandered in Grote Markt where I harassed street musicians with my camera ... I've taken to unashamedly asking for peoples email addresses after photographing them. No one has yet mistaken me for a stalker.

We ate on Kaasmarkt, in one of the many Greek restaurants lining the back street, eating Gyros (otherwise known as Döner kebab in that other life that I lived). I do believe that Döner kebab is a meat I could eat endlessly ... it was good.

Gert took us to a small pub called La Becasse where we each tried a different Brussels beer. A Lambic and two fruit beers(as in a cherry and a raspberry beer) ... lovely on a really hot day and so tucked away that it doesn't seem to have become a regular on the tourist beat.

We introduced ML to Manneken Pis but of course. No visit to Brussels is complete without a visit to the famous statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain. It's supposedly the perfect representative of the irreverent Belgian humor ...a unique Brussels icon has been amusing visitors since 1619.

Personally, I think the co-called irreverent humour of the Belgians is now directed at hapless immigrants wanting into the country ... but that's a whole other story.

I had written to expat friends located in Brussels, warning them of our planned invasion ... Shannon had a horrendous study deadline but Alison and Andrew were still in the relax and recovery mode after their trip home to Canada and invited us in for dinner.

After riding the infamous Brussels Ring Road for a while (traffic-jam style), we arrived and were poured a selection of drinks. The deck chairs were set up outside and we caught up on a month's worth of news. I'm sure ML considered jumping ship after experiencing their warm Canadian hospitality ... we left around 10pm, full of good food and wine.

Ahhhh, the expat life .. there's nothing quite like it sometimes. (And no, you may not quote me my writings from the winter).

Postscript: Gert is responsible for the entirely sexy photograph of our beers in La Becasse.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

ML had been looking for family names as we visited war graves and memorials. Her ancestors had come from all over.

She hadn't thought to look for her actual last name and it was only in that very last monument, when the old soldiers from the Korean war were posing for photos, that she read the name directly over his head and discovered her name on the wall of rememberance ...

Ms McCracken, C McCracken was here before you ...

In Flanders Fields

You know those sublime days when you come home sunburned from wandering, sticky from food eaten on the road and exhausted by all the nice things that you've done ... yesterday was something like that.

We woke early and did all that we needed to do before leaving the city. 9.30am and we were Ieper bound (Ypres in French), introducing ML to the landscape and stories from one of Belgium's many war experiences.

Coincidently, she and I had followed in my grandfather's footsteps, spending time in Gallipoli back in 2003, now there we were without having ever intended it, following Grandad and the ANZACs from Turkey on over into Belgium. Although Grandad fought at the Somme in France there were Kiwis in Flanders too.

Driving the Flanders Field route is always a sobering experience. There are more cemeteries here than you can imagine ... 1000s of young men died during the wars. We began at the Flanders Field Museum in Ieper, a rather stunning interactive experience.

We left the town and drove to Essex Farm Cemetery, the location where John McCrae wrote his poem 'In Flanders Fields'. I found my first small group of late-blooming poppies and captured them from every conceivable angle ...

We stopped at the Canadian Memorial then drove on to the German Cemetery; a somber place where 24,917 soldiers share a mass grave under the roses, 7977 of those soldiers remain nameless, and 1000s more share graves with 10 or more of their comrades.

Our next stop was Tyne Cot Cemetery. Yesterday was another of those 30+ celsius days so we had to pick and choose where we stopped. Tyne Cot has 12,000 soldiers from Commonwealth Forces buried there, the largest number of burials of any Commonwealth cemetery of either world war.

It's beautifully kept and is constantly visited, and while this doesn't make it any better for all those who died so long ago, at least they haven't been forgotten.

From Tyne Cot we drove over to the Passchendaele Museum in Zonnebeke. It's another stunning museum ... one that compliments the interactive experience of the Ieper Museum.

Nine rooms give the visitor a chronological survey of the war using photos, a large number of historical artefacts and dioramas.

The second part of the museum has a 1917 trench reconstruction and descends into a reconstruction of a 20 foot deep dugout with head quarters, accommodation, workshop, communication room and first aid post. In the tenth and last room of the dugout the visitor can see historical photos, film of excavations and relics.

We wandered on, visiting a water-filled bomb crater, Mesen ridge and on over to the French cemetery at the edge of Ieper.

We were travelling back into Ieper to hear the Last Post being played under the Menin Gate. If you ever find yourself travelling that way it's worth taking the time to stop and watch.

For a few moments the noise of traffic ceases and a stillness descends over the memorial. At exactly 8pm up to six members of the regular buglers from the local volunteer Fire Brigade step into the roadway under the memorial arch. They play Last Post, followed by a short silence and then play Reveille.

The Last Post Ceremony has become part of the daily life in Ieper (Ypres) and the local people are proud of this simple but moving tribute to the courage and self-sacrifice of those who fell in defence of their town.

I always seem to meet interesting people under that gate and last night was no exception. We met two British war veterans from the Korean war and spent some time talking with them about how they came to be taking part in the ceremony.

ML finally sat down and experienced a dinner of Belgian fries (frieten) at a curbside cafe in Ieper.

It was just one of those really nice days that you stumble over ocasionally.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


And so we returned to Belgie only to be back out on the road within 24 hours ...

The 150km drive to Amsterdam turned into a 200km trip due to a closed piece of highway and a road lacking signage. We travelled about 60km without any kind of reassuring 'Amsterdam' indicators ... ahhh like Belgium, it seems the Netherlands runs light when it comes to marking the way.

We arrived at the hotel and caught the train into the city. With memories of Heidelberg still in my mind, first glance Amsterdam didn't impress. It has something of the crazy chaos of Istanbul but lacks Turkish friendliness.

We made one or two mistakes, jumping on the first canal boat ride we saw ... shop round on these because some are like buses and not pretty to ride on. On a happier note, we had 3 kiwis from Auckland sitting behind us and we chatted about 'home' between views from the boat.

We made a few mental notes ... check out Anne Frank's house (who knew her story happened in Amsterdam, writes the ignorant kiwi); visit the van Gogh Museum; eat at one of those cute canal-edge cafes and to wander the streets behind the dirty old city centre.

It was after 6pm when we climbed off the boat and the city life had deteriorated into 'kind of sleazy'. There were groups of guys on what seemed to be stag weekends and some of the groups of women would have a 'bride' in their midst ... I guess the Brits come this way before marrying. We went back to the hotel on the train and 'ate in' with wine, beer and bakery food, saying bye to Al before heading off to our room.

The next day Al had a 4am start and was on the plane home before Gert and I were awake. We picked up ML and headed back into the city on a wee bit of a mission. The cobblestone canal-hugging streets were deserted and delicious at 10am ... the memory of the previous night seemed like some other city.

We joined the huge queue outside the hiding place of Anne Frank, with me quietly stunned to be finally visiting the home of the girl whose movie story and book gave me nightmares when I was a child. We were able to explore all but the attic and really, the exhibition moves one to tears in places. It's a sobering visit as the extreme right in Antwerp take a political lead of 34% in the polls today, even after the recent racially motivated murders here.

We had lunch in a charming little pub then jumped on a bus to the van Gogh museum, which was lovely although our feet ached from all we had done to them in the previous days. Van Gogh's painting Pavement Cafe At Night was elsewhere but there were stories of his leading us into each new section of his art ... he even spent a few months painting in Antwerp, a fact that I hadn't known.

More walking back into the city, arriving too late again, missing the shops and meeting the sleazier aspects of evening and Amsterdam. All was saved by dinner in a lovely little Italian restaurant with a delicious carbonara and pizza.

Italy beat France in the World Cup that night and we were delighted, although later curious to know how Zidane was voted best player of the tournament. Perhaps the Italian said something wicked but they were only words and isn't that all part of the game ... headbutting someone in the chest seems kind of absurd when you put it into 'real life'. Imagine the carnage at the local District Huis if I could headbutt all who were rude and provided terrible service???

Anyway,we checked out of our hotel the next morning and popped into the huge Arena football stadium/shopping complex - pricing digital cameras without the high Belgian tax. The Dutch, while having less tax seemed to have the Canon EOS at a similar price ... oh well.

We meandered home, via the Delta works ... the flood protection for Zeeland in the south of Holland, required after flooding killed 1850 people and 200,000 cattle back in 1953. It's a fascinating area with a huge system of dams that hold back the sea during storms and high spring tides, releasing river water when necessary. You can visit the site here .

We lunched in the pretty little village of Zierikzee, eating ice cream in the shade of a large umbrella while watching the people pass by.

And so it is that we're home again ... today is a rest day before we head out on the Flanders Field auto route, taking in the museums at Zonnebeke and Ieper ... ML was a history teacher back in the States and taught all this war stuff to her students. She's kind of delighted to be seeing it, most particularly the Anne Frank house.

Tot ziens.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Homesickness ...

You know when you're travelling on a flat road somewhere in the Netherlands and you look out across farmland and see a cloudbank where the Southern Alps would be if you were driving the Canterbury Plains back home in New Zealand ... and your heart misses a beat?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

And the Black Forest

I forgot the Black Forest part of the journey ... perhaps it is that we covered so much ground in so few days.

We travelled from the lowlands of Belgium up into the Ardennes and on through a little of France, Germany and the Netherlands in 30+o celsius heat, with the temperature staying that high until our return to Belgium last night ... it doesn't make for clear-minded thinking.

The Black Forest reminded me of New Zealand in places. We had our local guide and he drove the back roads where ever possible, creating some interesting map-reading moments with ML and I observing as he and Al discussed possible routes and destinations.

Kindly put, I'm directionally challenged ... less kindly put and I'm geographically hopeless. Rome alone was the only place I have ever successfully followed maps. It's better that I observe as people get cross when I 'help'.

The Black Forest was the place where ML and Al discovered they can't stand lard and bacon on bread ... a hilarious photo opportunity missed. (Note: lard can take on the appearance of some kind of exotic cheese pre-purchase).

We detoured out of the forest early, in pursuit of ML's dream of visiting the Heidelberg ... first seen in 'The Student Prince'.

Off to Amsterdam today ...

Friday, July 07, 2006

A little wandering ...

So, we began the journey with lunch in Vianden, Luxembourg - filling the car with the cheaper Luxembourg petrol (1.24euro per litre versus 1.43euro here in Belgium).

Fuelled we headed for Strasbourg.

After a night in a place best not written about we ate breakfast outdoors in an old Strasbourgian square near 'the' cathedral where our travelling companions, Mary Lou and Al, exchanged birthday gifts. A delicious moment that was...

Shannon and Gabe had recommended this place unfortunately it was full however we did drive out and visit Haute Koeningsbourg (also recommended by them) ... a rather stunning castle not too far from Strasbourg.

Hmmmm, we spent the next night in Kenzingen Germany where we experienced impressive amounts of German hospitality and a breakfast to die for. ML's birthday was appropriately celebrated, we sang Happy Birthday accompanied by both the staff of the B&B and the Dutch guests at the next table ... nothing quite like a birthday to unite many nations.

The next day found us wandering around Baden Baden with me proudly sporting a suntan. I feasted on raw herring (maatjes) and onions in bread, the others went for less stunning foods before travelling on into Heidelberg ...

I never knew Germany was so pretty. I do believe Heidelberg is now up there on my top 5 favourite cities list ... I'd like to go back with more time.

We wandered in Schloss Heidelberg this morning ... a rather stunning castle up on a hill above the city. It's ruined but so very photogenic writes the chick who is still using film. Films to be developed at some future date ...

Somehow, despite crossing borders (more than we needed to cross due to needing to avoid the Tour de France), and travelling so far in so few days, we kept things quite leisurely.

Lunchtime today and we were wandering the picturesque streets of Ruedesheim, eating schnitzel, tasting German red wines and searching for the wine jug I knew my father would laugh about ... Trinkt wie eure vater den wein aus stein.

We travelled home via the rather stunning Rhine Valley (who knew Europe had Nature, whispers the ignorant princess from the South Pacific).

Rain fell as we crossed into the Netherlands and then bucketed down as we sprinted into an Antwerpen supermarket ... 'Welcome to Belgie' it seemed to be saying.

Tonight is all about unpacking washing repacking and getting ready for Amsterdam in the morning. Al flies out to the States from there early Sunday, leaving ML with us for another week of wandering Europe ... many adventures to follow.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Today was Antwerpen, tomorrow the road ...

Antwerpen was stunning today ...

30 degrees celsius and we were out in the city with our American friends.

We ate lunch at het Elfde Gebold and it was lovely as usual. And later we sat a while in the Shoemakers Alley.

We ended the day in Riviernhof Park.
Wandering home, 10.30pm ... and still 21 degrees celsius.

But no ... I almost forgot, we got stuck in the elevator I've so often teased Alison and others about.

FOUR OF US, in this tiny airless nasty elevator, 11pm by then and none of us carrying a cellphone!!

We were lucky, Gert pushed various buttons and managed to get us level with a floor eventually ... we spilled out and nothing but nothing would convince me to get back in. He rode to the top alone while we 3 took the stairs.

The elevator is officially no longer amusing ...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Guests arriving, must travel ... writes the smiling Kiwi

So here I am, sitting down for the first time all day ... well that's not quite true, I sat down for small amounts of time through the day, resting from cleaning, hoping death wasn't as close as it felt in those moments of pure exhaustion.

Note to self: Never attempt to clean the apartment from top to bottom in 30 degree celsius heat again.

We have guests flying in from America ... ML is an old friend of mine; a travelling companion from two trips through my South Island world back in New Zealand ... veteran of an Istanbul and Gallipoli trip with Di and nows she's arriving in Europe to check out my new life and the Belgian bloke who lured me here, bringing her lovely new partner Al.

Gert is down emptying the car as I type, in preparation for picking them up from their Amsterdam train meanwhile I'm investigating the restorative powers of Appel Jenever (apple-flavoured Dutch gin) from the fridge.

It's not bad, highly recommended in fact however one must be careful as it's 20% alcohol and an egg cup-sized glass is more than fine when mixed with an adult portion of cleaner exhaustion.

We spring-cleaned the apartment today, slightly late and yet perfectly timed for our guests. They have two days here then we're hitting the road for a few days ... wandering through a little of France and Luxembourg, then on into Germany ... Strasbourg, Heidelberg, the Black Forest, the Rhein and Mosel Rivers (with wineries) then home.

Al flies out early from Amsterdam, leaving us in the city exploring. We have Paris, Flanders Fields, Brugge and Antwerp on our to-do list so yeah ... let's see how it goes.

We're heading into a heatwave (= 5days over 25 degrees celsius) - hot until Wednesday at least ... so there's the chance of a suntan on this small Euro tour.

I hope to write from the road as there will be more than one computer chick in the car. If not, my blog may idle along for a few days.

Tot ziens.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The 'About' from Dancing Matt's Website

Remember the Dance all around the World youtube I posted?

Whenever I reached the end of a viewing, I'd be smiling too much to go read his website. I did it just now. It's delicious!

I completely pilfered his About page in the interests of convincing everyone that he's a man to be read:

Matt is a 29-year-old deadbeat from Connecticut who used to think that all he ever wanted to do in life was make and play videogames. He achieved this goal pretty early and enjoyed it for a while, but eventually realized there might be other stuff he was missing out on. In February of 2003, he quit his job in Brisbane, Australia and used the money he'd saved to wander around the planet until it ran out. He made this site so he could keep his family and friends updated about where he is.

A few months into his trip, a travel buddy gave Matt the idea of dancing everywhere he went and recording it on his camera. This turned out to be a very good idea. Now Matt is quasi-famous as "That guy who dances on the internet. No, not that guy. The other one. No, not him either. I'll send you the link. It's funny."

The response to the first video brought Matt to the attention of the nice people at Stride long-lasting gum. They asked Matt if he'd be interested in taking another trip around the world to make a new video. Matt asked if they'd be paying for it. They said yes. Matt thought this sounded like another very good idea.

At the start of 2006, Matt left on a 6 month trip through 39 countries on all 7 continents. In that time, he danced a great deal.

Matt dances very badly, but most people don't seem to mind.

Matt is not independently wealthy. Matt also doesn't have some magical secret for traveling cheaply. He does it pretty much the same way everybody else does.

Matt thinks Americans need to travel abroad more.

Matt was a very poor student and never went to college. When he got older, he was pleased to discover that no one actually cares. Matt doesn't want to imply that college is bad or anything. He's just saying is all. There's other ways to fill your head.

Matt currently lives in Seattle, Washington, where he still works in videogames from time to time as a writer and designer. Matt recognizes that this is not the worst job in the world, but he prefers traveling.

Matt is left-handed.

When Matt was younger, he could hang seven spoons on his face at once. Sadly, puberty made Matt's face less conducive to spoon-hanging.

Matt has a little piece of extra cartilage sticking out on the rim of one ear and a little hole in the same place on the other ear. Matt has no idea why this is the case.

Matt is very good with figures and wishes people asked him to multiply things more often.

Matt has never lost a staring contest.