Monday, March 31, 2008
So that is my fate today.
Walking Antwerpen streets, looking for gifts for the first birthday parcel I've been financially free to send home in a long time.
I have Little Miss Three's latest lurg, as we called them back home - this flu thing that starts in the chest. The first sign is the crackle in your lungs ... gruesome. That started last Thursday and it's just building up a little more each day. Gert's living in terror, as he has a section of marathon to run in a few weeks and is going well on his training for the 16kms and we all have this cough now but for him.
The newsletter ... it goes out for the colleague check today which is how I ended up lunching at Via Via Reis Cafe eating my lunch, having taken that first improper sip of red wine at 11.57am. Back in New Zealand, a sure sign that I have veered off the path of sobriety. It was a weekday rule of my father's - no alcohol before 5pm. But one glass of red with a hearty bread and cheese sandwich in Europe seems okay to me.
And even better, I have an new interview lined up for the 'still-in-progress' website, the one where the most recent webdesigner has completely disappeared, with money. I have to phone her today, enquire after her health, ask her for solutions to our unfinished webzine.
12 degrees celsius and sunshine is adding to my day.
I hope your day is a good one where ever you are.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
I'm not even sure how to summarise it but ... if you're curious about how a war journalist might deal with trauma experienced out in the field, or if you're curious about why man is perhaps doomed to be a creature of war, or even if you have an opinion on history and the good or harm it does to mankind, then Scott Anderson's book titled 'Triage' is a novel you might just devour too.
Slow to start for some perhaps but there is this beautifully powerful unfolding at the end.
I found this short piece on Scott. He's a veteran war correspondent, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, whose work also appears in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper's, Outside and many other publications. Over the years he has reported from Beirut, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Israel, Sudan, Sarajevo, El Salvador and many other war-torn countries. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel Triage, as well as the nonfiction book The Man Who Tried to Save the World: The Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Fred Cuny and, with his brother Jon Lee Anderson War Zones.
And for those of you fortunate enough to live in NY City, you can check out his restaurant here, although try reading the book before going.
In return for our car-less state, we receive THREE years worth of free tram and bus tickets here in Flanders (I had previously thought it was 2 years) and can buy into a car rental scheme that offers very good hire rates.
Yesterday was the big test and we passed but for a little exhaustion.
We city-shopped - real tea, a teapot (because yes, Di really did break yet another teapot lid), pesto and good olive oil.
We garden-shopped, preparing our balcony for summer with lavender, pansies and etc...
We supermarket-shopped (or grocery-shopped as we call it back home in New Zealand) and that was the big test ... we passed that one too if you call falling onto the couch for the evening, exhausted.
Daylight saving begins here today.
It all seems like a good start to summer.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
As the recording of a woman singing the French song Clair de Lune, made in 1860, played, somebody in the studio apparently whispered in her ear that it sounded like a bee buzzing in a bottle.
The result was an uncontrollable fit of the giggles as Ms Green struggled to make it to end of the next item - a report about the death of the Hollywood screenwriter Abby Mann.
Friday, March 28, 2008
I'm not being harsh.
Checking with my source on all things Belgian, I discovered that he had never in his life heard those words here.
What were the words?
Well... 'The customer is always right.'
Really, that's faint-from-shock stuff.
After coming from relatively service-orientated New Zealand, having lived in Turkey and had American friends commenting on the issue of customer treatment here, hearing those words so stunned me that I paid the 25euro charge on the library book I had supposedly damaged.
It's a rotten book that I couldn't bring myself to finish but there was a faint water mark on the bottom inch of it and I couldn't prove I hadn't done it. The guy at the library completely blew away my outraged argument by quietly saying that they couldn't prove that I had done it so I wasn't obliged to pay however a small donation would be appreciated.
Seeing my face, he explained that they operated on the customer is always right policy.
I said 'I'll pay'.
He said 'You will?'
Gert said, 'You did???'
I said, I would have paid 50euro just to hear those words even once when I had felt wronged by incorrect change and other small customer outrages in the past.
It's sounds so small and mean, I know but really, if you had lived here you would know what I mean.
Permeke Library, you impressed me!
For those of you who haven't guessed, I adore the non-fiction writing of Frances Mayes, identifying with so much of what she writes about. I found this quote while I was reading on the way to work yesterday morning and loved it.
Frances is writing of Colette: She liked in her early adult life to "move house". Intensely domestic, she was also restless. This oxymoron is one source of my identification with her.
"Whereever you are, you're thinking of somewhere else," my first husband accused me. Sadly, he spoke the truth. Only later, when I lived in places I wanted to be, did the restlessness cool.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
I went in planning to work on the newsletter, finishing it actually.
I ended up doing all kinds of things, tearing my hair out in an amused kind of way, missing my laptop and photoshop CS2 I use here at home and drinking far too much caffeine and sugar.
It all began this morning, after ironing the black jeans that had dried overnight.
I tramed, trained, read and metro-ed my way to the office, worked the day away with my lovely colleagues, went out for lunch and didn't die when I ordered my brie baguette from the upmarket French-speaking sandwich shop that turns me into a-barely educated-unable-to-speak kind of creature
Day over, I left ... then had my umbrella sent down in the elevator because I had forgotten it and well ... the elevator wasn't working so reliably today. It's tiny and I prefer not to be the chick stuck in the elevator story.
Metro-ed, train-ed, read and tramm-ed to the supermarket where I bought some medicinal red wine on the way home.
Trammed, walked, pondering the fact that apartment building was that much further from the tram stop than it was when I left it this morning.
I ate, drank and was almost merry when work in the form of a big pdf urgently required by the printer intervened.
That done, I sat down here to listen to the cd that furiousball sent and it was soothing my brow as I worked ... dank u wel, Van UNTIL I remembered my 'date' with one of the very best New Jersey people ... although they all seem like good people.
I dusted off skype and spent a lovely hour catching up on Shanti, at her place in New York.
It's been a good day.
I hope yours was too!
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Despite non-serious snow storms and a long list of things to be done, I was heading for the Via Via Travel Cafe here in the city.
Did I tell you I've been invited to judge a school photography competition ... their prints arrived in the mail today so I opened them here at the cafe and it will be a pleasure to work through them, worrisome choosing 3 winners.
I've been invited to the school here in Belgie, so I'll come back with the rest of that adventure one day soon.
But I really came here to work on my exhibition collection. The organiser was a little concerned about my subject choice ... he has this idea that commemorations and kiwis on Flanders Fields might a grim subject area. I've just spent the last hour proving him wrong.
Each of the 5 artists in the exhibition has been invited to exhibit up to 15 pieces of work and there's this deep pleasure in selecting my best while making sure there is a story in each piece I hang.
Next comes the decision on print size and then how to frame ... affordably or beautifully. I've found a truly talented framer close to home so I'll go talk with him soon - maybe both is possible.
There are posters, flyers and invitations being created by the organisation, this being the 10th exhibition. Soon we hear which work or works were chosen for the advertising.
The talent is astounding and I feel very much like the baby in the midst of some grown-up artists. But more on that too, as the tale unfolds.
Tot ziens from the kiwi in Antwerpen.
If curious, you can read more here.
Gert went off to work in the midst of a glassy snow-globe kind of snow shower and accidently, I found myself back in bed with the final pages of a much-loved book to finish.
I fell asleep and woke to the sound of a little hand knocking on my door ... a knock that was actually signaling the beginning of the great sock and scarf theft.
Miss Three was all innocence and cuddles while her mum cased my room, noting the location of, what she has come to consider, our shared sock collection. The theft ended up being quite brazen and involved many socks.
Seeing I was still weakened by my mid-morning laziness, the even greater scarf heist began with Miss Three being heard to shout gleefully ... 'LET'S TAKE TWO SCARVES'.
Revenge was sweet.
Realising they were clothing themselves in stolen goods, I snuck up to their bedroom door and let out a blood-curdling roar.
Shock, horror and much laughter followed, with the short creature being heard to say through her laughter, 'That was fun, wasn't it mummy.'
Mummy wasn't so sure but I can still see their faces.
It was funny, I promise.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Excerpt from, Flanders 1917.
And it is Wendy on flute in this youtube taken from 'The Private Life of Plants'. Thanks Martin.
When you travel, you become invisible, if you want. I do want. I like to be the observer. What makes these people who they are? Could I feel at home here?
When traveling, you have the delectable possibility of not understanding a word of what is said to you. Language becomes simply a musical background for watching bicycles zoom along a canal, calling for nothing from you. Even better, if you speak the language, you catch nuances and make more contact with people.
Travel releases spontaneity. You become a godlike creature full of choice, free to visit the stately pleasure domes, make love in the morning, sketch a bell tower, read a history of Byzantium, stare for one hour at the face of Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna dei fusi.
You open, as in childhood, and - for a time - receive this world. There's a visceral aspect, too - the huntress who is free. Free to go, free to return home bringing memories to lay on the hearth.
Frances Mayes, from A Year in the World
It builds up in me and I just want to go. Payday is about to come round again and I'm thinking of returning to Rome to re-take the photographs I took last time I was there, when I was restricted by film and the way my Istanbul photo shop was processing my work.
My photography will take me to London and Berlin soon but I need something else, something just for me and my camera.
I've been trying to refit my skin after living a while outside of self. The promised snow seems to have been banished by sunshine and I'm here by an open window, soaking up sunlight.
I found a quote and wanted to remember it ...
The need to travel is a mysterious force. A desire to go runs through me equally with an intense desire to stay at home. An equal and opposite thermodynamic principle.
At home I'm dreaming of catching trains at night in the grey light of Old Europe, or pushing open shutters to see Florence awaken. The balance just slightly tips in the direction of the airport.
Frances Mayes, A Year in the World.
One of those flash epiphanies of travel, the realisation that worlds you'd love vibrantly exist outside your ignorance of them. The vitality of many lives you know nothing about. The breeze lifting a blue curtain in a doorway billows just the same whether you are lucky enough to observe it or not.
Travel gives such jolts.
I could live in this town, so how is it that I've never been here before today?
Frances Mayes, A Year in the World.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
He cleans the house when I'm chained to photoshop and the computer on a Saturday, then rides in on the white horse to individually number, code and upload more than 300 of the best images for me.
Snow has begun falling as I write this but I'm feeling calm after almost a week of conference-related edginess. In celebration of the most difficult part being over, I'm roasting some New Zealand lamb and we have this cherry and custard dessert for later.
A kiwi friend is coming over for dinner and I foresee some good conversations and Australian wine in the hours ahead.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Wednesday night and I was out wandering in the city. A kiwi friend was in town from Brussels and we went out for dinner then onto a cosy old jazz bar here. We talked endlessly and somehow the glasses were constantly full, in that lazy 'not really paying attention' kind of way.
Thursday morning was the awakening.
I had a little Miss 3 to get off to kindy and then I had to get myself on a train to Brussels for work and I wasn't feeling superb.
Belgium's Burger King equivalent saved me - or one of their bacon burgers eaten at South Station Brussels made me feel more human.
A long day at work with much laughter and an endless to-do list before heading home.
And so there was the refunding of very expensive train ticket incident but there was also a phone call from the conference organiser. My photographs of the Israeli ambassador and a group of British women were urgently required for the Jerusalem Post ...
I had just missed what would turn out to be the last tram for 20 minutes and it was pouring down in the city.
Home by 8pm, eating dinner, sorting photographs, sending them, phoning to say they were on their way, preparing for Gert's children to arrive, tired.
Today is another day, of heavy rain showers, hail, the possibility of snow and a second attempt at a train ticket refund. I just imagine how it will go ... that amount of money in the morning, are you an idiot?
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I enjoy vacuuming.
Maybe it's the guaranteed results with not too much effort.
Hah! Not so with this vacuum cleaner.
Being a kiwi, or perhaps being a Diane, I couldn't resist the urge to use the cleaner on maximum suction.
It was like wrestling an elephant.
Fantastic results but I was almost a hunchback by the time the lounge was done and quite relieved that I didn't have to explain how it was that I had lifted all the flooring Gert put down before he moved in and why it was inside the new cleaner.
I like the new vacuum cleaner but might just have to join up with the gym before doing the 'max' thing.
When I first met Gert, one of the things we immediately recognised was a shared interest in photography. As the photographic workload has increased, Gert has gone from being my 'fix-it-all' assistant to photography partner ... our different styles offering a comprehensive coverage at events, his multiple languages a godsend.
Initially he was more about the technical photography but these last 3 days saw him put together some truly superb people essays and we're both delighted. It wasn't an area he'd had much to do with before meeting me.
So driving home ... I confessed to being truly empty, a boneless mass of physical person, psychologically drained.
Photography shoots don't affect him in the same way. He applies the technical and I apply the ... we tried to find a name for it. I 'feel' my way. I look for emotions, for connections, for moments and I give everything to the moments when the camera is in my hand. When work goes on for hours, coming back to the world can be difficult.
Photography is flight for me ... it's best feeling in the world, it's like a natural high and no matter how stressful the preparation or workload is, once I'm working with the camera, I'm happy.
I'm a little sad that I didn't give in to this instinct for photography before but I never felt that this feeling of flying was the most valid reason for becoming professional even though I had been pressured to take the step for years.
Last night, seeing peoples delight over the portraits I captured of them while they were unaware I was focused on them made all this exhaustion today so worthwhile. The president of the Belgian organisation in charge of the international conference was delighted and said she would recommend me on out into the world whenever she could, that more work would follow.
But today is only the top of the mountain, now follows the down-climb ... hundreds of photographs to check, downsize and prepare for loading onto a private online album for conference-goers to view meanwhile ... I begin work on my first newsletter for the organisation who employed me tomorrow.
The monsoon season feels like it has arrived and truthfully, I'm loving it.
Tonight, standing in prime position waiting for the VIP to arrive, I tried to count how many times I've been around heavy-duty security here in Belgium ... the Queen of England, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the Governer Generals of both NZ and Australia and then tonight's guest.
Sometimes though, there is that accompanying 'But what if they actually have to make use of their security people ... then I'm way too close'. I had that thought tonight.
More on it tomorrow although there are over 500 photographs that we're rapt with, so it's been a good few days.
Tot ziens from this kiwi in Belgie.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Jessie's been ill since last Wednesday and life has been a bit of a juggling act. Little Miss Three had her first day at work as my photographic assistant at a political reception this morning. Results were mixed but she loved it and the staff forgave her for putting that nasty-tasting snack back in the bowl ... or perhaps they responded sympathetically to my startled yelp as I dived in after the wet snack and removed it.
Tonight is the first of three nights covering a European conference in Brussels. I expect to be processing photographs until Wednesday sometime.
Yesterday there was a planning meeting for the exhibition my work is appearing in mid-September. It's all a little surreal but purely delicious.
Busy crazy days but fun ...
Friday, March 14, 2008
I finally got to meet one of my longtime favourite bloggers today after work. Erkan was in Brussels for a conference and we met at his hotel ... once I found it.
We went out for coffee and talked and talked and talked ... lovely man that he is, he answered all questions that were asked of him. He charmed me to bits when he admitted being surprised at how young I looked.
Home again with a full weekend of art exhibition meetings. other meetings and a big photography gig starting on Sunday.
Tot ziens from the Yeni Zelanda in Belgium.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Tewfic's post are usuallly interesting - going in there, I'm lost in the same way I am lost in a new city. If you have some time, it's an interesting place to wander a while.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Saturday, March 08, 2008
And then there's the sound of the 2000kms of coastline on my South Island of New Zealand.
Back home, I was lucky enough to live in Dunedin on the east coast of the South Island, in Cromwell, Central Otago ... up in Marlborough and finally over in Fiordland.
In a Nature shop over in Brussels, I listened to some soundtracks like those above and my body went into a state of deep longing.
This kiwi chick is going to make do with some audio tracks until she can get home for a fix.
The organisers want photographs now for posters and brochures and my gardening tale was a work-in-progress, capturing the growing season and the relationships between gardeners on Antwerpen's allotments so ... a fast rethink and the obvious slapped me in the face, gently. I have folders full of hours and days spent out on Flanders Field.
The morning has been spent working on image selection in the lounge around an excitable Miss Three who was noisily delighting in the fact that Gert's kids are here; around Gert, housework, requests for information from others and all that stuff but here I am, almost 3pm and the mail with attachments has been sent back to the organisers.
Brussels with Ms V was truly fabulous. We spent 2 nights and most of 2 days talking and laughing, wandering and laughing some more.
She earned my undying gratitude by metro-ing me over to Waterstones, an English bookshop with a branch in Brussels. I almost died when I discovered Christina Lamb's Small Wars Permitting - Dispatches from Foreign Lands on their 3 books for the price of 2 table. I've had that book on my 'must have' list for so long and it is as good as I expected it to be.
Jessie begins both social orientation in Flanders, and studying Dutch language next week. Life will kick up a gear for her, with all of us needing to fill out some kind of appointments book so that we know where we are when. I've got a big job coming up mid-March, with a European-wide audience to satisfy and Gert is busy with work too.
Our first guest flies in in April and we head up to Paris to meet Jessie's friend. It looks like I'll be in London that same month, taking a few photographs for a book.
May is Berlin and the wedding, July we're hoping to head into France. September we already have rumours of friends flying in and I've put Rome, Istanbul and New Zealand on my 2008 to-do list.
The days are getting longer and the chill is slowly leaving. It feels like 2008 is finally arriving, even if we're already 3 months into it.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
I was working today and I had to catch the metro from a new location in Belgium so ... I set off.
From v-grrrl's to Arts-Loi (twice-named, as is custom over here, in Dutch it's Kunst-Wet) then it was onto the Number 2 metro in the direction of Simonis BUT I caught the tram ... the underground tram. A mistake that I learned from. Fortunately I still made it to Gare Centrale (Centraal Station in Dutch).
Finding myself unexpectedly above ground I was delighted to note that we were parked outside Gare Centrale, the place I needed to be to make my connection - metro 4 in the direction ... hmmmm, which direction, Stalle P or Esplanade?
So yes ... it might be that I hopped on the metro heading in a direction I had no need to be going in. Two stops down the line and I leapt off, with dignity and waited for a tram going in my direction.
It was much more complicated than but I'm giving you the bones of my journey ...
I phoned the office about then and said it looked like I was going to be about 30 minutes late as I was touring out in the city.
It was a good day though and much belly laughter is happening at V's house tonight. Just ask Martin, who had the misfortune to phone up while I was breathtakingly funny. I think I'm still allowed to travel with him on ANZAC day ...
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
We're spending the next couple of days saying bye, with time out at work tomorrow.
'Bye' quite possibly translates as wandering, talking, shopping, coffee-stopping, talking, wine-drinking, talking ... anything that doesn't resemble the reality that is V & Co flying out next week.
Tot ziens from the Brussels-based kiwi.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
In 2007 I took thousands of photographs and today is that day when I go through some of them, searching out a selection that gives an overview of the Flanders Fields work .
And I realised that I skim the best off the top then move onto the next job, rarely having the time to go back and see what else is there.
Corporal Willie Apiata is a New Zealand and Victoria Cross recipient. I photographed him in Messeines during the 90th commemoration of the Battle of Passchendaele.
I was curious about his Victoria Cross and found this: On July the 2nd, 2007, Apiata was awarded the VC for his bravery. In part the citation for the award reads:
"In total disregard of his own safety, Lance Corporal Apiata stood up and lifted his comrade bodily. He then carried him across the seventy metres of broken, rocky and fire swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy enemy fire and into the face of returning fire from the main Troop position. That neither he nor his colleague were hit is scarcely possible. Having delivered his wounded companion to relative shelter with the remainder of the patrol, Lance Corporal Apiata re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack.
And while news of traffic light 'vandalism' made me smile, I laughed out loud when I read that the Belgian EU commissioner, Louis Michel had called the journalist "perfide", for wondering whether Belgium was in fact a functioning democracy.
Promised because he has become a good friend and because he has helped me with my fledgling career.
Who is Freddy?
A mystery, I'm not sure he would want me writing of him and his position in the world, she writes laughing a little.
So, I have 100s of photographs to work through and there was I, lacking the will to close out the sun.
I was destroyed yesterday. It seems I might have to go to the gym to prepare myself for 3 day events like last week. I worked Friday, then partied Saturday and Sunday. I guess this is ... well, neglect actually and that shouldn't be amusing but I did laugh quietly again.
One day you wake up and you're really 'the oldest you've ever been' and you feel it and it's crap actually. No one told me to take care of my body because one day it would bite me. And teeth ... oh lord I wish I wasn't so terrified of dentists.
The last dentist was lovely but did change the shape of my bite which has led to jaw-clenching breakages and ufff, I'm working on courage and finding a new dentist in this land of high taxes and social security which leave dentists working alone without dental assistants which I, quite frankly, hate. You don't understand how reassuring and luxurious a speedy and efficient dental assistant is until they are absent.
I have the best dentist in the world at home but going home means I can't afford him, since it takes everything to get home. Grumble grumble.
v-grrrl dropped off a few serious womens magazines. I've read that womens sex lives improve after 38, improve markedly, despite drooping and stretching, and that women who love food and the pleasure of eating are better lovers who enjoy the moment. So yes, a little more laughter this morning and if you're feeling old and a little droopy, check out Eve magazine, it's British.
Still with me?
I should take this whimsical mood of mine and wander off and work.
Monday, March 03, 2008
There was the sadness of knowing that it was the last party v-grrrl and Michelle would be attending for a while, as they both fly back to the States mid-March but no matter, the party (the entire weekend, actually) turned out to be themed around conversation and laughter as opposed to possible sadnesses. I only remembered that this was almost goodbye when I watched V saying her goodbyes to little Miss 3 who simply adores her. I have a couple more days in Brussels with them before their departure dates come round.
The party mix was delicious (as all party mixes should be), and 2 new kiwis meant that, for once, the New Zealanders were the largest group at the party. It was lovely to meet Jody and Cheryl, both from Palmerston North when they were living their New Zealand lives - neither having met before the party in Antwerpen.
The Brits came, with Sheila's new hip passing the test of our spiral staircase and Manic drove in from his Belgian location and it was so good to catch up with Helen and Heather.
Illness and travel and my terrible organisational skills (come back Shanti) meant that a few people couldn't make it this time. They were missed but hopefully there will always be more parties here at Villa Kiwi.
There was a loose margarita theme but the wine flowed too and everyone seemed to have a good time. Pavlova's were unleashed and once again, we were left knowing Jessie should have made more than two. Next time ... next time.
I think one of the things I truly enjoy about each party is the explosion of conversations from the outset. People walk in and start talking with people and mix and mingle the night away. Then again, I do know some purely delicious people.
As for the photograph. Michelle captured me with my camera while v-grrrl photographed Michelle photographing us. We 4 spent Sunday wandering the city with everyone misbehaving except me ...
We took a million photos, laughed often, ate, drank and were merry.
It was a lovely weekend.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Saturday, March 01, 2008
# a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them.
# majority rule: the doctrine that the numerical majority of an organized group can make decisions binding on the whole group.
I've been following political events in the States and I know how it has been but reading the New York Times tonight, I felt sickened by the campaign of dirty tricks, lies and manipulation that lie in wait when the parties begin their run for the presidential campaign.
Here we are, 21st century and tell me what is evolved, insightful, intelligent or democratic about this ...
So that man or woman with the best spin doctor, most talent for twisting and the most money 'wins'?
Democracy ... clearly I've been reading the wrong dictionary.