Saturday, December 31, 2005

Belgian Kiwi New Year

What shall I do with a Belgian-based man who offers to celebrate his January 1 birthday on New Zealand time ... bad man, but he did love the teapot, complete with real tea leaves, which is good as I almost died of hypothermia while searching Antwerpen city for his gift yesterday.

New Zealand time just happens to be 12 hours ahead of Belgian time; a fact confirmed by my sister phoning us up at lunchtime December 31, from her midnight New Year celebrations in Cromwell, New Zealand. She sounded happy, as one should when assisted by a little wine, good friends and a holiday in the heat of a Central Otago summer.

This year I have this odd awareness of family and friends around the world as they celebrate the beginning of 2006 at different times ... both my brothers and friends in Australia are anywhere from an hour to five hours behind NZ; Beste, Jason, Lisen and Yakup are in Turkey and an hour ahead of Belgium. Debbie and Trish are over in England,and a mere hour behind us here. Then there's Mary Lou and Al in America, with Sue and Bob living and working in different parts of China, and so it goes.

I spent most of my life living on an island-continent at the bottom of the world, then later there was time spent in the city that straddles two continents ... Istanbul with her feet firmly planted in both Europe and Asia; and now here I am, with this feeling that I am somehow sitting very close to the centre of the construct we know as the western world.

Our New Year's Eve ... well the Canucks are coming to dinner so we found some NZ lamb and will roast it with kumara, pumpkin, parsnip and potatoes ... there's a little Spanish wine, and Alison has whipped up a Canadian cheesecake for dessert, then the city fireworks at midnight, best viewed from our balcony or so I am told.

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar to everyone reading this, no matter where you are ... I wish you the best of everything in 2006.

Tot ziens.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

December In Antwerpen

Odd things are happening here in Antwerpen ... an ice skating rink has appeared in Grote Markt, surrounded by small stalls selling all manner of things ... from gifts and fastfood Belgian-style, to hot spicy wines and the local drink called Genever.

Let me borrow shamelessly from a knowlegeable source, and inform those who are curious, about one of Belgium's best kept alcoholic secrets (or was it only me who had never heard of it?)

Beer may be Belgium's most famous alcoholic beverage, but Genever is the 'other' traditional drink. It's also known as Jenever, Genievre, Peket or Dutch Gin, and it's a Juniper-flavored eau de vie that was once derided as hooch for the working class and nearly legislated out of existence in Belgium. However, Belgian distillers are now producing Genevers of exceptional quality, some of a color, smoothness and flavor reminiscent of fine whiskey.
It was invented about 450 years ago in the Low Countries, and is traditionally made by distilling an unfiltered and fermented mash of malted grains, principally barley, and flavoring this "malt wine" with aromatics like juniper berries, caraway seeds or fennel.
The two main types, jonge (young) and oude (old), refer not to age but to style. Often resembling English Gin, jonge has less alcohol (a maximum of 35 percent), is generally drunk cold, and has little grain flavor because its alcohol comes mostly from potatoes or other nongrain products. Oude is stronger - 54 percent alcohol in some cases - and tastes more of grain because it uses a greater percentage of malt wine, which itself is often aged in oak to add color, smoothness and complexity of flavor. A few oude Genevers, labeled Graanjenever, are made with 100 percent grain. Post-distillation flavoring of both jonge and oude genever varies by region, with some recipes calling for up to 70 botanical ingredients.

But it's not only about ice-skating rinks and alcohol, it's the way the city is celebrating this holiday season. It's irrestible ... I love the bold 'A' Antwerpen symbol up in lights everywhere, and the people are out there, ignoring the snow, the ice, and the cold, just having fun, leaning on tables, outdoors if you please, and chatting as if it's not cold at all.

Meanwhile, the world outside my window is slowly turning white ...

Bruges On Foot ...

Yesterday, a New Zealand friend and I braved freezing cold temperatures to travel from Antwerp to Bruges ... otherwise known as the Venice of the North It's a stunningly well-preserved medieval city, with canals and quaint buildings; horse-drawn carriages, an abundance of lacework, and shops full of Belgian chocolates. Back in 1127, Bruges merchants began monopolising the import of English wool via the river-to-sea link provided by Zwin River,and by the 14th century Bruges was experiencing its very own Golden Age. For a time, it was the most important trading centre in Northern Europe however, all good things seem to end, and as the river silted up Antwerp began to take over as 'the' port. By 1845, at least half the population of Bruges was forced to beg to survive, and over 10,000 women tried to live by selling the now famous bobbin-lace ... it's as the lace salesmen explained; lace-making is an art that was born out of poverty.
The beauty of this new European life of mine, is the way that I can jump on a train and be somewhere incredible very quickly. New Zealand is a 23 hour flight from many countries, so I'm not sure that the novelty of Paris in two hours will wear off any time soon - not that I've been there yet, I'm still waiting for paperwork and permission to work.

Bruges was a 12euro trip and only took an hour and twenty minutes - we were lucky and got the weekend ticket price in this time between Christmas and New Year. Amsterdam is close, and Rozanna had simply popped over from London on the train. We walked all over Bruges but had to stop often as it was icy cold, and although I was wearing my thermal undershirt I had reasoned that, as a Kiwi, I was used to extreme weather and wouldn't need my longjohns ... I really really needed my longjohns.

The hat, the gloves, the polar fleece and the heavy black coat were almost enough, but perhaps Istanbul-living has softened me. My legs were so cold that I might have mentioned them once or twice however ... we did discover that the pubs and cafes of Bruges are more than happy to revive the frozen traveller ... we survived.

Pure New Zealand ...

I watch BBC news here in Belgium ... it's my way of keeping up with a world that I know, and I've been lucky to have it as an option both here in Belgium and back in Istanbul however, these days I'm rethinking the 'luck' element. Pure New Zealand has started an advertising campaign on BBC. I hear the music and everytime, without fail, I look up from the computer or book, only to be surprised by stunning images of the New Zealand I know ... my beautiful beaches, mountains, and landscapes... it's devastating stuff.

-7oC this morning in Antwerpen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

It's A Belgian Thing ... I think

I noticed these guys appearing around Antwerpen as Christmas approached ... They were hanging off balconys, peering in windows, and scrambling up onto window ledges ... I have never seen anything like it. Apparently, it's not strictly Belgian. In fact, the man dressed in red only appeared at windows here about 2 years ago, and he was recently spotted in Rome. My sources are limited, and I might be wrong, perhaps he's already in New Zealand too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Belgian Christmas ... is a very nice Christmas

After two years of non-Christmas in Turkey, I was more than happy to celebrate Christmas this year. We had a real tree, the gifts, and the roast turkey.

And it was a Christmas full of good people, nice food, superb wines and liquors. We woke to and had a day of cold sunshine, and went home after scraping ice from car windows. It was different to the New Zealand Christmas, and yet not so different as all reports said that they had rain in my home city, Dunedin.

Oh, and I made my first Northern Hemisphere Pavlova ... so proud I was. And although it lacks the whipped cream in this photo, there was something nice about whipping up one of my country's national desserts in this new country and feeding it to two Canucks and my Belgian.

And as I type this, a little bit of New Zealand is passing under the English Channel on the route called the Chunnel Route. Rozanna is over from Marlborough, New Zealand for two days of wandering in Belgium with me. We have the wine, the stoofvlees (a Belgian national dish involving steak and beer), and a space for her little self to sleep ... and an itinerary planned.

Tot ziens.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Footprints Across My Heart

Chance encounters change lives. Close friends, passing acquaintances and even characters who emerge from old books often leave footprints across my heart. By opening mysterious doors, the influence of others has inadvertantly altered the direction of my life.
Colin Monteath, Under Sheltering Sky.

I've lived a few lives, probably like most people. I've been a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt and a grandmother; a niece, a cousin, a granddaughter, a stepdaughter, a friend, a girlfriend, and more often than not, simply that strange creature most people call Di.

The reality of all those lives translates into people I know and value all over the world; incredibly generous people, who have opened their lives and let me in. People who have left footprints across my heart, and let me walk a mile or two with them.

I was stunned by a parcel I received from old friends last week ... writing of it might not capture how much the contents meant to me however, inside I discovered a New Zealand Santa, wearing jandals and beach shorts, carrying a sack ... but better to photograph him. He was accompanied by his Kiwi sidekick and looks so good on the Christmas tree.

There was also chocolate ... New Zealand peppermint and caramello-filled chocolate ... which makes me a philistine I know it, I'm living in Belgium, the land of legendary chocolate but sometimes we just like what we like, and I do love my Cadburys New Zealand stuff.

There was a NZ black cap for Gert to wear proudly (despite his refusal to love Vegemite), but the thing that most touched me was the Edmunds Cookbook.

Gert watched me melt as I read through the recipes, smiling over food I'd taken forgranted while growing. My Nana had an Edmunds cookbook, as did my mother, it's been around for almost 100 years and everyone knows it over there. Reading through it was a rollcall of things I had grown up loving ... the pavlova, bacon and egg pie, and Nana's yo-yo recipe; lamingtons, hokey pokey, my sultana cake, tomato relish, and the highlander salad dressing recipe ... they were all there.

I've lived more than a few lives, and it's been while I was living these lives that I have met some of the best people a person could know. Emails, parcels in the post, computer conversations and phone calls in these days have reminded me of how lucky I am in who I know.

And it's so hard to write this and not write of each person who has had a profound affect on my life, because everyone is on my mind as I write.

I guess this is my way of telling friends and family that I value them more than they know, and appreciate the gift of their friendship.

So the best I can do, from this new life where Christmas falls in the depths of winter and my feet are bare and cold as I type this, is to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and the happiest New Year!

Take care, love Di

Friday, December 23, 2005

Di's Nederlands Resultaat

I passed my Nederlands examination ... 72%!

Tis done.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Today, I Crossed the Rhine

Stunning stuff, or not bad for the girl from smalltown New Zealand.

Actually, crossing the Rhine River wasn't something I'd discussed with family and friends while selecting the best gooseberries from the bushes in the backgarden during those heady days of summer and childhood ... and not at all later either. Oddly enough, Germany has never been on my list of 'places to go and see' however, fate stepped in in the form of a rather attractive Belgian man, and voila, there I was, being driven across the Rhine on my way to Oberhausen, 22 December 2005.

Gert had to find his father a Christmas present, and his parents had told him of a rather good Christmas market at Oberhausen, just on the doorstep of the massive CentrO shopping complex. So he surprised me by taking me there, cold and all.

It was grey day in Europe ... with rain chasing us out of Belgium and into the Netherlands, and from there to Germany and all the way back to the Belgian border, we were driving in low cloud and fog. 'We' ... well I use the term loosely, I daren't drive in this country ... not yet.

Anyway, the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) ... Thursday morning is a good time to wander as the crowds were so much thinner than those at Trier. I took some photos, the bread pixies amused me the most ...

I saw teapots ... sigh, I miss my teapot. It's the first thing I'm buying once I'm earning again. I can't settle for less than 'the' teapot, so I'm waiting. I saw a possible 'it' today ... let it go and satisfied myself with photographing this stunning little Christmas market 'tea store'. Loved the big tins up the back.

My photograph of the bratwurst sandwiches didn't work out, and I didn't photograph the Rhine, and neither did I photograph the massive Christmas tree inside the shopping centre. I'm sorry ... anthropologically I'm failing I guess, however I did manage to capture this little wooden toy stall just for the blog.

And my cold. It's moved. I think it's going into my chest, we'll see. Oh, and Gert's dad ... well, we found him the rather snazzy knife sharpening tool he was rumoured to want.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I Have A Cold

A cold, and an oral Dutch examination today ... what are the chances.

I haven't a cold since hmmmmm ... earlier this year in Turkey. It's coming back to me, lying on the couch in Mecidiyekoy, feeling certain that this one was going to send me home in a bodybag ... not that I'm prone to exaggeration, I just felt really really bad. I was losing $50 us per day (which seemed like a lot of money there), for each day I stayed home feeling sorry for myself and waiting to die, so it must have been bad.

On the upside, and often there is one (although they are difficult to find when you are an adult at a childs birthday party) I can tell my Dutch teacher that I have a cold in Nederlands spreek, and this may impress her to the point where she gives me 100% for turning up and being able to say it.

'Ik ben verkouden' ... perhaps it's only worth 79%, but if I continue with 'Ik moet niezen en hoesten', quite frankly, I think she should give me the full 100% in recognition of the fact that:
1. I turned up.
2. I could give a basic explanation of my 'best viewed in dim light' appearance.
3. And I could add to the basic information with the stunning news that I am sneezing and coughing.

If she wanted to hang out with me, she would see me reading apotheek instructions on medicine bottles (I don't swallow pills, it's too difficult, especially when I'm fragile and slightly ill).

Will I take medicine ...? I don't know, I'm New Zealander, we're meant to pride ourselves on not taking medicine, on working through pain and illness, and never complaining ... somehow these things bypassed me, and I can give stunningly graphic accounts of my pain and the fact that this cold is Gert's fault. He suggested it was the people on the tram however, it is all too easy for me to recall feeling incredibly smug and healthy last week, when he lost his voice and destroyed his nose with this same cold.

Ik ben ziek ... poor me.

Monday, December 19, 2005

And Just Whose Countrymen Are These ... ?

Gert translated this from his Antwerpen newspaper ... sigh, so I went searching and sure enough, it's all true.

Santas fight and steal in the streets
By Vaneesa Bellew and Stephen Cook

A gang of drunken "Santas" caused merry hell across central _______ yesterday, robbing stores, tagging buildings and assaulting security guards.

Three men were arrested on a variety of drunk and disorderly charges, and two security guards had to be treated for cuts after being hit with beer bottles.

The group of 40 men - mostly in their mid-20s and dressed in ill-fitting Santa costumes - began their "Santarchy" shortly after 2pm. First stop was the Victoria St motorway overbridge where they smashed beer bottles and urinated.

They moved through Victoria Park kicking over rubbish bins, throwing bottles at cars and leaping in front of vehicles. One also tagged the Victoria St __ Post building. Then they headed to the Sky City Casino where several vandalised the giant Christmas tree in the foyer.

Some made their way to the Victoria St Star Mart where they took several items from the shelves. Then it was through Queen St, High St and down to Britomart where security guards said they were yelling, swearing and "causing mayhem".

One ripped a window wiper off a bus while others harangued security guards and waiting passengers.

At the Princes Wharf Viaduct, one managed to scale a mooring line on the cruise ship Pacific Sky before being ordered by the captain to get down. When he retreated he was collared by two port security guards and later arrested.

This sparked angry scenes among the other "Santas" who started throwing bottles at security guards.

Police arrested three of the men, and told others to leave the area, but around 20 went into the Princes St Star Mart and helped themselves to soft drinks and beer.

The event's organiser, Alex Dyer, warned of trouble earlier in the day, saying the antics would only be stopped when someone was arrested. Santarchy, he said, was a worldwide phenomenon designed to dismantle the commercialisation of Christmas. Senior Sergeant Matt Rogers said the men were more like clowns than Santas.

Though he did not want to play down the seriousness of their actions, it was "fairly average behaviour" from "an organised group of idiots" who had had too much to drink. Police had received no warning about the event, despite press reports earlier in the week.

Changa Manakynda of the Princes Wharf Star Mart said the ordeal had been very distressing. "They came in, said 'Merry Christmas' and then helped themselves."

Luciano Pavarotti

What is it about Mr Pavarotti that can occasionally restore a lost soul ... he did what Counting Crow, James Blunt and Garou couldn't do tonight.

My soul came home all small and shrivelled up after the Nederlands examination today. My goodness (by way of understatement) it was 2 hours of angst and anxiety. I shouldn't even write of it here, as I may want it forgotten when the results are handed out.

Tomorrow afternoon, I'm performing again ... Round Two: 10 to 15 minutes of examined conversation in Nederlands.


If I'm looking for an up side to all this, I imagine that freedom is so much sweeter after a time of enforced suffering. I remember reading that suffering is measured by a person's own reality. We were asked to consider the fact that a teenager, whose parents won't let her get her nose improved in a wealthy country, experiences her suffering at a level similar to a person being tortured in a country where imprisonment and torture is an everyday reality.

Am I exaggerating ... maybe, just a little, but I didn't enjoy today's test. And Pavarotti's Live Recital cd, with Leone Magiera on the piano, is just lovely ... if you were looking for a nice one. My musical taste is hmmm, eclectic, and occasionally odd (thanks to knowing Diede, among others).

Moving on though, I've had mail lately, and that's a little bit of sunshine for this expat. Real mail, in my letterbox ... !!

Last week, my scarves arrived from Istanbul ... slowly but surely, my belongings and I are being reunited. I guess from the outside looking in, my life might sometimes look a little disorganised, but wandering out here seems to require an enormous amount of flexibility sometimes.

'Inshallah' or 'God willing' is the perfect word somedays ... when all seems lost, including my mail.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Trierer Christmas Market - A Road Trip

Who are these people?

And what are we doing driving on snow-covered roads somewhere in Europe?

Well, we were heading for Trierer Weihnachts Markt, otherwise known as the Trier Christmas Market. And 'we' consisted of two Canadians, an American, a Belgian, a Kiwi, and Caesar, the very large Canadian St Bernard (who came on security detail).

The Trier Christmas Market has developed quite a reputation, but the city has been around since 16 b.c, when Emperor Augustus of Rome founded it. It's had time.

It's an interesting city, Germany's oldest in fact, but today wasn't the day for viewing it ...and despite the 300km journey from Antwerpen, I don't have much to offer photographically, although there was this break in the clouds, it was freezing cold.

It was nice to wander in the medieval market square, but the traffic jam 3km out of the city did warn us that things were going to be crowded. And once in amongst it all, a certain Belgian was heard to mutter 'If I had wanted to hear this much Dutch, I would have gone to the Netherlands'.

French, German, and Dutch spreek filled the air as we were gently jostled by the crowds there. Gently because so many people were carrying cups full of hot spiced wine ... such very nice mulled wine, like nothing I'd had back home in New Zealand.

We ate Bratwurst sandwiches (sausage sandwiches, with mustard instead of tomato sauce), with Caesar watching (and providing assistance where necessary). Meanwhile I continued with my anthropological experimentation into world cruisine, forcing myself to purchase and eat a rather large chocolate and meringue concoction ...

It was a good day out with really nice people ... but even better, I got to travel to two new countries - Germany, and Luxemburg (although tiny, it counts as a country).

600kms in a day ... 3 countries, 4 cities, and 3 snowploughs ... oh, and a camel.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Canuck

How would I describe the Expat online magazine here in Belgium, and I need to, to explain how I met a Canuck living in Belgie ...

Well, they promise to deliver 'news and information to Expats in Belgium', and that about sums it up. They provide weekly news, weather and entertainment updates, with editorial and reader comments. They also try to provide any information a person might need when moving to Belgium ... things like relocation, housing, education, and employment details, to name just a few. You can have look at it here: expatica

And Expatica Online is how I met up with Alison, mentioned more than once on my site here. I wrote to her after she wrote a particular blog about Belgian road rules, which confirmed all I had experienced in terms of terror regarding one of the right-of-way road rules they have here. Terror, because I come from a land that drives on the other side of the road, and having cars shoot out at me from the right is wrong, beyond wrong really.

I'll quote her here, as she explains perfectly:
This leads me to the 'unique' Belgian driving rules; the most confusing for newcomers being Priorité à droite. As it does in English droite (right) has two meanings: the opposite of left and a legal or presumed entitlement.

Priorité à droite definitely embodies both of these definitions. The rule is: if you are driving along and someone is entering your road from the right, you must yield to them.

This almost makes sense in a four-way stop where all roads are of equal size. But imagine barreling along a major road and suddenly a car pulls out of an unmarked lane you didn't notice until the last second …

Of course there are exceptions to the priorité, but only Belgians are allowed to know them.

She's also a superb photographer, and this link will take you into her own website.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Let's All Drink Red Wine And Live

It's with a heavy heart that I am eating these days ...

Fate seems to be conspiring in ways that cause me to question what I eat. Every single little thing, including the various cocktail combinations of colourings and additives.

Coffee has been bad for us for years however, it may just be good for us now. I noticed this while trying to ignore reading the various pieces of research that are daily thrown at us in the news. The article invited me to, 'Consider this: At least six studies indicate that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson's, with three showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can translate to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly half the risk of gallstones.

Coffee even offsets some of the damage caused by other vices, some research indicates. "People who smoke and are heavy drinkers have less heart disease and liver damage when they regularly consume large amounts of coffee compared to those who don't," says DePaulis. There's also some evidence that coffee may help manage asthma and even control attacks when medication is unavailable, stop a headache, boost mood, and even prevent cavities.

Good lord, who could have guessed?

Dairy products, the new evil ... and after our mothers spent years purusing and practicing the commonly-held belief that children needed dairy products to develop strong little bones, and for the various other health benefits they purportedly provided. My reading lately suggests that dairy products are considered the new evil, although remember this is a 'peripheral trying-not-to-focus sweep' through the newspapers, I try not to linger and study.

However, a friend recently forwarded an article about a woman with cancer, who reportedly gave up all dairy products, and began the associated close study of food labels for content, with the result that her cancer (after treatment) disappeared, surprising doctors. She and her husband were scientists trying to work out why Asian women avoided the same high rates of breast cancer suffered by Western women.

So butter ... my favourite dairy product, is clearly on this list of the new 'unclean' due to the excessive amount I tend to slather on my toast in the morning, but margarine; the wonderchild of the 70's or 80's, now heads the list of the most carcenogenic. What chance does any nation of bread-eaters stand? Clearly the Mediterranean diet has to be looked at, as I've noticed, while trying to ignore research into the properties of any food, that olive oil might be good for us, and then there's all those fresh vegetables ... the Turks showed me something of what was possible but I'd need a cook.

And then we come to red wine ... a personal favourite of mine, with it's many and varied medicinal properties. I have some very credible people with me on this one. Plato once said, "Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the Gods to man."

It has been proven that red wine contains a high number of antioxidants, and recent studies have shown that drinking one glass of red wine every day may have certain health benefits. (I hope that's a big glass, or perhaps it's a reference to a glass bottle ...). Research indicates that moderate red wine consumption may help protect against certain cancers and heart disease, and can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Now, oddly enough, I'm quite happy to thoroughly research the benefits of consuming a daily ration of red wine ... particularly when you consider that the research into healthy eating would involve a seismic alteration in my consumption habits, with label-reading, special-recipe-book-buying, and application of thought ... to my body's daily needs, and that would surely tire me and create new and dangerous stresses on my clearly fragile person.

By the way, have you ever wondered why your mouth burns a little, you feel like you might be heading into an altered state of mind, and you get a headache the day after eating more than ... well, more than a few M&Ms ... those food colourings must lethal, that is, according to all research I've avoided reading about them.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The ANZACS And Ataturk

Although it's not ANZAC Day, I was loading more photographs onto this new site and rediscovered my Gallipoli series. It made me think about all I didn't know of Turkey before living there.

My step-Grandad fought at Gallipoli during the First World War. Oddly enough, I'm accidently dogging his war-footsteps. I visited Gallipoli twice while living in Istanbul, and then moved to Belgium, where he was actually wounded on another battlefield, having survived the almost unsurvivable horrors of Gallipoli.

Looking through my photographs, I remembered staying at TJ's Backpackers in Eceabat, the town closest to the Gallipoli battlefields. It was magic ... sitting up on the flat rooftop, drinking Efes, a Turkish beer I came to love, and listening to the final call to prayer go out over the township.

TJ has a hotel too, but it's the man whose important. He's one of the best guides you can hope to find over there. He's married to an Australian, and the first time I met him, I thought he was from Downunder. You can check out his site here:

If you're ever thinking of heading over to ANZAC DAY, don't look past him. Actually, while I'm talking of 'going to Turkey' - feel free to contact me too, and make sure you contact Hayden in Istanbul ... he's the Kiwi travel agent at Ayala Travel. See He's an easygoing, knowlegeable Kiwi bloke, whose been living there for over 5 years; nothing's a problem.

Anyway ... the thing that I wanted to write about here, was the message that the then leader of Turkey left for the mothers of the dead enemy soldiers. It's stunning, and the first time I was there, it almost moved me to tears.

On a Turkish memorial in Gallipoli, overlooking the Aegean sea, Kemal Ataturk's words are engraved in stone:

"To those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace. There is no difference to us between the Johnnies and the Mehmets [referring to both Allied and Turkish soldiers], where they lie side by side, here in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far-away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well."

Note: ANZAC Day is when New Zealand and Australia honour the bravery of the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and of all those who served their country. It is an annual public holiday in both countries, and falls on the 25th of April. It's a day of reflection, when the general public partake in quiet parades, with the same dawn and daytime ceremonies also being held in Gallipoli, Turkey.

What Happens to Insomniacs ...

At 2am I gave in, got up and made a hot milk Milo ... it didn't work. Here's what Di did next ... I'm so ashamed Bambi Result

Which DISNEY character are you most like?
brought to you by Quizilla

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I've got this lovely brother ... the littlest one, little Kimmy (one of three lovely siblings, I hasten to add).

So what if he towers over me, is a construction manager-type in Australia, and occasionally gets a little bit cross when I wind him up with a mocking - like calling him Kimmy. Although it's been a while, we haven't seen each other since ... hmmmm, let me look at my passport ... October 2002, when he married Jody.

Times have changed and we're living in different hemispheres these days, but I can still remember the times when I had him sounding like an asthmatic on Everest with my sly and clever humour (he might not have actually described my humour using those particular words). He'd be lying on the couch, barely able to breathe, due to the hysterical nature of his laughter ... but he lived. He survived being told he was too blonde to be one of us, and then there was the incident where I was doubling him on the bike while he was almost too little to hold on (I wasn't much older, I didn't realise); he has survived quite a bit actually

Well, two and 3/4 kids later, and a move to a small mining town up north in the wilds of Australia, my baby brother is a boss, and about to become a daddy again.

Tonight I noticed the date at the bottom of my screen ... 13 December ... KIM'S BIRTHDAY!!!

I reached for Nana's ancient and battered birthday book ... how old is he ... time passes, and I'm pretty sure he's not 11 anymore. Ahhhh, success ... 1971, he's 34 ... JESUS, HE'S 34!! How could that be ... explains the management stuff though.

Anyway, I wonder if he reads his big sister's blog site ... HAPPY BIRTHDAY KIM, and may you have many more of them.

Tons of love, Di xx

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Winter From The Window Near My Desk

Yesterday I was explaining a Hoar Frost to Gert ... this morning I could point and say, 'Oh, that's a Hoar Frost', before leaning out the window to photograph the ice on the trees.

It's stunning out there now ... blue skies and sunshine.

Another 'first' was Gert sending me into our bakery alone to pick up our breakfast. I probably looked slightly disturbed, muttering the shopping list to myself ... 'vier pistolets, twee (2) chocolade koeken met pudding, twee appelbollen'.

So ... I didn't quite practice enough, being a bit shy about talking to myself while queuing with strangers, and ended up with drie (3) chocolade koeken met pudding. Now this is no bad thing, as a koek, in this instance, is a chocolate covered pastry square filled with 'pudding', which is really our custard, but better than custard square custard.

My twee (2) sounded like drie (3), or she was taking advantage of me.

The appelbol is a peeled and cored apple, wrapped up in pastry ... and so much nicer than I had imagined, which was lunch, just by the way.

Anyway, if my fellow queuers didn't think I was odd for muttering my shopping list as we stood waiting out in the cold (there's always a long queue at our bakery as it's one of the best) they certainly couldn't help but notice that they had an odd wee foreigner in the midst of their breakfast buying Belgian selves ... both the shop assistant and I were laughing quite openly in the end. Gert said it was because I was trying to speak Nederlands and doing quite well, I suspect it was actually because I was speaking Nederlands with a New Zealand accent, and misusing certain vowel sounds ... where have I heard this before ... Benjamin?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How Dorothy Knew She Probably Wasn't In Kansas Anymore ...

It's everything.

Yeni Zealanda ... Nieuw Zeeland ... New Zealand

I never realised that other countries had other names for my country. Ignorance in the extreme, or perhaps this old chick just hadn't been out much ... kind of like Dorothy really.

Seni seviyorum ... Ik hou van jou ... I love you
and so it is with love, and everything else.

Istanbul Turks are reputed to be terrifying drivers ... Belgians actually terrify me ... and then there's the deep pleasure of driving New Zealand roads.

The Istanbul Turks I hung out with tended to dress more in the style of the Milanese of Italy; the Belgians do as they please, but with European insouciance that mostly deflects questions regarding their fashion sense; in New Zealand well ... I had one or two disgusting long jerseys that I almost dare not remember, although some of you will.

In greeting others, the Turks kissed once on each cheek while shaking my hand; the Belgians are more likely to deliver three kisses while shaking my hand (although they could be 'one kiss' or 'two kiss' people, try not to lurch into the second kiss in this case), and New Zealand, I think we just used to say hi and avoid contact where ever possible ... a bow to our Victorian forefathers.

And then there's geography. I grew up in, and lived, all over the South Island ... which is approximately 600 kilometres long. If you travel 600km from Istanbul you could find yourself in Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Moldavia or the Ukraine, with Turkey also sharing borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria. If you do the 600 kilometres from Brussels, then France, Germany, England, the Czech and Danish borders, and Switzerland are possible destinations. And there's New Zealand ... with each of the two main islands measuring about 600kms in length, and being 200kms wide in some places ... Australia is our closest neighbour and she's at least 2000kms across 'The Ditch, as we like to understatedly name the Tasman Sea that seperates us. We have no neighbours and can only explore our own landmass with this measurement.

And so, members of the jury, I rest my case ... I come from a small island continent (yes continent, this is not a mistake) at the bottom of the world, and out here in Europe, on the days, when I'm not feeling like Alice lost in Wonderland, drinking tea and talking with Rabbits, then I'm Dorothy, dropped off by various tornadoes that leave me bewildered and fumbling but often amused and entertained ... sigh, or amusing and entertaining (as in, are they laughing with me or at me?). But I love it out here.

Photograph: Toto searching for a new adventure.

Come Toto, we have more exploring to do ...

Christmas at the New Zealand Embassy

My goodness Kiwis are such nice people ...and they make the best wines.

Gert and I drove all over Belgium last night (it's not a big country), picking up the children, feeding them and then delivering them to their Bompi and Bomma (Grandma and Grandad, with a little twist on Grandad's name, due to an advertisement that was around in that crucial timeframe when kids name their grandparents).

We raced (through a series of traffic jams) the 12 kms north to their grandparents place, then back to Antwerpen and on past it, south to Brussels some 50kms away, through less challenging traffic jams due to avoiding the infamous snarl ups on the Ring Road around Brussels.

Ring roads, just by the way, are motorways around a city; all motorways to and from other cities like Antwerpen, Ghent, Liege, start and end on the ring road. Antwerpen has its own notorious version, and everyone complains about rush hour traffic on them.

Anyway, the Kiwi Christmas function ...I slipped a couple of Canucks onto the guest list. I had been so delighted by both the people and the wine in Mesen that I wanted to share with Alison and Andrew.

We had the loveliest time ... re-meeting a few of the people from the Mesen event, and new people from England and all over. Kiwis clearly have some kind of plan of intermarriage and world domination ... I can see that if we're ever called up for action, we will turn up in every place, and quite possibly, with the oddest of stories about how we got there. Of course, this is probably due to our incredibly lovable nature, and the modesty.

The NZ Ambassador gave a short speech, and talked of the fact the Helen Clarke had popped over for a two day whistle-stop tour of meetings and more meetings. Our relationship with things Belgian and the EU seemto be just fine, but of course.

You know, there is something delicious about hearing the New Zealand accent slip out of the mouths of people you've never met. In Europe, we disappear into the crowd ... during the discussion regarding my illegal traffic light crossing I did ask the traffic policeman (unaffectionately known as a Smurf here) if I looked like a foreigner. He said no, that initially, he hadn't realised. And that's how it is ... so when greeted at the embassy by a woman who could easily have been a Belgian, it was a delightful surprise to hear someone who sounded just like me.

I had lots of New Zealand red wine, aided and abetted by the resident NZ chef and his sidekick, the art director. There was much laughter and mingling, and even today, after a painkiller, I'm still smiling over a good dose of 'home'.

How to Find the New Zealand Embassy in Brussels

The Embassy is located on the seventh floor of the Dexia building at Square de Meeûs and is a short walk from the European Parliament buildings. The nearest metro station is Trône. The nearest rail station is Gare du Luxembourg. Buses numbers 20,21, 34, 38, 54, 60, 80, 95, 96 stop at Square de Meeûs.

Friday, December 09, 2005

About Writing

I love writing, I have for a long time but it's a difficult thing to have taken seriously by those in the 'real world'. You only need to talk to published authors and learn how much they earn per book, to realise that the long held illusion of the starving writer may not be the stuff of fiction. However, in these days, I have the time it requires, and a partner who delights in me taking it seriously.

I was reading Alison's blog just now Alison
and her latest entry reminded me of how important a good partner is for a writer. I sent her a poem that I claimed as my own as soon as I read it, many years ago ... it's by Erica Jong, and it goes like this:

Woman Enough

Because my grandmother's hours
were apple cakes baking,
& dust motes gathering,
& linens yellowing
& seams and hems
inevitably unraveling
I almost never keep house
though really I like houses
& wish I had a clean one.

Because my mother's minutes
were sucked into the roar
of the vacuum cleaner,
because she waltzed with the washer-dryer
& tore her hair waiting for repairmen
I send out my laundry,
& live in a dusty house,
though really I like clean houses
as well as anyone.

I am woman enough
to love the kneading of bread
as much as the feel
of typewriter keys
under my fingers
springy, springy.
& the smell of clean laundry
& simmering soup
are almost as dear to me
as the smell of paper and ink.

I wish there were not a choice;
I wish I could be two women.
I wish the days could be longer.
But they are short.
So I write while
the dust piles up.

I sit at my typewriter
remembering my grandmother
& all my mothers,
& the minutes they lost
loving houses better than themselves
& the man I love cleans up the kitchen
grumbling only a little
because he knows
that after all these centuries
it is easier for him
than for me.

There's more of her work on her website: Erica Jong

I always loved 'Parable of the Four Poster', and Flying At Forty surely has to be admired.

I leave it to you anyway. I'm off to Brussels tonight. It's the New Zealanders expat Christmas do at the Embassy ... I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Di's Life ...

I was at the family Sinterklaas dinner on Sunday ... Gert's parents had given the four grandchildren their Sinterklaas gifts, although the Belgian Sinterklaas and his sidekick, Zwarte Piet, officially arrive with the bulk of the gifts 6 December.

It's complicated here ... it seems that children also get more gifts from our Santa Claus on 25 December, when the adults officially gather and exchange their gifts, while celebrating with a traditional Christmas Day.

But back to the dinner on Sunday. Gert's brother had just returned from his travels; a week in Bhutan and two weeks in Lucknow, India. We were chatting, as you do, and the conversation moved on to his Guinean partner's residency application.

'Happy Christmas Di', Keleti's application took about 1 year to process ... with the process beginning in his home country! You can imagine the dark thoughts this news evoked.

I put in my residency application about 10 September, and we have heard nothing more. In celebration of this new information, I regressed to the roots of my ancestry, with dark and dire sounding Scottish/Irish curses emerging in a disturbingly Tourette's-like manner (curses ... quietly, in my mind, I'm a New Zealander after all).

So today, in an effort to be informed on the matter of the progress of my papers, I trotted off to the Council Offices; the place where it all began.

Yes, the police had checked and I am residing at the address I gave them.
And hmmm, my papers were sent to my lawyer 11 November.

Wow ... my lawyer?

But I've seen Belgian efficiency ... this seemed feasible, although how had they chosen my lawyer, and what was the cost?

Mmmm, timid soul that I be, I summoned the courage to say ... 'My lawyer?'
He said 'Yes'.
I said 'Oh', which dammit, was a give away.
He frowned, read the paper he'd found in my file and said 'Sorry', in that cute way that Dutch speakers say sorry (putting the Dutch rrrrrrrrrr in there), and said the lawyer belonged to another client, as did the letter, and of course, the paper in question shouldn't have been in my folder.

I laughed and said I'd been hellishly impressed about having a lawyer.
We laughed together.

So, back to my folder, he pulled out another letter ... it seemed that my entire folder had been sent off to Brussels (where it is rumoured that over 300,000 other residency applications reside) on 10 November.

10 November ... I asked how long my application would take.
Disturbingly, he ran his hands through his hair in that way that suggests, 'oh god, don't ask me, it's a mess over there, it might be 10 years' (not that he said that, I hasten to add), he actually said '2 months', which I think we both knew was a little lie. I had been told 2 months back in September, and now we were looking at five months in total ... I suspect 2 months is 'the' standard answer for any residency questions.

We talked of my professional card, the paper that allows me to set up my own business ... he muttered about applying for that from New Zealand, and I realised we had gone beyond his level of expertise or coping, on this grey Belgian day in a satellite suburb in Antwerpen.

He gave me some forms, we smiled and wished each other a good day.

It seems that the time has come for me to live by my pen ... food parcels would be appreciated.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Nederlands Lesson Today ...

Excuseer, meneer, bent u hier bekend?
Waar is de bibliotheek a.u.b?
Oh, dat is niet zo ver. U gaat hier rechtdoor tot aan het plein. Dan gaat u naar rechts. Aan het einde van de straat gaat u naar links en dan neemt u de tweede straat rechts. De bibliotheek is aan de linkerkant van de strrat.
Graag gedaan!

Now, oddly enough, I can follow these directions ... oh yes, directions they are.
Read them aloud, that helps some.
Then knowing that links is left, and rechts is right, mmmm and rechtdoor is 'straight ahead', of course ... goes some way to getting you to the bibliotheek (library).

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Something from Clifton

I copied this out of a book, after class on the day I was almost imprisoned ... all the while wondering if copying quotes from a book that you have no intention of buying might also be a blue uniformed, show me your passport type offence. It made the quote so much more appropriate.

When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.
Clifton Fadiman

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Di Has A Brush With The Law ...

I was threatened with 12 hours in jail today ...

A bit embarassing actually, although I was roaring with laughter on the inside, while looking suitably respectful and chastised on the outside.

So, what crime did I commit, and how could the threat of a 50euro fine escalate to jailtime ... read on.

I was running late for language class today. I climbed off Tram 8 and joined a large group of people waiting to cross the road from the little tram island in the centre. The pedesterian signal was red. We waited. The traffic lights were also red. The cars waited. We all waited ... bound by strict societal taboos, imprinted upon us in various ways by our parents ... thou shalt not cross on a red light.

Suddenly, devilish rebel that I be, I felt impelled to leap out and cross the road ... alone, clearly risking being brought down by whatever 'predators' lurked in these places.

Sure enough, today was my day, and I was 'brought down' by a rather attractive, clean-shaven young man in blue. He said something in Dutch ... I replied, 'Ik spreek Engels'. He switched to English, asking me if I was aware I had crossed the road when the signal was red.

Although far from being prey, I did sense danger and answered in my own special way ... cramming in any information that might distract him from his intention. I admitted I had noted that, but I was late for my 'Dutch language course'.

He said, 'I see', and asked me if I was aware that a person could be charged 50euro for crossing against the lights. I opened my eyes wide and expressed my surprised over this piece of information.

He asked me if I came from England. I said no, from New Zealand, and I really was late for my 'Dutch language class' (Surely there is nothing more impressive than a try-hard foreigner learning the local lingo, even if she is breaking the law).

He said, 'Well, I'll need to see your passport'. I opened my eyes wider, revealing the depths of my innnocence and good intention and said, 'Oh God, I really don't have that on me at the moment'. He said, 'Any ID?' And I said, "Well oddly enough, no I don't', blushing.

By now we had an audience ... I could ignore all but the African man who found the whole situation hilarious, and was translating the police person's English for me ... however glaring at him would have interfered in my angelic appearance, so I continued to blush, and mentioned my 'Dutch language course' once again, and the fact that I was a New Zealander.

The nice-looking young man in the blue uniform looked pained and said that he would have to involve the police at this point, and was I really not aware that I could be fined for the illegal red light crossing, and imprisoned for my lack of passport and ID.

Actually, as an aside, the passport probably would have put me in prison. I have since packed my passport, and proof of my 'in process and waiting' application papers which explain that, while my passport might make me seem illegal, my residency application is merely caught up somewhere in Brussels ... and I've added my 'Dutch language course' receipt for good luck.

He was looking round for a policeman, and I spoke up one more time. Blushing, I reassured that lovely young man in blue that I never usually crossed roads in this manner and (wait for it) that I really really was late for my Dutch language course, and I didn't know that I had to carry my passport at all times, and I promised never to go out without it again and ...

Well, do you know, he let me go with a warning.

Clearly I have to add these uniformed men to my list of saviours here in this new world in Belgium.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My Guido Bergna Susy Stovetop Espresso Maker

I was dusting off my little Guido Bergna Susy Espresso Maker tonight, as tomorrow's guest favours real coffee over my expensive Nescafe Instant everyday kind of coffee. But seeing ye olde Expresso Maker again, brought back memories of every trip I've made through customs with this 'interestingly-shaped cannister' in my backpack.

Can you imagine how it looks on an x-ray machine, post 9/11...

I wrap it up in my clothing to avoid damage, but initially pack it close to the zip, knowing that I'm going to have to explain myself and its presence and inevitably, I'll have to do a show and tell with said espresso maker. I guess there's not so many who have tried traveling with them.

The Canuck is popping over tomorrow ... which reminds me, I never did quite get round to writing up my adventures of last week, en route to and from her place near Brussels ... I'm not sure I should. I may have foolishly written something about feeling rather adult while riding a train bound for Brussels.

Well ... there were one or two small incidents. Alison didn't receive my reassuring sms (text for the Kiwis), letting her know I'd made all my tram and train connections and might be there earlier than expected. In my defense, I had successfully used her number on previous occasions, and it was programmed into my cellphone ... What can I say, I have no idea why the last digit was wrong this time, although this might explain why a Dutch sounding woman answered Alison's phone last time I'd called her ... enough said.

I caught the tram to the train station, found my departing platform, and was loitering in that casual'I-might-be-a-European-going-to-Brussels' kind of way with the 'in crowd' (Antwerpen commuters to Brussels actually)... but then ruined it all by making a mad last minute leap for a train Gert said I could board, even though it wasn't my scheduled one ... you see he was on the phone at the time, making sure I was okay and not needing translations and platform-type information.

So ... approximately 30 minutes later, my train pulled in at Brussels Noord (North, for those of you not studying Dutch at this point in time), and there I platform-loitered, once again casually ... this time looking as if 'I-might-be-European-and-catching-the-train-to-Brussels-Luchthaven (Airport).

And why the airport, you might ask. Well, the airport is closer to Alison's place, and closer is better in rush-hour traffic.

I was feeing quite smug, and confidently remained seated while everyone else on the platform with me at Brussels Nord boarded a train, dragging their backpacks and suitcases. I had a timetable, I knew when mine was due ... however, just to confirm this, I did finally break and ask the train guard if this train was the one to the airport. I quite ruined casual when, arms flailing, I made a last minute leap for the open train carriage door.

Ruffled feathers indeed ...

So I arrived in the Airport, and Alison had warned me that it was best if I only moved up one level on the escalator, as our chances of finding each other once higher were markedly less. So I sent another sms, to that woman who never did answer, reassuring her I had a book and would read until she arrived at the airport.

At some point, I noted the phone silence, and it was only then that the memory of that surprised-sounding Dutch woman on Alison's phone came back to me... mmmm, and slowly but surely, it became clear (even to me) that I had the wrong number programmed into my phone and no way of contacting Alison.

We'd made a plan, kind of ... they knew when my scheduled train was arriving ... no need to panic, I was in Europe, I could always go back home to Antwerpen if all else failed.

How little faith had I ... on schedule, Alison smsed, she was upstairs drinking coffee with Andrew, ready to meet my train when it arrived.

Going back to Antwerpen that night well ... by now, I was au fait with asking train guards for guidance, so I confidently hopped onto the train bound for Essen, having been reassured that yes, the train would be stopping in Antwerpen's Centraal Station.

Trein Begeleiders (train guards really) ... where would Di be without them.
(Aachen, Paris or Amsterdam apparently).

Monday, November 28, 2005

Well ...

So much for not liking Friday nights beer ...

It seems that I actually had food poisoning. It serves me right really, as I'd looked forward to the weekend far too much ... I had unacceptable expectations regarding it all. Oddly enough, do you remember I mentioned the 'nice sandwiches' in my last blog ...I believe it was them, curried chicken .. pah!

So my weekend consisted of getting back in touch with my digestive processes, and charting the poisoned stuff as it travelled the length and breadth of my body, creating aches and pains throughout ... disgusting.

Today, I phoned in ill and missed language class, forgiving myself by virtue of having a home school teacher available to me in the evenings. The same teacher I have been known to direct dark and dire mutterings at, something along the lines of 'It's your fault I have to learn to pronouce this unpronounceable 'G' sound'. And learn I must, since his name begins with said 'G'.

However, having saintly tendencies (or enough Catholic guilt to get me to do things I would rather not do while feeling seedy), I did attend the childrens SinterKlaus show on Sunday morning. (Christmas Show).
Here's the site:

Saintliness aside, it was a grand show for kids and Sahara, Georgia and Katie would have loved it. There were about 12,000 in the audience at our session, and the show is repeated six times, so you get an idea of the popularity of this annual event. The bands had the place rocking, and really, there's nothing like seeing kids from 2 upwards, out dancing in the aisles.

The snow is all gone now, and there's talk of it getting drier and warmer by the end of the week. What is meant by warmer is a little unclear, and it's been bone-chillingly cold here in recent days. They may have to surgically remove my polar fleece in the spring ...

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Winter Wonderland

It seems that the 'worst winter in Belgie in 50 years', is wasting no time in arriving now that it has been called out and predicted in newspapers. We had a long summer, followed by a shortish Autumn, and now here we are - 10pm Friday 25th November - with steady snow falling outside. As you can see in the photo, the back balcony is already well-covered.

I had my 3 hours of Dutch class today, then went to a lovely cafe near Grote Markt, to wait for Gert to finish at the office. I was talking with the waitress (as you do) and it turns out her sister (the other waitress) is off to Australia for 6 weeks in February. They were curious to know about New Zealand, and oddly enough, I assured them it was far better than Australia ... as one quite naturally would.

Usually, because I'm going to the city and meeting Gert after work, I dress rather nicely for language class however ... today I dressed warmly, as it was already ice cold at 1pm when I left home. I had multiple layers that consisted of a decent black top, covered by a slightly less decent pale blue polar fleece, which was in turn covered by a disreputable heavy (and very warm) black coat of Gert's.

I'd thought it through, I was going to lurk about in the dark and make him come out of the office to meet me ... no one (as in his collegues) would be harmed by my appalling winter wear ... sigh.

What were the first words I heard from my Belgian ... 'Come with me, we have a reception over in the Town Hall'.

I was mortified, and negotiated all the way across the Square. I could go back to the cafe, I could wait out in the hall, I could ... but no, he assured me that it was nothing to worry about.

When completely caught out it's really better to just pretend you're some kind of special, yet completely confident, foreigner ... I stripped down to my lovely black top, and tied my Turkish scarf in that casual chic way that other women do (believing I had pulled 'chic' off was all that mattered), ignoring my faded blue jeans and purple Doc Maartens ... mmm, I put on my glasses, as every little thing helps. Anyway, Gert wouldn't have taken me in if I was completely horrendous, but he did look ever so good in his beautiful suit and tie.

It was an interesting outing. There was Belgian beer and lovely sandwiches in the Leys Room (named after a painter), then he and I toured the Council Meeting Room, the Board of Burgomaster and Aldermen Meeting Room, and the wedding room. It's a marvellous Town Hall, with a board listing Antwerpen's Mayors ... dating back to, at least, the late 1400s.

Going home was another story ... it was snowing and getting heavier by the moment. We jumped on a No.11 Tram, and settled into the warmth. Alas and alack, at some point the driver flicked on a notice that informed us he wouldn't be taking us all the way. We had to disembark about 3kms from home, in the dark in a snow storm ... nasty driver.

We made it home, (whisper: and watched Eastenders - it's an expat thing, what can I say). I had a little Vegemite on Cruskits to settle my tummy after 2 beers that, in retrospect, I'm not sure I liked as I feel rather ill as I write this.

Ahhh, but the Vegemite ... I was over in Brussels on Wednesday, catching up with Alison, recently returned from her trip home to Canada. We had just reached the point of the first coffee when she remembered a gift she had for me. I was stunned and amazed when the Canuck presented me with a jar of Vegemite. Stunned, amazed, delighted and curious actually.

It turns out that she had found it in a rather special store in the small village of Kortenberg, where she lives, just outside Brussels. She said the store itself is interesting, and often full of the sounds of many languages and accents, as all kinds of everything from everywhere can be found there. I'll write more when I've been there, as I'm curious to see it for myself. Sigh, needless to say, both her and Andrew expressed grave doubts about the contents of said jar of Vegemite and have so far resisted my best efforts in providing them with a taste test.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Royal Guardsmen and Snoopy's Christmas Song

Gert just found a copy of my all-time favourite Christmas song - The Royal Guardsmen singing 'Snoopy's Christmas'. Don't ask me how it became the song I most associate with Christmas(a German did once, and I had no idea) but the song was online and it's the song that meant Christmas was coming, wayyyy back in the beginning, close to the dawn of time, when I was the littlest of things.

Meanwhile, the Belgian is meeting me halfway on things Christmas, we won't be murdering some hapless pine tree for Christmas (sigh, I do like the smell of pine in the house), and he's stopped talking of a fake tree however, we will get ourselves a nice little live Christmas tree ... destined to become our first balcony plant. Anyway, the lyrics ... and if you're not familiar, then try and listen online.

Canons exploding ...
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum, [Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree]
du kannst mir sehr gefallen! [Of all the trees most lovely]

The news had come out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
The Allied command ignored all of its men
And called on Snoopy to do it again.

Twas the night before Christmas, 40 below
When Snoopy went up in search of his foe
He spied the Red Baron, fiercely they fought
With ice on his wings Snoopy knew he was caught.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ring out from the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man

The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights
He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight
Why he didn't shoot, well, we'll never know
Or was it the bells from the village below.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

The Baron made Snoopy fly to the Rhine
And forced him to land behind the enemy lines
Snoopy was certain that this was the end
When the Baron cried out, "Merry Christmas, my friend"

The Baron then offered a holiday toast
And Snoopy, our hero, saluted his host
And then with a roar they were both on their way
Each knowing they'd meet on some other day.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

Oh Dear, I Checked With The Oracle

As if one new language isn't enough ...
Click on the link and you too can find out which language you should learn.

You Should Learn French

C'est super! You appreciate the finer things in life... wine, art, cheese, love affairs.
You are definitely a Parisian at heart. You just need your tongue to catch up...

Today ...

I learned that my Nederlands SERIES of examinations begin December 19 ... why why why!! It's Christmas ... in New Zealand we would be preparing for strawberries and cherries, the children would be finished at school for 2 months and the days would be getting longer and hotter. Instead the news is all ... well 'interesting'.

I have the exams ... one for listening, one for speaking and one for writing ... I was counting on a writing one, quite frankly. I have to get 60% or higher to pass and move onto the next level. Sigh.

And then there was this today: Severe winter forecast for Western Europe. Amid forecasts the Belgian Ardennes will be covered in snow by the end of the week, British forecasters have warned of a severe winter across Western Europe.
An old saying suggests that if October is warm and fine, a severe winter will follow and British meteorologists are forecasting the same. The warning has sparked deep concern in Britain where government authorities fear a shortage of gas.
The southern part of Britain is expected to be hit the hardest, along with the bordering area of Europe — including Belgium, Flemish newspaper 'Het Nieuwsblad' reported on Monday. It is being forecast as the coldest winter in 50 years.
"We have had a pattern of very mild winters in recent years, so this will come as a shock," Royal Meteorological Institute spokesman Ewen McCallum said.

However, Katherine Neville's latest book arrived in the post, a birthday gift from my lovely man, and he did make a rather exquisite shrimp risotto for dinner, and we did have to finish the white wine he used to cook it ...

I'm off to Brussels tomorrow - to hang out with Alison, the Canuck. A tram and two trains are involved, so I'm not certain sure about getting there quite as planned, there may be a tale to tell of wandering between floors in Brussels Centraal Station ... but let's see it. I always feel so remarkably clever when I find myself on a train traveling to Brussels ... don't ask me why but there's just this quiet feeling of 'oh wow, I'm a grown-up'.

Goede nacht.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Football, Books and Wine ...

Ahhh, 24 hours are rarely so happily spent ...

Last night, Gert and I went to the football as guests of a retired local businessman ... this translates as, instead of sitting out in the stands, as we normally do, we were up in the business seats behind glass, and therefore protected from the 4oC frosty night air.

Not only that, but we had to join our lovely host down in the bar at halftime, and stay on drinking after the match ... and what a match. I have had my doubts about football (soccer before I moved here) but sometimes, if you look past the hollywood response to a tackle, and the deliberate cunning of some fouls ... just sometimes the games are superb. Last night's game was superb.

Antwerpen came back from being 0-1 down within the first 3 minutes to win 4-3.

Then this morning we had our Belgie (sounds like Bel-hea) breakfast, of pistolets and chocolat pudding with coffee for me and an earl grey for Gert ... before heading into the city. (Belgie is what the Belgians call Belgium ... just by the way)

There is a little square, called De Conick Plein, here in Antwerpen, and the city is trying to open it up to the people again. There have been problems with drugs, prostitution and the occasional stabbing ... but despite all this, it's pretty and reminded me of my beloved Campo de Fiori in Rome. The city has built a new library there, and a there's a rather flashy cafe next door ... but everything else is orignial.

As part of the reclaimation, they have begun hosting a monthly booksale there ... sigh, it was bliss. Afterwards, Gert and I sought shelter from the cutting wind (not dissimilar to the one they call 'The Barber' down in Invercargill, New Zealand), and drank hot coffee and soup, in a desperate attempt to get warmth back into our frozen selves.

Home for lunch before popping out to his friend's wine tasting .... sigh, I'm not sure what you can pick up from the website, but he specialises in Spanish wines and it was a more than delicious way to spend a rather foggy and cold Antwerpen Sunday.

I am glowing after extensive tastings (Alison ... you and Andrew will have to come to the next one, mid-December). Coincidentally, we met Gert's parents there, with their neighbours, and ended up doing most of the tasting as a group of 6, which was fun.

Any Antwerpen locals who end up by chance on my site, should surely check out Guy's (Kiwis ... Guy is pronounced Hee over here) Spanish wines ...

Thursday, November 17, 2005


I recently had the great good fortune to receive a can of Milo in the post ... dear Lizzie, I will never be able to thank her enough.

Milo ... every New Zealander knows about Milo. They sing songs about it ... okay, advertising jingles, but it has entered the psyche of so many New Zealanders.

Lizzie, hmmm I met her when I was at university, we studied English Lit together. By some terrible twist of fate, her parents had two children who were both exactly half my age at some point in our 2 or 3 years studying.

I think Lizzie was 17 when we met, and I was 34, then came her irrepresible brother, Davie, and he was 18 when I was 36. A cruel and unusual pain for such nice people to inflict on a gentle soul such as myself.

Anyway, Lizzie was recently in London ... working on her PhD. We didn't quite manage the meeting, but during a phone call we talked of Milo, and much to my surprise, I discovered that Nestles Milo was for sale over there. She asked if I'd like some, and I wanted to be polite, but how could I resist ...

The can arrived last week ... slightly battered while in transit, but in full and complete working order.

Winter blew in from the North Pole yesterday, making rock melons with ice cream out on the balcony a thing of memory ... tonight I'm making a new memory, here at my desk. It's all about Milo in winter, and it works here too.

A cup of real milk, 2 minutes in the microwave, 1 sugar and 2 teaspoons of Milo ... and I'm someplace like home.

Thank you Lizzie.

Raw Herring

I was in the midst of my first social gathering with Gert's entire family when I tasted raw Herring. It would have been rude to say no and so, as with the special liver dish in Edirne, Turkey, I did as the natives were doing and ate.

It was superb! I'd always had this idea that raw fish would be tasty. I grew up near the beach, and was more than familiar with mouthfuls of salt water ... and so, it seemed to me that anything that grew in it had to taste good. Bluff Oysters confirmed it, and later, Scallops and Mussels, Blue Cod and Gropher convinced me.

But raw fish ... You know, growing up in Mosgiel did place some limits on my culinary development. World cruisine didn't really hit town in those days of my childhood, and my Southern Hemisphere, South Pacific upbringing may have caused me to look with suspicion (and a naughty jaundiced eye) on all things that emerge from the dirty ol' Northern Hemisphere seas. I imagine many a nuclear submarine, wrecked and leaking its poison, and then there's the sheer mass of population on this side of the world... what's a girl to think?

So here I am, living in Belgium ... enclosed by some of the big name countries that specialised in acid rain and the like, and I'm eating raw fish from the North Sea. As I sit here, I can see the nuclear power plant, about 3kms from me as the crow flies, belching it's 'condensation clouds'. And just across the river from the 'twin towers of evil', I can see the flame flare of the worlds' second largest maritime petro-chemical centre burning off whatever it is that it has to burn off sometimes.

But the Herring is so good ... and what's the problem with a little glow in dark if one is amongst friends. (November 15, 2005)

In the two years I've been out of New Zealand, there are 'things New Zealand' that I've missed, but accepted as lost while I wander. Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque went some way to filling the void, and living in Istanbul created its own excitements and challenges. And even now, relocated in Belgium, I can live without regrets for things lost ... Vegemite, pineapple chunks and proper chocolate,with fillings like peppermint and caramello (writes the woman who lives in the land of the supremely made chocolate but, just sometimes, I do long for what I know), and oddly enough, battered fish from a good fish and chip shop (rarely had while home, often craved for here).

But more to the point, Kim Hill was the goddess of Radio New Zealand when I left, and she was perhaps the most difficult NZ media presenter to live without ... her interviewing technique, humour and knowledge saved me in many of my smalltown New Zealand locations over the years.

Today, Corryl sent me a link to Radio NZ on the internet, and as I write this, I'm listening to RNZ archives, and Kim is interviewing Hector O'hEochagai, a foreign correspondent in Galway. It's bliss!!

News on the diet front ... it's off. I've chosen happiness in these days of struggling as a poor lonely writer in her cold attic garret. (Well, Gert's at work all day, and the apartment is on the top floor ... and it is cold if I turn the heating off, I'm writing - there are elements of truth in this if you search for them.)

New Weekend in Mesen, Belgium (November 13, 2005)

Yesterday was sublime. I died and spent a little time in heaven, and guess what, there were Kiwis there.

Anton had sent out his monthly newsletter to 'New Zealanders in Belgium', and I had noticed that Mesen was celebrating the 30th year of its twinning relationship with Featherston, New Zealand.

'Mesen has special significance for New Zealanders', to quote Anton, 'as the scene of a major and highly successful attack by NZ troops in 1917. The people of Mesen have never forgotten that they were liberated, for a short time, from the Germans. Mesen fell into German hands again in early 1918.

Gert and I had to miss most of it, as we have the children at the moment, and Mesen (also known as Messines in French) is about 140kms from Antwerpen. Two names because towns too near the 'language borders' within Belgium - where Flanders becomes Wallonia, or vice versa, often have two names for their towns, with dual languages spoken, or perhaps a weighting on one - Dutch for Flanders and French in Wallonia.

We missed the wreath laying ceremonies around Mesen on Friday - Armistice Day here in Belgium, and didn't quite get to see the exhibition opening that celebrates the relationship with Featherston, and nor did we see Friday night's concert however, by the skin of our teeth, we arrived on the Saturday in time to watch Ngati Ranana (a London-based Maori cultural group) perform. They were a pleasure to watch, and entranced the mainly Belgian audience... receiving a standing ovation at the end of their 45 minute performance.

I have to admit to being slightly distracted from the moment I arrived in the town hall. There were trestle tables groaning with some our own spectacular NZ wines. Not only were they there, glasses were constantly Filled with samples of some of the best wines I've tasted in ages ... I do wish I'd written the names but as I said, I was in heaven, and one clearly doesn't have time to takes notes while visiting.

Over the afternoon, I had two Merlots and a magnificent little Pinot Noir, and then a Kiwi wandered over with a lovely white wine that I never identified. BUT, that's not all ... complimenting the NZ wines was the most exquisitely cooked venison, lamb and beef I've had in my life. (Hunter Shaw's cooked venison steak is perhaps the only challenge to the sublimely superb cooked NZ meats tasted yesterday).

The chef is the resident NZ embassy chef, and he is surely an angel ...
I was sad to leave, and disappointed to miss today's Kiwi expat bar-be-que over in Kortrijk, but Nikki and Marco have Scouts here in Antwerpen, and anyway, after two days of NZ wines, how would I ever survive a return to normal life.

Ahhh real life ... Monday I start learning to count in Dutch ... een, twee, drie, vier, vijf, zes, zeven, acht, negen and tien.

Tot ziens.

New Zealand Spreek And The Dutch Alphabet (November 10, 2005)

Today, my Dutch teacher gave the class an oral spelling quiz, after teaching us the sounds of the alphabet. Dear God, what suffering ...

I have to try and memorise one or two things ...
You see, it's like this: 'a' sounds like 'r' to me, and the Dutch 'r' involves vibrating my tongue and rrrrrrrrrolling the 'r' out of my mouth.

'I' is an 'e' for me, and a Dutch 'e' is an 'a'.
'G' is a 'hee', and 'h' is an exhalation of air that creates the 'haa' sound.
'K' sounds like 'car', and 'q' sounds like 'coo'.
"u' involves me pursing my lips, pretending to blow someone a kiss then saying 'uu' while my lips are still kiss-shaped.
'Z' has a t on the end of the sound ... like this: 'zet',
and v become 'vay' and 'w' become 'way',
y is ipsilon.

Back in class, things became slightly desperate when it came time for the oral spelling test, and had to write down a word that used 27 of these torturous letters ... schrijfvaardigheidstraining ... meaning 'writing ability training'.

I picked up more than 80% on my first test, but was almost completely destroyed by 'i', 'e' and 'a' ... it seems my vowel pronunciation may finally need a little fine tuning ... I never believed it until now.

Gert had to smile when he pointed out how many of the problematic letters my name contains ... he's offered to help me practise with oral quizzes.

One Dark (And Not Quite Stormy) Night (November 10, 2005)

Sitting in the darkened foyer of an office building on Grote Markt, Antwerpen, waiting for my ride home after Dutch lessons, I began noting my surroundings. There was a flickering light that produced almost nothing, and the poorly-closing locked doors created a wind tunnel scream, not unlike the rise and fall of tortured souls. Then out in the darkness the bells of Onze Lieve Vrouw Kathedraal began chiming ... a pretty tinkling tune that heralds the arrival of the heavier chimes on the hour ... and it occured to me, that this empty foyer was surely the perfect setting for a movie of urban horrors and haunting.

I had just walked through the deserted Antwerpen alleyways and streets that surround the square, and had been struck by the fact that the city was all but deserted at six on this cold Autumn night.

But despite how it reads, there was nothing eerie or unfriendly about walking alone; I had peered into warmly-lit pubs and restaurants as I passed by and there had been a sense of looking in at people at ease in those places... they seemed like people relaxing in their own homes.

Loneliness was therefore a condition of choice, not something imposed on me. At any moment, I could have stepped in out of the cold, and immediately been absorbed into the family of man ... a nice illusion I thought, as France's riots and European immigrant woes came to mind.

The 2001 Lonely Planet claims that Antwerpen 'has some 4000 pubs and cafes' ... the number seems excessive, but perhaps it is true ... it has to be, doesn't it, and anyway, walking to Grote Markt, in the old part of the city, there's no lack of places to drink and eat.

Tonight, Antwerpen was a city of rain-darkened cobblestones and empty alleyways; of warmly-lit pubs and welcoming restaurants ... and I have enough knowledge of place to add a few really good bookshops to what was visibly welcoming ... and somehow, all of it combined to produce a feeling that this Kiwi might just have found a place she could call home.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Snorting Icing Sugar In Antwerpen (October 18, 2005)

This is a story about a Belgian/Dutch treat called 'Smoutebol' by the Belgians and 'Oliebol' by the Dutch, now to be known as 'a trap for innocent Kiwis' in English.

Gert and I went wandering on Sunday. We had a day to ourselves, and wanted to enjoy it. We caught the No. 11 tram to the city (Tram 24 should disappear from this site as I avoid it), and got off in the city centre.

The first big victory was locating a 'new' International Magazine shop. I just might have had words with an incredibly rude woman at the Magazine shop we were using ... sigh.

So I was happiness-filled, but then the gods decided to heap more good things upon us, and caused Gert to remember the 'Provence, Alpes, Cote d'Azur' tourism people were in the city, at the end of their 2 week promotion. It was the presence of the Camargue horses in Grote Markt that reminded him actually. We 'trotted' off to the French market, along with so many other Antwerpens on that very warm October day, but due to the heat and the crush of people, we didn't stay long ... but how nice it was to be amongst exquisite soap, wine and olive displays and stalls.

And then we come to the Smoutebol feast. Antwerpenites intrigue me, they have that European thing going ... confident, well-dressed, (or confidently dressed as they please - which is quite different to the first. I feel at home on city streets), and so when I first saw them eating their famous waffles out on the streets I was somehow surprised. In the same way I had been surprised by the large number of older couples holding hands openly as they walked ... street eating isn't really something that I recall Kiwis doing in big numbers.

There are waffle places everywhere ... little hole-in-the-wall operations, very clean, bright and smelling so good, and you can buy yourself a hot waffle, a chocolate or cream-covered waffle, whenever the need overcomes you, or you are overcome by the greed-need from the scent given off by waffles cooking.

Smoutebol is something else. They drop balls of a doughnut-like dough into hot fat and leave them to cook. The dough balls puff up into little round balls, and a paper cone is prepared for them. They pour them in, and they're a good size ... hmmm, about 8cms, if you were measuring their height, and then they are absoloutely drowned in icing sugar.

Now, imagine a slight breeze, 8 very hot Smoutebollen (that Gert has led me to believe must be eaten while still hot, a claim I'm suspicious of), and a ton of icing sugar which creates a falling shower of sugar that you can't escape. We stood on the main shopping street, every bite burning my mouth and, covering my clothes and face in a sprinkling of icing sugar ...

I need to research them ... I'll let you know what's possible in the days ahead

Christmas In Belgium

It's early, I know, but I'm all aquiver about celebrating my first serious Christmas in two years. Christmas things are beginning to be talked about here, and there are things I needed to learn about the Belgian celebrations.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the family will gather and feast on December 25, with gifts for the adults however, the children receive their gifts from St Nicholas (or Sint Nikolaas) on December 6, and he is assisted in the delivery by Black Peter (or Zwarte Piet which is the Dutch name for the Moorish helper who travels with St. Nicholas).

The festivities really begin in November, with St Nicholas and his helpers checking up on the children who come to see him, by looking in his big book of information that tells him which children have been good and done their best through the year. They call this the Sinterklaas season and it's really a children's festival, with December 6 being childrens day.

On the evening of December 5th, the children put their shoes or small baskets on the hearth or beside the door, with carrots, turnips and a sugar lump for St Nicholaas' horse, believing that he rides over the rooftops, dropping his gifts down the chimneys - or that he leads a donkey laden with baskets full of treats and toys for children.

In the morning, they find that their shoes have been filled with Speculoos cookies (Dutch spiced cookies, often made in the shape of Sinterklaas and Piet, traditionally served on St. Nicholas Day), oranges, marzipan and toys. The treats are meant to be shared and not hoarded. Bad children, of which there are none, would find twigs instead of gifts.

However, this is only one version ... another version emerges from Turkey ... read on:

Saint Nicholas wasthe Bishop of Myra. His feast Day is celebrated onDecember 6, and he is the patron of: seafarers, scholars, bankers, pawnbrokers, jurists, brewers, coopers, travelers, perfumers, unmarried girls, brides, robbers and especially - children.
The character of Santa Claus is copied from the life of a real person, a saint named Saint Nicholas. The name 'Saint Nicholas' even sounds like 'San-ta claus,' especially in the Dutch language. The Dutch veneration of 'Sinter Klaus' was brought to North America with the Dutch settlers and eventually became the story of Santa Claus that everyone knows.
Saint Nicholas, like St. Wenceslaus and St. Lucy, was a saint. He was the bishop of a city named Myra in Turkey in the early part of the 4thcentury. His feast day is December 6th because he died on December 6 or 7 in the middle of the fourth century. Feast days celebrate the entry of the saint's soul into Heaven.

The most famous story told about St. Nicholas has to do with three young sisters who were very poor. Their parents were so poor that they did not have enough money for the daughters to get married. Every young girl needed money to pay for the wedding and to set up house for themselves. Nicholas heard about this family and wanted to help them, but he did not want anyone to know that he was the one who was helping them.

The story is told in a few different ways. In one version, he climbed up on their roof three nights in a row and threw gold coins down their chimney so that they would land in the girls' stockings, which had been hung by the fire to dry. After two of his daughters had been able to marry because of the money mysteriously appearing in their stockings, the father was determined to find out who was helping them, so he hid behind the chimney the next night. Along came Bishop Nicholas with another bag of money. When he was discovered, he asked the father not to tell anyone else, but the father wanted everyone to know what a good and generous man the Bishop Nicholas was, so he told everyone he knew. That is how we have the story and the tradition of stocking full of gifts today.

If you want to read more, I will leave you with this The detail is fascinating, and quite unlike the stories I heard about Christmas back in New Zealand.