30 June 2007


June 15, 7:00 AM. N drove me to the airport for my last flight home. With nine months of my life packed into three suitcases and two carry-ons, I said goodbye and boarded the plane. At 5:00 PM I landed in Seattle where Z greeted me with flowers and tears.

Washington seems a little strange to me. There are no old buildings and no cobblestone streets. There is not enough walking and too much driving. I never thought I would say this, but it is almost too quiet in our little neighborhood.

Change is hard for me, but I get better every year. I’ve been back home for about a couple of week nows, and so far so good. A few days ago Z and I went for a 35-mile bike ride along the Foothills Trail with gorgeous views of Mount Rainier all along the way. The other night I went for a walk and saw the most beautiful rainbow over the Cascade mountains. At this very moment I'm in Ohio visiting family I haven't seen in almost a year. People smile and say hello when they pass you in the street. Best of all, I am back with my partner, enjoying being a team again.

I love Belgium. I can’t wait to go back. I already miss my friends and hope to see them again soon, here or there. So, here’s one last look back:

And now a new chapter begins: from muziekmeisje to madbyrd. See you there!

12 June 2007

The Last Supper

One of my college friends used to curse the “fun food” fad in America. In the states we enter the restaurant and are immediately tempted by bright signs with plates full of heaping, colorful, artificial-looking food. We pop deep fried things into our mouths and wash it down with a “big gulp”-sized drink. We top it off with a sugar-laden dessert. And we usually do it all in less than an hour.

Soon after I arrived in Belgium back in September I learned that Belgians eat for all the right reasons: to socialize, to relax, and, most importantly, to enjoy food. They eat slowly, thoughtfully, perfect-sized portions of fresh, real food. They drink something that compliments the meal, not to wash it away. They (generally) don’t get antsy if the service is slow, because what’s the rush? After the meal they leave the restaurant satisfied and pleasantly full.

After nine months of lovely, if all too-infrequent dining experiences, I knew I had yet to experience the best of eating in Belgium. I think in one of my first posts I noted that Belgians are proud of their culinary culture and believe that what they offer equals if not surpasses their French neighbors. After my experience at Beluga I agree whole-heartedly.

N, S, and D took me to Beluga as a sort of “final hurrah.” After a drink on the Oude Markt we headed over to this tiny restaurant tucked away in the Krankenstraat. The dining room consisted of only 5 or so tables, laid out in front of the kitchen which was run by a young-ish husband-and-wife team. We began with a light sparkling wine from Italy and a raw oyster on the half shell. The wine: lovely. The oyster: could have done without. BUT my culinary experience only went up from there. The first course consisted on a delicate white fish seasoned with a nutty cream sauce. This was followed by a tasty mussel soup (my first and only time eating in mussels in Belgium!) The main course was a very nice white fish with a risotto and vegetable (my memory gets a little hazy here as the wine was flowing rather freely at this point!) The dessert was a perfect little spice cake with ice cream, and, thanks to D, I managed to get two servings of it. As the restaurant emptied out we were left to visit with the owner, W, who proceeded to bring out a very fine port and grappa to polish off the meal. After 7 hours were finally stumbled out, drunk and happy, and headed to the Oude Markt for one final drink. When I arrived at home the sun was rising and the birds were singing.


Eating out will never be the same.

08 June 2007

The Thrill of Archival Work

Really? you ask. The thrill? But bear with me. When one's life has been little more than drab libraries, soft-lead pencils, and itchy eyes, one can't help but get excited by the discoveries of others in their own archival pursuits. Especially when those pursuits lead to that rare, unexpected find.

I have never claimed that my work on Peter Philips mattered much to anyone but me. Even as far as history is concerned, my topic can have little impact on our understanding of the greater good. So congratulations to the anonymous archivist who stumbled across this little note while researching for something completely unrelated!

Read the letter. . . check out that signature. . . what a find!! Ah, I am nearly breathless with excitement of behalf of our anonymous friend (damn him/her!) Anyone who knows me knows that I am fascinated by military history, especially our American Civil War. Maybe this comes from my mother's insistance to drag her poor children to various battlefield sites and cemeteries when we were kids. To read more about this story, click here.

(I am dreadfully behind on my blogging. Stay tuned for posts about my recent trip to England and my final days here in Belgium!)

25 May 2007

Procession of the Holy Blood

Sounds potentially gory, right? The Procession of the Holy Blood is held every year on Ascension Day, which this year was May 17. It is an ancient tradition dating as far back as 1291 when it was first mention in a charter. Although there have certainly been many changes since then, the heart of the event remains the same: the re-enactment of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The final part of the procession is the passing of the golden shrine that houses the Holy Blood itself, the blood of Jesus.

V, A and I were lucky enough to get front-row tickets for this year's procession. I had stupidly left my camera in a locker at the train station, so these pics are courtesy of A.

21 May 2007

Those Dam Dutch

At first glance the Dutch appear to be everything the Flemish are not: they wear brighter clothes, they talk more loudly, and they don't look at their shoes, your shoes, or anyone else's shoes when you walk towards them on the street. They look at your face.

So how is it that only 450 years ago these were all the same people? Before Luther knocked on the old Cardinal's door, the people of the Low Countries lived harmoniously together, eating waffles and digging canals. Contrary to popular belief, however, those in the north weren't encouraged to leave by religion alone. They were drawn away from Antwerp towards Amsterdam by the opportunity to make more money. Merchants decided that rather than give part of their hard-earned cash to the occupying Spanish, they would rather keep it all to themselves. And the fact that they didn't want to worship false idols came as an afterthought. Those lucky Dutch. Amsterdam's position on the North Sea combined with a few profitable colonizations turned it, almost overnight, into the world's richest city in the early seventeenth century.

This fact is plainly obvious, even after only two days in the Netherlands. The churches are small and plain compared to Belgian standards: no elaborate altars, no side chapels full of relics. They are clean, tidy places with sparkling chandeliers, white walls, and large organs. In fact, while some religious fanatics (yes, there were some) wanted to burn the organs along with all the other Catholic icons, many people wisely stepped in, played the money card (organ-building was a lucrative career for many Dutchmen), and saved the organs from destruction.

Seventeenth-century Dutch paintings reflect the people's wealth in numerous ways. The people are central: men and women wearing massive lace collars and expensive jewelry. They are often pictured in their familiar surroundings, whether it be an elaborate sitting room or a tropical plantation in the Dutch East Indies. I spent two hours wandering through the masterpiece collection of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum--some of the best Dutch paintings around--and found barely a single representation of religion.

Dutch architecture is wonderfully varied. The rooftops are marked by the famous gables, false fronts that are meant to enhance sharply-pitched roofs. They come in all shapes and sizes and are sometimes decorated with animal and human heads, garlands, urns, scrolls, and curlicues. The gables have such names as Point, Bell, Step, and Spout. And, according to Rick Steves there is "probably even a clark gable, but frankly, I don't give a damn."

My favorite thing about Holland is its willingness to flaunt itself in all its rich, varied glory. Tacky sex shops line up right alongside the upscale cigar bars. While in Belgium your elderly neighbor drinks strong beer, in Holland she can (and probably does!) smoke pot. The tacky signs of tourism are everywhere, and yet you can be in the lovely, tree-lined Jordaan district in a matter a blocks.

So what do the Flemish have to say about their northern neighbors? They don't know how to cook. They are too loud. They are penny-pinchers. What do I say about the Dutch? Well, from what I tasted they really don't know how to cook. But eating aside, the Dutch know how to relax, have fun, and be themselves. I can't wait to go back!

15 May 2007


And now, as the anxiety of last week slowly melts away, I find myself boarding a train for a long-awaited destination: Amsterdam! See you next week!

13 May 2007


(The part where I complain)

I'm getting antsy, bored, a little burned out on my friend Peter Philips.

It was bound to happen. How long can a person possibly do just one thing for an entire year? Well, I guess I've been doing more than one thing. But as far as brain food, it's been nothing but Philips, Philips, Philips. Philips in Brussels, Philips in Antwerp, Philips in Spanish, French, Dutch, Latin . . . And I haven't even started writing yet!


(The part where I rationalize)

It was partly this most recent trip to the states. I got on the podium for the first time since last July. Ahhhh, what a rejuvenation! I was anxious for weeks ahead that I would have somehow forgotten how to conduct, when in fact I just plain missed it. I can't wait to get back on the concert stage!

I also realize that my time here is nearly up. I leave in just over one month! Rather than enjoy the time I have left, all I want to know is . . . what's next? This kind of restlessness is a typical springtime reaction for me: Will I be working? If so, where? When will I find time to write? Will I want to write? When will I graduate? What about juggling schedules with Z? Will we need another car? If so, how can we afford a new car if I'm not working? Will I be working . . .


(The part where I engage in dialogue)

I've been giving Z an earful on my restlessness/anxiousness all week. In return, he has given me that much-needed dose of perspective.

Me: "I can't take much more of this research. I'm soooooo unmotivated."

Z: "Well, how much more do you have to do?"

Me: "I could work on this topic forever! But I don't have time. I still need to go to the Netherlands, England, Rome, maybe Germany."

Z (with that sarcastic *poor thing* look on his face): "You don't have to do it all, just do what you can and enjoy yourself."

Me: "How can I enjoy myself when I haven't seen the $#*(&@ sun in over a week? Stupid Belgian weather."

Z (cheerfully): "Well, welcome to my--"

Me (clearly not listening): "And what about next year? What will I do?"

Z: "Dear, maybe--"

Me: "MAN I've had enough of Peter Philips. I'm tired of seeing his name during the day, his imaginary face in my dreams. Geez, how much more of a nerd can I be?"

Z (starting to straighten up his desk): "Mmm-hmmmm . . ."

Me: "So, what should I do?"

Z: "Sounds good, dear."

Me: "What? Have you been listening?"

Z: "OK, good luck with that. Gotta go . . . grade papers . . . and stuff . . ." (I know perfectly well he's going to the couch to watch basketball.)

Me: "WHAT?!?"

Eventually after I calm down a bit Z imparts his sage words of wisdom: "Don't spend your last weeks worrying about everything you have to do. Remember, you're only writing a dissertation, not the seminal study on the life and work of Peter Philips. Do that later if you want. Right now just relax and enjoy!"


(The part where I accept)

He's right, of course. I've spent all year living the stress-free life of an American abroad, soaking up the slow-paced European way of life, food, and drink. I would hate to flush that all down the toilet over a man who's been dead for almost 400 years.


Breathe deep, straighten my shoulders, do a little work . . . and relax!