24 April 2007

The One where I Find Stuff

It was Wednesday. Another gloriously sunny day here in Belgium, and I was getting a little cranky at having to stay cooped up in an archives in the middle of a remarkably-unattractive neighborhood in Brussels. I was sweeping quickly through a rekening (a ledger), looking at the income and expenses of a Confraternity at Saint-Gudula in Brussels. I was looking to see if the con had ever purchased music similar to that written by Peter Philips for their devotional services. And, low and behold, this is what I found:

A rough translation: Peter Philips was actually a member of this confraternity! And not only was he a member, but he was such a prestigious member that he could afford to establish an annual mass given in his name. And see that little word in front of the one in front of his name? Wylen. It means "recently deceased." I already knew that he had died in this particular year (1628), but now we may have a good idea of where he is buried. (Shall I grab a shovel?) This little bit of information basically unlocks a whole new part of his life that no one has ever explored. Until now. Feeling that Mr. Burns urge again: "Ah, Smithers . . . "

Though it would have been better if I had found this last fall, for now this could not be a more timely find. Earlier that day I was getting so discouraged that the only thing that lifted my spirits was this. But I warn you, only look at it if you dare: it's a rather R-rated entry!

20 April 2007

Time Out on the Vismarkt

Spring is here in Belgium. Since I returned from my spring break to the states it's been sunny nearly every day. The air is warm, the trees are green, the flowers have bloomed. The best part about spring in Belgium is that all the cafe terraces are open! And last week I discovered a new favorite: De Blauwe Schuit on the Vismarkt. It has a self-contained garden patio shaded by a huge tree with nesting birds (watch out!) and a great beer list. When I went last week with D, S, and H, I decided that the perfect pairing for a warm spring evening would be a fruit beer.

Fruit beer has a bit of a bad reputation in the states. It either represents a watery, seasonal beer that tries a little too hard to be good (I tried blueberry beer once in Boston--ick), or it means Zima with a lime, a truly high-quality beer for young undergrads trying to get very drunk very quickly. In Belgium, however, fruit beers are tasty without being too sweet. The most common ones are cherry, raspberry, peach, and black currant. Among the several brands available in Belgium, the one I ordered (and one of the most common) was Lindemans.

I've said it before: the cafe culture in Belgium is not to be missed. And when paired with fine beer, well, it makes it all the harder to think about leaving. I've been in recent discussion with Z about possibly bringing him back for a couple of weeks this summer before I leave, if for nothing else than to share these kinds of local experiences with me. We talk about it, get caught up in the romantic notion of summering away the days in cafes. Then we remember that we also want to do a fair amount of traveling in the states this summer: east coast and Ohio to visit family, maybe up to Victoria and Vancouver for a long weekend. And, oh yeah, what about that house down payment we keep talking about?

Luckily, the pace of life moves so slowly here in Belgium that the cafes and fine beer will always be here, ready and waiting for our next visit together! And in case you are in doubt as to whether or not you would enjoy it, here are a couple of spring pics to tempt you.

A windmill in Bruges

The botanical gardens in Antwerp

Yoga in Leuven's Stadpark

At the bio-engineering building in Leuven

17 April 2007

In the news

Mondays are difficult days to conduct archival study in Belgium. All city, provincial, and national archives are closed. Private archival institutions are generally open, and so yesterday I took advantage of a long-awaited trip to see an original Roman Breviary (1610) at the Plantin Archives in Antwerp. This would have been nearly identical to a Breviary that Peter Philips would have had at his disposal at the Archducal court in Brussels. It was a simple book, mass-produced for all religious institutions of Catholic Europe, and chock-full of images of Saints, martyrdom, and, of course, Mary. But I stray . . .

The Archives closed at 4PM, so I left to meet a friend on the beautiful summer-like afternoon. We walked, we parted, and then on my way to the train station, where I was to catch a train to choir practice in Bruges, I ran into another friend. We dined on the best Pad Thai I've had in Belgium, and off I went again to the station. On my way I got a call from my friend N, about to travel from Leuven to Bruges for choir:

"There's been a strike."

When I got to the station, at 6:30 on a busy Monday afternoon, sure enough I was met with a departure board that had only one train listed. And event though it was going to Bruges, there would be no guarantees that I would be able to get back to Leuven that night. So I decided against choir practice waited for a train. And rather than bore you with the mundane details of my sitting in a station, on a train, at another station, I'll just say that two hours later, I was finally home.

This was the big news in Belgium yesterday, but of course when I checked the New York Times headlines before heading to bed I was met with a very different story out of Virginia.

I have spent half of my life living and working on college campuses. They are unique communities that are in part designed to be safe havens for working, studying, and living. Eight years ago this week we watched TV and saw kids running out of a high school in Colorado. Several years ago a music professor was shot and killed on the college campus where Z now works. And then this.

Gun violence is horrific. And this kind of gun violence seems to be unique to the United States. Almost 1/3 of the world's 600 million guns are owned by Americans. I remember from when we lived in Texas that just about anyone can buy a gun at Walmart. What's wrong with this picture?

There isn't much else to say, I guess, but see how events unfold at Virginia Tech and wonder what tomorrow's news will bring.

15 April 2007

Duality and Process

These three words head up the several-hundred page dissertation my dear husband just mailed in to the University of Iowa. As of mid-May we will be "Dr. and Mrs. L." I am so proud!!

Of course, HE did all his research in English . . . :)

14 April 2007

Peter Philips, I Presume?

One of the joys of researching someone with a name like "Peter Philips" is the frequency with which both names appear in a variety of forms. This past week, for example, I've been examining the books of the Church Fabric at Sint-Goedele in Brussels. Philips didn't actually work there, but it's possible some of the music he composed would have been used in the cathedral's side chapels. So rather than taking a detailed look, I've just been skimming the pages for his name. After two full days, and several hundred pages, I've come up with only one entry.

This is something I do often, with a variety of different kinds of documents, and in several different languages. The name "Peter Philips" actually appears in many linguistic forms: Pierre Philippes in French, Petrus Philippus in Latin, Pedro Philippe in Spanish, Pieter (or Peeter) Philips in Dutch. Sometimes "Philips" is also just shortened to "Phls." And since none of the documents I'm looking at are in English, I can't just look for plain, old Peter Philips.

Just looking for the name "Philips" also presents problems in itself. For example, during the period which I'm studying we have:
  • Philip II and Philip III, Kings of Spain
  • A "Grd" (Gerard?) Philips, who was also working at the Archducal Court
  • A Phillippe was also a monetary value used in the Low Country at this time
  • Thomas Phellippes, an English cipher working for Walsingham

This last one poses a particular problem because of my recent theory that Peter Philips was actually more involved in plots to bring down Queen Elizabeth than previously thought. The regional spellings differences make the distinction between my Philips and this Thomas Phellippes a problematic one.

But maybe I shouldn't complain too much. After all, my composer could be named "John Smith."

09 April 2007

Europe's Laughingstock

I started today with my usual morning routine: a cup of coffee and a look at the headlines. And there, on the front of the New York Times, was a picture of a woman dressed in medieval clothing sitting at a spinning wheel. The article's headline: "Belgians Hail the Middle Ages (Well, Not the Plague Part)."

This already didn't look good. Hurray for Belgium for making the front page about something other than Justine Henin's latest tennis match. But what's up with the title? I quickly read through the article. Sure enough, the author--I will call him Mr. B in case you decide not to read it yourself--was highlighting Flemish men and women who spend part of their lives living in the middle ages. They go about their daily lives and then retire to towers and tents on the weekends, "roughing it" medieval style.

Mr. B determined that part of its fascination with the past was because Belgium suffers from a lack of contemporary national identity. According to a Belgian psychologist, "little Belgium is fed up with being Europe's laughingstock." There is a quick word about the extreme right Vlaams Belang, another tidbit about young people's interest in studying medieval history. The rest of the article focuses on the general "quaintness" of people wanting to stomp around in wooden shoes and drink spiced wine.

If Belgium is trying to shed its label as "Europe's laughingstock," then, well, this article certainly doesn't help. The title itself is "silly and quaint." There are real issues here: extreme nationalism, prejudice again Muslim immigrants, and the general apathy among young people to do anything about them. Belgium's problems may mean little to others, but certainly its people would rather the world talk about them instead of about this.


My morning coffee must be stronger than usual.

07 April 2007

Three Americans in Paris

(This is a post I've had lingering in my "edit" box for weeks!)

I am kicking myself. I am kicking myself because I've been living in Belgium for six months and have only just recently gotten around to visiting Paris. Had I known it was so easy and inexpensive I would have done it long ago! The Thalys runs trains every half-hour from the South Station in Brussels to the North Station in Paris. So for only about 30 euros and 2 hours each way, you can have an easy, scenic trip to one of the greatest cities on earth!

At first glance Paris appears to be everything a city should be: clean, cosmopolitan, and welcoming. The Louvre sparkles, even when the skies are gray as they were when we first arrived. The Eiffel Tower glitters at night with bright lights that are spectacular and tasteful at the same time. The subway is cheap and easy to use, the food is divine, and the people are friendly. Yes, that's right: friendly.

But I should remind you that everything stated above was "at first glance." We barely had time for a second glance, having only spent about 36 hours breezing through the top sights. So it was more of a teaser than an actual visit. Here's a quick run-down of a whirlwind visit that I think would even make Rick Steves proud!
  • March 7, 9:30 AM. Depart Leuven for Brussel-Zuid Station. Mom and dad get an "Americano" coffee to go.
  • 10:10 AM. Brussel-Zuid. Scramble to get one more coffee before boarding the Thalys.
  • 10:30 AM. Thalys pulls out of Station. Soon dad wanders to the cafe car for more coffee.
  • 11:45 AM. Arrive in Paris Nord. Dodge the gypsies on our walk to the hotel near station.
  • 12:00 PM. I attempt (in what is possibly my worst French ever) to check us in. The hotel clerk actually smiles warmly (!!!!) at my efforts and helps me through the conversation. Things are looking good!
  • 12:30 PM. After dropping the bags we head for the nearest subway station and try to figure out how to get to the Louvre.
  • 1:00 PM. Arrive at the Louvre with no problems. Our first view is absolutely jaw-dropping.
  • 2:00 PM. After a light lunch we begin a suggested walking tour that takes us along the Seine to the beautiful Ile de la Cite. Along the way we stop at Square du Vent Galant, Ste-Chapelle, and Notre Dame.
  • 5:00 PM. After a quick snack of crepes we take the metro over to the Arc de Triomphe. Mom and I walk the 500 steps up to catch a wide-sweeping view of the Champs-Elysees.
  • 6:30 PM. Begin walking towards the Eiffel Tower along beautiful (and ritzy) Avenue George V.
  • 8:00 PM. Take elevator up to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower to see the Paris skyline at night. Ahhhhh...
  • 9:00 PM. Late dinner and return to the hotel.
  • March 8, 9:00 AM. After a quick coffee it's back to the Musee du Louvre for a look at the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, along with a glancing look at literally thousands of other wonderful pieces of art.
  • 12:00 PM. Grab sandwiches (mine was a delicious blue cheese ciabatta) and eat lunch "European-style" in the sun in the Louvre courtyard. We linger and enjoy.
  • 1:30 PM. Wander past the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel towards the gorgeous Jardin du Carrousel. Mom begins to discuss with dad the possibility of a more extended trip to Paris next year.
  • 3:30 PM. Head to the train station to catch a 4:30 train.
  • 7:00 PM. Back in Leuven for dinner.

Phew! If you are still with me then you definitely have the stamina for the kind of trip we took! And what did we do on March 9? Recovered with Belgian waffles, fries, and beer.

Mom and me in front of Notre Dame

Our first view of the Louvre!

The windows at Ste-Chapelle are oldest in Paris, dating from the 13th century.

Notre Dame (this picture actually makes it look smaller than it really is because the people at the bottom are much closer to me than the building!)

The view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

Taking a break at the Arc du Triomphe.

One last look--the Jardin du Carrousel.

06 April 2007

Why, George, WHY?

While I'm generally not one to air my political views on the web, I couldn't let this one pass without at least a little comment. I'm not sure if our president's new choice for US Ambassador to Belgium shows how little he cares for this little country, or if he just won't rest until he gets his own way. My fellow Fulbrighter J said it best: "This would be hilarious if it wasn't so depressing." You can read more about it here.

Maybe I'm just in a sour mood because I'm about to make my first trip to the dentist in almost a year. But, really George, WHY?

05 April 2007

I promise . . .

Now that I have returned from my two-week spring break to the states, I promise to return to more faithful blogging. I have a saved post from my trip to Paris from almost a month ago, as well as other memories from recent trips clunking around in my brain. Here's a taste of what's coming (and an incentive for me to get moving!)

(I admit this last picture isn't mine, but it was the view I had of Mount Rainier on my flight back the other day!)