All things come to a beginning

Monday, July 31, 2006

Poupées Russes

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

The book the guy sitting next to me on the Eurostar train from Brussels to London was reading. I detest Hemingway with a passion.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke

The book that same guy got out after he had heard my condemnation of his first read. We got along much better after that, and took the tube up to Camden Town together for a nice lunch. Edgar, who's working in Belgium's fair capital for some EU thing, was visiting his friend Sandro, who's in London working on an engineering PhD project for BP. After our shared meal, we wandered around Camden for a bit and then split up as I went to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square. A gorgeous, sunny day, lots of life in the city, all around good times.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The excellent book I read at Oliver's - the friend I stayed with this weekend and whom I hadn't seen in seven years. He studies medicine at Merton (I've been taught to name the college rather than just say "Oxford"...Apparently the colleges are all very distinct and pretty autonomous, to the point where "Oxford University" doesn't really exist as such) and showed me around the town he has spent the last four years in. I can see what he loves about being a student there so much: the overwhelming history, the ridiculous amount of resources, the concentration of highly skilled and fiercely ambitious people from all over the world, the sports facilities (including the river where the Oxford-Cambridge competitions take place - it totally reminded me of that scene in Mary Poppins where she steps into the drawing and walks through this park and then the penguins dressed as waiters serve her and Dick Van Dyke ice cream), the student residences...gorgeous stuff.

Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam

The book that started a conversation at Oxford cocktail bar "Raoul's". While Oliver was getting drinks (I recommend "Moonlight" - chocolate flavoured - and "Miss Behiving" - honey & hazelnut), I sat and watched a guy sitting one table down. Shaggy hair, late thirties, white linen shirt, exotic necklace that screamed "I got this from a local villager in a small town on the banks of the Orinoco for nursing her baby back to health using only a piece of cloth and some clay" and...a book refering to broken hearts. Cause what better place to read than a loud bar, right? Can't really blame him though, cause it actually worked. Soon enough a girl with insane cleavage fell for the metroman mystique and approached him. After she had left, I leaned over and pointed out that he had made a grave tactical mistake. What had made her get up and go was her sour friend. By only talking to girl A and not including girl B, girl B soon got bored and irritated and dragged girl A away. If he had only asked her a couple of questions too, he would have had more time and double the chance of walking away with a phone number. He appreciated the advice (thank you John Nash) and we had a nice chat about school, jobs, cocaine habits and the Oxford dating scene.
But of course the main reason I had come over was to spend time with Oliver. Reliance on "Remember that time when...?" tactics was remarkably low - perhaps because 7 years ago we weren't that close either. And yet, here we found ourselves again, chatting away, hanging out, with the occasional Hugh Grant lookalike passing us by. One of the images our conversations kept coming back to was that of Matreshkas, or the Russian dolls that fit into each other. In the movie "Les Poupées Russes" (the sequal to "L'auberge Espagnole), one of the characters uses them as a metaphor for marriage. Our entire lives we continue to dig deeper, to look further in an attempt to find our ultimate partner. Same goes for jobs and houses and a million other things. Realistically, at some point, the search ends. You get tired of being single, of renting a place, of applying and doubting and hesitating and pulling away. So how do you determine when that time has come? Do you keep frantically opening new doors only to find yourself lost in a dark room? With a matreshka so small that she easily slips through your fingers and you're left empty-handed?

Though it feels like I was gone longer than I actually was, Monday morning was there before I knew it. After a yummy breakfast at the "Grand Café" (the two previous mornings, Oliver took me to "The Rose" where I had delicious house tea with "scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam" - tasty tasty). I boarded the coach back to London town - only to arrive there far later than I had intended. Naively hoping they would still let me onto the Eurostar train, I rushed to Victoria station, picked up my suitcase and cradled it as I sprinted to the District Line and then the Northern Line, all the way to the Waterloo stop. Too bloody late. Luckily, I made three great decisions at the customer service desk. One, to stand there looking sweaty and red and as though I had tried my best to make it on time (which I did, just ask all the passengers I shoulder checked on my mad dash through the underground). Two, to blame my tardiness on traffic (as opposed to poor planning on my part). Three, to not get impatient when four separate women came up to the lady who was supposed to be helping me find a way to get home to chat about they felt "absolute shit" last Friday or "how lovely that top looked". Instead, I smiled, listened, empathized, agreed with all that was said and ended up with a new ticket free of charge. Honey and vinegar, right?
Because of the bus mix up I missed the opportunity to meet up with Sandro again - the Italian guy I met on Friday. Though it would have been nice to go up to Soho and stroll around with him, my trip home wasn't too shabby. I was assigned a seat next to Giacomo. That's right, when one door closes, another Italian appears. And this one worked as a pilot and shared his Pringles with me - what more could I have asked for from a fellow passenger? Once we'd said arrivederci in Brussels, I got on the first train to Leuven, which so happened to be the slow one. Rather than speed straight to the Stella brewery, this one has several halts along the way. But hey, I was in no rush to get home, the landscape rolled by looking most charming (Van Gogh-ish colours: golden grain, blue skies), and I had the most exuberantly joyous train conductor come up and check my ticket. Instead of the standard "Thank you" and "here you are", I got "Thank you so much", "Oh, that's absolutely perfect", "How did you enjoy your time in London?" and "Have a fantastic evening!". Good to be back.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Someday can be today

Monday night was a good old fashioned Leuven night: sitting on Oude Markt on a hot (not just warm) summer night with a bunch of friends, hopping between different patios (all the tables and chairs are so close together, it's pretty hard to tell where one cafe's territory ends and another begins). Martin was visiting Leuven, a bunch of uni friends were out & about, and two people I know were performing. This one cafe, Apero, has a singer/songwriter night every Monday. Two people who write their own material and perform on their own get about an hour each to show the world what they are capable of. No cover, no demos for sale, no big heads. Just a guy with a guitar (in this particular case, a guy who bartends at Stuk) or a girl behind a keyboard (on this particular night, a girl I went to high school with) singing about lost love, memorable moments and waking up to find that you've turned into a person you never wanted to be.

There was a great sense of potential about the entire night - hanging out with 20 somethings will do that to you. We've all done our duty: got that high school degree, got that bachelor degree, went through a break-up or two, did some random jobs. And now it's time to take some steps out of personal inspiration. Like the guy who's studying to be a theatre director. Or the girl who's in film school and loving it. The various people trying to take their music up to a higher level, playing gigs, recording demos, networking, improving their skills. The girl who's going to Sweden for a couple of years to do a masters in jewelry design (she's designing a ring for me as we speak and it's going to be just perfect) - right after she's shown some of her stuff at a local gallery (the opening is tonight and you can bet I'll be there). The girl who's interning in Hong Kong for another few weeks and is then returning to LA to finish her Master's. My friend who's already working two jobs, and the one who gets to do a PhD, but also the many friends who are applying and emailing and calling and begging for that first paid stint. It's not about how far you go geographically, how artistic your ambitions are, or how much money is involved (though that is bound to up the "ooooh" factor, an "ooooh" that covers both sincere admiration and sour envy). But about accepting that even if you can't always call the shots in life, you can sure as hell set the tone. Between the trial and error, the lucky breaks and the dark moments of frustration, we're all taking steps forward - in varying degrees of decisiveness (not everyone's proudly marching). Chances are a lot of us are going to fall flat on our faces, and a few of us are going to do absurdly well (and not necessarily the people voted "most likely to" either). But we're all doing something, alone or with a partner, in our hometowns or on the other side of the planet. We're hungry to find a place, a space in which to put our needs and aspirations, to make an outline for our biographies.

Five years from now, several of us might still be found on Oude Markt on hot summer nights, drinking a Palm, watching a live gig. I wonder what kind of position we'll be in, professionally, and personally. If we'll remember what we planned on doing and becoming back when we had just graduated and if the doors we knocked on ever opened. To what extent we will have scaled down our expectations, if we will have chosen security over risk, comfort over uncertainty, familiarity over the unknown. What we will have lost, gained and held on to. Regardless of the outcome, it's going to be a fascinating journey.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

World of Hurt

Though it's definitely not the primary reason, the ridiculous heat wave that has swept big parts of Western Europe (make that, the world) for the past few weeks has put me in a pretty lethargic, non-creative place. Hence the lack of updates. It hasn't all been lethargic, though: I passed the theoretical part of my driver's test, found an internship for next year and attended a Belgian/Scottish wedding last week (I was seated next to Jim, who was not only sporting a kilt, but a cast as well. Turns out he broke his leg falling on a rock after a fishing trip on the lake (loch?). Ha! Stereotypes rock my world). It's been a big week for Scots, Toronto connection Martin is visiting Belgium this week (and promptly showered me in crickets, filthy rascal). Anywho, back to the weather. Not normal. It's been brutally hot for weeks now - in places that are usually fine. The weather's been getting increasingly messed up for years, global warming is no longer the rallying cry of those long-haired Greenpeace activists whose tofurkey breath alone makes you go "Sorry, no time" and march straight into the nearest H&M. It is being felt, right now, by everyone. And frankly, I think it's pretty fucking scary. Hey, good thing I'm taking those driver's tests, huh? This world needs more exhaust fumes, damn it.

This photo, titled "The Truth", is by a woman named Jill Greenberg and is part of the exhibit "End Times" at the LA based Paul Kopeikin Gallery. The collection features only toddlers, many of whom are crying and visibly upset. Dixit the artist: “The work depicts how children would feel if they knew the state of the world they're set to inherit.”

As per, there has been a lot of controversy about the pictures, the words "child abuse" are being put out there. Greenberg's defense: "The children I photographed were not harmed in any way. And, as a mother, I am quite aware of how easily toddlers can cry. Storms of grief sweep across their features without warning; a joyful smile can dissolve into a grimace of despair. The first little boy I shot, Liam, suddenly became hysterically upset. It reminded me of helplessness and anger I feel about our current political and social situation. The most dangerous fundamentalists aren’t just waging war in Iraq; they’re attacking evolution, blocking medical research and ignoring the environment. It’s as if they believe the apocalyptic End Time is near, therefore protecting the earth and future of our children is futile. As a parent I have to reckon with the knowledge that our children will suffer for the mistakes our government is making. Their pain is a precursor of what is to come.” (

I can see both sides of this argument. The situation is dramatic and needs to be addressed, maybe by shocking people into awareness. I've been watching my 17-month old nephew for the past couple of days, and the rare times that he has cried (food took too long to reach his mouth, aunt Sofie disappeared into the kitchen for a sec, gravity issues whilst chasing a fly around the room) were indeed very brief. Hold up a toy, re-appear into the room, do a little dance to the Sesame Street Tune and bamm, ear to ear grin and maybe even a giggle. That being said, I'm unsure about the effect of the exhibit, as a part of the eternal "What does art really do for the world" debate. Do you need to take away candy from some kids in an LA studio to drive home the message? Or does it only increase the mediatization of environmental issues? It does not have to be up in art galleries, framed and expertly lit. It is everywhere, around us, above our heads, in our lungs, beneath our feet. Taking pity on future generations is a very natural reaction, but it won't
actually make their lifes any better. Right?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Batti le mani

We had some trouble figuring out how to divide our time in Berlin – a city which Brendan immediately took to, but which took me while to accept. We ended up in the Berlinische Galerie or the “Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur”. Located in an otherwise banal neighbourhood, its design is phenomenal. Intensely high rooms, and striking paintings, sculptures and designs. A big recommendation to anyone who visits the city. We also caught the Foto Museum, which had mostly Helmut Newton stuff and then returned to the hostel for another dinner with Valerio. He first took us out for mojitos and then brought us to an African restaurant in the middle of a squatter community. When the waiter arrived, him and Valerio had a swift conversation in Italian – apparently Eritrea’s a former colony of Italy’s? You learn something new every day. The boys feasted on zebra and ostrich while I stuck to the less exotic but equally mouthwatering lamb and couscous. Germany – Portugal was on that night, so after dinner we crossed the street and joined groups of people who were watching the game on big screen TVs on the sidewalk. I wandered around a bit (I care about football, I do, I just can’t focus on it for very long) and came across a wine store. It was filled with people, in their late twenties or early thirties, clearly a tight group of friends. The door was open. The store window took up the entire front of the house. One guy was standing outside, holding up the electrical wire cause of a “contact issue”. There was a pram inside with a sleeping baby. Everyone holding a glass of white wine. Such a tender picture. Here are old friends, most of them probably married or at least paired off, some with kids. Getting together at their friend’s wine store and chilling out. True happiness.

After the game we took the train to Ostbahnhof and found a club which had 4 different DJs on that night. I wasn’t in the partying mood, but definitely enjoyed just sitting back, observing and chatting to people. At the back of the club, seats had been set up outside to look over the water and I had a great conversation with Valerio there. About Berlin and how the city was frustrating me. About loneliness. About people in your life. About travelling. About pasts and futures and certainties. About how choosing is losing. By the end of the night, as the sun was coming up again, I had found some peace again. Life is what you make of it, and all I can do is be grateful for what comes my way and strive for what doesn’t. Trust what I know, but continue to learn.

Got up late on Sunday, wandered down to the Libeskind designed Jewish Museum and to Checkpoint Charlie (again, how sad that this significant place has just become another tourist shot background with a gift shop attached). At Under den Linden we found a big collection of ceramic bears (they have them with cows and moose as well) – each one representing another country (

This bullet-riddled one is from Serbia...

This one's Vietnam's entry. On the bear's leg it says "Who doesn't love, doesn't live"

Around five, we made our way down to the Fan Fest at Brandenburger Tor. We met up with Valerio who provided us with face paint and the colours of the Italian banieri and before too long we were surrounded by avid fans (“Qui no sotto e francese!”). The heat was ridiculous, the crowd huge, personal space none and the game tense till the very last minute. Henry’s crash, Zidane’s short fuse, the penalty kicks – dio mio. Brendan took some great shots from the crowd, the fireworks and ourselves, so I’ll post some when he sends them over.

We went our separate ways for a bit on the last day. Brendan went on a walking tour, but my feet made it perfectly clear they wanted to take things very slowly (standing up for about 5 hours straight the night before did not help) so I strolled along the Potsdam area, had more sushi (my last chance!) and went to the Guggenheim museum (“Art of Tomorrow” by Hilla von Rebay and Solomon Guggenheim. Suffice to say I spent more time in the gift shop, enjoying a delicious coffee and flipping through art books than I did in the actual museum). We met up again for dinner, found a cheap but tasty Vietnamese restaurant and talked deep into the night over a glass of Merlot. It’s been a good run. Thank you for sharing yourself with me. Be well.

Das Runde muss in das Eckige

We said goodbye to Amsterdam on Friday morning, and it was appropriately cloudy and grey. After a 6 hour train ride we drove into Berlin amidst a heavy thunder storm. Luckily, the hostel entrance was only a short sprint from the subway exit – and the hostel itself turned out to be excellent. Worth the prize: colourful, clean, friendly, social, cosy, all you could want. After dropping off our stuff in our private room, I went downstairs to check my email. I found an important message, with a date I knew I had to write into my planner before I forgot about it and asked the guy to my left – round glasses, a full beard, and a mop of curly hair – for his pen. A couple of hours later, such is the social life at a hostel, we were sitting beside him at a tapas bar.

His name was Valerio, Italian, about 30. A physicist, with a PhD from Boston, currently living in Bologna. We soon found out he had travelled extensively – North America, Scandinavia, Africa – and was exceptionally well informed. Global warming? Sex and the City? Kim Clijsters? Bring up any topic and he’ll tell you something substantial about it. Story after story came up over calamares and red wine. The most fascinating one to me had to do with his volunteering in a high security prison. Being around these men – murderers, criminals, monsters, but also brilliant, well-mannered and entirely human – and experiencing first-hand what life in prison is like for them gave him a completely new outlook on right and wrong. Every day when he came home, he said, he felt like throwing up. It is traditional morality “that is the real prison”. After dinner we wandered around the city streets. Radically different. None of the cookie cutter beauty of Amsterdam, none of the jolly pink polo wearing cyclists or century-old sights. Berlin is grave, like its lungs have inhaled too many ashes to burst out in song. It does not go out of its way to charm visitors – if it does charm you, it is completely unintentional. It does not offer itself on a tray, but simply allows you to look, feel, study and draw your own conclusions. There’s no historical cobble-stoned center to gobble up – each district needs to be bitten off and chewed on until maybe there is a chance you may be able to consume a morsel of it. Among the anonymous apartment buildings in grey, browns and other dull hues there are oases. A gorgeous modern museum. Raw graffiti. A cafe with funky chairs. Restaurants from all over the world, including Russian. Occasionally, a stunningly beautiful woman will pass you by, on foot or by bike, but she won’t flaunt. Her clothes are modest in cut, fabric and colour. Extravagance holds little appeal here, there are real issues to be dealt with. The World Cup for the first time saw Schwarz, Rot and Gold flags being hung out of windows and wrapped around bodies. Berlin is moving forward, cautiously, stubbornly, true to itself, gruffly. Like that person at every party who sits at the bar, far away from the dance floor and the spotlight, sipping a no nonsense drink, speak when spoken to and leave quietly. And you watch your mysterious guest walk out, intrigued, fascinated, yearning for a next encounter.

Love is the Answer

Thursday was another gorgeous day – blue skies, high temperatures, a big mug of coffee to start the day off. I bought a nice dress for a wedding I’m attending later this month, white with a red ribbon and flowers, very summery. I don’t really have money for matching shoes, but those are sorrows for tomorrows. We strolled over to De Brakke Grond, a centre for Flemish culture in the heart of Amsterdam. Great place, another location I could see myself work at (yeay inspiration, please don’t leave me!). We went in because A, I’d heard a lot about this place and wanted to see it, and B, there was an exhibit on by a Belgian photographer called Michele Matyn on pop culture icons. “Love is the Answer and You know that for sure” was linked to a 109 minute video screening of “A Tribute to Daniel Johnston”. People who are into alternative music probably know exactly who he is, but I’d never heard of him. He’s an American singer-songwriter and artist, whose “considerable acclaim snowballed from a series of homemade, lo-fi cassettes which Daniel started recording and handing out to fans and friends alike in the early 80s”. The titles of these tapes include “Songs of Pain” (1981), “Don’t be scared” (1982), “More Songs of Pain” (1983), and “Why me” (1999)…hmm…As his website mentions, Daniel's songs and drawings have been “informed to some degree by his ongoing struggle with manic depression -- lending an added poignancy to his soul-searching times”. He spent many years in and out of mental hospitals, often went missing for days on end, talks a lot about Satan and Jesus and Casper the Friendly Ghost and is, by society’s standards, pretty messed up. He also can’t play or sing to save his life. And yet, he’s won song writing awards and fans around the globe. I credit the absolute authenticity of his work. He writes what he feels, basically. Even if a song is only two lines long. Even if he can’t keep a tune. Even if people around him think he’s a freakshow. Even if he’s on medication. He writes and plays and hands out his tapes to anyone who’s willing to accept one. He ran away with the circus for a few years, literally. He was on MTV for one of their specials on the music scene in Austin, Texas. He worked at McDonald’s. He sells his graphic art in a renowned New York gallery. He currently lives with his elderly parents again and plays in a local band. And he wrote these gems of love, loneliness and hope:

Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances - Yip / Jump Music (1983)

Don't let the sun go down on your grievances
Respect love of the heart over lust of the flesh
Do yourself a favor: become your own savior
And don't let the sun go down on your grievances

And when you wake up in the morning
You'll have a brand new feeling
And you'll find yourself healing
So don't let the sun go down on your grievances

And yet if you find yourself in the dark
And you're left holding the bag
Then take care of it right away
And don't let the sun go down on your grievances again

Sometimes you might want to give up
But keep that chin up
Cause you're gonna find, you're gonna find
Sometimes you might be alone
But don't feel lonely
'Cause you're gonna find, you're gonna find

So don't let the sun go down on your grievances
Start each day with a clean slate
You'll feel better if you can shake off all that hate
And don't forget to forgive and forget
And don't let the sun go down on your grievances
Don't let the sun go down on your grievances
Respect love of the heart over lust of the flesh
Sing it!

Do yourself a favor: become your own savior
And don't let the sun go down on your grievances

The Sun Shines Down On Me - Don't Be Scared (1982)

I’m getting closer to the fact
I’ve turned my on silly dreams
And I’m walking down that lonely road
And my heavy load I didn’t bother to bring it

And the sun shines down on me
I fell like I deserve it
And the sun shines down

I’m hiding out where you can’t see
Behind the wall
In the back of the room

And I’m crawling slowly through the dark
And feeling for a punch line

And the sun shines down on me
I want to feel like I deserve it
And the sun shines down

I’m walking down that empty road
It ain’t empty now because I’m on it
And I’m getting closer to a home
That I can carry and take home with me

And the sun shines down on me
I feel like I have to earn it
And the sun shines down

Surely You Don't Work All Night - The What of Whom (1982)
Surely you don't work all night
surely you don't work all night
you think you're all right
surely you don't work all night

i walked the town late last night
i walked clear across town just to write some graffiti on the wall
when i got there i couldn't think of anything to say

the buildings stood still
like giant tombstones
dark and blue and still
i came to a dead end up an alley
and saw a cold cement canvas and a Mac truck on a hill

and i wrote the words of Al Pompas on the subway wall
and there's a football star on a McDonalds glass
staring at me right in the face
and he looks just like Pete Arner

and the sun comes thru the windows
it was just like letting the dog in in the morning
it was jumping all over the room
and waggin' its tail in my eyes
but me i was unenthusiastic
my skin felt just like plastic
everyday i sleep in that casket
that i pulled out and crawled in

and i ripped my own hair out late last night in a dream
is that band really gonna play that in public?
"killing my softly with my song"?

the queen stands proud in the circus parade
with a baby in her arm
and I sit loud on a toilet seat
like a monkey in a zoo
and there's a McDonalds glass staring at me, laughing

surely you don't work all night
surely you don't work all night
we think you're all right
surely you don't work all night

True Love Will Find You In the End- Retired Boxer (1984)

True love will find you in the end
You'll find out just who was your friend
Don’t be sad, I know you will,
But don’t give up until
True love finds you in the end.
This is a promise with a catch
Only if you're looking will it find you
‘Cause true love is searching too
But how can it recognize you
Unless you step out into the light?
But don’t give up until
True love finds you in the end.

When I Met You - FUN (1994)
When I met you
I saw the future of the future and what to do
Can you see me now
I'm more than willing and I want to be your pal

Life's crooked hand
Has already pushed us back together again
I want you awful now
And I'm worrying how you see me plain
Do you really really have to know my name
Time marches on
The parade and the charade keeps turning round
I look for you
In every book in every cartoon movie too
I saw the past
Tomorrows always go they never really last
I found the truth
And I swear it nearly flipped me through the roof

I broke through fate
But every time I would up being sort of late
When I met you
I saw the future of the future and what to do

In the debate going on inside my mind, this is an entirely different success story. No traditional path. Setback after setback. Just someone with a rock hard confidence in what they want to do and a childlike perseverance. I know it’s a bizarre, one in a million story. I know the most likely way for things to go in life is to work towards them using the skills you have. Without running away the circus. And yet, it’s the most beautiful life I’ve been told of in a long time.
We stepped out into the light again, both deeply impressed and slipped into a surprisingly quiet side street for a late lunch. The sushi we found came a lot closer to the Toronto variety then the one we had in Antwerp (Brendan loves sushi, I crave it and know I can’t find it cheaply anywhere around Leuven so we may have binged a bit) – cheaper, very tasty and expertly presented. The day continued its fabulosity when I ducked into the massive mall that is the Bijenkorf and found a Vero Moda jean jacket for only 20 Euro. We went back to our room to drop off our bags, and Brendan took a picture of me for the first time this trip. Very symbolic of us slowly getting used to each other again, feeling closer and warmer. I dragged him out to the Foto Museum (hey, if I’m going to break into this business I need to see what’s out there) and because there was a new exhibit opening that night, we got in for free!

Loved it, yet another place I would totally work at (or intern it and support myself with bartending). The stuff they had on was 50/50. They had work by the Sanchez Brothers, two Canadians who focus on “struggle”. Yawn. Plus, their pictures are very staged – which I’m not a big fan of. As soon as I read in their intro that they take hours to perfect the lighting and the composition, I was out. The new exhibit was on a Belgian kid named Jeffrey (shudder) and his right-wing sympathies. Raw pictures of a working class home, acne ridden skin, a shaved head, and his German cross tattoo. Interesting but not as gripping as it could have been. “Bound for Glory” had colour pictures taken in America between 1939 and 1943. It included that famous Dorothea Lange picture of the migrant mother and her three children. Amazing what a difference colour makes, how much nearer it brings these people’s trials and tribulations during the depression. My favourite section by far though, was on a Japanese photographer named Daido Moriyama. Gritty, black and white shots of life in the Japanese metropolis. No careful set-up, very little technique, most of the pictures technically “failures” – but the sincerity of them made them stand out over all the others, to me. Ah Japan. One day I will see it. This may have been one of the most perfect days. I was happy, I was challenged, I was informed, I consumed, I was inspired, I was where I wanted to be.

Hi, how are you?

After a fairly sleepless night – way too hot – we wandered into town trying to find some breakfast. We found a bunch of places that offered it to us free (the Continental comes with only 12.50 spent on hash!) but settled on a regular (So these are just brownies? With sugar and chocolate? Are you sure?) place with tasty bread and cheap coffee. Our wanderings brought us into the Red Light district too. One minute you’re walking along this picturesque canal, the next you’re surrounded by seediness. It was so early, around 9.30, that the place was entirely deserted but still carrying the foul stench of the previous night. Brendan commented that he wouldn’t mind seeing it when stuff was actually going on – which we did a day later. Both times I rushed through it, angrily, past 20-something tourists ogling the women in the windows with eyes that are bigger than the patches sewn onto their backpacks. I can’t figure out what it is exactly that offends me about that place so much – whether it’s the fact that it exists, the fact that it is so strictly gendered into those who stare and choose and those who undergo? Do I have some misplaced Jesus complex? I don’t know a thing about the lives of these women, I don’t know how they ended up there, how easy it would be for them to quit, how they regard their customers…no clue. But I can’t stand it.

For lunch we ended up in Vondelpark. I was hoping the Julidans festival that was going on would offer us some distractions, but the act we saw was pretty painfully blah. We swiftly moved on to the Van Gogh Museum which I absolutely loved. At this point, I was already deeply in love with Amsterdam and the idea of going to work in the morning past the canals and into this museum made me giddy with anticipation. I’ve been sending out lots of applications for internships and work placements in museums across Flanders, so hopefully I’ll be able to get some experience here and then take that abroad afterwards. Brendan’s very much the “Figure out what you want to do and take steps towards that goal, regardless of what people think you should do or what is the most rational choice” kinda guy, and I see so many opportunities from that perspective. Internships, random jobs, networking, whatever you have to do to slowly make your way into the environment you want to live and grow in. It’s a nice feeling to have. Anyway, excellent museum, very well set up, lots of light and air.

We made it into the Anne Frank House as well – last time I was in Amsterdam the line was ridiculously long so we didn’t even bother trying to get in. I’m a little torn on the entire issue…I agree that one person or one family’s story can be more instructive and real than the abstract “6 million people”. But at the same time, it seems overly mediatized and polarized. I miss a bit of critical thought. For dinner we found a great organic place, where you paid by the weight of your plate. Super friendly people, delicious food, I was about to proclaim Amsterdam as Eden…until we almost got ripped off. And until someone scowled at me on the street for no reason. And until someone got aggressive in traffic. I slowly came back down to Earth, realizing Amsterdam has assholes and jerks and dirt like any other place where people cohabit. But I still see myself living there. We topped off the day in a cosy bar, watching the French beat the Portuguese (well, Bren did most of the watching, I was leafing through magazines and reading articles on, surprise surprise, how to have a successful professional life). I could work in this bar. You know, just until I get a job at the museum or at Amsterdam Weekly. It’s totally possible.

Der Weg ist das Ziel

I just got back from a week long trip and it’s been fantastic. I’ll try to cover what I did and saw and thought to the best of my ability.

Brendan got here on Saturday evening, we trotted around Antwerp all day Sunday and ended the evening in total bliss, having dinner in my very own backyard (Technically it belongs to my parents if you want to get all legal about it). What a beautiful, relaxed place Leuven is on a warm summer night. On Monday, he went to Genk to see our good friend Hilde and I took care of some business here (and by business I mean buy shoes) and had a quick lunch with one of my oldest friends. The conversation, as have many talks over the past few days, turned to “What am I going to do with my life, man?”. It really feels like I’m at a brand new stage in life where I have to start up new things. New classes. New hobbies. A new place to live. And in order to make good choices, you have to be honest with yourself. Which is pretty hard. It feels like I have to shake my own hand again, introduce myself and think about what it is that makes me tick. What really makes me happy? Now that my drama training is over, should I join a theatre group? Why did I stop playing music? Why did I stop going to art classes?

We set off on our journey on Tuesday. The very first impression of Amsterdam this time around? The smell of pot. Obviously. We walked down to Waterlooplein where we were met by Dewi, a friend of Renee’s. Seeing as Renee’s still exploring Canada, she graciously offered Brendan and I the use of her room and asked Dewi to get the key to us. Very friendly girl, and eerily similar to Renee in mannerisms, body language and intonation. It was like seeing our Toronto appear before our eyes! Good times. We found the room no problem, and at about 500 degrees. So we quickly threw open the windows, turned on the fan and left for dinner. We stumbled upon an Indonesian place and joined one of the long tables set up outside for some babi pang pang and nasi goreng. A lady sitting next to Brendan struck up a conversation – she had just gotten into town as well, for a business conference. Gabi – age undisclosed – was from Innsbruck, and worked as a manager for Lush, the organic soap chain (don’t think they exist in Belgium yet, but Toronto and Amsterdam both definitely have outlets). She has a husband, who's German, and a son, who's 12, and a career history in fashion. A pack of Gauloises Blondes on the table punctuated the conversation which, again, turned to “what one is to do in life to get ahead professionally”. She was very strict with me: “You can’t study something without knowing what you’re going to do with it. I have so many students working for me who don’t know, who just study whatever without a goal and it’s terrible”. Oh yeah, and what did you study? Medicine, you say? Huh.

Monday, July 03, 2006


My friend Thomas stumbled upon an album (three, actually) called "69 Love Songs" by The Magnetic Fields. The mastermind behind the collection is Stephin Merritt, who said "69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love. It's an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love." I didn't go nuts for the melodies, but some of the lyrics are pretty great. Whether they're of the euphoric "You're amazing" or bitter "Why did you do that to me" variety, they all ring true, cause we've all been there, felt that.

Song 1 on Volume 1 "Absolutely Cuckoo"

Don't fall in love with me yet
We only recently met
True I'm in love with you but
you might decide I'm a nut
Give me a week or two to
go absolutely cuckoo
then, when you see your error,
then, you can flee in terror
like everybody else does
I only tell you this cause
I'm easy to get rid of
but not if you fall in love
Know now that I'm on the make
and if you make a mistake
my heart will certainly break
I'll have to jump in a lake
and all my friends will blame you
There's no telling what they'll do
It's only fair to tell you
I'm absolutely cuckoo

Song 2 on Volume 2 "Love is Like Jazz"

(The only requirement, when playing this song, is that you wear sunglasses)

Love is like jazz
You make it up as you go along
and you act as
if you really knew the song
but you don't
and you never will
so you flaunt your mistakes
and you make them until
they were you
Love is like jazz
the same song a million times
in different ways
"Strange Fruit" with
and without wind chimes
It's divine
It's asinine
It's depressing
and it's almost entirely
window dressing
but it'll do

Song 17 on Volume 3 "Two Kinds of People"

There are two kinds of people:
a) my love and I
b) other
two kinds of people:
1) the gray
and 2) me and my lover
All people fall into two camps
that ever twain shall be:
those lost in darkness without lamps,
and then,
my love and me...