Just FYI: I am really really loving my time here; I am so glad I decided to come. I am confident that I can express myself sufficiently in French to take care of just about anything (give or take a few misunderstandings) and that I can adapt to whatever comes my way. I have stepped outside how I defined myself at home, and I’m getting a taste of adulthood. I consider myself pretty well adapted now. Belgian school and our routine are feeling like ‘normal’, and I am dreaming partially in French. I have Belgian friends that I hang out with outside of school, and I’ve even caught myself using ‘we’ to talk about Belgian people. I am blessed!
For those of you who like hearing about food: read on! For those of you who can’t stand to read another eulogy about various European foods: ye be warned. Sunday we were generously invited to Denis’ for dinner. When we arrived, Denis showed me that he had drawn a map of Alaska on a chalkboard in his kitchen, complete with the Brooks Range and lots of blue ocean! I got to mark Palmer with a big pink X. We were then shown into the festive living room and this is where the culinary voyage began.
Now I knew that Denis likes to cook, but wow. This food was MAGNIFIQUE. I am going to attempt to describe what we had---Denis, forgive me for slaughtering the names and finer details!
We started off in Belgium with several appetizers featuring Coquilles St. Jacques (big clam thing that I don’t know the name for in English), a wonderful pumpkin soup, some kind of cooked squash with several other sauces, duck paté, and champagne. We then departed for the dining room and Ireland/Russia: Vodka served in ice glasses, several versions of smoked Irish salmon and a dill sauce. We also enjoyed a bit of traditional Belgian marzipan in honor of St. Nicolas. The next course took us to France: smoked duck, duck paté, bread, and foie gras with red wine. I have been told that people either love or hate foie gras. This was my first try, and I discovered that I am the loving kind. Foie gras is like nothing else I’ve ever had---it almost melts in your mouth, but it’s meat. Duck liver, in fact. Put this on your bucket list if you’ve never tried it. We then headed to the south of Belgium, the Ardennes, with smoked ham cooked with morel mushrooms. Glazed turnips, green cabbage, a salad, and fried potatoes were also served. In conclusion we enjoyed chocolate mousse in the living room accompanied by some desserts that Julia and I had brought to share (Icelandic pastries and good ol’ chocolate chip cookies. Denis liked the cookies) and coffee. Several varieties of liquor were added as a post script. Each and every dish was exquisite, and we enjoyed each and every one! We spent a lovely afternoon laughing, eating, drinking, and speaking and listening to a mixture of French, English, Dutch, and German. Merci beaucoup, Denis!
I also learned from Denis that Père Noel (Father Christmas) originally dressed in green here, but in the last 50 years he has gone to red, thanks to Americans and Coca-Cola. Good old cultural dispersion.
A couple weeks ago I went to Charleroi to wish a fellow AFSer au revoir at the end of her trimester program. Charleroi has been called the ugliest city in Europe, and it has a bad reputation as far as crime goes. That said, it’s also more metropolitan than some other cities and we had a wonderful afternoon. We ate at a Belgian-middle eastern place (frites and kebabs), went shopping, took photos with St. Nicolas, and had a great time hanging out together in general. I found Jane Eyre in French in a huge bookstore, so I’m working on reading that now. We also checked out the Christmas market (they’re pretty common in the towns right now) and the Christmas specialties (hot wine, escargots, sausage, punch, and waffles, of course). We made a scrapbook to surprise our departing friend and gave it to her in a café after sharing some Belgian beer. Tissues were in demand. It’s incredibly powerful to share the experience of growing into French-speaking Belgians together. We come from so many different backgrounds but we share the same problems, the same delights, and even the same basic, butchered French!
Speaking of French: WE’RE GOING TO PARIS THIS WEEKEND!!! Marianne and Sabine are attending a vet conference there, and Gilles, Jean, Julia, and I get to come along! Yippee! Off I go to check out some Paris maps and pack my warm socks!