Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Flying Bells and Brussels

Paques is here! That means Easter, people! Two weeks and a day off from school (I love the idea of Easter Monday) and chocolate eggs for all! The weather here has been drop-dead gorgeous too, with temps in the 60's and 70's and sunshine for almost two straight weeks. The flowers are at their height, the spandexed runners and flashy convertibles are hitting the road, I'm getting a tan--- I can hardly believe it's only April!
A Belgian tradition here for Easter is Marie Pontoise, bells with wings. The story is that during Easter there is one day when the bells in the Vatican do not ring (for real) and the bells have flown off to scatter chocolate eggs and candy for the kids in the gardens and fields. Thus, along with rabbits and chickens, chocolate and other goodies are made in the shape of flying bells. I have also learned some handy Belgicisms for rain (very practical here, normally):
1. Il drache=it's raining hard (not accepted French)
2.Caer par seau= to fall by buckets=it's really raining
3. Il tombe des cordes= it's falling ropes=it's raining cats and dogs
Today Julia and I took advantage of the vacation and spent the day in Brussels. Since this art nerd was bound and determined to visit the Magritte Museum and Julia wasn't quite so excited about that, we split for the morning. Since the museum wasn't far and we only had one map, I gave the map to Julia and set out. Thus, I was all alone in a major European city with a dying cell phone and no map. At the beginning of the year this would have meant major insecurity and perhaps a bit of panic. No big deal now, even with getting lost several times. What a great feeling. Anyways, I found the museum just fine and spent a delicious hour and a half soaking in the galleries of the Belgian surrealist. I hadn't been much of a fan of Magritte previously, but after eying giraffes in champagne glasses, pipes that weren't pipes, doves sprouting out of leaves, and curious sky-patterned shapes I changed my mind. I find Magritte is more accessible as a surrealist than Dali, and often has a discernible message. Plus, he almost always gave interesting titles to his works: The Flavor of Tears and The Companions of Fear are two I remember particularly. Anyways, this museum is an absolute must when visiting Brussels.
After some lost wanderings and brief phone calls Julia and I regrouped at ChaoChow, a Chinese restaurant recommended by a handy-dandy map for young people in our possession. Their deal of 3.80 for the dish of the day is hard to beat, the food was good, and we had a nice spot to sit. A gentleman seated next to us heard us talking in English and asked if we needed help with the French on the menu. He spoke English impeccably and was very eloquent and friendly. He explained the Belgian political pickle of the moment (it actually makes sense to me now!)and the formation of Belgium, then we discussed Palin (yeeeah, he knew who she was), Obama, Socialism...By the end I knew I didn't agree with him on his political stance, but I couldn't really remember what my reasons were. Even so, it was interesting and I learned from him. He was one of the few Flemings from Brussels; he said he'd been speaking French since he was 6 and English since he was 12. The Flemish side of the country pushes language accumulation a lot more than in Wallonie. After all, more people in the world speak French than Dutch. So I enjoyed my Chinese beer and beef and got to listen to some interesting English---lovely! I also bought a book on Japanese modern art and culture at the museum. I am ridiculously excited to have English reading material!
After an hour of politics we followed our wonderful map to a nearby vintage shop. We had a lot of fun rummaging about and trying on elegant gloves and retro glasses. We came out with some treasures and scooted off through several other stores. Before catching the train home we stopped at EXki, a Belgian restaurant chain of natural fast food. It was a bit pricy, but the fresh yogurt was divine, the interior was calm and colorful, and the bathrooms were clean and free. Definitely worth the price.
Tomorrow I am going with Marianne to Cecile's to help with her campers at the pony club. Marianne has already worked her tail off two days, and tomorrow it'll be me too. I must be crazy. But all exchange students are.

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