Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I took this short video of the boys this morning; I totally cracked up when Jack forgot who he was for Halloween and had to look to remember.

All I can say is what was I thinking with the face paint? I mean, it was a good idea to paint the boy's faces because they can't wear masks to school, but I bought the theatrical greasepaint at a local costume shop, and it is a mess! Jack tackled Max and left a bit of red on the right shoulder of his costume (you can kinda see it in the video). I did some damage control by bringing Jack home as soon as his school program was done and giving him a bath to get it all off. They looked cute though, and had so much fun looking at themselves in the mirror. It has been a whirlwind of Halloween activity since we got home, check out the pumpkin carving photos below. Now we just have to go trick or treating tonight with some friends (without face paint), and we can take it easy until next year. Whew!

Max supervising the carving of his pumpkin. To his credit, he drew out the design and then left the dirty work for Steve. I love carving pumpkins; it was one of those things that I always looked forward to doing when I had kids.

The final product.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Can You Tell I'm More Than A Little Bit Excited About This Election?

I'm usually not one to put pictures of my chest on the internet, but I was particularly proud today. Not of my chest, but of the fact that I've already voted. Early voting is genius, and even though I still had to wait for over an hour, it was worth it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Walk. Work. Write.

I went to my book group last night where we were discussing the book Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender. The book talks about being open to new experiences in your own life and slowing down to enjoy the journey (among many other things).
After the group, I started thinking about a saying I once heard that said (I'm paraphrasing): to be truly happy in life, you need to do three things each day: Walk, work, and write. I can't remember who said it, but I have to say that I have really seen that it works for me, and I don't know why I've gotten away from it.
I still work (hello, I am the mother of two young children), and I write (thanks to this blog), but I don't go on walks just to walk anymore. I used to all the time, and started when I was engaged to a guy I didn't love, didn't really even like, but was planning on marrying anyway. I still am a little foggy about how it all happened, but I think it had something to do with being 24 at the time. Anyway, I was miserable, knowing what I was doing (or trying to do) was totally wrong, but being so afraid of hurting this guy's feelings that I couldn't break things off. How pathetic. Anyway, I started to walk and slowly realized all the reasons I could not marry this person, and finally ended it.
After that, I always found clarity through walks, and although I think I find some of that through yoga now, I think I'm ready to commit myself to walking on a regular basis. Just walking, with no goal but to walk. I am hoping to do it for at least fifteen minutes every day, and I am writing about it here to hold myself accountable. Although I don't have any real crisis I am working through at the moment, a little clarity is always nice. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Alcazar Update

I fixed the link to "Crying at the Discotheque" by Alcazar. Please, watch it right now, you won't regret it! And just for fun, here are the lyrics.

Downtown's been caught by the hysteria,
People scream and shout.
A generation's on the move.
When disco spreads like a bacteria,
Those lonely days are out,
Welcome the passion of the groove.

The golden years,
The silver tears,
You wore a tie like Richard Gere.
I wanna get down,
You spin me around,
I stand on the borderline.

Crying at the discoteque!
Crying at the discoteque!

I saw you crying,
I saw you crying at the discoteque.
I saw you crying,
I saw you crying at the discoteque.

Tonight's the night at the danceteria,
The joining of the tribe,
The speakers blasting clear and loud,
The way you dance is our criteria,
The DJ takes you high,
Let tears of joy baptize the crowd.

The golden years,
The silver tears,
You wore a tie like Richard Gere.
I wanna get down,
You spin me around,
I stand on the borderline...

Crying at the discoteque!
Crying at the discoteque!

I saw you crying,
I saw you crying at the discoteque.
I saw you crying,
I saw you crying at the discoteque.

The passion of the groove,
Generation on the move.
Joining of the disco tribe,
Let the music take you high...

The golden years,
The silver tears,
You wore a tie like Richard Gere.
I wanna get down,
You spin me around,
I stand on the borderline,

Crying at the discoteque!
Crying at the discoteque!

I saw you crying,
I saw you crying at the discoteque.
I saw you crying,
I saw you crying at the discoteque.

Interesting rhyme scheme in some of these verses, but I'll cut them some slack considering Swedish is probably their first language.

Monday, October 27, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

The things I was most looking forward to seeing when we got back from our trip:
  1. My Boys
  2. My Bed
Sometimes the best part of traveling is coming home.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why Europe, Why?

Well, it's our last official day in Europe, so I had to write a quick post to say goodbye to all the good, bad, and bizarre. I wouldn't want to change anything about Europe, but there are two things I just don't understand, and maybe one of my European friends can explain them to me.
First, Europeans love art, good food, care about the environment (see below) and seem to always strive for a high quality of life, so why in the world do they smoke so much? I see these beautiful young girls walking around constantly smoking and then you see women who are probably only ten to twenty years older doing the same thing but they look so haggard and their skin looks like leather, not to mention what it is doing to their health. Why don't Europeans make the connection like many Americans have? They've got so much more figured out.
Secondly, why, oh why, do Europeans seem to love bad techno music so much? I can't say this has been as much of a negative as the smoking because we've been watching a lot of European music videos in our hotel rooms and I haven't seen such great comedy in a very long time. One of my favorites is called "Crying in the Discotheque" by a Swedish group called Alcazar. For some reason the embedding has been disabled through YouTube, so you'll just have to click the link. You've got to give them credit for working Richard Gere into their lyrics, though with a very vague reference.
Just this morning I saw another one that ranks right up there with Alcazar, "Wash My World" by French producer Laurent Wolf. This one they let me embed, so check it out (it's a bit sexual, in a silly way, so be sure you want to see it if you watch).

At least they care about the environment, right? If only all of us could care about the environment enough to scrub down trees in hot pants and midriff bearing tank tops. My favorite moment in this video has got to be when they put the birds in the washing machines and then open them and they fly out. I have a suspicion this might not work the same way in real life.
Well, I'm signing off from Leuven. Steve's just left for a rehearsal and I have to start rolling my clothes very tightly to get everything to fit back into my suitcases. Steve has a lecture today and a performance tonight, and then we take off for the airport at about 7 AM. I'm definitely glad Daylight Savings Time started today so we may actually make it. See you in the States.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

STUK in Leuven

Well, not really, but I couldn't resist making the joke since STUK (pronounced stook, with a long o) is the name of the venue where they are performing the concerts at the TRANSIT festival, and after I went to one with Steve this morning, the name fit. It was an hour and a half of a man on midi keyboard, a woman on viola, and a vocalist doing music made up of just different tones, no lyrics, no changes per se, just tones, tones, and more tones. Even Steve said it got a bit long after a while. I plan on going to more concerts with him, but that one was enough for a little while, so afterwards we went to explore around Leuven.While we were at the morning concert the director told us about an area near where we were that was called Groot Begijnhof, and is a group of houses where approximately 300 'Begijns' lived in the 17th century. 'Begijns' were women who lived a religious life but kept their own property and supported themselves and didn't make vows like nuns living in a convent. They have turned the community into a faculty and student housing section for the University here, and it is really beautiful, and like Bruges, seemingly untouched by time. Here's some photos:

Steve walking down one of the winding, narrow streets in the Goot Begijnhof. There are no cars in this community, so it is almost silent there. You can see why it would be a perfect place for a group of religious people who wanted to create a sanctuary.

An ornate double water pump in the center square of the community.

One of the historic houses. There were colorful fall leaves everywhere.

After our walk, we went to lunch and then Steve had to take off to go to a rehearsal. I decided to take in the shopping streets that were just a few blocks from the hotel. This is definitely one of my favorite parts about Europe, the pedestrian shopping areas and how everyone walks and bikes. Life in the States is great in some ways, but the Saturday shopping market is definitely a way that Europe has us beat, hands down.

Buildings off the Market Square in Leuven. The ornate Gothic building is the Town Hall. Can you imagine this being the backdrop to your Saturday grocery shopping?

In the middle of the square was one of the most awe-inspiring cathedrals I have ever seen. Just there, in the middle of town. If you don't like this one, not to worry, there are eight others within walking distance. Being from the US, especially the western US, you never get tired of this.

And then there were the market stalls, one after another with baked goods, flowers, seasonal vegetables, and a million other things. I'll miss this.

Steve was able to meet up with me in the Market Square between rehearsals, so we grabbed a waffle and took it all in.

I had these waffles when I visited Belgium before, but this was the best one I've ever had. They were light and fluffy, piping hot, and coated with caramelized sugar. Wish I had the recipe, but I'm pretty sure you have to actually be Belgian to make them this good.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Q: Exactly where is Leuven?

A: About a half hour outside of Brussels.

And that's where we went today.

Our day began with a very rainy morning, but we had finally overcome our jet lag (and our Paris hotel) and had a good night's sleep. We had a beautiful breakfast at our hotel and then climbed to the top of the Belfort (Bell Tower) on Market Square in Bruges. It has over 360 very narrow, steep, winding stairs, and our legs were burning by the top, and when we got there, the wind was blowing the rain sideways, so we didn't stay too long. It was beautiful, but I forgot my camera (I blame it on too much sleep), so you'll have to take my word for it. The walk down was just as crazy, and with wet shoes on ancient stone steps, well, you can imagine. But no one broke their neck, so we moved on to the Groeningemuseum to see the Flemish and Dutch art. They're most famous painting is "The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele" by Jan Van Eyck. Here's the best image I could find to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

I have always loved Van Eyck ever since I learned about him in Art History classes in college. His images are amazingly photo-realistic The priest in this picture has the most stunning face, I had to take a few minutes just to look at it. And the draping on the Virgin's red robe, unreal. Actually, all too real because it looks like you could reach out and move it. I had seen some of Van Eyck's other paintings in Amsterdam, but this one is huge so you can really see the detail and the people are close to life size, so they seem as if they could walk off the painting and have a conversation with you.
Another thing I loved about this painting, and many of the others in this museum, was the architectural details the artists showed that you can still see all over in Bruges. One example is the circular, leaded glass windows in the Van Eyck painting above. It was painted in 1436, but walking around town yesterday, we saw some windows exactly like them. Here's a photo:

I think this is one of the reasons I love Bruges so much, it seems like you've traveled through time and are walking around in this world just as it was back in the 1400's.
After the museum, we grabbed some treats to bring home and then jumped on the train to Brussels. We were glad that the same train could take us all the way to Leuven, to where Steve and I are going to the TRANSIT New Music Festival where one of his pieces is being performed. I have never been to Brussels, but after passing it today, I'm not sure we'll go back. I think we're getting a little bit of travel overload, so I think we're just going to listen to music, sleep, eat, and hang out with new music composers (always an interesting group, and when you factor in that most of them are European, we should be in for some fun). And Leuven looks pretty cool too. It was a cold, rainy day, so I have taken the time while Steve went the first concert of the festival to sit around in my pajamas and catch up on the blog (Internet is cheap again). More tomorrow.

In Bruges

When Steve told me he was having a performance in Belgium, and that I was invited, I told him we had to go to Bruges. When we lived in London, my friend Alison and I went on a trip together there and it was the first town I ever visited in Europe. I told Steve I wanted to take him there eight years ago when I first went, but we never had the chance. So, after we left Paris, we jumped a train for Bruges.
The first train was a commuter train out of Paris so it was cram packed and we had our big suitcases and had to basically sit on one of them until we got to Lille. There we had six minutes to find our connecting train and, amazingly, we did with no problem. We got on and found that the back section of the car was completely empty so we had space for us and our suitcases:

I could finally put my feet up after five days in Paris in a hotel room about the same size (and 10 times more noisy) than this compartment on the train.

Our luggage was very happy with it's seats too.

We got into Bruges and I was raring to go, but Steve was really tired. We came to a compromise and went to lunch first. We stayed in the same hotel I did the first time I went to Bruges, the Oud Huis Amsterdam. It is absolutely amazing, and the room was huge, beautiful, loaded with European charm, and the door didn't hit the bed when you opened it. We asked at the front desk for a recommendation for Mussels and Frites, and we were sent to the Cafe Braydel. It was amazing, and we were starving. I loved the mussels, not so much the frites, but they served some great bread I was able to sop up the white wine sauce (although I'm sure there wasn't any real wine in it). Do I have photos? Of course:

I figured out after these mussels that I've never had the cooked well before. These were tender, amazingly flavorful, and beautiful.

Steve has such great mussels.

Although it almost killed me, I kept up my end of the deal and let Steve go back to the hotel for a nap before we went out to explore Bruges. Once he finally woke up we were off. Here's some photos:

This is just a tiny example of the architecture in Bruges. It goes on like this forever, and around every corner is another amazing view.

Steve wandering through the back alleys and bridges in Bruges.

I loved these windmills during my first visit to Bruges, so I had to take Steve to see them. They are huge and you walk around a corner and there they are, and for some reason they totally take my breath away. Maybe it's because they're beautiful, graceful, and something you could never see in the States.

I remembered these statues from my first visit as well, and I couldn't remember where I had seen them. Luckily, we happened upon it in our wanderings. It is one of the four riders of the Apocalypse, and I love the skeletal look of it and the modern ideas behind it.

The Angels in the Architecture: Like I mentioned in Paris, I love to look at the amazing details everywhere and think about how much time and energy someone took just to make one little part of this building look beautiful. It's something I think is sorely lacking in the US. I love Europe for it.

After a walk around town until sundown, we went and got dinner at a cafe on Market Square. It was cold, but they had great heaters, so we were able to sit outside and enjoy the scenery. I had some amazing fish soup, and Steve had some beef stew made with Belgian beer (although I'm sure there was no real beer in it). Here's another short video of dinner.

I have to say, Paris is amazing, but I think that Bruges is one of the best kept secrets in Europe (or maybe I'm the only one who had never heard of it before I lived in London). It looks just like the movie In Bruges, but without all people getting their heads blown off. I highly suggest it (Bruges, not the movie). I hope you get there someday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Au Revoir Paris

We spent our last day in Paris today, and we did a ton but I'm exhausted and we have to get up at 6 AM to catch our train to Belgium, so I will add more to this post when I get some rest.
Okay, I'm back. I ended up not posting yesterday because the Internet in our hotel was way too expensive, but I'm making up for lost time with two posts in one day.
Our last day in Paris was spent sleeping in (more about the lack of sleep later) and wandering through the Marais and enjoying the beautiful weather. We started out with lunch with Leilei, a French composer living in Paris that Steve needed to do some business with. I have to say, one of the things I definitely will not miss about Paris is the bathroom situation. The first time I visited I was taken aback by the mixing of the sexes in the bathrooms, but on this trip it got taken one step further to me walking into a bathroom (twice) and having some guy standing there using the urinal. Just one more way I'm just way too American for France at times.
After lunch we walked around looking for the Picasso Museum but found it was closed, so we just looking into some of the amazing shops in the area. This was my favorite crazy French fashion find (the reflection of my Orla Kiely bag makes it even more crazy):

My favorite street sign I found in Paris. Direct translation is Avenue of the Bad Boys. I think it may really mean "Sad Boys". Andrea, Mirjam, translate for me.

The area was really cool, but Steve and I were getting really tired because our hotel was across the street from a nightclub that kept going until 5 AM. When we closed the window the room got too hot, when we opened the window, nightclub noise. The place was cheap so I guess you get what you pay for, but by our last day in Paris we were pretty much wasted. We did have an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower (we took the first photo on this post from our hotel window), but that doesn't help you sleep at night. We did go down to Notre Dame where they were holding a special mass for a famous French nun (never caught her name), and when the service was over the bells on the cathedral rang for about a half hour. Here's a short video of where Steve and I were sitting at the time:

We went into Shakespeare and Company Bookstore and looked around for awhile, and for anyone who loves bookstores as much as I do, it's a must see if you ever go to Paris. The main floor is a regular bookstore, but the second floor is a reference library where many famous writers have worked on famous books (Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch here). Here's some photos:

Me in Shakespeare & Co. in a mirror among the stacks.

Notes and photos from other visitors. I couldn't think of anything profound to say, so I just took a photo.

In the entrance to the reference area.

Then we wandered around some more and did a lot of great people watching out of the corner of a cafe and then went back to the Pompidou Center for one last time. The view from the top floor is one of the best in Paris, and it seemed like an appropriate thing to do our last night there.

Steve looking very serious at the top of the Pompidou looking at the Paris skyline at sunset.

After the Pompidou we went to a new music concert at the IRCAM (an electronic music center) on which one of the pieces was for percussion/mime. Yes, mime. No, they did not come out in white makeup, but the percussionist was doing movements with his hands that had electronic sensors attached to them so they created noise each time they moved. Two other guys were rubbing sticks on boards, and then there was a guy barely blowing on the trumpet and another kind of playing the cello. It was interesting, in both a good way and bad way.
After the concert we went back to the room and spent another somewhat sleepless night before we had to get up at 5 AM to get our stuff together and take off for Gare du Nord an head to Belgium. Here's my final two shots from Paris:

The Breakfast of Champions: A donut and a Coke Light. Steve went all French with a croissant with apple and an orange juice. In my defense, there is an apple in the other bag.

Goodbye Paris, we'll (sort of) miss you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Day of the Dead

Today started out with rain, and lots of it. We knew the good weather couldn't last for the whole trip, but we were getting a bit spoiled yesterday when the temperatures were over 70 degrees.
We started the day with a trip to the Cite De La Musique, a museum that Steve was looking forward to visiting because of their collection of historical instruments among other things.

We got there and found out that the permanent collection was closed for renovations so we could only go to the temporary exhibit on Serges Gainsbourg, a French musician, film maker, and artist. Neither Steve nor I knew who he was, but there were a lot of people in line and we thought we might as well check it out. After about five minutes in the exhibit we realized we were way too American to be there. Gainsbourg was popular during the sixties and his films were all with Bridgette Bardot types but a little too sexual in nature for my taste. It was here that I realized that I really don’t get the French. I only took a few pictures because I don’t think many of them would be Blogger approved. Here are the ones that made it past the censors:

This is a sculpture that rotates with lights so there is a projected "sculpture" on the wall.

After our short visit to the Gainsbourg exhibit we went to check out the Opera and it’s ceiling painted by Chagall. As we almost made it to the front of the line the man selling the tickets put up a sign saying that they were closing due to a rehearsal. So, we were still stuck with nothing to do and a rainy day.
We got some lunch, and the rain died down so we decided to try to go to the Cemeterie Du Pere Lechaise where many famous writers, artists and musicians are buried. I wanted to be sure that we did it on a day that was a bit dreary because I just couldn't imagine walking around a creepy old cemetery on a beautiful, sunny day. It was massive, and we only got to see a few famous graves in the time we spent there, but I took a ton of pictures. Here are just a few:

The cemetery is huge, and lucky for us, has street signs. We had a map so we could make our way through, but it still took over two hours.

Much of the cemetery is made up of these crypts, and each one is like a mini cathedral with stained glass and ornate metalwork on the doors. Some of them even had chairs in them. Why? Can't tell you. Maybe someone can tell me.

One of the most famous graves in the cemetery, Jim Morrison's. It was a bit of a letdown after seeing all the amazing ornate crypts.

They have banned graffiti on Jim Morrison's grave, but someone still left they're mark. It was even more amusing because it was no where near where the actual grave is.

Oscar Wilde's grave was an amazing deco style angel. You are supposed to kiss this headstone for good luck, but it seemed a bit unsanitary to me. I just took this picture instead.

Every minute or so a crow would fly by and caw at us. I think they import them in to add to the creepy ambiance of the cemetery. It works. The black cat that crossed our path as we left the cemetery was very effective too. I should have puckered up at Oscar Wilde's grave to ward off all the bad luck. This was definitely the perfect place to visit the week before Halloween.

On our way to the hotel we saw one of the sure signs you’re in France.

Finally, we went to a contemporary music concert at the National Opera House, which is on the same square as the Bastille monument, and had a crepe with nutella and banana on the way back to the hotel. Even with all the rain and false starts, we felt like we had another memorable (and bizarre) day in Paris.