Lessons in creativity

A friend of mine, who is also a great tango dancer, published a post (HU only) a while ago about the things he (or anyone) could do to become a better tanguero. He used a method he learnt from a colleague:

if you have a problem, list 20 potential ways of solving it. Finding the first 7-8 will be extraordinarily easy; with some difficulty you’ll get up to 15; finding the last five will be hell on earth.

Of course becoming better at anything lies not only in finding methods, but also, and especially, in applying them; and while I doubt any single one item on the list can in itself make wonders, no matter how diligently applied, it seems common sense that having several ideas and mixing them according to needs and possibilities it a good way to go forward.

So I challenged myself to a list of 30.

My list, of course, concerns Oriental dance and how I (or others) can become better at it. Here it is:

  1. practice as often as you can.
  2. learn with different teachers; take workshops.
  3. dance in a troupe.
  4. dance solo.
  5. work your own choreographies.
  6. work other dancers’s choreographies.
  7. learn about the use of space and directions.
  8. improvise.
  9. focus on technique.
  10. focus on expression.
  11. take every chance to perform. Perform to your best each time.
  12. go to haflas and concerts: dance for the fun of it.
  13. take part in at least a few contests.
  14. get feedback from professionals: your teachers, contest judges, etc.
  15. get feedback from fellow dancers.
  16. get feedback from non-dancers (or non-Oriental dancers).
  17. see the masters: if you can’t see them live, DVDs and Youtube are your friend.
  18. watch oriental dance in any and all of its forms, from the street to the grand theatre.
  19. listen to all kinds of Oriental music. Learn songs.
  20. work with musicians.
  21. learn how to work with a drummer.
  22. improve your communication with the audience.
  23. learn the gestures of wherever your dance style comes from.
  24. learn (at least some) Arabic (or Turkish, or…).
  25. go to Egypt / Turkey / Lebanon (and/or wherever your favourite style has its roots), if you have the chance.
  26. meet people from the Middle-East / North Africa. Talk to them. Listen to them.
  27. learn about Middle-Eastern history and culture: read books, articles, watch films (that’s where speaking the language comes in handy 🙂 )
  28. learn about the history of the dance.
  29. read poetry from the region, folkloric and otherwise.
  30. learn about the societal contexts of dancing.
  31. learn especially about concepts of femininity.
  32. learn folk dances of the region.
  33. try out other dance styles.
  34. start teaching. Make sure you’re prepared to do it.

+1: blog about it: the things you find best to share are the most useful for you as well.

Feel free to add some more in the comments.

Oriental Romance

This weekend we have workshops with Özgen, Mayel and the lovely Lou Pradas – who organises the event –, as well as a great show Saturday night at the heart of Brussels, with some of the best dancers from Belgium and abroad. I have the honour of having been invited, and I'm preparing a completely new dance for the occasion, which means I'm also terribly nervous, but I promise it will be a great night.

One (or maybe both?) of Özgen's workshops is already sold out, but there should be some places left for the others.

For the show, pre-sales closes tomorrow the 7th of November, so if you want to be sure to have a place, contact Lou for your ticket.

See you there!

Dancing September

This September has been quite hectic – and full of dance. And though it's almost the end of the month, the good part is yet to come.

I'm writing this update from a small hotel room in Rimini, where I am taking workshops with the legendary Fifi Abdo (!!), one of my favourite dancers, over the weekend. I am also competing tomorrow – her being on the jury – and the only reason I'm not fizzling with nerves is that I've just spent about 8 hours travelling and I'm simply exhausted. Wish me luck, though.

What's more, next weekend, I'll be in Barcelona for some more workshops, this time with the ever so inspiring Mercedes Nieto. I also have the honour of having been selected to perform as a member of Mercedes' Tarabesque Troupe at the festival gala show. The show has quite an impressive line-up – I hope I'll have the chance to see most if not all of it, even though I participate. For those of you who will be in Barcelona next weekend, you can find more info here if you'd like to come – I can only recommend that you do.

If you cannot, but are in Brussels and would like to learn the dance, join my course starting next Monday!

Or click on the photo below to see all the pictures from last Saturday's Oriental Cocktail Festival.

NEW! Oriental dance course for beginners

Come and learn this beautiful and artistic dance form in an open, friendly and fun environment!

New weekly course for beginners in Schaerbeek, Bruxelles.

Time: every Monday from 18:15 to 19:45
Place: Espace Mutin, Chaussée de Haecht 140, 1030 Schaerbeek

Price:
single class: 15 eur
5 classes: 70 eur (valid for 5 weeks)
10 classes: 135 eur (valid for 12 weeks)

Classes start on Monday the 25th of September.

For more info and registration, please click here.

 

The dancer on two wheels (pt. II.)

Beverlo is about 3 hours distance from Bruxelles by public transport. Eindhoven is about 50 kms from Beverlo. One of my favourite musicians, Totó la Momposina, gave a concert in Bruxelles on the day I was away in Aarschot/Betekom to perform. She gave another concert, in Eindhoven, a week later, on the day there was a whole-afternoon open stage festival – organised by Johanna – in Betekom.

Guess what.

Ce diaporama nécessite JavaScript.

I felt a bit bad about rushing in and leaving so early from the festival, even though the real choice was not between staying a little or a lot: it was between staying a little or not going at all – I had a ticket to a concert, after all, about 50 kms away.

This time I printed my itinerary – I didn’t have the time to get lost and find my way –, nevertheless, I stopped every now and then at a map along the road (by the way, the region is indeed a biker’s paradise, as it advertises itself) to check if I was where I should be. At one of these, just this side of the border, I ran into another biker.
‘Are you lost?’
‘No, just making sure all is ok’
‘Where are you headed, anyway?’
‘but… that’s some 40 kms away!’
‘I know’, I said, though I was a bit perturbed, as I had counted it couldn’t have been more then 30.

Indeed, it wasn’t: I even had time for a coffee/snack break and arrived in good time.

Totó la Momposina is 77 years old now, still she sings and dances through her concert. She explains about each song and musical genre they play: about their history, the related traditions, the dances, the instruments, and the lyrics, making the show as much of an educational experience as it is fun, artistic and festive. She also gives credit to all the composers, except for herself – it’s the members of the band who have to do it for her.

Totó la Momposina – y sus tambores

The fact that I planned to cycle along the Zeeland coast  the following two days , but not only I had to come home and spend the whole week at home, three weeks after I still don’t have my voice, is another story. The « three weeks after » part may or may not be due to some other factors as well, stories for another day. So, have I at least done something stupid?

 

Arrival 3.0 – The dancer on two wheels (pt. I.)

It’s hard to tell a story while I’m living it (for the lack of time, if nothing else); on the other hand, I prefer not to write when I’m ill, to avoid (publicly!) documenting those moods – hence the delay.
A friend asked me, when I told him, « have you at least done something stupid, to get so sick? »

I’ll leave that to you to decide.

The story starts on Friday, May 26th, a day off work. Having run some errands, which of course took more time than I’d though they would, I left Brussels at 12.30, an hour later than planned. I say I left Brussels, but this being a biking trip it took me about an hour more to get out of the city.


You’ll never hear me complain about it, but it was hot. And I had a headwind. And I got lost twice, first at Haacht and then at Aarschot, where my phone’s battery died, leaving me without a map.

Google hugely overestimates my cycling speed: I arrived to Diest at 6pm, sweaty, tired and more proud than ever.

But why was I cycling to Diest on this Friday afternoon to begin with? Why, if not for the love of dance. I was headed to a folk festival named Dafodil.
Until I joined the folk scene, I only knew gigues from J.S. Bach, mazurkas from Chopin (I played some, in fact), and the only valse I knew was Viennese. It makes quite a difference do be dancing them. And dance I did, on that warm and lively night, under the open skies.

 

As the next day proved, Diest happens to be a lovely, if quiet, old town. So is Aarschot, where I had lunch, though it’s less quiet, as expected from a larger city.

Ce diaporama nécessite JavaScript.

 

My destination, however, was Betekom, where I danced at a charity dance show organised by my friends Llady May and Saratis, an event as warm, welcoming and fun as anyone could wish for.
Saratis even offered me to stay at her place, even though we’d never met before the show! She and her boyfriend have two dogs – and had a third one over as a guest –, a couple of cats, maybe two? a turtle, a rabbit, and some small chicken. And possible some more I haven’t seen – an amazing household indeed.

Coincidentally, that night was also the 3rd anniversary of my arrival to Belgium. I couldn’t have wished for a better celebration than that hafla with my dancer friends, and that weekend as a whole. When I came back last September, I decided I’d play at being new in town until and unless I felt at home. It took me long, eight months since then, almost three years altogether, but now I am finally truly arrived.

the dancer on two wheels (photo by Ludo Vanlangenakker)

Almost, but not quite

Mayday weekend was one of, if not the best I’ve had in about two and a half years. I also was one of, if not the most active one since then. This means that

I went out to dance salsa on Friday, after declining to go to a class beforehand so that I could have a nap, knowing I’d not be home before 2AM (and indeed I did not);

on Saturday, I visited the Royal Greenhouses. The Royal Greenhouses are open only a few weeks a year, and I was under the distinct impression that one has to reserve an appointment to get in, which I did not manage, probably because this is not really the case. I reserved a place in a guided tour instead, and only realised somewhere around Friday 11PM that 1) the tour starts at 1PM, not at 2:30, and 2) it’s a 4-hour cycling tour around Bruxelles. Of course, I regularly cycle comparable distances, but getting up that much earlier wasn’t welcome; also, cycling thgouth the town and then walking around, at a snail’s pace, in a huge and awfully crowded greenhouse complex for an hour is tiring. On top of that, we started out late, so at 5:30, when I left the group, the tour wasn’t yet finished.

Ce diaporama nécessite JavaScript.

I went home, had a bit of rest, took a shower and changed, pulled myself together, had a coffee – then went out to a folk ball. This is something I’ve been into since September, and includes (mostly) Western-European traditional dances. I do not take classes, but I go to the live music evenings whenever I can: the dances are easy to learn by doing, the music tends to be great, and I enjoy the company a lot.
If all that wasn’t enough,

on Sunday, though I had set the alarm as late as I could, counting all I wanted to do, I was fully awake by 8:15; so not only I wen to the market and took the compost to the garden (have I ever mentioned I participate in a community garden?), I also took my seedlings (green peas and courgettes, if you want to know), and by the time the others arrived – we’d agreed to turn the compost –, I almost finished planting and watering them.
I went to a contact impovisation jam in the afternoon, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’d been going to jams in budapest, but in Bruxelles I somehow didn’t manage (maybe because I was sick half the time?). Anyway, it was so good I resolved to go every Sunday if I can. Of course, typically, I may have to take an exception this week already. I finished off Sunday night at an Oriental dance show. No, I did not perform.

Monday was an easy day: I « only » had some dance practice and visited my friends in Leuven.

 

Why « almost »,  you may ask.

Honestly, I’d not intended to pack my weekend so much, but when I realised I had, I decided not to cancel anything unless I really didn’t feel like going. But every day I paid close attention to get my hours of sleep, to home during the day and have and hour or so to rest, even to take a nap. I made sure that I wouldn’t have any specific programme for the next weekend, so that I can rest.

I was prepared to be tired, not-so-concentrated or less productive at work. Still I hoped, in vain, that that would be it. It’s Friday and I’m writing this from home, on sick leave (lucky I can do that, by the way). When I talk about chronic illness, this is what I’m so upset about. I mean, there are way more serious issues than mine, and if you don’t see me take my meds you probably won’t ever notice, but really, can I not have an active and fun weekend without getting sick?!?


Edited to add: of course, this illness was little more than some annoyance, but annoying it was indeed. Three weeks later, I’m still not back at that energy level — almost, yes, but not quite.

not nice

“Are you still single?” – he asked.

I had met him and exchanged numbers at a community event a while ago. We spoke only once since then.

“Does that concern you?” – I answered. I hate this question.

“It does indeed.”
“How so?”
“It concerns me because I’m interested in you.”
“But I’m not interested in you, so no, it does not.”
“How rude.”
“Not rude. Honest.”
“You’re so harsh with me.”
“I am, and so what?”
“So what, what do you want me to say?”
“Whatever you wish.”
“Oh well, you too.”
“Then I wish you a nice evening.”
“Don’t you just hang up like that, you have to tell me why!”
“Personal preferences are not to be explained.”
“But you have to explain!”
“No, I don’t. Thans for calling, and have a nice evening. Ciao.”

I count myself lucky, for in my 31 years I’ve only had a handful of these conversations.

I count this one as a victory, for I did hang up and blocked his number without thinking much about it – though it took him less time to text me, only to tell me that I am not nice and that I should go eff myself.

So long as you leave me alone…

a letter never sent

Dear …,

I am writing a story. I am writing the story you owe me, because I have given up on you ever paying your debt.

While there might have been times when a story could be bought or commanded, those times are past now; in any case, this particular one could only ever be given freely. When we last met, you named this debt as your own and gave me a promise – freely! – to tell it, but you never did. I have not even heard of you since, in fact.

So I decided to write it intstead of you. It will be different from all the other stories I have written, for it has to be more profane and prosaic than any of them to be credible. In all probability, it will not be beautiful, either.

Still, I will write it, and the writing will be the easier part. For after that, I will have to believe it. Just as the Son, who had, under expert instructions, dreamt his wings, and then had to forget the time he had lived without, I will have to believe this story to be true, as if you had truly told me.

I will probably lose whatever confidence I still have in you in the process, as well as any goodwill that’s left. I am well aware you could not care less about it. If I do my job properly, neither will I, by the end.

Nevertheless, I wish you all the best.

an e-mail from the past

On New Year’s Day*, I received an e-mail – from my past self**.

27-year-old Eszter (Maura) was convinced she could never write her “(future) self a letter and not remember every word of whenever it is actually delivered”. She could. I forgot every word of it.

I will not quote it, being, typically, a mix of English, Spanish and Italian.

My past self had pretty much the same goals as I do, including one regarding coming to Brussels, about which I could have some words with her. She asked me about work (best I’ve had and quite cool on a universal scale), about dance, mentioning pizzica and tammurriata (which I have since danced, though not nearly enough), as well as Oriental (I came a long way since that moment, and brewing new things these days***); about health (gosh, worst two years past, hopefully ever, getting better now); about autonomy (nailed it).

She asked me about my paperboat project (an imaginary travel agency, left in half – my fleet is supposed to be at a friend’s place, though she moved last year…), my writing (see elsewhere on this site), about travels (I’m quite content on this point). She asked me if she was still single (not still, but again).

She reminded me about a certain trip to Cádiz I was planning: postponed, it’s still on schedule.

Looking at this, I’m much more satisfied with my life.

 

 

* New Year’s Day, 2016. I was in a way too bad place last year to write about it.

** Write yourself one at www.futureme.org.

*** I cannot bring myself to write about future plans without a set time and a high probability, so I’ll write about them more in detail when that moment comes.

 

 

 

Arrival 2.0

Illusions are but a handy tool

I stepped off the plane, thanking the skies for the upteenth time that the sun would shine as I returned. My hand itched for my phone, but I steeled myself not to call – we said our goodbyes as best we could, there was no point in trying to change that. So I pocketed my phone, useless as it was: there wasn’t a single person in the city who knew when I arrived or when I should arrive, much less anyone who cared. (No, my boss does not count.)

I spent my way home trying hard not to cry.

Before I went home, I had convinced myself that no one, not even myseld needed to know I would only be gone for two weeks. Parting ways is much easier if it’s inevitable, even if you have to fool yourself into believing that.

This time, trying to keep myself afloat, I decided I would be as if newly arrived. I’m not at the point of denying my past two years here (I do deny from time to time that I speak English, though), but if anyone asks, I tell them I’m playing at being new in town.

And I play the part well.

It works.

 

Anaesthesia

I woke up crying
and I felt my dream shatter and fade away within the second.

‘Don’t cry’ they said, ‘you’ll only hurt yourself.’
Don’t I know that. Yet, I could not stop, not for a good time.

‘But why?’ they asked.
‘For I am sad’
‘Because of your surgery??’
‘No, for other reasons’, I answered, trying desperately – and in vain – to cling on to the fragments of my dream,

unsure whether it was the dream itself, or losing it, that made me cry.

Someone please tell me where forgotten dreams go.

My irresponsible self

Of course, the plan was to go home by midnight. Not that I should be going out on a Sunday at all, but.

I had something that could easily evolve into a full-blown sinusitis, but that would be cut out in two days. I had such a pain in my knee I could hardly walk, but that would fade once I was properly warmed up (only to attack again on the way home). Most dangerous of all, I was heartbroken, and therefore in desperate need of those few minutes of bliss where there is only music and movement and nothing else.

So out I went to find it. The Brussels salsa scene is one of the only things that compensate me for the shitty climate of this place (the other beign the endless strawberry season), but that night started all too slow. By the time someone first asked me to dance, I finished my welcome drink and was halfway through another one, and it only got worse. It had been a long time I’d drank anything more then a glass of wine, but this time I had enough to feel it in my muscles – first in my face, then my arms, my legs; I had enough to almost have a crying fit, though I did convince myself to wait until I got home. I definitely drank enough not to check the time, which went unnoticed as I danced and danced more, forgetting everything but my partners’ lead and the music flowing though me. I stayed until the music changed from salsa/bachata to regueton and latin disco and whatnot, then back again, twice –
and by that time I was so tired I could not follow my own steps, much less someone else’s –

and I was tired enough to lose my filters and show my middle finger to the guy who did not stop at offering me a ride home (“if only I wasn’t by bike”) but told me what else he’d like to do –

and I was more than tired enough not to have that crying fit I wanted, so I guess I reached my goal for the night.

I got home at 2.30AM.

Lost and found

Once upon a time, I used to take long walks in my neighbourhood.

Whatever happened to this habit of mine?

Friendly competition

I was ten years old when I went to this poetry reciting contest at the encouragement of my schoolteacher, where I was awarded the fourth place.  I cried all the way home: no-one could convince me that it wasn’t a failure.

Ever since, I had a certain aversion to competitions. I did take part in a few, mostly in academic ones (the national contest for high school students and the like), was successful in some of them and less so in others. I avoided non-academc ones for fear of failing again.

I was 18 when I signed up to a dance contest as a soloist. I played finger cymbals (ever heard about the « Let’s Screw Ourselves » Movement?),  I had a costume malfunction, and a jury who was not inclined to appreciate my style, to put it nicely.

It took me more than ten years to go to a dance contest again. Since last summer, I went to five different contests, the last one being at the  Cairo by Night festival last weekend. And finally, I learnt how to compete. Of course, I’ve always known, in a rational way,  that a contest is a means to learn, an opportunity to meet fellow dancers, a chance to get feedback from the masters and from the members of the audience – dancers and non-dancers alike. That it is a way to expose myself and be seen, with all the advantages and challenges of being seen. But now, finally, I internalised it. Finally, I can truly enjoy watching fellow contestants. Finally, I can truly appreciate all the feedback I get, even if some of the critique I get still hurts. Finally, I can heartily congratulate the both winners and the ones I like the best (and I’ll admit sometimes they are not the same, though this last time they were).

Finally, I learnt the meaning of friendly competition.

Three lessons from an intense weekend

I am just pulling myself together after a weekend of workshops with the one and only Mercedes Nieto. As usual, her workshops, all three of them, were amazing, as usual, she wore us out completely, and, as usual, her concepts were at times a lot more difficult to grasp than the dance technique she taught, which, I should add, is something to say, for her technique is anything but easy. The weeend was complete with a Saturday evening show starring Mercedes and featuring a number of other beautiful dancers and a live ensemble, where I also had the honour to perform.

Obviously, much of what I learnt is non-verbal – it was a dance weekend, after all –, but here are the 3 most important lessons I took away (and I can put into words):

  1. Even sadness can be light.

The first workshop was about lyrical and dramatic expression in oriental dance, and befre we dived into how to express any of that, we needed a way to define them and tell them apart. Most classical oriental songs are love songs, and few of them are happy ones – indeed, even those tend to have a touch of melancholy, so we won’t find it there. We might find it in the lyrics, but often a verse that would read rather dramatic makes for a much softer, more lyrical song. So wee looked at instrumentation, the use  of instruments, the layers and depth of the music as well as how the singer interprets the words in question. Of how much passion, hope and acceptance s/he puts into the song. Mercedes introduced an association of  something lyrical being lighter and drama being deeper, heavier, which accordingly led us to different dance techniques to express these qualities. She also said even sadness can be light – less dramatic, softer, airier than one might think – and I kept thinking of sadness accepted, of sadness I know will pass one day, of sadness so calm is becomes light.

2. Lost energy can (and should) be recovered.

In a dance context, we talk about energy as the momentum that drives us though a series of movements, that makes the next movement a direct consequence of the previous one.  To experiment with this concept, we practiced a combination, leading this energy and reacting to it in turn, at the end releasing it completely to remain empty of it and restart, building it up again. I found myself somtimes losing it in the middle of the combination, distracted maybe by getting too close to the dancer next to me and wanting to avoid bumping into her or simply forgetting the next step, so I asked if she had any advice, should we lose our energy on stage. She did have a piece of advice, applicable to much more than dancing on stage: slow down, re-center yourself and focus on your body. 

3. It’s good to be carrried away by the music – but find your way out

This lesson doesn’t come from the workshops, but from the performance, and was offered by another fellow dancer, Fédra. After the show, she complimented me on how full of feeling I dance (I took it as a compliment, in any case). I danced on a deep, sad and somewhat conflicted love song, improvising to allow myself the flexibility to follow the live music – and I indeed got carried away. So much that I was not quite ready for the end of the song when it came. I doubt many have noticed it – the musicians communicated and understood me amazingly. Fédra, and possibly some other dancers, spotted it though, and she pointed it out, not only offering a valuable lesson for future performances, but also a great example of constructive feedback.

 

Classics, live

One of the things I truly enjoy in Brussels is that there are a lot of events relating to Middle-Eastern culture. There are indeed a lot more of them than I can attend, but not long ago I did go to two concerts, one with Ghalia Benali singing Oum Kolthoum, presenting her new CD, and the other with the ensemble Nagham Zikrayet paying tribute to Farid el-Atrache.

They were both great musical experiences. They also both presented Egyptian classics live, and, what was of special interest to me, in interpretations that were not adapted to dance.

– Ghalia Benali sings Al Atlal

Ghalia Benali presented Oum Kalthoum in a quartet format: oud, percussion, double bass and voice. She has a voice to fill a great hall but created such an intimate atmosphere it could have been a living room concert. I loved Benali’s take on the music, the jazzy tones, the intimacy, the modernity of her approach. I also couldn’t fail to notice how she made Oum Kalthoum more understandable, more easy to listen – for the Western ear –, how she commented on « the long piece », Al Atlal, which she sang in its entirety (or almost) rather than a shortened version.
Which was quite appropriate: organised by Muziekpublique, the concert was held in the Théatre Molière for a general public (and by that I mean the usual Brussels mix of people). And for a general, mostly European audience, classical Egyptian music is not easy – we are simply not used to it.

– Nagham Zikrayet playing Farid el-Atrache

By contrast, the Nagham Zikrayet ensemble presented Farid el-Atrache’s music in a most classical way, with a full Oriental orchestra, that is 4 violins, a double bass, a keyboard, an oud, a kanoun and a ney, 2 percussionists, 3 vocalists, the lead singer, plus another singer who joined for the last song. They played the songs in full: we heard maybe five songs in a concert more than 3 hours long.

– an oud, a qanoun and a ney (photos by: openDemocracy, Ozanyarman & Nerval)

It was also a concert organised, as the hostess of the evening said, « to guard our cultural identity and pass it on to our children ». The public, accordingly, consisted mostly of people of Middle-Estern/North African origin, roughly from 7 to 70 years of age. It has to be mentioned though that no matter how traditional the setting, Nagham Zikrayet is a mixed group both in terms of gender and of ethnicity. The fact that such an orchestra would have women and non-Arab (Western-looking) members surprised me and was further emphasized by the hostess of the evening, who expressed how happy she was about this mix.

I sat between an elderly Hijabi lady and a man who, through our admittedly very short interaction, never thought I may not understand Arabic. I was clearly an ousider – and yes, that made me feel awkward. It was also a powerful learning experience, though I’d be hard-pressed to put into words that glimpse of understanding I gathered there. Events of this kind – organised by and/or for the local Arab community – is the closest I get (for now) to Middle-Eastern culture.

And yet, I didn’t see almost anyone from the Brussels oriental dance community.

If you’re a dancer and have the chance to see Arabic music live, don’t miss it. Even if, no, especially if you find the music difficult: this kind of music is best enjoyed live.

If you are not a dancer? Go anyway. There is a lot of beautiful music to find.

picking up the thread (again)

I wrote a lot over the months, but never got to type any of it. I have this lovely hard-cover notebook I carry around all the time, and I even switch to English when I write something in it I intend to transfer later to this blog, but… But.

In May, I spent some days in Porto, city of dreams and saudade – and it was when my return flight landed that I felt, for the first time, at home here. Not, of course, because of any factual change in my relationship with the city, but because it hit me that I’d better, if I’m truly to stay here. And stay I will, for a good couple of years at least.

I visited an amazing number of cities starting with ‘B’ this summer: Budapest, Berlin, Budapest, Bari, Budapest again, Barcelona… then I stopped, these days I go to Lille every month for dance workshops. It’s almost always for dance that I travel, or maybe Toastmasters, as was the case with Porto.

I even went to dance competitions, a great re-start for me, for the one and only time I took part in a solo contest was almost 10 years ago and was a disaster. Third time the charm, they say, or fourth if I count that distant and disastrous first Now I’m faced with the dilemma of what to do with the three not-so-decorative trophies currently residing on my bookshelf without offending anyone, but avoiding at the same time the obligation of regularly dusting them. Don’t get me wrong: I’m truly happy and proud of the achievment, it’s the objects that give me pause.

I still don’t find my balance, try as I might, but I do keep on trying anyway. What else can I do. I try to sleep more, experiment with my eating habits, mostly with cutting sugar completely off my diet.

Changes are brewing. I prefer neat ends, clean cuts, big launches (or even: re-launches) – but clean endings do not exists, changes need to mature, and big (re-)launches need to be heard about beforehand to be interesing, not to mention that the bigger they are, the more spectacularly they crash if they run out of fuel too early, which, in my, case, they tend to do. I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do with this blog, and I’m still not sure. I find it difficult to talk about plans, especially half-formed ones. I’d love to have your opinions, though.

apple juice

It’s also a very good question why I was about to sit down at a terrace on this sunny Friday afternoon all alone – but alone I was, and convinced I should not deprive myself of the good things of life just because of the lack of good company.

So I sat down, ordered a glass of fruit juice, and started writing. At the next tabe, just in front of me, sat a man wearing a horribly elegant dark suit and a pair of highly reflective sunglasses.  I had this feeling he was watching me from behind them, which made me slightly unconfortable. At a certain point, he stood up and took a step toward me.

’Excuse me, could you please keep an eye on my things while I go inside?’

’Of course.’

’I’m just going to get another coffee – would you like something too?’

’No, thanks.’

’Maybe another juice? It would be my pleasure.’

Thanks, but no, thanks.’

He went in, came back and sat down. Some minutes later the waitress brought him his coffee, and then put a glass of juice in front of me. I looked up at him, at askance – I thought I had been clear enought about not wanting any more. He shrugged, lit a cigarette and sipped his coffee.

I returned to my writing, leaving the glass of juice intact on the tabe, this time being absoulutely sure of being watched. He sat there in front of me for about another twenty minutes, then took his jacket and walked away.

For the love of…

I get up at 7AM on Saturday, wash, pack some more things, have breakfast and the usual, and close the door at 8.30. The plan was to take my bike to Mons by train so I could bike from the station to Flénu where the festival was held. I decide to take the metro to the train station. At the metro stop I realise my monthly ticket has expired; while I’m renewing it at the machine, I see the metro pass. It goes every 12 minutes. Then, as I put my wallet back to my backpack, its zip, which would open on its own from time to time for a while, decide to give it up once and for all. Of course, I don’t have any other bags I could put on the bike, so I go back home, pack everything into my smallest suitcase, leave the bike and go back to the metro station, resigning myself to missing the 9:28 train. There’s one at 10:05 anyway. A tiny part of me is grateful, for as much as I love biking and the independence of it, biking 6 kms in an unknown town, at night and probably under 0°C might not be the best for me now.
I arrive to Bruxelles-Central without further problems, have a coffee and go to platform 4, which is then changed to platform 6, and wait. At 10:06, I see the train, rather short, which has stopped at the other end of the platform, leave.
I take the next train (10:28), wait another half an hour for my connection at La Louviére – Sud, does not matter but I will remember at this point, I arrive to Mons a bit later than the time I should have arrived to Flenu, walk to the hostel, get a key-card, go up to the second floor only to realise the card does not work, go downstairs, upstairs again, leave the linens on the bed,go back to the station, or, to be precise, to the square next to, which is under reconstruction along with the station, spend a good amount of time on finding where my bus leaves from, realise I have another half an hour until it passes, have a coffee.
About 13:30, I arrive to Flénu, missing almost half of the workshop I signed up to. I try to make the most of what remains, in spite of my bad mood. It does help that the workshop is on live music; it helps even more when the teacher, who has not noticed my late arrival, calls me as one to perform a short improvisation to the other participant – and I’m surprised some would be so surprised at seeing me dance.
The evening went on with an open stage performance that did not go as well as I would have liked, and which – at least my piece – was seen only by about one third of the audience, all the others queuing up for dinner behind the stage;
a dance-fashion show during which I was changing back to normal clothing, but of which I catch one of the models, wearing the dress I had been eyeing before, and who happened to be more or less my size;
a dance show with the wonderful orchestra of Safaa Farid and some truly amazing dancers;
and I concluded it with the most impulsive purchase I’ve ever made in my life.
I arrived home on sunday around 3PM, and, discounting a short break for dinner, I slept until next morning.

I aways have an excuse

for not having written for more than the promised one week.
You know, my best friend was here last week, for a full week, so I truly had better things to do. It may seem perplexing that after a 10-day visit with my best friend I don’t even have some good stories to tell, but we have a rather long tradition of just spending good time together without having anything specific in mind (to the point of accompanying the other running errands), as well as of staying at home with a cup of hot chocolate and world-saving talks instead of going out and burning the town.
Never you mind I don’t have cocoa at home this time.
Or the fact that we did go out, on a Thursday, no less, dancing salsa. It was an altogether decent night out, in any meaning of this word, but it just felt so good. Really, why stay at home all the time in the name of protecting my health when it makes me so depressed?

That being a good lesson, I continued in that spirit this week. I stayed nicely at home the first two days, then went to an absoutely chatartic concert of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino on Wednesday, watch this video if you can, and to a poetry reading night (of a group I just recently joined) yesterday.

I need to sleep.

But still…

Running in circles

Last year, on New Year’s morn, even while walking home from the party I knew I’d be ill. What I did not know was that I’d have practically constant sinusitis for 3 months straight and would have to be operated at the end. This year started in a similar manner, so at the second round I visited a specialist, who happens to be very thorough – aside from the one-week cure for my most evident symptoms and some rest at home he put me under medication for 3 months and regularly orders me back for controls. He even sent me to have a CT examintaion to see if I need yet another operation.

To say I dislike being under medication is quite the understatement. No-one likes is, I guess, but I know some who are indifferent if they need it to get better, people who, for instance, regularly take painkillers for headaches and so on. I’m not: I’m all for natural treatments and will not take a pill unless I don’t have another option. This time, having learnt from last year, I realise I don’t.

But there’s something else, and that’s what makes me write all this, even though sharing these details on the web does make me squirm a bit. I also realise that all the chronic and recurring issues I have are much more closely connected to my lifestyle choices, notably my eating and sleeping habits and stress levels. And there I’m puzzled.

It’s one thing I tend to do too much, which in turn leads me to sleep too little and not care about what I eat. Then, if I force myself to slow down, I become restless, and if I set myself rules about food and sleep and whatnot, I get stressed from it. When stressed, I tend to overeat, mostly sweets – with which I’m surely not alone, but which would be the single most important thing to stop –, as well as stay up late, even when I slow down my projects, just reading things I’ve read a hundred times already. Exhausted, I dope myself with coffee and stress out even more, and it all turns into a rather vicious circle I don’t know where to get hold of. At times it takes me several days, even weeks to get hold of myself, then I restart, shifting my focus one way or another in hopes of better results, which may come, but only in quantity (of time), never in quality. (This is why I compare everything to my life in Genova: that was the only exception, ever.)

I’m not asking for advice, however  much it may seem at first. So please don’t give any, I won’t keep them anyway. But I’d love to hear about your own struggles and solutions, if you’d share.

„THE SECRETARY-GENERAL,

ACTING IN HIS CAPACITY AS APPOINTING AUTHORITY,

[…]

HAS DECIDED AS FOLLOWS:

1. Ms Eszter H […], a probationer as from 01/06/2014, is hereby established in grade AD 5, step 1.

2. This decision shall take effect on 01/03/2015.”

The Big Slowdown

another depressive post – you’ve been warned

Even aside of environmental concerns, I have to admit that as much as I used to love flying, I don’t enjoy it that much anymore. Takeoff and landing are especially harsh on me, as is the simple unnaturality of the speed. At times, I don’t even look out the window.
So I was none too happy to board not one, but two planes to go to Germany  (and then two again, to come back) for a weekend to visit with friends, however much I enjoyed my time with them. I also realised that one really has to have a certain rhythm to life to label a weekend spent in a household with a three-year-old « calm » – even if the kid is someone else’s child. It was a rhythm over even my usual pace
– and it came, of course, to a crashing halt just a couple of days later, when I fell ill with sinusitis (again). Considering that last year, when despite the illness I could not (would not?) slow down, I ended up having sinusitis for three months straight and then had to be operated, I don’t seem to have a choice. So in the ten days I spent home, I did some serious thinking, called off the dance competition I had signed up to and another show (here’s why I rarely if ever write about plans and future),  and decided to cancel any regular evening programs, this means mostly the French conversation table and Toastmasters, except for my weekly dance classes for an indeterminate time, as well as my early morning practice routine. (Yes, I also wonder: until when?)
Boring or not, I need balance.
Still working on it.

days of chaos

You may be aware about the fact that I post one of my Hungarian stories (poems, texts, call them as you wish) every Monday and Thursday, and one of the Spanish pieces on Tuesdays and Fridays. The ones posted these days are pieces of a Hungarian-Spanish bilingual series, which is one of hte most important things I’ve ever written. These stories were written long ago: I’m filling this new space up chronologically. Actually, I would truly like if I could produce 2 (or 4) pieces like those per week. As it goes, last week I didn’t even find it in myself to pre-program posting those, much less to write something new, no matter the promise about writing once a week. Even now, I find it difficult to mine anything out of my rather labyrinthic memories that would make an acceptable story.

My mum was here, for almost 24 hours, and for this festive occasion I managed to do something I was completely unable in the previous 10 days, that is, tidy up this flat of mine, and I’m absoutely relieved, for I truly don’t need any outside chaos in addition to the one inside. There will be photos soon, meaning before the end of April. I still have a to-do list that miraculously keeps growing, no matter how many items I cross off; and tonight as I arrived home I was surprised by a postal slip stating I have a pack – I have no idea what it might be and even less of when I can go and pick it up, though it should better be this week if I want to survive the attack of curiosity it provoked.

Any ideas?

business as usual

I arranged for a transporter for today – a man with a small van – to pick up my furniture at one of these second-hand shops and drive them to my place. Everything went smoothly, until he tried to fit the chest of drawers into the elevator, which he tried a couple of times, but couls not. So sure he was that it was an impossible task that he offered to help me carry it up. To the 5th floor.

Luckily, there came the concierge, a tough middle-aged lady, and managed this impossible task in a single try.

So that’s how I ended up sitting on top of a chest of drawers, in a very small elevator, next to a professional, and rather embarrassed, transporter – laughing my head off and wondering why it seems so very normal to me.

Long live surreality.

High threshold

When I first started a diary, at about 11 years of age, I would meticulously record all the small details of my everyday life. As time passed, I kept on writing, but grew out of this habit, focusing more on the emotional side of things; nevertheless, every now and then, especially after long lapses in writing, I would try to document all in a roughly chronological order. To the best of my knowledge, there is only one person who read that (apart form  myself of course), and she never gave an opinion on what kind of reading it was, for which I’m eternally grateful. Then again, even if I still write that way for my own personal purposes, I have this rather strong idea that chronological and factual are essentially boring from the outside.

I’ve been back to Brussels for a week. I cleaned the flat, but failed to put away my things, meaning I’m living out of several suitcases, each of which does not contain the object I’m looking for. I still don’t have dishes: when I had to boil some water I had to resort to the lower part of my mocca, but as of today I have at least a set of plates and mugs I picked up this afternoon, second-hand. I got an iron for free with them.

Having forgotten most my French while at home, I decided to go to the Monday French conversation table. I left work; I went to a nearby place to have some dinner (some soup, more precisely), but it was closed; I went to another, but it was also closed; I managed to have my soup in a third one. Then I caught a bus; I got off at an unknown station to catch my connection and promptly got on the bus going the opposite direction; I got off, got on the correct one, but missed my stop. I was on the verge of going home, but decided against it: it did not seem a good idea to come home to an empty but chaotic flat, where I could not even make a tea, in such a bad mood. That’s all good and well, but once I arrived, I lost track of time and caught it again only around 11pm. Even so, I woke up before 6am the next day. Don’t ask.

Said next day I had dance rehearsal after work; the day after, Wednesday, is may standard of getting-home-late, having a double dance class from 6 to 8 and then another one until 10pm. I got Thursday an Friday off, so that I could get some furniture and settle in. I tried.

On Thursday, I ventured out to this second-hand furniture shop just round the corner. I spent about 2 hours in there, but didn’t find anything interesting apart from a shelf I’ve bought since then but still have no idea how I’ll manage to transport it home. After that, I went to get some lunch – some soup again, and you’ll realise it’s important, for by the time I finished with that, I was feeling so bad I decided to come back home, then slept through the whole afternoon. On Friday, I wen’t to see the doctor.

I’m somewhat better now, but I still don’t know how I’ll manage to both get better and at least the settling-in part of my rather intimidating list.

 

They say if you have too much of something, you become less and less sensitive of it. I guess I’ve long past developed that kind of tolerance to increased life rhythms.

 

Sorry, folks. I was home, and loved every minute of it. Or at least that’s what I want to remember, even if it is most evidently an exaggeration. In any case, my apologies to all of you who read this blog / would have liked to hear of me over the holidays, but did not.

But now! I’m back. To beautiful cloudy Bruxelles, and, eventually, to blogging. A notorious non-maker of resolutions, I nevertheless promise that I will try my best to write one post per week.

I arrived to my new home at about 5pm, with a huge and horribly heavy suitcase (and another, not so huge and heavy one to complement it), switched the heating on, then ventured out to get some food for the upcoming days. I also got a bucket for the cleaning I will have to do at some point, as well as a nice comfy two-step ladder I also felt the need to have in my flat. It will also act as a chair until I get one of those (there’s an Acting Chair to all my fellow language freaks).

I found then something to call pyjamas for the next couple of days. And now, I will sleep.

milestones

Though only about six months and a half passed since I am here and f my nine-month probation, for some reason no one quite understands (not even my immediate boss) we had an end-of-probation evaluation meeting today (with the boss mentioned).

Then I met my new landlady and signed a 3-year lease contract for an apartment – my new home from next weekend, if you wish.

I need sleep so badly – even though, and that’s something I forgot to tell you, the monster is gone* – that I decided against salsa-dancing tonight.

 

 

* before you jump to mistaken conclusions, it was her owner… well, anyway, her human who took her, and to nowhere else than Corsica, from where she is originally from.

motherly visit, scenes of a flat-hunt and other random stories

My blog is too depressive, I’m told. Some even stopped reading it because of that. Now, I’m horribly offended – but I also have to admit that I do end up strangely melancholic whenever I grab the keyboard, even when I want to write about something happy. My only remedy is sticking to the facts, which usually don’t find interesting enough in and for itself, thoug I’m probably mistaken in this.

So, here you go.

My mum arrived on Monday – along with Winter himself –, equipped with an unpleasant cold and a good amount of tiredness, which translated into not wanting to do tourism or any other fancy programmes but simply being, resting and spending time with me. So we had three days of the most decadent tranquilité possible. This actually means we had good unhurried breakfasts, ate out every day and that the most demanding thing we did was had walking around the Christmas market looking for mulled wine. I’d been missing her – missing home – terribly.

Then she went home, and – well, saying hell broke loose would be the overstatement of the year, but still. Actually, it started earlier. I went to see a flat just before she arrived; I made a formal offer to rent it, which included sending some pretty sensitive personal data (the ways of Belgian real-estate agencies), only to learn two days later, when I had to call them, that the flat was already rented to another person. My mum left on Thursday morning; I had a visit to a flat at lunchtime the same day. The agent wrote me he’d be 10 minutes late, which turned out to be half an hour, which is only a bit painful at 0°C and with time lost from working hours. It wasn’t the best place, but desperate I was I almost decided to rent it. In the evening I had another appointment, waited another half an hour, after which I called the agent who told me in her most non-apologetic voice that that flat was already taken. I say, alright, but I had an appointment, I’ve been waiting for half an hour already. She says, the first visitor took the flat. I say, that’s all good and well, but she could have told me something. She says, but they get so many messages and anyway the office closes at 6:30pm. At that point I was shouting her head off in my almost-nonexistent French. You can imagine.

I wanted to go to sleep early, but my neighbour decided that precise night that they want to listen to some shitty music on max volume at 10pm. Given that theirs is another staircase, I decided not to go down three stairs to ring them up – but after about 20 minutes when the music was still on, I started hitting the radiator on the common wall furiously. (I know it’s weird, but it also happens to be the only way I can make some noise that may be heard on the other side.) My hand still hurts. Somehow I managed to fall asleep, only to wake up at 4am feeling distinctly sick and feverish. I got some water and my thermometer, but of course I fell asleep somewhere around the fourth minute, so at a certain point I saved the thermometer, never learning if I had a temperature or not.

I honestly wasn’t the most useful on Friday, but I pulled through, organising a visit to one flat for the evening ang four others for today. Then I went out salsa-dancing, and got home at 4am.

I woke up today to a sunny autumnish morning; the air was crisp and smelled of mulled wine (even if there wasn’t any in sight). Today, I walked about 7 hours, saw 3 apartments (the 4th visit was cancelled), did a good part of my Christmas shopping, made a decision, made a deal with the current tenant to buy the bed and the wardrobe that’s currently in the flat, and I even managed to get home and call my family with the news.
I even got the contract proposal. It’s in French, of course. I refuse to read it tonight.

Last Saturday

something inexplicable happened.  Now that I’m in the middle of a flat-hunt (one of the most stressful things ever, truly),  that the days are getting ever darker and work more and more difficult, I’ve let go of the stress and the doubts, as well as all the rules I set up to maintain a semblance of balance and could not keep at all. And I feel light, lighter than ever since the first few weeks after having arrived – before that, I don’t even remember, probably in Genoa, to which I still compare: where’s the difference between what becomes home and what does not? -, and balanced, and confident, and happy.
Not euphoric,
not uncomplicated.
For I read news from home and from elsewhere and worry. For I slowly but steadily drift away from my former life, and at time find myself in a bubble I honestly detest.
For it’s been only a couple of days, and it all might only be for these sunny days, knowing how fine-tuned I am to the weather (which is a truly unfortunate thing, really, but more so in Belgium).
But I still fel good, feel at home in myself, if not in the city,
as I slowly grow into myself, into what I could be.
It’s been half a year today.

Shall I… ?

Shall I write about my travels?
Shall I  write about facts? be chronological? Or shall I write my impressions, de-contextualised, and ignore the fact that it will be utterly incomprehensible without further explanations?
Shall I write about these things at all, or will you just hate me anyway for my life here (and especially for the fact I am not all euphoric in it)?

I can't seem to master the art of uncomplicated happiness.

– so I'll stick to the facts, or something of the like, and at that I'll write how I went to Bari.

It all began with the notion that with this climate here I'd better go somewhere South in November, so I decided to go to Cyprus. Then I saw the air fares, and decided to go elsewhere, to look for a nice dance festival. And I found one in Cyprus, and I also found out that if I don't insist on travelling on weekend, I may get an acceptable fare, but then my friend Mari told me she was going to a festival in Bari,  where some truly awesome teachers would teach, and where I have another couple of friends living, not to mention which is a place much easier to travel to. So I went. She could not, in the end.

The old town of Bari is as heart-brakingly beautiful as only the port cities of the Mediterranean can be, and seems to have the exact same horrible living conditions. There is also some charm in seeing people in boots and winter coats in 23 degrees and sunshine.

Of course, I spent most my time inside the Mazagat festival, taking 3 dance workshops a day. I swear by the end of each day not only I couldn't lift my feet, but I didn't even know where to find them. I learnt a lot, though, or so I hope. I see thankful and enthusiastic comments on fb and can't bring myself to write one of those, and I wonder why: if it's a difference in personality, if it's because I felt so clumsy at the workshops among so many good dancers (and beautiful women), or simply I was too tired by the end to be enthusiastic about anything. It had been a very long time sine I danced as much and as intensely.

Ce diaporama nécessite JavaScript.

The cool thing about coming back from holidays on Tuesday is that you have a short working week. The not-so-cool thing about spending you holidays in an otherwise fantastic, but so intense festival (especially if you come back on Tuesday) is that you stand no chance at all of getting even near-enough sleep. So here I am now, back to work, back to my flat-hunt – I should get going in a few minutes to see another flat, by the way.

Shall I write (more) about travels? or any of these micro-stories?

 

the efficiency of bad luck

Last night, just as I was about to go out to the French conversation table where I go every second Monday, I realised I had left my wallet in the office. I wasn’t overly happy, but it was not the first time, so I didn’ worry too much, either.

This morning I realised that though my wallet was indeed in my office, my MOBIB card (the one for public transport) and my credit card wasn’t.  Nor in the canteen where I last used the latter, nor at the reception / lost and found has anyone seen or heard about it. So in my lunch break, just after having visited an apartment – I will have to move out at the end of the year – I came home to look for them again, to no avail. So I went to  the bank, which turned out to be unnecessary, as the only way to block a card is by phone, so that I did.

If this wasn’t enough, I had some problems with a rather problematic tooth of mine – that is, I lost the filling from it, so after work  1) I went to one of those few metro stations where you can get the card and got a new one (the good thing about the electronic system is that it has the same validity as the lost one), 2) went to see another apartment, 3) went to the emergency dentist to get my tooth taken care of (may I mention that the dentist did not speak practically any English).

This was my most efficient and productive day in the last two weeks.*

 

*yes, I did finish my translations for today, too.

Colours of Andalucía – a maze of stories II.

it took me quite long (but I promised, so) here you go...

What I remembered of the colours of Andalucía was the white of the houses, the almost transcendent gold of the sunlight, and the deep purple of what turned out to be the flower of a banana tree.

In Sevilla, white goes accompanied by  warm, earthly ochres and sandstone, lined with  rich dark reds and the strong colours of azulejos. Of Sevilla itself I remembered litlle, to be honest, and as welcoming as the city – and its people – is, I had to realise how little I knew about the place.

In the San Salvador church, abour half-a-dozen middle-aged ladies were sitting on the front benches, praying: one of them would recite the first line and then the others joined in for the answer and finished te verse. They were already there when we entered; aprroximately an hour later, when we left, they still went on.

Meandering through the countless chambers, patios and gardens of the Real Alcázar, I suddenly understood having travelled there at the age of 9 made me ultimately pursue studies in architecture. It still urges me to immerse myself in the history, tales and art of those times.  of course, the same stands for the Moqsue of Córdoba,  which remains on of the most impressive buildings I've ever seen. Add to this the comments of my friend Raúl, who not only is an architect but also comes from the province of Málaga adn therefore knows much more of it than for example I do – you get the idea. It was so good to see him anyways: he was in budapest some 6 years ago, and we haven't met ever since. And though it may seem otherwise from this far, Andalucía is quite big, so simply arranging to meet somewhere was quite a feat. Yet we managed, and so talked through the day about past, present and future, as usual. He seems to have changed in a subtle, inexplicable way that is probably what growing up does to people. It struck me again how much of memory became intangible for the mere fact I had forgotten his accent, his ways of speaking (yes, I am a language freak).

Having seen the amount of wealth accumulated in Sevilla (and elsewhere), there's something I keep thinking about.  That is, if we (some people, including me) think that the extreme concentration of resources is harmful to the society as a whole, how can or how should we approach great artwork, knowing that the ones we consider the greatest are (with very few exceptions) results of an extreme concentration of resources in the hands of a select few? Not to deny or undervalue the talent that created them, of course, but almost none of these greatest works would exist without the exceptional richness of aperson or family that commissioned them (or, in certain cases, the artists themselves, who therefore didn't have to do any other work).

One of the great things about travelling as a grown-up (as opposed to travelling as a child) is that ou can stay up later. This of course is not something in and for itself, but becomes rather important when you can stay up & out threee nights in a row, going to 1) a concert of medieval music / music from Al-Andalus  in the Alcázar gardens, 2) a flamenco concert on the riverside, 3) another flamenco night, in this case with dance, to a place where there's a show every night but you can get very much surprised by the different artists each time. On our last night in Sevilla, we saw one of these surprising dancers.
She was sitting next to the musicians, dressed rather differently than the usual professional flamenco dancers you might see around town, with a make-up that only emphasised how very tired she looked. Next to the podium there were two little girls, probably her daughters and an elderly lady, I guess her mother, and she kept glancing, distracted, to the dirls, especially the smaller one, about maybe two years old. And still, it was completely evident that once she stood up to dance she would be muuch better than all the others we had seen. In fact, she was probably the best I have ever seen – so strong, so alive, so completely with the music, so without any of the dancing clichés some tend to use when dancing. Her name is Ana Japón, but I could not find anything about her on the net.

Having two more days off than my friend (with whom I travelled), once she took her flight I took a train to Cádiz, a town of dreams, unknown.

Cádiz is small, and these days insignificant, at least seemingly, with a history of millennia lost to the eyes, most of the ancient city having been destroyed. Cádiz proper, that is, the old town is a grid of narrow but straight streets lined with buildings of the 1700s, the golden era of Cádiz – and whichever street you take, in whichever direction, you will probably end up on the seaside. On the Caleta beach, a small urban beach in between two fortresses – one with the lighthouse – and lots of fishing boats, there is a much-recommended sight, a theatre show to see each and every day: the sunset. Cádiz is small, but of course in my two days I could not by far discover all the beauties of even Cdiz proper, much less the new part. I do not know the city, nor its sea. I do know maybe three of its songs, and I have met and had lengthy conversations with about a dozen of its people, once I got the hang of their dialect and started to understand more than half of what they were saying.

Cádiz is the Port.
Cádiz smells of the sea.

of all the small things

Time change means days that are (relatively) warm and sunny, but end somewhat before 6pm in evenings that’s both warm and crisp, and somehow exotic and in-between for me.

It’s been just slightly more than 5 months that I’m here. That’s more than what I spent in Genova alltogether – and I cannot but compare, amongst other things because that time (more precisely the second half of it) was so far the best. There I had a true Mediterranean summer, here spring turned almost immediately into autumn. Time flows differently: in 5 months in Genova so much more happened, as normal when staying for a determined time, and in summer. I remember lightness, warmth and a feeling of free fall – here I am grounded, colder, and things slow as growing plants.

Today I miss my friends. The ones at home, and the ones in Genova and Barcelona, friendships not as old and deep, but no less meaningful and much more intense. And while I know that finding friends like the ones I have at home takes a very long time if not forever, I wonder if not finding people like I found in my ports is due to the difference in place, to sheer luck, or if I have changed so much since then.

advice, overheard

“Take the lead! Make sure you’re in charge of your life”, he told her.
Hi did make some good points, including this one.
But this advice was uttered during a(n at least) half-hour long conversation, or rather, lecture, in which he repeatedly told her what she’s “doing all the time”, what she should and should not do, as well as how she should or should not feel or behave.
All in the name of helping her.

A maze of stories I.

Time accumulates behind me and untold stories, wishing to be written, follow me relentlessly, to the very shore of the sea. As does inquietude – and only the sound of waves and the smell of salt did alleviate me for those few years. And now that I sit down to grant these stories what they so incessantly demanded, words evaporate and phrases melt.

reunion

August came and flew away, with but a few days to see the open skies. I had my sister and her son visiting me for a full week, so long yet so short; we visited the local fun fair, ate an indecent amount of fries and waffles and went to sleep at some hours slightly too late for my four-year-old nephew. We visited Brugge and the seaside – the latter by bike – and managed to ride across the Zwin national reserve (with no public lighting, of course) at around 10pm, spending the first half of the trip fearing the things lurking in the dark and the second half fearing my nephew would fall asleep and off the bike as well as of losing our way. On the way back, next day, it was raining cats and dogs, so of the actual natural reserve – which would have been the goal of our trip – we didn’t see much. We did see Brugge the canals and the seaside though, and it’s quite very enjoyable to cycle on the lowlands in any case.

Brugge


in Brugge

 

seaside

 

I went home for a very brief but as dense weekend to see one of my oldest friends getting married, and meet everyone I could in about 60 hours I spent in the country.

Hardly back in Brussels, having slept  about 4 hours and taken the 6AM plane as well as being late, I ran into this strange guy in a fast food where I wanted to get something for lunch. He approached me saying he got his wallet stolen and asked me to offer him a meal. I did; but I also gave him my phone number, which turned out to be a mistake. He asked me whether he could crash at my place, which I didn’t really feel like, but I  promised I’d try to help (hence the number thing). Witout being to find anyone to host him and after some insistance, I told him to meet me at a certain place and hour and that I might host him for the night, though there was something amiss, so I didn’t go to the meeting point alone. As he arrived, I started to ask hime questions, so as to understand what had happened to him.
’You know, I’m just travelling low-cost, I’m liable to ask anyone to host me.’
’Didn’t you tell me you wallet was lost?’

’Well, yeah, that too.’
As if this wasn’t enough, when Luís spoke up, he his answer was something like ’I don’t know who the f*ck you are and what the f*ck you have to say.’ (Says the one who failed to greet him, though evidently he was with me, let alone introduce himself.) Then he attacked, in an absurd reversely-possessive way, telling Luís ’you don’t own her, you don’t know anyone in life’, and would have gone on if I hadn’t told him to stop, that he was there because I asked him to, and that I was making a decision whether to trust him and he wasn’t helping the case.  His answer was ’I understand your boyfriend is unhappy about  you having a stranger sleeping at your place.’ Honestly. As if that was the actual risk, really. I asked him if I could help in any other way, then gave him some money as he requested. He called me three times since, acting as if nothing had happened. I blocked his number after the last one.

Then, I went to Spain. To Andalucía, to be precise – and that will go to a separate post. As it goes, my notebook was full, so I did not bring it with me there; and I had so much to think and write about that one of the first things to do was to buy a notebook. Of course, as my friend Mari arrived and whe plunged into discovering the city of Sevilla, the most I got to jot down were ideas condensed into 4-5 words.

There was one, titled ’the Beginning – no2’. And that was because just before going there I felt something started here in Bruxelles, a movement, a true beginning (again, as so many times). But I cannot for anything recall the words I had for it, the words that would have described it properly. By the time I came back, the feeling faded, too, as it was only to be expected. But things have started: things like dance courses and suchlike that do make me feel more present here. Things like the fact that I had my office rearranged and brought about 10 plants from one that is currently unused – making it quite homely so.

I even had my father visit for a couple of days.

Life is cool.

Lost and found

I have found 4 (four) lost cellphones so far – I gave them all back, of course. I found the keys of a Vespa once – I gave that one back, too. I found another motorbike key in a mall, and gave it to the lost and found service, not having any better idea. I even found a car key when walking with my best friend (or maybe she found that? anyway), and we left it there, for it was in the middle of the street – I still think we could have done better.

Now, I found a notebook. (and a pen in its spiral binding.) On the street. Having lost one of this kind myself, I would rather give this one back to its owner – but so far I have’t found anything that could indicate the identity of him or her. And I’m insanely curious. And…

 

It is written in English.

balance is boring

This was my weekly challenge, the task I set myself last Sunday – under the after-effects of Gentse feesten as I was: to have a balanced week. This may sound either easy or not very clear, so here are the approximate rules:

  1. Eat well. That’s actually two rules: a) don’t eat crap, b) don’t eat anything in a way only crap is worth eating.
  2. Sleep decent hours (7 per day at least)
  3. Exercise.
  4. Limit screen time: don’t waste life on the web.
  5. Be productive: tick off one thing from the list per day.
  6. Do something important and/or interesting every day.

The results? well…. Sunday, though otherwise not overly enjoyable, was perfect in terms of the above; Monday was cool. The cracks started to appear on Tuesday in the form of some chocolate or so; on Wednesday I overslept and had to shorten my morning routine of yoga&dance, and after work did just about nothing but surf on the net. Thursday I overslept even more (will not mention what I ate), only did the yoga part, but also had to do some other things in the morning, so I was quite very late from work, but went to a French conversation event in the evening. On Friday I could hardly get up at all, but went out with my colleagues to see a film. And to eat fish&chips (it was good, so no comment).

All in all I couldn’t quite keep to my rules. I did sleep decent hours, but honestly, I feel that if I am more rested that’s more due to the weekend’s two-figure sleep than whatever I tried to do during the week. I ate a lot of things I should rather have avoided; it’s Sunday and I still have a good couple of items on my list. I went out 3 nights out of 5, and the remaining two I was restless as hell.

I felt distant, muted and not quite myself.

If my standard over-active and chaotic lifestyle regularly gets me sick, and this calmer and more balaced one feels forced and makes me restless, then what am I to do?

Any advice?*

Gentse Feesten

A full week (and more) in between somewhat makes the impact fade, but it was (to be perfectly grammatically correct, they were) in any case worth a post.  In the meantime, I also started an « I am fed up » post, but was way too fed up to finish it, so you escaped, if hardly.

So:

Imagine Sziget Festival lasted 10 days. Imagine it was in the castle district. Imagine you arrived for the last two days
– and you’ll have an impression of the thing.
The Gentse Feesten has a very long tradition – some 170 years or so –, and I’m told it was initiated when the factory owners and suchlike got fed up with their workers showing up late, and often drunk, for work, or not showing up at all, and made a pact of giving them 10 days off in exchange for better work ethic during the rest of the year. This may or may not be true, and what’s sure is that it has changed a lot over the years; in any case, now it is a number of simultaneous festivals throughout the city centre, where, to quote the relevant wikipedia article, “Public drunkenness is not entirely unseen”.

Having finished my French course on Friday, exam results and whatnot, I took a train to Ghent to see the city and enjoy the festival, not knowing that the two are very difficult, if not impossible to do at the same time. My hostel roommates immediately took care of me, taking me with them to some rockabilly concert, and also giving me drink after drink, and at a certain point, when I was already quite tipsy – enough to feel lost  – I lost them. I wandered around a bit; decided something good had to happen before I called it a night; bought a chocolate waffel, which is kind of the same thing, and headed home. (I’d have never though that there are Brussels waffles and Liége waffles and they are different – but there are, and they are.) It was only 3AM when I got home; m roommates arrived around 7AM.

And probably most others did, too, for when I left the hostel at noon the next day, the whole city was dead. And smelled exactly as a festival does after 8 days. Now, I have to admit I hadn’t quite done my homework beforehand, so I only had a vague idea as to what to see and where to go. So what I did was – walking. In the centre and around, along and accross the canals, and of course to the cathedral, where I spent around an hour only at the van Eyck polyptych. After that, I’m not quite sure when, I switched to autopilot mode and ended up walking altoghether about 9 hours in the city, pausing only for some lunch (at 4PM) and a coffee somewhat later. I can’t say I actually saw much, to be honest, in the state I was in, though probably when I go back (soon enough, probably: it’s an amazing place) I will recognise most of it.

The original plan was to bike back to Bruxelles on Sunday, leaving Ghent early in the afternoon, but after another late night and the frustration for Saturday I decided against it. I got some recommendations about what to see – two street theatre pieces. I missed the first because I got stuck at a concert, which was by the way quite good; I missed the second becaouse as I was going to the place the sky fell down – I, waited for a while under the gateway in a huge crowd, then, when the rain abated somewhat, decided to go home rather than sit though a one-hour performance, soaking wet as I was. That I did, then took the train back home.

On Tuesday I got home at around 6PM, lay down a bit to rest, woke up at 9:30 to feed the cat, then went back to sleep.

I guess I’ll have to return to Ghent soon.

 

navigare necesse est

navigare necesse est

the monster

the monster

navigare necesse est II.

navigare necesse est II.

the Snake

the Snake

city centre - and the festival taking over

city centre – and the festival taking over

just an entrance

just an entrance

the Flute-player

the Flute-player

one of the many

one of the many

navigare...

navigare…

medieval

medieval

more medieval

more medieval

another of the many

another of the many

balalayka bass (or what) - i still can't believe my eyes

balalayka bass (or what) – i still can’t believe my eyes

late at night

It’s around 2AM; going home I notice a small grouping of people just in front of my door. The couple, I guess, is Colombian; the three bikers, two guys and a girl, locals.

I step closer. It’s the Belgian girl who offers explanation, though a slightly confused and confusing one. She hasn’t seen, she says, but it seems he has just slapped his wife. I ask him what happened: he insists she had hit him first. She speaks English and tries to calm things down: she says it’s alright, that “shit happens”,that this has never happened before – I also catch her telling him, in spanish, that her mouth is bleeding. He keeps insulting them, us, interrupting constantly when I try to speak with her; she then tells him to go home, and he does.

In the meantime, one of the bikers has called the police, then started off following him by bike. We stay, for a bit; the Belgian girl tells her, repeatedly, not to ever believe anyone has the right to do this. I tell her I live just there and that she can ring if needed. She smiles through her tears and says she appreciates. We share a hug, then she walks away – home. The Belgian girl calls her friend, tells her how proud she is of him; he tells her the police have arrived, or, in any  case, there was a police car, and they are now talking to them.

The two remaining bikers go after their firend, fading into the night.

I stand in front of my door, looking for my keys, and cry.

the beauty of life and languages

It was one of those moments, gray and tense and difficult, when I would have even welcomed the rain. Cycling through the city I stopped at a small shop and not finding what I was looking for, asked the shopkeeper, a lady visibly of African origin, if she spoke English. She did, and did so with a surprisingly clear and non-French accent.

It turned out she is from Madagascar, and at my request she would even tell me how to say “life is beautiful” – that is my standard for “say something” or “teach me something” lately – in her language, which I promptly forgot. But she also explained that in Malagasy (yes, that’s the national language of Madagascar, and she wore the exact same face when I asked about it as I do when people ask about what language we speak “over there”)
– that in Malagasy one would never really say that, for it’s a much more poetic and philosophical language, and what they would say in the context of life would translate to

“Life is like aloe and honey”.

 

 

I really have to be a linguist.

 

national holiday

On Monday the 21st of July, it was the national day of Belgium. As I learnt from prof. Wiki,

“it commemorates an event on 21 July 1831 in which Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg swore allegiance to the new Belgian constitution, thus becoming the first King of the Belgians.”

I arrived quite late to the festivities, so luckily I missed the military parade. I also happened to miss any and all folkloric programmes that were advertised, while of the military and other related bodies I had more than enough, what with their endless stands and exhibits (tanks and suchlike, you know…)

I had some fries, went to see a concert, went back to see the fireworks – I must admit they were quite nice, even under the rain (yes, it was raining, that is part of the National Day tradition, or so I’m told). Then did some rounds to get back to the parc where I had left my bike and went home, soaked.

Now, I might lack the descriptive power when it comes to facts, but I do love other people’s holidays. As a foreigner, especially here where I don’t even speak the language(s), I see nothing of the political conflicts underneath, even if I know they exist.

What I see there is something festive, it’s people wishing each other a “nice holiday”, it’s people who belong, together. Even here.

neighbourly adventures

I checked their names out when I arrived. They are Italian.

And though I thought several times to smiply knock on their door, I somehow never did it – and it took two months (or almost: I can’t believe it’s been that long already) to run into each other in the staircase. Instead of chatting for half an hour just in front of the door, as would be typical at home, PierGiacomo invited me in, which of course meant chatting an hour and a half). We went out for a beer in the evening, PG, Michela, their friends and me. I have to say StGilles is none too close to our place, at least if you go on foot, so by the time we were back we were all exhausted – and that’s when it turned out they had closed the door without taking the keys, effectively locking themselves out of their flat, so I had two guests for the night. Isn’t it the most normal of things, really.

good music is worth more

From the Atomium I came home by metro, for I met some friends who live nearby. This was a round trip.

A flamenco recital of my friend Yves, home-made paella, nice company, and a true summer night (it was hot like hell, honestly, so I enjoyed it a lot). Life is good.

It was held at the place of a friend of Yves’, so the address on the map above is obviously not accurate – nevermind though that when I opened the map from the fb event’s coordinates, bloody gmaps gave me an incorrect one, too, so I knocked and rang several times at the wrong door. Luckily, they were not at home.

good music is worth much

It took me way more than 33 minutes, of course.

And if you wonder what this has to do with music: it was the Brosella folk&jazz festival, just last weekend (folk/wold music dayfor me 🙂 ).

Speaking of cats….*

... meet bibiche, my flatmate, the monster (one-headed, as opposed to the many-headed one) who wakes me up at 06.10 the latest on most days – on some it's 05.13 –, who almost literally shouts  my head off when I arrive home to feed her.

Nothing special – she's a cat, after all.

As for the other pictures, of the flat itself,please note that this level of cleanliness is occasional at best.

Bibiche

Bibiche

one half

living room - one half

the other half

living room - the other half

kitchen

kitchen (I have a mocca by now)

the squat across the street

the squat across the street

buidings growing behind

the jungle of buildings as seen from my back window

 

 

*by the way, the rain stopped some days ago, so I'm about myself again.

sailing

Going home – coming home?

A too-many-times repeated truth: good times do not necessarily make good tales.

Last weekend I went sailing on the lake with my friends. Does it not explain all? The sun, the swimming, the complete calm so far from the city, as well as the fun and the good company? I mean, I flew home for those two days.

Which were three; and, beyond the sailing, were enough to go home, enjoy the nightbus service in Budapest - including the show offered by fellow passengers -, arrive as if I'd been gone but for two days, get used to 35 degrees (now that wasn't any difficult), go to the dodgem with my sister and four-year-old nephew, greet my grandma on her 85th birthday, help harvesting the sour cherries (there weren't any raspberrie, thoughs) and get confused because going directly to the airport from my grandma's house in Agárd really does not feel right.

I lost count of the number of times when I let slip that "on Monday I'm going home", so –

I'm home now, still ground-sick*, and – what a surprise – it's raining. Cats and dogs, or almost.

Bruxelles, how I hate thee.

 

* that's the inverse of seasickness: feeling as the ground waves under your feet after you get off the boat.

sailing

Inquietude

A relocation; a wholly new life – so scarily natural and easy as if I did it every other day.  A life fully claimed, yet at times seeming to be someone else’s. A life, so very dense, so intense; a life where nothing is quite urgent or important enough not to go out to the Square or the garden if the sun comes out.

So many names, faces, stories and attitudes to remember (or discard, and that is the harder), and as yet none I could claim I know.

weekend visit

The feeling of inviting your mom to eat out. (a first ever.)

The decadence of sharing half-a-dozen oysters and having a glass of wine with them at the market, at noon

– and, as I had the first sip of wine, over the seafood and under the sun, the sea, far as it may be, hit me with its full force, so much it took my breath away for a moment; and I could almost, almost see it, and hear the waves, and breathe the air —

Ever since I first saw that vendor, the forst time I went to the market, I thought my mom is just the person who would fully enjoy such a moment of luxury. She did. We both did, immensely.

She only came for two days, anyway.

*update

A random stranger left some leaflets about seasonal fruits and local producers in my bike’s basket.

The very same topics about which I asked that random stranger I mentioned earlier.

Integration

It all happened practically at light-speed, around this so-called ’Medieval Market’ on a certain weekend. A weekend when it was summer in Brussels – I mean, you could almost believe it, until and unless you went under a shadow.

I went down to the community garden next door, helped plant some tomatoes, received a basil to plant, harvested some red currants, and got the number of a certain architect who might just help me to make a crate so I can plant too.

I went to the park, and happened upon three people slacklining. I stopped.

’want to try?’

now what can one say to that? I did, after some hesitation. I went to this ’Medieval Market’ with them, met their friends (some local, some not quite), met some musicians* and other random people and generally had a great time both nights of the weekend.

Most of those people I haven’t seen since; some I have. With some others I have exchanged contacts, so I may, yet.  (the next time I wonder if I should go to a festival or some such alone, please remind me of this.)

I also went to the concert of Yves and Anne, musician friends of mine – after which Anne casually asked me, ’would you like to come with us to a party at a friends’ place?’ I would; I did. On top of it, it was a thematic party where everyone could bring some kind of performance – guess what. The company? some musicians, a singer, a good couple of graphic artists, a performer of the completely mad type (but of the entertaining ones), and others…. until around 3AM. (the story when Yves and I tried to put my bike into his car’s back so that he could drive me home – having lost my way three times while going, I had no idea how to get home -, spent a good quarter of an hour as I messed up taking the front wheel off, then had to put it back when after another 20 minutes we realised it was absolutely impossible that it should fit in —- well, that could very well be another story, if it was not part of this one.)

 

Oh by the way, I still not speak any French.

 

 

 

*that was: “now is that an oud in your hand????”

 

First impressions

I arrived late in the afternoon, after a bit of traffic and communication mishaps. It was raining. I went out to get some dinner; arriving to « the Square » (it’s called place Jourdan, but….), I saw this rasta guy sitting there, selling hand-made jewellery, and working on some new piece. I stepped closer, crossing an invisible line, which made him look up and greet me. ‘Hola’, he said. ‘Hola’, I responded. Within a few minutes I was sitting next to him on the ground, chatting. He’s Mexican, visiting a friend (from Equador, where else), who lives just in the squat in front of my place. The very same evening they had me over for dinner.

Domesticating another person’s plastic bag collection is something I really could have lived without. Nevertheless, cleaning a place is still of the best ways to take possession of it.

Along with the flat, I also rent a cat. She wakes me up at around 6AM every morning. She also sleeps in my bed, which is one thing, but the first night she slept on me, which meant that every time I moved I woke up because the cat just rolled off me.

The first week at work can be quite tiring, even if you don’t actually work that much.

I met a random stranger with whom I had a nice long chat and then did not exchange contacts. I’m afraid it was a mistake.

It is scary how normal and routine-like a full relocation can be.