Friday, December 06, 2013

One month down, 2 to go...

Last weekend marked 1 month in Brussels. I think oddly it also marked my 10 year anniversary in California. Do I still get to count that?

We spent 26 hours in Paris last weekend. I have been to Europe only once before this rotation, and it was to Paris when I was 16—16 years ago. Paris. Poor Brussels, Paris makes it look like a dysfunctional village. I felt so much more comfortable in Paris, despite (or because of?) having to tell some ticket tout asshole to fuck off in the Metro station. Felt like New York. Felt great! We had great food, delicious drinks, beautiful architecture, and went for a ridiculous sightseeing run. Observe.

Sixteen Years Later

I'm on my own this weekend. I went out and bought Le Creuset so I can make some pork stew. I also managed to have wine and cheese alone, and checked out the Flagey Christmas market. I wasn't sure what to expect from the Christmas market, but I did not expect it to feel like a Pennsylvania craft fair. €1,80 cup of vin chaud didn't help.

I'm ashamed to admit that I really miss TV. We get three channels in English, plus one weird channel that sometimes has American shows with Dutch subtitles (I've seen CSI and Columbo). I'm currently watching a show about orphaned kangaroos on BBC 1 while I enjoy some of the random wine I bought at Delhaize.

There are two major supermarket chains in Brussels: Delhaize (Dutch) and Carrefour (French). My first experience in the nearby Delhaize was on the Saturday I arrived. It was horrible. It seemed like the trashiest grocery store on earth. I started going to the Carrefour around the corner because it was brighter and seemed cleaner. But the wine selection at Delhaize is better, and I wanted wine the other night, so I decided to give Delhaize Proxy another shot. I totally change my position: I'm a Delhaize girl. They have way better stuff in general, and Delhaize Wine World is pretty sweet. They also have self-checkout machines, and I made the mistake of pressing the on-screen button to have instructions spoken in English. It is like they had the English lady cranked up 10dB higher than any other language. So unbelievably embarrassing. Tonight I went back and realized I didn't need to have it talk to me at all, I could go through the motions without a narrator. Except what I didn't realize is that I needed to scan my receipt to get out, and when the woman told me to do that in French, I was all "HUH??????????" and then she had to explain in English and everyone again looked at me. I just want one fucking seamless transaction at the supermarket, is that too much to ask?

Tomorrow it's supposed to rain again. I may not leave the house. I have rations for the day. I am tempted to try a pilates class around the corner but I don't want to pay their ridiculous €35 studio registration fee in addition to the class fee. I'm wondering if there's a way to work around that...

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Saturday in Ghent and mounting homesickness

We went to Ghent this weekend to catch some of the crazy Lotto z6s-daagse Vlaanderen-Gent (Six-Days Flanders–Ghent) bike race at 't Kuipke, the velodrome in Citadelpark. It was really fun. Concessions at events are SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper here—4 beer tickets for €9! Shit beer but hey, it's cheap, and that's what counts when you are standing in the infield of a velodrome.

We finally had a delicious meal. Low blood sugar led me to choose the closest, highest rated restaurant I could see in Ghent on Saturday, which turned out to be Brasserie Pakhuis. Definitely a stuffy spot but the food was delicious and once the hostess stopped hating us, the service was good too. The space itself is quite cool, big, open, art noveau, copper and green paint. Koshi's pics:

Good to the Last Bite

We also met up with an internet friend of mine, someone I've known for years but have never met. He took us around a bit of the touristy stuff and then to a great place for beers.

I forgot how nice it is to meet up with friends. The only social interactions I've had in 3 weeks have been with my husband and coworkers, with the exception of a night out with a couple of my husband's internet friends. It's safe to say that I am officially homesick. I miss my friends, our local bar, and I miss my kitchen. In particular, I miss our oven, our sink, and my Le Creuset. This is the epitome of a first world problem, I realize that, and the realization compounds my sadness because now not only am I sad from homesickness, I am also sad because I feel guilty for the reasons I feel homesick. WTF? But we did find kale at the market. I was a bit zealous in my purchase but but that's ok, I'll eat it for every meal if I have to.

Speaking of kale... I've had a weird eyelid twitch since arriving here. It comes and goes but it has happened at least twice every day for the last two weeks or so. I wasn't sure what was causing it, but I started to have this suspicion that it had to do with a lack of leafy greens, the major difference in my diet here and at home. At home, I have a big bowl of raw spinach nearly every day. Here, I have vegetables, but it's not the same. I made a giant kale salad for dinner last night and my eye hasn't twitched at all today.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Marché de la place Flagey

I'm already tired of frites. I think Thursday put me over the edge: I had fries and pizza for dinner. It's the dinner every 10-year-old dreams of but I can tell you that it's not really all it's cracked up to be. Having solved my oat problem thanks to 1) the discovery of whole oat groats and 2) a coworker bringing me a can of McCann's, the two things I miss most right now are kale and rye whiskey. Don't get me wrong—I love beer, and we have had a beer from each of the Trappist breweries with the except of Westvleteren, and we have one of those in the fridge. But I have been craving a Manhattan and it's just not something I can find. In fact, most of the cocktails seem to be of the fruity sugary kind. Alas, I'll stick to scotch.

It is quite likely that we're doing it wrong, but the best meals we've had have been the ones we made at home. This is partly due to the fact that we haven't gone to any of the "nice" restaurants yet, but is mostly due to the nearby weekend market at Place Flagey. My coworkers insist that there are better markets and I believe them. But having this market just a few blocks from our house gives us a nice, convenient Sunday ritual—and a lot of great ingredients to cook during the week. The organic ("bio") produce stand, the fish monger, whole wheat bread, the Dutch butcher who hates Koshi, and the yogurt vendor are now mainstays in our week. We also found a really excellent coffee roaster and the coffee blooms beautifully. I am able to communicate with vendors in French a bit more each week, too, which is fun.

I think that the Sunday market has been instrumental in helping us to feel more grounded, like normal people. I genuinely look forward to going, and we also buy any kind of produce we've never seen before. This week we got some crosnes, aka Chinese artichokes. They look like larvae but apparently taste like artichokes. I'm excited about them! The produce vendors don't have kale but they do have savoy cabbage, which is close enough, and nice rainbow chard. I still miss kale, tho.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The adjustment continues.

Jet leg is strange. Koshi got in late last night, I had trouble falling asleep, and then I was up at 2:45 for an hour and a half desperate to fall back asleep. It was horrible. I woke up at 7 exhausted. But then... I walked to work. Walked. 20 minutes. Rad graffiti along the way, too. I dig this new reality.

First day of work was long. Still here, in fact, waiting to go to dinner. It wouldn't have been so long if I'd slept well. I look forward to my body feeling normal again. But I got a welcome cake, which was pretty goddamn awesome and totally delicious.

I think I'm gonna like it here.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Adventures in Expatriating: Day 2

I meant to wake up by 9 but woke up at 11:15. It was pouring and the rain sound was like Ambien. Considering I hadn't slept the night before, I don't feel at all guilty about sleeping for nearly 15 hours.

Today is a much better day than yesterday. It has been a day of self-made familiarity. Doing familiar things made me feel less like a stranger in a strange land. I had yogurt and raspberries with my muesli, and now I want to make my own muesli. I went for a run despite the rain, albeit a slow one. I made some brown rice and had rice and eggs for lunch. The eggs were amazing, with bright, rich yolks the color of a clementine. I walked to Place Flagey again, twice, and I didn't hesitate on the route home. I tried the other grocery store and found nearly everything on my list except the steel cut oats. When I got home, I found a live stream of football and cooked dinner. My husband is currently stuck in Heathrow, his flight delayed repeatedly due to mechanical bullshit. I popped open the Lambic because I'll be waiting for quite a while.

Running in the rain was much less miserable than I'd anticipated. In fact, it was kind of great, and after the first mile I stopped caring about how stupid I looked in my bright yellow jacket and cycling cap. I was out running, after all, not at home on the couch sulking and wishing it was sunny. I followed dirt paths around the ponds, into Abbaye de La Cambre, and out onto Ave. Franklin Roosevelt (I supposed the Brussels version of an FDR). I passed a turnoff onto Avenue Victoria but decided to keep running on Roosevelt. Dumb. The sidewalk pavers on that street are like ice in the rain, and even in my trail shoes I kept losing my footing. Not wanting to break my neck, I turned back and went onto Victoria. Fear of getting inexorably lost in the park kept me from entering, but after a bit I decided to try. It's like the Golden Gate Park of Brussels in there. I love it. The dirt paths were the perfect place to run in the rain.

First day of work tomorrow. I wish I had a day to spend exploring the city with Koshi before I started but there's always next weekend!

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Adventures in Expatriating: Day 1

I arrived in Brussels this morning for my 3-month stint. The day was pretty rough. I was only able to sleep about an hour and a half on my flight from Chicago to Brussels and arrived completely exhausted. Last week, T-Mobile assured me that my plan was fine and I would be able to text internationally, so that is how I planned to connect with the person to let me into our temporary apartment. But when I landed, my phone wouldn't connect to any network. Panic. Found a payphone in baggage claim, tried to call, no answer. Left a message, got my bag, and took a cab to the place. Nobody here. I stood on the street for about 5 minutes freaking out, knocking and ringing the broken doorbell every 40 seconds or so in hopes that somebody would materialize inside. I figured that either I used the phone wrong (totally possible) or dialed the wrong number, so standing outside would do no good. I dragged my two suitcases up the street hoping to find something—a cafe, a pay phone, a magical wireless hotspot. At the end of my block I found a laundromat, Quickly Wash, with what I thought was a pay phone inside. Not a pay phone. More panic until I saw the free wifi sign. Used my computer to call the girl to meet me. She heard me for the first 2 minutes but then could hear nothing more. I called back, yelling into my computer in the laundromat. Still couldn't hear, but I could hear her say, "I'll be there in 2 minutes."

And this is how I spent my first hour and a half as an expatriate.

Many people have no problems operating on little sleep. I am not one of those people. I tried very hard to stay up as the internet had advised in order to overcome jet lag and decided that going out for a walk and visit to the grocery store would be a good idea. My first interaction was in a little food shop to get a piece of pumpkin quiche. In French. I took French in high school, and was really good at it then, but it has been 15 years since high school and I am not so good anymore. I can muddle through speaking ok, but I am having a horrible time understanding when people speak to me. Given my state of utter exhaustion, I smiled and nodded and pretended I understood most of it, but really I just wanted the goddamn food. It was good.

Then the grocery store. I remember walking into the market in Tokyo and being completely and utterly amazed. So many aisles, all of it perfectly organized. Of course, I realize I'm in Europe, not Japan, but I expected to be a little more excited by the strangeness of things than I was in the Place Flagey Delhaize. I spent 15 minutes trying to find milk. The eggs weren't in the fridge, but that's not unusual with farm fresh eggs. I gave up thinking there was some kind of strange milk crisis or a secret place you had to go to get milk. Yes, seriously. On the way home—after nearly getting hit by a car in the crosswalk, which I swear was not my fault—I stopped in a smaller market and asked the guy for milk. He pointed to the shelves next to him like I was an idiot. Milk. Lots of it. Not in the fridge, and in boxes like the ones I buy my organic chicken broth in. I also struck out finding steel cut oats. Multiple varieties of muesli, though. Muesli everywhere.

Demoralized, stressed out, and exhausted, I came home, showered, put on sweat pants, curled up on the couch, and turned on the TV. 2 out of 30 channels in English. I fell asleep watching cooking shows on BBC and slept for a few hours. I woke up feeling somewhat refreshed and decided to putter around before taking another shot at the outside world. I found an organic health foods store nearby thinking that they would have brown rice and oats for sure. Rice yes, oats no. On the way to and from, I discovered a street with 3 butchers and a fish market, and a weird little 99 cent-type store. Score. But so hungry. I wasn't ready for fries, so I went to Cafe Belga for a beer and some manner of food. Shitty grilled cheese sandwich and a gueuze. A gueuze on tap. And then Lou Reed started to play in the bar. It all made me happy for the first time all day.

My husband arrives tomorrow night, and I'm very much looking forward to having a companion.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hugh G. Rection

From the San Francisco Chronicle via Jason the Scientist:
And finally: First, the big new Federal Building in San Francisco was late and over budget. Then workers complained about needing sunglasses and umbrellas indoors to shield them from the glaring sun.

Now comes word about another bit of embarrassment at the $144 million "green" behemoth at Seventh and Mission streets.

Officials recently installed four giant, stainless-steel plaques near the entryway in recognition of the many planners, architects and others who helped make the eco-friendly building possible.

Only it wasn't long before office workers were making pilgrimages to the wall - and snickering at the engraved name of one "Hugh G. Rection."

That plaque is now gone. Of course, so are all the others, temporarily - seems they were installed crooked.