June 2006

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Proprietor

Yesterday was the big day. I cunningly slipped out of the office early – not so difficult as I’m to only one there, the rest is on annual or maternity leave – and headed to the village where she-who-make-white-T-shirts-turn-yellow-when-she-washes-them works. Unfortunately I jumped off the train two stations too early. Fortunately, this proved to be very close to where the notary’s office was. Unfortunately, my wife felt insecure about taking a short-cut, and she insisted on driving back to near her office (15 minutes in the opposite direction) to take the route she knows (20 minutes back). So we made a 35 minutes detour to get at a place 5 minutes from the train station. But as it was my fault that I got off the train at the wrong station, I didn’t want to make a fuss. She was already stressed enough and who can blame her?

It’s not every day you buy a house.

Finally, the day had arrived when we could sign the last papers and receive the keys from the previous owners. So, now we’re officially the owners of a 5-bedroom, 2-storey house with a front and a back garden and room for two cars.

This also means we can start the DIY-work. My hands have been itching for months (note to self: take bath one of these days). At the moment, we’re in the optimist pre-work phase. This means that we still have delusions about what lays ahead of us, believing that it will take only a couple of weeks to remove the old carpets, clean the wooden floor in the bedroom, replaster the old chimney there, remove the wall paper in the living room, the dining room and the bedroom, clean the ceilings and repaint them, clean the carpet in the living room and redecorate the three previously mentioned rooms.

In a next phase, we will be up to our ears in work and face an endless number of problems, pitfalls and so on. We will shout at each other and feed ourselves with an endless stream of junk food.

In the third phase, I will find myself three months past the foreseen deadline, loosing every free moment to DIY-ing, while my wife and the neighbours will tremble in fear from my frequent yet totally unpredictable and violent outburst of frustration.

In the final phase, friendly but strong young men in nice white coats will gently lead me away to a waiting ambulance, to the friendly place with the nice big gardens where my nerves can heal while I learn embroidery. Meanwhile, the wife will hire a team of professional builders to try and rectify the damage that I’ve done to the house.

I’m so looking forward to this!

Family Planning

When we got married a couple of weeks ago, my best man gave my wife a coupon for an artificial insemination. So yesterday we put her onto a truck and drove her to the breeding centre.

Of course, I’m talking about Julia, my wife’s horse.

She’s fifteen now, and still going strong, so she is in good breeding condition. We selected a stallion that has a gentle character, because Julia herself is already a pretty feisty animal and she can sometimes be rather headstrong. He also has ‘iron legs’, meaning that despite an international jumping career he never had any problems with his legs. Horses in general are a bit vulnerable in the legs, much more than ponies for instance. And Julia suffered from a mild case of arthritis a couple of years ago, it runs in her pedigree. So hopefully the little foal won’t have the same problems.

The father’s name is Unique II Drum van het Juxschot. He’s an older stallion, 26 years old, but still going strong with more than 1.300 direct offspring. He’s won a great number of prices at national and international jumping tournaments. When we saw him in his stable he still looked very impressive, he’s very tall and muscular with a magnificent broad and strong neck. A couple of minutes later we had to stand back as his owner released him. He galloped right from his stable to the paddock, without any leash, and really showed off there.

Julia’s really a lucky girl.

Pointless Violence

A couple of months ago, the generally rather peaceful people of Belgium were frightened out of their peaceful dreams by a murder. A seventeen year old boy was murdered by two Polish youngsters, stabbed to death during the short fight that ensued when he and his friend refused to hand over his iPod. What frightened people was that it didn’t happen in some back alley in the dead of night, but in Brussels Central Station, one of the busiest railway stations in the country, smack bang in the middle of rush hour. Thousands of bystanders couldn’t prevent the incident or bring Joe back to life.

A couple of weeks ago, an 18 year old Belgian boy walks into a store selling guns and arms, and buys himself a small arsenal. Then he sets off for a walk trough the historical centre of Antwerp, shooting at anyone with a brown skin. He wounds a woman of Turkish origin and kills another Malinese woman. She was babysitting a two year old Belgian girl, which he also blasted to pieces. He was stopped when a police officer shot him in the belly. He acknowledged later that he had racist motifs.

Last Saturday, a 54 year old man was kicked to death on a bus in Antwerp. A group of youngsters were fighting on the bus, and he tried to intervene to calm things down. His community feeling was not appreciated; all the youngsters turned against him and started to kick him. When the bus stopped, they ran away and subsequently the man suffered a fatal heart attack.

The media call this ‘pointless violence’, but it seems to me all violence is pointless.

People are getting the impression they’re living in Iraq, and in line with an old Belgian tradition, they feel the government(s) should do something about it. But maybe they should look at what they can do, such as giving their children an education and not expecting that the school and the state raise their children. Or try to help when it’s needed instead of pretending they’re hard-boiled in front of the cameras.

Giant Flying Alarm Clock in the Sky

I’m all tired and cranky today and it’s all the fault of the police. At 5.45 this morning we were waken up by a very load roar coming from directly above us. That’s strange, because we live on the top floor, above us there’s nothing but the roof. It didn’t take me long to figure out that it was a police helicopter, hovering directly over the centre of Antwerp and waking approximately 200.000 people with its noise.

For some reason, it didn’t fly away, it just stayed there. It was like an enormous mosquito that just refuses to go zoom anywhere else but directly next to your ear. But in this case, swatting at it with my slipper just didn’t help.

Why the police got me out of bed an hour too early I still don’t know. I’m a law abiding citizen: I don’t cross the street when the light’s red, I don’t put out the garbage too early (if anything it’s too late) and when I walk trough a park a generally wear more than just a rain coat. It’s harassment, that’s what it is. But I’ll have my revenge. Next time they go out for pizza, I won’t clear the street when the careen trough the streets with all there sirens and flash lights on. They’ll have to lift me out of the way by helicopter.

First Day at School

On Monday I was healthy enough to go to work again. To emphasize the fact that my summer holidays were over, weather here was more than fine, with temperatures reaching a solid 30°C. My hopes for slowly getting used to work again were drilled into the earth last Friday, when my colleague informed me by mail that I had to defend a very difficult dossier on Tuesday. So I couldn’t gently lower myself in the hot bath. Instead it was a very cold shower yesterday. I never had a case so difficult to plea, we had 9 hours of gruelling negotiations and discussions with people who came back to the same old arguments for more than a thousand times, no matter how well we explained and no matter how many times we pushed them with their noses on the proof that the information they demanded was really in the documents we provided.

On of them really insulted me by saying that the document I wrote was in poor French. It’s not my mother tongue, but it’s not worse than my English.

Honeymoon Hangover

We arrived back from our honeymoon, after a gruelling 24 hours of travelling by taxi, plane, another plane, yet another plane, train, bus and tram. We brought with us a whole heap of souvenirs such as a leather cowboy hat that fits me better than John Wayne, a bunch of sweaters made of soft Alpaca wool, a woollen hat for every child in the family, T-shirts and so on.

And I brought home a severe case of diarrhoea.

I had bad luck with the last couple of lunches in Quito, every time I picked out the wrong food in the wrong restaurants. So my intestines began to protest. Add a nice triple jet-lag to that and I found myself lying awake all night while my innards produced strange sounds and frighteningly bad smells. It still hurts a lot, so I didn’t go to work today and I have a doctor’s appointment at three. I hope there won’t be too much traffic in our street at that time, I don’t want to be condemned for trying to gas a couple of dozens of bystanders.

Digital Doggy Do

Last year I finally bought a rather expensive digital camera before our trip to Portugal. It's a Canon EOS 350D and it set me back some 900 euros. I quickly found out I also had to buy memory cards, as they were not included, so there went another 210 euros. To carry it around, I bought me a nice camera bag that set me back another 120 flaperitos.

This year, I invested in an additional lens, a Canon 55-200 telelens to capture things that would otherwise be too far away to notice on a picture. And to make very cool effects with the object or subject in the front being cristal clear while the background goes all blurred. That set me back another 300 euros, and I also bought a couple of filters of which a rather expensive polaroid filter. I also acquired a mini tripod, to take pictures of ourselves with the timer, or to make nightly pictures and so on.

Somehow I can still cram it all in my not-very-large camera bag. Which I put on the ground a couple of days ago when we arrived at the jungle lodge. I had to help my wife and our backpacks down from the back of the truck that had brought us there.

When I turned around, I saw that the cute little black doggy of the owner of the lodge had done a not so cute wee-wee on my 120 euro camera bag with the 900 euro camera and the 210 euro memory cards and the 300 euro telelens and the expensive polaroid filter and the not so expensive but still valuable UV filter and mini tripod!

That bloody dog was so lucky that his owner was close by, or I would have given him a tremendous kick with my steel reinforced walking boots. I have a size 44-45 (European), I would have launched him over the moon. Luckily, the 120 euro camera bag proved to be waterproof.

But it did smell.

Remarried

My first marriage lasted only two weeks, I already got remarried. Mind you, it was with the same woman.

When we were in the rainforest, we stayed a couple of days in a jungle lodge with an Indian (or Indigena) family. When they heard we just got married, they decided to organise a proper - Amazon - marriage for us, according to the traditions of their tribe.

So my wife, who became my fiancee once again, was dressed up with a beautifully decorated scarf. It really suited her heavy trekking boots. I on the other hand wore a poncho (with a large red cross on the back and on my chest) and a hat. The daughters acted as my fiancee's withnesses, and I was accompaneed by the two sons. They took us by the hand and we did a kind of dance, while the father sang the appropriate wedding dance song. We were facing each other and then shuffled towards the other each at our turn and accompanied by our young withnesses/guides. This went on for a while, and my youngest whitness - I think he was four or something - started pinching his crotch with his free hand because he had to pee.

After ten minutes of shuffling back and forth we were officially married according to the tribe's ways and we were allowed to kiss each other again - much to my relief.

The father told us that in their weddings, people dance and drink all night, but we didn't get any booze that night! Maybe it's just as well, because a couple of days later at another local family, we got to taste 'Chicha' the local alcoholic drink made of maniok (or other plants). I do prefer a Belgian beer, especially when you know that Chicha ferments because the women take it in their mouth, mix it with their saliva and spit it out again.

Delicious!

Waterworld

Hard to find an internet cafe in the rainforest, I can tell you. We're having a wonderful time here. We suffered a bit from jet lag (make that an enormous bit) and we've been sleeping off the tension and hard work of the last months. Ecuador is a beautiful country with very friendly people, but we managed to pick the rainy season for our honeymoon. That's not as bad as it sounds, it generally rains in short but heavy bursts, which is not that bad if you're close to shelter. However, the rainforest didn't steal its name. Actually it should be called the 'humungously soaking and damp enormously entagled endless green wet place', but somehow that name didn't catch on. We've been criss-crossing the area of the main tributaries of the Amazon river for four days, and we got out all damp/wet, with our cloths smelly and muddy. We had to bring everything to the laundry shop today, as soon as we arrived in the Andean town of Banos.

There are hot baths here, courtesy of the nearby volcano, and yours truly is going to soak in them for a very long time. If I could only get Mrs. B. to give me a good massage there...