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Homing Signal

I walked through the tunnel that links Brussels Central Station to the nearby metro station, when I saw a blind woman in front of me navigating her way through the busy crowd. She was tapping with her white stick to find her way, and to frighten away other commuters that jumped aside to avoid a whack on the shins.

Then, coming from the other end of the tunnel, I saw a blind man coming. He also had a white cane in his hands and sought his way through the humdrum. Now this tunnel is quite wide, must be ten meters across or something. But those two blind people were storming directly at each other. I don't know what happened, I guess they were homing in on each other's taps. And before I could warn them, they bumped right into each other.

I can imagine both of them saying: 'Can't you look where you're going!', and then 'No, I'm blind!' simultanuously.

Of course this is not funny, it is very impolity to laugh with blind people, especially when they bump into something or someone. Only bad people would snigger when they'd witness such a scene.

And I'm a very, very, very bad person...

Ice Ice Baby

Belgium is slowly thawing as this new ice age comes to an end. The danger of breaking a leg on the slippery ice and snow on the streets and curbs may be over, but these - ever so slightly - warmer temperatures bring their own perils.

Such as ice, ice cold drops of melting water falling from melting icicles. They may look innocent, but they come equipped with laser guided targeting systems that home in on that itsy bitsy little spot of bare skin in your neck, barely reachable from above between your scarf and woollen hat.

They never miss, do they. Yesterday I got hit on my way to the train station, and to the surprise of many baffled onlookers performed a wild Cherokee rain dance all through the Rue de la Loi in Brussels.

I so much very very heap lot hate it when that happens!

Fish On Sticks

This Tuesday, we had our annual Christmas dinner. No, I don’t mean Easter dinner, I didn’t mix things up. Now that tulips and crocuses are popping up, our office organised a late Christmas party.

Don’t ask.

Last time we went to a horrible Mexican restaurant, and before that to a rather good Rwandese restaurant in the famous Quartier Matonge – the Congolese part of town in Ixelles/Elsene. Now we had decided on a Japanese restaurant. I was rather excited, because I’d never eaten Japanese food before. On the other hand, I dreaded any confrontations with raw octopus, raw (or fried for that matter) jellyfish or raw fish in general – especially poisonous ones.

I also hoped that my chopstick-handling-skills would match those of my esteemed colleagues, who all seemed to have a lot of experience with Japanese restaurants.

The final choice was a restaurant on the Chaussée de Wavre/Waverse Steenweg – right next to Matonge. The place was packed when we arrived, so the food had to be good, right? We were guided to a private room in the back, where there was one long, low table – Japanese style. It had a slight modification in that there was a big hole underneath the table to accommodate Europeans that are not accustomed to stay seated with crossed legs for more than five minutes.

Truth be told, I’ve NEVER been served so fast after entering a restaurant, not even in a fast-food restaurant. We had barely taken our shoes off (mandatory) and gawked at the snails that were served as ‘hors d’oeuvre’ when we received our plates. Most of my colleagues had opted for the menu of the day, which was… raw fish. I had opted for grilled fish instead, and got a very nice grilled side of salmon, which had been salted to cure it I think. A bit in the way of Portuguese ‘Bacalhau’. It was served with cabbage with a dressing and a side of vegetables in a sweet-and-sour sauce. After trying a snail – too raw, not enough pepper – I attacked the salmon with my chopsticks, but after successfully bringing three pieces to my mouth without bombarding my immediate neighbours, the waiter brought us little bowls of soup. It was very nice, but a bit annoying to get everything in random order.

We had to wait for ages before we got anything to drink, but that’s the only complaint that I have. As for the battle of the chopsticks: I proved to be quite handy with them compared to most of my friends. I even gave advice to some people about how to hold and use them, cocky bastard that I am.

All in all, it was a nice experience, but it all went too fast. This had the serious downside that after an hour or so, we could return to work. Last year in the Rwandese restaurant we had to wait so long that the afternoon was almost over when we finally had finished our meals. So we didn’t have to go back to work.

Japanese efficiency is no good in a restaurant.

Bring Us To Your Leader

It is said that a Belgian is born with a brick in his belly. So it’s no surprise that every year, we flock ‘en masse’ to the ultimate building festival known as Batibouw. Twelve giant halls with a total of 150.000 m² of doorknobs, roof tiles, windows, garage doors, bathtubs, radiators, wall sockets, gazebos and the lot.

My sister had got hold of a couple of free tickets, so little brother and I made the long trip by public transport to this building and renovation bonanza. To be honest, it was all a bit overpowering. There were thousands and thousands of people making their way from one stand to the next, staring at demonstrations, touching the different fabrics and materials, shouting at their children, looking in desperation for their children and feeding hamburgers to their children in the hope they’d stop whining. I sure was glad I left Wolf at home with his mum. After all, renovation is a men’s affair, not something for feeble little women. (Will have to disappear in hiding for four weeks after this one.)

Every year, there are different main topics. Apparently, hot tubs were one of these main topics, because there were hundreds of them. You could say they come in every size and colour. Lots of colours. All mixed together in horrendous mixtures of purple and blue and green all together in twirling patterns that could give you an epileptic seizure in minutes. And other had lights! That changed colours! And ‘rustic’ sounds with ocean waves and digital songbirds!

You wouldn’t believe the number of jets contemporary hot tubs have. There are jets behind your back, there are jets under your bum, there are jets under your arms, there are jets under your feet and behind your legs. If you put them on all at once, I bet you burst right through the ceiling.

And all this can be yours for a measly twenty-six thousand euros, so you can take a bath for the price of two medium-sized cars. On the other hand, I bet you could fly one of those things if you turn it upside down. In fact, they really are UFO’s, the jets are really part of an advanced propulsion system, and the pulsating lights and strange sounds are a dead giveaway. That’s what we do with extraterrestrial life here, we don’t start interstellar wars, we turn it into something useful.

Autumn Sunbathing

The weather was incredibly nice today, I can’t remember if it’s ever been this warm in October. The thermometer rose to 22°C, we’re lucky if we get that much sun in summer. I couldn’t wait to get out of the confines of my dark, TL-lit office for lunch-break. I followed the example of the badge-people – the slaves of the European Institutions that have to wear a badge visible at all times to identify them as a separate race. Images of the late 1930’s spring to mind.

But anyway, I got myself a sandwich – boulette since they were out of filet américain – and seated my sexy bum on a park bench. I raced a young lady for an unoccupied one, but I lost by a narrow margin. Instead of pretending that I wasn’t going there at all and starting to look for another one, I asked her if I could sit next to her. As I explained before, this is very un-Belgian-like. So we sat at the opposite extremes of the bench and pretended that the other one wasn’t there. Then a bunch of her friends showed up and the park bench got quite full. The relative calm of the park turned into a busy gossiping and sniggering of young girls so after I’d finished my lunch I decided to go for a walk. Although I’ve been working here for more than a year now, I still don’t know this part of the city very well. That’s because it’s a boring part, as was confirmed by my strolling about. But I did enjoy the warm breeze, the warm rays of sunlight and the joy of the children that were still aware that someday they would have to return their asses reluctantly to their dark, gloomy offices.

Alle Menschen Werden Lunchen

After a miserably wet month of August, the weather gods have come to realise that it’s not yet autumn after all. The last couple of days have been quite nice, if not to say hot. So lunch in the park it is then!

As I’ve explained before, there’s a strict picking order for the park benches. There are many of those, but not all of them are in the shade and some of them look like a flight of B-52’s dropped bird shit on them. But yesterday I discovered there’s another weird thing about the park. You see, it is situated on the border between the European district, where you can find the European Commission, the European Parliament and hundreds of related office buildings. On the other side of the park, where my office is located, there is a district with ordinary people including lots of immigrants from northern Africa.

The members of the European aristocracy are easily recognisable by their suits or business outfits. They buy their lunches in one of the fancy food shops and restaurants in the shadow of the EU Commission building, the Berliamont, where prices are ridiculously high and food is not that good but served by waiters with a lot of attitude imported from all corners of the Union. The Eurocrats tend to keep to their side of the park.

We, the commoners, make our own lunches that we unravel from their plastic wrap or aluminium foil. Or we buy our lunches in one of the cheap diners down the street. At our side of the park, you will mostly find pita bars, fry shops (our equivalent of the fish and chips barracks) and the occasional boulanger. We too keep to our side of the park. We hang on the benches instead of sitting upright. We play cards instead of quickly reading through a dossier. We play with dogs instead of thinking up regulation to standardise the production of dog pooh in the Union.

You can see here in practice how the Eurocrats are drifting away from the ordinary folk. Maybe we should try to write a European constitution right here in this park.

Park Life

The weather’s been lovely the last couple of days. Actually it was rather hot. Make that extremely hot, I’ve been sweating like a woolly rhinoceros in a Turkish steam bath. In short, the weather is terrible here. Damn global warming!

The bright side to this is that we have a park right in front of our office, complete with tall trees, lush lawns, frivolous fountains with Donald, Daffy and Daisy Ducks and broad benches to seat your big bottom on. It’s quite a large park and it has a lot of benches, but it is also located in a city district stuffed with offices, including the European commission and its subsidiaries. So finding an empty park bench can be quite difficult during lunch hour. Of course it has to be an empty park bench. We Belgians are reserved to the point of being anti-social, so we wouldn’t dream of sharing a park bench with someone we don’t know. This despite the fact that the benches are a full three meters long, which means they can provide parking space for quite a number of arses, depending on their respective width and expanding volume once the hard wood makes contact with blubberised fast-food and candy bars.

So once a single person has seated himself or herself on a bench, it’s taken. Gone forever. Conquered. Unavailable. Out of the running.

When you walk trough the park during lunch time on a beautiful day as this, you will see people running around with their brown paper bags or lunch boxes in hand, peering from one side of the park to the other in the hope to find an empty bench. The benches most sought for are the ones in the shade of one of those big trees. Only die-hard sunbathers take a bench in the full blaze of the sun and generally they have to flee it after ten minutes or so. When two people find their looking for a bench at the same time, they will nervously try to beat the other one.

In any case, what everyone tries desperately to avoid is to be left with the dreaded Shit Bench. Oh, many a desperate luncher has felt his relieved grin fading away when they found out that this last free bench they discovered in the shadow of the big chestnut tree on the west-side of the park turned out to be the Shit Bench. For some reason, this tree attracts billions of pigeons that reserve one particular branch right above this bench as their public toilet. This poor bench is for the most part covered in a layer of white slurry and most people wouldn’t dream to take a seat here.

But amazingly, some people seem so desperate to find a seat in the park, that they ignore the pigeon poo. They precariously lower themselves on the small corner that’s free of droppings, eating their sandwiches and salads while forcing their backs away from the back of the bench. Others even pretend their nose bleeds and plant their finely dressed office ass on the bench, poo or no poo.

You have to be desperate to sit there. It’s a sure sign your career has reached a tragic ending. Everyone has seen you sitting on the Shit Bench; you’ve become an outcast, a pariah.

Lunching in the park: it’s the survival of the fittest.

Mission Impossible

Something had happened on the Brussels subway system yesterday morning. I don’t know what but there weren’t any trains for about fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes during morning rush hour is a long time, so when I arrived on the platform it was stacked with people. While I was waiting other people arrived and they had to cue on the stairs and beyond. When the first train finally did arrive, people couldn’t get off the train because there was no more room left on the platform. I had to wait for the third train before I could finally climb on, together with a bunch of bloody tourists who went to visit the European Parliament. They were totally oblivious to the fact that it was rush hour and that people wanted to get off at the next stops. So a couple of commuters couldn’t get out in time and had to wait until the bloody tourists left the train three stops further.

In the evening, the subway was working fine. I left an hour later from work after finishing a subroutine of the database I’m making (I must tell you about that one time, it is sooooo interesting). But my 18.25 train to Antwerp was late, announced with a probable delay of five minutes. Ten minutes later, and still no train in sight. Another one came, the local train that also stops in Antwerp, after halting every three minutes and five kilometres, whenever the train driver spots a group of people and/or bovines. So since my train could arrive any minute, I decided to let that one go without me.

Of course, my train never came. But no problem, another train to Antwerp was about to arrive. Except that the announcer announced the announcement that the train had a probable delay of ten minutes. Note how they always use the word ‘probable’, which more often than not means ‘probably not’ or ‘much more than’. By the time this train had arrived, I almost wasn’t capable to board it, since my body was half frozen.

So it was with an exact (not probable) delay of an hour that I arrived in Antwerp Central Station. Naturally, I had forgotten my mobile phone that day, so no way to inform my loved one about my troubles and whereabouts.

I descended towards the subway station underneath Central Station, where I discovered that all trams (Antwerp’s subway system is a bit more modest than Brussels’, it’s more of an underground tram than a real subway) were blocked. A defect tramcar blocked the tunnels, so we had to wait until it was removed. After then minutes, we saw it pass by, pulled along by a maintenance tram. When my tram finally did arrive, one of its doors stopped just in front of me. It didn’t open and only then did I notice the sticker saying that these doors were out of order.

I was too tired to get into a superhuman rage, tearing the tram apart and bashing my fists trough the subway station’s walls until it collapsed and the whole Central Station above it. A moment later, I was all happy again, thanks to the guy standing next to me who smelled so much of alcohol that I got drunk on the spot.

So all’s well that ends well.

First International Telenet Blog Meet

The first International Telenet Blog Meet in Brussels was a huge success, given that 100% of the people who inscribed turned up. There were Belgians (of course), a serious British delegation, a number of Italians and even a Portuguese participant. We had a lot of fun and even got to discussing the more serious topics of the day, including an analysis of the Belgian and Flemish blogosphere and an interesting lecture about the dangers of blogging.

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