Monday, October 17, 2011

On Architecture

Where we live in Antwerp, restoration is on-going with buildings being meticulously remodeled and (unfortunately) in some cases, torn down and completely rebuilt. Seems everyday, there is a new project begun in the waterfront area and throughout the city of Antwerp. Architectural styles of Baroque (with Flemish Baroque having its own distinct styling), Romanesque, Gothic, Neoclassical (which began under Austrian rule in the 18th century), Art Nouveau (Brussels led the world in Art Nouveau during the 1890's) and Art Deco can be found all around Belgium. Some of the newer contemporary architecture falls a bit flat alongside more ancient counterparts, however there are some modern jewels which blend and even sometimes explode within the modest skylines of Belgium. Here are some favorite architectural splendors, subtle and spectacular from the low countries. My life on the lane is rectilinear, semicircular, pointed, stylistic and juxtapositioned these days, and I'm enjoying all design concepts -- old and new.


Brugge, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium



Ghent, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium

Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp, Belgium

View of the MAS, Antwerp

Antwerp, Belgium 

Antwerp, Belgium

Brugge, Belgium

Friday, October 14, 2011

My First Acquisition of Antwerp Art

I love my new painting by Paul Van Soens, Antwerp artist, who also happens to be our landlord.  I fell hard for this abstract painting on display at Mr. Van Soens art studio and gallery, Insularte, which is at the street level of our building.  I'd been admiring the painting for weeks with Mr. Lane as we passed by on our evening walks.  I came home the other day, with company, and there it was...Mr. Lane had asked Mr. Van Soens to place it in our flat to surprise me.  How sweet is that?  It's the perfect touch to our modern, loft-like apartment.  It hadn't occured to me that the painting had colors similar to the cover of my novel, Restoration, until it was hanging on the wall above the fireplace and a copy of my book was nearby.  No wonder I was so drawn to this particular piece.  Mr. Van Soens has many wonderful pieces on display in his studio, but this one spoke to me.  I think the dark, embossed area looks like cobblestones with the horizon floating above, very peaceful to me.  I'm in love.  I'm in love with all art these days in Europe.  I can't help myself...art surrounds me all day, everywhere I go...I'm immersed in oils, water colors, sculptures, statues, frescos, murals, even graffiti moves me.  The new European artists inspire me, as they go up against the great masters in history.  It makes me think about literary greats and how writers, just like artists try to imitate and match the masters when crafting their words.  Does art imitate life or life imitate art?  Do words imitate art and life?  Everything and everyone interact and inspire everyone and everything.  My life on the lane is inspiring and artistic and absolutely lovely. 





Adjusting to Life in Another Language


We got 'told' in Dutch about
our inproper disposal of
glass bottles, note was
taped up in the elevator
for all to see in our building
 (Bottles were mostly wine
and beer...stupid, drunk
Americans)
Living as an expat can be challenging, and I now have a newfound respect for all the foreign folks who seemed lost in so many ways back home in the states.  I hope I was helpful enough when asked directions in the past or asked where the best restaurant was in broken english or with hand gestures while out and about in LA, NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta...etc.  I must have one of those friendly, helpful faces, because I am often asked for help in public, even here in Belgium.  I have had people approach me for directions in more than one city here in Europe.  But, more often than not these days, I'm the one asking...and in my broken Dutch or Frenglish or my idiot attempt at German, please...don't try this at home.  I find that if I smile a lot and help them along with their English, people can usually tell me what I need to know.  And lately, I must say, some words in Dutch are just rolling off my tongue, which surprises ME the most and I want to give myself a star everytime I remember the correct way to ask for something or greet someone or thank someone or say good-bye (tot ziens).  I'm also getting very good at the three-kiss (drie keer).  Right cheek kiss, left cheek kiss, right cheek kiss.  It's not as easy as it sounds...I have a good-sized nose that tends to get hooked on people's cheeks or worse yet, sometimes I even bump their nose with my nose in the process.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, people in Belgium like to kiss on the cheek when they greet a friend or colleague they know (in a social situation or even sometimes a professional situation).  Some folks will shake hands if they know you are American, which seems uncomfortable for them, especially men shaking a woman's hand. So, I'm getting good at just going in for the kill...kiss, kiss, kiss.  Sometimes the language barrier is funny and sometimes embarrassing, and I find myself trying to be more careful about what I say, so not to be misunderstood, which for me, is an interesting exercise in self-control.  I think I'm getting even more polite and certainly more politically correct.  Lots of Europeans like to tell me what is wrong with American government and what needs to happen for the world economy to be fixed.  Not a lot different from the rhetoric I hear back in the states and just like at home, I strike a smile and nod and wait for them to feel like they've had their fair-say.  I'm just not that politically conversational -- at home or abroad.  I vote, study the issues, but it's a private matter for me, just like religion and well, some other things too.  At least out in public, that is...if you know me well, I'll share my views (it's the Norwegian gene in me to play my cards close to my chest).  That all said, the funniest thing happened this week.  We've been careful to research and figure out (well, I had anyway, because I tend to be anal about domestic things) the different color bags to use to dispose of our trash and recyclables here in Antwerp.  We'd heard (again, really just me) that they are strict about their policies and we not only wanted to avoid high fines, but also because we like being green.  We've been carefully separating our plastics, bottles, cans, garden debris, paper and all other trash.  Since we travel so much, we hadn't noticed that our glass was being set out in the hallway near the refuse closet in the lobby of our building.  Someone was nice enough to dispose of it properly for some time now, and we don't know who that was, but whoever it was, they finally got mad enough to leave a note in the elevator with our bag of glass in the lobby.  We didn't get it at first, because the note was in Dutch and the glass was now in a box instead of our bag, so we passed right by it for a few days.  Finally, we got on the lift the other night, and their was a longer, more intense looking letter with lots of explanation points!!!  I told Mr. Lane, someone must be in trouble, because this letter looked threatening.  It was late, but I was curious, so I took the note into our flat and tried to translate as much as I could (the handwriting was not very clear, probably because they were so angry when they wrote it).  From what I was able to translate, it seemed as though some idiots were putting glass into the plastics-only container, which was dangerous and could cause someone to cut themselves if the glass broke inside the container and that these disrespectful people were obviously too lazy to walk their glass to the proper disposal site.  What?  Disposal site?  It's a plastics-only container?  "Honey! I think this note is for us..."  Of course, Mr. Lane was already asleep by then, so I woke him and made him go down to the disposal area with me and retrieve all of our glass debris (and we'd had a party recently, so there was quite a bit).  I'm a rule follower, so later, after searching the web, I found that Antwerp has these really ugly receptacles around town where you put your glass.  I'd seen one at the end of our lane, but didn't know that's what it was...so again...Mr. Lane was retrieved and off we went, after midnight, mind you, to find our neighborhood receptacle.  There it was...right there all the time, that ugly roundish looking thing that blocked my view to the west when turning onto the main road from our flat.  "Ahhh, here it is," I said to Mr. Lane, "help me load our glass...the green opening is for colored glass and the white opening is for clear glass."  We both looked at each other and laughed, the six foot tall container was completely full, and so was the next one at the end of the next lane.  Completely cobblestoned out in our flip flops and tired from a very long day, we grumbled all the way back to the flat with our box of glass containers.  Yes, we are still waiting and checking daily for the receptacles to be emptied so we can race down with our glass debris.  These are the moments that we miss all the wonderful services right at your doorstep in America.  We removed both our apology sign and the Dutch language warning sign and placed them in the paper recycling container...we hope this was the correct way to handle the situation.  If we can figure out who was disposing of our glass all this time, well, of course we will bring them flowers and Belgian chocolates, and hopefully we will become friends...and then of course, there will be another person to kiss, kiss, kiss, each time we meet.  My life on the lane is all about recycling and kissing and translating and speaking in Dutch.  Begrijpt u mij? (do you understand me?!)  Tot zo! (bye for now)...
         

Monday, October 3, 2011

Belgium is Not Boring

One of the most beautiful, well-kept secrets of Northwestern Europe is the countryside of Wallonia (Southern, French-speaking Belgium), the Ardennes and Luxembourg (the city and entire country of Luxembourg where they speak French, German and Letzeburgesch).  I'm here to tell you (and I'm really here -- I'm sitting at my desk on the fifth floor, overlooking a harbor designed by Napoleon Bonaparte in Antwerp, Belgium) that Belgium is not -- at all -- boring.  I've heard this a lot in the past year-and-a-half, and mostly from people born in Belgium.  When I tell locals that I moved here from the states, they often  respond with a smirk, "Why?"  I find myself defending Belgium and reminding them of the many lovely aspects of their country.  They continue smirking, as if, one day, I'll get it -- I'll understand what they believe to be true.  The Belgians, by nature, have a self-deprecating sense of humor and love to poke fun at themselves.  On the subject of drunk-driving...a Belgian citizen told a visiting travel writer that it's too scary to drive sober in Antwerp (of course he was being facetious...the Politie take driving under the influence very seriously and road stops for sobriety checks are very common in Belgium).  But,  I do see what they mean, some of what is referred to as Gothic, ancient, medieval...is really just ugly and old.  But, growing up in California, the only buildings of historical architectural importance that I remember, were the Missions.  So, the fact that I can walk out my door and see a harbor designed by Napoleon, with buildings lining that harbor that date back centuries, not years, but centuries...well, that just thrills me every time I go cobblestoning (my new term for walking in Europe).  The Southern region of Belgium also does not disappoint, but rather, exudes an entirely different flavor from Flanders altogether.  In the north, you have sophisticated Brussels, hip and fashionista-ish, yet ancient, Antwerp, medieval Ghent, and romantic Bruges and lovely smaller villages like Lier, Diest and Turnhout.  But south of Brussels, in the Walloon region, you have the gorgeous rolling hills and villages of the Ardennes.  There are castles and chateaus at every turn, and colorful little hamlets dotting the countryside all the way through the hillsides and forests to Luxembourg.  What is boring about that?  Nothing.  And here are the pictures to prove it.  My life on the lane in Belgium is vivid, alive, splendid and stimulating.


Picture Perfect Castle in Vianden on the border of Luxembourg and Germany


Village of Vianden



I love the couple embracing outside this lovely Inn

Cobblestones and Flowers...my favorite

Had the best BBQ spareribs and beer at this cafe in Vianden


Now that's a great lane...

Many of the buildings still show damage from WWII

Beautiful Luxembourg City