Monthly Archives: October 2010

Tenerife Pictures, Finally!

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Tenerife

Here’s our album from Picasa. Head on over if you want to see our pictures!

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Spanish, Turkish, Kurdish

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Life has gotten a tad hectic since we’ve returned home. We’re going through one of those bi-yearly turnovers at work where some people are leaving, some are temporarily working in other kiosks, and some are taking last minute vacations before the blackout period we have from midway through November until after New Years.

This means some different scheduling and I’ve ended up working mostly day shifts, which I don’t mind at all, but it often leaves me tired and not incredibly inspired to write. The lack of writing has driven me to the crazy conclusion that I may try to do NaBloPoMo this November, despite the fact that I swore I’d never do it again after the first time I did it back before I moved to Beglium.
I always feel guilty if I don’t write for a long-ish period of time, like I’m letting the people down who read here. Although I suppose the worst time to start loading you guys up with posts is the month where most of your blog readers are probably overflowing. I don’t know…it’s still up in the air. I may try a poetry prompt every second day instead.

But in the meantime, while I’m here and feeling like I ought to write, and while Piet is still procrastinating on nuking the pics from the honeymoon that he doesn’t approve of for bloggy consumption, I’ve decided to share a few anecdotes that, if nothing, else, will reflect the awesomeness of my tan. The tan which you have yet to see because of aforementioned procrastination.

Anyway, we realized the night before we left Tenerife that our plane would be landing in Charleroi too late for us to catch a train back to Gent for the night, so we ended up booking a cheap place right outside Charleroi airport for the night and waking up early to catch a taxi to the train station. we got there early and because it was Sunday there were only one or two trains running to Brussels every hour anyway, so we stopped at Panos for a sandwich.
At the register I ordered a coffee (café for any of you non-french speakers out there) and said in my crappy french “un café s’il vous plais”. And the cashier apparently didn’t understand my “un” because she held up one finger and asked, “uno?”
To which I looked at her oddly, because, hello, we’re in Belgium, if you’re going to guess another language wouldn’t Dutch or English be the way to go? before replying “oui” and paying for the food.
So upon returning from the trip, I was apparently brown enough to be mistaken for Spanish or I suppose possibly Latin American.

A couple days later Piet had an ingrown toenail removed and I ran to the neighborhood super-cheap Turkish general store do get a container that he could soak his foot in. As I was checking out, the owner (who until that point had been speaking with another guy in very fluent dutch), smiled at me and said something I couldn’t even repeat to you now, but I’m pretty sure it was a Turkish greeting or thank you as I took the bucket and left.

And yesterday a very Mediterranean hued man ordered a coffee at work and asked me in accented Dutch what my nationality was. I told him I was American, which he obviously didn’t like, but then I asked what he’d thought I was and he said Kurdish. Which struck me as odd because if he was Turkish, me being Kurdish should be as bad,  if not worse than me being American. Either way, he can bite me and go order his coffee somewhere he finds more ethnically appropriate.

But I personally was a mix of amused and disgruntled by these assumptions of my nationality.
In America, obviously, everyone assumed I was American. In America it’s rarely a question of nationality and more often a question of descent. And 9 times out of ten, people thought my descent was Greek or occasionally Italian, despite the fact that I’m neither. The olive skin tone, wavy dark hair and high bridge of my nose are all very Mediterranean features which I get from my father’s side of the family, even though that side is a mix of Russan and Romanian.
Here in Belgium, it’s different. Belgians look…Belgian: usually pale skin, the brownish-blond colored hair we call “mousy” in America, slim builds, average  height. Dutch people look Dutch: tall, ruddy complexion, blond hair and often blue eyes. Turkish and Moroccan immigrant groups are the big ones here, ****but they tend to get their spouses from their home countries as opposed to intermarrying, so even the second and third generation Turkish/Moroccan Belgians tend to keep their physical and even their language and cultural differences that make them clearly not “Belgian” Belgians.
Point being that, when people here see me, they assume I’m another nationality, not based on my accent, but based on my appearance, which sadly, often leads people to stereotype me and treat me a certain way before I even get the chance to open my mouth. No one in America would treat me any differently because they thought I came from a Greek heritage. No one would automatically try to switch over to Greek to try to speak to me before allowing me to open my mouth. Even if I spoke with an accent, no one would try to switch to another language based on my appearance.

I noticed these things a lot more when I first moved here but as the Belgian climate has drained the color from my skin and my accent has diminished and my Dutch become more fluent, I suppose I either experienced it less, or just noticed it less. But now, with a brown color back in my skin there has been a notable upsurge in assumptions being made about my nationality, what language I speak, who I am as a person.

And while I do find it entertaining to add to the list of countries the people here think I come from, I also find it highly frustrating to have to play guessing games as to how I’ll be treated based on those assumptions.

 

****UBER DISCLAIMER – this is my own impression and opinion, based off of my own observations as well as some information I get from my husband, the doctor of cross-cultural psychology. There are, as always, most certainly exceptions to the statements I’m making here, but I’m giving what I believe to be a generally true overview of how things currently stand here in Flanders

Nordic Criminal Fiction

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*started this post last night after work, but didn’t finish it until this morning

Yeah, yeah, I know, where the heck are the pictures? Well, Piet has to go through and find what he doesn’t like and nuke it before I’m allowed to post the pictures, so they’ll be here, but not tonight.

As it is I just happen to be home a few hours early due to the nationwide train strike that renders pretty much any business in the train station useless, since there’s no one traveling by train today, so we got to close at 6 this evening instead of 9.

And since I have some free time I decided to do a little review of some books I read while on vacation, namely Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium trilogy and Jo Nesbo‘s The Snowman, the fifth in his Harry Hole series of crime novels. I’d been hearing good things about the Millenium trilogy for quite some time, but ignored it due to the fact that I’m typically not big into criminal fiction, but when we went on vacation I devoured the book I’d brought with me and was in need of new reading material within a day or two of landing in Tenerife. I found Nesbo’s book first and the first thing I noticed was that the book’s covered called him the “next Stieg Larsson”. Nesbo is Norwegian and Larsson was Swedish and while both happen to be criminal fiction authors and Nordic in origin, that really seems to be where the similarity ends. In fact, I’m curious to know how Nesbo feels about being considered “the next” of something as opposed to his own something.
Savvy?

Anyway, The Snowman was decent reading as far as thrillers go. It moved faster and kept me interested more consistantly than Larsson’s books, although I felt like the ties to the real killer were way too vague and obscure until too close to the end. It also seemed at times that the book was not so much about criminal investigation as it was about the personal development, or lack thereof of the main character Harry Hole. Obviously character development is key in a good novel, but when the crime novel becomes more of an examination of the main character and less of an examination of the criminal, I think then the genre choice should come into question.

Larsson’s books…well, I can see the public appeal of them. They are obviously written by an intelligent journalist who understands the underpinnings of investigation and the inner workings of newspaper and magazine publishing as well as the government (or at least the Swedish government). Also, the main characters are relatable to both genders, although I think it comes close to a caricaturization of what the general readers of crime  novels want to relate to. The intelligent, somewhat brooding investigatory journalist who’s suave with the ladies and always comes out on top and the troubled, dark genius woman who is violent and cunning but who has a soft side and is oh so misunderstood by society.

If I compare the writing styles of the two, again, I see no real similarities, aside from the fact that they write about a crime being solved. Nesbo obviously gives the account from the police point of view and sadly falls back on the stereotypic “troubled drunk cop” who is the best in his field but the higher ups tend to mistrust and dislike. His imagination is more focused on the progression of the crimes as perpetrated by the criminal (as opposed to summarizing backstory like Larsson) and the one that really got me: he describes the victims and their thoughts right up to their deaths. That last one, in my opinion, is really what helps to drive Nesbo’s novel because the reader does not know who will die and who won’t. You are shown into everyone’s head and thoughts processes, not just the survivors, so you really have to keep reading to find out who lives and who dies.

Larsson, on the other hand, really gets caught up in explaining the feasibility of his story from a journalistic standpoint. He likes to infuse his story with information that demonstrates the fact that he knows how things work behind the scene. Personally, I skimmed quite a bit when it came to this. Also, he has an odd attention to certain irrelevant details, like every time someone eats or drinks something. I understand every so often mentioning what kind of sandwich a character eats, or what cup they use, but Larsson does this in pretty much any scene where someone is eating or drinking.
As a reader, I really don’t care that Blomkvist made two open herring and cheese sandwiches on rye before fixing himself a double espresso with a teaspoon of cold milk in a Social Democrats mug.
The extent of banal descriptors in his narrative waxes Dickensian.

Also, the predictability factor is a bit higher in Larsson’s writing than Nesbo’s. I was only surprised once by a murder in the entire trilogy, and that wasn’t until the third book. None of the main characters dies or is even put into much of a critical situation, aside from the two main characters and neither of them can die or else the series can’t really be finished, so you know they’re safe, regardless of how many times they are shot or strangled or beaten up.

The only other thing I found remotely common between the authors was their propensity for making several of their characters promiscuous and to treat is quite casually. I’m not sure if this is, in fact, a writing style thing or rather a cultural thing. I know that Norway and Sweden are in the top of the list when it comes to liberal ideology in many socially relevant issues including sexuality, so I’m reserving judgment on this aspect for the most part. However, I do find it somewhat irritating that Larsson’s main male character sleeps with pretty much any female that crosses his path and that somehow, that’s okay, despite the fact that he tends to sleep with people he works with, and often more than one at the same time. In my opinion, it’s the working relationships he has with all of these women that makes his actions unethical, as opposed to the actual fact that he has multiple partners at once. To write a character who has such strong professional convictions but who then compromises said professionalism because he can’t keep his hands off the boobies just doesn’t make sense.
It’s almost as if the author wants to prove that a man-whore can still be a stand up, likable guy who’s sensitive to the opposite gender. This personally took a lot away from my reading experience because I’d be pulled from the story and the action by my exasperation over who Blomkvist decided to bump uglies with next.

So, over all, I can say that if you are the type who like a good old fashioned crime thriller, you’ll probably like Jo Nesbo and if you’re a fan of crime thrillers with conspiratorial edges, you’ll probably like Stieg Larsson. If you’re more a fan of fantasy, historical fiction and narrative fiction (ahem, me) …you probably won’t be thrilled by either, but it’ll do if you’re hard up for reading material.

One Last Post From The Island

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We arrived at our final lodging in Tenerife yesterday. A resort not to far from our first apartment. It’s all inclusive which in a way is nice, although I’m still not able to cope sensibly with buffet style eating.

All you can eat buffets are not the norm in Belgium, at least not in Gent so I’ve definitely gotten away from that style of eating. I go out of my way to avoid it when we visit the States, but it’s really our only option on the resort. I keep going in with this great game plan of only having one plate and maybe some salad, but then I see the different foods and just want to try a leeeetle bite. Of everything. Which adds up to 1-2 hefty plates of food. Which I then eat because I can’t stand wasting food.

And then I leave feeling like my gut is going to burst and I’m going to blow up and bounce away like Violet Beauregard.

So I’ve got to reign that in before the vacation ends. Which is Saturday, by the way. We’ll be touching down in Brussels sometime Saturday evening and I’m back to work on Monday.

Otherwise, the weather has continued to be warm and lovely and I’ve got myself a really nice tan. Even Piet got some nice color, which is pretty rare. Anyway, the internet connection here is a bit slow so I can’t post many pictures until we get home, but here’s the view we’re waking up to for the rest of the week:

Guess I’ll be seeing you all back in Belgium!

La Gomera

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Up until now I think the closest I’ve come to paradise is… well, in all honesty I can’t ever recall the word “paradise” entering my mind when describing an actual physical setting I’ve experienced. I’ve experienced beauty, majesty, grandiosity. I’ve experienced a sort of eerily soothing mysticism, but until now I don’t believe I’ve ever felt the kind of calm subtle awe that I feel from where I’m writing this right now.

I’m typing to you from Parador de La Gomera, from a sprawling hotel nestled atop the cliff overlooking San Sebastian, the port capital of La Gomera, the island closest to Tenerife.  The sun is bright and warm and the breeze is cooling and constant and all I can see atop the low white wall surrounding the tranquil pool area is an endless stretch of clear blue sky punctuated by a sliver of royal blue sea.

It truly is a stone’s throw from perfection here.

Our apartment in Tenerife is providing us with a lovely, lively home base and we’ve already driven all over the island, swum in volcanic pools on the craggy northern coast, drove to the top of  the towering El Tiede mountain,  and wound our way through the less populated hills to the west. But this trip to La Gomera is a getaway within the getaway.

I really didn’t think that was possible, but as we stood atop the cliff yesterday afternoon, listening to the sounds of the town filtering up from below: the cry of a baby, a jack hammer, the gossip of two women, surrounded by tangles of fuchsia and violet bougainvillea, I felt even more relaxed than I had on Tenerife.

While San Sebastian itself is a small but perfectly typical little town, it’s the Parador that immediately won my heart. The beauty of the Spanish colonial hotel is in it’s stark splendor.  The floors are all golden wood, polished to a glossy shine, with neutrally shaded carpets running down the centers of the halls. The nearly black wooden doors  and frames contrast austerely with the white walls, which display tasteful sketches and paintings of fishing boats, seascapes and Spanish villagers and upper class. The bathroom in our room is almost entirely of red and cream marble and is separate from a small entryway, as is our bedroom, which is furnished with equally simple yet sumptuous wooden Furniture, two comfortable sleigh beds and a few colorful pottery lamps.

The back door opens onto a small Stone patio and the vast, winding garden that is elevated above the pool and provides, not only a lush selection of plant life but an amazing view to the sea.  Within the Parador itself are several small but equally verdant courtyards, surrounded by flagstone hallways with shining rattan and bamboo rockers and loung chairs not to mention the generous sprinkling of sitting rooms and salons situated on all three floors of the house. Each is decorated with odds and ends perfectly suited to the environment; a ship’s Wheel, several old globes, settee and chaise lounges upholstered in soft, muted houndstooth and brocade.

The overall effect is stunning. It’s one of the few places I’ve stepped foot into and within an hour thought “I could live here”.

Which of course, is an impossible dream, but one that’s inspired by what I’m certain will be a lasting memory.

 

Up until now I think the closest I’ve come to paradise is… well, in all honesty I can’t ever recall the word “paradise” entering my mind when describing an actual physical setting I’ve experienced. I’ve experienced beauty, majesty, grandiosity. I’ve experienced a sort of eerily soothing mysticism, but until now I don’t believe I’ve ever felt the kind of calm subtle awe that I feel from where I’m writing this right now.

I’m typing to you from Paradora de La Gomera, from a sprawling parador (hacienda) nestled atop the cliff overlooking San Sebastian, the port capital of La Gomera, the island closest to Tenerife.  The sun is bright and warm and the breeze is cooling and constant and all I can see atope the low wight wall surrounding the tranquil pool area is an endless stretch of clear blue sky punctuated by a sliver of royal blue sea.

It truly is a stone’s throw from perfection here.

Our apartment in Tenerife is providing us with a lovely, lively homebase and we’ve already driven all over the island, swum in volcanic pools on the craggy northern coast, drove to the top of  the towering El Tiede mountain,  and wound our way through the less populated hills to the west. But this trip to La Gomera is a getaway within the getaway.

I really didn’t think that was possible, but as we stood atop the cliff yesterday afternoon, listening to the sounds of the town filtering up from below: the cry of a baby, a jackhammer, the gossip of two women, surrounded by tangles of fuschia and violet bouganvilla, I felt even more relaxed than I had on Tenerife.

While San Sebastian itself is a small but perfectly typical little town, it’s the Parador that immediately won my heart. The beauty of the Spanish colonial house is in it’s stark splendor.  The floors are all golden wood, polished to a glossy shine, with neutrally shaded carpets running down the centers of the halls. The nearly black wooden doors  and frames contrast austerely with the white walls, which display tasteful sketches and paintings of fishing boats, seascapes and Spanish villagers and upper class. The bathroom in our room is almost entirely of red and cream marble and is separate from a small entryway, as is our bedroom, which is furnished with equally simple yet suptuous wooden Furniture, two comfortable sleigh beds and a few colorful pottery lamps.

The back door opens onto a small Stone patio and the vast, winding garden that is elevated above the pool and provides, not only a lush selection of plantlife but an amazing view to the sea.  Within the Parador itself are several small but equally verdant courtyards, surrounded ot to mention the genrous sprinkling of sitting rooms and salons situated on all three floors of the house. Each is decorated with odds and ends perfectly suited the the environment; a ship’s Wheel, several old globes, settees and chaise lounges apholstered in soft, muted houndstooth and brocade.

The overall affect is stunning. It’s one of the few places I’ve stepped foot into and within an hour thought “I could live here”.

Which of course, is an impossible dream, but one that’s inspired by what I’m certain will be a lasting memory.

Nos Vamos Hoy

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Today we leave for our (very) belated honeymoon.

Two weeks in Tenerife, where we’ll hopefully be enjoying weather in the mid 20’s (or 70’s if you do °F), trekking a bit, swimming a bit, relaxing a bit and celebrating four months of marriage a bit.

We’ll have the laptop with us but I doubt I’ll be doing much blogging, but I promise lots of pictures and posts when we get home in mid October.

Hasta luego!!