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Archive for the ‘Fun’ Category

Personal Souvenirs

The clay class that I joined in town has drawn to a close. We have finished sculpting, then firing, glazing, then firing again. This weekend I picked up my pieces, which remarkably survived the threat of cracks and breaks in the preparation process.

The primary project was the previously mentioned clay chicken. She became known as the 50-pound chicken, based on the fact that both firing/glazing fees are calculated by weight and I must somehow carry this lady over the Atlantic. She is glazed in a lovely dolomite recipe created by the artist who runs to class, Christiane Zeghers. I look forward to demonstrating her silliness and that of each of her half-dozen chick-size egg cups.

At the end of class, with about half a session to fill, I decided to also create personal souvenirs from our stay in the form of ceramic magnets. Each subject I selected for its nostalgic appeal  to different eras of Belgian memories: the house in which I lived as a child, the chapel where my husband and I were married and the front door of our home these past few months. There is something very satisfying about both making your own souvenirs and also tailoring them to your emotional imagination.

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We have arrived at that point where I realize all the stories that I planned to build do not have the privilege of time to offer them. In addition, as I sort through various images collected over the past few months, there are those that amuse but without the content for a whole post. So combined together, I offer random images in Belgium . . .

When you are late for church, but really need to go? Hope to be a man, in Bruges. This styling steel design replaces the stone and cement urinals of the past. Those offered the chance to pee directly onto the church itself.

It’s up for sale, if you want it. This barn door caught my eye on a ride through the countryside. In this area, however, the “farmer” is more likely to be a well-off doctor/lawyer/banker.

Where the coolest manekins hang out for a cocktail after work in Brussels.

Ink, in every imaginable color, displayed at an exhibit of “script” at the Castle of Bouillon. In the second grade here, I had to learn to write with a fountain pen. My admiration for fine pens — much to my budgeting disappointment — has remained with me ever since.

When buying pork in a foreign language, I appreciate the pictorial proof that I am buying pig. They appreciate a good graphic here.

From the back garden here, this is just one example of the keen eye and crafty imagination of our hosts. Beauty surrounds.

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Easter in a predominantly Catholic country is bound to be big, but they also take the very secular celebration seriously. The bakeries and chocolate shops have been filled with chickens and eggs and rabbits. Store fronts — even the train station — have baskets displaying eggs and pastel ribbons.

I went for the more enduring “Spring Celebration” with my birds-in-flight mobile over the dining room table. Dying eggs, however, was made a bit more tricky with  the prevalence of brown eggs at the grocery store. (Although, they do sell already colored eggs here — but in rather garish colors and over-saturated tones. And if I am to have dyed eggs — it has been  a few years — I will do them myself.) So we did not try anything too tricky, and settled for deeper shades this year.

The big anticipation will come tomorrow morning with the Easter basket reveal. I have spent the last couple of weeks hording a small store of local delights. More to come on that.

Until then, have a lovely weekend.

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Crafting in Belgium

Dina Fragola Waffle Earrings on Etsy

An Etsy blog post on Belgium has been brought to my attention. (For dear readers now confused, Etsy is an online marketplace of individual crafters selling their wares from around the world.) Yes, for the rest of you — almost all of you and the world — Etsy is big in Belgium too.

The story, Shop Local: Belgium, the Land of Beer and Chocolate, spurts out the usual roll call of chocolate and beer with the numbers to illustrate. (Can you really get a feel for 21.4 pounds of chocolate? It is evidently the amount consumed in a year by the average Belgian?)  The guest writer (an Etsy crafter, of course) then makes her real point: sales.

Don’t worry, Belgium also offers you treats that aren’t bad for your figure or your health (though they may also be addictive): tasteful, delicious jewelry and accessories made by talented Belgian artists.

The ladies below have three things in common: they are born and live in Belgium, have a crush on chocolates and they create fruity, colorful, accessories that they sell on Etsy.

And the certainly delicious samples that she provides are indeed intriguing. Check out those waffle earrings. That might bring me back to wearing danglies again.

Although this Belgian source of fine crafting comes as no surprise. I pal about within an intimate circle of fine resident artisans here. And amongst their many talents is a knack for seemingly edible clay work, as evidenced after an afternoon session last month:

There are the chocolate toffee beads that beg to be eaten.

The thinly sliced prosciutto would fit perfectly in Alice’s hand, after a tipple from the “Drink Me” bottle.

(For more of this crafter’s beautiful productions, check out: Plum Pudding et Muffin Tops.)

As for myself, my handiwork did not turn out exactly scrumptious. (Although, I did unintentionally keep producing miniature likenesses of internal organs.) But most pride goes to these entirely off-topic (i.e., not edible-looking at all) pieces that . . . GLOW IN THE DARK!

. . . and when the lights go out:

Very impressive, I know.

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In My Bag

A recent New York Times blog presented a photographer’s experiment in nosing through the handbags of strangers. Although not a particularly original artistic enterprise, it makes for an interesting sociological curiosity and great fun to emulate.

In my homage to Francois Robert’s work (pictured above) I decided to examine whether any “Belgium-ness” became evident in the contents of my bag. No pre-photo editing was done; my shoulder satchel was taken as it hung.

This was the result.

There are taints of European life, but only just: receipts from Delhaize, GB/Carrefour, Lidl and De Kringwinkel (Spit); de Lijn bus card; the nearly vintage Swedish Nokia phone; German müsli bars; 10 euro cent coin.

Does the otherwise consistent content between here-and-there indicate that I am either overly European stateside or so worldly the continent beneath my feet cannot sway my bag-personality? More likely: I just change very little. As a creature of habit I will look rather similar — and almost always a little out of place — regardless or where I stand, satchel over my shoulder or contents spilled out.

What is in your bag?

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I’m Not the Only One Here

A prolific Belgian winter ground cover, miniature forests of which can be seen in allotments and backyards. Comes in two forms, fat and skinny. (Source: An A to Z of Belgium)

A quick note of admiration to shed attention on a funny little web site created by a former expat in Belgium. An A to Z of Belgium offers humorous insight and revelations about life here in a handy alphabetically coded index. Although it was created a while ago (with a reference here and there to Belgian Francs), amazingly distinct Belgium-ness seems not to age.

A quick read is highly recommended, particularly if you have been here — or are planning a visit, hopefully sometime soon. Some of my favorites:

August A month of dangerously pleasant weather when Belgium does its utmost to discourage tourists from coming and spoiling life there by generally completely shutting down for three weeks or so.
Coast A strip of sand at the western edge of Belgium that the entire country flocks to when the sun comes out.
Grey The national colour of Belgium. The bits of Belgium that are not brown, are grey. That includes of course the sky.
Leopold A common name for Kings of the Belgians, one of whom was a dangerously mad old dog who looked like Santa Claus and amused himself by personally buying up bits of Africa, turning them into sweat shops and then selling them back to the Belgian state for a profit. Like most decent tyrants his punishment for these deeds was a legacy of statues, and streets, parks and cafes named in his honour.
Rain A tangible dampness that falls on Belgium exclusively during the twelve month long wet season. Belgians actually seem to think that it rains every day, which is not in fact true. Except in November. And July.
Scouts Belgians of almost any age. Observed at weekends in immense swarms at railway stations and town centres, normally wearing shorts regardless of the prevalent weather conditions. Scouts do not appear to actually do anything, but they are always in a large group, going somewhere and making lots of noise.
Spaghetti Bolognaise Surprisingly seems to be Belgium’s national dish. Universally available from almost every eating venue in the country. Almost always good value in terms of quality and quantity, especially when topped with mountains of freshly grated cheese.

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Clay Class

I am in a clay class where I am attempting to make a chicken-shaped soft-boiled egg serving bowl. No, it is not just you, that probably does not make sense to anyone else, either. But provided its head and tail do not fall off and its body remains uncracked during the kiln-firing process, perhaps I will invite you for breakfast one morning and you can see what I mean.

The class is run by a local artisan, Christiane Zeghers. Her own work is polished and beautiful and her latest creations take advantage of a technique she developed using a spectrum of rainbow colors. But far from pressured by such perfection, at each weekly session in her vintage atelier, the atmosphere is calm and easy. There are those making masterpieces and then there is me and my chicken. But everyone enjoys the experience, and my Flemish is even improving as I listen to the chatter during the (Belgian mandatory) coffee/tea break.

Belgian pottery comes with quite  pedigree, you might be surprised to discover. Sure the Dutch are known for the Delft blue tiles and the Italians for the talent that was imported to create them, but back in the middle ages, the English could not get enough of the mugs and pitchers from what today is Belgium.

Amongst its pottery of note, during the 15th century salt-glazed stoneware was renown in the potting town of Raeren, which had been producing pottery for at least two hundred years before. The famous blue-gray “Westerwald” jugs with their pitted surfaces — today much duplicated for eager tourists, such as myself — originated here.

Will my chicken live up to such historic proportions? Probably not. But I will still be able to say I was trained in the historic art of Belgian ceramics.

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