31 December 2005

fijn eindjaar

Almost four years ago, Counting Crows played a mediocre concert of mediocre songs on an overcast spring day at Yale. "A Long December" was musically no better than the other numbers, but it touched the audience with quiet resignation as Adam Duritz poured melancholy over us beneath a heavy grey sky. Today it becomes our story. I did not mean for it to be painful to you, but perhaps that pain is the price of sanctuary.

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leavin’
Oh the days go by so fast

And it’s one more day up in the canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
If you think that I could be forgiven
Wish you would

The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl

And it’s one more day up in the canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
If you think you might come to California
Think you should

Drove up to Hillside Manor sometime after two a.m.
And talked a little while about the year
I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower
Makes you talk a little lower about the things you could not show her

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better that the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

And it’s one more day up in the canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean
I guess I should

I'm moving on to a new year and a new life on both legs. I do need to see the ocean again--I need to remind myself of who I am, and I must do it alone.

30 December 2005

sneering at Beethoven

While gingerly reviewing my senior essay reevaluating McClary's interpretation of Beethoven's Fifth (none of which I remember, as I wrote it practically without sleeping), I dissolved into laughter at the following:

Finally, instead of working with existing materials to reach a resolution in the finale, Beethoven instead introduces a new theme, a new mood, and in fact an entirely new member of the orchestra, the chorus. This leads McClary to ask, “How could any configuration of pitches satisfactorily ground the contradictions set forth over the course of this gargantuan composition?” (Feminine Endings 129). Taruskin expresses a similarly indignant response at this “catastrophic descent:” “Who are all this riffraff, with their beery Männerchöre and sauerkraut bands? Our brothers? And the juxtaposition of all this with the disclosure of God’s presence ‘above the stars?’ No, it is all too much!” (249). The finale rushes onstage and shoves the other movements off as the storyline becomes too grim, and it uplifts the audience with a song and dance. While effective, grandiose, and beautiful, the finale trivializes the material that preceded it, for it answers few, if any, of the painful issues raised throughout the piece. Instead, it distracts listeners with its “beery,” grossly idealistic, and rather male chauvinist message of brotherhood. Even a contemporary critic agreed that the “An die Freude” was a travesty:
Wie konnte ein Mann, der Göthes Geist im Egmont so tief erfaßt hat, solche Trivialität dem Schillerschen Hymnus zur Einleitung geben?…Aber die Behandlung des Schillerschen Textes selbst zieht das hohe, schwungvolle Gedicht tief herab und mißhandelt die Poesie auf eine unbegreifliche Weise. (Berlin Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung 1826, quoted in Kunze 490)


I thought that cleaning the infected wound and removing infected tissue was awful. But now that the infection is gone, it's quite apparent that those buggers ate quite a ways under my skin past the wound, and surgery might be required to remove the skin above it, depending on Dr. Vandenberk's assessment next week. It is not pleasant to watch a significant length of gauze being put into a tunnel beneath your skin. Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew... I was definitely not cut out for the medical profession.

29 December 2005


Thanks to Ben's kind email--which was very much a relief to read--I searched for information on fractures of the femur, and found an article that explained a lot about my experience and the care they gave me in the hospital. It even explained why I had to wear those goddamn anti-embolism stockings, a question I tried in vain to answer for weeks.

The femur is the longest, strongest, and heaviest bone in the body. Exactly how fast was that car going?

27 December 2005


Tonight I discovered that I could dance again (goofily). That was the result of discovering that I could be angry again. I also realized that I am incapable of keeping appointments even when my schedule is nearly empty.

The infected wound on my calf has gotten deeper (almost 4 mm, I'd say) rather than shallower over the past week, so the doctor instructed me to have a nurse clean and dress it daily. Peter was a nice fellow, but admittedly I was glad to think that after my last shot (to maintain my circulation), I would never see him again. No such luck. At least I'm not going to grow feverish and nearly faint every night (and some mornings as well) picking out infected tissue again. The nurse can pack bandages into that thing as much as he pleases, and I ain't gonna look.

I might just be angry enough to go to school tomorrow and start practicing again. Thank you, Lisa. I've never met you, but thank you, thank you, thank you.

24 December 2005

how to attend midnight mass

Alice mentioned midnight mass to me when I joined her family for Christmas Eve dessert, describing it as a service in Dutch after which everyone sang "Silent Night." It hardly sounded exciting, but at 23:50, I googled "midnight mass" and found, to my astonishment, an article at eHow.com entitled How To Attend Midnight Mass, like a direct answer from God above. The mention of lots of music drove me to crutch as fast as ever I have to the OLV-o/d-Dijle kerk. It was my first time back since the accident...and worth every hop-step in the dark. Perhaps to most of the congregation, there was nothing out of the ordinary about it, but to me, attending my first midnight mass on a Christmas Eve that I had expected to spend alone, in a beautiful church, listening to familiar texts being sung in Dutch and reading from medieval notation, it was a wondrous hour. Belgium being small as it is, I ran into Eddy and his family afterwards, as well as church organist Wannes Vanderhoeven. And now I know that the organ is again within my crutching-reach.

Christmas with the Bordleys was fun and filling and finally exhausting. Sandra Collins (yeeeah girl DJs!) and Vello made alternative fashion statements, Sandra with a boy-beater depicting a baby in a soldier's helment declaring, "BORN TO DIE." They're flying to NYC to play at a new year party and then flying back into Belgium. Man. Eddy took out his three-liter bottle of Corsendonk, making the entire crowd happy until Vello inadvertently chugged down the unfiltered dregs. A distracted game of Yahtzee later and I was passed out in a corner. JR made a surprisingly thoughtful call as I miserably contemplated the ceiling...the second one this month. What's on his mind? But nobody wanted me to be driven home... because they were involved in an intense game of dice. Finally Eddy took me downstairs and showed me his beautiful living quarters and to Adegemstraat we went.

23 December 2005


Had a fine evening Christmas shopping by crutching around Mechelen and "crutching" hordes of Belgian holiday shoppers out of my way.
Interesting fact: Turkey, the traditional American Thanksgiving meal, is eaten for Christmas in Belgium. Also, all the cool postcards come from Antwerpen.

17 December 2005


and so tonight i greet the world a crippled twenty-three-year-old. hello world.

01 December 2005

a new life

The nurses woke me early in the morning and gave me a cloth and a little yellow tub of water to wash myself, but they had to do most of the washing for me. Intense pain seized my body each time they shifted me slightly, and as they pulled my broken leg back, I cried out, "Mijn been is gebroken hier!" They laughed, because they already knew, and because I pronounced gebroken as if it was German.

"You sound like you're saying your leg is baked, gebakken!" A few tears leaked from the corners of my eyes. I was not amused. "I think she's scared." They giggled.

They told me I was washing myself for the surgery in half an hour, but my anticipation waned as the empty hours drifted towards noon. Lifting myself for the bedpan was torture, but the only useful action of which I was capable. And suddenly they came at once, and they were wheeling me away. Hands plucked my white teddy bear Snuggles, which Alice had brought the night before with a bag of my things, out of my arms without a word. I reached up weakly after it. "Awww," a nurse exclaimed, but Snuggles was not returned to me.

They wheeled me into a waiting room with three eerily empty beds and left me to wait. I thought alarmedly of patients who had received too little anesthesia and had felt every last incision of their surgeries unable to move or scream and resolved to plead with the anesthesiologist to ensure that did not happen to me. But when Dr. Mattheussen came with warm and caring questions, I was at a loss for words.

Finally the sterile blue and white walls of the operating room slid into place around me. Dr. Vandenberk introduced many people, but I remember only that his lanky young assistant was named Tony.

"I've already performed three surgeries this morning, so I'm warmed up," the doctor said, standing over me smiling. I shuddered as they began to undress the bloody rack. Please don't move my leg from that thing until I'm out, please... please, oh please...

...I couldn't tell whether I was in the same room because it was wheeling relentlessly around me. Tony was standing to my left. "Why does it hurt so much?" I whispered.

He knelt beside me. "On your right side? It's normal." I shook my head fervidly. "But why does it hurt all over my lower body?" Silence. "It's going to be okay." I clasped his outstretched hand and cried myself into darkness.

They were standing to my right, perhaps five of them, silhouetted against the window of my hospital room, everyone and everything spinning out of control around me. Outside, dazzling golden clouds draped themselves against a brilliant blue sky. They stood with their hands folded behind their backs, looking down solemnly at me, silent shadows. The sky shone like a vision from another world, so close, so far. I had to tell them. Did they speak English? "Les nuages sont très beaux," I whispered. They did not react, and the weight of their gazes rested leadenly upon me. It broke my heart that in the midst of such beauty, all they could see was sadness. But then they too spun away into the void.

Nightmares began to wake me repeatedly in the evening, alone there in the dark, my shocked body drugged with untold amounts of narcotics. Vision after terrifying vision passed before my eyes until Tom arrived, and thank god he did, because the night would have been unbearable without him there to anchor me in reality whenever I awoke crying or screaming. I babbled deliriously to him, offering every appropriate and inappropriate thought that swept into my mind in my desperation to fling forth words that would hook into the reality that kept slipping away from me. "You must be so exhausted," I said in a moment of relative clarity, ashamed that he had been sitting at my bedside for hours as I prated. "Please, go home if you need to."

"Are you kidding?" he asked incredulously. "I'm not leaving you like this."

I surfaced into rationality and drowned in madness time after time, tossing my head from side to side to fling away the visions, trying to sleep but terrified of what awaited me in my waking dreams, until finally I awoke from a long doze at 2 am to find myself fully and sanely conscious. Tom fell asleep in a chair across the room, still keeping me company in that now mercifully empty darkness until sunrise.

The hospital had kept me on a strict diet of white bread, but on Sunday they brought me a hot, steaming lunch with witloof soup. I could only pick at the main course, but as I smelled the soup deeply, I realized it was the first real food I had enjoyed since Friday. Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks.

And so my recovery progressed, visitors came, my table filled with flowers and cards, and my closet filled with lovingly chosen inpatient clothes from Alice. She and her husband brought me homemade tomato soup and newspapers in which the same article appeared:
Fietser gewond
MECHELEN - Aan de Uilmolenweg gebeurde een zwaar ongeval. Aan het kruispunt met de Stuivenbergbaan werd een 22-jarige vrouwelijke fietser gegrepen door een auto toen ze de rijweg overstak. Het slachtoffer werd met ernstige, maar geen levensgevaarlijke verwondingen naar het ziekenhuis gevoerd.
I was perfectly outraged. The police had omitted every interesting detail possible. An American student studying the carillon in Belgium had been hit by a car! I had nearly attained carillon martyrdom or sainthood, nearly outdone Jo himself. But luckily for me, that honor must wait.

"Did you know that there was a terrible three-car pileup on Saturday morning, and they brought the victims here?" Alice asked me. I thought of the three empty beds in the waiting room. My operation had been delayed because others had arrived more seriously injured than me. I had been fortunate...

Sessions with the physical therapist became the highlight of each day, as he brought me first a walker and then crutches and taught me to "walk" further and further from my room. My parents flew in on Tuesday from San Francisco despite my protestations, and a few minutes after they saw me for the first time, a hesitant, unfamiliar woman appeared at my door. Sensing who she was, I beckoned to her to enter, and she introduced herself in Dutch as the driver of the car that had hit me: Emilia. She looked from my crutches to me sitting at the table and back at the crutches and began to cry. We could hardly communicate in each other's languages, but I reassured her as best as I could that I wasn't angry at her, not at all, and gave her a hug--she seemed to need it most of anyone in the room.

On Thanksgiving Day, I was released from the hospital earlier than expected, but when I called Alice, she already knew. The day before, her neighbor had come rushing in to tell her, having heard the news from her husband, a colleague of Dr. Vandenberk.

Marie-Claude drove me to the BAEF luncheon that I had been planning to attend for weeks. Right on schedule (well, 40 minutes late, and I couldn't give the carillon concert I had promised). As we held up our glasses around the long, elegant table, Dr. Boulpaep declared that most of all they were thankful to have me there, but I could not help but be thankful most of all for the miracle that had been my disaster. You see, today at home I saw my bicycle for the first time. I had expected it to be crumpled in half, having sacrificed itself for me, taken the brunt of the impact. I brought a close friend along to ensure that someone would tear me away from the thing when I threw my arms about its broken frame and tried desperately to revive it. But when I hobbled into the foyer and opened my eyes, bracing for the worst, my bike stood in near perfect condition before me, gleaming silver in the light. A bent fork, an out-of-true wheel, a frayed brake cable, handlebars off axis...

I was incredibly fortunate to emerge from the accident with only a broken leg, my bike came through with perfectly reparable damage, and even my five-euro windbreaker showed no sign of the disaster that had befallen its wearer. My guardian angel was watching over me that day as I wheeled jubilant and free out of Vrijbroek park--and my guardian angel Alice then took up the slack.

Outraged as I am about it, I simply cannot remember my life flashing before my eyes or my body being flung into the windshield. But during those days in the hospital, I lived my life from a new beginning to the present. I arrived screaming and crying in the hospital, frightened and helpless. Two kindly Belgians rushed in to take me in as their own child. I could do nothing for myself, couldn't move my leg a few millimeters when it was seized with pain, couldn't use the toilet, couldn't shower. I had no idea what the back of my bed or the wall behind it looked like until the physical therapist taught me to walk again, and each day my world grew as I huffed and puffed further down the hallway, and eventually up the stairs and back down. Slowly, I began to discover the world, to regain independence as I struggled into the bathroom for the first time and washed my own hair after the nurses had told me it would be impossible that day. Alice brought my English-Dutch dictionary, and because some of the nurses spoke only Dutch, I learned to talk as well as walk again. With visitors streaming in each evening, I discovered new friends I'd never known I had.

And finally, on the day of my coming-of-age, I struggled awkwardly into business casual with my parents' help and huffed and puffed my way out of the hospital into the 'real' world. That world had never seemed so perilous before--bitter cold, rainy, filled with roaring traffic, lined with narrow, unprotected cobblestone sidewalks and uneven steps, sprouting slippery, narrow nineteenth-century stairways--so many obstacles that could threaten an exhausted, helpless woman on crutches.

But even in my room at home now, the world reveals new gifts. The first snow of the season graced my second night here. A card arrived from Kim in Texas, telling me she had been unable to play for six weeks in Mechelen after breaking a finger, but that her playing had improved as a result. My aunts and uncles in Australia and Hong Kong sent me flowers and offered to buy me a used car, showering generosity and caring upon me beyond my imagination. My new flatmate Wendy heard me sobbing one night, and although we were barely acquaintances, she came and plucked me off my bed, talked sense into me, and resolved to take me home for Christmas so I won't spend it alone on my crutches in this little room.

Soon, we'll be out there again, me and my other half, wheeling out into the unknown, alive as ever, reborn.

29 November 2005

the bike ride that changed my life again

Funny that my last post was about the fietsknooppuntennetwerk. I am here now to tell the story of why I have not posted for over a week. Dear reader, we will relive a turning point in my life together in near-completeness for the first time, for only now am I gathering the final pieces of what came to pass that beautiful afternoon--the last time I felt truly alive.

I meant to practice the organ in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-over-de-Dijle kerk on the afternoon of Friday, November 19, 2005. But the autumn day was unusually glorious, and I said to hell with it, I'm going biking! Determined to find the elusive Knooppunt 93, I set out along the usual paths, and followed routes that could barely be considered bike paths until I came to the Provinciaal Domein Vrijbroek. The park delighted me immensely; at its center lay a large rose garden that is surely gorgeous in summer (although nothing can yet compare to the Berkeley Rose Garden), and next to that stood a gezellig yet affordable cafe to which I was determined to take Tom, even if we had to borrow a housemate's bike. After those discoveries, I rode smugly past a bicycle learning course and grinned as an instructor came out to see me on my kickass bike. In retrospect, an ironic moment.

A pond, alive with waterfowl, sprawled across the farther end of the park. Although I was getting antsy to finish my route before dusk, I couldn't resist circling its perimeter. Halfway around, I braked before a rickety raised wooden path winding off into a birch grove. It reminded me of the dirt trails branching out from main trails that I had always wanted to follow, that promised mystery and magic and adventure, that my parents never let me explore while we were hiking together. Here was my chance, at last, to pursue the magic that had always beckoned to me just around the bend.

I locked my bike at the rack that stood conveniently next to the trailhead and wandered in, determined not to care how long the loop might take me. Golden rays fell across the delicate, twisted white branches, changing in hue every minute as the sun settled towards the horizon. Planks creaked under my feet in the still, cool air, and when occasionally they widened into platforms, I threw out my arms and spun around, watching the leaves turn above me. When the trail finally returned me to its beginning, I stumbled out as if from a dream and looked back, trying to engrave the vision and the magic of it in my memory.

The sun was threateningly low and I had 15 km to cover. I had no desire to backtrack; if going just a few blocks further in one direction that I had gone before had brought me these breathtaking new sights, how could I give up what lay ahead? So I sped straight out of the park, down a residential street, around a curious school with Mechelen: Stad in Vrouwenhanden flags fluttering before it, and back onto the street.

My memory begins to fail me now. Did I end up biking behind a white freight truck because it passed me, cutting me off and making me think, "Shit, I need to watch my back, there are crazy drivers in Belgium after all," or did I yield to it as I was emerging from the parking lot? In either case, we approached the busy intersection of the Stuivenbergbaan with the Uilmolenweg thus in line.

Rush-hour traffic was thick and heavy, and with no traffic light, I could hardly imagine how I would get across the six- or eight-lane thoroughfare. As dismay began to set in, I watched astonished as the truck plunged directly into the intersection, slowing oncoming cars with its brute mass. As the roaring intersection came to a halt, I saw my chance to race across. Taking the striped crosswalk, I pedaled hard to follow in the truck's protective shadow.

But as we crossed the traffic island, I saw headlights rushing forward. One car was not slowing down. Can't the driver see that s/he's headed straight for a collision with a giant vehicle? Panicking, I debated between accelerating and braking, desperate to get the hell out of the way. I do not remember my decision. The last persistent memory I have is of those headlights zooming along an intersecting line with my path.

According to the driver, I was pedaling for my life. According to the police, I was thrown off my bike on impact. My body shattered the windshield of thte car and then slid to the ground. It was there that I awoke. My right leg was twisted painfully inwards, and somehow it seemed wrong that it rested entirely flat against the pavement. I told myself that it was mildly injured from the fall off my bike. But why was my beautiful bike, mein armes kleines fahrrad, lying unprotected against traffic several meters away? It seemed so far... maybe even two lanes.

As deep pain seared across the reality that I was reentering, I knew my leg was broken.

I saw the world moving above me against a grey-white sky as if through a fishbowl lens. Two frantic women, one of whom reminded me of Anna Maria, were rushing about and chattering in a language I could not recognize, and a random elderly man was standing nearby, perhaps with others. Perhaps cars were stopped around us, I couldn't tell. We were all about to be run over; I was convinced of that, but too groggy to warn the frantic fools about me. Someone assured me that s/he had called the ambulance, that it was coming soon. At the time, I did not question how they knew to speak to me in English. I began to fear the eternity of pain that would pass before the ambulance arrived. But it came only a few moments after those soothing words dissolved into the bleary air.

As the paramedics lifted me on a tarp, pain shot through my leg. I grabbed one of them by the collar, shouting, but my words were about the same obsession to which I cling whenever disaster threatens to separate me from it. "I'm a carillonneur! My leg can't be broken! It isn't broken, is it? You have to fix it. I can't have a broken leg. I play the carillon!"

Pieter, the last person I spoke to in ER before they wheeled me to my room, told me I was screaming the same thing all the way to the hospital. I also kept asking the same questions due to my concussion. Most likely, "What is your name?" because I wanted to recognize the individuals caring for me in that dark hour, and "Is my leg broken?" But I don't remember anything of the drive beyond the first few seconds. I don't remember arriving at the hospital and hardly remember how they initially treated me. They cut through the right leg of my grey-and-orange American Eagle workout pants and cleaned the wounds. As I came slowly to a more rational consciousness, I was lying in a dimly lit beige room being X-rayed by a man who struggled to turn me carefully; every time he moved me, I had to cry out for the pain in my leg. I lay huddled and alone on that vast table, the only other human in the dark, sterile room far away at some mechanical control panel, forever. And then eternity ended, and he wheeled me back into the ER.

A paramedic was gathering my belongings into a white trash bag. "Where am I?" I asked. "You're in St.-Maarten's Ziekenhuis in Mechelen." Flashback of Tom and me walking past the building several times, debating the meaning of ziekenhuis. "Do you want any of these things now?" I asked gratefully for my cell phone, and clasping it, began to feel reality seep from its cool, sleek shell into my blood-bruised hands.

"If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, you know who to call." I could still hear Geert speaking those words. I needed much, much more than a shoulder to cry on now. I dialed his cell phone--no reply. Panicking, I tried his home phone and trembled as it rang, terrified that only an answering machine would pick up the other end. Finally, his wife answered. Struggling to keep my voice from breaking, I tried to explain my situation. Unable to make out my tear-blurred words, she found him for me. "I don't know if I can come. I need to be here," his disoriented voice was saying. "Please," I pleaded, "I need somebody..." My voice was falling apart.

He called back soon after to say he would be with me in half an hour.

It sounded like an eternity, but it passed mercifully and quickly as I questioned Pieter on my conduct in the ambulance and tried to thank him for his help. He brushed off my gratitude: "It's a job." When a crowd of men seemed to have gathered in my room at once, Geert appeared at the door with baby Rosalie, unable to edge in. I reached out for him weakly. He made it to my bedside at last and set Rosalie down on the opposite bed.

"I think I'm so much smarter and more mature than most 22-year-olds," I gasped bitterly, too exhausted to be abashed that my bloody, bruised leg and ripped pants lay in clear view. "But in one way, I'm exactly the same as the rest. I thought my body was invincible to injury. Geert... I thought it was invincible..."

I did not bother with "Look at me now."

The police came to collect data, but there was little to be had from me in my state. Geert asked them about the condition of my bike for me. The silent look of dismay they gave him broke my heart. The front of the car had also been totaled.

Dr. Vandenberk came in, jaunty, dark-haired, and taller than the others. He told Geert that he would have to leave for the moment. Someone had finally come to anchor me in reality and familiarity. How could he tear that from me so soon? What sort of procedure was so terrible that others could not watch?

"No!" I cried hopelessly. "I want him to stay." But in the Belgian way, they let him stay. I wondered about Rosalie, but could not think of where she could go without her father, so I decided to keep the both of them.

It became clear why the doctor had asked him to leave as he injected my leg with multiple painkillers and positioned a narrow, gun-like drill above the right side of my knee. I gasped and turned away, clamping my eyes shut. "Don't look," Geert said, clasping my hand.

For the next moments, all I knew was immense pain as the doctor drilled the metal rod through my leg and out the left side of it and with a paramedic, pulled both ends until the two segments of my femur were no longer rubbing against each other (the source of immense pain every time my leg was moved), an intense foggy awareness of the interior contents of my right thigh shifting, and Geert's hand as I squeezed it so tightly I feared I might hurt him. My face went through contortions it had never been asked to perform, and my voice modulated through the space between screaming and roaring. Finally the doctor attached the two projecting ends of the rod to a metal stand. "You were so brave," Geert would tell me afterwards disbelievingly. "Only one tear... you shed only one tear."

It was done, and I was to spend the night awaiting my surgery.

But Geert was stumbling out of the room, stammering, "I think I need to get some water." I watched in confusion as he left, waving off a paramedic who tried to explain that certain nerves around my bone could not have been anesthetized. Rosalie was beginning to whine. "Shhhhh," I whispered, waving weakly at her, and a paramedic gave her his finger to clutch with her tiny hand. But she was upset without her father, and having no idea where he'd gone, they summoned a puzzled nurse to take her in search of him.

When father and child returned, Geert explained that he had almost passed out watching the operation. "The world went almost as black as your beautiful black hair," he jested. "I have to go; Rosalie needs her milk, she's sick. But I feel terrible leaving you here alone." I shook my head, laughing. "It's okay, the worst is over. Thank you." I gave him a sincere smile, following my instinct to take care of those who take care of me. "I was an only child. I never needed company, except in the worst of times. I'll be okay."

But I did not remain alone. Marie-Claude came from the Belgian American Educational Foundation office, although initially I couldn't recognize her as I was still reeling from the concussion. My landlords rushed in soon after, and the first thing Alice cried upon seeing me was that I had nothing to fear; they knew I was only a student alone in a strange country, and they would put me on their own health insurance. Marie-Claude had brought my BAEF insurance information, and we reassured them that I would be taken care of. But the kindness of my landlords touched me deeply, and would continue to do so throughout my hospital stay. Alice told me of being run over at my age by a drunk motorcyclist while crossing the street arm in arm with her friends. After slumbering in a coma for nine days, she had awoken and begun the long recovery process. I realized that my accident wasn't half bad in comparison. "Keep smiling," Marie-Claude told me as they left. She was going to leave my boxes in the house--including the one that contained my helmet.

A new face arrived to wheel me to my room, apologizing for hallways we passed through that were under renovation; so typically Belgian to not bother with a protected or alternative route. The elevator doors malfunctioned, but somehow he managed to get me out.

"New colors!" I exclaimed as he wheeled me into a brightly lit hallway split into segments of green, yellow, salmon, and orange. "Why yes... I think the architect had interests in a paint company," he chuckled.

I had known such horror that day that sleeping with my leg skewered on what Dr. Vandenberk had jokingly called a "medieval torture device" was a welcome relief.

17 November 2005


The Antwerp bike routes cover over 500 km. One near Turnhout is advertised enthusiastically as "a green circuit along four prisons." Right up my alley.

16 November 2005

they're on to us, andre!

It was always a secret fantasy of mine to snatch someone else's papers during an exam and run out screaming, "Andre, Andre, I've got the secret papers!" That said and not done, I can't believe I just received a recruitment message from the FBI on MySpace.com. I've got a sharp eye for fraudulent profiles and sites, and this profile screams "I am a professional trying desperately to look respectable on an amazingly sketchy social networking site." Perhaps the FBI is really following up on its self-stated goal #10 to "upgrade technology to successfully perform the FBI's mission." But why would they be recruiting Cal students? Surely 90% of other top campuses would be less actively, vehemently, driven-from-the-depths-of-its-soul opposed to the current political and law enforcement regime than Cal. The American government never ceases to inspire wonder in me.

Still embrassed to be American in Europe,
Special Agent 103309

12 November 2005

exotic america

It seemed absurd to me when Euge once commented earnestly during our trip to California that "America is so exotic." There seemed nothing more pedestrian to me, nothing more appropriate to measure all else by, than America. This came not from closed-mindedness so much as my perspective as an American. My entire life has been a constant process of plucking myself out of the familiar and 'normal' and diving into environments that would challenge me to understand them and incorporate myself into them and them into me. Swapping schools and neighborhoods around San Fran and cutting ties with each, discovering the concept of race in Jackson Hole, WY, racing 3,000 miles away to the East Coast, discovering a different world and my own heart just across the bay in Berkeley, and then fleeing another 3,000 miles to a tiny country to which few Americans ever think to move and which speaks the 48th most 'common' language in the world (can you even name 47 langauges?), ony to find myself there too... myself whole, a condition on which I had almost given up hope. Perhaps it was leaving North America, perhaps it was moving to Belgium, perhaps it was finding myself, perhaps it was finding Europeans and their perspectives... but something about coming here finally showed me that America is as exotic a study as a traveller could ever hope to discover.

And now I have this little addiction to browsing the used bookstore De Slegte in Antwerpen and picking up dirt-cheap American photography books I could only dream of affording in the US: Richard Misrach's gorgeous and now nostalgic Golden Gate (which is destined eventually for the library of another Berkeley lover), David Plowden's Imprints (a Yalie, no less... my awe of Yale and its graduates just keeps growing), and today a book I had never heard of before, Kate Schermerhorn's America's Idea of a Good Time.

Not surprisingly, her photos in a way show the sort of America we think of when we think of stereotypical images of America... they do not show the America in which I grew up, neighborhoods where shop owners had their brains blown out, communities that only came together to see the implosion of infamous highrise projects, and Ivy League towers beyond whose protective and exclusive bounds your roommate might have bottles broken over his head on his way home. But also an America of art museums and concert halls, splendid ethnic cuisine, Claes Oldenburg sculptures, icy national parks, desert national parks, empty trains, dark library stacks, fiesty biking communities, modernist wreckages, artists' studios in former toy factories, candlelit rituals, and towers and more towers and bells and the wind. None of these parts of America bear any relation to each other, not even in my arbitrary rhetorical division and juxtaposition of them, except that they avoid coming close to the gaudy, ironic, beautiful, bizarre, sad, and hilarious scenes that Schermerhorn protrays with some technique and lots of keen eye. Elements of her captured scenes most distant from my own life pop out at me from each page in their startling familiarity. So even to me, the scenes in her book are also America... and they are an America so exotic and alluring and filled with a way of life I no longer know that I cannot seem to stop finding myself in them.

11 November 2005


It's clear that I was fated to have the phone number 624-5*0*0*7* at 65 Edgewood last year. Thanks to Tom for luring me into spending a couple of minutes answering questions that mostly had nothing to do with me. Admittedly, I have a penchant for saving beautiful women, but I would have preferred to kick Mr.-Smith ass as Neo.

You scored as James Bond, Agent 007.
James Bond is MI6's best agent, a suave, sophisticated super-spy with charm, cunning, and a license to kill. He doesn't care about rules or regulations and is somewhat amoral. He does care about saving humanity though, as well as the beautiful women who fill his world. Bond has expensive tastes, a wide knowledge of many subjects, and is usually armed with a clever gadget and an appropriate one-liner.

James Bond, Agent 007


Batman, the Dark Knight


Captain Jack Sparrow


Lara Croft


Neo, the "One"


Indiana Jones


El Zorro


The Terminator


William Wallace




The Amazing Spider-Man


10 November 2005

the bells' angels

Ultra-modern and abstract renovations to the shared courtyard of the Museum Mechelen and Royal Carillon School are almost complete. Blue nighttime lighting has been added to the arcade adjoining the courtyard and mini-carillon tower.

Me: "What do you think of the new blue lighting?"
Geert: "It's great. All it needs is a whore."

Other news of interest: Luc and Twan form the badass duo "The Bell's Angels."

Belgian sex life (only just) above average.

But seriously...the sobering answer to the importance of the poppy, although sadly I still haven't found any seeds to grow.

Also soberingly, cars were torched in several cities including one on the Graaf Van Egmontstraat last night. Really makes you wonder about those instances of "VENDETTA" graffitied across a couple of boarded-up walls.

08 November 2005


Côte d'Or milk chocolate spread on fresh tigrebrood (which has irregular bands of sugar coating on top)... sooooo good it bowled me over. All for just a couple of euros, and beat the neuhaus fondant pure chocolate spread by a kilometer. Ohhhhhh man.

06 November 2005


It was one of those days. You know, those days when everything goes wrong. I would have been better off staying in bed, where I belonged, since I've been sick. And no shoulder to cry on. Although if I had a shoulder, I'd probably punch it instead... grrrrrr!!!

My landlord's kooky and perfectly adorable. Her son apparently went to live with some 15-year-old Goth girlfriend and her family when he was 18, borrowed money from the YMCA, and expected his parents to foot the bill. The judge said no way jose. He's now working at Del Haize. I need to figure out where it is and do a little shopping.

04 November 2005

public art

After picking up the package with my organ shoes (finally!!) from the BAEF office, I wandered to the European Parliament. The first building I encountered was an old one in the midst of a half-flooded construction site; much like the ISM's former dining hall building, it was magnificent and decaying, its elaborately carved ceiling exposed to the elements and covered with white deposits. Around it, a massive complex of sleek, cold, well-maintained modernity towered.

Behind the EU complex, I found a park in which stood a curious four-foot-wide slab of graffiti-covered concrete, standing perhaps eleven feet tall. I stopped to wonder at what it was doing amidst the angles and curves of a monument of glass... and realized it must be a section of the Berlin Wall. Sure enough, it was from the Potsdamer Platz. Its 1989 dismantlement allowed the formation of ... on May 1, 2004--what precisely, I couldn't decipher from the Dutch, French, and German captions. I remember watching the news as the wall came down, not realizing its significance as an uncomprehending six-year-old, but knowing that something bad was being joyfully destroyed. To see a piece of the wall for the first time, only five days before the sixteenth anniversary of its dismantlement, was moving, for I had enough of a sense of what it stood for to be stunned by it.

Closeups of graffiti on the Berlin Wall.

Considering how many stares I get in Mechelen for dressing a little offbeat, I wonder how the little town of Putte reacts to the annual Body Art Festival. I mean, maybe Putte is much more open-minded than Mechelen, if anybody lives there at all.

In other news, Dendermonde calls itself De Ros Beiaardsted. Only in Belgium. =)

02 November 2005

hanging the bell

Interesting bell expression from personals ad: "Hallo, ik ben dat hier eens aan het proberen, ben niet van plan om alles hier aan de klok te hangen, maar kan altijd wel iets moois van komen"


Who would have imagined that after a long period of indifference, I'd be getting so into blogging that I now have my third blog at LiveJournal? I'm also real down wit da RSS. Maybe it's a Mac thing.

01 November 2005

all saints

I stayed up nearly all night pessimistically working my ass off only to discover when I finally [mostly] finished this afternoon that the post office had been closed for the past two days for All Saints' Day. My dear België, a true kenner of leisure time to the dismay of stomme Amerikanen like me, considers it a national holiday. Fortunately, most of the Soros can be submitted online, but I don't know what they'll make of my CD postmarked November 2. To add injury to insult, my bike fell on my foot as I tried to step away from it to read the hastily printed sign on the door of De Post.

Too tired to feel remorse, I biked to Carrefour and Del Haize to see if I could erase my woes by shopping, but Carrefour was lifeless save kids running wheezy model cars around the empty lot, and Del Haize was nowhere to be found. Magnetized to the canals as usual, I biked north on the east side of the Dijle, a less frequent route for me. Despite or because of the holiday, I encountered only one human being along the way: a man trying to gather up his spilled belongings--way too many to have possibly fit on that bike--perhaps all his worldly possessions. The Dijle looked different, and the wind of the unusually cold but sunny afternoon felt smoother and cleaner than I have almost ever known it. As I reached my favorite underpass, I realized that my beloved "hanging gardens" were nearly submerged in water. The Dijle had risen and swelled over 1/3 of its normal width! I barely noticed any rain in the past 24 hours, but perhaps it fell elsewhere or while I was oblivious at my computer. The sight was stunning, beautiful, exhilarating, and surreal, especially after an exhausting night. Without my iPod, the silence was gorgeous as well.

Too weary to continue, I decided to cross the canal via the highway overpass, half expecting to be run over in the process. Instead, I discovered a spacious bike lane, and not a single car or bike interrupted my tranquility.

"Belgium, you spoil me!" I accused the wind, and as I coasted down the bicycle off-ramp, "What did I do to deserve you, Mechelen?" As I passed the hanging gardens again, birds alighted on each post and twittered nonsense replies.

For dinner, I cooked Signaporean noodles from my new Dutch Chinese cookbook, and severely regret only cooking one serving.

30 October 2005


While searching for the Ben & Jerry's in Antwerpen (which is unfortunately being relocated), I found the high-class shopping district--including a mouth-watering art, architecture, and fashion bookstore (not that I gave a farthing about the fashion section). I discovered a new item for my wishlist, in both English and German (depending on the angle from which you look at the cover): Luft / Air. One of my favorite photography subjects. But the best thing about it is the line from the publisher's website: Das erste Buch mit Airbag! Ein Buch-Objekt. Everything is more serious, more stern, and simultaneously more hilarious in German.

Can't wait to take my bike to Antwerpen and explore the entire damn city.

Another funny MS Word phenomenon: grammar check corrects "Midwestern" to "midwestern," which spell check corrects to "Midwestern."

28 October 2005

not in kansas anymore

Sigh. Carillons, pizzas, museums. How to say more than can be said? Damnit. I live a good life. Why can't I ever stop wanting more?

Again, "returning" to a familiar place (we visited Lier for an evening during EuroTour 2005) was preposterously heartwarming. I made the trek ostensibly to hear Iris' sister's jazz trio perform in a bar on the Grote Markt. Iris dished out the following scoop that knocked me flat. You know that middle-aged, mild-mannered, soft-spoken organ teacher of mine? He remarried just this year--with a 26-year-old former student, the lucky one out of several that he dated!

"It's possible," she responded to my amazement, as she often does, half seriously and half ironically and half (this half being in a higher spatial dimension) because her English vocab doesn't encompass a more specific phrase. And I suppose it isn't all that unusual in Europe. Eddy's girlfriend is a good twenty-something younger than him and a former student at the school. You're right, Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore... although the coastal American's joke would be that such things only happen in states like KS or AL. Hell, the oldest guy I dated was European... and somebody else's teacher at Yale. One could certainly argue that a pattern is emerging. All the same, I'll be struggling to keep a straight face at my next organ lesson.

The last train to Mechelen never came, and the station workers directed us to Antwerpen Berchem, where none of the posted or electronic schedules showed any Brussels-bound trains. But my newfound Mechelen-bound friend Wem and I went to Antwerpen-Centraal and, to our great relief, found the 0:23 train waiting there. The best part was that it stopped in Berchem. Usually track 9, one of the workers told us. We spent the next half hour discussing cultural differences between the US and Belgium. It was nice to converse with someone new, since the young folks in Lier seemed to prefer chatting in Dutch.

The cock-and-balls-shaped sour gummies we bought and over which we cracked up endlessly during EuroTour must have been from the nachtwinkel near the station in Lier, because the store matched the one in my memory exactly, although I'd had the impression it was in another city. I went in to see if they still carried that particular line of gummies, but left disappointed. Did not get to eat cock on the way home.

27 October 2005

roadblock or social progress?

I love the "street reclaiming throne." Socially conscious prankstering! Funny that the ideal world Engwicht describes sounds almost exactly... like Flanders.

25 October 2005

relatively late

incidentally, i ended up practicing a total of seven to eight hours today, a record for me at the carillon and in fact at any single instrument. tom AND the chinese viola dude and his wife were all at the school... at like, 10 pm...

Incidentally, I have finally found the Dutch version of Sesame Street, Sesamstraat. Now alas, how to watch it?

relatively early

3 pm, in a practice room at school:

Tom: You're here early.
Me: Unprecedentedly early. You're here late.
Tom: I woke up at 3.
Me: Damn!
Tom: Well, I went to bed at 3.
Me: Damn! ... I went to bed after you.
Tom: That's because you need less sleep. I need twelve hours a night.
Me: It takes me three days to get that much sleep.
Tom: See?

24 October 2005


The Belgian news never fails to astound me. Amongst today's headlines:

Nos banques de sperme dévalisées par les lesbiennes françaises
Bill Clinton contre l'obésité
La Poste partenaire d'eBay
Privé de lumière, Rattenberg [a village in Tyrol in the shadow of a mountain] veut détourner le soleil (with giant mirrors)
Du poisson contre l'agressivité [planned study into whether eating fish can control criminal impulses]

23 October 2005


upon miracle seems to follow in this fantastical land, or at least in the strangely lucid plane my inner life has become. Last night I was brainstorming answers for an essay prompt that I assumed would just draw forth a precious few eloquently BSed ideas from me. Instead, I had another revelation about my life that had never really struck me as an issue of concern. There is an answer to why I am an impossible mix of highbrow and lowbrow, why I always have groups of friends who are otherwise mutually exclusive... I may write more later, but the essay needs to be written first, and even before that, I must keep sane with another bike ride, because I've just practiced for four hours in OLV o/d Dijle without remembering that I hadn't eaten lunch, because that organ is so addictive to play, time hardly seems to pass... and anyway, I suppose none of this is terribly interesting or relevant to anyone except me.

19 October 2005

curriculum vitae

And now for the so-called 'cv' I've been working on nonstop for the past two days... may it prove worth the effort and sleep deprivation.

Pianissimo high notes sparkled over deep lingering overtones as I played the forty-nine-bell carillon of Sint-Romboutskathedraal. Rich minor harmonies piled upon each other, and a chance rush of wind bore the swelling lines away through the streets of Mechelen, where they echoed until they seemed to come from every direction. As I toured Belgium with the Yale Guild in 2003, that moment completed the enchantment that began when I was a freshman, captivated by the power of the Yale Memorial Carillon to communicate the unspeakable across campus. Having pursued the instrument to its origin in the Low Countries, I have realized that I am drawn to it by my desire to contribute my particular strengths to a field that needs them and demands innovation.

Living and learning in a foreign country was worth every hardship for my father, who left his family and five siblings in Hong Kong to pay his way through the University of Rochester as a busboy. Now I am coming to understand what drove him. Struggling to leave behind a personally trying year, I arrived in Belgium with three suitcases and a tenuous academic network. Within six weeks, I had found a new lease on life, immersing myself in an unknown culture, meeting people and ideas unlike any I had met before, and building a new existence around my studies. Considering my father’s hardships, I am immensely grateful to focus on the pursuit that gives my life meaning. And even simple joys, from discovering a museum in a tiny alley to biking with friends along canals at twilight, still overwhelm me. When my efforts go completely awry, my frustration becomes exciting proof that I am living the life I worked fervently to reach. My need for discovery is met every day now, and that need inspired my passion for the carillon while at Yale

More than in any other field, I can make significant contributions to carillon education throughout my career. Performance and bellfounding reached an apex in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century, but were nearly lost until American William Rice and Belgian carillonneur Jef Denyn established the KBJD in 1922. Although six schools exist in Europe, the dearth of qualified teachers in the US and wealth of progress to be made in this young field have fired my involvement. Co-chairing the Yale Guild, I spent up to seventeen hours per week on organizational improvement, the restoration of the instrument and tower, and involving the Guild in the greater carillon world. When I discovered thrilling possibilities for education and international collaboration in planning the 2006 GCNA Congress, I knew there was no cause I wanted to pour my efforts into more.

I cannot resist exploring promising possibilities, and the carillon field abounds with them. America’s mostly older adult carillon community needs fresh ideas and impetus, such as the technology, translation, and youth outreach skills I am contributing to the GCNA. While many university carillonneurs struggle to attract students, the Yale Guild turns away so many that I am writing a guide to using active student involvement to perpetuate the carillon tradition. But demand for instruction exists beyond the walls of academia. As a summer teacher in 2003, I relished introducing New Haven middle school students to new subjects from web design and programming to carillon. But I had to send would-be bell players away as lessons are open only to Yale students. At the CIN and NB, I expect to build the leadership and charisma needed to create broadly accessible learning opportunities and to inspire enthusiasm in new generations of carillonneurs.

In a monumental tower, seemingly isolated from the world, I have the privilege of making a magnificent instrument ring out across the land, conveying deep emotions across boundaries of cities, languages, and cultures to the listening public. In return for that great gift, I seek in my career to make this privileged opportunity accessible to all.

18 October 2005

more scheming

Too busy to record all the craziness of today... just have to note for later that I visited Marc today in Leuven and he's a crazy genius... my first draft of one of the English pages of the Beiaardschool site is up... and taking the opportunity to chat with Jo for an extended period of time proved far more productive than I ever imagined possible. He knows Dr. Boulpaep, he knew Susan Woodson (quite well!!!), and he thinks it's possible to start up a master's degree program in carillon in conjunction with the Antwerpen Conservatorium. Say what?! If I could stay in Belgium another year earning my master's degree from there, perhaps living on a pittance from the Ministry of the Flemish Community, but just as long as I have enough to get by...why, I would sign my firstborn away for the opportunity. Yes, yes, yes, I'm always talking about how I left my heart in San Fran (Berkeley, really) and how I am determined to return... but frankly, it's going to be years before I can return (since living anywhere near my parents even now would drive me insane), and there is no place in the world of all the places I've travelled to that I'd love to stay in more right now than this crazy country in which you never know what's going on or what's possible until you search every corner for it... and then it turns out to be more than you could have ever hoped for. Maybe Jo's idea won't work out and something else will... but I have found everything I needed here, and it was nothing--precisely that, nothing--an empty space in which to build a new life in a different land and to reinvent myself. As I waited for my plane to start boarding in JFK last month, I was realizing that I had become exactly the person I had wanted to be at this stage in my life. Paradoxically, part of being that person is being ready to reinvent myself (without compromising myself). And although I had no clue how much I needed to do that, I know now because I'm doing it...

I'm so inarticulate and overwhelmed with fears and hopes and joy and sheer incredulity at the life I'm living. Sometimes I laugh at myself for being so like an infant here, in awe of everything and overwhelmed by every sight, sound, touch, taste... so innocently carefree and grateful for every moment... but now I wonder if it isn't because in a way I've been reborn.

17 October 2005

fulbright statement

I am perfectly aware that this is all crazy talk. But applying for the Fulbright already demonstrates that I'm a loon, doesn't it?

Advanced Carillon Study

“I’ve struggled every night with this etude for hours!” cried Denise, striking a dissonant chord on the practice carillon. “Sometimes I couldn’t see the keys for the tears in my eyes. But I’m not giving up this chance. Help me.” Having taken nine weeks of lessons from and auditioned for the Yale University Guild of Carillonneurs as a starry-eyed freshman, I too had fallen in love with the bells and feared I might never play them again after intense basic training. So I met Denise for extra lessons during my weekly recitals, coaching her on the real instrument. For five hours of Guild deliberations, I championed her for her impassioned dedication. But with about sixty candidates competing for six spaces per year, the Guild chose not to admit her. She was waiting for me when I bore the heartbreaking news to her at midnight. And when she asked about joining other carillon programs, I had to answer that carillon schools exist only in Europe.

Leading the largest student carillon program in the country as 2004-2005 co-chair, I decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to music. I relished the responsibilities of a university carillonneur—teaching, pushing a capital renovation project of the tower and carillon through two years of red tape, organizing a two-week concert and master class tour of Europe, and leading planning for the 2006 Congress of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America (GCNA) to be held at Yale. However, these opportunities for leadership and study are not available to students elsewhere. My goal is to put them within reach of aspiring carillonneurs like Denise. By establishing a summer program and ultimately a degree program, I aim to offer basic instruction to part-time and volunteer carillonneurs and advanced study to students without the means or time to study abroad.

But first I must achieve a high level of musicianship, academic research, teaching experience, and development leadership. At the Royal Carillon School “Jef Denyn” (KBJD), I am rapidly improving in performance and campanology research and concurrently earning a joint Master of Music degree in Carillon with a concentration in pedagogy from Missouri State University (MSU), which I plan to complement with a doctorate in organ performance. Yet with teaching programs mostly underdeveloped in the US, I must also rally public support and gain experience in institutional leadership and international collaboration. The Netherlands Carillon Institute (CIN) and National Carillon Museum (NB) are the best places in the world to pursue these goals.

Nearly two hundred carillons have been built in the US, but only one dedicated program has existed since 2004 to train American carillonneurs. Most potential candidates have jobs and families and thus cannot relocate to MSU, and many are excluded by its bachelor of music prerequisite. To address the limited range of learning options, I am organizing a panel on education at the 2006 GCNA Congress and an accompanying pilot coaching program. The GCNA offers only a professional certificate, leaving many carillonneurs feeling excluded and without realistic advancement goals. Coaching sessions with volunteer professionals may attract them to the Congress and active GCNA involvement. I hope to turn this project into an annual event through fundraising efforts for the new Ronald Barnes Memorial Scholarship for domestic carillon study. Likewise, aspiring beginners have few or no learning opportunities because many carillonneurs do not feel qualified or have time to teach. For them, I hope to offer an intensive beginners program in a different region of the country each summer.

Upon graduation from Yale, I could have taught carillon part-time without credentials at a nearby college because teachers are so rare—even I was self-taught until I found the priceless opportunity to study abroad. By contrast, carillon schools in the Low Countries have achieved nearly universal musical proficiency even amongst amateurs. The US needs a degree program enhanced by visiting international teachers to develop North American carillon technique and prepare carillonneurs to teach. All too often, carillons are built without provision to train players and fall into disrepair. As new instruments are built around the US, carillonneurs must be ready to teach local students.

Considering these needs, my plans in the Netherlands are threefold: to study performance at the CIN, to understand promotion, development, and administration as assistant to CIN founder Boudewijn Zwart, and to work in public education as an unpaid intern at the NB. My current teacher is one of the best in Europe, and a year under his demanding instruction should be followed by a year under Zwart’s brilliant guidance at the heaviest carillon in Europe, one similar to North American instruments. While I developed keen networking and publicity skills at Yale, Zwart is the most successful proponent of the construction of new carillons today and can guide me in inspiring public enthusiasm and cutting through the kind of bureaucratic opposition I fought in the restoration of the Yale carillon. Moreover, by ascertaining why the CIN flourishes even as nearby carillon programs flounder, I can avoid repeating our colleagues' mistakes.

I intend to raise my curatorial and public education skills to a professional level at the NB. Having secured funds for and curated bell exhibitions at the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments and Yale Library, I am now redesigning the KBJD Carillon Museum and publishing an exhibition catalog, online museum, and much-needed comparative survey of carillon museums with guidelines for improvement. At the NB, I will broaden my skills by leading tours and assisting with exhibits and the maintenance of its vast library so I am prepared to build or expand such a library. And after taking intensive Dutch courses this year, I will improve at the NB in public speaking and academic Dutch, the main language of campanology. These experiences in museology will uniquely prepare me educate the American public and recruit new students.

My personal goals include contributing to communication between the GCNA and Europe (currently I am translating the GCNA website into Dutch and French and the KBJD website into English) and to the unifying goals of the World Carillon Federation (WCF). While international initiatives thrive at the CIN and KBJD, politics and cutthroat rivalry are threatening to dissolve a Dutch carillon school. I hope to assist the WCF in preventing such losses to carillon education. Finally, having written two senior theses in feminist musicology, I intend to investigate why few women hold carillon posts in the Netherlands and promote gender equality in new generations of carillonneurs.

I plan to move to the Netherlands in September for one academic year, after which I will complete my master’s degree and pursue a doctorate in the US while gaining teaching experience. It is my hope that a career in carillon and organ education will eventually enable me to build an accessible undergraduate or graduate carillon degree program in collaboration with both American and European institutions.

The Yale Guild offered me the chance of a lifetime, but I was one of the lucky few. Through the GCNA and my career, I will seek to promote young carillonneurs and help them make the kinds of contributions to the carillon world that inspired me to devote myself to teaching. While Denise pursues her second and last chance to audition for the Guild, I am pursuing the Fulbright Grant to make the instrument accessible to musicians who, like her, possess the fire and dedication to advance the carillon in North America.

16 October 2005

good things keep coming my way

Besides the fact that this post was lost after half an hour of typing, good things really do keep coming my way. The Brabant Gothic church of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw over de Dijle stands two blocks away from my house in grey, grimy under-renovation glory. This morning I met Wannes Vanderhoeven, who replaced Geert as choir(!) and harmony teacher at the Beiaardschool while the latter was at UC Berkeley, to work out my practice schedule on the organ. Wannes was surprisingly young, sociable, fluent in English, and astonishingly helpful. I'm free to practice during the church's opening hours whenever he and his students aren't there, and he offered to personally let me in outside of opening hours and to try to get me access to the new organ that will soon be arriving at the Mechelen Conservatorium. Like hello, can I do something for you in return...make your coffee every day, I dunno??? American churches often require us starving students to pay for our practice time, even when we know the organists...and I'm getting to practice this glorious centuries-old instrument even though I have nothing to do with the church, or Belgium, or anything really.

I thought that everything went my way at Yale with hard work because the university was designed for smart, motivated kids to make things happen (not to mention because it's funded by $40,000 per year per student). But now I show up in a foreign country, having left my pride behind and steeled myself against endless bureacracy, and doors just keep falling open. Oh, you want to study with a carillonneur who's too badass too bother teaching anymore? No problemo. Wanna record your carillon playing? Get recorded on the heaviest carillon in Europe, and the audio engineer will send you the mastered recording ASAP. You also wanna study with one of the most well-known organists in the country, and you've played a shit audition? You're in! So you have the keys for several organs in Antwerpen, but you'd rather not commute? You can practice in your glorious neighborhood cathedral, which just happens to house a couple of Peter Paul Rubens paintings, several times per week. Even: Oh, you want to miss two months of rent having not even paid your deposit in full? No worries; your landlords wave off your apologies before you can even start them. Luck follows me around, or I manufacture it in constant supply.

So I arrived at 11u00 intending to practice two hours, and left at 15u30 not remembering that I hadn't eaten lunch to barely make it to a Vlaams Radio Koor concert of vocal music by Poulenc and Milhaud. I didn't even know they had composed vocal music; in fact, I've never heard works by either performed live before. And now this wonderful choir shows up in my little town with an hour's worth of the stuff. The Bordleys were there, and they suggested some Dames,...Naakt En Gekleed destinations, which I visited before biking south along the canals to Zemst. My discoveries included the mysterious Planckendael Dierenpark and the way into the back parking lot of the train station! Never will I be without a space again. Biking home to the strains of Moby's "Love Should," I got teary-eyed in the twilight.

I didn't get much done that I was "supposed" to do, but even a day like this feels incredibly productive, just because so many incredible things happen.

14 October 2005

de grootste beiaard in europa

hangs in the Grote Kerk of Dordrecht, the Netherlands. And playing it is eerily like getting high--rather like the Dutch fellow who passed Richard and me in his car smoking a joint, only better and more addictive. By 13u00 I was utterly drunk on the sound of those bells. I can't quite call Dordrecht 'carillon heaven' anymore, because the church and city looked more beautiful at night in March than they did on this overcast October day. But it's still damn close. In December, Boudewijn will have a carillon installed in the tower of the city hall a few blocks away that can be enclosed and played all day at will. Count his travelling carillon, and you probably get more carillons per square kilometer than any other place in the world. Not only that, but without telling me in advance, he had a recording technician do the setup, recording, and mastering for me. Did someone say bad ass? I really, really hope I find a way to study in Dordrecht next year.

My old gripe about Holland remains true... it's too much like the US. But now that I'm living in a country quite different from my homeland, it's nice to be able to hop across the border and feel as if I'm in America. Rotterdam even has frozen coffee. And Chinese takeout. I had to exercise mad chopstick skillz on my dish, because Europeans don't automatically give you plastic silverware (weird word) or chopsticks. And surreptitiously swiped wooden coffee stirrers are surprisingly floppy when you start trying to pick up vegetables with them.

It was surprisingly heart-warming to revisit the places we'd seen during EuroTour 2005. Ironically, those vaguely familiar sights made me feel at home. My standards of familiarity have clearly plummeted (also in terms of social familiarity). I think this could be a good change.

13 October 2005

chanson du jour

The bike ride to Willebroek today confirmed it. I am transformed. Free of him. This is a day I never thought I would see. Particularly not this soon... I was prepared to grieve for a decade or two before my memory of him would grow too dim for me to know what I had seen in him. Now I can regret him--without believing that my life will never be what it was meant to be without him. Thank you, Atlantic Ocean. Thank you, BAEF. Thank you, Giant. Thank you, fate. Oh, fuck you too, fate. If you play any more games with my mind like you did this August, I'll have none of it. Absolutely none of it.

So my selection today is Radiohead's Lurgee. A crytic, simple statement of the facts. I was never particularly straightforward anyway. Ignore the title.

And also, because it's effective for everything, I now cite Hart Crane's final poem, The Broken Tower (1932). Sometime I'll post my essay on it. You know I'd find a way to write my final essay for Harold Bloom on carillons.

Image No. 2 is now memorized, albeit shakily. Practicing tonight, I had insights into problems I've had with 'Reflection' and 'Preludio V' since they entered my repertoire. It's hard to believe that I never thought of these solutions before... also hard to believe that I'd finally come up with them at 2 am while totally sleep deprived and antsy. Thank you, Belgium. And in a couple more hours, hello Holland.

stunning memories

Yesterday evening, a conversation with Geert on a drive to Antwerpen that ended all too soon reminded me to dig up the fictionalized account I wrote during my junior year of a couple of EuroTour 2003 mishaps, of which there were many. Each time I bike past Sint-Romboutstoren and find my breath stolen by the sight of it rising through the midnight mist, I am reminded of this excerpt:

14:32. The minivan screeched to a halt by the statue anchoring a cobblestone roundabout and Serena leaped out, struggling to extract her camera from her backpack as George asked why she had demanded that he stop in the middle of the road. She simply pointed her lens at the Brabantine Gothic belfry and began to shoot madly.

From amidst the two- to three-story Rococo buildings of Mechelen's Grote Markt rose the magnificent white stone mass of St.-Romboutstoren for over thirty meters--a hundred feet. The monolith gleamed in the warmth of the afternoon sun, layer upon layer of heavy stone articulated by elaborate stringcourses. Powerful piers pushed their way into the sky, dissolving into elaborate Gothic carving in the upper third of the tower in answer to the piers that branched into glazed clerestories in the cathedral. Forty-nine carillon bells hung within the upper third of the tower.

“She’s having a towergasm!” quipped Tanya as Serena marveled at Sint-Romboutstoren, stern, immovable, and timeless as a mountain. With nothing else tall on the horizon, the tower seemed to soar to impossible heights.

The bourdon, the heaviest bell of the carillon, began to toll the half-hour like a summons to perform. She hurried into the minivan, and the group took off at full speed for one of the most glorious instruments they would ever play.


high-strung and exhausted and intense as ever.

11 October 2005

bike prankstering

SUV Drivers in Paris Get Wind Knocked Out of Them: A clandestine group lets air out of tires as a form of protest. The vehicles' owners are not amused.

A sign that there is hope in the world. A shame SoCal has to sully our state's tree-hugging name. Then again, even my landlord has a giant American car. As Koen explained, Europeans get them to protect themselves in accidents too. Although considering how infuriatingly obedient pedestrians are of traffic signals, I can't imagine the drivers are half as hostile as they are considered here. Nobody holds a candle to Boston and New York.

my bike changed my life

Yesterday I went on an elating bike ride and made incredible discoveries to be elaborated upon later. Today I took off again because I desperately needed a break from typing at my computer all day. The ensuing 16-kilometer bike tour changed my life.

I moved to Belgium thoroughly warned by various people and sources to expect depression and a difficult and lonely transition, and even to be quite dissatisfied with Mechelen. The past few weeks haven't been easy. But I've spent the past year broken-hearted and (spiritually) dead, wondering if I would ever find the will to live again, or in fact a compelling reason to live. Coming alone to a different continent with only a few heavy suitcases and a gossamer-thin support network, I didn't expect my situation to help. And yet I am beginning to suspect that living in Belgium is finally healing my shattered heart and broken spirit. I feel alive again. Completely and utterly alive.

On the way back from Battel (the very outskirts of Mechelen and filled with wonders I'll just have to describe later), I experienced a small revelation, took another step on the path towards understanding myself and the man I still foolishly and fundamentally love. Part of what made me feel alive and elated when I was in Berkeley and/or with him was constant discovery, even of feelings I never knew existed. And it's constant discovery that has brought me to love Yale, New Haven, urban spelunking, and other unrelated and often unlikely places and activities. Now I'm in an environment where daily revelations are unavoidable for me. They're waiting for me outside my front door as well as at the end of 90-minute unintentionally profound twilight bike rides.

So discovery is part of what drives me. Perhaps it's even a fundamental need...a reason for living. Who have I been in love with? JR or the experience of discovering life with him? Having spent the past few days in intense reflection, I still don't know if this driving force is something I can or should try to explain as I struggle to define myself in my latest application essay. But it's far more important that I now understand it myself. Because discovery has always been important to me, and the need for it was essential to finding a way here. But who would have known it would be the one thing in the world that would finally make me rise from the ashes of this yearlong darkness?

09 October 2005

the sky is falling down

How many natural disasters can happen within the space of a few months?

It's seemed senseless to donate money to causes when it has already been, in a sense, donated to support my cause. But I've been doing essay orders now, so counting that as my own income, I managed (after much searching) to find a trustworthy charity to donate it to: Islamic Relief. Be forewarned, it may be strange to receive the receipt and thank you message partially in Arabic. But do consider supporting the survivors who must live on after 20,000 others have died... a number beyond human comprehension.

It was surreally difficult to track down any English-speaking charity actively soliciting donations for earthquake efforts on its website. None of the news reports had links for potential donors, and visits to the Red Cross, Oxfam, and other major websites didn't turn up a single mention of the quakes. Have organizations not been updating their websites on the weekend, or have I stumbled across some cultural charity rift? It was easy enough to donate even to Indonesian tsunamai relief efforts.

The difficulty of finding information on Google made me realize that finding breaking news and information on search engines is unfortunately not particularly effective. I wonder how long it will take before crawlers pick up on this particular relief effort.

08 October 2005

march on!

An overcast morning doesn't prevent the Flemish from enjoying the day on cafe terraces, and after an hour the weather had turned quite fine, as it tends to do despite chilling mornings. To my amazed delight, I heard German spoken for the first time in Belgium and understood it well, at least in comparison to my everyday comprehension of people here. As part of the Salzburger Bauernherbst, an Austrian men's brass band called Trachtenmusikkapelle Filzmoos was performing on the Grote Markt during the weekly outdoor market--speaking/broadcasting German over a loudspeaker (typisch) to a giant crowd of Flemish people and playing American band music for/at them. Imagine: Jetzt spielen wir Sousa! This country never exhausts its store of bizarre new sights. I tried an eclair and found it disappointing. Maybe there's something special about the ones people recommended to me in Brussels.

So sad to miss mountain biking with Jeffrey... why does it have to rain tomorrow??? I know I have to work my ass off for the rest of this month if I'm going to make this Fulbright thing happen... but, alack! Anyway, I need someone to take my mind off my increasing obsessions, which I think are growing from my frequent internal dialogues (in lieu of having other human beings to talk with). I'm perfectly sane, I swear.

07 October 2005


Final proof that Europeans are unabashed about any type of imagery, regardless of its purpose. To quote Tom: "Sweet mother of all that is holy and/or good."

06 October 2005


I arrived home at almost 3 am and found, to my great dismay, a mosquito perched on the wall by my door. As usual, it escaped my makeshift fly swatter (which consists of a Hogeschool Antwerpen info booklet construction-taped to a Swiffer duster handle), so I turned on the pesticide vaporizer. A while later, the mosquito reappeared, writhing across the far wall and occasionally falling off. I observed warily for a while until it disappeared again. Hopefully this time it's dead--for good. VAPORIZORED!

I honestly do have more interesting stories to recount, but I suppose this blog does double duty as my outlet for stressful situations at home. It's definitely either the vaporizer or 30% DEET that makes me lightheaded and sends my heart racing, because half an hour after activating them, I'm starting to feel precisely those symptoms. I suppose, in a way, that I know how the mosquito feels. However, this knowledge inspires no sympathy in me whatsoever.

Tom and I tried a Spanish restaurant across from the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw over de Dijle church, on which renovations are now complete (as an outside observer, I can only comment that no work was done on the exterior, which looks as worn and ancient and grimy as ever). We were planning to celebrate the arrival of his October fellowship 'allowance' at Vivaldi's, but of course, Vivaldi's is open every night until 1 am, except when it's closed on Thursdays.

04 October 2005

from the other side of the fence

I'm now a Yale admissions interviewer, although it remains to be seen whether anyone in Belgium actually applies to Yale. Consider the front-page headline I picked up in Brussel-Centraal on Sunday: "VERGEET HARVARD" (i.e. "FORGET HARVARD"). The article cited how incredibly expensive private universities are in the US (students here think that 7000 EUR per year is a burden), how competitive they are, etc.

To my surprise, I enjoyed reading the orientation material, which stressed again and again that we should talk only about Yale. A literal quote: "NO HARVARD BASHING!"

02 October 2005

disrupted sleep

After some late-night carillonning, tonight will be the first night I'll have slept in my own bed (in fact, in any bed at all) in three days. I danced the entire Friday night away at an kickass annual party in Leuven, silenced, which featured more women djs than I had ever seen in total in my life. I spent the next day showing one of the djs, Tropik, a bit of Mechelen (namely, the carillon). Another evening in Leuven was followed by running into Tom at the train station and realizing that we had missed the last train home... so we returned to our new friends, wandered to another bar, and then back to the apartment of the fascinating and very hospitable organizer of silenced, Wouter, who let us crash for the night. I was supposed to meet up with a girl who'd messaged me on MySpace at Brussel-Centraal, but she apparently wasn't able to make it. Nevertheless, I made more friends this weekend than I have perhaps in the entire month since I've moved to Belgium. If going 50 hours on 3 hours of sleep is the price of making friends, I can only imagine how sleep deprived and well-socialized I'll soon be.

28 September 2005

the impossible

"When did you start learning this piece? Don't tell me last week... Last week? Okay, you really know how to impress me."

Geert's words are still ringing in my head. I never, ever imagined that I would impress him, certainly not to this degree. He's no Jeff in his sparingness of praise, but he certainly is economical with it, and thinks nothing of laughing at my mishaps. Hearing praise from a carillonneur whom I could never equal was surreally exhilarating. He even asked if I've been spending all of my time practicing, to which I readily replied "absolutely not," and was impressed that I'm applying for another round of fellowships. Now I've set a ridiculous standard for myself to keep up for the rest of year. And he told me that I should find him at the school on Saturday if I have questions, that I should play in Sint-Romboutstoren as often as possible, that I could even play in Antwerpen and Lier to practice for my exam once I've built up a repertoire of five or so pieces. Thank goodness he doesn't have other carillon students going for the diploma this year. It's time to get cracking.

Drinking with my fellow BAEF fellows was awesome. It was, I believe, the first time I felt at home amongst a group of people in Belgium since I moved here. Sure, we were the drunken Americans at whom everyone else in the bars and restaurants were glancing disapprovingly, and I even went so far as to begin the evening by bringing an absurdly chocolate-and-walnut-slathered waffle into a classy bar 45 minutes after the appointed meeting time. Nevertheless, everyone was super friendly and interesting, and although I'm the baby amongst them, we never ran out of things to chat about. Complain as we may that the Fulbright organizes get-togethers for its scholars while the BAEF thinks it's a novel theoretical idea, we are lucky to be able to get along so well just by organizing our own little shindig.

I am so grateful for all I have here, and all the privileges I'm enjoying. The mosquito situation has improved, albeit at great chemical-exposure-expense to myself. More about that later--it will make great story-telling--perhaps not quite on the level of the Zandpoortvest debacle, but nevertheless, it cracked up plenty of people tonight.

27 September 2005

bugging out

Today I received a slew of messages on Friendster from people who mostly had something to say to me. Utterly unprecedented (and nice, as I am still am not getting quite the amount of normal social interaction required to keep sane).

The mosquito problem is truly growing into a nightmare, however. I don't know how they get into my room, but they never let me alone. Even coating my body in 30% DEET didn't stop several new bites from appearing on my face, which I reluctantly slathered with DEET as well. My parents are shipping other supplies on request at enormous expense, but they probably still won't arrive soon due to customs. I'm just being foolish by crying, but it is discouraging to be helpless and far from home and environments in which I know how to address these problems. If last night I was alarmed by a hive outbreak, today wasn't any better, with one of the new bites growing to over 2 inches in diameter with significant vertical swelling. My arachnophobia has now unhelpfully extended itself to mosquitoes, so that trying to kill them is an increasingly terrifying experience. It sucks to be a wuss.

I got the jacket today, but passed out in an irresistable bout of sleepiness before I could go practice at the school... possibly due, I'm afraid, to depression. It's difficult to imagine another expanation. Anyway, I suppose I should close up and wrap my head in a scarf, as I managed to kill only two of the three mosquitoes I spotted in my room tonight.

26 September 2005


I have passed my entrance exam and am now a vrije student at the Koninklijk Vlaams Conservatorium Antwerpen, studying the organ with Joris Verdin! So at least for this semester's studies, the major building blocks are finally in place. Not only that, but I now have a fellow student and friend in Lier. Tomorrow I'll be coming home with a badass jacket from the Antwerp H&M (the big one--there are 3 or 4 H&M's on that one shopping block!!!) just as I promised myself I would if I passed. Furthermore, I have at long last found a fast, friendly sit-down Asian noodle bar. I cannot imagine that there even exists a niche for such a service, but perhaps people go there just for the "novelty" of the experience that I have missed so dearly since coming to this leisurely country.

However, tonight I burst into tears at my helplessness against my increasingly severe allergic reactions to mosquito bites (tonight I actually had a hive attack while practicing from 11 pm to 1 am), inability to find anything effective agianst mosquitos in Belgium--probably just because I'm a foreigner--and the problems with my shower. It's exhilarating and so difficult to be in a strange land. But at least now I have my decaf Earl Grey.

24 September 2005

campanology thesis prospectus

The holdings of the carillon museum of the Royal Carillon School “Jef Denyn” range from a drilbu (Tibetan hand bell) to period European carillon consoles. However, casual visitors unversed in campanology can find little in the museum to teach them about these objects. I would like to create an informational brochure, general overview signs, descriptive object labels, and a complete exhibition catalog for the benefit of both the carillon students and the general public. Once these are available, I hope to organize and promote a day of public tours. I would also like to make photographs and, when relevant, audio files available with the above information on the school’s website. With the holdings of the museum readily accessible online, perhaps even in multiple languages, the website can serve as a valuable conduit for the international promotion of the carillon. My objective is thus in line with the motto emblazoned within the museum: UITSTRALING VAN ONZE BEIAARDKUNST.

My thesis will comprise the catalog as well as a section of research on bell exhibits. After traveling to bell and carillon museums in Belgium, The Netherlands, England, and France, I will write an overview of those exhibits. It may be possible to develop a general classification system for bell museums, and thereby develop broad guidelines for their development and recommendations for improvement. Finally, I will include a bibliography of books and exhibition catalogs to assist readers in writing descriptive labels for bells.

There occasionally exist collections of bells in art or musical instrument museums that remain neglected, for example at the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments (YUCMI), because most curators have little knowledge of or interest in bells. I will attempt to track down significant collections of this type and list them in an appendix to increase the possibility that research will one day be done on them.

The Virtual Instrument Museum of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, USA may serve as a model for the online carillon museum. John Bordley has been kind enough to offer the use of his digital SLR camera, so high-resolution photographs can easily be made available to researchers worldwide. I am helping YUCMI develop a similar online bell exhibit via The Museum System database software. With two bell exhibits online, I hope to generate further international interest in campanology and the rich resources of the Royal Carillon School “Jef Denyn”.