30 March 2006

london day 1

My first night in London. I just stepped over the threshold of bliss.

My aunt and uncle met me at Waterloo Station, their immediate mission to buy me a one-week Oyster card and tickets to The Producers. While Victor scoured Leicester (pronounced leh-ster) Square for the best deal, I tried frozen raspberry tea for the first time at Starbucks (the moment I saw someone with a take-out Starbucks cup, all else faded besides getting a fix).

Following ticket-bargain-shopping and frozen-drink-guzzling, we emerged from Bayswater station into a crowded maze of cheap stores and ethnic restaurants like those around the T in Ingrid’s Cambridge neighborhood--but with a kinky lingerie twist. Only a few blocks northwest, we fell under the shadows of endless rows of white Classical residences with gracefully arced fa├žades. The one at 42 Princes Square, Notting Hill, reachable only though a maze of hallways and heavy doors and filled with suede curtains, couches, and bed cushions, was ours. Although they had warned me that I might have to sleep on a cot, they ended up booking a two-bedroom apartment at the Somerset Bayswater with a little room and double bed for me! In my armoire were gifts from other relatives in Australia: A Polo Sport laptop bag (fancier and gaudier than my preferred makeshift bags) and two Fila sport shirts. Josephine had surprises for me as well--a SwissCard Lite and a leather jacket, both items I'd been wanting for a while. She and Victor do not exude style and sophistication, and even the most fashion-conscious buy clothes only at great peril for me. But somehow she reads my mind when she buys me gifts, and she and Victor are very generous. I wish I knew how to repay them, although I know they don't expect me to.

The denizens of London are eye candy. I finally understand why Belgian fashion drives me insane--I had forgotten what it was like to walk down the street and have my fashion sensibilities inspired or outraged by a dozen wildly different outfits and shades of hair dye. But unlike quirky San Franciscans, Londoners are better dressed, tote black like a religion, and embrace punk unabashedly. The geographical and cultural distance between Belgium and the UK is, proportion-wise, out of hand. I dress boldly only every couple of weeks because I care nothing of sheeple-fashionistas' opinions of my crappy clothes. If I moved to London, I would spend ridiculous amounts of time and money on style. Kids on those streets are judges whom I would respect.

Uncle Victor isn't imposing in height, but he takes charge when he wants to. The moment we stepped into Chowki (recommended by Wikitravel) off Piccadilly Circus, he gave the waiters a stern talking-to about how we needed to be out the door in twenty minutes for the show. Drury LaneA scrumptious atypical Indian meal of aubergine and other delicacies later, we were on our way in a black taxi to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane right on schedule. Again he took charge, ordering us repeatedly into the street sidestepping cars in order to get the perfect photo of us outside under the theater sign. After several minutes of mortal peril, we infiltrated the deceptively modest building to be enfolded by more eye candy--a splendid interior, splendid crowd, and splendid performance. I couldn’t get enough. And somehow I kept thinking I saw Brian in the cast.

On our way to the Tube, hordes of people and nightlife hubs reminded me that I once had no desire to sleep before 3 am. Life begins at night for us young’uns! But I wonder if my recent old-people bedtime isn’t due to getting old, but to living in a town filled with old folks shopping for Armani-priced babywear. I love the newness of living in Mechelen, but I need the city life again.

I need to come back to London. Culturally, it’s closer to America, but with more alternative, more punk, and more Europe--the perfect combination. My internal clock, habitats, and inclinations are reawakening. I'm shoring up on London so I can bring it with me across the Channel, fired with the spirit that drove me to dye my hair blue on the Haight just to add a splash of color to tweedy Yale. These gray Belgian days need the same.

Not that I don’t enjoy Belgium. If there is one thing in life I’m working hard at, it’s enjoying the places and situations in which I find myself to the max. I cannot imagine not enjoying the places I’ve lived in that other people have disliked. But I also have peculiar standards, particularly when it comes to nonconformism. How do Antwerpen fashion designers not go insane seeing the same outfit pass by on every other person? Or is this all their fault? Uniformity is one of the few thorns in my side from which London has liberated me. I can breathe in a different way here than I can in Belgium. I haven’t any other words to describe it.

I’m amazed at how at home I feel. It’s a combination of having accustomed myself to San Francisco, New York, and a little piece of Europe in Flanders and finding aspects of all combined in a city that is therefore familiar from many angles and yet still new and exciting. My only regret is that I now remember what it's like to feel at home in America rather than to feel at home as an expat in Flanders. I'd better beat down this 'homesick' desire for London. No great carillons here!

29 March 2006

that person

I always wanted to be that person who gets brought up in conversations for living a crazy, impossible, but fun life, and it seems I've finally reached that most elusive of goals:

Ben: "When my friends bring up interesting careers, I always have you in my back pocket as the most interesting of all - the professional carillonner trumps everything and makes them all very jealous of your opportunity to travel and play your music."

Then again, Ben is probably better at giving compliments than anyone else I've met, so perhaps this is sligtly exaggerated. But seriously, I always wanted to be that person.

Plans are beginning to gel for Ingrid and me in terms of summer backpacking, and I'm on the verge of getting (or not getting) sponsored plane tickets for some GCNA recitalists... which is a bit ironic since I'm going to have to pay a fortune for my own.

My new wishlist: All the gadgets at FNAC (pronounced, to the dismay of the tongue-challenged, as one syllable). Just take a look at this IDJ, the super sexy JBL On Time, and this snowboard jacket with built-in Bluetooth. Good replacement for my winter coat, which broke down a week ago on the first warm day of spring, eh?

Strange news of the day: The country with the higher IQ usually wins its wars? I can't speak to the credibility of that, but open-mindedness here--except in attitudes towards immigrants, is in line with my impression of the older generation (although generational differences are, surprisingly, not mentioned in this article).

22 March 2006

amateurskunsten

Mayumi and I will have a room to show our art during the Week van de Amateurskunsten in Mechelen! My first exhibition outside of school--although ironically in an old school building. I hope it'll be something like City-Wide Open Studios in New Haven. I volunteered for a CWOS exhibition in a public school building that was being renovated, and it was there that I met my photographic spelunking idol Christopher Beauchamp. In any case, I am ecstatic! Time to make giant prints of my photos. I've never seen them in large format before, and I'm sure many of them would look better enlarged.

This morning I received my official letter of admission and financial aid award package via FedEx from Eastman (dang!). Half of my costs will be covered by a graduate fellowship, teaching assistantship, and to my surprise, a position as EROI web developer, which will pay two hours per week, although it's unlikely it would involve that much work. And to think, I only mentioned that I'd be willing to volunteer for the job in the hopes that I'd stand out from the horde.

I played better during my lesson in St.-Romboutstoren today than last week (certainly playing on Friday helped), and Geert was as passionate and dramatic a teacher as ever. He himself said that lessons on the real carillon were much "more fun". But listening to him transpose van Noordt's Sonate to basically all useful carillon keys without sheet music made me realize that I still have a long way to go...if I ever 'go' it.

Eddy and I both got Tom penguin cards and bells (in metal and chocolate) for his birthday--enough for a carillon with the Michiels bell as bourdon. Happy birthday, Tom!

21 March 2006

cantabile

Waking daily with the sun to practice Cesar Franck's "Cantabile" before gallivanting off on my travels with Matt & Co. since Thursday has proved worth the (initially) seemingly hopeless effort. I was shivering while playing for our organ masterclass in the ever-unheated Protestantse Kerk in Antwerpen, my neurotically edited Marcel Dupre edition was nearly useless, I had missed a couple accidentals in my hurry to learn the notes, and I had never played the piece for anyone before, let alone on that organ, but I learned a great deal from Robillard and he seemed to like my playing. Later on I realized that this had been my first non-carillon masterclass; also the one from which I learned the most out the few I've observed. I wish I had time to go again tomorrow. Even "tourists", as Joris called them, came from Liege and perhaps other faraway lands. But alack, my neglected carillon studies call.

Incidentally, focusing intensely on organ for a couple of weeks this year improved my musicality at the carillon (admittedly at the expense of technical fluency). Getting my butt kicked during my last lesson in St.-Romboutstoren, and even occasionally during my "piano-beiaard" lessons with Eddy, have also contributed to my otherwise inexplicable progress while... well, not practicing.

I attended a concert of Heinrich Biber's complete "Rosencrantzsonaten", eight virtuoso violin gems that in contemporary language can only be described as "badass", with Ben this evening. The wet acoustics of the Eglise de Minimes in Brussels grew a bit tiresome, and Schmitt's melodrama and flourish irritated me in a (likely) hypocritical way, but by the last two sonatas my attention was riveted to the stage. The gorgeous music and elaborate interior of the church inspired a "Belgium" moment, akin to the "Yale moments" Nick and I used to discuss: Moments of disbelief at one's good fortune, at the fact that one is where one is.

20 March 2006

lam gods

On Friday, Matt and I trekked out to Ghent, a moderately small city that proved incredibly cool. Having barely made it into St. Baaf's Cathedral on crutches in the freezing December cold, I hadn't realized how opulent and vast it was, complete with an underground museum and a separate 2-euro admission chamber containing the famed van Eyck brothers' polyptich "The Adoration of the Lamb." Vincent Scully had raved about it endlessly in art history class, but I hadn't realized at the time that it was in Belgium. (Having nearly walked past De Unie for the xth time without noticing it in Rotterdam yesterday, I must say I wish I could conscript Scully as my Low Countries tour guide). Matt particularly enjoyed the backside of the painting, and I must admit I liked the suspicious, even skeptical, expression of the woman in prayer. On the front, the impossibly tiny organ keyboard played by an angel added hilarity to its monumental greatness. But suprisingly, most of all I found great merriment in seeing a throng of people gathered around a single monumental, futuristically protected medieval polyptich holding little audio guides to their ears and gawking.

Happy first day of spring!

16 March 2006

getting here

Although they couldn't not have been tired, Matt and Andrea arrived today like rays of sunshine through the grey Belgian drear. To my surprised delight, they were as charmed by and enthusiastic about Mechelen (having not even seen the interesting parts of it) as I was when I first arrived, which was incredibly refreshing after the company of so many people accustomed to and sometimes weary of the city. After settling down in the vacated room to which one can "pick" the lock, we had curried noodles for dinner (my first time cooking for more than two in Belgium!) and then went out for the most ridiculous gigantic ice creams in cafe Anker, which nows offers English menus. Mechelen, Stad in Vrouwenhanden, must be getting more touristy.

This was followed by drinks at Den Stillen Genieter, at which Matt's great enthusiasm for and ability to describe beer finally revealed itself. A Belgian at heart. I never cease to be amazed at how he's considered every subject I could possibly bring up at length, as proved again in the wide-ranging conversation. Sometimes I've gotten tired of communicating my thoughts this year without knowing why. Tonight reminded me that Yale was incredibly conducive to intense communication about prolonged thoughts in a way I had taken for granted.

For the most part, people paid no attention to us, but a man in a brown jacket stopped by our table and stared at us not long after we arrived as if debating whether to approach us. He decided against it, but finally sat down uninvited at the end of the night in Andrea's chair while she was in the bathroom. "Excuse me. I just have a question: How did you get here?" I let Matt do the explaining that I was a resident and had recommended the place, while I wondered what the man would do next. To my surprise, he thanked us apologetically and hurried off after Matt attempted to introduce himself to break the ice. Nice but peculiar fellow or "ill-mannered drunk," to use his drescription?

15 March 2006

BEIAARDSPEL!

Today I climbed the 300-something steps to the magnificent carillon of St.-Romboutstoren for the first time since the accident. I had played the van Noordt Sonate voor cimbalo solo in complete form for the first time--and succesfully--only days before the accident, and had been looking forward to playing the real carillon more frequently from then on. This made my first trip back even more poignant.

I was aghast, entertained, and gratified to discover that Geert turns into someone else entirely while teaching at the real carillon. He became a mad professor of sorts, gesturing wildly, interrupting my playing with impassioned commentary about the music, making me repeat measures again and again for all of Mechelen to hear and then playing them several times himself to experiment. I learned much and was much humbled. My leg ached through the lesson, but on the way down I discovered that going down counterclockwise stairs is much easier when you have only a good left leg. Going clockwise puts weight on the right leg for a longer time. Seated on my bike, I held onto his shoulder while he dragged me back to the school.

In addition to the north and south staircases in the tower, he claims that in his youth, he found two more that led directly into the church. But everything was unlocked back then, before the restoration. *green with envy* I need to learn to pick these damn skeleton key locks.

Earlier today, representatives from the American Embassy in Brussels came to involve the school in its upcoming exhibition about Herbert Hoover at the Royal Army and Military History Museum. Overall an exciting and mildly momentous visit, but things got a bit tense when Jo briefly went off on his "true music calms the animals" bit.

12 March 2006

Le Lombard

Had drinks last night with BAEFers and Fulbrighters and other folk in Brussels. But somehow I didn't learn of the Welcome Festival for expats until today. Maybe only diplomat's wives were notified of the event. Speaking of which, Alexandra found an ID card explicitly stating that the owner was the daughter of some Belgian diplomat. Cushy or annoying for the seventeen-year-old girl?

06 March 2006

schizo-weather

I've never seen such schizophrenic weather, but this must be a typical Belgian spring. On the last day of February, we got every type of preciptation imagineable, from rain to snow to hail, sometimes all mixed together (no kidding)! On the first day of March, it snowed while the sun was out (Belgians calls this the devils' play). Yesterday was a great day for a bike trip until it started to rain for half an hour, but after I gave up on the idea, the afternoon stayed sunny.

This morning, it started out cloudy, got beautifully sunny, started raining by the time I'd finished running errands outside, stopped raining just as I gave up on going to school for lunch and started to cook, started snowing some of the largest snowflakes I'd ever seen which melted immediately upon contact with anything, then stopped snowing after five minutes.

Will I make it back to school without more surprises?

I have a large backlog of drafted entries to be posted soon.