31 August 2006


I didn't realize it was gutsy to show up the night before orientation after traversing a six-hour time difference and sign the lease on your apartment an hour before the first mandatory meeting. But everybody else has been here for at least a week, if not several, and think I'm insane. Well, that's the first impression I generally aim for, so maybe this was all part of my grand plan.

The three-hour organizational meeting for ECMC blasted my self-confidence to smithereens, but one of the TAs had a word afterwards with me, reassuring me that everyone is only two hours ahead of their students during the first year. We're teaching labs during the first week of classes, and I'm sh%t scared. On the flip side, it's very possible that I'll be able to incorporate some carillon with tape into the 25th anniversary events. Sweetness and light.

They're insane, by the way, to expect us to come up with a faculty ALP recommendation in two weeks.

My apartment is more expensive than I expected, but somehow I'm here anyway, and I hope I can pay for it. If not, I'll just make up for it by not having a car and moving next year into a hovel. It's always possible to even these things out.

People are social here if you're social. I've met lots of new and a couple of vaguely familiar faces from America and abroad, I've two new flatmates who are very different from each other and whom I should get along with just fine, I've picked up a new sushi-making spelunking pre-med friend while waiting for chai at Java's (something that would rarely happen in stranger-shy Belgium), and... I'm still waiting to meet my teacher. A strange feeling to have no idea of what the professor you'll be working most closely with even looks like. So many people have come to study with specific teachers, and I've never met mine. Perhaps I'm naive. Perhaps I'm not far-sighted enough. Perhaps I'm dazzled by the Eastman name. Or maybe I'm brand-new to the instrument and humble enough to believe that anybody has a lot to teach me, so it doesn't really matter who I'm assigned to as long as I'm here.

"Don't study tonight. Studying for the theory placement test is like studying for a blood test. Get some sleep." If you're talking about the long run, there's truth to what the theory professor said, but as a voice DMA candidate quipped, "He underestimates our ability to cram."

It's time to cram.

29 August 2006


My room is breathing, and at the moment has swelled to such a size that I get dizzy looking at the walls. The room is so tidy, clutter-free, and easily navigable that it feels almost cozy. Yet it is too much so for me to go to sleep. We caught the last of the sunrise colors from the tower roof, found many more beautiful angles in the morning light, packaged and sent many boxes of exact weights, consumed the "Last Supper Special" stirfry of all remaining vegetables in the fridge, left another box in the archive, and had a delectable dessert of mousse and fresh mint tea at Puro with its anti-chandelier anti-design Urban Outfitters classic hipness of gracefully arcing space. I've been awake for nearly 40 hours.

And now I've cleaned up my room and that has left me powerless against it. Not to mention against the fact that I might have to throw some clothes out in order to close the unwieldy Samsonite suitcase. In moments of desperation today, I donated clothes I was inclined to keep, and while a good exercise, I must admit it's painful.

While proofreading this, I forgot how I got here or what I was doing. Time for a wink of sleep before the flight.

28 August 2006

penultimate day

This morning I packed nominally while the sun was hidden, but once it came out, I went to Antwerp for one last visit. I bought my long-sought black-and-white book of photography by Maartien Coppens, Antwerpen, der wereld der Sinjoren. I claimed my free drink from Mockamore and realized they use Ghirardelli chocolate in their coffee, I saw Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekatethdraal and heard the luxurious automatic play, I searched to no avail for a slim wallet at Mango and Zara, I wanted to get a last Brusselse wafel from the Désiré de Lille stand, but couldn't imagine downing it after that giant cinnamony cup of Indian Summer. I also realized--how could it have taken so long to put into words?--that I grew up in a land of convenience, and that has led to my constand friction with Belgian business practices. You start a bank account in California and you can almost everything with it 3000 miles away at their branches in New York. In Belgium, you open an account in Mechelen at Dexia (which has given me more grief than Wachovia, if that's possible) and you can't do squat with it 30 km away: I couldn't get a new NetBanking code or change my address! Yet everything the Mechelen branch was centrally processed, and my card and addresses were udpated centrally. So why the Antwerp branch can't do the same, I cannot fathom. To add injury to insult, I returned to the Dexia in Mechelen only to find that it closed at 4 pm. Somehow I ended up at a bank for provincial farmers who never leave their backwoods, or I ended up in a country where the businesses work for themselves and not for the customers. Perhaps hateful Dexia is a combination of the two.

When I returned and threw my boxes together, Elvo kindly helped me move my boeken/zeepost packages to the KBS Archive (a big historic locker for carillonneurs, much like belfries) and get the new Mac up and running somewhat smoothly again, the only hitch being that the admin account is not the root. Go figure.

After the most clangorous peal I'd ever heard from the tower, Geert played the most virtuoso concert of Callaerts arrangements I had ever heard on St.-Rombouts in my life (even Koen van Assche was breathless). Afterwards we all had drinks on the school in 't Oude Conservatorium, a place I'd always been curious about but never classy enough to enter. It wasn't really that classy, same menu as every other establishment. He took my final box away, heaven bless him, as well as the spices I knew he'd use well.

Two hours to sunrise from St. Rombouts. Back to packing.

27 August 2006

backyard spelunking

I needed a break after packing two giant suitcases with painstaking care. With the finicky Belgian sun popping in and out, I thought I would go crazy indoors, even with the company of Alice and Stefaan hard at work cleaning and painting. Where to go for a 60-minute whirl that satisfies novelty addiction? I'd covered all biking territory in the proximity. Planckendael would have been nice had it not cost 16 €, and likewise for the Speelgoedmuseum had it not cost 6 € (meaning 1 € every 10 minutes). The Spoorwegmuseum De Mijlpal is only open Saturday afternoons, and the MIM was too far for a second spin.

I remembered with a jolt that Wannes had, to my delighted surprise, left the keys to the tower of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw over de Dijle hidden at the organ for me. So up I went... cringing and eek!ing alongside more spiderwebs than all the webs I had seen thus far in my life. "Only a little dusty and dirty" indeed! But the harrowing climb was more than worthwhile. I finally fulfilled my dream of reaching a triforium (not to mention one in a gorgeous church) and found a room in which giant pieces of tower clock faces and old statues missing hands and feet were lit by warm evening light from three stained-glass windows. My camera ran out of batteries at just that Kodak moment.

Finding the carillon was more difficult than I expected. There were many doors and stairways, as well as creepily conversational signs posted by the carillonneur that made me feel as if he was present and watching or as if I was in some permutation of Myst. The stairways were all so drenched in cobwebs that I couldn't tell whether anyone had been there in the last decade; picking out the "well-traveled" route was a matter of judging how impossible it was to pass the cobwebs. At last I found the correct way to the carillon, bursting out into the open and sending hordes of pigeons fluttering and crashing into nets in their panic. The entire bell chamber was a repository of guano hills, but fortunately the cabin was avian- and arachnid-free. Surprising considering that the door wasn't even locked.

In fact, the playing cabin was perfectly clean and homey, decorated by carefully curtained windows and religious items as well as concert posters from the late 80's (one headed by Geert's 1987 recital). The decor made it look rather like a plain housewife's kitchen. The contrast to the stairs just behind the door was unbelievable.

More incredible yet, the instrument was great! The Petit & Fritsen bells sounded good and responded relatively evenly, and you have the use of a low Bb and G, both of which were perfectly in tune! Using that G in the Mendelssohn and Gershwin sent me to heaven. Although the Jef Denyn keyboard was a little disorienting, after playing my first ones in Goes and Ieper (quite the shock when you sit down for a concert at a keyboard which with you have no experience), I adjusted well. Everything worked on it, from Mozart to Thornock--yes, Thornock! The residents of Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat heard more carillon in that one insane piece than they had probably heard all summer. I'm definitely revisiting next year--with new camera batteries--in order to prepare for other Denyn-keyboard concerts.

It's regrettable that such a lovely carillon doesn't get played more, that more guests don't get to enjoy it and the beautiful tower (not counting the webs), and that signs of energetic activity since the 80's are scarce. And that the custodian has probably never even stepped foot in the tower. I've seen her using an extra-long stick thing to clean cobwebs as high as the triforium, and the triforium itself is spider-free. So how the stairs can be such a wreck is a puzzle. Nevertheless, I rate this carillon super chouette!

Spelunking in my own backyard. Another reason Europe rocks.

26 August 2006

reduce, reuse, recycle, reship

Packing for a move is difficult, emotionally and physically, in a particular but consistent way. The overcast, drizzly days have made the typically sunny summer move even harder. As my room empties and reveals the plainness of stripped walls and torn patches of paint, as the hallway swells with bursting reused boxes painstakingly packed to exact Belgian and Dutch weight limits, my room feels less and less like home. I have no comfortable and secure place on Earth, and ahead of me is a dark wall past which I haven't had the time to speculate.

I've done it all more than ten times; packing myself out of 65 to move to Belgium was by far the worst. In comparison, I've got a considerable head start and not very much in my possession here. So why doesn't it get easier each time? It's a Saturday night, and loneliness sets in as I realize I don't have the time, energy, or money to go out. I think of JR and Andrea arriving today in Denver from Spokane, and he and sadness prove so indelibly associated that I find myself dwelling on him for no apparent reason except to justify the gloom. In the meantime, Elvo preps for his last R/C race of the summer--the one I was finally planning to attend--and I'm out of free time because of my flight change. It's terrible to not get to see someone you're close to doing what they love best.

Cycling was my antidote of choice, and it helped, albeit under a threatening sky. After surreptitiously leaving European travel books on his bookshelf, I took off along the north bank of the River Dijle (the road less traveled by [me]) and made my way down a surprisingly deserted path beneath the overpasses. When I retraced my tracks, five rabbits with white tails disappeared into the bushes, satisfying my hope to see wildlife outside my front door for a last time. And then I crossed to the south bank, saw the highway lights go on, and realized that they glow pink for several minutes before warming to yellow. It hardly sounds important, but those endless rows of bright yellow lights in the night became my first symbol of Belgium three years ago. On my last days here, that symbol has been transformed.

To my surprise, the "hanging gardens" under the three overpasses were lit in tungsten. I biked through twice. The river had completely risen over the plants (from which I derived my nickname of the place) sprouting from old wooden supports in the water, and the reflection of the highway underside in the water created an asymmetrical, deceptively solid concrete volume from whose shore I could gaze up and down. It had the atmosphere of a gaping American parking structure at night, but abstracted, unreal, rippling. I'm glad I saw this before leaving: The hanging gardens in another of its infinite moods.

Back to more hours of packing! *packpackpack* [Tom quote]. The Dutch postal system is way goedkoper than the Belgian system, offering the services we Americans were looking for in May but couldn't find. There is media mail for nearly half the price of normal packages and there is zeepost for the crates you don't mind having put on a giant boat under many other crates for weeks to months. I would rent a car to drive to the Roosendaal TPG Post, but wouldn't that nearly negate the money I'd save? We'll see what I can do about that.

24 August 2006


Escape to Milano for one day, and who should we run into but my former Beiaardschool classmate Akiko and her friend on the plane and again about to mount the stairs (despite the availability of an elevator) like the hardcore carillonneurs we are to the incredible roof of the Duomo! More to come shortly about Milano, but I desperately need sleep recovery time.

So I finish the year having visited 12 foreign countries on 3 continents in my life, and about 27 states and the District of Columbia within the US. With these numbers in mind, what should I chance across but this nifty logo-brandishing tally? I wonder how complete it is. As any Antwerpenaar would point out, it's missing 't Stad. =)

Got at b3co.com!

Speaking of public transportation, a critical study of San Francisco's MUNI has found that the only slower bus system in America is that in New York--clocking in at 7.9 mph in comparison to MUNI's dizzying 8.0 mph. Having rarely taken the bus in either city, I can't make a comparison, but I must say that the one time I took a bus in Manhattan, it proved pointless: We went 5 blocks in 15 minutes and were surpassed by the pedestrians. The only reason you'd take a bus outside the Metropolitan Museum would be to cool off in the A/C or to sit down your elderly behind, prop up your cane, and await your day of judgment.

19 August 2006

concertizing in and around BXL

Carillon de BruxellesIt didn't seem that way at first, but the Carillon of the City of Brussels in the 13th-century Cathedralis SS. Michaelis et Gudulae decisively proved itself as heavy as others had warned. It was also deceptive, fooling me initially into laughing at the naysayers when even a child could play the thing. But by the time I reached the moto perpetuo 16th-note accompaniment of my finale, "On the San Antonio River," I knew I'd need the strength of a couple of flailing children to last me to the end.

"Vous pourriez jouer encore un morceau," Thibaut offered. "Non merci!" I replied in alarm, "C'est impossible, je n'en ai plus!" The first claim was true. The second, an outright lie to prevent further kind encouragement.

Brussels and even the cathedral were buzzing with tourists that Sunday afternoon, and apparently a fair number inquired after the recital. Thibaut or the church had designed beautiful large posters and nice programs, although they only put them up moments before the concert, which seemed a waste. The construction on the "square" (such places are never really square in Europe) before the cathedral was thankfully done and had left an inviting greenspace in which to listen.

Afterwards Thibaut took me on a wondrous tour of the two towers and roof, pulling landmarks out of the skyline that were new to me. The tower with the swinging bell was more ancient and more beautiful, with even a medallion in the roof of the bell chamber where few would ever see it, but the original Van den Gheyn bell had been yoinked during the French Revolution. Its massive wooden frame stood crooked and empty as if awaiting campanological reincarnation. On the way down, we edged onto an incredibly narrow balcony and admired the oldest stained-glass windows of the cathedral face to face from the outside.

stained glassSwinging bells are Thibaut's true passion, and he works part time in an old-fashioned bellfoundry in France. He earned his degree from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in campanology, an act of such audacity that I still haven't recovered from the blow of it. Could one possibly dedicate one's degree to a more impractical study? He was earnest about it all and somehow I could see him getting away with his impractical pursuits in the future even further than he does now; he works IRL as a secretary.

I had never paid enough attention to the Wallonian carillon world to realize that he's president of the Association Campanaire Wallonne. Fortunately, he volunteered the information, upon which I enthusiastically expressed my desire to see carillons in Wallonia. On cue, he offered to organize a little concert tour next summer. "Vous jouez avec de la sensibilite." It's my pleasure, believe me.

The bus trip to Meise swung me past the Atomium, but I didn't realize it, seeing only the puzzling vine-covered buttresses of the stadium that hides it from the road. Hoping that the Sint-Martinuskerk was on Sint-Martinusbaan, I set off from the bus stop for it away from the city center through deserted streets livened only by speeding cars, when I thought I heard my name distantly. I turned, but the only sentient life I could see comprised two cows grazing. Not a single non-bovine soul. I decided to keep to myself the information that I was going insane and continued on.

When I stopped at an intersection, who should be calling and waving to me but Mariko, a classmate from the Beiaardschool! It was the most surreal thing, to see your former Japanese classmate from Leuven pursuing you over a highway overpass in the surburban boonies of Brussels. She had come in the car with Eddy's mother from Mechelen after playing the carillon, and they'd spotted me from the car making a beeline away from the church.

Meise's old carillon bellsEddy hurried up the stairs minutes before my concert, as I was dusting spiders and webs off the new keyboard and trying to recover from the arachnid-filled tower ascent. I was pleasantly appalled at how glad I was to see him; the familiarity and warmth and energy he brought to the quiet suburb of deserted streets and highways finally brought back my own reality. I haven't tried to find my way through such an area since I attempted to bike to the idyllic Thimble Islands in Connecticut and ended up in the neighborhood of my worst nightmares--one without sidewalks, where you had to drive down the highway to your neighbor's house. I gave up and fled for home with a vision of where I would never want to move.

MeiseAfter the unevenness and unjustifiable weight of the Brussels carillon, Meise was heaven. It was a bit jarring to be signaled by beeps via walkie-talkie each time Eddy finished delivering program remarks to the audience, but the end product was surprisingly professional. After the concert, another familiar face met me in no-man's land--Marie-Claude from the BAEF had taken the time to come hear me and see me one last time. An hour of drinks in the cafe Den Beiaard followed, during which one of the audience members expounded on his not inconsiderable understanding of campanology. Then at last, Eddy drove me back to Mechelen through countryside that was new to me and lit in a brilliant post-rain sunset glow.

12 August 2006

museumnacht antwerpen

Jon's prolific blogging from Japan has inspired me to record my adventures again before they disappear from my memory forever. But I promise I will have blog entries for all the other stuff I've been doing... someday.

Elvo and I hit up the Antwerp Diamond Museum this afternoon after a lunch of Hollandse nieuw maatjes (according to him, maatjes normally means "buddy," except when it's referring to your slices of raw herring) and koffiekeuken. The museum had some gorgeous pieces, although the newly renovated design was too streamlined and hip to be very educational. The message was typically Antwerpen-centric. But curiosity finally satisfied, and a bit learned about diamonds and history.

We tried to check off the Rubenshuis, but of course it was too late to buy tickets by the time we arrived--deja vu or a message from up high to give up on Rubens? Gravity naturally sucked us into the neighboring De Slegte (bookworm heaven), where after a second endless search, I finally rediscovered the black-and-white book of Antwerp photos by Martien Coppens that I'd been hitting myself over the head for not buying during my first post-accident return to 't Stad. Nevertheless, I walked out empty-handed since the book wasn't in prime condition, but considering the prices I've found at online antiquarian book dealers, I'm probably going to claim it pretty soon. Speaking of my wishlist, Wagamama has a new cookbook devoted to noodles! *drool* I also found a stunning book of black-and-white post-WWII photos of Köln by August Sander. Way too heavy to bring back to Mechelen, let alone the USA, but worth keeping in mind.

After a spicy Wagamama dinner utilizing the "één gratis hoofdgerecht" coupon I'd plucked off the ground last week, I headed to the FotoMuseum and witnessed the photographing of a long line of women in lingerie gathered in the titillating Château Lagrange exhibit. It was almost impossible to tell who the photographer was because so many people were toting serious cameras, but eventually Marc Lagrange got under the hood of the really, really big camera, and we all watched and wondered what the point was.

I also managed to speed-walk the Homo Fabre exhibition at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, but was a little offended that his works, spread amongst medieval and Renaissance pieces, occasionally displaced some great pieces. Overall it didn't live up to the hype, at least for my taste. But the owls were cool and freaky. My last stop was the Rubenshuis, and I caught a mediocre performance of the prelude to my favorite non-Wagner opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo. I've definitely been spoiled by John Eliot Gardiner's recording. If I'd only heard this recital, I would never have fallen in love with the piece.

Lucky was in one piece when I returned... well, two. For the first time, I had taken off the front wheel to U-lock it with the frame. A pity, but having her robbed again would be even more of a pity.

Kasia is starting up at the Roosevelt Academy, so their carillon program is now official. Sweet. Maybe Chiaki and I can engineer a program for ourselves together. Who knows? My only worry is: Will I love Middelburg after living there for seven months as much as I loved it after living there for seven days?

09 August 2006

failure to launch

One in five Belgian men aged 30 or older still live in the parental home. And I am not even surprised. I don't know how society was before, but the generation I'm living with expects way more from their parents than I can comprehend based on my two cultural backgrounds. On one hand, the ideal in the US is to move out after college and never live with your parents again. On the other hand, the expectation of the Chinese is for you to live with your parents for a long time--in order to take care of them after you graduate from college, financially and in the household.

To my surprise, however, this article puts the younger generation at fault. "The parent-child power relationship is simply reversed. We are aware of cases of parents who were abused like house slaves,' the law office said." This alleged reversal contradicts the comments that Mrs. Boulpaep, wife of the president of the Belgian American Educational Foundation, made when we gathered for dinner at their home in Connecticut. Although she is Belgian, she expressed surprisingly vehement outrage that parents in Belgium are keeping their children at home and/or dependent on them long after they become adults, and blamed it on the parents' desire to keep their children beholden to them. She was of the opinion that parents keep their children partially dependent for their own short-sighted gratification.

The examples I know of personally seem more in line with the opinion expressed in the article. My landlady and her husband took their son to court when he ran away from home to live with his adolescent girlfriend (and her parents!) and attempted to charge all his expenses to them although he had no plans to return. They won the case, and he had to pay the bills off himself. And although its absolutely terrible to have a homophobic father as a lesbian, I don't understand why a grown daughter should expect her father to allow her partner to stay over and eat at their house constantly, as described to me by a friend. I would feel humiliated imposing on my parents in such a way, and I would not allow my children to do such a thing. You want to be with somebody--man or woman--you support yourself.

Where else in the world is this problem on the rise? Is it the natural consequence of relative economic prosperity or is it a cultural phenomenon?

05 August 2006

ich bin klein

This shirt perfectly describes my feelings. And small things must have a particular liking for big things, because I have been struck with Berlin-mania!

04 August 2006


I leave Lucky parked at Mechelen station for three days while in Germany and nothing happens to her. I leave her for three hours while in Brussels for Ben's goodbye get-together, and someone goes on a front-wheel spree in the lot and takes her front wheel and cuts the rear brake.

With everything closed on Sunday, I have seven hours in which to get her fixed for Boudewijn's bicycle tour.

"Wheels keep on spinning round, spinning round..." (Cake)

I woke up today just before 5. 5 pm. I haven't slept fifteen hours straight since the middle of my college years. And I'm not even that sleep-deprived. I must be getting really old.

In better news, Elvo and I are going to Milano for exactly one day towards the end of August. Arrive in the morning, fly out in the evening. With Ryanair, it's totally cheap enough to do something that crazy. Italy, here I come!