Monday, November 28, 2005

The Best Neighbors in the World

Those of you that know us, know that our neighbors on Dumas Street in San Diego are absolutely the BEST! Not only do they tolerate our parties, they are usually the first to arrive, with fantastic food (cherry brownies, anything Linda makes, "twinkie tower with ding dong art", etc.) and drink in hand, and are always willing to help with the clean-up. More importantly, the majority of them do not call the cops on us.

As further proof that we have been blessed by the "Best Neighbors Ever" god, our new neighbor brought us a case of Belgian beer to welcome us to the neighborhood. (Notice the dent Dan has already made on it!). We love him!!

CNN and the Royal Palace

If you see on CNN where a blond woman wearing a black coat was spotted at the back gate of the palace grounds on November 28th, don't worry. I have it on VERY, VERY, VERY good authority that she thought it was a park entrance. Again, no one was injured and there was definitely NOT a terroristic threat. Palace police were very understanding!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Top Ten Things I've Learned From Our First Thanksgiving Abroad

  1. Thanksgiving does not have to be on Thursday. The Sunday after is perfectly acceptable, especially if having turkey difficulties.
  2. The correct way to pronounce "turkey" in French sounds something like "dand", but flapping your arms and saying "gobble, gobble," gets the job done just as well.
  3. Butterball is missing a major market opportunity!
  4. If you are not inclined to pluck, the second best way to get feathers off a turkey is to burn them.
  5. Burnt turkey feathers smell just like singed hair.
  6. When looking for cornbread mix, don't assume just because the box says "Maizena" and there is a picture of yellow muffins on the front, that you are going to get cornbread. It is very likely that the box contains lemon muffin mix, which makes for a very weird tasting dressing!
  7. Cooking a turkey in the oven, even if it is only 4 pounds, takes a LOT longer than deep-frying one.
  8. Turkeys are extremely expensive in Brussels.
  9. Who needs brown-n-serve rolls when you live above a bakery.
  10. You can celebrate Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce and football. Celebrating Thanksgiving without friends and family is much more difficult!

© 2005 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 25, 2005

I'm A Hypocrite!

Prior to our move to Brussels, Dan assured me that it did not snow in Brussels. Having lived my entire life (up until 18 days ago) south of the Mason/Dixon Line, I always told Dan that I would NEVER, EVER live anywhere it snowed. Here are photos from outside our windows, on November 25, 2005 at 10:15 pm. Call me crazy, but that's snow!

The Turkey Revealed --- I'm No Plucker!

Once Dan got home on Thursday evening, we unwrapped our brown bag to see what exactly $36.56 can buy you in terms of turkey. I'm happy to report that we have a 4 pound turkey, with no head, no feet, and no wings. Unfortunately, it did come with hundreds of little white feathers all over it! (Don't know if the photo does it justice, but they are everywhere!)

So, as you can imagine, the big issue now is how to get rid of turkey feathers. Dan's first suggestion was for me to pluck it. While this was NEVER a viable option, I did, for one insane moment, contemplate what my future would be like if, in fact, I took to plucking the dinde. For some inexplicably reason, my mind flashed to the scene in Far and Away where Tom Cruise says, "That Shannon, she's a corker!". But, instead of Tom Cruise, in my mind's eye, I saw Dan, drunk on Belgium beer, telling all our friends, "That Cindy, she's a plucker!" Since I am most definitely not a plucker, there has to be a better way.

Because it was late, cold, and raining, running to the Cheese Shop was not an option. So, I called my daddy for sagely wisdom on the de-feathering of fowl. His advice --- "burn 'em off." For someone that is not a cook, using the word "burn" as a means of food preparation, rather than as a description of the finished product, is a concept completely foreign to me. How exactly does one go about burning a turkey on purpose?

For what will probably be the first and only time in my life, I thought to myself, I wish I had one of those torches from William-Sonoma. Before now, I never knew what they were used for, although I always suspected it had something to do with meth addictions by Martha Stewart wantabes. (And to think everyone thought she was in prison for SEC violations!) Once again, in the pioneer state in which I am living (by this, I mean no car, no cell phone, no microwave, no mixer, no meth torch), I will have to compensate. So, tonight, armed solely with a candle lighter, I will, hopefully, for the only time, burn my first turkey.

Bottom line -- It is now Friday evening, and Dan and I still don't know what we are going to eat for Thanksgiving dinner (which has now been postponed to Saturday night due to turkey difficulties)!

© 2005 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

The Weather Channel and Il Fait Froid!

If you click on my "Brussels Weather" link, you will notice that someone at the Weather Channel gives you the current temperature in Brussels and then they go on to tell you what the temperature "feels like" in Brussels. For example, they say it is "x" degrees, but it "feels like 'y' degrees."

I have noticed, in the 2+ weeks I have lived here, that the temperature may be "X", but it definitely does not feel like "Y". In fact, several times it has felt more like "Z" or, perhaps even "AA". I, for one, am of the strong belief that whomever is making the "feels like" determination, should be researching other career options as they have yet to get the "feels like" right!

My first French phrase was "il fait froid" -- it is cold. I have now graduated to "il fait glacial" -- it is freezing. Take yesterday for example. The Weather Channel told me that it was 36 degrees, but it felt like 39. Nothing can be further from the truth. I wore a cashmere sweater, 2 jackets, a hat, a scarf and gloves and was still so cold that I seriously considered pulling out my ski clothes!

Because we live in an old apartment, we do not have central heat. Instead, we rely on the archaic steam radiator system, which may or may not work depending on which room you are in. To make matters worse, we have 36 windows, with curtains for only 6 of them. (The Curtain Saga will be the subject of another post!). And, if that is not enough, the door to our balcony has a opening large enough for a blue north'rn to blow through.

On the upside, I have finally found a good use for the oven. I turn it to the picture that has squigglies on the top and bottom, turn the temperature to "max", open the door, and use it as if it were a fireplace. Works wonders!

Il fait glacial!!!!

© 2005 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Thanksgiving Turkey Saga - Part Deux

Yesterday, I went, in the rain, to Matthys & Van Gaever, (which sounds to me more like a law firm than a buther shop, although the argument can be made that they are, in fact, quite similar) to pick up my dingdong/turkey. Unfortunately for me, the woman that witnessed the possessed universal turkey dance was not working, which meant I was going to have to convey (somehow) that I was here to pick up a turkey that I had already ordered.

Have you ever considered how difficult it is to say "past" in universal hand gestures? I opted for what I like to call the old "windshield wiper" gesture, while chanting "dand", which, apparently, is the correct way to say "turkey" in French. I was unable to get my point across with the "windshield wiper", so I switched to the "bailing water from a boat" maneuver. Again, no luck.

I can only guess what must have been going through this woman's mind at this time. (They say that the eyes are the windows to one's soul. Well, I think -- scratch that -- I've learned that the eyes are also a pretty good indicator of someone's confusion level.) Let's just say by the look in this lady's eyes, she was CONFUSED or, as my daddy would say, she was looking at me like a calf staring at a new gate!

I was at a complete loss for more hand gestures for the word "past", when I noticed a calendar on the counter. I picked it up and, lo and behold, there was my name on the date with "dinde" (which, apparently, is the correct way to write "turkey" in French) written on it. The communication gap has been closed; the eyes have returned to normal.

The lady turned to a freezer behind her and pulled out (drumroll, please) a brown bag! I, in turn, opened my bag and pulled out my wallet. So far, so good. She then told me, in French, how much I owed her. Having no idea what she just said, I gave her the "calf staring at a new gate look" (which apparently translates nicely), and she handed me a written receipt.

Now, I realize the cost of living here is higher than San Diego, but I was more than stunned to see just how much a dinde goes for in Brussels, especially considering, from what I can tell, no one here really celebrates Thanksgiving. Perhaps if I knew what was inside the brown bag, or more correctly, if I knew in what condition whatever was inside the brown bag was in, it would have been easier to fork over the Euros.

Bottom line -- at this point, I still don't know what Dan and I will be eating for Thanksgiving, but whatever it is, it costs $36.56 in US dollars!

© 2005 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


If you see on CNN or Fox news where someone in a blue Opal ran through a diplomatic processional near the NATO compound on November 22, don't worry. I have it on VERY, VERY, VERY good authority that no one was injured and that there was definitely NOT a terroristic threat. (It's just that sometimes the road signs and the police's hand gestures can be confusing in Brussels!)

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Bathroom Attendant

Dan and I spent Saturday morning shopping at Brussels' version of Kobey's Swap Meet. Had it not been freezing (by "freezing", I mean "32 degrees!"), it probably would have been an ok experience. Numb beyond words, we decided to stop into this little restaurant for some choco chaud (for non-french speakers, hot chocolate). After my cup of chocolate, I headed off to use the bathroom.

The bathroom was down a flight of stairs. There was this older gentleman in front of me, obviously headed toward the bathrooms as well. At the foot of the stairs, was a landing, with a chair and a bathroom attendant. (In Europe, the bathroom attendants actually clean the toilets after each use, unlike the States where the attendants hand out paper towels, mints and have a never-ending supply of haircare products for use!) The attendant (more about her later) pointed the man to the left side of this dividing wall. I, in turn, headed toward the right side of the wall, thinking, ok, the men are on the left of the wall, the women on the right.

The right side of the bathroom had 3 stall doors. I went to the first one. It would not open. At this point, the bathroom attendant came up behind me. (For a visual, the bathroom attendant was probably close to 80 years old and was maybe 5 foot tall. I would have provided a picture, but for reasons you will soon understand, thought it better not to bother her.) She started saying something to me in French (possibly), to which I responded, "je ne parle pas francais." She started talking louder. I tried it again in English, "Sorry, but I don't speak French," and I headed to the second stall door.

Now, I don't know if it is because I have a horrible ear for the French language, or if it had more to do with the fact that the attendant did not have a SINGLE tooth in her head, but I could have sworn I heard her say "talk to me." I thought, ok, this is a little bizarre, but here it goes. I then proceeded to embark on what I deemed to be appropriate bathroom chatter: "Do I have to knock?" "Do I push the doors or pull?" Interestingly, with each question I asked, her voice got higher and higher as she kept repeating the same incomprehensible phrase over and over again. It is very fair to say that she was shouting at this point.

Since the conversation was going nowhere, except up in volume, I started toward the third door. Now, I don't know what lies behind door number 3, but it must be awfully special to her because just as my hand touched the doorknob, she grabbed me by the elbow (with what I mistakenly thought, at the time, was with all her strength), screaming this same word. It was then, that I realized, she was saying "occupee" ("occupied" for us non-French speakers!).

The toothless, screaming, little old lady then dragged me back to the start of the dividing wall (my elbow still clutched in her freakishly strong hands). In a somewhat surprise turn of events, she then pushed me into the men's side of the bathroom. (There is no question that it was the "men's side", as the older gentleman, who apparently had a prostate problem, was still using the urinals to my left.) The lady let go of my elbow, only to place both of her man-hands in the middle of my back, where she pushed (with what I, again, mistakenly, thought must be all her might) me forward. What I would not have given at this point to be able to say in French, or whatever language she happened to be using, "No, please don't make me go in the urinals. I'll wait for one of the women's stalls to open. Please. I'm sorry I tried Door Number 3!"

I now know how Max must have felt when I tried to shove him into the front of the cat carrier. With all of my might, I was pushing backwards, while she was pushing me forward. (It was apparent that her might was going to win out!) At the point when using violence as a possibility crept into my mind, I realized that there was a door at the end of the urinals. (While it may be easy to spot in the photo, please remember that I was in a very traumatic state as I was being distracted by the men peeing in the urinals, the old lady pushing me toward the urinals, and the thought that French-For-Dummies left out some pretty key phrases in the "basics" section!)

Unlike the doors on the "women's section," this stall door opened with ease. I stepped in, relieved that I was not going to have to fight Toothless over the use of the urinals.

There are no words, in any language, that can describe the fear that gripped me when, I turned and realized that the little old lady had followed me into the stall -- and locked the door behind her! The sitaution had clearly gone from bad to worse. In hindsight, I realize that she was reaching to flush the toilet, but, at the time, it appeared she was trying to slap me. I was ducking and dodging as if I were Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. This went on for awhile, until she was able to finally reach around me and flush the toilet. She looked at me like I was crazy, said something in French (which was most definitely NOT "occupee") and left the stall.

© 2005 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Thanksgiving Turkey Saga

As you may know, every year, Dan and I have a "widows and orphans" Thanksgiving dinner where we deep-fry a turkey for all of our friends who have been stranded without family over the holiday. This year, Dan and I find ourselves in the category of "widows and orphans."

Not to be dismayed, we decided to go ahead with Thanksgiving, with just the two of us. Since international security is a little touchy about shipping bottles of propane, which they consider "explosives", Dan and I are without a deep fryer. So, this year I will cook my first turkey! And here begins what I will call my "European Thanksgiving Saga":

Planning ahead (since there could be a potential run on turkeys by other American expats), I headed out to order a turkey. Since my French stinks, I looked up in my handy little pocket dictionary how to say "turkey." Phonetically, it looked like "dingdong" without the "g's". Armed with this valuable piece of information, I set out for my FIRST butcher shop. Needless to say, the first butcher spoke little or no English. So, embracing the language challenge, I confidently asked for a "dingdong". Let's just say that "dingdong" does not automatically equate to "turkey." The man looked at me like I was crazy. Embarassed, but not dismayed, I headed across the street to the SECOND butcher shop.

Again, I asked the butcher if she spoke English. Again, the answer was "no." So, I decided to give the old "dingdong" a go again. She, too, looked at me like I was crazy. She turned and went into a back room and emerged with a very cute guy who spoke some English. At this point, he told me that "dingdong" sounds nothing like the French word for "turkey" and that I should probably quit asking for this at butcher stores. He told me the correct French word for "turkey", which I promptly forgot. He had no turkeys but he would sell me a chicken! I said, no thanks, si vous plait.

Let's just say the lady behind the counter at the THIRD butcher store scared me and I was not about to try to communicate with her.

While most would be deterred at this point, I was determined to find a dingdong/turkey. So, I did what I have found myself doing many times this past week, especially if lost or confused. I went to the cheese shop. Why the cheese shop? you ask. Because the guy at the cheese shop speaks excellent English! He told me to try the butcher shop a block over from the black church.

Once I found the black church (a church that is turning black because of all of the pollution), it was easy to spot the butcher shop. It was positioned between the mushroom stand and a dry cleaners. I knew it was a butcher shop by context clues -- which means that the dead rabbits and pheasants hanging from the ceiling gave it away! (By dead rabbits and pheasants, I mean recently dead, with their hair and feathers still on! See above photo!)

Tentatively, I entered the shop and asked if they spoke English. Of course, as my luck was going, no English. Having learned my lesson, I knew better than to ask for a "dingdong". So, instead, I resorted to using the universal word for turkey -- "gobble gobble" while flapping my arms and pointing at the pheasants hanging from the ceiling. Needless to say, this was more effective than the "dingdong method." She pulled out a calender and I THINK I ordered a turkey for 11/24. At this point, I am a happy camper!

Halfway to the apartment, it hit me that I was, very likely, going to get a turkey with its head on, with wings, feet, feathers and insides! I rushed back to the butcher store. Take it from me, the universal way to ask for "no head, no wings, no feathers, no feet and no insides" is MUCH more difficult than the universal word for "turkey." I'm sure I looked like a possessed person having an epileptic seizure as I was making chopping motions at my neck, my arms, my feet and then pulling phantom "insides" from my stomach area, all the while chanting "no, no no".

Bottom line -- I have no idea what Dan and I are eating for Thanksgiving!!

The Belgacom Experience

I've been having trouble with deciphering our internet bill, so I called Belgacom (local phone company). After being on hold 47 minutes, I was disconnected. I called back. On hold for another 35 minutes, then disconnected. At this point, my faith in the phone service was a little shaken to say the least. So, I decided I might have better luck just going down to the local Belgacom office and taking care of it in person.

I found the office with no problem, which may not seem like a big thing to some, but in a country where every street sign is in 2 languages, neither of which you speak, and the names of the streets change every 100 yards, this was quite an accomplishment for me.

Once I got to the Belgacom store, there was a long line, so I took my place behind the last person. After waiting about 20 minutes (apparently, lots of problems with Belgacom), the lady asked who's next?. I said "me" and walked towards her. Here is where it goes south.

This man (who had been walking around the store talking on his cell phone and not waiting patiently in line like the rest of us), walked forward as well. I ignored him and kept walking toward the lady. The man then started cursing at me in French. I'm fairly certain he was cursing, not just because of the tone and volume of his voice, the facial expressions, and the wild hand gesturing, but, thanks to a friend of mine's sister-in-law (the one married to the French guy), I know that "picchon" is French for the F-bomb. While his speech was rapid-fire, I'm fairly confident that I heard "picchon" in several of its derivative forms!

Once the guy realized that I had no idea what he was saying, he then switched to English. At this time, I was able to verify that he was, in fact, using "picchon" in his earlier tirade. I was surprised to find that his English, at least when it came to cursing, was quite good. Although I was tempted to compliment him on his creativity with English curse words, (extra points for "you are a shit-fuck"), I ignored him and kept walking. At this point, I can't be sure, but I think he threw in some Arabic for good measure.

Once I was at the counter (him still ranting in the unidentifiable third language), I turned, smiled, and delivered in what can be described (in hindsight, of course) as somewhat of a sing-song voice, one of the few French phrases I have learned to date: "Il fait froid." (For you non-French speakers, this translates to "I am cold.") At this point, the man left the store in what I would characterize as a "very agitated state."

© 2005 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.