Tuesday, May 31, 2011


181. Having Moët & Chandon in plastic cups to celebrate a colleague's 40th birthday, with Princess Peach and the research group of the Super Marios. There was also a Le Pain Quotidien cherry crumble cake, on which a fly was resting. As Princess Peach was trying -- with the end of a plastic spoon -- to instruct the fly to move away, Luigi commented, "I don't think it is inclined to fly... It is sitting on a big cake..."

182. Rino Son Resto. Having just ordered, a diavolo pizza for her and a frutti di mare for me, we are chatting away as usual.
Lily: When we are together, our brains shut off...

Several brainless conversations later, the pizzas are completely gone. 
Lily: ...Yeah, I told you your brain shut off.
Me: I thought you said that our brains shut off. 
Lily: Nah, it was just for politeness.

While I pretend to be hurt, it occurs to me that this has been exactly what I needed, being able to have my brain pleasantly shut off at the end of a long day.

183. With a slight theatrical flair, Geek #3 puts down an extra card, next to the existing 16 Set cards on the table. Staring at this new addition, we all start to rearrange possible combinations in our head. "Tuck, tuck, tuck," making the usual action soundtrack, Geek #5 points his forefinger at the added card and two others to form a Set, three cards of which every characteristic (number, color, symbol, shading) is either identical or completely different from one to another. The added card is then turned over, Geek #3 introduces a new card, and the whole process starts all over again. 

Systematically, we are trying to determine the maximum number of cards from which we cannot form a Set, an question raised by Geek #2 after two rounds of playing. While we are not geeky enough to write down a proper mathematical formulation of the problem, we are geeky enough to spend the next half an hour finding an empirical answer. After turning the 81st card over and arriving at a tentative conclusion of 16, we realize, that by looking up the ever knowledgeable Wikipedia, we would have found out the proven answer of 20 in a much shorter time. But, what would have been the fun in doing that?

Monday, May 30, 2011


178. Becoming instantly religious and praying fervently, when cars start honking loudly behind my wobbling bike, right in the middle of the wide and accident-prone Boulevard Général Jacques. 

179. Having a proper Coke break again with Zoe, marking the end of my one-week experiment of having no soft drinks. As fun as it was to knock on her office window from the outside and catching her at the exact moment of stuffing an entire cookie into her mouth, thinking breaks are just not the same as Coke breaks.

180. Leaning against the windowsill in the living room, I am having my breakfast.
"Have a good day," Gaston says, something he does every morning before going to work. 
"See you after theatre?"  It is Monday.
"No...," he hesitates, "I don't have theatre tonight." 
"We can keep pretending that you take these imaginary theatre lessons, you know..." I generously offer. 
"Yes, but I need to change excuses every now and then." He smiles, then remembering something else, he asks, "are you doing anything tomorrow?" 
"Then we can...?" he waves his arm in the general direction of the dining table. 
"Yes, we can." I smile, thinking to myself that this is an appropriate start to the one-year anniversary of my moving into this lovely apartment.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Barbeques IV.

175. How many people does it take to complete a Gazpacho's biking experience? 

Five. Pierre, to pay for the rent of a bike with his credit card. Gazpacho herself, obviously, to bike and to curse the stupid bike for not letting her lock it at one of the Vélo stations. Pierre, again, to try to succeed where Gazpacho fails, for almost fifteen minutes, while two strangers stand around looking pretty and being generally useless. Zoe, to lock the bike, in five seconds and on her first try. 

How long does it take for Gazpacho to bike the distance of 30-minute walking? 

51 minutes. She knows this because she checks on the bike account this morning. (Zoe was right. The bike is only free for the first 30 minutes. Sorry, Pierre.)

176. On the edge of a terrace, two pigeons are chasing each other. Reaching the end of the terrace, the one being chased stops for a few seconds, perhaps to calculate whether her pigeon-y wings could carry her to a nearby roof. She apparently decides that they could, because she starts flying, and then lands successfully on the roof. The chaser, by now also at the end of the terrace, goes through the same thought process, then chickens out. He turns around and walks to the other end of the terrace, where a third pigeon has just arrived. For a minute or two, nothing happens. The three birds stand still where they are, a temporarily actionless and plotless love triangle.

Observing them from an opposite terrace, Zucchini comments, "These birds are really not active at all!" Since arriving at the barbeque a few hours earlier, she has not moved once.

177. Since I have started writing this blog, there have been days when I wonder whether I would want to remember any of it. And then, there are days like today, when I wonder whether I could write down every awake moment, or at least every awake moment that I am with my vegetables. 

Riding my bike on one side of the road, while Mushroom bikes and Zucchini walks on the other, then hearing her laugh from behind when someone throws a bucket of water out on the pavement right in front of my path. Being on a bus that replaces the tram 7, which is temporarily out of service because of the 20km race, and explaining to Mushroom and Zucchini that the bus goes this way, one hand motioning to the moving direction of the bus, and then Zucchini wondering out loud how I ever got my PhD no one would ever know. Carrot mimicking an animal in the movie Madagascar, standing on her toes, hands with paw-like fingers pulled up in front of her chest, me having no idea which animal she is trying to imitate but still finding the act incredibly funny and cute, and then later Celery mimicking a dog, me once again laughing, and realizing that they are a perfect fit. Zucchini exclaiming "Let's screw with the guys's cards" as soon as Mushroom and Celery leave the table to get more Maredsous, then Carrot and I joining her in the secret scheme that ensures Mushroom having all blue UNO cards and Celery all green, only to have them show each other their cards and discover our cheating at once. Mushroom making all the UNO-announcements with geeky words, like determinant when the required initial letter is d and matrix when it is m. Celery and Zucchini singing  "What shall we do with a drunken sailor" over and over again, possibly thank to all the empty bottles of cider and Maredsous. The list goes on...

At one point, Zucchini, a propos of nothing, points out that this time next year, I will not be in Brussels anymore. She is right, of course, but I hope these memories of Brussels will stay with me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


172. Even if it's a Saturday afternoon, for the third time within less than twenty-four hours, I am once again walking to the printer room, this time neither for the printer nor the pigeon-hole, not even for the scanner. It is the handy paper cutter that I am after. Growing increasingly frustrated about having my notes on a project scattered all over the place, I thought of getting one of the notebooks stocked in the secretary's room, which is unfortunately locked during weekends. Then, a thought occurred to me. My desk has a drawer full of one-sided printouts that I keep to use the blank sides as scrap papers. I could cut these loose leaves in halves, staple them together along the width, and have myself a little convenient notebook. Rather proud of myself for coming up with this crafty idea, I set out to make it immediately. 

As I pull down the handle of the paper cutter, the first bundle of A4 pages are sliced neatly into two parts, the size of which looks oddly familiar. It suddenly comes to me. My sister and later on I myself, we both have studied many English words by writing them over and over again on these A5-size handmade notebooks. My mother, without the benefit of a proper paper cutter, would make the notebooks with a pair of scissors and out of one-sided exam question sheets that would otherwise be discarded, after my dad finished marking exam papers each semester. Leaving home midway through my teens, I have stopped seeing them, until almost a decade later when my mother came to Australia and made these notebooks once again, this time for my nephew and out of discarded papers from my university. Not seeing her for almost two years now, I have completely forgotten about the notebooks. Continuing slicing paper, I wonder what else I have forgotten, and if whatever time it is over there at the moment is too late for a phone call.

173. Getting an email from Tintin, and feeling proud of him for running 20 kms for a charity. He has been running to prepare for this race for a while now, but it was only until this afternoon that I realized he was doing it with a purpose. (Or, rather, with a different purpose than the one I had assumed: to look hot and subsequently get laid.)

174. 8ish pm. "He would be fast asleep by eight, and then not wake up at all until past midnight," his mother reassures me. As soon as she walks out of the door, Prince Charming starts crying. I stand frozen in front of his bedroom door, wondering whether I should enter. His mother has also told me, that every now and then he might whine a little, and his eyes might be open, but he would actually be sleeping, so do not wake him up; and if I did, there would be no putting him back to sleep. You have an opened bottle of vodka, I has thought of pointing out, but realized that it would not have been wise to joke about intoxicating a six-month-old baby on the first night his mother let me babysit. 

9ish pm. The apartment is completely quiet, except for the sounds of my turning pages. The silence makes me wonder whether he is still breathing, and, in fact, whether he is still there at all. You might think that it is a silly worry, but at least two people I know would disagree with you. Kate, for one. Last year, leaving me with her then also six-month-old baby, Kate left to watch a movie with her husband, only to ring me as soon as they arrived at the cinema. "Is she sleeping?" "Yes..." "Is she there?" Kate asked, only half-joking. "I... think..?" Kate has stayed on the phone until I went to make sure her baby was still around. "Yep, still here, and she is also breathing," I confirmed, after leaning down to look at the rising and falling of the little chest. Anna, for another, has also called me on the phone earlier this evening, even if he is not her baby. "Do not fall asleep!" she warned me, after Geluck had told us earlier this evening about a babysitter he once hired, who, by the end of the evening, distressingly reported, "I lost one of your children." "Don't worry," I have told Anna, "he would not be able to go and sleep under the crib like Geluck's son did," but now, slightly worried, I go to check on my Prince Charming just the same. 

10ish pm. Curling up on the couch, I am listening to the peaceful heavy-breathing sounds of my Prince Charming. If someone has been (un)fortunate enough to share a bed with me, he or she would know that, barring one exception, between the two of us I would be the first to fall asleep and the last to rise. This means that the co-sleeper risks being hit with a pillow if tries to wake me up. It also means that I almost never listen to the sounds of someone snoring, which, I now realize, has a very calming effect: these sounds are a sure indication that someone is there and alive.

Friday, May 27, 2011


169. Putting together what turns out to be one of my favourite blog entries so far, because of the content itself, because of the collaborating experience, and because it once again reminds me why I'm friends with these vegetables in the first place.

Rule #1. No peeking. 
Rule #2. Each entry must be submitted to all co-authors at the same time.
Rule #3. No peeking. 

Deadline: 10 am.
Extended deadline:3 pm. Reason: Author #1 has a work meeting. 
Super-extended deadline: 5 pm. Reason: Author #2 has a work meeting.


Gazpacho, Mushroom, Zucchini*. A concert, seen through three different lenses. Journal of Random Moments, 1(1):1-3, 2011.

*Authors are listed alphabetically. 

170. 6ish pm. I am marching excitedly to the printer room, located next to Anna's office and a few doors down from the office of my supervisor, Geluck. Throughout a typical day, I make this short trip quite often, mainly to pick up journal papers or other work-related printouts, and occasionally to check my pigeon-hole for some expected mail or to scan important documents. Most of the time, my little visits go unnoticed, but then again, most of the time, I walk instead of marching excitedly to the printer room. The sounds of my elephantine steps draw Geluck out of his office and cause Anna, standing much further down the corridor, to turn around. As both of them are approaching me, I stop at the doorway of the printer room to chat.
"Anna, do you know that there is a jazz marathon this weekend? Starting... now?" 
"Really? Who are playing?" 
"Lots. In fact, I have just printed out the program. Let me pick it u-" 
"I thought you were working?" Anna asks.
Geluck looks at me, waiting. For a clever explanation that never came.
"I... am... Yeah, uhm... So..."

Life goal #36: Learn to walk elegantly. 

171. 1ish am. Marching back to the printer room again, this time in an exhausted manner and obviously without Valeria and Geluck around. In fact, without anyone around, except for Mushroom who has very kindly agreed to accompany me to the office at this crazy hour. It must have been my fastest walk from home to work, due to the determination to get this whole thing done as quickly as possible. It's been a long day. Somehow, instead of going directly to the scanner (the reason why I am here), I pause to glance at my pigeon-hole, even if I know I am not waiting for any mail. Except there is a mail. One that makes me smile and feel just a little less exhausted.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


166. Going through the day in slow motion. Hangovers remain the most effective way to appear stupid Zen.

167. Receiving a long-awaited letter from FNRS, about funding for a conference in just over two weeks. New York here I come! On whether I should visit the Museum of Modern Art this time... 
(source: http://www.moma.org/iwent/)

168. "In general, when you talk about wine or strong alcohol, you remind me myself talking about General Relativity or about Dune (the novel), you seem so passionate..."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


163. "Salut! Comment vas-tu?" I ask Cécile, thus breaking the long-standing tradition of speaking to each other in our own languages. Coming out of the metro station a mere few seconds after her, I have wondered whether I should speed up and say hello, after yesterday's conversation. Cécile, rightly so, had spent five minutes telling me off for still not handing in the reimbursement paperwork for my Paris trip in January. While verbal reprimands, like swear words, do not have the same effect when given in a foreign language, that does not mean they are pleasant to listen to. Midway through, I thought of trying to say something to the effect of me understanding completely the bureaucratic hassle that I was giving her, but it did not seem quite right to respond in English to Cécile's passionate French lecture, and my 15-minutes-of-French-a-day book did not cover the phrase bureaucratic hassle. So I listened quietly until the end, occasionally nodding as apologetically as I could. 

"Bien, et toi?" Cécile smiles, looking completely unlike the Cécile who discovered that my visa application fee from four months ago was still not reported, and that god only knows where my train tickets were. As our conversation turns to weather and summer vacations, I wonder whether, given our age gap, it was proper for me to address her as tu, and if not, whether this faux pas cancels out my efforts of speaking in French in order to make up for the administrative lateness. As soon as I get into my office, I will check with Geluck about the correct way to address Cécile. Then, the next time I speak to her in French, that is, when I am once again behind in my paperwork, I will know to say vous or tu

164. The few seconds when, just before each time Zoe rolls the dices for her turn on the Monopoly board, Tintin holds her hand and says, "Sweetheart, drink...," then waits (im)patiently until Zoe finishes a sip of white wine. 

165. Zoe's account of a moment; also known as, her attempt to immortalize a memory I would rather forget.

Midnightish, the middle of a small wrestling fight between Gaston and Zoe...what was going on? Going back a couple of moments, Gazpacho-y screams "in your faces" at them...going back some more moments, the same Gazpacho-y tells them, rather content with herself "I will be gloating about this for months!" This was after her phenomenal streak of three strikes playing the Wii. Gaston, in an attempt to keep up with her, managed to get two strikes and a spare. Zoe seemed not at her best having only achieved three spares. Going forward a couple of throws, Gazpacho-y and Gaston are still trying to find out who can score more strikes in one game and Gazpacho-y went ahead which led to her gloating about her skills! 

The last round: Zoe and Gaston try to disturb Gazpacho's performance by reminding her of her biggest sports failures which, to be fair, seems to have an influence on her performance as she goes down with a miss on the last standing pin...this leaves the door open for Gaston to take over...but also he misses the last pin standing. Final scores for the two: 153 Gaston vs 154 Gazpacho. BUT: quietly Zoe takes the remote, gets another spare and is now level with Gazpacho-y who, of course, starts screaming out her disappointment...then with the additional throw one gets with a spare on the last throw, Zoe actually wins with 173 points! And it is now her time to scream "in your face" at Gazpacho remembering the latter bragging for the better part of the game. In the meantime celebrations have started on the screen with little confetti flying around Zoe's head. Gazpacho, trying to take the obligatory photo of the screen, is hindered by Gaston who is standing in front of the screen trying to make him as big as a goaly in hockey. This blocking ultimately leads to the aforementioned wrestling fight as Zoe tries to make sure a proof of her victory is kept. Ride bene chi ride ultimo.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


160. 9 am. A snapshot of a work Skype meeting.
Claire: Gazpacho-y?
Me: Claire?
C: c'est toi? 
M: Je ne suis pas Gazpacho-y.
C: ah c'est qui alors?
M: C'est sa mère.
C: Ooohhh
et elle est où Gazpacho?
M: Elle a disparu!
C: zut alors!
M: C'est très bizarre...
C: Bon, je vais dire ça à Geluck alors.
M: Donc, est-ce que tu as quelque chose à lui dire?
C: Non, en fait rien du tout, merci.
M: Bonne journée!
C: Allez, salut!

161. As customary, magazines often enlarge a sentence or a phrase out of an article, to emphasize a particular point. For this week's cover article Sex, Lies, Arrogance: What makes powerful men behave so badly? by its Editor-at-Large Nancy Gibbs, the TIME magazine highlights, "He had friends everywhere who called him far too brilliant to do anything so tawdry," a seemingly logical argument echoed by many journalists and several people I know, when supporting the hypothesis of DSK's innocence. Nancy Gibbs has written a second part to that sentence, "as though being smart and being decent were the same thing."

162. 7 pm. I come home to a complete silence. There is no sight of Gaston or Tintin. Because of a surprise birthday party for their mutual friend, our Tuesday tradition has been postponed to tomorrow. Even if we are not having dinner together, I have expected to at least see someone, given that the party is to be held at our place. Strange...

8 pm. The apartment is still eerily quiet. "Where are you guys?" I send them a message, just before getting into the shower. Turning on the radio, I try to imagine what went through our landlord's mind, when he recently replaced the warm ceiling light of our bathroom with a cold white one. Just as I get under the water, the hospital-like glow disappears. Without any window, the bathroom is pitch dark. Instead of trying to do something about it, or at least to figure out what happened, I continue to shampoo and start counting silently. One, two, three... Less than a minute later, the light comes back, yet another illustration for the theory that if you ignore a problem long enough, it will go away. By the time I start rinsing my hair, the bulb goes off one more time. "Thank you!" I yell over the loud music. The bathroom is instantly bright again. Either the landlord has also replaced our normal light switch with a voice-activated one, or Tintin is home.

Monday, May 23, 2011


157. Take 1. By Gazpacho.

Bobbing my head enthusiastically to the music of a Swedish warm-up band for Guano Apes, even if, having never previously listened to Royal Republic or even known of their existence, most of the lyrics pass me by. At one point, a crystal clear sentence is repeated over and over again. "Did he really sing what I thought he sang, I can see your underwear from down here...?" "Yep," replies the sole Royal Republic girl for whom we agreed to go to the concert. "OK..." After momentarily reflecting on this meaningful statement, I continue bobbing my head. After all, last year I went to a Lady Gaga concert, where the lyrics was infinitely more outrageous, and I could see her underwear from down here.

158. Take 2. By Zucchini.

The good, the bad and the ugly, better known as the pretty, the geek and the slightly lesser geek:

"I am not used to this kind of concert. Where I come from, you can eat."
"You eat during a rock concert?"
"Normally, you go there before, have something to eat, sit at a table and then the concert starts."
I begin to wonder if Carrot has been to a rock concert before or could it really be that you enjoy a nice meal while the band tries to make the audience pogo?? Well, let's see what the others think about it... I am approaching Mushroom who still stands at our earlier spot close to the stage.

"What do you think about the concert so far?"
"Not bad... did you notice that the venue's logo is velocity times the wave vector?"
"Sorry?" (not prepared for this answer at all)
"Ah no, wait... the complex conjugate of the vector" after noticing the small star in the logo.

This settles it once and forever, the geekiest person of our small group has been identified... and against all odds, recompiling kernels or not, it is not me!

159. Take 3. By Mushroom.

Intro: Before a concert there is usually two groups of people: the ones who want to eat before the concert, and the ones who prefer to eat afterwards. Today I belong to the second group. Though, I'm chatting with Melody in a kebab place, a coca light can in my hand. At some point, Lindsay joins us in the place, because she is scared that the fries she is holding are going to completely disappear. She gives us some fries then returns ouside with Anna and Maurice. Soon, Melody realises something and ask "Why am I waiting for Maurice's dürüm?" I say nothing but I think "Je ne sais pas. Mais peut-être que dehors il se demande pourquoi il est en train de manger tes frites."

Verse: The pre-band is already playing when we arrive. I go to the bar and order for beers (technically I order for some "jetons"). Then we try to make a path in the crowd. The sound is quite good but obviously beyond 100 dB, so I put my ear plugs. Even if it's not really the music I like, the band is good, and particularly the front man who is doing his job very well. At a moment they play a cover song, but it's frustrating because I don't remember from which band the song is. Already the last song, then the "encore". Yeah, they don't play for long for our late point of view. Anyway during the break, I remember that we notice with Melody that the logo on stage vk*, looks like the term of an equation, something like the velocity times the complex conjugate of the wave vectors... really geeky je sais.

Chorus: Humm... good band. They really enjoy playing. And good bass player. But after a while I'm getting bored. I should look at the room because the sound it's good. The intern architecture is specifically made for the sound. The room has the usual conic form, the walls and the ceiling are covered by a layer of wood to create complexes and non-linear reflections. I'm particularly focusing on the ceiling, with two breaks in it to kill low frequencies stationary waves. Good place :). The final part of the concert is quite nice. All the fans are singing. Even Anna is completely crazy.

Bridge: I'm hungry so I ordering a big burger. Some people help me to finish it. The girls order for a brownie "avec trois cuillères."

Outro: In the "septante et un", I'm watching Melody and Lindsay having a paper saber fight... sexy :p. Soon, they are talking about going to see Swan Lake. For Melody it's just to see the ballet itself. For Lindsay it's also the occasion to get dressed up, with wigs... Later, my left knee hurts a bit, we are walking home with Lindsay. Because it's late enough, we can walk in the middle of the road and we enjoy that as Tom and Huck. We should do that more often. We arrive at her flat door, we exchange some "it was nice", "I'm a bit tired" and other "Bonne nuit". Finally I'm at my place, it's almost 1 am and, as I grab my keys to open the door, I realise that I have an red ink equation's term painted on my right hand saying: the velocity times the complex conjugate of the wave vector.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


154. Parc du Cinquantenaire. Turning off the iPod to listen to Queen being played at an outdoor concert. Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango...? In front of the triumphal arch, hundreds of people are sitting on the grass, relaxing and listening to live covers of classic tunes. Outside of the park gate facing Merode, several carnival trucks are blinking their festive lights, enticing kids and young adults alike to games of duck pond, ring toss, and crossbow shooting. Summer is just around the corner.

155. Genetic Engineering, in Me talk pretty one day, by David Sedaris.

...Faced with an exciting question, science tended to provide the dullest possible answer. Ions might charge the air, but they fell flat when it came to charging my imagination -- my imagination, anyway. To this day, I prefer to believe that inside every television there lives a community of versatile, thumb-size actors trained to portray everything from a thoughtful newscaster to the wife of a millionaire stranded on a desert island. Fickle gnomes control the weather, and an air conditioner is powered by a team of squirrels, their cheeks packed with ice cubes...

156. Side by side, they are running, each with one hand clutching a shared piece of cloth. What a way to ensure identical speeds! Trailing them, I can see the soaking wet back of the grey T-shirt on the left runner, whom I imagine is the would-be slower of the two, judging by the amount of sweat. As we run past the park gate facing Schuman, the grey T-shirt slightly slows down. He turns sideways and, with the free hand, holds on to the elbow of his friend, who too loses speed briefly to run down the small steps between two uneven grounds. As they repeat the whole scene at the next set of steps, I tell myself to think of a better excuse the next time I feel too lazy to run, something that beats being vision-impaired.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Barbeques III.

151. While Victoria and I have been close for many years, I have hesitated for almost two months before telling her today about my blog (and increasing its potential readership by a massive 25%). I was a little embarrassed about letting her know that I have been writing all these silly little things.

Victoria: Can you include this one which I found on a wrapping paper and I love it:
"When life gives you lemons - make lemonade" :) 
I thought that was cute
I kept the wrapping paper...
I know it's a bit lame
Me: :)
(thinking to myself, certainly not lamer than any of the stuff that I have been writing...)

152. On the terrace. For a few minutes, there is complete silence. The host is not making the "clack clack" noises with his BBQ tong and asking if anyone wants some grilled eggplants; the hostess is taking a break from periodically offering to serve the salad; the guests are quietly enjoying the sun. Leaning back on our chairs, each of us is temporarily lost in his or her own world. Looking at the blue sky and at the faces around me, briefly but completely, I feel at peace. 

153. Pictionary, after Amaretto and Batida de Coco.

Artist: Zucchini. No winner. My word: idiocy.
Artist: Carrot. Winner: Celery. Mushroom's word: childhood.
Artist: Celery. No winner. Carrot's word: fear.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Paris III.

148. Paris Gare du Nord. "Where you go?" I am asked. Standing in front of the ubiquitous Paris public transportation map and studying its colorful crisscrossing lines, I remain silent. It is not one of my favourite things, talking to people I barely know, much less some dark-hair, suspicious-looking African guy in checkered shorts whom I have never met before. Having just left the duffel bag in a locker at the station, I am trying to figure out the next step. "Where you want to go?" the stranger changes his question slightly, inadvertently making it a more accurate question to ask. For the first time, I am spending a day in Paris without an agenda, and, for the most part, without anyone to see. It is a rather strange experience: knowing exactly where you are but at the same time feeling lost. I am still not responding, less because I am wary of his ulterior motives, but more because I do not know the answer myself.

My self-appointed tourist guide does not give up easily. "What about Eiffel tower?" he points his chubby forefinger at the tiny iconic symbol on the map. I have been there, I want to tell him. In 1998, when, geographically clueless and technologically challenged, I believed that I could see Hanoi from one of the telescopes on the Eiffel tower; returning to Vietnam after my first overseas trip, I eagerly told my family (and practically anyone who bothered to listen) about the magical telescopes, until someone pointed out that Paris and Hanoi were diametrically opposite. In 2010, when Zoe and I, not wanting to wait in queue for the lifts, have run down the rusty metal stairs; immersed in the cold night air and in the bright yellow glow of sparkling lights, I felt like being in a fairy tale. And, again later in 2010, when, as two last visitors of the evening allowed to the top level, CS and I watched fireworks from afar; as tiny dots of colors flared up in the dark sky, it occurred to me that everything was simply a matter of perspective. 

"What about Champs-Élysées?" the African guy interrupts my wordless nostalgia. "You want go there?" Before he tells me yet another touristic place -- Notre Dame, I imagine, would probably be his next suggestion -- I tell him sincerely that I do not know. As I get on the nearest metro line, I realize, that sometimes it is okay not to know where I am going.
149. Avenue Daumesnil. Pushing a baby stroller with a 20-month old baby next to it, instead of inside it. Hair braided into three parts (one at the top, one on each side), she too is pushing the stroller and making, literally, baby steps alongside me. As other pedestrians do double-takes, I feel proud of her, for knowing to help at such a tender age, even if I am not her mother, even if she -- as I find out later -- isn't actually trying to help. A nanny has taught her to always hold on to something while walking.

150. Port d'Ivry. "Hey, I haven't seen you for..." I want to say ten years, because ten years ago I left Vietnam and I do not remember seeing her since, but she beats me to it. "Four, or five years? The last time was when we went swimming, you, me, and your sister." At her mention, the memory comes back to me. Visiting home one summer, I have persuaded my sister to take swimming lessons with me at a pool near our house, and my cousin, living nearby, has tagged along. Much younger but already an experienced swimer, she once had to rescue me when, suddenly panic, I started to swallow water at the deeper end of the pool. As I make a mental note to tell Zoe about someone referring to what I did as swimming (and to leave out the sinking part), my cousin continues. "You look different! Back then, you were like..." she gestures my former unspeakable size, not unlike the way Bowser once described a fat American burrito lady. It has never ceased to amaze me how much one can rely on a Vietnamese friend or relative to comment on one's weight as part of greetings, regardless of how long it has been since the last encounter. With this thought, I stand still, somewhat awkwardly, and my cousin, without missing a beat and most likely without noticing my slight discomfort, moves on to another topic. 

She is now a first-year university student in International Law, she tells me, and this morning was her first end-of-the-year exam. Over lunch, I learn much more about her, about how she has been working hard to improve her French, and as it progresses, so do her university grades, about how she has been watching all the TV news to keep up with current affairs in politics, economics and life in general, as part of being a lawyer-in-training, about how she hasn't made many friends so far, what with the hectic study schedule and cultural clashes, but she has all the same been proudly sharing Vietnamese culture, through organizing the Vietnamese Tet celebration at the dormitory and university presentations. As she talks, it becomes evident to me that she hasn't seen a Vietnamese, much less someone who knows of her in the past, for a while so she is doing the talking for nine months's worth of relative isolation. So I eat and listen, every now and then asking questions to encourage her to continue. Her stories remind me of when I first came to Australia, overwhelmed and homesick, but determined to take in everything and to learn fast to adapt and grow up in a foreign land without family. At nineteen, my cousin is older than the fifteen-year-old girl I was when leaving home, but she is still so young, I think to myself, with many fewer years of life experience compared to the twenty-five-year-old girl I am now. In an attempt to help her avoid some of the unpleasant parts that I had to go through myself, I think of talking about the things I have learnt in these extra years I have over her, but I realize that I cannot give her shortcuts. Life experiences are to be experienced, not taught. I continue to eat and listen.

When we leave the restaurant, she offers to show me her university, if I have nothing else to do. "Why not, it might be interesting," I agree, but let her know that I will need to go when a friend of mine finishes her meeting. On the tram heading to Porte de Versailles, my cousin tells me more of the university life. I am not sure how we get there, but suddenly she mentions a cold winter day going home in wet clothes. Puzzled, I ask her to rewind the story. Apparently, some fellow lawyers-in-training have poured water on her. "It's OK," she says, because it was only water and not Coke or something dirty. Sure it was cold but she did not mind, especially as it was already the second or third time it has happened so the element of surprise was smaller. That time it was just a little unfortunate because she had already been feeling under the weather and she thinks that wearing wet clothes all the way from university to home made her sick, which itself would still have been OK had it not been that the next day she had some exams. "Are they still doing that to you?" still stunned, I ask her. "No," she says, and hesitates a little before telling me the next part, that they recently pushed her down the stairs, and it hurt. "Do they even know you?" "No, they don't, but that's what racists do, they attack people even if they don't know you." "Shouldn't you tell someone about it?" "Whom?" she replies simply. "It's not highschool, you know, we are at university and there are thousands of students. No teacher to look over you. Besides, they did not mean to kill me, they just wanted to scare the little Asian girl for a minute or two. I am using my supernatural power," she waves hands in a supposedly witch-y way, "to pray that they fail the end-of-the-year exams, so that they switch to a different university." At this thought, she smiles, not in the way an evil witch would smile but in the way Cinderella would smile when her annoying step-sisters finally left her alone.

A text message comes. I apologize for not being able to visit her university, at least not today, and because I cannot think of anything remotely helpful to say, I tell her to take care of herself. As I catch the metro to Place d'Italie, it occurs to me that just because she has fewer years to gain experiences does not mean that her collection is any less rich than mine. I am unsure whether, at my older and supposedly more mature age, I would be able to handle racism with the same level of optimism and strength as she does. She will be OK, I try to convince myself. After all, between the two of us, she is the only one who knows how to swim.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Paris II.

145. The RER heading towards Paris center suddenly stops between two stations. An announcement is made, naturally, in French. There is, or rather, there was an abandoned package at the upcoming station, K. translates for all of us non-French speakers. Just to be on the safe side, without examining it, the police has blown up the package. Now we wait for them to clean up the exploded mess before the train can continue. We start talking about bombs, guns and threats. I ask about all the guards at Paris Nord who carry their rifles in ready position, patrolling the train station. Someone mentions France's heavy involvement in Libya as a possible reason for the extra cautiousness. I point out that the guards had already been there early January, before the Arab Spring really began. This discussion reminds K. of an encounter. 
"Once, in Israel," he tells us, "I was sitting on the bus. A beautiful girl got on, and then sat down in front of me. I was very happy, you know. As I thought to myself, yes!, she put down on her lap a gun, its barrel facing towards me. She didn't want my money or anything, and she was very casual about the gun, as if she was carrying a purse or maybe a book with her. It became a rather uncomfortable bus trip. I didn't think it would be a good idea to say hi..."

146. Answering, involuntarily, more questions for someone else's presentation than for my own. Those PhD years, with or without a formal defense at the end, were useful for something after all.

147."In Japan, it is 13," I commented, as part of our discussion on the legal age of consent for sexual activities. "And in Vietnam?" V. asked. "18, I guess?" "What about in Thailand? Four!" then, turning to his beautiful wife, V. complained, "Why don't you stop me from making these horrible jokes?" We all laughed, because the joke was horrible, and because after over an hour of laughing, everything seemed funny, politically correct or not. I thought of teasing him by pointing out, that at least the joke was better than his impromptu composition and performance of a New York-inspired rap song. But, the little musical act was actually good, just like their home-cooked dinner, which had started quite late, partially due to my awesome ability to estimate distance and time. 

"It probably takes half an hour," I had concluded, after superficially glancing at the Paris map, given to me by one of the Spanish fellow drinkers at Le Rive Gauche. The French guy was not convinced, but he did agree that it would be a nice walk along the Seine. By the time I entered the secret code to let myself into the apartment, it was an hour later. "Coke or water?" I chose water, and looking at the empty dining table, I wondered how hungry I would be by the end of the evening, after having only a pina colada as some sort of dinner.  But, then came the delicious salmon and leek, and, after lengthy conversations on why Carla Bruni chose to be pregnant just before the election (several conspiracy theories were speculated), and on DSK (even more conspiracy theories, as if we all had been all there in the hotel room), then also came the yummy, freshly-baked apple pie.

By the time dinner was finished, V. offered to drive me home because it might not be very safe to walk from the RER station to my hotel at that time. As we were driving, it seemed odd to me that, past midnight, Paris streets were still full of cars. "Where are they all going?" I asked V. "I don't know. They are Parisians, crazy and going out at all sorts of hours," replied the Parisian. More likely, these people were heading back home after a night out, when, if lucky, they were with people that made them laugh at nothing and everything.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Paris I.

142. One of the stranger notes that I have ever written. "I, Gazpacho the Soup, hereby give authorization for the hotel C., at X Rue Y, to charge 200 euros to the credit card of Mr. So-and-So."

Of course, in reality I did not refer to myself as Gazpacho the Soup, but that does not reduce the absurdity of me giving permission for the hotel to charge a credit card belonging to someone else.

143. Temporary home.

144. Twenty-five years, by Adam Zagajewski. To his sister, Ewa.

Your dream pulsed in the depths of time, 
a calm, light breath: so travelers sleep
when overtaken by a brief storm at a station
in Tuscany, in a town with dust and wasps. 

You'd be twenty-five now, 

listening to those songs that I can't stand, 
maybe nursing a newly broken heart, 
and I'd be busy making fun of you.

Your calm dream pulses in time's depths; 

children forgotten by their nurse sleep on like this, 
and never waken, and don't leave
the underwater rooms where dolphins weep.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


139. Eager to tell someone about the new Latin phrase that I have just looked up, I write to Cassandra on Skype, even if she is sitting right in front of me. 
"The Latin phrase argumentum a fortiori denotes argument "from [the] stronger [reason]". For example, if it has been established that a person is deceased, then one can, with equal or greater certainty, argue that the person is not breathing."
Then comes the instant reply, "What is the obscure message you want to convey..."

140. Unexpectedly finding a book of poetry and thinking, "This is much cooler than a Canadian computer cord."

141. End of the working day. Standing near the sliding door, we have been talking for over ten minutes; now both are showing signs of wanting to head home. 
"She is a complicated woman," he concludes. "Mmm," I respond softly, trying not to give the flippant response that comes to mind, given the seriousness of our discussion. A few seconds pass in silence. Looking at me, he says, "You are thinking, every woman is complicated, aren't you?"

Monday, May 16, 2011


136. "I want to have a name starting with O, with a diagonal line across and maybe two dots above...," Bowser begins. "Oh no, don't start," Princess Peach interrupts. "Every six months he wants to change his name..." Not deterred by her reaction in the slightest, Bowser goes on with various alternatives, which to me sound just like the same name pronounced in different ways. At one point, he looks at me, "during the Olympics, I was..." At the end of this sentence, there is yet another Italian name, one that I can't quite catch, just as I have no idea to which Olympics he is referring, or why this particular name for the Olympics, or why you need a new name for an Olympics at all. 
As I stare blankly at Bowser not knowing what to begin to ask, Luigi leans over and whispers, "Just smile and wave. Smile and wave..."

137. "PS. What is it about you that I keep thinking of you when I panic?"
"I am the kind of person that incites panic. That's why they call me Mr. Panic. Or Dr. Panic nowadays."

138. Office. Early evening. 
Bowser: So, do you want to swim tomorrow? 
Me: Nnnnnnnnn-No. 
B: Oh, because you can't swim, right? 
M: Well, I have a swimsuit...
Zoe: Actually, what you said is wrong, Bowser, and Gaz, what you said is not correct either. [...] Bowser, she can float, from one end of the swimming pool to the other, and Gaz, I'm sorry, but what you wear is not a swimsuit. It's a swimdress.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


133. Me: What do you think? This is going into my presentation.
Gaston: They look like boobs.
134. Watching an interview of Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair, the largest airline in Europe in 2010. To reduce 5% of ticket prices, O'Leary wants to cut down from three to one toilet per airplane. Passengers are advised to either do what they need to do before boarding, or hold on until getting off the plane.

135. Living room. As I try to modify the boobs-like figure for my presentation, Tintin comes over to check out the Magic Trackpad. Running fingers on its smooth surface, he makes little soft noises, "Ooh... this is.. gooood..."
"I know, right? It's really cool. I quite like how it feels."
"Oooooh... yes... sooo good..," his eyes follow the movement of the black arrow on the screen.
It takes me another ten seconds or so before realizing that he has not been referring to the surface quality of my Magic Trackpad.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


130. Goodbye #1. To my favourite T-shirt.

In the initial months, Anna and I often went shopping together. When I bought this T-shirt, my first ever purchased item of clothes in Brussels, Anna bought another T-shirt from the same Zara collection. Even though they looked different, we pretended to be twins whenever we wore the T-shirts on the same day. It took me a few days to spot the "Made in Vietnam" label, and it took me much longer to realize the specific location of the eyelashes, thank to the not-so-subtle stares and subsequent explanation from Gupta. Despite this, I wore the T-shirt regularly, a fact made obvious through the photos of last summer (when one can survive the European outdoor weather with a single T-shirt): Zoe's birthday, holiday trips, conferences...

In the Madrid conference last July, rumor had it there was a crazy girl presenting in my session. We all were curious; each female speaker was a suspect. In the evening, drinking red wine and waiting for our pizzas, we exchanged notes and agreed upon one particular candidate. Her slides were full of writing, which was clearly copied and pasted directly from a paper, someone pointed out. Another added, that when told she had two minutes left, the girl simply sped up her reading of the slides, finishing the last thirtysomething in fifteen minutes. The chairman, who had the double misfortunes of being both a laid-back Australian and the immediate speaker after her, could not do anything to interrupt her determined speed-reading. "And," I offered my piece of evidence for her mental instability, "she was wearing a pink suit." Puffing his cigarette, the Irish dreamer looked at me, "I don't know. This afternoon I was at a talk, where the girl wore a T-shirt with moi même written on it..."

131. Goodbye #2. Listening to Colin Firth, in an episode of the TimesTalk series of New York Times, on A single man, a movie directed by Tom Ford, based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood. A group of us, including Carrot, Celery, Zucchini, Frenchie and myself, have gone to see the movie last year. About the supposedly last 24 hours of a gay man, who intends to commit suicide by the end of the day after the recent pass away of his 16-year partner, the movie understandably depressed Zucchini. 

Colin Firth has a different take. "...he's woken up in the morning. Amongst the first things you hear him say in the interior monologue is that It hurts to wake up. He does not like being in the present moment. Waking up begins with the words *am* and *now*. That's the way that the novel starts, and inhabiting the present is intolerable. And that is why he's decided to kill himself. In his world and then in his perception, this is a perfectly rational decision to make. What, I think, is magical about the story is, that everything that happens to him is a challenge to that decision. The decision to give up on life. His past judgement on life has not been worth living, and everything that happens challenges that..." 
"Except for the people next door," the interviewer interrupts. 
"Well, except he meets the little girl from next door, who suddenly has gone from being the brat next door to the most beautiful child he's ever seen. And I think, that one of the most poignant things about the story is, that the things he sees which are all, like, visions of beatitude, or all kinds of, you know, holy revelations are all completely and utterly mundane everyday things. The sunset which looks like a vision of paradise is just smoke. The most beautiful face he's ever seen in his life is the hustler outside the liquor store. I mean I know [Tom] happened to cast the most beautiful man..."
"That guy is a supermodel...," the interviewer points out.
"I know I know, but he's heightening things because this is George's perception. Let's say we were seeing things through George's eyes. Let's say that we had the opportunity to go back and look at the actual things that George saw that day. And if we were there, we might say, well no, the sunset wasn't that red. The sunset was smoke, you know, it's pollution. And, if we went back there, that wouldn't be, the hustler outside the liquor store next door probably wouldn't have been played by Jon Kortajarena, who is a supermodel. He would look like every hustler outside the liquor store ...
But basically, I think Tom is heightening things, not because he's a fashion designer, just flaunting his skills. I think he's sincerely trying to say: this is the day in which the senses are sharpened, in which everything you see, because you see them for the last time, that actually today it's as if you see it for the first time...
But, I mean, listen, Dennis Potter gave the most painfully poignant series of interviews, as he was dying. That's one of the great English writers. As he was dying of cancer, he basically decided to discuss his illness and the process of dying, publicly. And, he talked about flowers. Remember George sees the rose, and again, he knows in his mind that's the last rose that he'll ever see, so it's more like just a rose, you know, it's a spiritual experience. And, talk about being in the present, this is the man who despises the present who suddenly finds himself inhabiting the present, because the present is upon him, because it's all over within a few hours.

And Potter talks about looking outside the window, beyond the desk where he would write, and seeing the blossoms. And, I don't know how long he'd lived that house, and he'd seen the blossoms. This is distant memory, so I can only paraphrase what he said. But he looked out at these flowers that he'd seen year after year after year, and he'd always liked them. But this time he knew he would never see them again, and he wasn't quite sure how long he had, but there was no way he was going to make it to another spring. And he said, so today it became the brightest, most beautiful, most vibrant, whitest, blossomest blossom that I'd ever seen.

And I've never forgotten that. That came 15 years, I think, before we shot this film. But when I read the script, some of that came back to me. Whether it's about the way that a woman wears her hair, or the perfume that she's wearing, or the way a dog's ears smell, or the way just a young boy's face looks, and he's not trying to have sex with this guy. Or the way a child looks on this particular day, a child he'd seen every day of his life, but today the child is an angel because he'll never the child again. Or whether the owl in the back garden, or breathing the night air, which is just in his own backyard, but tonight, is the night air that's basically feeling like the world just comes into being and it has all this freshness. These are all things that conspire to make him want to live. You know, so, people ask me, is the movie depressing? It's about a man who wants to die. I think, that we should all be lucky to have a day like that."

132. "Why do you want to be useful?" I am asked. 
A few hours later, this would seem like a natural question, given that I have just said, "I want to be useful." Right now, the question surprises me. While I have previously discussed with other people about my career paths, with the priority being something useful, no one has responded by asking me such a question. Staring at the babies bizarrely floating on the ceiling of Belgo Belge, I am struggling for words. No immediate answer comes, at least none that I really want to give. 

My mind wanders back to 2008, when it all started. One late evening during the last visit to Vietnam, I came home to find, in front of my apartment complex, an old lady with her little mobile fruit and vegetable stand. The image struck a chord with me: surely no one would have a sudden urge to buy a cucumber at 10 o'clock in the evening. Still thinking about it the next day, I started doing some research around. My final calculation, by no means an exact figure but still a decent estimate from real data, was that the average profit the lady would make each evening was 20 Australian cents. The morning before I saw her, I had paid for a Starbuck-like coffee 3,2 Australian dollars. Since then, it has never been clear to me where the perpetual self-debate of usefulness came from: the guilt from realizing that my coffee cost more than her earnings from a fortnight of evenings standing on the street; or, the frustration that there was not much I, or the job that I haven chosen, could do for her. All of this seems a little lame for me to offer as an answer. 

Another possible answer, equally true and probably even lamer, is that I like the idea of being useful. It is, to me, lame because I seem to like the idea of a lot of things, without necessarily liking those things themselves. I had not realized that subconsciously I was aware of the distinction, until Victoria told me of a conversation late last year. "What does Gazpacho mean, when she says she likes the idea of being married?" someone had asked her, "Why doesn't she simply say that she likes being married?" In all honesty, I am not sure whether I actually want to be useful, but I like the idea of it.

In the end, I offer a vague "I don't know", which is everyone's standard reply when the real answer would take too long to explain and when no one would care anyway. As it is, the questioning and the answering, both because we, or at least I, like the idea of being grownup, of (trying to be) getting along, even if our last real conversation was passive-aggressive and borderline hostile, which probably did more damage than whatever had led us to the childish behavior in the first place. Nevertheless, while it is unclear with being useful, I suspect that I like both the idea of being grown up and actually being grownup. It's just that being grownup isn't easy.

Friday, May 13, 2011


127. The music. Is. SO. LOUD. Killed. All. My. Brain. Cells.

Apparently, the highschool next to my workplace has an end-of-the-year celebration today. When I arrived at work, techno was at full blast, beautifully harmonized with loud cheering from all the overexcited teenagers. By the time I settled down at my desk, someone must have hijacked the microphone to perform an enthusiastic rendition of Guantanamera, prompting a colleague, from the other side of my building, to message me on Skype, "Oh God they can't sing. It's just an awful set of sounds." In fact, I have never bonded with so many colleagues in one day, the way that people bond with each other at time of tragedy. (Yes, bad music at full blast is a tragedy. So are loud and overexcited teenagers.)

We are in the seminar room, where the Editor-in-Chief of an important journal is about to give a talk. After introducing the speaker, the chairman sat down, fidgeted in his seat for a minute or two, before briefly interrupting the EIC. "I am sorry, for all these noises. There is not much we can do about it," he says, and I believe he speaks for all of us when he continues with, "except, perhaps we can start shooting them."

128. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. Blogger. Stuffed. Up. Lost. Entries. No backup. What. Kind. Of. Idiot. Am. I. For. Not. Backing. Up. My. Writing.

To be fair to them, the only two entries I've lost are: #122 = Jake and his offer to walk with me to the toilet at work, and #123 = The oversized 3D glasses, neither of which was terribly important (not that any other moment was), but the toilet entry was so romantically written!

129. Another proof for trams being evil.
Intersection of Chaussée de Wavre and Boulevard Général Jacques.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


124. Most Thursdays, the Super Marios have sandwiches in the coffee room, with their supervisors. I have been tagging along with Princess Peach for a few times, but today is the first Thursday lunch I join them since Bowser's return. As usual, Bowser has something to share with us. "I was reading this Canadian online newspaper, and there's a report, perhaps you have read it too," he looks at me, "because I think the report was also in the Australian newspapers. Anyway, someone was saying that women should wear less provocative clothes, to prevent aggressors..." His supervisor, the boss of my boss, sighs, "Bowser, you should spend less time reading newspapers, and more time doing your research..." She winks at me, perhaps to let me know that it's the sort of good-natured ribbing that she gives Bowser everyday. Luigi and Princess Peach are less kind, "Less time reading stupid newspapers..."

125. Drawn during a thesis defense. I could totally multi-task.
A member of the jury, also a colleague a few doors down from my office.
126. The member of the jury, drawn above, has just blitzed through the reading of the PhD certificate, by way of officially awarding the Doctorate. The PhD candidate, after seven years, has just legally earnt himself two extra letters. "I am very happy," his supervisor begins her speech, "to see you finally finish..." The newly-minted Dr. mutters under his breath, "Me too.."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


121. Feeling embarrassed for looking up synonyms of important. After reading the first draft of my application, a senior researcher has commented, "Where are your feelings? Actually, what are your feelings?" The draft was entirely devoid of words describing the quality of my techniques and results. To have it any other way would have made me feel like a literature undergraduate, standing in a room full of Dorothy Parkers and Alexander Popes and telling them how great my poems are. Nevertheless, one common advice from all Alexander Popes who have read my draft was to include those precious words. Even my fellow runner, supposedly less experienced, does it.
"I just reread your application. One of the reasons it is kicking my current application's ass is because it uses words like innovative and new all over the place," I complained to him.
"If there's one thing I've learnt in academia so far, it's to use buzzwords as often as possible."
"I hate buzzwords."
"No Gazpacho, hate is not a good buzzword. It is an anti-buzzword. It kills the buzz."
"It buzzes the buzz."
"I am *buzzing* all over the place in my D1 at the moment. I even looked up on www.dictionary.com for synonyms of vital, powerful, important, crucial and SIGNIFICANT.

Take THAT buzzers."

122. "Good night!" As I leave, he mumbles something in return, long enough not to be a "Good night." "I'm sorry?" I double back. Standing up from his chair, Jake says, "I'll walk with you. I'm going to the restroom."

Hovering around his office to wait for Jake, I wonder if I heard correctly. While it would make sense for him to walk with me (the restroom is a mere metre away from the lifts, where I'm heading), it doesn't make sense for him to announce toilet trips, as we almost never talk at work. I am not sure whether I want to accompany Jake to the restroom, and Zoe is waiting ahead of me, so I start walking towards her as he locks his office. Just before reaching the restroom, I say good night to Jake one more time, which is code for "We are now turning around the corner to get the lift so you can enter the toilet in your own privacy."

As soon as we are out of (his) sight, I start jumping up and down. It has nothing to do with Jake and me actually exchanging more than the minimum greetings at work, but rather, it is about the completion of my application. Regardless of what the real reason for my jubilant behavior is, I feel utterly stupid being mid-air when Jake suddenly re-appears. He's supposed to be in the restroom! What is he doing here? The awkward moment when you say good night to someone twice and he is still around. Even more awkward when you get distracted wondering why he is not answering Nature's call yet. Maybe he is worried that, standing so close to the restroom, Zoe and I can hear... noises?

A lift comes up. We all get in. This is a little bizarre, I think to myself. Maybe he is using a restroom on another floor. Whatever works, I suppose. People should feel comfortable with these things. If the restroom on your floor does not speak to you, you are completely entitled to go to a different one.

The lift opens onto the third floor, the only way we can exit the building after 7 pm. As Zoe swipes her security card, the electric door slides open, and Jake follows us outside, where, as far as I know, there is no restroom. I have to ask. "Are you... coming with us?" He mumbles again, the only word I can make out is "No", and I already know that from him starting to take a different route. As we are really out of his sight this time, I turn to Zoe, "What did he say?" "He said he was going to draw lines and circles on his home computer..." "Oh."

Three hours later, I finally realize what he has said when I was leaving. "I'll walk with you. I'm going to take a rest at home."

123. "Excusez-moi." The stranger turns around. "Could you please take a picture for us?" I probably could have tried to say that in French also, but I wouldn't have had a clue how to say, "because my friend thinks I look completely "hilarious" in these oversized 3D glasses, so now we would like a picture with all of us wearing them, inside a cinema..."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


118. "My neighbours seem to always know what I do," Bowser begins his fifth topic for our one-hour lunch. "The other day, one lady asked me if I was Spanish. 'Are you from Spain', she said, 'because I heard you speak Spanish.' And she lives," he puts up his hands to illustrate the distance, "two blocks away!" 
"Maybe you should speak a little less loudly," Princess Peach suggests.
"I don't speak a word," Bowser responds, dead serious. 
Taking a break from eating his borrowed fries, Hugo starts to laugh, without looking at Bowser, first quietly, shoulders shaking, then loudly, because Luigi, Princess Peach and Mario are also laughing. 
"How old is the lady?" Luigi tries to make sense of the situation. " Is she 80 or something?"
"No, no, she's probably in her 30s or 40s..." 
"Then I don't know," Luigi gives up. 
"I am quiet. Yes I work naked, but I don't make any noises...."

119. Having discussed what our roles for this week's Tuesday dinner are (appropriately, Gaston cooks, the Irish guy provides alcohol, the chubby girl gets Viennetta), Tintin moves on to the general housekeeping. Apparently, our landlord has written to him. "We can dump our stuff from the second toilet downstairs in the hallway and he will get rid of it...," Tintin informs us. "Was thinking of putting one of you down there too, you know, for the space!!"
"Zoe thinks you should get rid of Gaston, because he's the taller one and hence takes up more space," I reply, paraphrasing Zoe. 
"I do believe I am taller," Tintin quickly points out. 
I pass the information on to Zoe. 
"I know that. Is he scared I might be optimizing your apartment's space??"

120. "Imagine: you are driving in Rome." Bowser holds my hands on an imaginary steering wheel, "you have to stay in the 2-10 position all the time. Except," he makes a quick movement with his left hand in front of me, "when someone is cutting you from the left." Squinting at me, Bowser asks, "then, what do you do?"

What would I do? I would say something, I suppose, but exactly what I don't know because my Italian vocabulary consists of Come butta, amico and gelato, neither of which is remotely applicable to the situation where a reckless Italian driver almost wrecks your car. "What would you do, Cassandra?" I ask the only Rome born-and-raised at the table. She smiles, and waits for Bowser to continue with the impromptu Italia 101. "You do this," Bowser raises both hands, his open palms facing forward, slightly bending fingers as if he was grabbing someone by the shoulders. But, he apparently has no interest in grabbing someone by the shoulders. Swiftly, he flips both hands inwards, the space between his thumbs and forefingers creating some sort of a rectangle or a generic geometric shape.

"What does it mean?" I am confused. Cracking up, Cassandra and Mario make the same gesture. I glance at Princess Peach, who is also laughing, presumably thank to all her daily training with the Italian army. "It means," Mario explains in his thick Italian accent, "I am going to make your ass look like this."

Hugo is impressed. "So it's really like in the Italian movies?" he wants to know. I am not certain what kind of movies Hugo has been watching. I am even less certain about how making your ass look like some sort of a rectangle or a generic geometric shape is supposed to be a convincing threat, but the Italians, still laughing at their own national body language, seem to agree with each other.

The after-work drinks almost did not eventuate. Looking forward to some rest after the busy weekend, yesterday I had proposed the idea, not taking into account two things: the Tuesday dinner, and an unexpected email from Down Under today with a third deadline within less than 48 hours. After asking Princess Peach for a rain-check, I was lost in work, until precisely 6 pm, the intended drinking time. "Time for drinks?" came a message from Luigi. I had forgotten to tell him about the cancellation. If there is one thing that I do even worse than I parallel park, it is to say no. So I said yes, just one drink, and we would be going to the bar nearby to save even more time. Having not been to this particular place before, Hugo was skeptical, Bowser was not convinced. But almost two hours later, here we still are, sipping beer outdoor while getting to know more about the eccentric nation that seems to be passionate about pretty much everything. 

My deadline is fast approaching, and in the current version of my application, there is still a part that reads, "Say something about the tractability and applicability, which are why they are powerful. BUT THEY CAN BE MORE POWERFUL. Yes. Evil stuff." There definitely will be many long hours tomorrow, but at least, whenever I ever get around to visiting Italy and tasting the real gelato, I will know how to communicate, "I am going to make your ass look like this."