Sunday, July 31, 2011


364. 2ish am. Living room. Somehow, the topic of penises comes up. 
Girl #2: The first time for me, it was two. 
Me: How do you even remember that you first saw a penis when you were two? 
Girl #2: I was in the fourth grade...
Girl #1: You were two when you were in the fourth grade?
Girl #2: No, there were two penises. These two boys in my class took their pants off and showed me their penises. Then they said that I had to take my pants off too. I said no, I don't want to, but thanks for showing me your penises.

365. Reason #12 why Pierre and I are friends: I tell him about me getting a proof. He is happy for me. He tells me about breaking three eggs to make dinner and ending up with six yolks. I am happy for him. 
We might or might not need to find better things to be excited about.

366. On being alive.
CB: How goes the pumpkin? 
Me: Pumpkin's alive. How goes the potato? 
CB: Pumpkin is alive, that is good... but hardly the best statement about one's being ever. Potato is also alive.
Me: Being alive is a great thing.
CB: Dunno, I get mixed reviews from those who are... and those who aren't are too busy to reply.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


361. 1ish am. On a couch. After patiently going through various images on the internet, the pretty European girl concludes, "to get him to have sex with me, I will dress up like a Japanese school girl. Or like a school girl anyway, because clearly I'm not going to be able to look Japanese..."

362. Feeling guilty, for really, really wanting to buy that red, metal double-decker bus.

We need wine glasses, Gaston and I have been telling each other. Over the past year, what with the Tuesday dinners, friends gatherings and it-has-been-a-long-day drinks, our IKEA wine glasses have mysteriously disappeared one after another, resulting in two of us drinking white wine out of tall, thin glasses during the last three-person dinner. So when Gaston thoughtfully cleaned up the apartment before his vacation, I wanted to do something nice in return, and set out to buy wine glasses as soon as the August salary came in. Just wine glasses, I told myself.

By the time I queued up for the cashier at Maisons du Monde, also known as where I get turned on these days, in my shopping basket there were inexplicably also a striped orange-and-brown apron, red heart-shaped wooden pegs and a grid fruit bowl. I was immensely proud of myself for walking away from a funky-shaped floor mirror and finally joining the payment queue, when I realized that the teenage girl standing in front of me was holding a London bus, one hand spinning a front wheel, which brushed against the bus's metal frame, clank clank. It took all my will power not to run upstairs and get one for myself. After all, it would be hard to explain to my flatmates why there is a London bus on the coffee table. It already will be hard enough to explain the red heart-shaped wooden pegs.

363. During the six and a half hour dinner, some time after the yummy and spicy pasta all'arrabbiata (kindly prepared by my request) was quickly finished and before the bottle of red wine completely evaporated, we finished a game of Ticket to Ride. With a German map as its board, the objective of the game, as Girl #1 professionally explained to me, was to place railroad cars and connect one city to another. Players would collect points for successfully making these connections and for traveling along established routes. For each player, the exact cities to connect were determined by cards initially assigned to her and by cards that she volunteered to pick up during the game. Having naively dismissed the second option entirely, I ended up with 113 points, a significant distance behind Girl #1, who scored 167, and Girl #2, the eventual winner with 177. It was then mentioned that I was the one with a PhD in mathematics.
Girl #1, out of sympathy: Well, I guess the mathematics in your PhD was not related to the game.
Me: Actually, my PhD thesis was in graph theory.
Girl #1, still trying to help: I suppose it's very abstract then, not like what we were playing here.
Me: Uhm, the topic was a special version of the Traveling Salesman Problem...
Girl #1: Oh.

Friday, July 29, 2011


358. Post-surgery.
Me: Is it pretty, your new nose? (I'm glad that you are feeling fine.) 
Mario: It's really difficult to do better than the nature!! But seems that they don't waste my perfect face! 

359. What *not* to do when solving the Traveling Salesman Problem
360. Gòng. Where past meets present. Where I feel happy, for having known both. 
Pho, Vietnamese traditional noodle soup.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


355. In the restroom at work. Having just washed her hands, Miss Santa Claus wipes them onto a paper towel, crumbles then throws it into the bin across the room. The ball goes inside beautifully. I am inspired. I want to throw a paper ball basketball-style too. Watching me adjusting my aim, Miss Santa Claus can hardly contain herself. "This is too hard!" she exclaims. "So many things to say, and I cannot say anything." I pause, right hand frozen mid-air, still holding the paper ball. I look at Miss Santa Claus, wondering what planet she is on. "I cannot make any jokes about your size or age! Two more hours to go!" I throw the ball, smiling.

As we leave the restroom, I turn to Miss Santa Claus, telling her one of my most random sentences ever. "You know, Gaston is kind of short*..." Miss Santa Claus is about to explode. "You are so mean!" Then, collecting herself, "he is taller than me," she calmly points out. "Really? Oh well," I shrug. "And, he's pretty young..." Miss Santa Claus does all she possibly can to breathe normally. "To me he seems very mature..." 

Two hours later, comes a message. "And: the 24 hours are over!" Miss Santa Claus, for the first time in living memory, has just gone the whole day without making a joke about my size or my age. My heartfelt, public, congratulations. 

Come next April, we need to find her a new mini-friend.

*Gaston, if you ever actually get around to reading my blog, you are perfect, just the way you are. Pint-sized people are cute, anyway. So my therapist keeps telling me. 

356. American Diary 1959 - 1960, Hermit in Paris, by Italo Calvino.

On a visit to IBM (New York).

...It was an amazing sight, all those mathematicians and physicists in their little cells with their green blackboards. The workers were certainly highly qualified, and there was a very smooth rhythm of work; many women, all of them fat and ugly (beautiful women here, too, as in Italian cities, are now only to be found in certain social strata).

357. Office, an afternoon.
Anna: So, how did it go?
Me: Good, but he was a little pretentious.
A: You were wearing a fancy dress to dinner!
M: [laughs] but still! It's different, you know. I mean, I think he's successful, and he wants to show me that. Like, a little bit in a way, look what my life has become, compared to yours...
A: Well, you have been traveling a lot...
M: I know, but he was like, "You haven't been to Barcelona? Oh you should see Barcelona. No? You haven't been to Italy either?? You definitely should go and see Florence, and Milan..."
A: You should tell him that he should go and see Louvain-La-Neuve...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


352. Side by side, standing still in the middle of the cobblestoned Grand Place, watching the last five minutes of Sons et Lumières, forever one of my favourite things in Brussels.

353. Difference #24 between Gaston and me: In the two hours leading up to an away trip, I most likely would be rummaging through my closet to find half-decent clothes, telling the dryer to hurry up, wondering whom I could call to borrow a travel bag, solemnly swearing to myself that next time I would put my passport in a more easily located place, and thinking whether I could still check in at the airport without tickets or even printed itineraries. Gaston, on the other hand, would be washing all the dirty plates in the sink, wiping clean stove tops and the dining table, putting away the clothes drying rack, neatly straightening out my bathroom towel and sorting through the garbage. 

Which is a pleasant difference to find out, coming home at midnight to an empty, but spotless, apartment. Still, I would prefer a messy apartment with him being around. 

354. "Heston Blumenthal," he repeats the name. "It still does not ring any bell to me," I shrug, as we walk towards Le Quincaillerie for our first dinner in four years. In as many years, this evening is also the first time we have seen each other. When BM wrote to say that Brussels would be included in his three-week European vacation, asking whether I wanted to have dinner, I said that it would be nice, thinking that I knew some good restaurants around. Has he had anywhere to stay, I asked. "Hotel Amigo Rocco Forte," he replied, casually, and all my good restaurants went out of the window. "Because you couldn't find a more expensive hotel?" I couldn't resist the immediate response. "Is that a really expensive hotel is it?" he feigned innocent. "Woops." Ignoring the implication, I started looking for a more Amigo-scaled restaurant. It has been tempting to take him to Quick, a brilliant suggestion by Gaston, but in the end, I settled for Le Quincaillerie, with fond memories of the food and the company back in my first Brussels winter, when Victoria, Anna and I spent many hours swapping stories over glasses of wine.

"So, anyway, this London restaurant of Heston Blumenthal was really great," BM continues, trying to hide the disappointment at my lack of recognition, an understandable disappointment because name-dropping is useless if the girl is clueless about the chef who runs the consistently voted second best restaurant in the world. "And it was really expensive," he adds, almost like an afterthought. Unlike household names among the luxurious world, money is something that everybody recognizes. Half-focusing on crossing the road, I respond noncommittally. "Mmm, yes?" "You would need to take out a mortgage to pay for the dinner," BM makes some sort of laugh, perhaps in an attempt to make it clear that the comment was a joke, probably the standard jokey comparison in his circle of bankers. I, on the other hand, am a mathematician and spent three days this week so far eating canned fish and packaged spinach. Of course, the latter is not something that BM would know, and trying to keep this in mind, I continue smiling, while listening to his elaborate description of liquid nitrogen and the food perfume, sprayed in the air around the dining table in order to enhance the gastronomic experience.

Le Quincaillerie. Our table is on the ground floor, at a corner of the cozy restaurant. No longer the shop of an ironmonger dating back to 1903, Le Quincaillerie still maintains its charm by the rustic oyster bar near the entrance, the magnificent, back-lit Roman numeral clock in the center of the restaurant, hung above the wooden stairs leading to narrow wooden balconies that run the length of the walls. Seating on one of the balconies for our long winter dinner, the girls and I had the entire view of the beautiful restaurant, made even more magical by strings of warm Christmas lights. Given it is July, these lights are probably put away in a cardboard box, and from where BM and I are, we cannot even see the clock face. While still lovely, Le Quincaillerie does not seem as breathtaking it was in my memory, and Christmas lights or not, it is not run by Heston Whatshisname anyway, so I begin to look at the menu. "Oh look, they have a dog menu," I point out. Bet the London restaurant did not have that.

"Do you mind if I choose the wine?" BM wants to know, looking rather skeptically at the wine list. "Of course not," I say, though slightly surprised. Usually, my dinner companions jokingly make face when about to go through the pretentious sipping-to-see-if-the-bottle-is-OK routine, instead of specifically volunteering to be the wine selector. The first bottle of choice, while listed on the menu, is not available at the moment, the waiter informs BM. Neither is the second, I am sorry, monsieur. BM settles on Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, but not without first commenting that it is really not the best one around. "How is it?" he watches me expectantly as I have my first sip. "Good...?" is all I can do, and just like Heston Whatshisname, Ruinart Blanc de Something is wasted on me. "I will pay for it, of course," BM assures me, "because I chose it and because it is expensive." Translation: you probably cannot afford it. Which I already know. "Well, usually I would insist, but it is probably expensive..." I smile, taking another sip of my free wine, wondering how many more glasses it will take before smiling becomes more naturally.

Not many, it seems. A few glasses later, I pass a piece of delicious roast duck to BM, and in the spirit of sharing, I tell him that I am thinking of moving to Wollongong, to where BM commuted daily back during his undergraduate years, a seaside city an hour train away from Sydney with the population of a third of Brussels and the popularity of one thousandth. I say that I feel silly for being snobbish, for thinking, who would want to move from Brussels to Wollongong?, and BM assures me that it is alright to have preferences for cities. Then, a thought suddenly comes to me. "You should move to Europe!" I exclaim, exuberantly. Having spent five weeks touring mainland Western Europe last year, and currently visiting Great Britain, BM has certainly seen a little of Europe, and quite liked it so far. So why not move here? 

You can meet so many people from different places, I tell him. Travel. Expand your horizon. Get into troubles. Grow. Then laugh, hopefully, when you look back, at both great times and disastrous moments. You are young, I say, finding myself quickly becoming fond of the spontaneous suggestion and really wanting to sell it to him too. We have known each other since I was fifteen, not even old enough to have my own state library card without parental permission, in case I might use the internet inappropriately on the public computers. Ten years later, I am living half the world away from BM, and really enjoying the eye-opening experience. You have the skills to work anywhere, I smile, and you have just become single. Move to Europe. Do it now, because you will not be able to, once you are tied down, you know, married with kids. "But then I will be married with kids," BM says, temporarily confusing me because he has just repeated my sentence -- used as a drawback -- to convey a positive prospect. Then it makes sense to me. "I would love to move to Europe and see the world from here," BM tells me, "but I would also be happy living in Sydney, raising kids up with my future wife..." He smiles. "I guess you know which one I chose," I say, quietly. "I know," BM looks at me, and for the first time this evening, I recognize the boy I once knew. 

Place du Chatelain tonight is thronged with people. Squeezing through the coolly-dressed nightgoers enjoying a drink outdoor, we see a long, vintage red convertible crawling along the street, with two inebriated girls squealing and jumping onto the car, while the driver in sunglasses chatting animatedly in French. Walking away from the crowd, BM comments, "You wouldn't see that in Wollongong..." "No, you probably won't," I tell him, mentally recalling images of the empty wide roads. "But Wollongong has a university bar that serves wedges and sour cream..." "Hardly liquid-nitrogen food," I mock complain, thinking but not saying, that Wollongong also has boys who, despite the ostentatious facade, have their hearts in the right place.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


349. Walking the long way home after work. Spending the first ten minutes hoping that Capoue has banana flavour, then the next forty minutes praying that the ice-cream will not melt by the time I am home, while wondering whether this one will taste like his favourite childhood ice-cream.

350. Complexity and significance. 

Me: Well, I'm the mathematician.
Gaston: I do mathematics too.
M: Sure...
G: Like, at work, I have been analyzing some budget for certain expenses, to determine how to proportion it over the next few years.
M: How much are we talking about? 
G: A lot...
M: Like, a few millions?
G: More. Three hundred and sixty seven billions.

I am certain that my work is important too...

351. Pizzeria II Sorriso. Back to where it all began. Same table, same seat, different story.

Monday, July 25, 2011


346. View on the way to work.
"I don't think life is ever normal. See that? Does it look normal to you?"

347. "Are you watching Kramer vs Kramer again?"
In my defense, it is only the third time in four days.
We built a life together. We wake up and have breakfast and I take him to school and then I pick him up after school and we have dinner together and... I read him a bedtime story... I'm not always the perfect father... but I'm there. I'm there. -- Mr. Kramer.
348. The custody case has almost come to an end. In the attempt to claim their adorable son, Ted and Joanna have just finished brutally assassinating each other's character in court. These mutually hurtful accusations, however, were not sufficient to prove bad parenting skills for either parent, and the judge awarded Billy to Joanna, on the sole basis that she is his mother. Now Ted's lawyer is explaining to him, that the only chance for a successful appeal is to put Billy on the stand, presumably to convince the judge that he prefers to live with his father. Not wanting to subject Billy to a potentially traumatic experience, Ted decides against appeal.

In uncharacteristic silence, we watch Ted discuss with his son about how their new lives will be. 

Billy: Who's gonna read me my bedtime stories? 
Ted: Mommy will.
Billy: You're not gonna kiss me good night anymore, are you, Dad? 
Ted: No, I won't be able to do that. But, you know, I get to visit. It's gonna be ok, really.

Wordlessly, I get up and open the bottle of pinot gris. "Would you like a glass?" I ask, a rhetorical question. "No..." he holds up his bottle of beer, a needless explanation, then, after a pause, "Whoever finishes his bottle first..." and we both smile at the unfinished sentence. 

Billy:[crying] If I don't like it, can I come home? 
Ted: What do you mean if you don't like it? You're gonna have a great time with Mommy. Really. She loves you so much. 
Billy: Dad? Don't forget, once, if you can just call me up, okay? 
Ted: We're gonna be okay. Come on, let's go get some ice cream.

Life goes on. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011


343. 4 am. 
"This is actually a nice place to sit..."
"I know."

344. Wednesday. "Come see Lion," Bowser said, motioning me to come closer to his gigantic Mac screen. Had it not been for the department email sent out earlier this afternoon about the new Mac OS, I would have easily thought that Bowser was referring to an animal. "I don't want to see your Lion." "Come see Lion," Bowser had a remarkable ability to filter out things he preferred not to hear. "No Lion," I shortened my response, in case it would help make my point less ambiguous, then wrote on his whiteboard, "NO LION!!", underlined. I did, in the end, look at the fancy Mail application in Lion. Bowser was happy.

Friday. Returning to work after the national holiday, Rosalina announced, brightly, "We have updated to Lion," we being, presumably, Professor E. Gadd and herself. Because she was my office-mate, and because she was smiling so sweetly, I couldn't tell her that I did not want to see her Lion. Plus, the Mail application had seemed really neat. I came over to her desk, and Cassandra quickly summarized all cool things that came with Lion. "Mmmmmm," I nodded appreciatively, wondering whether I should admit to her that I read a review about Lion the previous night, and out of all great technical features listed, I could only remember Mission Control. The name sounded awesome.

Saturday. Arsenal tram station. Running into each other by coincidence, of all things, I asked FL, "have you installed Lion?" He said he was thinking about it, and I told him I was kind of interested too. Who wouldn't be interested in Mission Control? Ambrosio, FL's office-mate, had apparently suggested the plan of getting Lion to share among five computers, because you could get five legal licenses per copy. Sure, why not, I told Ambrosio at the end of Zoe's birthday party, when he asked if I wanted to be part of the plan. 

Sunday morning. I got Lion. 

Wonder if Bowser would want to come see it.

345. Except for a 999-piece jigsaw puzzle (Ascending and Descending by M.C.Escher) and a San Francisco calendar, my bedroom walls are completely bare. It has always been my plan to find a poster or photos to decorate the white space, but the right thing has never come along. 

Until now.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


340. As I miserably lose one game after another to Gaston, the Wii has long stopped being entertaining. "Maybe we could play something else? " I whine. "Something that I actually have a remote chance of beating you?" I add, a little too optimistically. "Like...?" Gaston, on the other hand, is doubtful. We both think about the question for a while. "Chess?" I jokingly suggest. "No way." "Scrabble?" "Sure, I used to play that with my parents, and my grandparents," he snickers. 
We finally settle on Monopoly, and while happy with the final choice, I cannot help but notice that, among all games available to us, it is the least skill-based.

As Tintin has left and Smurfette is sunbathing somewhere under the Thailand sky, there are only two of us at home. I have never been in a two-player Monopoly game before.
"Oh oh, I know, could we play with imaginary friends?" I am excited by my great idea.
"Imaginary friends?" Gaston raises eyebrows. "No." 
"Why not?" My idea suddenly does not seem so great anymore. "Didn't you have imaginary friends when growing up?" 
"What makes you think I don't have them now? My imaginary friends just don't come out when there is company."
While emphatically shooting down my first suggestion of inviting imaginary friends, Gaston agrees with my second: to add a rule to the game each time a player passes Go. 

These additional rules have started out innocent (naming twenty countries in one minute if you want to buy Mayfair! visit prison? do whatever the song currently being played on the background says!), and then incredibly money-oriented (get three times as much money when passing Go! land at Free Parking? receive a few free pieces of land!), most likely motivated by our cash quickly dwindling down. Less than an hour later, the rules have turned into a legitimate way for us to routinely pour shots for each other (land on Chance? a Baileys shot! land on Utilities? vodka!). When the clock shows seven and we have already had four shots each, it becomes clear that these later rules cannot, and probably should not, be properly upheld. So, when I land on Chance for the impossibly third time in almost as many rounds, Gaston, a policy officer by profession, has a plan. 
"Well, I can help you bend the rule. Give me two pieces of land, and we call it even." 
"Do you want to show up drunk at your close friend's birthday party?" Gaston asks, doing his best to appear fair and friendly. 
"Then give me two pieces of land."
I say goodbye to King's Cross and Piccadilly. 

Five minutes later, my mobile phone rings. A missed call from Christian. 
"I don't have any credit. Can I please call him back from your phone?" 
"Four pieces of land." 
"No. It's probably about Zoe's presents, so, really, the phone call will be for the common good." 
"OK. Two pieces of land."
"Do you want to find out what might be going wrong with your clooose friend's birthday presents or not?" Gaston tenderly caresses his mobile phone.
I bid farewell to Mayfair and Trafalgar Square.

Having to leave the game for the birthday party before either has gone bankrupt, we continue the trade negotiation well through the evening. If one drinks a shot more than the other, he or she gets four free pieces of land, yet another impromptu rule and one that results in us -- and, to be fair, several others who join in (the Baileys drinking, not the Baileys drinking game) -- quickly emptying Zoe's first Baileys bottle, necessitating her to take out another hitherto secretly stashed inside a kitchen drawer, much to our delight.

In the end, we never finished the game, which suited me fine because had we continued, I would likely have lost, after forced to hand over so many pieces of land. Of course, this means I did not win either, but Monopoly has never been so much fun. It's just a pity that none of my imaginary friends made it.

341. To be written by... (hurry up! :)

342. A 30th birthday, by Zoe. 

After weeks of questions in the line of "how many people will come to your party?", "will there be food?", "do you want a theme?" or "when are we planning the details?", the day of my 30th birthday party has finally arrived. Of course, as I hate planning ahead details, basically nothing has been done except for the guest list. Some people from home have safely arrived, ready to help me with whatever I wanted them to help me with... small problem... I have some ideas but nothing party worthy. Luckily my brother, with a number of years of experience ahead of me in the 'party without planning it in advance' business, is neither surprised nor put off by the fact and proposes numerous things which all turn out to be accomplishable between noon and 8pm.

Letting him take over the main course and focussing on the drinks and dessert myself leaves the decoration to my friends which produce an impressive amount of balloons to make the apartment very colorful for once!

My worries whether everybody would get along well vanish in thin air as one of my friends declares that the preparations constitute 'partying' already as the word means nothing more than enjoying the time with your new/old friends, having a laugh and maybe some food and obviously we have been doing that. Later this will serve as an excuse for her to disappear into bed well before the end of the party without letting anybody know.

Half an hour before the deadline everything in the food/drinks section is finished which leaves me just enough time to prepare my outfit for the night... thanks to my Bridget Jones pants I am willing to put on one of my very few dresses which is partially due to a friend telling me to do so many, many months ago. If I remember correctly it was more an order than anything else. How could I not follow this order, given that he could not make the long trip but however managed to send me a greeting not even his best friend would understand but I appreciated a lot.

Admirably, my brother calmly went about preparing fresh pizza bread for the first half of the party, while I was trying my best to get people drunk. Thanks to enough Caipirinha and a secret stash of Bailey's, the remainder of the evening remains slightly blurred in my memory... the fake gift being exchanged for a lovely real gift, old friends chatting away with new friends, silly games being played, food and drinks being appreciated... and of course, the last guest to arrive being also the last one to leave...

Friday, July 22, 2011


337. French Lesson #1.
Marion: Bisous!
Me: Bisous! (See how French I am now?)
Marion: It does not count if you repeat after me :-) 
Me: Ouais, it so does. Wish I knew how to say the last part of the sentence in French, because that would have been way cooler!
Marion: When you want to say "yes" to a negative question, or to a negative sentence, you should say "si" like "t'es pas gentille!" "si, je suis gentille!" (not at all inspired from my life...)

338. Realizing, for the first time, that Stephen Hawking has a sense of humour. It was not that I had specifically thought he was humourless. I simply haven't read much of his writing (hope we can still be friends, Pierre), and funny is not usually the first word that comes to my mind when hearing about a mathematician, a theoretical physicist, or a cosmologist. Obviously, Hawking happens to be all three at once, and rather good at it, which was why I had selected his TED video on big questions about the universe to be the next translation project, without seeing it first.

When the time came to translate -- that is, 29 nine days later, as the deadline for each translation is one month after a talk is assigned -- I began by watching the video to put me in the right mood, only to stop the video less than thirty seconds later. Unlike all other TED talks I have seen, Hawking's video was not a recorded live footage on stage, but of a static photo of Hawking in the inseparable chair, slowly zooming in to his somber face with almost no detectable movements, accompanied by Hawking's computerized voice. So, whatever mood this video was putting me in, it was not the right one. Turning off the video, I started the translation.

The way that the website works, is that they provide the whole transcript, broken down into approximately half-sentences, and there is a text-box following after each half-sentence to write the translation. Reading Hawking's talk in this manner, coupled with the continual distraction of a mental rummage for the right Vietnamese words, I couldn't easily see the forest for the trees. So when I reached to the part, "We think we have solved the mystery of creation. Maybe we should patent the universe", something truck me as odd but I did not immediately understand. Then, after "and charge everyone royalties for their existence," I had to go back and reread the whole paragraph, to make sure that he was in fact trying to make a joke, just like he would later do again and again with other offbeat comments.

His are probably not the type of jokes that would make their way into stand-up routines, but they have really struck a chord with me. Perhaps, it was because he managed to joke about cosmology which, it seems to me, is not an easy thing. More likely, it was because by selecting Hawking's video, I had set out to learn more about the universe, only to end up learning more about a human being.

339. "YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHAT I AM DOING," I send off the email. On the TV screen, Nick Dal Santo of St. Kilda is kicking a goal against the Adelaide Crows, my one-time love, back during the time when, if woken up in the middle of the night, I could still easily name all forty four players in the team, together with their individual jersey numbers. At a particular peak of heightened feelings, I went to every home game during a six-month season, wearing a Crows scarf, a Crows beanie and Crows gloves (yes, Australia could get that cold). Towards the end of this season, I seriously contemplated carrying with me to the stadium a sign, KENNY WILL YOU MARRY ME?, with my mobile number helpfully written underneath the heartfelt question. It is hard to remember why the plan did not eventuate, either CS and I could not find the right-sized cardboard for my proposal, or Kenny McGregor has soon stopped scoring goals and dropped every single ball passed his way. In either case, as with most great loves, mine fade away with time, and what with living in Europe, I have hardly followed any news about the Adelaide Crows, until tonight.

As I am deep in my reverie, Gaston comes home.
Gaston: What is that?
Me: Oh, Australian football.
G: Like, American football?
M: No, like, Australian football. A little like soccer, rugby and American football combined together.
G: So, uhm...
M: Each team has eighteen players on the field...
G: Eighteen?
M: Yes, and there are three goals side by side...
G: Three?
M: Yes. You get six points for kicking the ball into the middle goal, and one for each goal on the side. There is no net, so you can kick as high as you can.
G, thinking about it for a few seconds: And is there a goalkeeper?
M: No, but there is a goal umpire standing in the middle goal.
G: Is this a real game??

Gaston and I are no longer friends.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


334. "6:30 pm at Grand Place. Bring a book so I can recognize you ;)" goes my draft email, the second half a silly suggestion for an Australian ex whom I have known for almost ten years and a joke completely lost on Gaston, the newly-appointed personal adviser after Tintin's departure. "Why a book?" Gaston wants to know. "There are plenty of people who carry books with them. Tell him to bring a bottle of champagne!"

335. "Are you coming to work tomorrow?" Cassandra has asked me yesterday. Thinking that my office-mate was making fun of me for my recently-adopted act of disappearance at work, I smiled. "Why not. Aren't you?" "No," Cassandra replied, much to my surprise, which must have been written all over my face, because she continued, "It's Belgium's National Day."

Waking up this morning, as I try to figure out why the significant date has bypassed me after almost two years of living in Brussels, it occurs to me that exactly a year ago today, CS and I flew back to Australia, either a complete coincidence or subconsciously we must have decided that it was the best way to celebrate the holiday. Gaston, one of the few friends of mine that are actually Belgian, has another way of to enjoy his National Day: playing Wii. In between games, we watch the news, which show snippets of Parc Royale under the bright sun, people cheerfully milling around with little tri-color flags in hands, wandering from beer stalls to waffle stations, clearly proud to be Belgian. Looking at them, I suddenly feel the urge to be part of the patriotic celebration. Parc Royale here I come.

Half an hour later. I am trapped in the soaking wet, densely packed crowd, awkwardly trying to avoid umbrellas sticking out from all directions, alternating between, "Pardon!", when accidentally stepping on someone's foot, and, "Ouch!", when being stepped on. Due to the perfect timing between the Belgian government, the weather, and myself, I have arrived at Parc Royale just in time for the military parade and the pouring rain.
Belgium in a nutshell.

You know a parade is exciting when you start taking pictures of your wet shoes.

Parade? What parade? This is a thinly veiled attempt to break the Guinness World Record of How Many Suckers We Can Get To Stand Almost Stationary For An Extended Period of Time Under The Rain Simultaneously.
If everything goes according to plan, on the next Belgium's National Day I will most likely have long gone from Brussels. If not, I might be coming to work that day.

336. 11:30 pm. Watching fireworks with Lily, I from my window, she from hers. To quote Calvin, great experiences are even better when shared. But, of course the loquacious six-year-old made this remark to Hobbes, his imaginary tiger, when they were watching a bug being eaten alive by another bug.
Fireworks, seen from a distant window, also known as Reason #14 Why I Need A Better Camera. (And a better photographing skill.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


331. After ten minutes of lunchtime discussion on pork.
Princess Peach: "Why is the Belgian trying to explain pancetta to the Italians, and the Italians trying to explain speck to the German??"

332. I am at work. 7 pm and the phone is ringing. Gaston is on the other end, the flashing screen tells me. The familiar scenario suddenly reminds me of the last time he ever called when I was at work, to ask if I wanted him to prepare dinner, the evening that ended with us in each other's arms, doing a tango on the wooden makeshift dance floor in our living room. By the time I snap back to reality, Gaston has already hung up. Still feeling warm and fuzzy at the sweet memory, I call him back. "Hey, what's up?" "Well, I have a little question," Gaston replies, shyly. "Yes?" "Did you bring back home the Wii controls?"

333. It is almost midnight. "I LOVE YOU," screams Gaston, a little too passionately, "JACKIE!" On the wide TV screen, his Jackie has just hit a home run, colourful confetti appearing out of thin air and falling down all over the Wii baseball field. "That's my Jackie," he proudly tells me, before resuming the position of a batter, the Wii control clutched firmly between both hands, raised sideways, ready for Jackie to once again perform magic. 

It has been a few deeply romantic hours.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


328. "sings, 'All my friends are gettin' ma-rried...", reads a Facebooker's status, which sums up perfectly the recent shift in the Facebook contents of your friends. One blink, and instead of posting "Last night was so wicked we should totally hit da club again!!" and "NO MORE VODKA!!", your friends are now uploading wedding photos and, in some cases, videos of their toddlers crawling on the floor, nose dripping, face smeared with baby food in a way that is completely hilarious to the parents but awfully gross to everyone else. After the first one or two videos, you learn to stop watching, and politely coo, "aww", when the parents ask if you have seen the videos, then, without waiting for your reply, describe to you something else, also completely hilarious, that their children did today.

And then, once in a while, a friend shows you a picture of her children -- or monsters, as she lovingly calls them -- and you find yourself asking her, sincerely, if you could steal one of her monsters. Reasonably enough, she turns you down, so you settle for staring dreamily at the photograph, wondering where you can kidnap monsters like hers.  
329. On the way back from lunch. "So what did your parents get you?" I ask the birthday girl. Without missing a beat, Zoe replies, "a tattoo", and both of us dissolve into laughter. "This would be such a great line, in many decades to come. Remember that year, when I turned thirty... " I paint the picture. "And I got so many tattoos," Zoe continues. "The one on the left arm is from my parents..." I point at an imaginary tattoo on my own left arm. "And the one on the right arm is from my friends..." Zoe smiles, and I am relieved at how well she has been reacting to the full-service Body & Piercing voucher, a birthday present that the collective twenty of her friends have lovingly chosen and prepared. 

In the two weeks since my initial email, fifty emails have accumulated (and this is only counting the ones that included myself) and numerous hours of debates in person have passed (admittedly almost a third of it was more or less along the same line of, "This will be an AWESOME present! Make sure you take photos!"), during which, among other remarkable things, the usually controversial Bowser demonstrated a hitherto hidden sweet side and the timid Pierre actively participated in the contribution of gift ideas. Earlier today, even the elusive FL came out of hibernation to join us at lunch. Unbeknown to me at the time, he also brought to work his fancy camera, which was left behind in the office due to miscommunication with me about when exactly the present would be given. As it was, we only had my toy-like Nikon during lunch, and the few photos that I took of the momentous moment when Zoe received her present speak more about the reactions of everyone else (trying, and failing, not to laugh) than of Zoe, who hid from my camera behind the birthday card. This probably says it all about the present selection, especially when five of us voters were at the dinner where Zoe, asked if she would ever get a tattoo and in an attempt of appearing brave and life-embracing, feebly suggested that she might one day.

In all likelihood, she probably will not, but I hope that this memory will stay with her like an indelible tattoo. And, just in case Zoe gets a personality transplant between now and the end of her life and decides that she wants a dragon tattoo after all, there will always be that 200-something-euro voucher that she received for her thirtieth birthday. Her parents are probably cursing themselves for not having thought of such a genius present.

330. By Professor E. Gadd and Rosalina.

Alternate reality

Everything started with Toadette trying to arrange «her Mario party», we happily embarked ourself in this adventure, but little did we know about the fact that it was going to be a "real" Mario party.

The astute Toadette asked Rosalina and me if we wanted to join
Princess Peach to play Super Mario Party on Tuesday evening. The location was already set: the castle of Princess Peach, the invitees also: Rosalina and me, Toadette, Princess Peach and Yoshi, and of course Catherine. Toadette was so enthusiastic of having all these Super Mario characters under the same roof, that she immediately called Catherine to press her to borrow a copy of Mario Party from the local library for that evening.

Only later we discovered that it was a real party and that we were
celebrating Princess Peach's birthday. Toadette cunningly sat us down in our predetermined seats, the play started, and we were all unwitting pawns in the hands of a concealed puppeteer, oblivious of the fact that we would never play Super Mario, at least not with the Wii-motes.

Mario was the most notable absentee, he was probably busy fighting
against evil enemies, and Bowser had carte blanche to handily conquer Peach’s castle. When he arrived to the party, he quickly monopolised our attention stealing all the spotlight from the birthday girl. He knowingly lost a bet he could never win. Of course he did not put money on it. Instead he smartly managed to make TPC to beg him to remove his clothes. He never removed them, he just kept amusing himself with TPC asking for his furry torso the whole evening. He is such an old sea dog…

But the real objective of Bowser was to conquer the heart of Princess
Peach, that’s the reason why he always kidnaps her in the game, isn’t it? [Moreover Yoshi was gone, and] all this continuous arguing between them has to be rooted somewhere...

He was trying to make her jealous by peeving Catherine, or by cooing with Toadette romantically enshrouded by the dim warm light behind the table. When he started to sing «On s'en fout, on n'y va pas, on n'a qu'à se cacher sous les draps…», Princess Peach glanced at him with a sly look, she joined him in the song and we all thought it was in the bag. But then something unexpected happened. After the song, he stood up, he walked offhand towards Toadette, he swiftly took her hand in his, with such nonchalance as it was completely normal, as it was the only very thing to do in that moment… Toadette couldn’t believe it, she was visibly thrilled, radiant with a smile no one before us ever witnessed; one hand in his, and the other adjusting the hairs behind her ear, in a typical female quirk that revealed all her delight.

In the end there was just an unanswered question, why did we not play
with the Wii?


Monday, July 18, 2011


325. During the everlasting lunch a few weeks ago, one of the conversation topics was, what would an Australian boy say when he wanted to invite a girl over. An Italian, if you are to believe Bowser, would ask if the girl wants to see his butterfly collection. The last first time I ever went to an Australian boyfriend-to-be's place, I was practically comatose (through no fault of his, I should point out), so I had no witty anecdote to add. Damien, a Belgian postdoc, pretended to be Australian and invited the hypothetical girl to come over to see his kangaroo collection, but volunteered no typically Belgian pickup lines. I suppose in the land known for its legendary beer, pickup lines are not very necessary. Since then, I still do not know of a Belgian one, but I have found out this afternoon a French example.

"You should come over to see my garlic crusher," he tells me, without the slightest hint of irony, while adding pepper into the salad dressing that he was preparing. The thing is, I probably will. A garlic crusher with wheels sounds awesome.

326. Flatmates bonding.
Me, after three days of not seeing her: Hey.
Smurfette: Hello.
Me: How are you?
Smurfette: Hi.
Me thinking about it for a second, and then go back to my room. 
One step at a time.

327. Staying up until midnight, just to text someone on her birthday.
For some reason, this 327th moment seems to embarrass me, perhaps not more than some of the other moments (especially the one when I was sincerely asked if my brain was turned on that day), but enough for me to hesitate for a long time about posting it. At the end, I decide to write it down, because in ten years' time, exhausted after the whole day being a full-time professor who is always behind her deadlines and after the evening with two hyperactive but completely adorable kids (the kind and always helpful husband is unfortunately away on one of his Doctors without Borders field missions), I will probably miss these moments when I have the energy, and, equally important, the desire to stay up until midnight, just to text someone on his or her birthday.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


322. The first time I heard it was from a highly respected, elder friend. He did not like Vladimir Nabokov, he told me, because to be able to write the scandalous Lolita, clearly the multilingual Russian writer must have been a pedophile. Or, at the very least, the friend conceded, had a dirty mind towards little girls. In subsequent occasions when others voiced similar opinions towards Nabokov, I have always responded by pointing out, that Stephen King, as far as we know, has never committed a murder. It is an argument that I have read from somewhere and liked, but having almost never read much about Nabokov, I never formed an opinion either way.

An excerpt from one of the numerous letters to Véra Nabokov, by Vladimir Nabokov, in the New Yorker.

...As soon as I barged in she told me that in ten minutes the guests invited in my honor would arrive, and at breakneck speed I began to bath and tug at my dinner-jacket armor. I love you. The shirt came out so starched that the cufflinks would not go through the cuffs and it ended with one of them rolling under the bed (to be discovered only today)...

Maybe there was a reason why, in the middle of the story he was regaling his wife, Nabokov wrote I love you. Maybe she has gifted him the dinner-jacket. Or the cufflinks. Or, maybe, Nabokov couldn't wait until the end of the paragraph, and simply had to tell his wife, as soon as he put down the period after the word armor, that he loved her, something made abundantly clear in every published letter. I love you, my sweetheart. Try to be cheery when I come back (but I love you when you're low, too), ends another letter.

We will never really know why Nabokov inserted the sentence I love you there -- without it the story would have been perfectly the same -- but it is hard to imagine that Nabokov had a mind for anyone else except his wife of more than half a century, who drove him to many field trips for butterfly hunting and protected him with a handgun, to whom all his works were dedicated, and who, it is said, has prevented Nabokov from throwing the manuscript of Lolita into the fire, more than once.

323. It has been a while since I was last given homework. Write something in passé composé, instructed the disembodied voice from my iPod, something about what you have done today. Include some reflexive verbs. Some of the millions that you probably have promptly forgotten as soon as we told you.

So here it is, my homework.

Je me suis réveillée, et puis J'ai mangé. J'ai toujours aimé manger. Après le petit-dej, j'ai pris un vélo et je suis allée à la librairie, toute seule, parce que mes amis ils n'étaient pas libres. (Ça a pris deux heures.) Je suis restée dans la librairie pendant trois heures, au cours desquelles j'ai ri toute seule en prenant des photos des pages des livres. Quand j'ai quitté la librairie, j'ai compris pourquoi mes amis n'étaient pas libres.

324. "Vas-y, ma belle!" yells the drunk, total stranger behind us. On the multiple flat-screens around the pub, a Japanese girl speeds toward a soccer ball, kicks it into the goal, and millions of Japanese around the globe burst into tears. As the Japan's teammates hug each other on screen, I sit still in the middle of the pub, trying not to get so upset over the loss of the States in the Women's World Championship final, of which I wouldn't have been aware, had we not decided on a whim to "get some dessert from the Irish pub" (great idea, by the way, Irish pubs have always been known for their pâtisserie), and even then I wouldn't have supported the States, had it not because my companion wanted to go for Japan. "Well, do you want to go now, or do you want to sit here and watch the celebration?" she now asks, rubbing salt into the wound. 
As we leave, the drunk, (still) total stranger says goodbye. "Enjoy your time in Brussels," he instructs. "Uhm, thanks..." I tell him, wondering what it is about me that exudes tourism. We had not even asked for the desserts -- the kitchen was closed by the time we got our table. I wait until completely outside and out of the stranger's earshot to laugh, at the maybe kind but very random conversation. I've been living in Brussels for almost two years now, I want to tell him, and, against all odds, for the most part it actually has been a fun experience. After all, it is not in every city that I have a friend who, a few hours earlier, self-confessed that one of her Christmas highlights is to, "unwrap, then wrap, then unwrap the presents." Ça c'est ma belle.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


319. It is a mid-summer Saturday, and Brussels has been raining endlessly. I am sorting through boxes of memories, throwing out items that are no longer memorable, or even recognizable. The free and surprisingly well-designed notebook (mini Post-Its in five different colours and a plastic sleeve attached on the inside of the hardcover) that came in a conference bag last July can go. Its first page -- the one and only used page throughout the whole 48-parallel-session conference -- can stay. On the page, a hand-drawn picture of the lecture theatre for a plenary talk: on the stage, a tiny, supposedly fragile figure, labelled John Nash; in the crowded audience, a few enlarged heads, seated in a row, each with his or her own special features emphasized, completed with -- no doubt an attempt to help my intended viewers at the time to recognize which head belongs to whom -- arrows and names. Me, CS, Claire, M., C., "the husband", a reference to C.'s husband, whose name I obviously did not catch. July 2010, Lisbon without rain.

320. Sheena Iyengar was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of three, lost the ability to read at the age of 12, lost sight completely except for the perception of light at the age of 17, received a PhD in social psychology from Stanford at the age of 28, and has been an international expert on the study of choice ever since.

An except from her TED biography. 

We all think we're good at making choices; many of us even enjoy making them. Sheena Iyengar looks deeply at choosing and has discovered many surprising things about it. For instance, her famous "jam study," done while she was a grad student, quantified a counterintuitive truth about decisionmaking -- that when we're presented with too many choices, like 24 varieties of jam, we tend not to choose anything at all.

An excerpt from her TED talk on the art of choosing.  

Bruno Giussani: Thank you. Sheena, there is a detail about your biography that we have not written in the program book. But by now it's evident to everyone in this room. You're blind. And I guess one of the questions on everybody's mind is: How does that influence your study of choosing, because that's an activity that for most people is associated with visual inputs like aesthetics and color and so on?

Sheena Iyengar: Well, it's funny that you should ask that, because one of the things that's interesting about being blind is you actually get a different vantage point when you observe the way sighted people make choices. And as you just mentioned, there's lots of choices out there that are very visual these days. Yeah, I -- as you would expect -- get pretty frustrated by choices like what nail polish to put on, because I have to rely on what other people suggest. And I can't decide. And so one time I was in a beauty salon, and I was trying to decide between two very light shades of pink. And one was called "Ballet Slippers." And the other one was "Adorable." And so I asked these two ladies. And the one lady told me, "Well, you should definitely wear 'Ballet Slippers.'" "Well, what does it look like?" "Well, it's a very elegant shade of pink." "Okay, great." The other lady tells me to wear "Adorable." "What does it look like?" "It's a glamorous shade of pink." And so I asked them, "Well, how do I tell them apart? What's different about them?" And they said, "Well, one is elegant, the other one's glamorous." Okay, we got that. And the only thing they had consensus on: well, if I could see them, I would clearly be able to tell them apart. 

And what I wondered was whether they were being affected by the name or the contents of the color. So I decided to do a little experiment. So I brought these two bottles of nail polish into the laboratory, and I stripped the labels off. And I brought women into the laboratory, and I asked them, "Which one would you pick?" 50 percent of the women accused me of playing a trick, of putting the same color nail polish in both those bottles. At which point you start to wonder who the trick's really played on. Now of the women that could tell them apart, when the labels were off, they picked "Adorable," and when the labels were on they picked "Ballet Slippers." So as far as I can tell, a rose by any other name probably does look different and maybe even smells different.

321. Do you have any professional working experience in a developing country, I am asked, on the form for the Volunteer Lecturer Program. This question, apparently, is to determine whether I have reasonable expectations of the living conditions in such a country. No, I write, but I grew up in Vietnam for the first fifteen years of my life.

Friday, July 15, 2011


316. On a 71 bus to Porte de Namur. Last night, I have been explicitly instructed to learn as much Italian as I could, in preparation for the upcoming trip. If the pace of my French learning is any indication, within the next three weeks I would acquire about two Italian words, one of which would be horribly mispronounced and an attempt to say the other word would inevitably lead to some Italian shaking his head and telling me not to bother. Still, at least I should give it a try, so here I am asking, Professor E. Gadd and Rosalina how to tell someone that he is an idiot. "Stupido," Rosalina tells me, and, after a pause, "do you think this situation will arise often during your trip?" 
The Roman girl has a point, but because I cannot readily think of a tourist-friendly sentence to ask for its translation, we continue the crash course on swear words and how to insult someone in Italian. If you want to move up a notch from the G-rated stupido, vaffanculo, apparently, is another option. As I try to memorize the word, wondering to myself how useful this would really be if I cannot even recall the last time I ever told someone to fuck off in English, Professor E. Gadd points out another hole in my Italian curriculum. "If you are to swear at someone, you need to be prepared to understand what they will say back to you. And if they are from the South," he glances at Rosalina, "then they will tell you a long story about your mother, about your father, about the coffee mug of your sister, and then about your sister..."

317. Louise metro station. Hopping on a Vélo bike, I feel confident and self-contained, the sort of the feelings I imagine a vegetable-growing, chicken-raising, candle-burning monk would feel in a secluded monastery. (I recently had a lengthy conversation with the sister of such a monk, so his inspiring self-reliance was still fresh in my mind.) I am biking, all by myself, and I can go wherever I want! To the mountains or to the riverside! As it turns out, wherever I want this late afternoon is Waterstone, a bookstore in town less than twenty minutes by foot away, so the journey is a little less grandiose, but it does not make me any less self-contained. After the first few minutes of pedaling, I notice the slight inconvenience of wearing a skirt while biking, but it will be a short trip, and there is nothing inherently wrong with flashing strangers with a bit of leg.

Twenty minutes later. As I am struggling on the bike, crawling along an uphill, narrow street somewhere near, well, somewhere, a car honks from behind. Oh, vaffanculo! I am tempted to turn around and practice my Italian on the stupido who is tailgating me, but the bike is already barely moving forward and will descend backward if I slow down any further. In fact, while I am mentally distracted by the honking, gravity overtakes and my bike begins to move in the opposite of its intended direction, the back wheel almost kissing the stupido's bonnet just before I jump off and shove the bike onto the sidewalk. Pushing the bike up to the top of the street and completely clueless of where I am, I try to recall why I did not simply take the metro. There is a reason why there are very few monks around. 

After a combination of biking and pushing the bike, I arrive at the Botanique metro station, which has this great thing: the metro. My first instinct, which I follow immediately, is to return the bike -- there is a Vélo station nearby. My second instinct, is to study the map of Brussels, located at most public transport stations, to find out just how far I am away from where I wanted to go. Not very far, I eventually conclude, but the time it has taken me to read the map properly, on top of the however many hours I leisurely walk my bike halfway around Brussels, means that Waterstone is about to close. Disappointed, I decide to skip the metro and take back a Vélo. I might not have arrived at wherever I want today, but at least I will keep practicing. Which explains why, ten minutes later, a stranger from across the road yells out to me, "nice panties, honey!" "How could you tell that I didn't speak French?" is what I probably would have replied, if I had not been about to die from embarrassment and frantically trying to hold down my skirt on the wobbling bike. 

If there is a silver lining in this episode, it is that the stranger has saved me from flashing my panties to McDreamy, whom I run into approximately ten seconds after my skirt has been firmly held down in place. Recently getting an office job and consequently no longer working at a pub downtown, McDreamy now wears a crisp long-sleeved shirt and black pants, perching on a Vélo bike, waiting for the traffic lights. "Hey there," he recognizes me, and then my bike, "so you are also Vélo active, huh? This thing is great, isn't it? I've only signed up for three weeks and already used it so many times..." "Uhm, yes..." I am totally Vélo active.

318. Early evening. Living room. We are having a sophisticated dinner, put together in under two minutes and consisting of red wine, packaged chips and supermarket discount cream cheese. "One of the many reasons why Gaston is such a great man," Gaston explains to me, "is that since the birth of Gaston, there has been no World War." 
"What about September 11, Madrid, London, Mumbai...?" I want to know. 
"Well, if you put them all together, the total number of fatalities is very small compared to that of World War I or II. Gaston is just one man, Gaston cannot do everything. Stopping a third World War is all Gaston can manage, but that already makes Gaston a great man..."

Thursday, July 14, 2011


313. Sitting across the globe from each other, we are comparing weather notes. "It's cold here," she says, shivering on the Mac screen. "13 degrees, to be exact." "12 degrees here," I tell her, a statistic learnt from the Facebook status of Daisy, who offered it as the reason for her upcoming holidays outside of Belgium. "How is it that our winter is warmer than your summer?" Victoria wonders out loud, and we think about her question for approximately two seconds before moving onto another topic, the way that close friends talk endlessly about random things. "I am making lasagna tomorrow," she informs me. "Wanna come over?" "Yes, yes I do," I instantly reply, and both of us grin, at the familiarity of the invitation, at the impossibility of the acceptance, and then I realize, once again, just how much I have missed her.

314. Eating vanilla ice-cream spiked with baileys while watching Charlie Wilson's War with Gaston and Smurfette. Maybe this whole bonding-with-a-new-flatmate thingy is not so bad.

315. "Can I click on the button now?" asks Gaston. "No, wait, let me see," I put my head closer to his Mac screen, reading out for Zoe -- who is heard but not seen on my Mac screen -- the tiny writing on the top left corner. "August the sixteenth, two thousand and eleven. Sounds good!" "Done," Gaston sends off his credit card details, effectively finalizing the transaction for our flights returning to Brussels, at the end of what will be our ten-day trip of eating, drinking, reading and swimming through the mysterious but much heard about country. Later, Gaston forwards the itineraries to me. "Italy, here we are!" reads the Subject. 

Come butta amico! I guess I need to start seriously practising my Italian hand gestures.