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..."

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