Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Logic II.

451. On her fiancé, who gets more and more sheepish as the story goes on: "We used to fly separately to Brazil. And each time, he kept saying, it's boring, flying is boring, we should fly together. Then one time, we did fly together, there and back. We got on the plane, and what did he do? He started working. Shh, shh, I am working. The whole eleven and a half hours! This is boring. I told him, I don't want to fly with you next time! It's better to sit next to a stranger. At least you can talk then..."

452. On why one should fish. 
Me: ...Not happy to hear that you are teaching her how to kill fish. They have feelings too! Poor little fish. I should buy some for my dinner tonight.
CS: The fish are serving a happy purpose, to be fed to happy pelicans. Look at it this way, they're going to end up eaten anyway, may as well be while they're juicy and delicious. That's called efficiency.
Me: A fishing charter. More blood on your hands. How do you sleep at night, CS?
CS: The fish cry for release from their tortured existence. The angel of mercy, Dr. CS, arrives with his pole of justice to free them from their briny damnation. The joyous cries of liberty ring through the deep as the piscean brethren are delivered from their cruel abode. Those fish left behind gnash their teeth in despair and wait for the next visit of the angel of mercy.

453. "...Anyway, was nice 2B with u for a while, even if u are not elegant with a magic pen :p"

Monday, August 29, 2011

Friendships II.

448. A makeshift coffee room, third floor. With our drinks in hand, ten of us are standing around the room, forming three thirds of a circle around Gisele, who is sitting because she is pregnant, and the table with wine bottles and cakes. Speech, speech, someone starts the usual celebratory chant, and Mario, embarrassed, passes the bucket to Bowser, who, to my surprise, actually starts a speech. "Well, thank you all," Bowser says, appropriately waving one arm in a welcoming manner, "for coming for Mario..." We all laugh, and Mario takes it over. It is soon evident that, while having arranged his double-celebration from last week, Mario has not prepared a speech at all. 

Earlier today, on Skype. "Buon compleanno!" I have told Mario, after having consulted both the Internet and Cassandra, my Roman-born officemate. "Thanks!!!" Mario replied. "Well done, you are improving your Italian!!!!! Today I will check the pronunciation! :)" I sent a smiley back, and the image in my head at the time of a cheeky boy was slightly different to the image of a shy boy at the moment, standing in front of his colleagues and friends, trying to find the right word. With a lot of foot shuffling and embarrassed smiles, Mario tells us what we have already known, that today is his birthday, and that he has recently gave a post ("Position," the ever-helpful Bowser quickly points out). A position, Mario kindly humours Bowser, and that is why we are here today. He thanks us for something, I do not remember what, but what I remember, is that he hopes to continue working here for the next few years and to continue being friends with all of us. We hope so too, Zoe says, and her sentiments are echoed in the lovely smiles around the room. 

It's hard not to agree with Zoe. Wouldn't you want to be friends with the boy who smilingly hosts friends and a friend of friends for days, who kindly drives the guests for hours, be it across the width of Italy or well past midnight, for sightseeing with thoughtful explanations, for street festivities miles and miles away, for dinner at a "really good restaurant that my friend has told me about" in a nearby city, who teaches you how to play volleyball(ish) in the sea? The dinner, in addition to its promised excellent food, turned out to be on an open terrace overlooking the magnificent Italian coastline, with full moon shining onto the dark water, colourful fireworks in a distance, and -- towards time for panna cotta, tiramisu and mille foglie -- a live band just under the terrace. In the fresh air of that evening, somehow the topic of the London train (or the miss of) was brought up. Tell the story, Zoe playfully prodded, and what with her having already known and Gaston's having actually been there at the time, the only person I really ended up telling was Mario. At the end of my embarrassingly gushing storytelling about how calm and kind Gaston was, given the circumstances, Mario has concluded, "This is what we say: Gaston has gained a lot of heaven points..." 

Agreeing with Mario at the time, I have wondered whether Mario realized that what he has been doing those particular days was also earning him many, many heaven points. Buon compleanno once more time, here to Mario, and to all the heaven points he much deserves. Especially after providing us free wine and cakes.

449. So I guess we are really going.
Celery: so we will book now a double room for us
Celery: and may be one of you two can book the triple for you?
Celery: Mushroom is fine with it, just called him

Zucchini: on the phone
Celery: ok
Zucchini: can we do it tomorrow morning?
Celery: hm, the risk is that tomorrow morning there will be no more room left
Zucchini: Gazpacho-y?
Zucchini: now i can't
Celery: and it is not much work
Me: <insert long, winded explanation about how the GB has rejected my card earlier, on the account of having 24 cents left and the monthly salary hasn't come through, unlike it has for my ING friends. (Way to go, Fortis!)>
Carrot: <insert hotel link> 

Me: Celery, I'm sorry but I can't really help you here [ed: why on earth did I say "help you here", when he is asking us to book our own hotel room, not his??]
Me: if I had either the money or the card, I would do it
Celery: Triple room: only 1 room left
Celery: so i booked
Celery: people
Zucchini, one minute later: can you send the link of the hotel again?
Carrot: one sec
Carrot: <insert hotel link again>

Zucchini: thx
Zucchini: triple room is gone?
Carrot: because Celery has booked it
Zucchini: ah *phew*
Carrot: D
Zucchini: ok, back to my call then :)
Carrot: ok
Celery: ja leben ist hart ;)

450. Friendship means that even after not having been in touch with each other for a while, you can instantly feel saddened with just four words of bad news out of the blue.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


445. One of those awkward moments that I have not experienced since Tintin moved out last month and that I have forgotten about until today: seeing a stranger in my apartment in the early hours of the morning. Or, in this case, a semi-stranger: someone you know well enough to wish her happy birthday recently, but not well enough, evidently, to realize that she has spent the night, or to know what to say after "Good morning!" God it's been ages since we last saw each other? Hope you enjoyed the apartment? Isn't the view different in the morning?  

446. What we learn over the course of a Skype group chat, in no particular order of importance or time: 
&It might take two days to fly to Greece and back. 
&The weather in Southern France is not good for swimming at the moment. 
&Bolt gets disqualified in an important 100-metre run, for a rule that Zucchini does not like.
&I absentmindedly put two packages of rice into the pot and now have enough rice for one week. 
&Celery thinks bumm is a sound. 
&Carrot spells cool with approximately five hundred o's.
&Berlin here we come, the whole package of vegetables.

447. Reason #54 for having flatmates: shared pizzas and back-to-back episodes of House. Smurfette, upon coming home in her cute mini-dress and joining us for the second episode, "You guys look sweet with your laptops!"

Saturday, August 27, 2011


 442. The lone Snickers bar is silently waiting on my side of the table, its three former package-mates lying on the other side, near the myriad of E.'s pocket contents, emptied at the beginning of the chess game to make him feel comfortable when sitting down. I have just eaten lunch a few hours ago, I do not biologically need to eat this Snickers. But, as E. gave this to me in the friendly spirit of chess fellows and temporary adversaries, surely it would be rude not to eat it, and I have a vague feeling that if I do not eat it now, I am soon running out of time. A few moves earlier, the combination of the lack of practice and a fleeting urge of being daredevil has led me to a dangerous sacrifice to open up his king's side for, as it has painfully transpired, nothing. If I am about to lose my first match against a lower-rated player in the two years living in Brussels, I might as well eat the damn Snickers.

Sure enough, as soon as I finish the overly sweet chocolate bar, his king has finished matching from one side of the board to another, which is usually not a good indication -- imagine the Queen of Britain being forced to migrate, one country at a time, halfway across the world and ending up in Papua New Guinea -- but which in this case results in me having both my queen being exposed and my king being threatened with mate in one. I put down the plastic wrap, and extend my hand; E. shakes it with the widest restrained smile possible, then stands up and, for seemingly no reason, immediately leaves the room. 

Normally, the role of an immediate leaver is carried out by the loser, and, more often than not, with added features like red face, refusal of eye contact, one hand clutching the poor BIC pen for dear life, etc. But, as E. has just vanished and we cannot simply abandon the pieces (especially when they are still currently in the losing position for White!), I stay at the table to pack up the set. After also putting the digital clock away, I look up to see E.'s standing at the entrance of the playing hall, wordlessly motioning me to come closer. Puzzled, I do what I am told (or signaled, rather). Once I cross the doorway and into the land of So-Now-We-Can-Talk, E. whispers to me, conspiratorially. "Do you want cake?" 

In the split second before making my decision, three consecutive things come to my mind: first, this is a departure of the usual Russian pancakes that E.'s wife often prepared for him; second, what are we doing, like, having celebratory cake for my first lower-rated loss in Brussels? and third, when did I last say no to free cake? So yes, I do want cake. It turns out, that I have a choice of two: a thin peach cake in a SucréSalé box, and a thicker something cake in a plastic container. I never actually find out what the latter is, because we share the peach cake instead. By sharing, I meant me modestly taking one piece at a time from the cake until it is almost completely gone, and E. watching me during this modest process. Out of obligatory politeness, we discuss the game a little ("So, that sacrifice totally sucked." "Yes, you played like Judit Polgar..." "When she was five maybe..."), and when we run out of nice things to say about a miscalculated sacrifice, we change subject. 

How long does E. have left in his postdoc scholarship, I want to know. One month, he says, casually, and I find myself wide-eyed. E. laughs, why do you think I was in such a hurry to play with you? Had I known this was to be the only standard game we played together, maybe I would have played it a bit less dreamily, I tell him. What I think but not say is, my surprise comes from the sudden reminder that how quickly time has flown. We have started our postdocs together, in October 2009, and had it not been for the two impromptu three-month extensions, I too would have been packing up now. He has a postdoc lined up in Munich, I am told, his "(N + 1)th postdoc." So, I guess your wife will come with you, I say, thinking that I might as well have said, so I guess the Pope is Catholic. Actually, we are divorced, E. replies, and my first thought is, maybe someone should ask if the Pope is actually Catholic. My second thought is probably written all over my face, because E. hastily points out that it happens all the time, so do not be so surprised, it presumably being divorces in general and not his getting a divorce. 

I am well aware that divorces happen all the time -- one out of two marriages, actually, if we are to believe in the oft-quoted miserable statistics -- but that does not mean it fails to surprise, and sadden, me each time I hear of yet another divorce, or even simply breakups in general. Another couple that I know has also broken up recently. Despite that this is news to no-one considering the time it has taken to transpire, and that I really only know this couple by proxy, I still protested and wildly invented all crazy circumstances for them to get back together. "Why do you have to make things complicated?" the news bearer asked me at the time. "It's a good thing. They tried. It didn't work out. Now move on." I don't think my therapist would have been able to put it more succinctly, yet at the same time, I can't bring myself to repeat the line of reasoning to E. 

Instead, what I say, is that I am sorry. E. smiles good-naturedly, and assures me that other people have made the same mistake (asking after his now-ex wife), because the divorce is quite recently. I smile weakly back, not correcting his wrong assumption for what I was feeling sorry for. I suppose I should be sorry for having unknowingly assumed that he was still married, but my being sorry was for him losing the person that he was supposed to love and be loved by for the rest of his life, for yet another hopeful dream being broken, for the feelings of failure and of uncertainty about the future that he might be having right now. Unlike decisions like whether to eat a Snickers bar or to go for a reckless sacrifice in a chess game, to be with someone for the rest of your life or not is a decision that (I hope) no-one makes lightly, and when it turns out to be wrong, it takes a lot more than just a few runs around the park to erase the aftermath. Obviously, that is for after eating the Snickers bar. For the chess game, well, there is nothing you can do about a loss.

443. Seen at L'Anticyclone des Açores, an excellent travel bookstore with a book on possibly every city. (Except Adelaide. And maybe none on Elmshorn either. They probably have one on Hamburg, though.)

444. The shock doctrine, by Naomi Klein. The reason why I now have a combined 77 cents in both Belgium bank accounts, and the reason why I feel depressed for the rest of the weekend. How did these powerful people grow up to be so heartless? How do they look their children in the eyes?

Friday, August 26, 2011


441. A sentence, for the best spaghetti aglio e olio that I have ever eaten. Granted, I have only eaten two in my life and the other time was prepared by myself after consulting Wikipedia -- the culinary Bible that suggested to add capsicum (or peperoncino, if you want to be all Italian). Nevertheless, it was still the best spaghetti aglio e olio that I have ever eaten, and possibly one of the best spaghetti that I have ever eaten in general. The latter part is a stronger claim to make, considering that I have eaten my favourite pasta dish, spaghetti marinara, in almost every fancy Italian restaurant I went to in Australia and that I have just returned from Italy, but it is still an accurate claim all the same. 

(OK, it might have been more than one sentence. Still, I wonder if I keep repeating the best, would Zoe make it again for me soon?)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


430. 4:30 am. Being woken up by thunders and the sounds of heavy rain beating on the skylight. Wondering whether nearby he too is woken up ("I love thunderstorms!"), and, a little further away, how many of my Brussels friends are currently rendered sleepless by the torrential downpour and how many can see the vast night sky being sporadically brightened up.

431. 10ish am. Sometimes, when you can see nine people doing the same thing, what they are doing is probably the right thing. Like, waiting under shelter at the Delta metro and not taking that escalator up out of the underground, because that flimsy black umbrella you are holding is no match for the relentless hail that has been blanketing Brussels all morning, and your favourite, already terribly ruined pair of black flats can get even further ruined when waddle through the short, but flooded, walkway to work, and then you get to find out -- not much of a surprise, really -- that it is kinda unpleasant to be wearing a soaking wet skirt at work, and you wonder just how long you can stay inside the office half-naked until someone (besides your office-mate) finds out. 
Who knows, maybe inside other offices your colleagues are doing the same thing.

432. Living room. Ignoring the fact that Gaston has bought ingredients for the lasagna tonight, I am biting the hand that feeds me. 
Me: You are polluting the environment.
Smurfette: Yeah, you are polluting the environment. 
Me: You are an awful person. 
Smurfette: You are an awful person. 
Me: Oh this is great! 
Gaston: Now you have an ally...

Sunday, August 21, 2011


428. Tuesday afternoon. On Torino di Sangro beach. Relaxing under blue parasols with our respective books, we are enjoying the last partial day of our vacation. Our lunch today will be the last proper meal in Italy, and I am using this as an excuse for my early hunger. Early is subjective anyway because it is already half past twelve and, after ten days of being on holidays, the only remnant of my working days is the almost daily thought, it is half past twelve and time for lunch! Zoe says she can start thinking about eating, but Gaston is not convinced. "You just ate three hours ago!" he points out, looking up from Prospérité sans croissance. "But I am hungry," I provide one of the world's most logical arguments: I am hungry, therefore I eat. Millions of people would have agreed with me, but not Gaston. "That is just your psychological need, not your biological need!"

Sunday afternoon. At Bois de la Cambre. Sitting on the grass under a canopy, we are focusing on our respective work. The picnic food is lying between us; among other things, the carpaccio sandwich remains untouched. I am wondering whether I should eat the sandwich -- it is almost three PM -- when it occurs to me that my breakfast was barely before noon. You just ate three hours ago! goes his voice in my head. Damn you Gaston and your magro frame (about the only Italian word that I learnt from Mario's grandmother, who on more than one occasion commented on Gaston's lean body). No longer being able to freely eat whenever I want, I text the magro boy to complain. Then comes the reply. "Good it means my lessons are working! We might go further with the next lesson..."

Thursday, August 18, 2011


418. When politeness is no longer required.
J., sarcastically: Well, you should go and write to him about how much you've missed him. 
Me, equally sarcastically: Should I tell him that you have been missing him too? 
J., thinking: Tell him that I have been missing him like, how do I say this, like one misses a broken leg.

419. At work. Late afternoon.
Anna: my god do you see that?
Anna: I mean do you see that you can't see?
A white wall of water outside my window, Brussels under a thunderstorm. 
Then, comes the rainbow.

420. Spending the first post-Italy evening together, and having random conversations that would make no sense to anyone, except possibly Zoe if she could hear us, and maybe Mario or Daisy, you know, the ones who were there. Looking up the lottery results of Sora, just in case my ticket or Gaston's was actually the winner of a car, which Mario has already promised to drive to Brussels just in case. Checking the list of James Bond movies, 19 of which were already named during the breathtakingly gorgeous hiking trail in Trieste. "We didn't have A view to kill," I protest. "Yes, I said it, Dangereusement vôtre," he insists. "But that's in French, and you weren't sure..." "Yes, in my head I was sure..." "But that's in your head!" We count it anyway. Debating whether we should get three, white, boooring plastic rubbish bins, me trying to condition on the fact that only if I am allowed to draw on them. Or at least on one of the bins, myself being one of the three flatmates an equity apartment. "Well, I could let you draw, but you have no talent...," after having seen my postcard to my godson, depicting my fellow travelers with neither Zoe nor Gaston (nor myself, for that matter) being remotely recognizable. "Well, when was the last time you ever drew anything?" I ask, implying (probably) that bad drawing is still better than no drawing at all. "Did I draw something last week?" Gaston wonders out loud. "No, you didn't. I would know, because I was with you 24/7 last week..." Transferring photos for each other, the hundreds of random moments, about the only tangible (if electronic files can be considered tangible) proof that we were there.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


415. Some of the thoughts that go through my mind, at 8:30 am in the morning, dressed in work clothes, having the familiar cereals/fruit breakfast, leaning against the windowsill looking out into the shiny European Parliament building.

#1. It's possible (and nice) not to have internet access for ten consecutive days, except for five minutes on the fourth day to tell one of your bosses that no, you will not have internet access.

#2. It's strange not to see Zoe's bright aqua blue, super short shorts when waking up...

#3. Or hear Gaston's theatrical, super cheerful "Good moooorning!" 

#4. Instant coffee, it seems, is no longer on the breakfast menu. The half-full Nestle jar has Italy to blame. 

#5. No matter how far, or how hard, I try to strain my eyes, I do not see blue water, mystical Roman ruins, silhouettes of mountains against the bright sky, glowing full moon hanging precariously in the dark night, fireworks blossoming above historical castle, stone beach stretching out to the end of the horizon.

416. Coming back into the office after ten days and seeing "BE GOOD, GAZPACHO!", written in purple chalk on the (green) blackboard, with a smiley, girly face and long curly hair next to it. On the left, another, and opposite, instruction, "Be Evil, Gazpacho!", written in blue chalk, accompanied a smiley, boyish face and short hair. It takes me a while to realize what was going on, that is, once I spot what I had written, before leaving on vacation: in white chalk, "Be good, Rosalina!", with a smiley, unisex (why?) face and a pair of glasses.

A few minutes later, a green line of text is added beside Professor E. Gadd's wise words. "NO!! She is evil enough!" Princess Peach would know -- she has just spent ten consecutive days with me, sharing the same bed, having every meal together.

A few minutes later, a white line of text is added, at the request of Bowser. "August 18, 10:30 am. Bowser being nice to Gazpacho-y, for the first (and only?) time! (And he thinks he is the personification of nicitude.)" It takes me two trials to write the word nicitude, partly because it is not a real word, partly because I am still recovering from the shock that came from Bowser's compliment, "You look very cute today." "Today?" I has mocked him. "The one time I am nice to you...," he has sulked, and made me write down the historical moment.

Welcome back to work.

417. Almost midnight. Place Flagey, outside De Valera's. In a maroon, hooded Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt, Anna holds up an imaginary penis and pretends, convincingly, to pee in front of us. "Why is she looking at you when she does that?" Zoe asks Christian. "How should I know?" Christian shrugs. "I sit..."

After a few beers, black velveteens, nachos, and porto, the truth always comes out.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Italy VI.

#. The crystal moment when you are reminded that, while strength is usually needed in speaking out, strength also lies in keeping silent, and you find yourself completely amazed at the silent courage of a dear friend.

Monday, August 1, 2011


367. 9 am. Geluck's office. We are having a meeting because as Geluck was leaving work last Friday, I told him that I had something to show but it could wait until Monday morning. What is it about, he wanted to know, and I responded that he would find out in just a little over two days' time. 
"How are you this morning?" I ask, the usual small talk before going into equations and theorems. 
"I've been thinking about it a lot," Geluck replies. "And I've concluded that you are a sadist."