Thursday, September 22, 2011

Logic III.

#. Sex and simplicity.
Boy: Gazpacho, men are animals. I mean human being... Ass is more or less where the machinery of reproduction is located. Men look at ass. That's all.
Boy: Men like breasts because in the remote past, small breasts = no food for baby = baby dead.
*a pause*
Boy: But I don't know really why I like feet. Maybe because in the remote past there was no cars.

#. A silent office. 
Cassandra: ItalianItalianItalian. 
Me: Uhm, what was that? 
Cassandra, laughing. 
Me, staring.
Cassandra, continuing to laugh. 
Me, continuing to stare.
Cassandra: I'm sorry...
Me: ...
Cassandra, between laughs: In English, it means what little balls!
Me: And little balls are... bad? 
Cassandra, unable to stop laughing. 
Me: ...
Cassandra: Sorry I don't see you so it feels like I'm alone sometimes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


493. The Super Sized Group Lunch.

  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------    ------------------
 | [Browser] [Postdoc] [Baby #1] [Princess Peach] [Rainbow] [Mario] ||  [Ambrosio]  |
 |                                                                                                   ||                    |
 | [Damien]    [Daisy]  [Baby #2]      [Rosalina]          [Me]      [Anna] ||      [FL]        | 
  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------    ------------------

"Do you think we can get a group discount?" 
"Which class do we come from?" 
"Are those two guys eating with us, or they are just following? I mean, do we know them?" -- referring to Baby #1 and Baby #2, one new and one potentially new PhD students. 
"That's his punishment, for being an ass."
"I'm still not finished with the book yet, so don't tell me anything." 
"Where are you up to?" 
"Just after the part about the girl." 
"Which girl?"
*a pause* 

494. Late afternoon. As I am returning to my office, one door down the corridor Giraffe is unlocking his. Hearing foot steps, Giraffe looks up. 
"Are you dunamberassingmargin?"  he wants to know.
"Mmm?" I am equally articulate. 
Having gotten his PhD in the States, Giraffe speaks English fluently. Nevertheless, I do not have a clue what he has just said. Am I done what?
"Are you done embarrassing margin?"
As the repeated words untangle themselves, an image flashes back: Rainbow, Zoe and myself, gathering in FL's office, making fun of him for acting all precious about being invited to a girls-only drinks.
"Never," comes a loud answer from Rainbow's office.
Giraffe smiles.

Maybe we should invite him to our next girls-only drinks. 

495. "Which is why we have spouses and children and parents and colleagues and friends, because someone has to know us better than we know ourselves. We need them to tell us. We need them to say, "I know you, Al. You are not the kind of man who."" -- Richard Russo, Straight Man

Chào, early evening. Having successfully corrupted Zoe by convincing her to skip swimming, I am now studying the restaurant menu, trying to make up my mind between the traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup and the spicy Vietnamese beef noodle soup. It might look like I just wrote the same thing twice except that one is with and one is without chili, but the two dishes are really not the same. Had I written them in Vietnamese, pho and bun bo, you would have immediately seen that they are totally different. Yet, they are equally delicious, which makes my decision process extremely difficult. 

As I am going back and forth in my mind (I'll go for pho! No, bun bo! Wait, pho! No, I'll choose bun bo!), Zoe scans through her copy of the restaurant menu. "So what are you going to eat, now that you can't eat meat?" 

Monday, September 12, 2011


491. Or lack of.
6ish pm. 
Me: The weather is beautiful. I am going to run!

6:50 pm.
Dark clouds are gathering outside the living room window. 
Me: Do you think it's going to rain? 
Gaston: Maybe...
Me: I'm running anyway! 

7.10 pm.
Gaston: What happened? 
Gaston: Did you even make it to the park?
Me: It started to rain...
Gaston: So? 
Me: So I'm a princess and I don't want to get wet...
Gaston: You are going to be wet anyway. At least the rain is cleaner than your perspiration...
Me: I can't. Plus, look, I've already sent a text message to say that it rains and I'm not going to run, so Audi can come over an hour earlier. 
Gaston: Now you are just making up excuses. 
Me, starting to eat cereals straight out of the box: It's true! 
Gaston: So you are going to eat instead, you lazy you.
Me: It's late. And I'm hungry. Oh look, the sun is out...
Gaston: GO RUN! 
Me, getting sophisticated and using a spoon to scoop out cereals instead: Even if he's coming at the original time, there is not enough time. I need an hour to run four laps...
Gaston, looking at the clock, looking at me, looking at the clock, then looking at me: You have an hour... 
Me, finishing the cereals box: Nooo...

7.20 pm.
Gaston, grinning: Have fun running! 
Me, giving him the death stare, before tying the keys onto my shoe laces.

7.50 pm. 
The early evening sun is still shining.
Me, praying that he's left for theatre. 
Gaston, right on cue, opening the building door just as I arrive home.
*stunned silence from both sides* 
Gaston: What happened??

492. Without exaggeration, the seventh zucchini meal within one week, which manages to be different from the previous six and delicious all the same.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


487. Living room. We have just finished the main meal; now, endlessly, I stride back and forth, putting the pair of scissors away, filling up the half-empty pink Brita, rinsing water glasses, adjusting whatever else in the living room that is seemingly out of harmony. 

"I feel old," I whine, "cleaning up like this." "It's a good thing... cleaning up... no?" Pierre hesitates, as if he wants to be on my side, to agree with whatever I am whining about at the moment, but at the same time he has difficulty with seeing evil in something as innocent as cleaning up. "Yes, I know, and I used to worry that I wouldn't be able to voluntarily do this, and then I figured that I would eventually be able to. But I thought that would be when I'm old, not like now." Pierre seems to ponder on this confession, silently. It is very likely that he is trying to figure out what is more psychotic, me cleaning up obsessively like an old lady, or me worrying about feeling like an old lady when cleaning up obsessively like an old lady. 

What his final conclusion is we will never know, because I do not ask. Instead, I ask if he wants some ice-cream. "We have three flavors," I am excited. "Vanilla, chocolate, and banana." Either greedy or simply indecisive, Pierre says that he will have all three, which I find to be an excellent idea, so I too have all three flavors. "Oh oh, we should put M&Ms in as well!" I exclaim, contributing my own and equally excellent idea. As Pierre reaches for the M&M bag (Gisele's remaining cinema snack from over two weeks ago), another thought comes to my mind. "And, we can also have our ice-cream with chocolate-covered coffee beans," I am practically singing out of delight, "and these!" Looking at the jar of Vermicelles arc-en-ciel in my hand, Pierre mutters, "Yeah, you are old..."

488. "I have been reflecting a little," is one of Gaston's top five favorite sentences. Half of the times, I would make fun of him for saying it. It just sounds so French. In Sora one evening, Zoe, Mario and I even had a semi-lengthy discussion with Gaston about which hypothetical situations he would use the verb think, and which the verb reflect. "About vacations for next year?" Zoe asked. "No, that would be thinking," Gaston replied, reserving his reflection for more serious things. At the time, I wanted to remind him that he once "reflected a little about why our dish washer did not work properly," but Mario beat me to it and gave yet another example that did not warrant Gaston's reflection.

Today, however, I find a moment that warrants my reflection. On what has happened in the last ten years, to me, since the day New Yorkers tragically saw their world in flames. I have read and listened to numerous personal recounts on their September 11, and how it has affected them. Even for non-New Yorkers, the catastrophic event has led many to a completely different and hitherto unimaginable direction. While I was and am feeling sorry for the immeasurable losses, it is hard to say how September 11 has directly affected the course of my life. (Unless you consider the fact that September 11 has abruptly changed someone's life, who then briefly met me and abruptly changed mine, the butterfly effect, but that is stretching it a little. Mine probably would have been changed by some other event or person, anyway. I digress.) 

Sitting in front of the tiny laptop that night, I was doing what a geeky fifteen-year-old chess player would: playing chess on an online server, which happened to be located in America. All of the sudden, everyone seemed to be screaming, line after line after line of orange texts streaming down on the black terminal screen. It was hard to believe what I was reading. As I turned on the TV in the living room of my Australian family, an airplane was crashing, live, onto the second tower. I remember feeling shell-shocked, automatically reaching for the remote control to mute the sound, because otherwise the confused and panicked voices of broadcasters -- who were clearly speaking without a script -- would wake my homestay parents up. It was a household rule: no loud TV after their bedtime. It did not occur to me at the time that my homestay parents might have wanted to know, that as they were sleeping safe and sound, people on the other side of the world have just lost all sense of security. For the next twenty minutes, I sat in the dark living room and watched the silent horror unfolding again and again in front of my eyes, and then went to bed, unable to connect what has just happened in New York and what was going on with my own life. There is very little I remember about the next day (my homestay parents telling me about the news, me telling them that I already knew), or the weeks after, only that there were talks about the possibility of a Third World War, my parents wondering about available flights for me to return to Vietnam, me wondering what it would be like, being in a Third World War away from home, or being in a Third World War at all. 

Thankfully, for my parents, for myself, and for everyone else, a Third World War did not eventuate. I was quickly preoccupied with my little world again, worrying about whatever that a teenager would worry about. My physics assignment! What would I write about? (Princess Diana, and how she would have stayed alive had she worn a seat belt.) My sixteenth birthday, the first birthday away from home. Who would I celebrate it with? Who would even know? (If I could travel back in time, I would tell my anxious fifteen-year-old that on the birthday itself, I would instead worry about how to fit in all the celebrations, because the cute boy with slender fingers and shoulder-length dark hair would invite me to have cake and coffee in a chic Italian café in the city centre, my friends would have lunch with me, and my homestay parents would surprise me by taking me to my first Vietnamese restaurant, which would become my favorite for all of the Adelaidean years, and then a homemade birthday cake. But the fifteen-year-old me would probably just laugh at me.) The Sydney boy that I have been talking to, does he like me? Like like, not just like as a friend? (Yes, it was obvious, and he would be your first boyfriend, but not your first serious boyfriend. That would be the cute boy with slender fingers and shoulder-length dark hair, the vegetarian who showed you how to make the best instant noodles ever, who in a state library gave you a book on sex education and who taught you to distinguish between personal attacks and constructive criticism.)

None of these lessons I have properly mastered, but at least I am much better at them than I would have been otherwise, had I not met that cute boy, whose fingers are still slender but whose dark hair is no longer shoulder-length. So many other things have changed since, and if I had told my fifteen-year-old self, that ten years later I would be living in Europe, almost finishing my second year of postdoc in mathematics, during which period I played in the Chess Olympiad for the second time and my personal life changed upside down, my fifteen-year-old self would probably freak out, in equal parts of happiness and disappointment. (You are in Europe? You are a what? A mathematician? What on earth?) But then, I would tell my wide-eyed fifteen-year-old that it is what it is, and then I would wait. To see whether the thirty-five-year-old me would be time-traveling back to give me a sneak peek to what would happen in the next decade.
But that is probably just wishful thinking, not reflection.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


484. Finally posting Zoe's account of her 30th birthday: How to Celebrate The Crossing To The Dark Side.

Friday, September 9, 2011


483. You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way, you learn to love by loving. -- Anatole France

How to spend a Friday evening. Part 2. 

Stop making excuses like (a) you are feeling really grumpy at the moment, thanks to an unsolicited reminder from Facebook of what happened this day in 2009, (b) you do not have rice paper, the single most important ingredient, (c) your friends most likely have never tasted nuoc cham, the traditional accompanying sauce for Vietnamese cold rolls -- it will be too strong for them, (d) your cooking is, well, there was the "unconventional" first version of your cornbread, (e) etc. Just shop for whatever it takes and make the cold rolls. You can learn to make cold rolls only by making cold rolls. In any case, you have made them before, in your early teenage years, still living at home, protected by familial love and home-cooking. Your cold rolls will turn out OK. Even if they don't, your friends will be polite enough to smile and eat the rolls anyway. Make spring rolls too, because some of your friends prefer deep-fried entrées over cold ones. Even if you can't test the final (non-pescetarian) products, your friends will; hopefully, their politeness is boundless. 

Most likely, it will be, because they know what it is like to make the efforts to cook for someone else. Rosalina and Professor E. Gadd will shop for the French counterparts of the Italian ingredients for their delicious red wine and red chicory risotto, walk an hour to your apartment, painstakingly prepare the main meal on a proper pot borrowed from Catherine and delivered by Princess Peach, and then create both Parmersan and Camembert versions to suit everyone. Princess Peach will mix, from home, a second batch of yummy zucchini dough within twenty four hours, then bake it in your oven; the bread itself an equal success, the overall taste enhanced by creamy vanilla ice-cream, the proverbial cherry on the cake.

Somehow, between leisurely enjoying your friends' food (and, surprisingly, even your own), learning how to write the seven deadly sins in five different languages and listening to self-confessions for most and least applicable sins (the former being Sloth for all of your friends, the very same ones who have just spent all this time cooking), your grumpiness will slowly seep away, unnoticed. You will, however, feel slightly embarrassed when your flatmate, who -- after being conveniently busy when found out that you were cooking -- comes home just in time for dessert, and then promptly says out loud, without the slightest hesitation, what (he thinks) your most applicable sin is, which is not your proposed Gluttony and obviously not Sloth. Realizing the implication of your flatmate's assessment, everyone will laugh, Catherine commenting on how you should talk less to your male flatmate and more to your female friends. 

Then, you will feel really embarrassed, because when it is your turn to point out the most applicable sin of your flatmate, you say Sloth, and then, without thinking, adding that you choose it not because Yoshi is lazy, but because nothing else fits. Everyone will go, awwww, at the expense of your red face, but thankfully, they will quickly move on to other topics. Like, whether or not it is a good thing to have your child born on your own birthday (yes, from the guests, and no, from the hosts), Princess Peach teasing the hosts for having not yet developed parental feelings, Yoshi self-defending by pointing out that he is not thirty, not knowing that every single guest turns thirty at one point this year. Like, how to Mohawk and dye hair for hamsters, Professor E. Gadd, a thirty-year-old-to-be, humanly whacking an imaginary hamster onto the edge of the dining table. 

By the time the late-night monopoly game is over and the hamster killer, having almost bankrupted the bank, is crowned billionaire, you will have completely forgotten about your Facebook status on this day in 2009, just like you have long forgotten about all the subsequent online congratulations, back in the days when you knew how to love someone unconditionally. Tell your visibly exhausted flatmate, who is pushing the dining table back against the fake fireplace, that he can go to sleep if he wants to. Being a boy, Yoshi will immediately take your offer and say goodnight. As the clock strikes two, you start the dish washer and wash up pots and plates that did not fit in. Of course they can wait until tomorrow, but it would be nicer if your flatmate does not wake up to a messy kitchen. Silently thank God (or, more realistically, your parents) that you still remember how to make cold rolls. Maybe you will also remember how to love someone unconditionally, when the time comes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


478. More pick-up lines. Mid-afternoon.
Boy: r u there?
Me: I am now. 
Me: What's up? 
Boy: good... but I forgot why I buzzed ... how r u? 
Me: I'm ok
Boy: just ok? 
Me: yeah
Boy: Why r u so boring? 
Boy: Is it me or is it you or us?
Me, wondering to myself when it has become an us: Why are you not working??
Boy: I am working on u.
Me: :) 
Boy: It's hard research, u know.
Me: Only when it's not done correctly.
Boy: bad data = misleading results 
Me, quietly walking away from laptop.

479. Bringing back the Coke-n-Coffee break, thanks to our new regular participant, Mario, all the way from the third floor. This afternoon, Team Coffee include Mario and myself, Team Coke (Light) have their lifetime member and Rosalina. In an spectacular show of solidarity, Princess Peach gets the Coke for Rosalina, who prepares the coffee for Mario, who makes mine, and this is where the line of Pay It Forward ends because while all these actions are happening, I happily sit on my ass and do nothing. Once they return with the drinks, to further solidarity we decide to plan weeks ahead for Fortis Film Days by looking up movie trailers on YouTube. When the super duber uber hot Ryan Gosling appears on the Drive clip, I ask if Princess Peach could close my office door because it is hard to listen to Ryan Gosling's sexy voice when people discuss work in neighbouring offices we might disturb our hard-working colleagues. As Princess Peach sits back down in her chair, I enthusiastically and repeatedly tap F12 on my Macbook Pro. "Don't exaggerate, eh," Mario interrupts Ryan Gosling's progressively booming voice. "Our ears still work..." Leaning over, Princess Peach stage-whispers, "Hers don't..." 

480. 8ish pm. Skype. How to get me exercise at a moment's notice.
Zoe: gogogo

The emailed sneak peek did no justice for the warm, cinnamony, and Totally Uphill-Biking Worthy zucchini bread. Accompanied homemade hearty pumpkin soup not photographed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


475. "At least you two are close friends...," Anna says. "Yes, but seven months and then that's it, you know...," I say. "Why? You can still email and chat and..." "He doesn't like writing," I explain, as the preemptive apology flashes in my mind. I'm not very good with keeping long-distance friendships, he once confessed, and then we must have had the same thought, because he looked at me and added, Sorry. "And he doesn't even use a chat program," I give Anna yet another reason why the friendship is surely going to be doomed. "I mean, what kind of people who don't use chat programs?"

On the familiar walk back to our offices after yet another weekly Wednesday group lunch, I tell Anna about my experience of faded friendships, even if these were built after more than half a decade of training, extended traveling and living together (chess teammates), or after more than half a decade of approximately ten birthday celebrations each year, countless BBQs, fishing trips, Kris Kringles, New Year's, and weekly get-togethers (Down Under friends); and Anna tries to convince me, also from personal experience, that people can still stay close friends even if they only talk once every two months. 

As we take turn to debate about what it means and what it takes to be friends, I can't help but wonder whether the post-Brussels friendship that Anna and I are pondering about is not actually between the social-networks-challenged boy and myself, and I feel a lump in my throat.

476. Remote office-mates are highly recommended. 
ROM: Yes, we had a lot of fun! We were actually staying with people we know, like, say: my parents, grandparents, brother and family :-) 
Me: That's a lot of people :) And *everyone* survived the trip? I'm impressed. 
ROM: Yes! We don't talk to each other anymore, but we are alive. (I'm kidding.) (N. [ROM's adorable toddler] and I are still good friends.)

477. Unknowingly playing Never Ever Have I, the third edition in the flat -- without the alcohol-induced effects afterwards.

Last year, when abruptly leaving a one-person apartment, my first choice had not been to move into a shared flat. I am too old for that, the twenty-four-year-old version of mine had smugly thought, picturing flatmates leaving dirty dishes in the sink and partying drunkenly all night long, the self-hypocrisy clearly lost on me at the time because (my) dirty dishes and unwanted (to the landlord) evening company were the two main issues that eventually drove me out of that apartment in the first place. In the space of one month, basic math and Google helped my personal stand evolve from, I am too old for that, to, I am too old for that but OK maybe I can share a place with someone I know, to, I need to live with strangers and their dirty dishes if I still want to afford things, like, food and shelter and stuff

This philosophical development meant two things: one, money is a powerful brainwashing tool, and two, I was then living with two complete strangers. To get to know each other, J., E. (my flatmates at the time) and I have enthusiastically played Never Ever Have I, where we took turns to make a true statement, Never ever have I done something something, and then the others would have to drink a sip of beer if he or she had done the described action. 

Within two hours, I went from not knowing what were the last names of my flatmates, to knowing every person, every location, and practically every position that J. has ever you-know-what. It says something about the basic human curiosity when all the Never Ever Have I statements -- essentially thinly veiled questions about other drunken participants -- are about moral sins and sexual activities. I know we were not the only ones fixating on these topics because, exhausting the collective creativity of questions about moral sins and sexual activities, J. Googled for more Never Ever Have I statements, 99% of which were also about moral sins and sexual activities. The morning after, I was still clueless about the last names of my flatmates, but until this day, every now and then, sitting in the car I am still wondering how on earth J. managed that position -- the gear stick just seems so inconvenient. I'd say I got to know J. well. 

Which was a minor pity because a month later, he moved out; then, two more months and E. followed suit. One after the other, Tintin and Gaston arrived. The first question among us was not about who would be the nominated rent payee. It was about when we would play this great ice-breaker Never Ever Have I. The answer was at the pre-Christmas party dinner, which was arguably the best timing because it is impossible to find a better time to play Never Ever Have I than just after the consumption of fresh oysters, sausage-wrapped-in-bacon, well-marinated juicy steaks, creamy cake with ice-cream, and three bottles of wine between three persons. Moral sins and sexual activities once again proved the popular (or only) themes; unfortunately (or fortunately) most details escape me now because if the three bottles of wine were great for loosening us, they were also excellent for joint activities like romantically dancing (Gaston and I only, Tintin now dialing for a follow-up party), romantically vomiting into the toilet while sitting on the bathroom floor next to each other (also just Gaston and I, Tintin already getting ready for the follow-up party), braincell genocide and memory loss (all three of us). 
Saturday December 11, 2010. We have hidden the first bottle. And the cuuuute diners.

When Smurfette moved in, what with her being a primary school teacher and loving quinoa, it never crossed my mind the thought of suggesting the game. This might also have had something to do with us not seeing each other for eight out of the first ten weeks living together, but either way, there has not been a replay of Never Ever Have I. Until tonight. As we gulp down the flavorful creamy wine broth of our mussels (Smurfette's successful second "Tuesday dinner"), she tells us about a four-day field trip next week that she is going on with her kiddies. Having never been on an overnight field trip with school, I ask Smurfette what hers would entail. "Nature," Smurfette's boyfriend tells me. "They will actually see things like, a cow!, or, a sheep!" "Cool," I say, then make the colossal mistake of half-muttering to myself, "I have never really seen a sheep."

"YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A SHEEP?" Smurfette's boyfriend's eyes are widened, just in case you miss the surprise in the sheer volume of his voice. There might have been a sheep in the Adelaide zoo that CS and I once took my nephew to, but might have is a little vague and, anyhow, it is one second too late for clarification. As I play around with the mussels shells on my plate, the information sinks in Gaston's head, and you can tell the precise moment that it finally clicks, because that is the moment when he turns around to stare at me, and goes, "YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A SHEEP??" I point out to Gaston that Smurfette's boyfriend has already said that, but clearly no one cares for originality, because Smurfette, having heard the French translation from her boyfriend, echos, "YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A SHEEP???"

The next half an hour is a long list of animals. "A donkey?" "Uhm..." "YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A DONKEY?" "I have seen it on, uhm, Shrek?" "What is Shrek?" Smurfette's boyfriend wants to know. "It is Shrek," Gaston repeats precisely what I just said, but somehow in a French-ish way and it works because Smurfette's boyfriend then goes, "SO YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A DONKEY?" "A cow, what about a cow?" "Yes!" I am palpably relieved, choosing not to mention that at the age of seven, after seeing a cow for the first time in Da Lat, I came home innocently telling my father that he needed to go there to see a cow, because I believed that (a) like me pre-Da Lat, my forty-two-year-old father has never seen a cow in his life, and (b) Da Lat is the only city with cows. "Phew...," goes a collective sigh from everyone. A camel? An elephant? A horse? Yes, I have even been on a horse, for the whole minute, long enough for a photo to be taken... "I have never been on a horse," it is Smurfette's boyfriend's turn to commit a grave error. Smurfette swiftly turns sideways to give one look at her boyfriend, then turns back to us, with the well-practiced manner of a primary school teacher, "All together now...," then the three of us, in perfect unison, "YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN ON A HORSE?"

It turns out that you can, after all, play Never Ever Have I without fixating on moral sins and sexual activities, or ending up vomitting. Which is a good thing, because I wouldn't have wanted to waste all the creamy tiramisu that Smurfette prepared for us, and 'a cute primary-school teacher who cooks well' is all I want to know about my new flatmate for now. Moral sins and sexual activities can wait. Maybe until the next pre-Christmas party. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


472. Having croque-monsieur (without ham), goat cheese on bread and proper coffee for breakfast, in someone else's clothes.

473. A Parisian offer that I cannot refuse (I watched The Godfather last night): "Do you want to be my remote office-mate?"

474. It is a Tuesday dinner, but not as we usually know it. Side by side, Gaston and I have prepared our own food separately, he making a zucchini/celery/tomato soup, while I loosely following Mark Bittman's zucchini/eggplant/onion ratatouille, us occasionally helping out each other. I also use the phrase "helping out each other" loosely, because basically it refers to Gaston's peeling and cutting zucchini for me, Gaston's showing me how to cook rice that does not come inside a plastic bag, and then ending up cooking it himself, Gaston's spicing up my ratatouille. In return, I make fun of his soup, and prepare a glass of freshly squeezed lime juice for him. With me drinking my also homemade orange juice, tonight is most likely the first Tuesday dinner that we do not finish, or even start, a bottle of wine together.

Me: So, if you do it in September, I will bake a cake for you every week.
Gaston: I don't want to become big and fat!
Me, looking him up and down, to pretend that he is already big and fat, a feeble attempt that fails miserably because he is neither big nor fat: OK, if you don't do it in September, you will have to bake a cake for me every week. I don't mind being big and fat...
Gaston, in a deeply caring voice: But I don't want you to become big and fat.
Me: Some men like that, you know.
Gaston: What have you been watching on the Internet??

Monday, September 5, 2011


471. Recreating our own delicious pasta tomato sauce, with the secret ingredient added in the very last stage: ketchup. Italians the world over cry about our sacrilegious treatment of their national food, but we love it all the same. Making dinner together is one of the best parts of a slumber party.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


466. Realizing, that instead of the anticipated peer pressures, all I have received so far has been peer support. Over afternoon brunch, Gaston -- in order to encourage me to stick to the September plan and defy social expectations -- tells about his ordering tomato juice at a pub the day before, then showing up for a friend's birthday dinner at a fancy restaurant in a white, faded T-shirt and cheap flip-flops bought from the Italy vacation. The outfit wasn't intentional, but he felt fine with being the odd one out all the same. "Maybe you should wear the same thing to work," I suggest. "Well, I will not lose my friends, but I might lose my job if I do that..."

467. At a braderie near Cimetière d'Ixelles. No matter what we get out of this. Watching a little girl, in her father's lap, bobbing her head to the live beats, occasionally pausing to push up her big moon glasses or re-tug her long hair behind her ears but otherwise completely lost to the music. Smoke on the water and fire in the sky. A few seats behind, a little boy too is dancing equally enthusiastically, pushing his plastic axe up and down, almost touching the ceiling of the makeshift tent. Smoke on the water... Anna and I sing together, moving our bodies to the classic tunes of Deep Purple under the bright blue sky.

468. Parc du Cinquantenaire. Super short shorts. Hot pink. It is hard to make an unembarrassing (inembarrassing? disembarrassing?) sentence out of those words. In my defense, at the same time somewhere in Bois de la Cambre, another girl is also running laps in her matching hot pink, super short shorts.

Friday, September 2, 2011


460. Brussels in the final days of a summer/autumn warmth. On the steps facing the fountain near a campus entrance, as we eat our salads and sandwich from the "Italian place," a nearby sandwich shop that has long earnt their nickname from, well, being Italian.

Mario: Will you eat the bread? 
Anna: No, I'm really full. The salad was a lot!
Mario: Do you know how many Indian kids who do not h-
Me: Here, have it. And the butter. 
Mario: OK, but I don't eat bread with butter... 
Me: I know, I know, being Italian and all. But it's the same, you know, olive oil and butter.
Mario: You don't know what you are talking about...
Me: I meant in terms of spreading on the bread.
Mario: Yes, that is the same. But the tastes? Completely different. This is the difference between you and me

*a pause, when I think about me and my apparently indiscriminating tastebuds, or -- to quote Mario from the Italian trip, when I decided, as usual, that I would make up my mind on what to order once the waiter arrived -- me and my being a garbage bin that takes everything*

Mario: Or, in general, the difference between Italians and other people

*another pause, when I am feeling mildly relieved that six billion other people are also insulted alongside me*

Me: But do you guys eat butter, at all? 
Mario: OK, so the North, yes, but the South, not really...
Me: But Sora, where your family is, do you count that as the South, or...? 
Mario: OK, so, you know Florence...
Me: Florence is the South??
Mario: No, but I need to start from some city you know. If I start from, say, <insert some random Italian city name that Gazpacho will never recall, or even merely be able to repeat on the spot>, do you know it? No? I thought so. So, you know Florence, no, actually, you know Bologna, and down a little bit, there are mountains in the middle of Italy, if you didn't sleep through the drive from Sora to Pescara...
Me: No, I didn't. I was awake the whole time! 

...the two hours or so when Gaston and I played movie charade in the backseats. ("So the first word is 'American' -- your 50-state map doesn't look very good, by the way. What is the second word? What does that mean?" Gaston asked, mimicking my one-arm sweeping the air around me. "'Beauty'. I meant all the beauty around us at the moment!" "Oh, if I were you, I wouldn't describe 'beauty' like that." "How would you describe it?" *motions* Then, Zoe, having missed the silent gesture from the front passenger seat, "How would you describe it?" As she turned around, Gaston waved hand to indicate himself.)

Mario: The mountains divide Italy into two parts, and...

And, however briefly, it feels like I were back to Italy once again. 

461. Feeling indescribably grateful, even if I don't say it, to Pierre for being very kind and supportive of my September plan even when I cannot articulate well the underlying reasons, and for teaching me -- of all things -- an English word, pescetarian.

462. How to spend a Friday evening. 

Say yes to dinner at an expensive Russian restaurant to be with friends and to cheer up, even if marginally, a Russian newly divorcé. Agree, collectively, that you can't really afford it and instead make reservation at the cheaper Belgian restaurant to be with friends and to cheer up, even if marginally, a Russian newly divorcé, who does not have any phone number of your friends or yours. Decide that you do not want to wait until eight o'clock to see your friends, so you join them an hour earlier than planned, at the incredibly crowded Café Belga, where Zucchini, by personal request, did turn up dressier than the usual self; the pretty, summery sight of her reminds you of vacation: her in a dress and us about to have a (then daily) apéritif. Remember that, unfortunately, you are no longer on vacation, so you stick to your September plan and order a non-alcoholic drink, a grape juice and tonic drink without the tonic part. Back up Carrot's idea, who volunteers to catch the 71 from Flagey all the way to Place Fernand Cocq because a certain dressy someone is wearing fancy shoes and buses would be terribly more convenient, while the boys, who would never understand the concept of fancy shoes, walk.

Tell the waiter that, no, really, your Russian friend is not imaginary and we do need that sixth chair, not knowing that the newly divorcé, having failed to check emails or contacted us, is now heading towards the pricy Russian restaurant. Have a delicious dinner without him anyway, mussels, mussels, more mussels, and crispy French fries, accompanied by an adventurous glass of apple juice. Ask the waiter to take a picture for all of you even if you know that the odds are it will be blurry, because this time next year you might want to look at the blurry snapshot and try to remember what it was like, a Friday night with friends in Brussels. Say no to the juicy steak with blue cheese sauce of Celery. Say no to the tender pieces of duck of Mushroom, however many times he tries to offer it to you, knowing that you love duck more than most meat in existence. Tell your friends about your September plan, and breathe, relieved that none of them laughs at you, at least not outwardly, because being a no-alcohol, no-softdrink pescetarian is hard enough without peer pressures.

Discuss about CIA and warlords, and then feel proud, silently, of Celery for choosing, hypothetically, to be paralyzed for the rest of his life rather than to shoot someone dead. Know the difference between what Celery thinks he will, hypothetically, do and what he might actually do were the situation to arise, but feel proud of him anyway because, even just hypothetically, you don't really know whether you yourself can say out loud and without any hesitation that you will choose to be paralyzed. Being paralyzed is not easy. Laugh when Mushroom tries to trick Carrot into believing that he has just cracked a bone in his nose, and then continue to laugh when your friends, one after another, try to do crazy bodily movements inside a grown-up restaurant, Carrot flipping her tongue sideways, Zucchini bending her thumb backwards, and Celery moving his ear without touching it. Share the rock-hard chocolate cakes and the non-fluffy chocolate mousses around.  ("Why is it not fluffy?" "Because your flatmate exaggerated!")

Walk back to Place Flagey, stopping randomly in the middle of the street to gaze at shop windows, wondering what weird and wonderful things these tiny shops have on offer. Stand around at Place Flagey to wait with Carrot and Celery for the bus that (almost) never came, even if it means that "one more drink outside in the 'last' warm evening" has to wait a little longer. Watch a (mostly) verbal street fight and try to use our non-native French to understand what these guys are fighting about. Ask Mushroom, the closest to a walking French dictionary that we have on site, who says with semi-authority that they are fighting because someone showed an American TV series on the telly. Say goodbye to the bus riders and the biker, and get that "one more drink outside in the 'last' warm evening," even if the drink turns out to be a hot chocolate (there is only so much fruit juice one can drink a day), and you are inside (great minds think alike and all outdoor tables are already taken). Speak French in the slowest possible speed but do it anyway because you like it and because so does Mushroom (so he says, anyway).

Walk home, bathed in the yellow glow of street lights, and smile to yourself, thinking that the first evening out in your new plan has been very pleasant. You don't need meat, soft drinks or alcohol to have a great evening. Just friends. In September, anyway. Midnight on the first of October, German sausages and dark beer here you come.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends

457. From: Me
       To: Gaston

Happy one year anniversary! 

And, if you don't move out tonight, you'll break the record of the longest flatmate that I ever had.  

       From: Gaston
       To: Me

Oups. I forgot to tell you that I moved yesterday...