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.

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