Thursday, October 6, 2011

Flashback I.

(In order) to consolidate two inactive Brussels blogs together...

All about a Belgian sandwich. [Never say never.]

5.58 am, Wednesday October 7, 2009.

"There would be letters, emails and phone calls, but there would never be a blog."

During my last week in Australia, things were extremely chaotic and it seemed like I was uncertain of everything. One of the things that I was certain of, was that I would never write a blog when I got to Belgium. There were many reasons, one arose recently that some of you could guess and another reason came from my personal experience: I never really cared enough to read anyone’s blog for long. Once, I went through a phase where I stayed up late looking up anything related to food. Naturally, among other things I found a lot of blogs about making, tasting, photographing, buying and critiquing food, and I chose to follow a girl’s blog about her cooking adventures for a while. About a month later, I sadly realized that reading about food at midnight invariably led to me rummaging through my fridge and consuming whatever that was remotely edible. So I stopped and that was the end of that blog (to me).

When I arrived in Brussels, there was no (accessible) internet at the place that I was, and still am, staying. It was irrelevant anyway because my laptop’s battery was absolutely flat. The multi-continental adapter that I had used in Europe, US, Brazil and Australia was, of course, broken, and this in turn means I couldn’t charge my international-roaming Australian phone either. There were a lot of things that I wanted to tell people about (none of which was particularly interesting or intriguing) but all I had as means of communication was paper and pens. I wrote down pages and pages (never, ever mistake me for a quiet girl, something CS realized ages ago and still made a judgment error of choosing me ^_-) with the intention of typing them up again in emails to people.

And that’s where I went wrong. 

Number 1: Do I really want to read pages and pages of my own thoughts again? (The answer is actually yes, but there needs to be months lapsed between the writing and the reading.)

Number 2: Do I really want to type those pages up? 

Number 3: The people bit. 

There are quite a few people that I would like to write to, and let them know how the place I had booked for my first few nights in Brussels never materialized, and that I was walking up and down the street of the supposed B&B with luggage in hand, facing two straight rows of intimidating houses with no sign or banner, and that this morning for breakfast I had a "Belgian sandwich" with a slice of cake on top of butter on top of bread, under the suggestion of my Belgian hosts. The last bit, I have to admit, was a much better welcome than the Vegemite bread that Australians offer (Sorry K. and whoever else that is a Vegemite eater). In any case, I wasn’t sure whether I could tell the same stories again and again. By the time I wrote to the fifth person, the "Belgian sandwich" would probably become a combination of jelly, custard, black forest cake, chocolate, butter, sugar and bread.

So now I have a blog. Just so that the Belgian sandwich story can reach its audience without morphing into the Frankenstein of cooking. When next week comes and there’s no more Belgian sandwich, I probably will run out of stories to tell. Until then…

Sunday, October 4. After 25+ hours of flying (not including transit time), I arrived in one piece and Geluck kindly picked me up and took me to a bakery [Ed: Le Pain Quotidien]. I had always known that he would make an excellent supervisor. Afterwards, we went to check out a place whose owner had been in correspondence with me briefly before I left. When we got to the place, the guy was standing in front of the apartment, staring at us. This was never a good sign.

His odd behavior was in sync with the house. Geluck and I went up three flights of narrow, carpeted, stairs along the dark red walls that eventually led us to a floor that would be potential new home. In the small kitchen that would make the OC-building kitchen look positively gigantic, the tap was dripping and dishes by my two future housemates were piled up in the sink. In the bedroom, to my delight the window overlooked a beautiful green garden (possibly belonged to someone else’s) but that was the about only positive thing I could say about the place. I turned on the lights. Out of eight, four were broken. A passing rate, I suppose. There were supposedly three white drawers on top of each other, but one drawer was missing. It reminded me of when A., my nephew, was missing a tooth. At this point, Geluck and I were looking at each other wordlessly. What really sealed the deal was when the owner showed me toilet. Or rather, when he explained it. 

Have you ever been to a prospective rental place where the owner felt the need to explain the toilet? 

He said, in a beautiful mixture of French and English, that "whatever comes from you can go into the toilet, but if it doesn’t come from you, it can’t go to the toilet." Guy thanked the owner and we left.

Of course, I had a B&B booking for three nights, in case my potential rental place turned out exactly the way it did. Foresight and all, even though the booking was done at two am on Saturday morning, making it late Friday Belgian time. I had written down the address, and noticed, at the time, that there was no street number. However, my reasoning was that it’s probably a short street, there’d be a big, big sign saying WE ARE WELCOMING YOU AUSSIE PEOPLE (or B&B), and I would be happily staying at an overpriced but comfortable place, sleeping my way through jetlag and homesick.

The street was short but, as Geluck pointed out even before we got there, had probably 40+ houses along the side. We jokingly agreed that he would take the odd numbers, and I would take the even. And, surely every motel/hotel would have a sign? Of course it would, but my B&B wasn’t a motel/hotel. It was a B&B, which didn’t stand for the usual Bed And Breakfast. I should have realized that B&B was short for Beds In Brussels, and the people who rented out these rooms were actually normal families who happened to have spare rooms. Guy explained all of this to me on the deserted street with two of us being the only walkers and 15+ kg of luggage on my shoulders. The joke about odd and even numbers wasn’t so funny anymore (not that, I suppose, it was very funny to start with).

Luckily, there was a couple leaving their house right opposite where we were standing, and Guy approached them to ask. No, they weren’t the B&B and no, they didn’t know where it was, either. The wife crossed the road and asked her neighbors. Chantal the neighbor, I later learnt her name, wasn’t running a B&B place either, although she did have two students staying with her at the moment. Then another couple walked by, Chantal called out, and we quickly became a big group of happy, French-speaking, people on the street. For all I knew, they were probably saying that there was this Vietnamese idiot who came from Australia with an imaginary B&B reservation. But if it was the case, no one was translating it back in English to me.

(I should get ready to go to school, it’s 6:55 am now and class starts at 8:00. I’m auditing Geluck’s class today, learning both French and his m.a. methods at the same time!)

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