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There have been a great many things I’ve not quite understood since relocating to our Belgian locale.  There are advertisements that go over my head, festivals I don’t quite understand the reasoning behind, and a host of cultural faux pas which I likely still don’t know I have committed.  There have also been moments which seemed so natural and non-foreign that I could swear this is Leuven, Ohio–not Leuven, Belgium.

Then there’s one last class of cultural interaction, and it’s perhaps the most confusing.  These interactions are characterized by intense confusion, because they seem to be simultaneously native, common sense, and foreign in the extreme.

Case in point.

While we were out the other day, we happened upon a bank of these puppies.  If you haven’t surmised it’s purpose yet (the background of the photo should help), here’s another clue.

That’s right.  Outdoor urinal.

Being that it’s festival season, there’s an obvious need for extended sanitation options, and whether we’ve yet to discover this one in the States or whether we knew about it and flat out could not accept its existence, I’m not sure.

I mean, I was under the impression that the specific group of people expressly indicated as the primary market for these devices by their (above) markings had, you know, been using outdoor urinals for a while–lamp posts, alley ways, and the like.

But I guess if that sort of thing becomes a problem, you’ve got to be proactive.  Here, I guess that means centralizing and containing the messy business.  I’m just not sure that I’d ever be able to use one.  I mean, I could use one in theory, but practice is another thing.  What if nearby women-folk would be offended?

Oh, wait.

That’s my girl.

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Partycipation

It’s springtime here, and as is the case in most countries with cold or oppressively dreary winters, that means two things:

1) Girls in sundresses.
Linds even went out and bought one, much to my delight.  It’s as if she knew intrinsically that my ability to be grumpy or even to think thoughts becomes decimated when I absorb sunshine while simultaneously beholding cute floral dresses.

2) Festivals in Belgium.
It appears that unlike Minnesotans—who enter spring with trepidation, as if the mere hope of lasting sunshine might itself bring snow—Belgians embrace the months of March and April with a vigor deserving of festival.  Maybe that’s why there are so bloody many festivals here right now.  Honestly, every time I turn around I feel as though I’ve inadvertently walked into another festival.  We could learn a thing or two about ringing in the spring back home in the great white north.

In the last month alone, we’ve seen a Flemish Wine Festival, the Deronde von Vlaanderen (think Tour de France, but on a tiny scale), three separate single-day concert festivals, several faculty celebrations, a film/media festival in Ghent, and an African film festival a couple blocks away.  How are we supposed to keep up?  More importantly, how am I supposed to resist eating fries at almost every one of these things I pass?

It’s festival season in Leuven, and that means mobile fry shops.  Mmmmm.

Here’s a little taste of one particular festival we accidentally found, called Partycipation.  What was the occasion?  Who knows?  Who cares?  There are mobile fry shops people–trailers of which the only function is the preparation and distribution of fries.


Sorry for the low quality video. It was shot on my Sony Cybershot from 2004.

One night I walked by a large town square that had been effectively cordoned off by a large temporary fence covered with black canvas.  Inside what I assumed could only be a quarantine zone for some sort of contagious brain disease were about 500 students singing mish-mash Flem-lish versions of Christian hymns and nursery rhymes; what I’d actually stumbled onto was a Cantus.

Cantuses … Canti? … whatever … are basically semi-exclusive parties for each faculty’s student groups, which basically serve as the Belgian equivalent for fraternities/sororities.  The article I’ve linked above will try to tell you that the main activity at a Cantus is singing, but don’t be fooled.  This quaint historical practice may have become popular during its advent in the 19th century because of the general feeling of camaraderie cultivated by singing silly songs together, but it stuck around because that merriment is primarily facilitated by beer.  Lots and lots of beer.

My guess is that the practice makes a lot more sense the next day, when very few of the actual rituals surrounding Cantus can be remembered due to the effects of mild alcohol poisoning.  If no one can remember it, did it even really happen?  Maybe only if a wayward American wanders by and blogs about it later.

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Job Update

So recently, I’ve been looking for jobs that actually pay money (go figure). But being that I still don’t have a work permit (visa in the works), I thought I might be able to try a different avenue of employment. I’ve shifted my focus temporarily towards being a nanny. I have recently secured a position as such from a very nice family that live nearby, and I start next Monday. Hurray!

So yeah, this will be a short, sweet post detailing very little about this family. I’m sure they wouldn’t want me talking about them on the blog anyway. If you’d like specifics, please email me or something. I just thought I’d let our fans know that I have, at least for now, found something that pays.

Lately, Trevor and I have been a bit lazy.

Ok, so lazy is a bit of an understatement. Really what I mean is supremely unmotivated to do anything at all related to house work, i.e. cleaning, laundry, cooking, dishwashing.

So as you can very well imagine, our apartment is in a general state of disarray with clothes hanging on chairs, dishes piled up in the sink, a light layer of dust covering all surfaces, and basically no food to speak of in the fridge. However, we planned to remedy at least part of this unfortunate situation by cooking ourselves a delightfully easy, delicious, and nutritious meal this evening.

And then everything went horribly awry.

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Oh, the things people use the Internet for.  As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite activities is using WordPress’ data collection features to see how people have been finding our site.  Every so often, when I’m either particularly amused or particularly confused, I take a screen capture.

Lemonade stands?  Really?  I don’t even know which post that could have brought such an intrepid Google adventurer to our pixely shores.

The “pie crust dough in a waffle iron” search I understand.  We’ve made a couple different references to the especially flaky nature of the waffles here, especially in the ways the dough a lot like pie crust.  But what interests me here is that someone was actually wondering whether they should be putting pie crust dough into a waffle iron.  At first guess, I’d say, “No, you should not do that,” but really I’ve got no clue.

Are you out there, little pie crust waffle maker?  Are you reading this?  How’d it turn out?  I must know.  If you get the time, try baking a pie using waffle dough as the crust, and tell me what you come out with.  There are simply too many questions for me to let this lie.

Other days, search results are more predictable.  I wonder if anyone who runs a successful Internet business or  who blogs for money has discovered what I’m calling “The Moon Boot Effect.”

Seriously.  If you want to boost hits to your site, mention Moon Boots in a couple of your post titles.  It’s good for 10 hits a day or so.

More confusing to me on this particular day, though, was the first non-moon boot related search term on the list: wedding vending machine.

Now, a part of me understands that this person was probably searching for some sort of rental novelty vending machine to place at his or her wedding, but there’s another part of me that hopes that’s not it.  Is there, for instance, some sort of vending machine for wedding dresses?  Or is this a sort of one-stop wedding vending machine where I can purchase dresses, tuxes, flowers, and a cake by coin?  Even better, does there exist somewhere in the universe a machine which dispenses entire weddings?  Cause that last one could really sell.  They’d have a customer in me.

Last, I’d like to point out that one Google search for a “wedding adventure” on “wordpress” really did bring someone to this, our site, which is actually quite germane to the search itself.  Good job Google.  You get ’em right sometimes.

The Beard

I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but during Linds’ hiatus from Belgium …

I grew a beard.

Yes, a beard.  That most hallowed and revered of all the many facial-hair configurations.  No other is so honored as to have an entire month—two, if you count both Novem-beard and Janu-hairy—dedicated to its cultivation and coiffiture.

In doing so, I have joined ranks of great thinkers like Socrates and Augustine, writers like Jules Vern, strategists like Clovis, the first Frankish king, Ulysses S. Grant and Rick Aguilera.

And of course, yours truly.

Damn.  I look good.

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In all our posts complaining about our apartment, I’m surprised that we’ve neglected to mention one of the more humorous problems (if it can be so called) of living where we do. That is to say, all the sounds we’ve become accustomed to.

We live in a generally “quiet” part of the city. I say “quiet” because it’s really a relative term. I mean, not all noise is bothersome or annoying anyway. We avoid most of the obnoxious sounds coming from the busier streets in town, luckily, but we cannot escape it all. We tend to get the occassional drunk, student group returning home from a night of partying in the Oude Markt (Old Market, where the bars are). This inebriated lot will often stop outside our building shouting up to their friends on the second or third floor who are hanging out their windows shouting back.

(This is a method of communication which I think we should employ more of in the US. I mean, really. Why waste expensive cell phone minutes calling someone when you could just as easily annoy the entire building, or even neighborhood, by yelling out your window at passersby?)

One would expect to be bothered occassionally by loud college students in a college town. However, I could never have forseen the issues brought to my attention by living so close to a bowling alley.

Yes, we live within a block from a bowling alley. It’s weird. The bowling alley is located behind our building on an adjacent street. We’ve never been inside, but I’m curious to know what it’s like in there.  The thing that’s so strange is just how constant (and I mean CONSTANT) the sound of bowling balls rolling and hitting pins is.

I mean, SERIOUSLY!? Do Belgians really bowl this much? I am not exaggerating when I say that the sound persists all day and long into the night. Every day. Every night.

The sound isn’t really annoying at all unless you think about it. It can actually be kind of soothing at times like the sound of crashing waves on the beach or distant thunder…if the waves were made of bowling balls crashing against a beach covered in bowling pins. I guess we don’t have that much to complain about on that front.