Sunday, 5 August 2012

Best laid plans and so on

What, what?


The donkeys and caramel are all over and I am back in Belgium. I have been attempting to make progress on this stupid, stupid cake themed thing I am trying to write since returning from holidays and had foresworn blogging (and pitching for paying work) as part of this process, intending to finish my draft by September and to return, triumphantly to the blog with a new sense of purpose. Ha! I am an idiot. It has been an unmitigated disaster.

Astonishingly, and I am sure you will find this as surprising as I did, sitting on your own day after day, barely speaking to other humans or leaving the house for weeks on end, writing about one of the darkest periods in your life for precisely no money is not conducive to good cheer. Who could have guessed such a thing? Apparently not me.

Thus the last few weeks can be summarised as follows: sitting in the attic in a variety of weathers (too hot, rain, hail, heavy shifting columns of ominous clouds) that I have had ample opportunity to observe because I have mainly been staring into space. I am surprised I do not have pressure sores from the hours of slumping, motionless in front of a screen; I have certainly picked at every single one of my many insect bites several times over. I have gone off on eighty million tangents, each more fruitless to the last. I have second-guessed the crapness, self-indulgence and non-saleability of what I am writing so much my head has threatened to explode. I have "restructured". I have read more Zola than can possibly be necessary or desirable. I have, as an unrelated side issue, become embroiled in a complex incompetence-derived situation involving various bank accounts and child benefit, which has required me to face my demons partially (ie. open some envelopes). It is still not resolved. I have woken up most mornings and had a little cry at my continuing inability to do anything right. I have also watched far too much esoteric, frequently horse-based, sports. I make no apology for this last one. Everyone is doing it, right?

So. Having declared this strategy an abject failure, I am going to man up in various ways and this includes trying to blog much more frequently. I don't know if there are finite number of words available to me in a day as I have thought previously , but even if there are, the ones I was writing about cake were shit, so it is no great loss. These might not be better, but at least they will feature less extraneous material about heavily bearded French authors. Also, I am going to try and rediscover 'amusing'. I have forgotten what amusing looks like, it escaped so long ago but maybe if I creep up on it, I can recapture some. Funny! Come back! I have some dried fruit if you like that the rats have disdained!

(For clarity, I am not abandoning the cake writing. Just, letting myself of the 'no writing but that writing' hook, because it is plainly insane, and I have too many chins to make a good, aesthetically pleasing fist of suffering in a garret)



1. Brussels is eerily empty in August, which has made it difficult to do any restaurant research for one of my few extant paying jobs, since they are all shut. I speak as someone who would ALWAYS rather eat out than in, but it has been challenging. I have:

- tried to go to a far-flung pop up restaurant which did not appear to exist.

- gone to three places supposedly for breakfast which have turned out, either not to exist or, contrary to their own literature, not to be open for breakfast.

- Stood lamely in front of many, many closed shutters, trying to peer through the gaps at dark, empty dining rooms.

- taken a long, optimistic walk to a sandwich bar and failed to find it (because I was in the wrong street).

- taken a long, optimistic walk to a wine bar which turned out to be run by a hobo and his dog, selling a side plate of ham and some cheese so old it had developed consciousness for €19 a pop.

"This one's a bit strong", we said, poking a cautious fork at a festering pile of angry dairy produce. "What is it?"

"Ricotta" said the hobo, with unblinking defiance.

Then we ran away. In the rain.

It has not all been bad news in the world of Brussels restaurants, not by a long way, but I have to keep the good news for the paying job. Good things I have eaten this week: the "vegetable trolley" at La Paix, with teeny weeny courgettes barely bigger than matchsticks and baby artichokes and vivid green shelled mini broad beans and a stupidly delicious potato purée so soft and buttery it was more of a sauce (that website has dreadful, alarming music, you are warned). Moroccan crêpes with honey and mint tea at the Midi market. A vanilla éclair from Charli and a raspberry éclair from Gaudron. Yes, my post-holiday bitter herbs and steamed sustainable fish régime is going swimmingly. When I am not banging my head against my desk, I am mainly sitting curled like a python on the sofa, digesting, whilst watching amazing, muscular, beautiful men and women performing feats of credibility straining athleticism. This seems like a good division of labour: me digesting, them running and jumping.

2. I have been to Namur, which is, fact lovers, the capital of Wallonia (and, I also know from Lashes' geography revision, the capital of the province of Namur, confusingly). Every time I told M I was going she said:

"What is Namur?"

and then:

"Wallonia is not a real place".

I have proved her wrong, however. I know a lot* about Namur now (*almost nothing). It has several rivers and a belfry and a surprising profusion of museums. It was mostly shut on my visit there, due to "summer". I particularly liked this snail sculpture, though it seems rather poignant (I initially typed "pignant", which should definitely be a word):

A sachet of Namur's finest traditional Biétrumé caramels (missing two, they weren't very nice) to anyone who can tell me what is going on.

3. On the continuing theme of mysterious manifestations in the towns of Belgium, I marvelled at this lot, spotted in central Brussels yesterday in large numbers:

No one has thus far been able to tell me what on earth is going on. Suggestions included: "the Luxembourg Olympic synchronised witch-hunting team" and "Mr and Mrs Childcatcher on holiday in Europe". I crave enlightenment. I especially like 'sensible drag sash guy' and his bag which contains a plush rabbit. There were several of his ilk, except some of them were actually women. Once more, I ask you: what the fuck.

4. Wondered what exactly the car parked nearby is advertising:

Is this a spectator sport? An offer to shear your sheep for you? An offer for YOU to go and shear sheep for HIM? For some reason it made me laugh uncontrollably last night. As reported earlier in this post, I do not get out much, if at all, and I had had a watery mojito, which is enough to make me lose my mind. Tonte de moutons should be an Olympic sport.

5. Last night I saw a woman with a ferret in her handbag get turned away from Bruxelles-les-Bains (Brussels' slightly half-arsed version of Paris Plage, mainly composed of 27 identical watery mojito (yes, see 4 above) bars, a teenage rapper trying to get approximately 7 pensioners to put their arms in the air and some sinister gentlemen toting bags of dripping, bloody raw chicken wings for reasons that I would prefer to remain opaque). This was a high point; though not because I am against access for ferrets to municipal events, far from it. Raw part defrosted chicken wings good, live ferrets bad? Not in my world, Ville de Bruxelles. Ferret toting, also a strong candidate to become an Olympic sport.

(Incidentally, it now costs €23 to take your ferret on Eurotunnel. If you do not have a ferret you can take a world-weary whippet with a Cherington Flower and Produce Show "Dog the Judge Would Most Like To Take Home" title to defend for the same price. Bargain! )

Just imagine, I am planning to write this kind of stuff more regularly. I cannot imagine how exciting this is for you.


karen said...

Yay - you're back! And in a month I'll be in Paris! (This is a Big Deal as Paris is a long way from Canberra, Australia.) In the meantime, can you explain why everyone in Europe goes on holidays at the same time? What on earth is that about? And now I should go back to working too ...

CAD said...

cake-themed writing AND blogging - a potentially good combo. Welcome back.

The Reluctant Launderer said...

I am VERY happy you are back. Not so happy for you that you have been spending large portions of your day banging your head against the desk. I empathise, as I am doing similar (a pesky job I stupidly chased allowed me to catch it - bastard) but only for about 3 hours a day. My co-child-carer will not allow me to escape my responsibilities for any longer. Here's something which might cheer you up: next time you're feeling overwhelmed,remind yourself that at least you are not also 7 months' pregnant... Now don't you feel better? (I recommend the eating of cake for any time that little nugget of wisdom fails to work. Any cake will do. Or even M&Ms.)

Barbara said...

I think setting oneself down in a corner with the admonition to " write till you're done dammit" is generally unsuccessful. I think writing needs to be read. Very quickly. An audience matters. We need to feel as if we are being heard. At least i do. So to my mind, blog writing solves the problem neatly. And anyway, Your blog is wonderful. So, there you are, You can write the bog, make a connection to the outer world, then whip onto " serious" writing. Thats my thought anyway.

Accidental Londoner said...

Sad to hear about the dreariness but yay for you being back and blogging!

The random street wanderers look a little as if they might be looking for Danny Boyle and his Olympic opening ceremony...

Anonymous said...

Welcome back - yes I am all agog for your perspective on life and all it's quirks and am very happy to read your work again.
You may be interested in this; in which sheep shearing really is a world sport (though not yet at Olympics)
We also do gumboot throwing in certain rural areas here in NZ!
Heather (NZ)

Merisi in Vienna said...

So good to see you back and am sure that all that sitting and brooding over what you think turned out, well, not much, will be of great benefit to way more pleasant things to come!

I had to smile about Karen asking why in the world the Europeans close down shop during August. They do it since Roman times, fleeing from the unrelenting heat to the highest mountains they can find, the deepest, coolest countryside, to the lake shores and to the beaches, all place that are so much more comfortable to while away summer. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ in a birch bark canoe, as they say in the midsection of my great country, but it's good to hear your voice again!
My craving for your dulcet tones led me to read the entire archives this past month since I, too, am working on a writing project that I have, perhaps, put off for some time . . .

Anonymous said...

Very glad to hear you're in the land of the living - so glad I'm de-lurking after many months to confess I have missed the photography in particular.(Those donkeys! Those trousers!) Those snails are certainly poignant - but what is going on with the feet? Are they part of the same work? Is there anything attached or are they just feet? Is it part of the same 'work' or merely adjacent? Or do Belgians just have very, very shiny shoes (and trousers....?) See! My life is in such straits that I actually find these questions intriuging..... if that makes you feel bettter about things, I'm happy to help!

Emily said...

I agree with Anonymous the Second's comment, impiety notwithstanding. Welcome back.

Stacy said...

I so wish you could be paid enormous sums of money on a regular basis just for the photos of 'seen in Brussels'. Life is truly unfair sometimes. You have brightened my day immensely. So there's that.

zmkc said...

"I have second-guessed the crapness, self-indulgence and non-saleability of what I am writing so much my head has threatened to explode" - please, every time you do this, try to remember that you are a naturally brilliant writer - I am not saying this to encourage you but because I understand that syndrome and, more importantly, because I really do think you are (ie a naturally brilliant writer). All these thoughts of crapness, self-indulgence, et cetera, are actually, believe it or not, laziness creeping up in disguise saying, 'Oh look, this is not very good (and isn't it a pain having to do it anyway) so why don't you just stop trying?' Really, really, you are very, very, very good. Just keep at it, then put the stuff away and don't look at it for ages, until you've almost or completely forgotten it, and then look at it again - not when you're in a mad self-hating mood - and you'll be surprised. Also, do a lot of walking - it's amazing how you're brain starts turning over in interesting ways when you walk a lot.

zmkc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Good sheep shearers are usually in demand, although perhaps the publisher of this ad has a mysterious blot on his probity, hence having to advertise. I am keenly awaiting shearing's inclusion as an Olympic sport; you have to be so hellish fit.

Nice to see you back!

Cass said...

How?! How am I only now discovering your blog? You are brilliant. And funny. I've been living in Brussels for nearly 10 years and it is all sorts of wonderful reading your blog, and repeatedly exclaiming "exactly!" to myself. Also, those people in blue with the black hats: they also came with humongous effigies of themselves, hidden round the corner by the entrance to Ste Catherine métro. I *think* they were celebrating beer. In a very Belgian way.

Margaret said...

Feast of the Transfiguration?

I'm glad you've come back to us.

kalimak said...

I am so relieved, happy, and at peace with myself again knowing that you are still blogging! The world is all right again. I have really missed your writing, you know.

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