giovedì, aprile 23, 2009

Call me a prude but I don't give fishing until there's a ring on my finger

Ugh. Can't sleep this morning. Atrocious dream about watching a pessimistic volcano survival documentary while a murderer broke into our holiday flat. At least that's made me too tired to be very nervous about today's meeting.

Speaking of, nerves beat parsimony and I ordered four extra hours of driving practice. The ex-cop who guides me during the sessions seemed to know that means I really don't want to fail the exam in a week in a half, so he cracked down and got all martial with me. 'Alright - scan the intersection - scan, scan - pedestrian sign changed - take your foot off the brake - relax on the clutch - release - give it gas! But don't hit that black guy!* Okay, now more! More! More! Second gear! More gas! Pretend your husband has been kidnapped and he's in the car ahead! You can't lose them! Pretend that adorable puppy in the car is your husband! Hit the gas! Third! Gas! Give it some fishing!* Fourth! There, now you're driving like a normal person. Scan! Scan the street! Why are you slowing down? WHY ARE YOU STOPPING? It's priority from the right, my cabbage!* Don't hesitate! You check the priority and you go, go, go! No, no, first gear! Now step on the gas!" It was stressful but fun and I feel marginally more ready for the exam. And it was nice to make the car go rrrrrrr. Nine more hours of practice to go.

Baywatch commented yesterday that all the rigmarole associated with getting your license here hasn't seemed to make Belgians better drivers than in places where the test I'm shitting myself over is a non-event, and he's right. People are really atrocious drivers here - getting into accidents all over the place and doing jaw-droppingly stupid things on a secondly basis. In view of their monumental suck I admit I wonder how hard the test can possibly be. . . but it's probably quite hard. My feeling is that learning how to drive here is just like the general French/Francophone Belgian educational system; you're not training people to not be retards, you're training them to pass an exam. Also traffic police are a complete non-presence in town. There's nobody checking up on you - just some speed cameras and blaring horns - so people have full rein to drive with their ids*.

*Belgian ex-cop, not a French one, obviously
*Belgian idiom for 'do it with balls'*
*Continental French idiom for 'sweetie'
*Freud is only good for traffic

*Just had a chat with my perfectly bilingual boss, who exlained the expression 'mis de la pêche!' makes slightly more sense than my translation 'give it some fishing!' - 'pêche' there is actually 'peach', homophonous with 'fishing' in French. I still don't get it, but there you are.

mercoledì, aprile 22, 2009

Big Things in life

As we left tai chi last night, the sun was setting over the maison communale, bringing out all the lovely little eccentricities of the Art Nouveau neighborhood in a orange and golden light and basically looking enchanting, and I wondered, how could I be so keen on leaving Brussels? As I wondered, the F-word made spectacular last-minute save to stop me from stepping into a massive turd. Sigh. In the springtime, this city is like a beautiful, divinely sexy man with epic cock cheese - just as you're about to fall in love, or at least fuck, it disgusts you back down to earth. But I'm realizing, batshit as this place drives me, I'll miss it almost as soon as I leave.

In a more general sense, mild terror in my heart at the thought of leaving Europe. It's such a strange balance here that I've gone on about before, I think, but I will again. There are too many fucking people here and no solitude or fresh air - but there being too many people means there's a lot of man-made beauty and architecture. Australia looks even more backwards than Canada in that respect - they're even more into the Big Something things than we are, and I can't help but feel that basing your national landmarks on Big Things shows a certain lack of architectural and cultural imagination.

But then that leads into one of the complicating factors - sometimes it seems like the parts of Europe where I speak the language are out of ideas in that respect - that enjoying the Francophone and Italophone parts is like enjoying a museum - and everything that's been built since the last war is no more culturally daring than Ballina's Big Prawn. After all, the most recent successful tourist attraction here in Brussels has been the Big Iron Crystal - interesting, to me, mainly in terms of how the image copyright fight about it illustrates some of the more futile and ridiculous behaviour that gives Belgians their international reputation for stupidity.

And another complicating factor is that, despite being a bit of a snob, I really like Big Things. Hipster Irony Not Included. I love driving past the Big Apple on Highway 401. I love the Big Canada Goose in Wawa. I love the idea of a big fibreglass prawn. I couldn't tell you why. It just makes me feel good to look at them, and I'd go out of my way to look at them. I think it's because they're things people built so that other people would enjoy them, but I'm not sure. It just appeals to me, and I think it's the same emotion I felt when I was a little girl and got really excited about garbage trucks and dinosaurs, and there's something just as satisfying about that emotion, if I'm honest with myself, as there is at geeking on a magnificent building by Horta. Not Gaudi, though. Gaudi's religious. But he's only in Barcelona and we can't afford to live there.

In a larger sense , the upshot is there'll be a push-pull wherever I go. In the New World I'll miss the Old World, in the Old World I miss the New World. That's life. I may as well accept that it's always going to drive me crazy and always make me second-guess myself and my choices.

martedì, aprile 21, 2009

Bundle of nerves and nerves and bone and hair

For someone who spends so much time whining on a keyboard every morning, it's astonishing how much I had to drum up my moxy to express myself to my employers, and say "I'm not happy," and have a go at explaining why. At the end I was so keyed up and so overwrought that my practice driving session later that evening was nearly disastrous for the entire city of Brussels. I think, however, the work confrontation went well, in the sense that I think I'll get what I want, or at least am much more likely to get what I want than I was before the confrontation. Now the F-word and I have to be quite, quite clear on what we want - and this morning, that's keying me up. Will the dust never fucking settle? Or does that have to wait until senility?

My driving exam is in two weeks. Less. A week and a half. After last night, I am not oozing confidence. It looks like being angry makes me a better driver, and being nervous, overwrought and preoccupied makes me a much worse driver. Go fucking figure.

But let's have a go at accentuating the calm and positive: my peas and lemon cucumbers have sprouted and the tomatoes/tomatilloes are going gangbusters. It has been a lovely sunny spring so far, very uncharacteristically so for Brussels, and that's been helping them along beautifully. I'm willing to dedicate my life to fighting climate change and it's going to be one of the greatest disasters our planet has ever known, but honestly, it can only do this fucking shithole of a city I live in favours.

Oh well done, Spliffe, that was some marvellous accentuation of the positive. I think I'm a little extra pissy about Brussels today because Bordeaux was also lovely and sunny, but despite being of a comparable sort of size, the air was clear - here things get hazy after a city block because of the miasma of car exhaust, industrial emissions, spores and pollen. Bordeaux has taken a lot of measures to get cars of the streets, and it's next to mountains and seas and farms, and Brussels subsidizes the criminal overuse of cars, and it's next to Germany's farting industrial asshole, which due to prevailing winds actually has better air quality than here.

lunedì, aprile 20, 2009

Actually, I can use the things it don't get, but let's skirt over that for the moment

The confrontationality that had been scheduled for Wednesday is now scheduled for this afternoon. I would have liked it to be before the vacation, because the interesting thing is there can't really be a bad outcome to all this, and I would have liked the time off to either celebrate or process what had happened . . . nervous today nonetheless though. Strange, isn't it? But I'm going to play with this idea that somebody else's fuckups can either be your problem, or theirs. In my case, the most obvious fuckup is that on paper I've got a promotion and big percentages worth of raises since I started working . . . the reality is I'm netting almost exactly a same a month as when I started, due to Belgian taxation laws.

I would be a lousy little worm if I let that be my problem, and the good thing about that is that money is something everybody understands. I can say 'I want to set my own hours, I want to live in a less crappy city, I want to work from home', and all of those things look magnificently concrete and sensible to me, and actually rather more important than money. But they remain subjective, since not everybody thinks about work or Brussels or home that way. However, 'I'm netting exactly what I was netting during my probationary period two years ago despite a promotion, big raises on paper, and record-setting inflation, to which my rent is indexed' is something objective - something anybody with a job anywhere could understand - because it's money.

Money. It's like a code - like a bunch of social symbols for energy - my analyst explained it to me in those terms once when I shuddered at the thought of spending my dead grandfather's legacy. 'This is his energy that he stored up as money and gave to you.' I think that's why our economic system is so obviously objectionable now - money isn't a symbol for effort anymore. A woman can work for thirty years, be informed her factory is closing down, and not even get her severance if she leaves for another job before her employers tell her to, while at the same time those assholes on top of the pile pull in huge bonuses and salaries. And of course I understand there are good reasons for those huge bonuses and salaries - that is, they're good if you accept the absolutely rotten and unproductive framework in which the reasons are good.

If I hadn't been a pinko before the rot started showing with a vengeance, I'd feel a lot stupider now. But let's all get over that and have a revolution. Anyways. Onwards and upwards.

domenica, aprile 19, 2009

The old fog/lost your number/didn't want to wake you up excuse

Just back from vacation in Bordeaux. It was a good vacation, though brief. I think I even pulled down a bit of a tan, or at least a spot of darkening, in the sense that the sun no longer shines directly through me. But one thing about it was really bad, and me being me, I'm going to accentuate the negative at the moment, and let it be a cautionary tale tieing into my confrontational inabilities.

I love kayaking, and I love sea kayaking most of all the kayaking, and voted for Bordeaux as our destination in part because in a nearby town some fucking cockwanks calling themselves Arcachon Kayak Aventure started excursions earlier in the spring than anywhere else I'd seen, and I was able to book us an excursion date for this past weekend. Here was the sequence of events:

- called the night before to confirm reservation. No answer, left message
- called that morning to confirm reservation. No answer
- got on the fucking train for Arcachon at 7:41 in the morning. The morning of our fucking vacation, when I just wanted to stay in bed forever possibly
- get a call halfway to Arcachon from Arcachon Kayak Aventure, 45 minutes before it was due to start, saying the excursion has been cancelled, because other people who were going on it had cancelled the night before, and it was no longer profitable enough for them to carry it out.

When I pointed out we were already on the train heading towards the RDV, three bullshit excuses followed for not having cancelled, oh, say, before our alarms went off at 6:30:

- his computer wasn't working so he couldn't find my number (which was on his cellphone, as I had left a message)
- there was a touch of fog that morning (which had burned off completely by the scheduled departure hour, leaving an insolently hot and sunny spring day - fucking perfect, perfect for kayaking)
- didn't want to disturb us by informing us the night previous the other party had cancelled (which would have disturbed us so much fucking more than waking up at 6:30 in the fucking morning and getting on a train for some podunk bourgeois resort that stank of the neighbouring Smurfit Kappa pulp mill)

I was so bloody furious that as soon as he seemed to be wrapping up the final bullshit excuse I hung up. And here comes the cautionary tale: I stayed pissed off for hours afterwards. Part of it was an unavoidable sadness, of course, because a spot of sea kayaking was half the point of us going to Bordeaux at all, as far as I was concerned. But another part of it was sheer fury with the thoughtlessness and incompetence of the company concerned, and that took me a long time to shake off, because instead of roaring down the telephone, I hung up and let it fester.

Lesson of the story? Confront, don't hang up. Pass your bile onto the thing that provoked it. It's easier than trying to swallow it. Hanging up may feel satisfyingly rude, but it's not as satisfying as yelling at an asshole.

It didn't help that I didn't like Arcachon. Besides the revolting fart-stink of the nearby mill, which faded as the day wore on and the prevailing wind changed, it's the sort of artificially created upper-middle-class watering spot that makes me dislike European coasts as a generality. Lots of expensive boats and extravagant villas and overpriced restaurants. Lots of knick-knack shops. Casinos and a twee little 'market' selling artisanal goods at about four times the price they'd fetch here in Brussels, for example. 'Forests' with provokingly sandy walking paths (for keeping cars out, I suppose, with the corollary that it was a real pain in the ass to hike through - for hiking is what we did instead of kayaking, in the end) that were full of people and refreshment stands. My mood didn't lift until we got back to Bordeaux - which really is a tremendous city. More on Bordeaux later, when I'm more in the mood to accentuate the positive.

Re-read A Passage to India on the train. Liked it both better and worse than the first time I'd read it. I don't know how I'd ever got the idea in my head that the Indians in it were presented more like proper characters than a collection of archetypes forcefully combined to make a POINT than the Italians in Where Angels Fear to Tread, but I'd imagine it has something to do with me being Italian, and defensive. In fact, generally all the characters in A Passage to India started seeming wooden to me, relative to the first reading - and that's aside from Aziz suddenly coming off as a massive, hysterical stereotype. But in this second go, as much as the characterizations suffered, the descriptions of the landscape and the overarching ideas about friendship, love and nationality benefited. Still, I feel I'm hitting a wall with these Big Gay Brit Lit books I've been indulging in so heavily of late, what with the Maugham and whatnot. Their female characters are alienating - harridans, frigid, fluff, or Mother. I must look elsewhere at the moment for my fiction.