Across the pond…

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Image: Chiromancer 2018

It’s been a while since I packed passport, arranged a visa and hot-footed it somewhere else for work.  This week took me to New York for a new assignment.  In my previous, pre-stepmom life, this would have been an ordinary trip. I travelled a lot. For work. For pleasure.  I used to do a lot of other things…a lot. Now that I’m married to the Belgian – and stepmom to his boys – this trip adopted new significance.

Being alone in NYC as a kick-ass consultant reminded me of my days when I really was kick-ass, no-kids. No husband.  Fun. Me. Just me. Me…alone. This time, being alone in New York also reminded me that I have some boys at home who might be missing me. Turns out they did…even Watson, our cat was happy to see me…But, it also reminded me that I’m good at what I do, that in my professional life, I am respected, valued and rewarded as…me! Sometimes this is hard to know when your role is being a stepmom and wife to boys who are from a different culture.  Sometimes a different planet…

Change – which I do for a living – is not rocket science , but somehow, having to change my life from careerista singleton to married stepmom was harder than I expected. Not so much science as a rocket up my butt!  Ouch! Much harder! Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Belgian and I would not swap my current life for the world, but it’s nice to be myself – just me,myself, I – for a change.  For a change…being a working woman alone in New York meant I could order juice for breakfast, spend hours blowdrying my hair, explore the city after hours and catch up on some much needed sleep.

Sometimes you have to go back, to see how far you have journeyed…

 

 

 

In Flanders fields…

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. – Rupert Brooke, 1914

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Image: Copyright Chiromancer 2017

If you read my earlier post Adventures in Benglish…you will know that I have set myself the task of adventuring across the A-Z of Belgium.  It’s a sort of therapy for me.  A way to kill my inner conflict about living here, by being a tourist and acclimatising simultaneously.

I’m not doing it in any kind of chronological order, the only requirements are:  #1 that I hit all 26 letters, and… #2 that I try to visit places that are a bit off the beaten track.

Visiting Ypres (Ieper) probably breaks condition #2, but it does cross off the letter ‘Y’ which I thought might be problematic.  As I headed out of Bruges for an appointment I spotted it on the periphery of my satnav… ‘I’ll give it a go’ I thought, as the sombre stanzas of several War Poets began running through my head…

Two things I had certainly not anticipated. #1 As a town, Ypres is a lot bigger than you think, and…#2 there are war graves everywhere. And, I mean e-v-e-r-ywhere. In fields outside of town, in the middle of residential areas, and of course at the emblematic Menin Gate (Menenpoort).   In the 1920s the Commonwealth War Graves Commission built 150 military cemeteries in and around Ypres in the honour of all those who gave their lives during WW1. I must have missed that part of the history lesson…

What I found so moving today was the realisation that it wasn’t just Germans, French, British and Belgians, who made the ultimate sacrifice, but South Africans, Algerians, Senegalese, Chinese, Indians and loads of other nationalities. A conflict to end all others… It’s estimated that half a million people died between 1914 and 1918.

Which got me thinking…it’s time I started my own inner peace talks. Sacrificing the best of who I am to bend my current world to my will isn’t working. It’s not the way forward. George Orwell wrote that ‘happiness can exist only in acceptance’.  I think he was right…

 

Every time we say goodbye…

blog_goodbyeImage: Dankalilly | Dreamstime.com

I hate goodbye… Whether it’s wishing my far flung family farewell, or saying ‘sayonara’ to someone special…I’m a real wuss when it comes to goodbye.

For the last two and a half years, The Belgian (a.k.a. my lovely husband) and I conducted our courtship across the English Channel. Every other weekend was spent in another country, and since we both work as consultants, our weeks were spent apart.  Long working days, long distance love, and lonely nights… It meant we crammed as much into our weekends as possible, before that dreaded Sunday moment, when – having repacked our respective suitcases – we hugged and hoped that the week would pass quickly so we could see each other again.

This Sunday, The Belgian and I hugged, and said goodbye. As he drove away, I stood in the driveway of our cottage, feeling familiarly sad, but somehow different. As I walked back to the house, I was deep in thought.  Perhaps saying goodbye is not so bad, when you know that you will see each other again. There is fondness in farewell when you realise that time apart brings the opportunity to share your adventures over a glass of wine at the weekend. Next weekend, darling! As that wise philosopher, Pooh Bear once said: ‘how lucky I am to have someone that makes saying goodbye so hard’.

The Girl in Row B…

Image: Dreamstime

As a singleton, one of my fantasies always involved meeting Mr. Right on a plane. And no, this does not involve becoming a member of the mile-high club, so you can stop reading right away if that’s where you think this blog is going!  

Anyway… in this particular airborne dream, Mr. Unique would be sitting next to me – sharp suited and smelling of expensive aftershave.  I’d be channelling trans-atlantic chic. He’d be ruggedly handsome and interesting. I’d be interested. We’d talk and find we had so much in common…

Uh...well, I don’t know about you, but… the gods that rule the check in system seem to take particular delight in putting me next to smelly old men and sociopaths!  If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume this was some sort of cosmic prank.  On my last plane I sat next to a guy wearing socks, sandals and a comb-over!   And I haven’t even begun to tell you about the annoying parents who spent an entire long-haul flight back to SA, bickering with their three year old in between bickering with each other. There is a lot to recommend business class, and I’m not just talking real cutlery here!

Still, you do sometimes meet interesting people. Snoggable…? Erm…no.  Fascinating…most def!  On a flight back from the US, I met a guy who had invented robotic fish with hidden cameras, which were used for conservation purposes. In Finland, I met a super cute four-year old, who spent the entire flight introducing me to ‘Katten’ – her favourite cuddly toy…My Finnish is rubbish, but just as well I can speak ‘kid’.  I’ve also met a man who insured space ships for a living…sadly, there is no ‘alien abduction clause’…I checked!

For readers of this blog who think my rich imaginative life has been the balm that soothes the melancholy heart of a solo traveller?  Well, what I didn’t tell you was that the girl sitting in Row B also happened to be sitting next to the man of her dreams when she flew to Spain last weekend. We met mid-air, but not on a plane. He is…ruggedly handsome and interesting. He does not wear socks or sandals, and he smells good. Really good!  I am…of course, smitten. But that is the subject of another blog…

 

 

 

Hard-core Husky…

I should start this post by saying…no animals were harmed in the making of this blog and it was not written on the hard shoulder of the M4…any of you expecting voyeristic sex, or heavy breathing should stop reading and re-tune your satellite dish to the naughty channel!

Yes, dogs and harnesses were involved. Yes…on New Year’s Eve, so were a load of naked men in a sauna…more about that later…

Actually, the whole thing started because having grown up in a hot country, I happen to have a thing for snow. Goggles, a furry hat, and seven layers of underwear later, I found myself on a plane to Lapland in December.  Arriving in Kiruna, I had to do a double take on the thermometer…minus 25 Celcius. Pretty. Darn. Chilly.  That’s brass monkey weather to us normal folks…

I thought I knew what to expect.  Having good travelling companions was a given. Only fellow crazies or really good mates would don sledding gear and head out to the big white yonder with nothing but a tea light and some slippers to keep us warm!!  That was before we found out about the guy who didn’t make it, and whose ghost still lurks behind the first cabin we made camp at…Oliver – if you are out there, we come in peace…

What I didn’t expect was a guide who was a cross between Chuck Norris and Bilbo Baggins! What I didn’t expect was chopping frozen entrails twice a day.  And not a drop of alcohol in sight!  Or running water for that matter…the long drop loos are a whole blog on their own!

Despite expectation, what I got…was a pack of dogs – Honey, Simba, Isak and Nanuq to be precise – who loved me as I was. No make-up and nothing made up. They loved the moment, and so did I.

Despite expectation, what I got was a group of fellow travellers who were totally brilliant. In adversity – a.k.a. no booze – we had to forego our disguise and don our regular faces. No make-up, and nothing made up…honest people enjoying fresh, cold air and each other’s company. We loved the moment.

A good way to end 2011. A good way to start 2012.

Son et Lumiere…

I know exactly when it happened. My first love affair. Passionate… Enduring…  All consuming… Well, I was nine.  Yes. I know what you cynics are thinking, but you are sooooo…wrong. It was not a dog, cat or hamster…the lover in question happens to be a city.  Bricks and mortar, but so much more.

Frankly, I blame my parents.  After all…if they hadn’t gone to Paris for their honeymoon, I might have focused my affections on Skegness! God Forbid! Anyway, they chose Paris instead. The epitome of chic in the sixties. Thank God…and thank Yves St Laurent!

I realise this might appear strange to all those well-travelled EU citizens out there. But to a shy, spider-legged girl growing up in Africa, Paris seemed impossibly sophisticated.  This affection for a capital I had never seen or visited grew, but remained unrequited until university.   It was there that I discovered my second love…French films. For those of you who eschew subtitles – just look away now and don’t bother to read any further!

 In 1895 the Lumiere brothers were the first to present projected, moving, photographic, pictures to a paying audience of more that one person. I think that qualifies as inventing cinema and probably explains why French films are pre-eminent in my own mind. By the time I graduated, I’d watched about 100 French films. The ones I love most, were set in Paris.  They usually involved complex, slow moving plot-lines and starred couth, dark haired men. Men of few words, but great passion.  They wore pressed blue shirts and dined and smoked in wood-panelled bistros. They rode vespas and had complicated personal lives. Well… it’s my fantasy so I’m allowed to dream!

Last week, I set off for Paris.   I had breakfast with Matisse and Picasso, lunch in a wood-panelled bistro on the Seine.  A good spot for watching suave men and elegant women as they sashayed past on their way to work…to assignations…and the Rive Gauche. I spent the afternoon getting lost in the Marais, but finding myself…in the architecture, the light, the sense and sound of an old city. I fell in love all over again.  Paris, j’taime!