They did the worst thing ever - They threw my books away...


When our house was flooded in September 2009 during a terrible storm, we went through all sorts of problems.

Problems that go along with flooding of course. A very unpleasant experience but at the time, we didn’t feel too bad. Life is not always pleasant and we had not lost too many things after all.

Life has taught us not to worry too much about material damages. This is a very positive lesson learned from fighting cancer.

But up to a certain point!

Flooding was one thing. You can’t beat a storm.

But the second flooding in my den... could have been avoided if only someone had not forgotten to turn the water off when he changed the sink in the upstairs bathroom.

They never said anything but I noticed something was wrong as soon as I came back. Trust me. I am a photographer and I see things that most people miss.

The ceiling looked weird, kind of bumpy. Since it had been completely redone after collapsing because of the flood, no one could fool me, especially not the contractor.

Before the ceiling collapsed, we had had enough time to empty my den and to pile up my somewhat damp but otherwise safe books in another room.

This time was different.

When I came back,  I noticed a lot of greyish dust around. I decided to start cleaning what I thought to be the remains of some heavy refurbishing.

Then I heard about the new flooding from my cleaning lady.

I had to clean and sort my books again. I found a nice program to sort books on the web... And I started to remove the books away from the shelves. Tiring but almost fun. Duster in one hand, computer ready. Checking the books, cleaning them and then sorting them on the landing.

It looked like a lot of fun at first since I very rarely get out of the house in Belgium. Popeye was a little bit worried by the extent of the job!

I kept going and going and going... Working, working, working.
My nights were great. I slept like a baby. Wait, babies don’t sleep. I slept like an old cat then.

Every morning, back to work. The bookshelves were chaos. But I was finding old friends. So much fun.

Until yesterday when I got close to the place which had obviously been flooded twice... Most of my oldest English books section.

Some books were «glued» together. I started to get worried. Since I was classifying them as well as dusting them, I started realizing that some were missing!

Yes, there were books missing! Definitely missing.

You see, I’m crazy about books. Take me shopping for clothes, I probably won’t care unless I really, really need new clothes.

But never let me go into a bookstore... which is something I will do anyway behind your back.

Books, I love books!

I love used books. I love new books. I love books.

I was a mouse in a previous life. I lived in a very old bookstore, eating books and liking them so much, licking my moustache with delight just the way I sigh with pure happiness and delight every time I’m reading a very good book. (I no longer have a moustache, thank you.)

I started to read quite young. Books became very precious. Whenever life was no bed of roses, I’d start reading a book. I survived because books were there, opening a new world for me. And protecting me from reality.

I belong to the kind of people who don’t really need to travel because they have already been to so many places through their mind.

I am so grateful to those wonderful writers who taught me all about life, all about others, all about myself, after all.

And so back to me sorting and dusting and cleaning my beloved books. Yes, quite a few were missing. I found out more or less which ones. It was quite easy actually but I won’t tell you all my secrets today. It broke my heart. Most of them were very old books (bought when I was much, much younger). Some I had read again and again.

And I knew very well where they ended. The dustbin. The men who fixed the ceiling again probably thought that they would be too much of a proof someone had been clumsy. Off to the dustbin they went.

There are so many books on my bookshelves that they imagined I wouldn’t notice. But I did. And I miss them...

You see, when my brother died suddenly, I had to go through sorting his stuff. It was such a harrowing experience that when I came back to our home, I threw away all the small trinkets and souvenirs I had brought back from travels or bought on a whim. I did not want to put my men through what I had just lived. Just in case.

But books, books... you don’t throw books away. You pass them on to the next generation and the next and the next (hoping they will read French, Spanish and English, of course) or friends... Books keep on living a long time after you are gone.

Do you remember the first thing the Inquisition  did all over Europe with priceless scrolls and books? Do you remember what Nazis did as soon as they came to power? They burnt books because books are somehow like the human soul. They represent ideas and beliefs. And ideas and beliefs are what life is made of, to start with.

Ray Bradbury wrote a very interesting book about the whole process. It is called «Fahrenheit 451». Read it. It is gripping and absolutely frightening (but not scary).

Well, one of the books they threw away was my beloved Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’.

One of my life companions.

They did the worst thing ever. They threw my books away.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*



ⒸLe Soir      

Yes, they did it! Belgium won its world record... Longest time ever without a government.

February 17th - 8:44 - Belgium officially wins the world record for ‘lack of government’ - 249 days.

Since we are living in a crazy country, as soon as the record was established, other voices were heard.

The world record has probably been established already ever since the 8th of February if you start counting from the day PM-to-be Leterme resigned from his post, opening the way to the worst European political crisis in a long time.

On the other hand if you start counting the days of mayhem on an Iraki basis, meaning the day Irak got a true government and not the day political parties came to an agreement to govern the country, then we’ll have to wait until March 29th and hit the perfect score: 289 days.

Obviously, Belgium has already chosen her record - 249 days. And believe me, Belgians are extremely proud of it! They have started to boast about it in the newspapers, on the radio, on tv, everywhere.

On January 23rd, they chose to demonstrate their ‘anger’ (too strong a word for Belgians) and they called it "shame", very peaceful and mostly French-speaking in Brussels. (30.000 people)

On Thursday, there was something called ‘Pas en notre nom/Niet in onze naam’, organized by some 5.000 students, mainly Flemish. Of course, being in Belgium, it became known as the ‘Revolution of the (French/Freedom) Fries’ since everybody knows that Belgium has invented fried potatoes. (Which is true by the way.)

Ever since I have been living in Belgium, I have always been torn apart whenever something serious happens there.

I usually start feeling appalled at the Belgians’ lack of reactions whatsoever. And then, I give a shrug. And I end up joking about whatever happened.

Well, not really after all.

I always feel ill at ease, angry and close to crying most of the time because I do not understand the passiveness and the lack of involvement of Belgians. It looks like as if they just don’t care about anything. They are acting like sheep so easy to drive to the slaughterhouse.

It is hard to believe it but for those of you who understand and read French, go to Le Soir. It is read by most French-speaking Belgians.

I’ve been reading it almost every day now! Plus all the news I get on the Web... because you see, I’m worried, not only for being an expat there but mainly because I feel so strongly European.

By the way, I am not trying to be negative about Le Soir. It’s just that it is very boring unless you love reading about accidents and «news in brief». Now you find a special page dedicated to the political crisis...

If you don’t read French fluently, I will tell you what’s in Le Soir ever since they won the world record.

A list of world records won by Belgians. Yes, this is true. Those 249 days without a government (and maybe one whole year, who knows) represent a record that will be written down in the Guiness Book of Records.

And this is great! A wonderful achievement probably since Belgium has not been achieving much lately...

Hip hip hurrah!

Last record set - 249 days without a government (and a country about to  
be split in two, three, four parts... and more... who wants a piece of Belgium?)

In 2010, Chris Verschueren fried 1.500 kilos of potatoes during 83 hours. He rested 5 mns every hour. World record.

Hip hip hurrah!

One world record of hula hoop - 2.875 people in Ostende during 2 minutes.

Hip hip hurrah!

Stefaan Engels run 20 Ironman triathlons in one year (between december 2007 and november 2008). World record.

Hip hip hurrah!

World record again - Last year, Kim Clijsters defeated Serena Williams in front of 35.681 spectators at King Baudouin stadium. The greatest number of spectators ever... for a tennis game.

Hip hip hurrah!

Last but not least and I’m getting tired and a little bit nauseated since all those records and many more are quoted in Le Soir, boasting about Belgium gift for world records... unless this is true Belgian humour.

In 2009, 539 persons won the world record for running backwards in Kapellen.

Hip hip hurrah!

It is so hilarious, isn’t it?

Come on, Belgium, wake up. All over the world, people are fighting for freedom and righteous governments.

Wake up! Your world record is pitiful.

Have you forgotten the horrors Irak had been through before they finally formed a government? How dare you compare yourselves to the Iraki people who had been through dictatorship and one very unjust war plus a stint of unnamed civil/religious war...

How dare you speak of a world record?

Do something instead of making light of a very disgraceful situation. Do something. Get back together or split or... but do something.

Aren’t you lucky (lucky is not the right word but I’m in Belgium after all), aren’t you lucky that the world is so worried about the turmoils in the Middle East that you are not too much of a laughing stock after all.

Wake up, Belgians!

Aren’t you getting fed up with your men growing beards, with your women being on a sex strike and your students and their fried potatoes?

Maybe you should write every day to your politicians... One post card would do the trick! You should urge them to read Plato's Republic. Then maybe after a while, they would get the message and start a government, fair and democratic.

Hip hip hurrah for Plato, Socrates and the Republic!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Valentine's Day will never be the same again

I’m not very fond of feasts or celebrations. I dread Christmas time. I’m not too keen on Mother’s Day either.

I became reconciled with my birthday ever since cancer #2 because it is definitely fun to get old.

I used to kind of like Valentine’s Day though. Maybe because Popeye and I, we still are in love and we go boating together. And those red hearts popping all over the place are cute and funny!

Now I feel pretty miserable on Valentine’s Day ever since 2 years ago exactly, my best friend decided to let go forever. On Valentine’s Day 2009.

We shared the same first name. We lived in the same street, a few houses apart. We 'shared' our children who grew up together. We were very, very close. As close as sisters can be, I think.

She’d sew or do her ironing while we’d be talking. She’d paint while I was taking pictures. We read together. We went to art exhibits. There was always a time during the day when we’d get together while the children were away at school and our husbands at work. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.

We shared a lot of very private thoughts and feelings. She was much quieter and calmer than me but I made her laugh. She’d say: «You are completely crazy, you know but I love it!»

She trusted us enough to leave her children to our care while she was working. (She spent every school holiday working with children who never went away.)

When she turned 50, we threw a big surprise party for her where we invited 50 friends, brothers and sisters of hers. She was a very faithful person. Once someone had become her friend, it was for life.

I loved and admired her so much. Her life was not easy but she always managed and kept smiling. She was an extraordinary gardener and a better cook even. She was so sweet and nice.

Of course she was going through times filled with despondency. Her husband was very self-centered and sometimes scornful. And her children were a little bit hard to manage, mostly because of their father.

I loved them though - to be honest, only two out of three. One girl who was Swee’ Pea’s age and one boy who was 6 years older and was acting as SP’s older brother. They were part of ‘our’ children and they came very, very often to Brittany.

When I went through cancer #1, she wanted to come and take care of me. (I was already living in Belgium.) I did not want her to because I thought it would be too harrowing for her. She would worry about her family all the time. So we had long talks on the phone. We managed to laugh a lot, I remember.

I was still feeling awfully tired in April 2005 when her daughter decided to celebrate her 60th birthday at home. They had a wonderful garden, filled with flowers. The weather was very nice and we had a lot of fun.

In November 2005, she was with me in Swee’ Pea’s appartment when I got the first tests results. Bad, very bad. We cried a lot.

In January 2006, after the first surgery, she was again with me in my son’s appartment when my oncologist called me with very, very bad news. We cried again. We were so sure there wasn’t much hope left I’d ever celebrate my 60th birthday.

But somehow a miracle happened after a very hard chemo. I did survive (not too well at the beginning) but I got stronger as time went by. She was extremely relieved because she knew how close I had been to a very unwelcomed end.

We were living in Belgium, but at the time, I needed a lot of rest and I stayed quite a long time in Brittany.

In July 2008, I turned 60. She had decided to throw a party for me in her lovely garden but in October since she’d be working in July and I would be staying in Brittany until the end of September.

So October, it would be. We talked a lot on the phone. She was feeling tired because she was still grieving over the death of one of her brothers, in February. But she insisted on planning the party.

I called her on our way back from Brittany. Her daughter answered the phone. Her mother had fallen down in the garden, that very morning. They had called an ambulance and she was to spend a couple of days at a nearby hospital.

When I got there, I discovered that she hardly could walk or stand up. I was appalled that none of her children (one is a nurse, her daughter-in-law is a doctor) had tried to find a better place for her, where they would start clinical examinations and tests.

I was quite adamant that she needed help and very quickly. She then had this weird crooked smile: ‘Don’t start worrying about me. I need rest. They are driving me crazy at home. I only need some rest.’

I came home crying because I knew that something was really wrong with her. I was sure that she had brain cancer. And I felt that every minute, every hour without proper care would be crucial.

Weeks went by. Yes, weeks. They had decided at the hospital that she probably had suffered from a CVA. (There are bad hospitals in France after all.)

It was so hard to get her family to try something else. So hard. I got mad at them. I yelled at them. Her son and daughter-in-law finally remembered that they knew an oncologist in a very good hospital in Paris. They called him.

They moved her there and scans were made. Brain and lung cancer. (She never smoked in her life.)

She called me from the hospital to let me know the results. And she said: ‘You showed me a while ago that you survived the worst cancer ever. Tell me I will survive.’

And she added: ‘I am so sorry you won’t have a birthday party now.’ So much the old 'her'!

I jumped in a cab and I very seldom left her side. They used radiotherapy on her brain. She started to walk again, not too well but it was a start. When you are this sick, every small improvement makes your day and the days to come.

Then came chemo for her lungs. I was there. I never thought I’d be strong enough to hold her hand during chemo nor to literally carry her around after chemo but I found out that I was very resilient after all (even though my oncologist was getting more and more upset and worried about me).

I’m still boiling with anger and rage. Her family was completely unconcerned. They were in total denial (remember, one nurse and one doctor).

Popeye came along with me as much as he could.

I kept on telling my friend that she was there when ‘cancer #2’ struck. I reminded her how bad it had been and yet I was there, well alive. I kept on telling her that she had to fight and she’d come out of it, just like I did.

But as weeks went by, I realized that because of those deep differences that had once been a source of fun, me being restless and almost scatterbrained and her being so calm and sedate, it was not going to work even though I was desperately trying to give her all my strength.

It didn’t last long. She fell down in her garden in October 2008. She died in February 2009. On Valentine’s Day.

She had gone back to the hospital a couple of days before for some last chance surgery which they did not try after all.

She called me from there and her last words to me were: ‘My cancer was very bad after all.’

She then fell into a coma and never woke up.

As I said, I am still very angry at her family. Popeye and I spent the whole day with her while she was dying. We talked to her. We held her hand. We stroked her forehead. Because she was still there.

Her family was there too except for one of her sons who came and left because ‘this wasn’t something he liked.’ They were staring at her not quite believing that she was dying.

And then she died peacefully at the end of the day. Valentine’s Day 2009.

I think I would never have noticed what day it was if someone hadn’t mentioned that now she had ruined this day forever for them.

Great! I still feel so mad.

Her daughter (the nurse) called me a few months later to ask me how I knew that it had been cancer.

How did I know? I don’t think it was because I had been twice through this. I think I simply used my mind and my heart.

I thought for a while I was going to be sick again. Until one day, thanx to a long talk with a doctor at the hospital, a doctor who knows me well, I realized that my friend letting go had actually started the very day she had told me that she needed rest because they were driving her crazy at home.

It is so sad that for her, resting meant dying. It is so maddening for me.

She hasn’t ruined Valentine’s Day for me. It is only a day in February. But it’s been so hard to accept her abandon and the fact that I had fought so hard for nothing.

I want to live so fiercely that I have such a hard time accepting that  she could have let go so easily. Because she could still be alive.

While my friend was ‘resting’ in the crummy hospital, her younger sister fell into a coma. When she came out of it, she was diagnosed with the same cancer exactly. She is still alive, two years later.

Spring is coming. I wish my friend was still alive.

Spring was her season because she loved her garden and she loved the slow awakening of nature.

I love Spring too and I have discovered that I love it even better now, for me and for her.

Except that I am still very angry.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


May 1968 and our transistors - The 2011 Egyptian Revolution with the Web

From time to time, memories come back forcefully and I can’t help but compare events that shook my life directly or indirectly. You know, it happens when you can’t help but think that life will never be the same again.

I do not know yet how Egyptian politics will evolve but I do hope that freedom will become a potent tool in changing attitudes in the country itself, in the Arabic world and in our Western world.

I spent a lot of time glued to my computer trying to get all the news I could find. I went from one website to another. I no longer was surfing the Net. It was more like becoming integrated into a vast crowd where everybody was continually trying to communicate and to share whatever was learnt, said, heard or read.

Most of the exchanges went through Facebook and Twitter. I do not twit and until Egypt went through turmoil, Twitter really made me mad. Not all the time but a lot.

Sometimes, while eating out, I sat close to people who couldn’t care less about what was going on in the real world but kept twitting (twittering?) with their friends just to let them know they were eating out. I really thought it was a weird way of living.

I once wrote that I love Facebook. This was quite ironic, of course but since I mellowed my remarks, nobody seemed to notice which is just as well.

I have since come to my senses (no irony there) because Facebook played quite a remarkable part in the Egyptian Revolution. It really showed how useful and powerful it can be as a social and political network.

Of course, my dear Aesop can’t be proved wrong even there.

So I spent 18 days and more (since it all started for me in Tunisia) totally immersed in new and modern technology and liking it a lot.

I really wondered what would have happened in times well past if we had been using all this technology so many take for granted nowadays.

I still remember what 'May 1968' was like.

No home computers. No cellular phones. No phones at all in most French homes.

We did live through a revolution then. When life went back to normal, normalcy became totally different. The French society had suddenly been turned upside down somehow. Life would never be the same, for better or for worse but there was no possible reversal.

Life would never be the same... Tonight, I’m not trying to sing praises about May 1968.

The 'revolution' in France actually took much longer - almost one whole year. May 1968 was quite violent with students’ uprising and street fights and general strikes. This is the reason why everybody keeps calling this period - May 68.

So back to May 1968. No television (on strike), no State radio channels (on strike). And no FM radios. At the time, there was a private radio station called Europe 1 (on LW). It still exists but it sure has aged badly.

I remember spending every moment I was awake listening to my transistor. Europe 1 and its newsmen were very busy. They were the only people who could tell us what was really happening in Paris and elsewhere.

It was always live, day and night.

I was living down south at the time. My university was too far away for me to spend time (demonstrate) there. No trains. No nothing. So I was back in my hometown where there were daily demonstrations and from time to time clashes with the police.

We spent most of our time listening to the radio. The transistors were small. We carried them around because this was how we kept being informed about what was going on in our area as well as in other places in France.

I’ll never forget the day when a journalist announced live from Paris that our president, ‘le général de Gaulle’, had flown away from France to an unknown destination. Newsmen were getting very excited. Raspy voices. Worried tones.

I’ll never forget the day the general came back to tell us to go back to work. (He had made sure that he would be backed by the Army.) I still don’t understand how France avoided a real revolution with a lot of bloodshed.

Of course, it was on the radio that the president announced new elections, therefore calming down all rebellion.

I really wonder today what would have happened if the students who started the May 68 movement had had access to the Web.

The transistors were great to tell us what to do in our very difficult daily life. They would tell us which part of Paris to avoid (or where to go to fight the police!), what was going on generally speaking... but there was no interaction.

We listened to voices and we were silent so to speak. We had no means to express ourselves. No means to know what to do.

Even if we sound awfully noisy when you listen to old recordings of our fights on the Paris barricades or our meetings in 'occupied' universities and schools.

I was 20 in 1968... but I felt very young following the Egyptian Revolution from my computer, through Facebook and Twitter and many, many channels, so many!

It felt so great to listen to so many young people who dared to express their ideas, their hopes and their beliefs to the entire world.

It felt so great.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - A walk through churchyards in Northern Brittany

This summer, after roaming through many ancient cemeteries in Paris and Belgium, all of them either city or war graveyards, I decided to take a tour of rustic churchyards in Brittany.

War graveyards exude an utter desolation. So many graves, more or less identical depending on the religion if known. So many young people from different backgrounds and countries buried where they were found.

The old graveyards in Paris or Brussels are different. They look a lot like parks, especially in Paris. You don’t feel overcome with grief there but mainly at peace. Death is nothing but a serene sleep.

In Brittany, I was in for a shock. I avoided new graveyards. I favored ancient churchyards.

Before I go on, I’ll need to explain that Brittany has always been a very Catholic region in France. During the 1789 revolution, they joined forces with the King rebels and the English ‘foe’ to try to vanquish the Godless revolutionary armies and government.

They failed (and the repression was extremely bloody) but they remained staunchly catholic.

Then centuries went by and the Catholic church is not this strong anymore. There are a lot of freethinkers now.

I remember that when we settled at Les Tertres, we had to answer this question so many times: ‘Do you go to church on Sunday?’ (Meaning - ‘Are you Catholic or not?’)

Even if people are not going to church on Sunday, they will end up there anyway at least for weddings and funerals. Because Catholics and freethinkers alike end up in the village church for their funeral.

The villages are built around the church. All of them. And close to the church, you find the churchyard of course.

Brittany is becoming quite touristy. Many people retire there. So now you usually find two graveyards in every village. One close to the church. One quite outside the village. Of course the second one is filled with newcomers. (Weird to be a newcomer even after death!)

As I said, I favored the old churchyards. There you find very old graves and engraved slabs. When you know the village families well, it’s quite easy to find their family plot.

You don’t need a map to find the churchyards because they always boast a huge calvary from which Christ watches over the villagers. Over the dead ones.

Once you enter the churchyard, you see a forest of crosses. Quite impressive, I have to admit, for such a small place.

The graves that do not have a cross darting to the skies are covered with them.

I have to admit that I find churchyards in Northern Brittany quite distressing.

The ground is sandy. There are no trees. Only graves and crosses.

The graves are very simple. Sometimes they use gravel to cover the ground without a single slab of stone. Of course it makes sense because the villagers have always been poor.

The rich shipowners, the nobility and the clergy have very simple marble tombs. They do not really stand out which really throws light on a deep religious puritanism that is so embedded in Brittany.

The churchyards are so much like the countryside. High and ragged cliffs. Swollen seas. Small fields. Grey skies matching grey slates and granit. Hard life. Simplicity in death.

Even though the graves always are well looked after (mostly by parish associations), they are quite gloomy. You know where you stand - they are burial sites and nothing else. End of the story. End of life.

I always feel very lonely and lost and anguished there even if the Paris graveyards are sometimes too gaudy and incredible denials of death.

The churchyards are quite ancient and they do not get many visitors unless someone died recently (someone whose family has always been part of the village - for centuries I mean). Then the grave is overflowing with flowers.

Since you are in Brittany, there is a heartbreaking place dedicated to sailmen and fishermen lost at sea. The omnipresent cross is made of two boards from a wooden boat. Very simple and very sad.

There is another heartbreaking area - the children’ graves. Usually, children are buried in the family tomb. Not in Northern Brittany. Those tiny graves truly made me gasp. Some were quite recent. None of them had a name nor a date of birth or death. But all of them were embellished with small sculptures of the child Jesus. Child and children.

And then there are the family plots so old that they tend to look like a sinking ship. Probably because the family somehow disappeared during the last century.

Disappearing does not mean living somewhere else. People from Brittany are brought back to be buried in their family plot by their relatives. This happens all the time. The dead are coming back home forever.

It probably helped Brittany to keep its traditions, legends, myths and folklore well alive through so many centuries.

I love Brittany. It is a proud and brave nation that shows that it can face death squarely the way it always faced toil and hardships throughout the centuries without ever loosing its soul.

I erased some of the names on the graves because the families are still living in the village.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Today I met a stateless... Frenchwoman in Brussels...

Today, Popeye and I, we decided it was about time to go confront bureaucracy again. Remember, we need an ID card very bad but last time we tried to get one, we did have a few problems.

The sun was shining. Birds were not singing - too cold! Off we went to the French General Consulate in Brussels hoping that this time, we’d get through very swiftly.

Checklist - everything okay.

We were issued a waiting number - 51. Unbelievable... They were still processing n° 30... But since we were there... Popeye needed to take a nap (he is this tired, yes) and I had my ‘kindle’.

All of sudden, n° 54 came into the waiting room. A fiftyish blond woman, very stylish. She took the only vacant seat not very far from where Popeye was trying to sleep it off.

She instantly hit it off with her neighbor. Lucky me who was three seats away. Poor Popeye who was sitting quite close to the two women. But actually he is such a seasoned traveller that he kept dozing.

I turned off my ‘kindle’. And I started listening. Actually, I love to listen to people.

This woman had a very interesting story she started telling to everybody who cared to listen to her. She was not loud. She obviously needed to share... And share she did!
23 years ago, she married a guy from Belgium. She then left France and moved to Belgium. They had three sons who chose to become Belgian citizens. Probably at a time when military service was still mandatory in France and unheard of in Belgium. Or maybe because they felt more Belgian than French. This is not my problem.

She decided to remain a French citizen. She felt safer that way. Wrong move.

When you leave France and start living in Belgium, you have to register to the city hall where you are planning to live. They deliver you a ID card allowing you to live in Belgium... (Me getting one was quite a story in itself.)

Once you are registered in Belgium, the second thing you have to do is to go register (once again) to the nearby French Consulate. They in turn will issue an ID card, called the ‘Consular ID card’. This card is quite useless actually. It is not a real ID card. It is just a proof that you are French and that you are living in Belgium. It may allow you to vote for the French presidential elections and referendums from Belgium if you want to.

You  also can go to the Consulate to get whatever official papers or IDs you need, including passports.

How can you become stateless when you are French and you live in Belgium?

I hope you are having a good laugh, Mr. T., my  real stateless friend from... especially since you have been trying so hard to become a French citizen! Don't get too scared! You probably won't have to live in Belgium after all!

Obviously it is really easy to become stateless, even in Europe as a European citizen.

I was flabbergasted. For quite a few years, she had been duly registered at the Consulate and at her city hall. Then time went by and she forgot to get her IDs renewed.

Which by the way shows she doesn’t travel a lot, at least out of Europe.
Since she had married a guy from Belgium, she did not worry about registering in Belgium either.

15 years went by. By then they had bought a house in Zaventem (in Flanders but home to the Brussels airport).

(A year ago, against all European laws, the Zaventem mayor enacted a very unlawful decree. Not one word of French was to be spoken in Zaventem (in the city hall). No one in the European community ever said one word against it either! It kind of opened the way to what’s going on in Belgium right now.)

For some reason... I think that she wanted to buy a car and needed an ID and she realized she no longer had a Belgian ID (which would be like a ‘green card’).

So she went to the Zaventem city hall to get it renewed. There she was told to come back with an interpret, which she did, of course, quite appalled though.

In Zaventem, before issuing her  a Belgian ‘green card’, they asked for her French ID as a proof she was not ‘I honestly don’t know what’ since we all are European citizens (and she sounded terribly French. We have a clipped accent very different from the French-speaking Belgians). She also had proof that she was married to a Belgian guy. Belgian but not Flemish.

The poor woman had forgotten to get a new French ID when her last one expired more than 10 years ago.

And even worse, she no longer had a Consular ID card... She had no second home in France which meant no possibility to get an ID card in France.

This was her fourth time to the Consulate in order to try to register there again.

Quite hard obviously because she has to prove that during those 23 years, she has been living in Belgium. She never worked. All the bills were paid by her husband. The only proof she has: a few Belgian medical bills. Some people don’t realize how lucky they are not to be sick, though.

I was listening to her. How can you spend so many years without any ID in Europe?

Could something like this have happened to me? I remember balking at the idea of getting my new ‘green card’, a year ago because I never ever use it and I hate the city hall anyway.

Popeye who is really law abiding got really mad... So I went to the city hall and got my new card. It went well this time but this is another story.

This woman’s story was very enlightening for me. I know she will eventually end up getting all her papers back.

What if she had not been born in France from French parents. What if she had been naturalized French from Africa or North Africa? Not too hard to imagine what would have happened to her then. No papers... Impossible to get new ones. A story by Kafka.

And then while she was waiting, she kept on talking about her life in Zaventem, Flanders, Belgium. Obviously, we all were living in French-speaking Brussels. So we stood there gaping. (Popeye was still trying to sleep, knowing very well that I would tell him the whole story anyway.)

It was a little bit hard to stomach when she told us that her best friend (born and raised in Belgium but French speaking from Brussels) had to pass a Flemish test in order to be allowed to buy a house in Zaventem, two months ago.

I’m not talking about the end of the world. I used to go to Zaventem quite often to buy stuff at Ikea or to pick Popeye at the airport. Zaventem is about 10 minutes away from the heart of Brussels.

Creepy, isn’t it!

I don’t care anyway (just kidding). I made a friend. He’s Azeri and very nice. He speaks French and loves opera!

I almost forgot to tell you the great news - our French IDs are being processed at last... 8 more weeks to wait for them... But we did get safely through bureaucracy! Thank goodness we never forgot to keep our Consular IDs renewed.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Today, let's share one poem written by Mahmoud Darwish

I have been so upset lately that words are hard to find. Then this morning I remembered this poem by Mahmoud Darwish, called ‘Think of others’.

'As you prepare your breakfast think of others.
Don’t forget to feed the pigeons.
As you conduct your wars think of others.
Don’t forget those who want peace.
As you pay your water bill think of others.
Think of those who only have clouds to drink from.
As you go home, your own home, think of others
Don’t forget those who live in tents.
As you sleep and count the planets think of others
There are people who have no place to sleep.
As you liberate yourself with metaphors think of others
Those who have lost their right to speak
And as you think of distant others
Think of yourself and say
I wish i were a candle in the darkness.'

وأنتَ تُعِدُّ فطورك، فكِّر بغيركَ
لا تَنْسَ قوتَ الحمام
وأنتَ تخوضُ حروبكَ، فكِّر بغيركَ
لا تنس مَنْ يطلبون السلام
وأنتَ تسدد فاتورةَ الماء، فكِّر بغيركَ
مَنْ يرضَعُون الغمامٍ
وأنتَ تعودُ إلى البيت، بيتكَ، فكِّر بغيركَ
لا تنس شعب الخيامْ
وأنت تنام وتُحصي الكواكبَ، فكِّر بغيركَ
ثمّةَ مَنْ لم يجد حيّزاً للمنام
وأنت تحرّر نفسك بالاستعارات، فكِّر بغيركَ
مَنْ فقدوا حقَّهم في الكلام
وأنت تفكر بالآخرين البعيدين، فكِّر بنفسك
قُلْ: ليتني شمعةُ في الظلام

‘I wish I were a candle in the darkness.’

Thank you, Mahmoud Darwish.


Let's have a little bit of fun in a harsh world. All about IMZU

My schedule - Yes I know, quite empty!

It all started this morning.

You see, when I am ready to start a new day, I turn my computer on.

I usually start with downloading the two newspapers I subscribe to. I read them more or less thoroughly.

Then I turn to Facebook for a few minutes just in case something amazing has happened during the night.

(This is my winter schedule of course.)

Nowadays I tend to skip Facebook and go right to AlJazeera.

This morning, on Facebook, my friend Niruj had posted pictures on his page. So amazing from Niruj, I mean!

His friends had started commenting the pictures. Actually not the pictures...

They all were mulling over the meaning of ‘IMZU’.

Some claimed it had to be the name of a girl... Others maintained it meant: ‘I Miss You.’

The wall was enclosing a girls’ high school. Ah, ah. Interesting.

Funny how otherwise very busy and bright people can start such a buzz about something written on a wall!

Then I got a message from Niruj. What about writing a story about this girl IMZU? Because this had to be a girl’s name.

After spending the whole day or so on the Net worrying about the Egyptian people (as if I could change anything about their future. I am no 'deus ex machina' for goodness sake), I realized it was getting late and I needed to do some food shopping since Popeye is back home...

Why am I talking about my shopping when the whole thing is about IMZU? ‘So simple, my dear Watson,’ said Sherlock Holmes.

To go shopping, I need to walk to the store and while I’m walking, I’m thinking about hundreds of things. And today I started thinking about IMZU.

There we are! Aren’t you glad?


Only a boy could have written such a message. Writing messages on walls? Not girlie unless you prove me wrong. Girls tend to send devious messages through mutual friends to boys they like and have hurt. I can’t imagine a girl getting a bucket filled with black paint, etc.

Besides this was written on a girls’ high school wall.

What about this mysterious Imzu? A girl from the school. Of course.

I googled the name because Imzu looked very strange. Of course, this was happening in India. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Niruj is my Indian friend. So I googled Imzu and I always got the same answer... ‘Check Imvu.’

I wanted ‘Imzu’, dumb Google friends. Well, I ended up finding some IMZU - possible acronym for ‘Initiative MutiKulturelles Zentrum Ulm’. Thank you, Niruj for sending me on such a wild chase .

Let’s make the story short then.

Once upon a time, there was a very hansome boy living in a small town in India. He looked like Shahrukh Khan, of course. He was in love with a very beautiful girl who went to high school in their neighborhood where he was  already working as a house painter.

Unluckily for both of them but lucky for us since the story will be short, she belonged to a much upper class than his. She decided not to run away with him even though he had made a beautiful job in painting her father’s house.

He was so upset that he did run away with a childhood friend. As soon as they got to the nearby city, he realized this could never ever happen. And he came back home.

By then he was the talk of the town. Imagine him coming back. His beautiful girlfriend did not even want to look at him anymore.

All that was left to him was to write messages on the wall of the girl’s high school. (He was so poor he didn’t even own a phone and couldn’t text her love messages.)

The wall was there. He got some paint and started to write. In a hurry or maybe he did not know how to spell very well...

So he wrote with his heart bursting with despair:

‘I miss you
I am sorry Please’

which became... ‘IMZU I M SOrrY PlZ’

Niruj came along and found the message to... Imzu. Well, my dear Niruj, I’m so sorry for you but you’ll never get to know the girl’s name. I know that you are quite inquisitive and that you’ll feel bad for a while. But it will wear off. After all, you are going to be busy for a few months now!

IMZU just means ‘I miss you’, mispelled of course but the boy is not extremely educated.

How do I know about IMZU?

Well, last week, the kid came home to whitewash my walls. He did a good job. He looked so sad that I asked him why.

He told me his story.

Which in turn, I have to tell because you know I am THE STORYTELLER.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*