Belgium! Oh, Belgium...

The new Belgian government

Belgium is a very strange country indeed!

Did you know that Belgium boasts a new government since the 6th of December.

I am not kidding. After about eighteen months of governmental vacuum... well not absolute vacuum considering all the bickering, false hopes and a lot of hatred than went on and on... until King Albert said that enough is enough... which he was not even supposed to say and probably never said.

Belgium being on the brink of going bankrupt desperately needed a government... The basic problem being Flemish, the new Prime Minister is Walloon (for the first time in more than 30 years). It does not make sense. This is Belgium.

Today, it looks like Belgians loved being without a government even though they were heading straight for disaster. Now they have a government and Belgium is totally paralyzed because of a general strike (civil service, of course)... This is Belgium.

Don’t take me wrong. I do not hate Belgium. France loves general strikes and even better, general strikes in its civil service. Job security obviously allows you to disrupt the economy and even worse the everyday life of people who are not civil servants.

I have been living in Belgium for quite a few years now but Belgium never stops surprising me... which would be a great thing if I were in love with this small kingdom.

Let me tell you my last experience...

I am going to be chauvinistic of course but you all know how prejudiced I can be.

It all started because I needed a new mobile subscription and a new phone. No need for details.

When this happens in France, you go get a new subscription from a phone company and they give you a very, very nice discount on your new phone. Very, very nice!

But I am living in Belgium where there are 3 mobile phone companies - A, B and C.

I go to the first store I find - A, of course.

“I’d like to get a subscription from your company. What’s your best offer?”

“None. Very sorry. We do not have the same system you have in France.” (I do have a very strong French accent, don’t I?)

“Ok. Too bad...” (Bye, bye, new subscription and new phone... New phone and new subscription...)

“Wait a minute,” says the A company guy. “I may have a solution for you, though. It is Christmas time and we offer you a 100€ rebate if you buy a phone from us and... and only if you are a customer from company B or C, hence opening a new account in our A company and switching from them to us.”

Great! Very interesting proposal indeed. Stealing customers for 100€... Amazing!

Except that I do not have a current account in B nor C.

“This is not a problem. Not at all. You have a B store downstairs. Go there and buy a “Pay&Go card” from them. This will provide you with a B call number. Enough for us. Then we open an account for you and you get your 100€ rebate... as soon as your form gets approved. A matter of a few hours, really.”

One look at Popeye who looks as flabbergasted as me.

All right. This is Belgium, right?

I go to the B store. 

A very nice guy smiles at me and... shame on me!

“Hello. I just got to Brussels and my French phone does not work here. (Stupid French phone companies, really!) I desperately need a Pay&Go card. Can you sell one to me?”

And yes, I feel very bad.

“No problem. How long will you be staying?”

“Two days so a 10€ card should be fine.”

“There it is, Madam. How do you like Brussels?”

“Oh splendid, splendid. I love Brussels. I do.”

And no, I do not drop dead.

Besides I've had enough time to look around and there is no special offer for Christmas.

I go back to the A store with my B Pay&Go card... They need my id. I give them my id. They need my credit card... This is getting serious.

To make the story short, this is how I now have a brand new phone with a 100€ rebate and a brand new contract with the A company with a B phone number from a 10€ Pay&Go card.

I tried to tell the story to a couple of French friends, not used to life in Belgium. They looked so appalled... at my behavior maybe. I did not dare ask them...

Well, this is Belgium after all.


Family traditions never die after all. From the Spanish Civil War to Japan's tsunami...

'Bonne-Maman Ménine', Bon-Papa Matthieu and... me

One of the great moments in life is when you realize that family traditions do not hopelessly get lost.

She was known as ‘Bonne-Maman Ménine’ which was quite redundant since Bonne-Maman means ‘GrandMa’ in French but so does ‘Ménine’ in our Southern France dialect. I imagine this was the way they managed the generation gap... The grandmothers’ generation gap... at a time when people would age quite fast and die quite young. Amazing.

Well, there she was, Adeline, Mathieu’s wife and Cap de Fer’s daughter. Quite educated for her time (at a time girls did not usually go to school) since she was asked to teach school in the village during the Great War.

Even if it is hard to understand for a lot of (young) people, you have to imagine a time without phones, mostly without a radio and no tv of course...

The time is August 1945. Arfons. France.

The day is sunny. Quite warm. World War II is over, at least in Southern France. My great-grandmother is sitting down in her yard. She’s in charge of getting supper ready. She opens out a newspaper and tips a pile of stringy beans she’s supposed to take care of onto it.

Let me make a digression at this point for those of you who did not grow up in rural Southern France before and a long time after the war.

Both my great-grandparents read the local newspaper every time they could get one. After reading it, they would fold it carefully and they would put it away on a pile that was kept in a very dry place.

You see, newspapers were extremely important. They provided news of course. But they were so useful. To start a fire in the fireplace where most meals were cooked. To keep your feet dry in your clogs. To shield your chest from windy days below your smock. To protect the table while you were getting food ready. And above all... you’d use old newspapers, neatly cut in squares, when you went to the toilet.

So newspapers were read and put aside for further use. A newspaper was a very precious commodity, not be thrown away... at least not immediately.

Now let’s go back to Adeline who is bent on getting the beans ready for supper. But she is feeling restless. She does not mind working at home but she also loves to read... whatever catches her eye.

She stands up suddenly. She’s staring wide-eyed at the newspaper and she starts screaming.

“Oh my God, oh my God.” (Actually she’s so upset that she forgets her manners and she screams: “Macarel de macarel” which means in French “Oh shit”... something maybe stronger. Pardon my French.)

Her daughter (my Bonne-Maman) and her husband (Bon-Papa Mathieu) shoot out from wherever they were. From the kitchen? From the barn?

Adeline is shaking now. All over. She starts crying.

“It’s starting again. They’ve done it again,” she mumbles.


The civil war in Spain,” she screams.

Mathieu understands right away. He goes to the table, he brushes the beans away. There it is: “The fighting for Teruel is intense.”  He looks at the day and starts laughing: “Adeline, don’t worry. Come here and look.”

The newspaper had somehow survived the Second World War. It dated back to December 1937...

This story became a legend in our family. “The day ‘Bonne-Maman Ménine’ thought that the Spanish Civil War had started all over again.” It always came back to our minds whenever someone would make a mistake concerning some event either from the news or from our family life.

I never thought I would turn out like my great-grandmother. Well, never say never.

Yesterday, I got very worried because of the very strong Santa Anna winds. Swee’ Pea is currently living in Pasadena. 

He had called us a couple of times to let us know that everything was fine.

But I kept worrying because some of my American friends on Facebook were talking about what was happening there. Nowadays, news rush around the world in less than one minute and... are forgotten as easily.

First thing in the morning, I started reading some California papers online to learn how things were going there.

I was browsing through one website when I did think I was going to have a heart attack.

There it was: “Japan 8.9: Tsunami Watch For SoCal”.

“Oh no. Not again. Not again.”

The article went on: “Update: A National Weather Service tsunami warning for the L.A. coast has been downgraded to a tsunami advisory. After the jump: Boats damaged in Catalina.”

I don’t know what make me check the publishing date - Oh my God... there it was: “Fri., Mar. 11 2011 at 5:03 PM”.

Well, I know I am going to survive but I do feel kind of stupid tonight.

Dear ‘Bonne-Maman Ménine’, I never doubted I was your great-granddaughter but today, I think I have proof that “We be of one blood, ye and I.”

I don’t know why but I feel very happy about it.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*