We did it!

Well, back to Brussels for a while again. I have not been around much though since my main purpose for being here is trying to get the house pleasant to live in again.

We’ve been working at it quite regularly now even though “renovating the last renovations” is not over yet. After the big flood in 2009 and very bad  renovations in 2010-11, there still are quite a few leaks here and there, and problems with plumbing and electricity. Old houses in Brussels are hard to fix once they start deteriorating - that is when your landlady does not do what’s necessary to get her house fixed once and for all... (while we still pay our rent cash on the nail).

So back to our victory over untidiness and filth!

There was a time when I became so discouraged about what our house had turned to be that I threatened Popeye never to go back there... only once in a while to get stuff and clothes. After all, I am not working in Brussels... He is. Most of the time -- whenever he’s not flying all over the world.

Threats... But I’d go back because this was our home after all. I mean, not our second home. And I’d start getting very upset because whenever Popeye would be staying there by himself... well... let’s say that he’d expand his own private kingdom, from top to bottom.

The house is quite big (and used to be rather lovely, you see). It is one of those Belgian town houses with lots of stairs. The previous owner had an apartment built over the last floor. A real apartment with a kitchenette and a mezzanine floor... (A “studio” in French!) supposedly for an au pair girl. We thought it would be just wonderful for Swee’Pea and his friends who surely would love to come and spend every week-end in Brussels... They never did actually. They were busy studying and enjoyed vacationing at Les Tertres instead.

After a while, Popeye decided it would be an excellent place where to store his guitars and amps and drums...

It was a great place to play music except that as soon as flooding problems started, Popeye had to move his stuff around and his stuff became very invading...

Those of you who are old enough to have read “Charlie Brown” probably remember a character by the name of “Pig-Pen”...

©Charles M. Schulz

Well, do not think, not for one minute, that Popeye truly is “Pig-Pen” because Popeye is always clean as a new pin. He does enjoy taking showers and he’s quite a stylish dresser...

But when it comes to tidying up, well... you remember “Pig-Pen” and his dust cloud? Popeye’s world is cluttered up with guitars and amps and music books and scores and music and guitar stands and guitar parts and guitar cases... and this world/cloud is no longer held within the studio/apartment boundaries. It overflows onto the whole house -- which is a big house... after all.

The renovation work did not help, I know but it was becoming quite frustrating because Popeye was feeling overflown, I guess. His stuff was spilling out and he no longer knew how to manage! My own Sorcerer’s Apprentice!

So I moved back to Brussels for longer periods in order to support him in his endeavour to clean up this mess. Mainly because I am a tidiness freak. Which I think arises from my unremitting fight against death... because I used to be very untidy... a long time ago that is!

At Christmas, Swee’Pea gave me a book about Feng-shui... Nice thought but it did end up turning my love of tidiness into some kind of obsessional neurosis. Just kidding.

So back to Popeye and his ever-growing guitar/amps/parts ‘dust cloud’...

We fought about it. We talked about it. We fought about it again many, many times. Then we made plans about it and we finally started to act except that when I was on my own, I was totally forbidden to keep on tidying up which was very, very frustrating...

The progress was slow, very slow until one day, not too long ago.

Suddenly, we had a goal to meet. Our Canadian “children” were flying to Brussels for us to meet our “granddaughter”. And Swee’Pea would be there too. Easter week. Time was running fast.

The ‘studio’ was in a much better shape and the clutter was slowly disappearing from the other rooms.

But now the house looked very dirty. It needed a very thorough cleaning out.

Popeye did find a cleaning lady but she was just doing some very slight cosmetic improvements. We needed to ask a cleaning firm to take over the house after so many months of renovation... Once and for all.

Which meant that we needed to make an appointment and keep to it. Which meant that poor Popeye was under a lot of pressure and stress. (He’s a very busy man too. He works a lot and travels a lot, remember.)

Two nights ago, I really doubted that we’d make it on time -- the cleaners were coming over today.

Well, guys, we did make it.

Thank goodness, our old modem died on us and our Internet connection went down yesterday morning which meant that Popeye could not spend a lot of time working on a meeting he was going to this morning. (He was not very happy about it even though I tried very hard to restore the connection to no avail. Thanx to Belgacom which did not give me the right modem. (Our ADSL line is very antiquated and they gave me the latest modem hence totally incompatible.)

And that’s the reason why very late at night, our house was finally ready to welcome the cleaning team at 9 a.m. sharp!

Popeye won’t be coming home until tomorrow night... Too bad!

The house is sparkling clean. I love it! It is tidy. It is immaculate. It smells good and fresh. I love it!

I only hope that tomorrow the phone won’t ring... to let me know that a building firm needs to come and check our roof... for the umpteenth time.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Am I living too dangerously in Brittany?

Once upon a time, our garden was very beautiful. My friend Yves created it after the hurricane hit Les Tertres in 1999.
It took years and years to grow but this garden was breathtaking from season to season.

Two years ago, Brittany experienced long periods of drought. Even though the plants had been chosen for their sturdiness since we refuse to use fertilizer and watering, some of them were aging and quite a few even started disappearing.

Our garden was a sore sight this summer... Yves and I, we had several long talks this autumn. It takes time to plan restoring such a garden to its former beauty. This time, I had decided to really take part into the planning instead of telling Yves that he had carte blanche.

When we got back to Les Tertres, two weeks ago, his team had already worked on the clumps and they were supposed to start putting new plants in this week. (I plan but I do not plant -- yet!)

The garden looked so sad and forlorn. It did. I called Yves last Monday and he came over for one last talk. It was getting late and we walked around while planning the finishing touches... He could feel I was a little bit upset because I just couldn’t imagine putting in new plants in this barren mess.

He told me to go home because he needed to think about our plans while walking around once more on his own.

The following morning, one of his gardeners delivered this cute little thing and then I went up the wall. I called Yves at noon. “What IS this? What are you going to do to my garden?”

He is a very calm man. “I thought about it last night. I am sure we  have to turn over the ground before we start putting new plants in. The soil is very impoverished mostly because of the roots of the trees all around. We have to destroy part of the roots and once the soil has been turned over, we’ll start bringing in new plants. This machine will uproot the plants we want to keep. Don’t worry.”

Of course, I was worried. Mainly because Popeye was coming home on Friday and I had been bragging about getting many new plants but not about plowing his beloved garden.

Régis who has been in charge of the garden ever since Yves started working on it (and he was quite young at the time) was extremely reluctant to do what he had been asked to do... But he did it... He was grumbling a lot though!

Popeye got home on Friday. He was a little bit shocked at first but mainly interested in the results. This man can be visionary... He was actually very pleased...

We took a long walk on Sunday afternoon and we went all the way down to the place where young pine trees have decided to grow on their own. Amazing, I know!

Not very far behind them and quite close to the Wollemi, we discovered two huge black garbage cans and a dozen of big bags of soil-based compost plus four very small rosebushes still in their container. We were very surprised because this is not the way Yves works but you never know. People change.

Then I forgot completely about the bags because a very bad snowstorm hit our area. And I was very worried. I really was snowed in for a while.

On Monday though, since Régis could not keep on ploughing the garden, he started clearing the undergrowth through our trees with other gardeners.

Tuesday was terribly snowy again and very cold. They all stayed home, I imagine.

Today was fine. Sunny from time to time but too wet to keep on working in the garden. They went back to clearing the "undergrowth" in the "woods".

Yves came by and left. I forgot to ask him about the compost.

At 6, Régis rung at the door. “I have a question for you, Madame Olive. Did you buy compost? And did you hide the bags in the woods? Like yesterday while it was snowing hard or during the night maybe? 500 lbs in all?”

He was trying to sound like he was joking but I could see that he really was worried.

He knew the answers of course. And I understood right then that the bags were not Yves’ either.

“I had seen them hidden below the ilexes when I came over on Monday. I forgot to tell you. I told Yves but then it snowed and we forgot to let you know. And we found them this afternoon hidden in the woods. In the part that we had not cleared yet. The guy was desperate enough not to realize that we’d keep on cleaning the undergrowth.”

I was speechless. I live there all by myself and someone walks into my garden (even if there are no fences there). He stores his bags of compost a few meters away from my Wollemi and then he realizes that someone is working in the garden and he feels like he has to move them away. Not to move them. He has to hide them better.

This was kind of creepy. It really was. It still is, by the way. I really do not like the idea of someone lurking about even if it is not very close to the house.

I called Popeye in Brussels. He wanted me to call the “Gendarmerie” (our police force). Yes. Sure. “There are twelve bags of compost and two trash cans hidden in my woods. And before then, they were in my garden, hidden below ilexes. And yes, I want to press charges. By the way, they left the rosebushes lying in the grass.” The gendarmes didn’t even want to come over when there was a burglar in our house... (This is another long story.)

By then it was getting very dark. I closed the shutters on the ground floor and turned on the lights on the first floor. And I called Yves.

He was pretty upset. Call the police? No. They wouldn’t do a thing. (They do give you parking  and speeding tickets though.)

He had talked about it with Régis and they had kind of decided to take the bags away to teach the guy a lesson. (Compost is expensive and there are 12 bags.)

Who is this guy? What was he doing with his bags and garbage cans in my garden?

Well, Yves was pretty sure what this guy was bent on doing. Putting a few seedlings of cannabis in my flower beds while I was away... (He probably was very surprised when he found out that someone was here to stay a couple of weeks and that this someone was getting her flower beds plowed.)

Who would have noticed a few strange seedlings as soon as the plants and flowers would have started to grow again in the spring? 

 The guy obviously did not know that Yves and I were planning a complete shock treatment for the garden. But he did know that besides some trimming and cleaning up in the fall and at the end of the winter, the garden was to grow naturally.

This type of garden is called a “jardin en mouvement”. “A garden on the move” maybe. This will need a whole post because it is a very interesting way of gardening. Very natural and organic.

Yves was adamant that we had to get rid of the compost. From my property that is. (And then he’d use it in the flower beds after all!)

Then I had an idea. Brilliant but scary. And I finally convinced Yves. I want him to leave the bags in the woods. But they have to be moved at the edge.

The guy has to understand that we have found his bags but since we realized that they probably cost him a fortune (about 250 dollars), we give him a chance to grab them and get lost.

“Olive, you are totally crazy but this is fair. The guy is likely to be quite young and willing to grow a few patches of cannabis for himself. He’s probably not a bad guy. Not a dangerous one, that is.”

“Except that if we “steal” his bags, he may overreact. Like felling our Wollemi or puncturing our tyres. So we have no other choice than getting him to understand that he has to go elsewhere.”

“Do you realize that he’s bound to be around until he makes up his mind and moves his bags away from your place?”

Yes, I know. But he’s been around without me even noticing him at all. Like last night. And probably during the week when Régis was working.

When I called Popeye to let him know what we had decided to do, he chuckled. “Why don’t you write him a note that you’ll pin on one of the bags? “Dear sir, we-do-not-want-you-to-grow-cannabis-in-our-garden-EVER. Thank you.”

So this is it. I am alone. It’s getting very late. It is dark outside and quite windy. I am not scared though. Not yet since the bags are still where he hid them even though the undergrowth has been cleared this afternoon. As soon as Régis moves them closer to the edge, it will be a
little bit difficult for me to feel free to walk around the garden the way I am used to. Because I really don’t know how he will react.

I am not really in a joking mood tonight but I have to tell you that he’s left one bag (supposedly hidden) under one ilex probably because he was exhausted after carrying so many bags some 500 meters away

I went there and took a picture. It was getting dark. But when I got the picture on my computer, I noticed a very funny fact... The guy bought organic compost. So thoughtful of him and such an environmental awareness! 

Too bad he does not understand a thing about private property.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*



Memories came flooding back when my niece posted on Facebook the funniest story as told by her three-year-old daughter...

She had drawn a gingerbread man for her older sister. “A gingerbread man in space. And there’s a lot of stars and *all* of the planets. And something difficult that you can’t understand-see that swirly thing? You will never understand that. What’s it called again?”

“A galaxy?” asked my niece.

“Yeah. That’s a galaxy and you will never understand it. Ever.”

And there I was... some twenty-five years earlier or maybe more... with my son who always asked for a cup of tea at breakfast (but did not drink it because he was an addict to hot chocolate). Once brewed, foam would appear on the surface. And the fun would start. He’d dip a spoon and start stirring. And something would take shape. A “swirly thing.” And he’d say: “Look, Maman! A galaxy! I just created a galaxy.”

And he kept creating galaxies... Still does it from time to time but I imagine it’s only for old times sake. We still joke about it.

He was nine when we moved to Brittany. At night, the sky is breathtaking. Almost no light pollution. Our galaxy glitters and twinkles. Popeye bought an ancient astronomical telescope or whatever. More than one hundred-year-old... Imagine its accuracy. Nil.

We did a lot of stargazing over the years and we were getting frustrated. But every time we’d tell Swee’Pea we did want to buy a real telescope, he’d answer: “But we don’t really need one, do we? Just look at the sky. So many people never watch the stars. We do. All the time.”

We started wondering about his future... He was a top student but did not seem very excited about mathematics nor physics. He loved philosophy and history and so many other things.

And then to make a long story short, he really did throw himself into astrophysics...

It all began with an internship at the Meudon Observatory when he was fifteen.

His life was quite harrowing for quite a few years. But he ploughed his way through physics and then astrophysics until one day, he became Dr Swee’Pea with a PhD in astrophysics.

Now, I want you to get one thing straight. Swee’Pea is definitely not an astronomer. He is an astrophysicist for sure.

Actually he chose very early to forego observation. He immersed himself into the invisible to the naked eye, into the invisible to telescopes... into the barely perceptible to space telescopes. He went for galaxies that are hundreds of million light-years away from us... He went looking for the beginning of the beginning of the beginning. (This is the metaphysical part of his studies actually.)

He also added another dimension to his passion.

As soon as he started working on his PhD, he decided to share his dreams of the wide open space right above our heads and the galaxies beyond. And share he did.

He did a lot of voluntary work with young people and children because you see, stars and galaxies are very powerful tools to get lost children back into education and learning.

You start stargazing and dreaming about galaxies and you end up learning and wanting to do something with your life. As simple as that.

This is true everywhere. In France and all over the world. Even in the US, folks.

We tend to focus on food and water and living standards.

And this is good, fundamental, of course.

But we also have a tendency to forget that there are children and young people everywhere in the world who want to learn and study. They can’t and won’t do it. Never ever. For so many reasons.

Developing science and learning through astronomy (and astrophysics) is a perfect tool to help them achieve their dreams of a better future, their dreams of freedom from fundamentalism and obscurantism and their dreams of becoming builders instead of remaining victims of social and economic exclusion.

And what will those children do in turn? "Imagine..." Just like John Lennon's song.

This is what our astrophysicist is doing full time now... Finding ways to bring stars and galaxies to young people... so that their world will become a much better world.

Come to think of it, it all started with some foam twirling round in his cup of tea when he was a child. “A galaxy! This is a galaxy!”

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Roses on the Beach

Yesterday, our first walk on the beach was noticeably short. Very depressing indeed. After so much work in Belgium, we had been dreaming about resuming our long walks on the beach in Brittany. We were hoping for sunny skies and fair weather.

There we were, battling with a very wintery Northern wind. The sky was awfully grey and the cold was extreme (for Brittany and the beginning of March that is...). I know, I know. I am being terribly unreasonable there and quite ridiculous too.

When we woke up this morning, it was still very cold and foggy. But the weather report was hinting about a warming up as early as noon. A sunny afternoon, so they said.

Well, we had to wait until 1 p.m. But the sun did come out of hiding and we rushed to take a walk right away even though Popeye was supposed to go back to Belgium in the early afternoon.

There it was. Our beloved beach looking so cheerful. There is nothing better than a ray of sun to brighten your day after all. Even though a not so nice east wind was a bit chilly. The sun was shining at last... for the first time in more than three weeks, at least as far as we were concerned.

We started our walk as usual, straight towards the water’s edge. The tide had been ebbing for the last couple of hours.

We were half way to the shore when we stumbled upon the unexpected... Roses planted out in the sand... Seven of them. Whoever had done this knew etiquette. Odd numbers... (Unless we are talking about one or three dozen!) At least in France in olden times.

A long line of roses facing the sea.

Real roses. Beautiful roses shooting up from the sand.

Now who could have done this less than an hour before, right when the sea started to go out?

Could love be strong enough to drive someone to believe that roses would grow in salty wet sand because all sorts of miracles happen, don’t they?

Were those roses paying a tribute to some very special and precious person or some happy event maybe? Did they symbolize an offering to life? To love? To happiness?

The marine gardener could have put them down together on a rock like a beautiful bouquet but he or she did not.

The roses were planted in a line. Why? Were they pointing out some thread that the uninitiated would never see nor grasp?

Why were they left there with no one to watch over them? Were the very few people out for a Sunday walk on the beach supposed to pick them?

Everybody was walking around them, very carefully. We heard a few remarks. People were thoroughly mystified.

And then we realized that they were there for us to be filled with wonder.

The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. There are good days and bad days. 
This was the perfect day when roses could and would grow from a golden sandy beach.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*