Two Years Later - Still a White-Collar Criminal in Brussels

Courtesy of Brussels Net

Early January, France was in the throes of bloody terrorist attacks. We were aghast and in a state of immeasurable affliction.

I was in Brittany at the time while Popeye was in Belgium. It was hard to talk about anything else but what had happened. Not only us but the whole world.

And yet…

Brussels Net/Propreté chose this very moment to send me a new and very threatening certified letter. Dear readers, do you remember the post I wrote in June 2013 : “In Brussels I am a white-collar criminal”? Well, I had payed up the fine and this was January 2015, almost two years after my “criminal offence” and yet…

And yet…

There it was again. The same old charges… with an escalation of disciplinary actions against me, based on legal articles concerning some kind of aggravated environmental pollution… Much, much higher fines up to 625 euros and a possible court action.

Swee’Pea, Popeye and I did think for a while that some dishonest employee from Brussels Propreté was trying to scare me in order to squeeze money out of the-French-expatriate-poor-me.

The reality was quite different. There was no dishonest employee. The letter did come from Brussels Net/Propreté. Far be it from me to accuse Brussels Net/Propreté of dishonesty, of course.

And yet…

I had already payed a fine in 2013. They had not cleared me of the charge but I was allowed to state mitigating circumstances that might get them to soften the penalty.

I was very angry. Environmental pollution! Legal proceedings! Mitigating circumstances!

Their letter was threatening and in many ways, incredibly arrogant.

I decided to answer in order to try to disprove their charge.

I wrote a long, a very long letter in which I explained the way things had happened. I wrote about my environmental activism. I admitted that the week-end had been a very busy week-end and that somehow we had dropped our guard, selective-sorting-wise.

It was true that a few and not very kosher things had missed the selective sorting of household waste.

On the other hand, it didn’t look good to put two (empty) cans of coca cola and a couple of (empty) envelopes and one tea bag wrapping and a very small empty can of nuts in the same category as high hazard environmental pollution, did it?

I went on and on and on. I even quoted my post (“read by people from all over the world” I said… aha!). I added the pictures I had used to give good measure. Tit for tat.

I was so angry. Loosing so much time and using so much energy for something so trivial and so useless.

I asked my men to check my answer. Well, they were not very enthusiastic about it. Too visceral and emotional. I needed to take stock.

Popeye came up with a great idea. I only had to mail the letter to their (Belgian) lawyer to get some legal advice. No sooner said than done.

The lawyer answered me within the hour. He’d phone Brussels Net the following day and let me know what to do. There was a chance they would back-pedal.

They didn’t back-pedal but I got some precious advice from the lawyer.

No affect. Facts. This was totally brilliant! Facts: They were completely at fault concerning their timing. Too much time had elapsed between their first administrative action and the new legal proceedings. They had six months to take me to court from the moment they ripped our garbage bag apart and sent me the first letter. I had payed the fine. All this explained in a very legal sounding language. This would be just perfect.

I rewrote my letter which I sent certified, of course. I was sure it’d take them at least another year to answer. Wrong. I got an answer two days later. According to “evident mitigating circumstances”, they were willing to downsize my new possible fine of 625 euros to a minimum of 62,50 euros and they would wipe the slate clean. They also gave me the choice to take legal action instead of paying the fine. Most kind of them.

I could have decided to fight them. I chose not to for very obvious reasons. I threw my 62 dollars at them, metaphorically speaking of course.

Tonight Popeye called me from Belgium. The garbage men had already collected the bags on our side of the street when he noticed he had forgotten to take the garbage out. No problem. He went and dropped our bags among the garbage bags of our neighbors from across the street.

Good grief, man. According to the article so and/or so of the edict of… our garbage cannot be moved across the street or else!

To be honest, I believe that I do not enjoy at all being a white-collar criminal in Belgium. 

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book in Brittany - "Tide of Century"

Brittany experienced a maelstrom this week-end. Spring tide of the century, so they said. A 119 one on a scale of 120. With a partial eclipse of the sun (81% in Brittany - the highest percentage in France) to boot.

The eclipse did happen but was totally hidden by a very thick layer of clouds! And since I was at Les Tertres at the time, I enjoyed some darkening of the skies and a short cold spell (which by the way could well have been brought about by chilly Northern winds after all) and nothing else.

In that case though, one really needed to have an astronomer around. I had one a few hundred miles away who sent me this link and I watched the eclipse live from Svalbard (Norway) while sipping a couple of cups of red and organic Rooibos tea at home. 70°F in my living room versus -4°F in Svalbard. I never complained.

Back to the spring tide of the century. For a start, never believe the media. While they kept surprisingly mum about the eclipse, they raved about the equinoctial tide last Saturday (March 22). A 119 tide only happens less than ten times in a century, they said. They also reminded France that a spring tide is the most dangerous event ever when you live on the seaside and they talked a lot about the gigantic waves and the dreadful floods the Channel and Atlantic Ocean shores had to endure the year before, during the first week of March 2014. Only a 115 spring tide but so formidable and destructive. Imagine… A 119 tide in March, a real equinoctial spring tide right after a sun eclipse.

True to the scientific forecast, from March 20 to March 22, the tidal range grew from 115 on Friday up to 119 on Saturday and went down to 115 again on Sunday.

And true to the Breton tourist offices expectations, stoked up by the national news, spring tide did happen, except that it turned out to be an unprecedented human tidal wave since the sea never proved it was up to the situation. Officially 119 but honestly?

The media should have explained the ins and outs of a spring tide instead of singing about its tidal range. Exceptional high range, yes but “the spring tide of the century”, for goodness’ sake! They never mentioned that the weather would be clement. No wind thus no waves. A 119 spring tide much less spectacular than a regular 115 spring tide in winter.

By the way, a spring tide does not get its name from the season but from the verb “to spring”… In French, it’s called a “grande marée” (a high range tide).

So Brittany was invaded for a while. Only two days actually which felt like centuries. Tens of thousands of tourists from all over France. On Saturday, the “119” day, from what newspapers said, the shores of our small province accommodated as many people as during one whole summer month.

Not really easy to live in overcrowded conditions. Totally unbearable actually. People who love Brittany and live there, love the place because of its wide, open and uncluttered beaches, even at summertime and because of its serene way of life notwithstanding the violent storms that sweep across from time to time.

All in all what should have been a noteworthy experience turned into some rather unrewarding moments. For Bretons and for tourists alike.

At high tide, people were expecting huge waves and violent floods in the harbors, on the coastal roads and in villages, just like in March 2014. (Yes. This is a dog-eat-dog world filled with sensationalism!) This never happened.

At low tide, they wanted to gather shellfish on the foreshore. They were so numerous that the beaches and the rocks turned out to be far too small for them all. No shellfishing either.

 We were outnumbered and sort of pushed away from time to time. We were autochtones, hence not given permission to hinder the great “foreign” flood, even for the sake of taking a picture or finding a parking spot.

There were a few funny moments though but only because it was best to keep our sense of humour.

I’ll have a hard time forgetting the young woman who shoved me aside because she wanted to take a picture of the waters rising slowly (a meager couple of cms high) above one very, very tiny portion of the quay. And then she yelled to her boyfriend: “I took it! I took it! And it’s on Facebook already!”

I’ll have a hard time forgetting the two smart-looking men walking along the quay. Looking at the two trawlers that were alongside, one of them said: “Are those trawlers real boats, do you think?”

Actually, no. They were replicas. Because Disney World had besieged our beloved Dahouet for one day for the sake of the spring tide of the century and dumb tourists!

Harbor quays are flooded from time to time during spring tides, the ones with strong winds and waves. What is to blame? In Brittany, harbors stilt up all the time because of tides and sea currents. They are dredged quite often but like the rock of Sisyphus, they stilt up again and again.

Someone asked aloud: “Who is to blame? Who?” And then he answered his own question : “They really should heighten the quay. I wonder why they never did it.” Nature versus politics. It had to be very political.

A lot of people sounded quite ignorant about tides. The news on TV had been quite talkative about the “tide of the century” but they probably never explained much about tides and their phenomena.

One father to his daughter: “Just wait. Within the next 5 mns, you’ll see a 129”. (Great. There are a few things I am yearning to watch and one of them is a 129 spring tide. Actually… not really.)

Well, no 129 tidal range of course. Tidal range never exceeds 120. Which seemed to irritate people. A lot. “That’s it? It won’t go any higher?” “This spring tide is so disappointing.” (Greatly vexed voyeurism at its best.)

There is a very funny sentence from an old French movie when a young child says: “Si j’aurais su, j’aurais pas venu”.  Totally wrong but very colloquial conjugation… something like “I knew I shouldn’t have went.”  I am pretty sure that this thought crossed the mind of many onlookers at the end of this spring tide.

They came with great expectations. Most of them left with huge frustrations.

But the local economy sure flourished - unless people came all geared up from their part of France. Rubber boots. Red or yellow oilskins. Shrimping nets. White pails. Rakes. They all looked so very Breton. Well, just the way you imagine Bretons going shrimping or gathering shellfish. This was so much fun because then it was so easy to tell spring tide tourists from “natives” who actually knew better and were waiting for the next spring tide, on April 19th with a 113 tidal range. Not impressive enough to send hordes of tourists back to Brittany. But a spring tide nevertheless.

On Sunday morning, carnival time was over. Tens of thousands people on their way back home, by car and by train. Motorhomes choking up our very small country roads.

The next 119 spring tide should happen some time around 2029, I think. Which will give Brittany enough time to put on a real show with power-generated high winds and waves if necessary, an armada of fake fishing boats and privateer ships, a “son et lumière” (sound and light) show about its history and a raised and maybe terraced quay to provide safe tide sighting and photography.

Mind boggling, isn’t it!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Where Am I?

Olive had a hard time weathering this last winter. Coming back from sunny South Africa and feeling the strains of a rather bleak life in Paris or in Brussels or even in Brittany I should add…

Cheerful memories were fading away so fast in addition to the fact that Olive’s life turned out to be hard, tough and quite mean from time to time.

There was not a day when poor Olive felt good enough to go on with telling stories.

Don’t ask me what was really going through her mind because even though I love Olive, I am not always in symbiosis with her. I’d even end up nagging her about writing one good old story that would cheer us all up. But she’d look at me, her huge blue eyes filled with tears.

“I can’t. I can’t any longer. I guess I am burnt out”, she’d whimper.

By the way, Olive does not have huge eyes and they are not blue either. But I thought it’d sound good for a first attempt at “Blogging world, here I come… back!”

Actually the impulse to start blogging again started plaguing me this morning while I was walking back to my hotel from Goya’s mausoleum. Besides the fact that it was an epiphany to see Goya’s frescoes on real walls where he had painted them quite a long time ago and not in a museum, I was feeling great.

And Olive was feeling even better until the moment her eyes wandered from the scenery to the (huge) bosom of an American girl who almost knocked her over going by.

In truth Olive would not have noticed the girl’s bosom if she had not also flaunted a pink T-shirt with a huge tag on it: “I am not a blogger”.

“So what?” Olive said to me. I looked back at her and kept mum.

Large crowds were swarming the city. Spring was in the air. Winds were turning…

And Olive shrugged with a big smile on her face: “As soon as we get back to the hotel, let’s start blogging again”.

So there we are and maybe I should quit using my split personality. Have no fear, my friends, I am the blogger even though Olive may not be aware of the fact that she is only my alias.

I mentioned that I was walking back from Goya’s mausoleum. So where am I?

Those of you who know, no whispering! 

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes is one of the greatest Spanish painters ever. He died in France in 1828 but he is buried in Madrid in a very small chapel (the Real Ermita of San Antonio de la Florida) he had decorated with frescoes in 1798.

In Madrid, they call the place where he rests: “El Panteón de Goya” which is the reason why I said that I was coming back from his mausoleum.

Now, people… Why am I in Madrid? Obviously on my own which is quite unusual since I travel a lot with Popeye and from time to time with Swee’Pea…

A while ago, Popeye came back home with great news. He was supposed to fly to India for business. I was overjoyed… And I started planning my trip too! So did Swee’Pea who would make the most of it and meet with astronomers and above all, meet his friend Niruj again for the first time in five years, I think. Remember our friend Niruj?

For a while, dark clouds quit looming above our heads. India, here we come… Until we realised that I would not make the trip. Not enough time to take all the medicals. Not enough time in India for me to rest. Too many dangers lurking behind the bushes… Indian bushes of course.

I was not very happy about it all. But I am getting better at rationalising. Time difference: four hours and a half. Heat: awful. Bugs all over the place. (Don’t laugh, Niruj! They said “bugs”. I did not.) And ten days all in all. My men busy all the time. I had no other option.

Brittany? Brussels? Paris?

Enough is enough, I said. I’ll be travelling too! And I started checking possibilities, lucky me. I went from cruises on the Rhine (don’t ask me why!) to a trip to Venice or to Vienna or to Morocco or to… to…

Well, I am not used to travelling around. I have watched Popeye and Swee’Pea so many times. A couple of hours and their suitcase is ready wherever they are flying to.

For so many years, my life has been going round from and back to three places and only three places…

I still remember how hard it had been to pack my suitcases to go spend one month in South Africa.

So I chose a safe course. I love Spain. I feel good there. I still had to choose between Barcelona and Madrid. Madrid won. Madrid is a little bit like home for me. We’ve been there so many times and I have even managed to spend a couple of days on my own there from time to time. While waiting for Popeye to come back from meetings elsewhere in Spain.

I flew to Madrid on Thursday morning. I’ll fly back to Paris on Monday night. And I love every minute of my stay. I thought I knew Madrid pretty well but I am still discovering places I have never been to.

I spend my days enjoying every minute of my stay. My men are complaining because I do not keep in touch very much. Well, guys, I am just too busy all day long and you are asleep when I collapse on my bed and finally have enough time to chat.

I love being outside all day long besides the fact it is outrageously sunny and warm. There are not many tourists around besides quite a few Americans who apparently stay away from Paris with its no-go zones (thank you, Fox News) and are boosting Spain’s failing economy.

It’s great to try to speak Spanish again… It’s coming back much faster than I expected. Otherwise there is still speaking with my hands which I use a lot shamelessly!

I’m even back to blogging! Imagine…

*Good Luck, and Good Night*