TROPOI, by the FroeFroe Theater.

Ruth had wondered, a while ago, if Miss 10 might enjoy attending some of the Christmas theatre happening here in the city.  I said I was sure that she would and voila, Ruth booked us all in for a performance by the FroFroe Theater ... titled TROPOI.

The performance was based on the book and movie, The Parfum, with the main character being an exquisitely made, and stunningly operated, puppet called Castiglio.  I have no idea where to lavish the most praise as the performance was mind-blowing.  There were the puppets, the actors, the singers and the musicians, all coming together to create a stunning show that I feel so fortunate to have seen

Did I mention the superb medieval and baroque music played on original instruments...! 

I could rave on for paragraphs but here's a taste of what the Belgian press wrote:

TROPOI shows what grand performances the puppet theatre is capable of giving.  De Morgen.  TROPOI is one of the best productions this season. De Bond.  FroeFroe can add another success to its prize list. Zone 03.  TROPOI shows you not only the magic of music, but also the magic of the puppet theatre. Impressive. De Standaard.

You can get a small taste of tonight's performance in the video below.  I hope I get to see many more of their performances.  Brilliant.  Miss 10 thought so too.

tropoi trailer from Jan Bosteels on Vimeo.

Scenes from My Photography Exhibition

It's taken me a week to even make an attempt to write about the weekend that was because it was overwhelming ... sublime, full of friends and laughter.  It was full.

The photography exhibition went right to the wire, in terms of preparedness.  I may have overcommitted myself a little but that's my style.  I should know this thing about me by now.  We had 6 house-guests over the 3 days but that was pure magic as well.  I know so many good people.

Teresa arrived first, over from London and we had much to talk about.  There I was cooking bacon and egg savouries for the exhibition opening, writing up descriptions for the photographs that Gert and Sander had helped me hang in the morning, drinking a little red wine from New Zealand, while Teresa and Miss 10 tied ribbons around little packets of postcards by Di.

Ren and Egil flew in from Norway.  Shannon and Erik drove over from Holland.  Kim also came in from England and before I knew it, it was all on.  Cars, directions, trams, even bicycles.  People arrived at the reception.

Hilde, from the Choice New Zealand shop here in Antwerp, was hosting the exhibition, and she made sure that the New Zealand wine flowed, as did tasty little NZ inspired snacks.   Friends and family just kept on arriving and my heart sang.

But perhaps you get a sense of the atmosphere, the good people, the beautiful evening via this selection of photographs taken by Kim and Teresa.  I'm so grateful.  I'd love to have documented it but I was too far into it all, as warned when I mentioned I might take my camera. 

So very into it.  Thank you to everyone who came out and supported me.

Old Friends and Birthdays ...

An old friend from far-away flew in on Tuesday.  I knew Murray back in those days when I was an airforce officer's wife living on that base surrounded by wineries located at the top of New Zealand's South Island.

So, since Tuesday, we've had years of stories to catch up on ... his teenage children, my move out of New Zealand too but despite so many years passing, 'all that time ago' still feels like only a few months have passed since our last meeting.

And so we have been talking as I've introduced him to Antwerp and life here.  He's enjoyed Antwerp's incredible printing museum, the MAS ... the Red Star Line Museum too.  The photo above was all about me taking photographs using Murray's phone camera ... some laughter was involved, as I messed up more than a few images, adjusting to this new way of 'seeing'.

He arrived just in time for my birthday ... which was yesterday, and it turned out to be one of those lovely days where I just kind of birthday-ed the day away. Quietly.  Jess made me my mostabsolutelyfavourite cake in the world ... an orange cake, and I whipped up a big old dinner of Persian Chicken. 

I'm around but busy, just for a few days before he wanders on into Europe.  Stories shall surely follow.

Crossing Antwerp's Pontoon Bridge, 2014

Crossing the pontoon bridge in Antwerp was so much more fun than I had imagined. I met a remarkable older gentleman and his wife as we queued.  Together we laughed and chatted our way across that pontoon bridge.

On the other side we hunted down Choice New Zealand pies, discovered the Cava stand, and spent a good hour speaking to strangers at Hilde's pie stand, about New Zealand and pies of course. One man, who so very much wanted to live in NZ, proposed marriage to me. He offered my Belgian bloke his wife in exchange. There was much laughter.  Benny was there with his fries in the Retro - Food bus too.

It was a truly delightful way to spend an afternoon.

Below is a view from the Left Bank back to Antwerp city ... with the story too.

A highlight of this commemorative programme is the contemporary reconstruction of the 1914 pontoon bridge, symbolising the connection between the past, present and future. The temporary pontoon bridge across the River Scheldt near Steen Fortress will be built by Belgian and Dutch engineer battalions on October 3rd, 2014.

The construction of a contemporary “Peace Bridge” is a technical feat. Above all the bridge will be a unique experience for the many tens of thousands of visitors who will be able to cross the River Scheldt on foot, following in the footsteps of the Belgian army as well as of the more than 10,000 refugees who fled a burning city in search of a safe haven. The reconstruction is a reminder of a significant historical moment in the city’s history as well as an invitation to build bridges in the present and work together to create a connected, inclusive city.

I wrote this on Facebook today ...

Antwerp ... it's grey and it's raining but coming home on the packed tram, complete with screaming child torturing her mum with a tantrum, I ended up chatting with the guy next to me. A musician, a circus performer, from Cuba originally. A friendly foreigner like me. He even does the high-wire stuff. And I had to smile, even on the grey days, these small sunshiny moments are possible.

Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp

Here's another view of Antwerp's city cathedral - Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal.

I discovered it reflected in a puddle out on Groenplaats one day.  And loved it.  And quite possibly looked insane as I stalked the puddle edges, searching for the best angle to capture the reflection at ... but I was compelled to.

't Stad

Antwerp city... otherwise known as 't Stad, is a city with staying power.  Quietly determined, she has stood here, growing, since Gallo Roman times, fighting off every kind of invader.  A steenezel perhaps but so solid.  Always solid, despite the Spanish, the Dutch, the Austrians, the Nazis and all kinds of other folk too, attempting to rule her.

The story goes that the city got its name via a legend that involved a mythical giant called Antigoon.  He lived near the Scheldt River and demanded a toll from those using the river.  If people refused, he cut off their hand and threw it into that river.  The giant was eventually killed by a hero called Brabo who, in the way of mythical stories, cut off that giant's hand and threw it into the river. 

Antwerpen or hand werpen, as in the Old English hand and wearpan (to throw), became the name of this city way back in those days when mythical giants existed ... somehow.

There are all kinds of other, more practical, stories regarding the name but this is my favourite.

Below is a glimpse of the famous river, giant-free, at sunset.  You can see the exquisite Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, (aka Cathedral of Our Lady) in the background.  Construction finished way back in 1521.  The one finished spire stands at 123 metres (404 ft) high, and is the highest church tower in the Benelux.  The largest bell in the tower requires 16 bell ringers.

It's a city where I've been lucky to find all the pretty ways home because there are pretty ways.  And I do love the ancient heart of the city, its perfectly walkable, cobblestoned and full of all kinds of surprises.  It's as quirky as you can imagine. Let me show you.

Quotes Loved Lately ... and an early run at a birthday

Homelands don't exist.  It's an invention. 
What does exist is that place where you were happy.
Susana Fortes, from Waiting For Robert Capa.

A sign you are getting better is when you care less what others think of you.
Robert Moore.

Great artists don't have careers, they have lives.
Gregory O'Brien.

It showed her she had to live 'in the gap between what could be said and what really happened'.
Nelly, in The Invisible Woman

The writers I know, or whose lives I have read about, have one thing in common:  a stressed childhood.  I don't mean, necessarily, an unhappy one, but children who have been forced into self-awareness early, have had to learn how to watch the grown-ups, assess them, know what they really mean, as distinct from what they say, children who are continually observing everyone - they have the best apprenticeships.

Doris Lessing.

Today was mostly about a birthday, not mine but an early Miss-9-celebrating-10.  Her birthday falls in the school holidays and she has made some precious school friends here in the city.

It was all about water fights and laughter, a toast made with plastic goblets, and gifts that made her swoon.

It was a good day here in the flatlands of Belgium.

Oh, and about this Flemish side of Belgium, the place where I live ... VRT News channels made this.  It so captures the Flemish I know.  They have their serious face ... and then there is this crazy-beautiful side that I sometimes forget about.

On my facebook page I wrote, 'One of the biggest secrets about Belgium is how amusing and wicked the Flemish folk are. VRT-Nieuws is our news channel of choice and it was hilarious (and yet unsurprising) to see them ALL dancing to Happy here. They wear a serious face oftentimes but scratch the surface and ... well, you get a sense of them here. Loved this.'


Hair On Her Teeth ...

I'm just in from an evening out in Antwerpen. 

It's 1am, and I'm still recovering from seeing a young and relatively inexperienced Dutch team beat the pants off an experienced world champion Spanish team ... 5-0.

Extra time was a nail-biting experience simply because it still seemed entirely possible that Holland might score again and that, that would have been too embarassing to watch.

But I have to confess, there is something so good about finding yourself at a cafe in Grote Markt, sitting with a lovely Flemish guy you consider a friend, watching the football on a big-screen there at the cafe where you're attending an official function.

We drank our wine.  Vic put up with my enthusiasm for the game while Gert was off and doing his work there in the crowd.  It was quite the balmy summer's night and the sky was clear. 

The football-watching crowd were divided.  There were some who supported the Spanish however ... and I might be the only person who reports on this truth ... a large number of Belgians here were overjoyed when Holland won.


Towards the end of the evening, I met a small crowd of 20+ something Belgian blokes as we were leaving.  One of them mistook me for an Australian and it quickly turned into a mocking kind of tournament.

An older woman, a friend of Gert's, leaned over and said admiringly of me, that I was one of those women with hair on her teeth ...

Why yes, that is a compliment here.  I was worried it was about not brushing however it simply means that I'm not someone who can be easily taken down in conversational combat.  (or something like that.  i may have to stand corrected.)

I was quite proud, as the last person who congratulated me on my mocking brilliance was Vinnie Paul, way back when I was 16.  It's been a while.

Anyway, all that to simply write, it's been a lovely evening here in the flatlands of Belgium tonight.

Much ...

Forgive me if I fail to write coherently about the food at yesterday's 50th birthday party but I think the photograph at the end of the post goes some way to explaining why I fail ...

It was things like the fact that I don't like the idea of veal but ohmygoodness, it tastes like THAT!?

Jayne hosted the most exquisite party, invited a whole lot of lovely people, and made sure glasses were kept full of champagne while tempting our tummies with the most divine nibbles.

And I picked up a camera not my own and took photographs to my heart's content.  I drank champagne, again ...  Why yes, I was that woman who formerly claimed she didn't like champagne, who has shamelessly consumed 'quite some' (as the Belgian bloke has been known to say) these last 48 hours.

It appears I have seen the light with regard to good champagne.

Mmmm, and so it turns out a recipe for surviving a 29 celsius weekend here in Antwerp involves some champagne, much good food, and more than a few excellent people.

Normal service shall resume here tomorrow.

Reading in the Garden, Belgium

We wandered out into our small pocket-sized garden after dinner and read until 10pm.  It's been hot here.  We have summer.  It's for sure now.

There's even talk of 31 celsius at the weekend.  We have a BBQ to attend, a birthday party too.  Oh, and the monthly expedition for supplies.

But anyway, the garden ...

Note of caution, based on what I read in Gert's mind ... if you want peace and tranquility, best not take a photographer.

Photography Workshops for Women.

I am running a photography workshop in April however do let me know if you have a small group of friends or want to work with me one-on-one, and we can work out another date that suits you.

Sunday 6 April, 2014.

We will begin at 10am and work through until 5pm.

(Lunch, with non-alcoholic drinks, included in workshop fee.)

Cost: includes lunch, drinks, an A3 notebook, and a copy of my 38-page e-book, titled Photography Made Beautifully SimpleUsually 65 euro.

I'll send you instructions on how to reach the venue beforehand.

Note: there are just 4 places, allowing for different cameras and giving me the time to work with each person.

The details: I'm launching a series of one-day photography workshops for women who want to take better photographs for their business blogs and/or personal blogs.

Women who don't have the flash camera or time to learn all there is to learn about photography.  Women who do have the flash camera and want to know how to use it.

Together, small groups of us, will spend a few hours out in the city and park here in Antwerp, then head back to work on editing our images.

These will be an ongoing series of workshops.  If you don't get everything you wanted to know in that first workshop, then come back ... and we'll hang out together and have a good time while we work on the rest.

I will help you with basic things like light, camera shake, and how to photograph people.  We can work on how to tell the story of you, your family, or your business.

And how to create photographs you're happy to put out there in public.

I will also introduce you to a very basic but effective editing programme.

Contact me if you are interested, want to book a place, have questions, or requests about topics you're struggling with.

You will receive a free copy of my photography e-book, Photography Made Beautifully Simple, when you sign-up to work with me.  It's a book that introduces you to your camera and its functions in small, easy-to-manage pieces and it would be superb if you are familiar with it before our workshop.

I'll be holding the workshops in Antwerp, in Belgium.  If you need info about trains, parking and etc, don't hesitate to ask for more information.

Sunday Night, and a poem.

No matter how early I get up, the world
is already whirling; no matter
how silent the kitchen, the stove is warm,
like a great heart, the coffee beans
are sending out their dark signal,
the cat is half-awake, his second eyelids
partly glued to the two suns
of his eyes.  The oranges contain themselves
like glorious planets on the cheese tray,
the milk waits, luminous in its carton,
the round table abides, the day
grows wide.  Slowly I step into
its bright stream.

Matter, by Carolyn Miller.

I found this poem while I was lazily reading my way through the Squam blog, over here.  I've been busy of late.  Madly, truly, beautifully, crazily busy.  It has reminded me of crazy times spent running down scree-slopes back when I was young and foolish.  And while I didn't lose control of the beautiful madness and it stayed fun, I did need to keep that forward-momentum going just to stay on my feet.

My next blog post, outlined on a piece of pink note-paper just now, will be all about things I enjoyed during those days.  And really, there was so much.  But today I rested.  I lolled about.  I read.  I noted down quotes as I read.  I listened to music.  Baked bread.  Had 4 loads of laundry dry outside on the line.  I nibbled, searching for something to magically re-energise me - trying all but those scary vials of vitamins I bought a month or two ago.  Gert has taken to sighing when he asks if I've had any yet.  I have an osmosis theory about medicines and vitamins.  If they sit close by and I look at them sometimes, they work ... magically.  By osmosis.  Julie might snort laughter through her nose if she reads this ...

Today I didn't drink any red wine.  I sighed over all that still needed done but thought 'Tomorrow'.  Tomorrow is Monday and I will begin again then!' as if I really meant it.   And I do.

The house is clean and it smells of fresh laundry ... as the towels had to come in and finish drying on the clothes-horse I use instead of an electric dryer.  And the house smells of freshly-baked bread because the loaf finished cooking not so long ago.  And in just over 7 hours the smell of coffee will be filling the house, as my coffee beans are ground and become a rather lovely espresso.  Thank you to Wesley for selling me her exquisite coffee machine back in October.

And that is how it is here tonight.  The time is becoming midnight in another 32 minutes, I should be sleeping but somehow writing this became that more interesting thing that woke me a little.

The photograph ... taken while out wandering with Lynette, at an ungodly early morning winter hour, last Friday.  The posh fries shop made me smile.  It did.


Blue Sky Directly Overhead but ...

It would be fair to write that Antwerp city struggles with terrible air pollution.  Most of Europe drives through Belgium ... trucks in their gazillions.  People on their way some place else.

I read: Antwerp is particularly affected by air pollution generated by the eight-lane motorway passing near the city centre, its important seaport (second largest in Europe), as well as by the presence of the second largest petrochemical industry worldwide. Moreover, the high buildings located in the city centre create street canyons where noise and pollutants are especially concentrated.

Researching this was fairly depressing ...

Tram 11, a poem by Herman de Coninck


Tram comes. Tram goes. Going: a young Zairean
humming huskily with baby, plenty of time,
intimate with each other, in public
yet still alone. The tram looks on.

Tram comes: a Moroccan woman tries to quiet
her whining little tatty boy. The more she shakes him,
the more syllables fall from him.
Until an Antwerp woman's ta-ta-ta

brings him to himself. And to all of us.
Ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling through the town.
Public transport civilizes us, makes us festive,
maintains our confusion.

Herman de Coninck
Translated to English by Cedric Barfoot and Sonny Williams.

Way back in 2007, that was me reading Herman de Coninck's poem on stage in front of more than a few people.