degrees of relating to books

I’m a novel slut.
I stick with them
Until they bore me
Or I finish them up.
Read’em and dump’em
On a bookshelf,
On a cash-back,
Back to the library
Or whomever lent
Or on to someone who’ll borrow.
Or somewhere along a trip
At a friend’s or the hotel I spent the nights
Hoping they’ll be taken care of
By the cleaning lady
Or the next traveler.

I’m a textbook pimp.
They earn me something
For some time
And then become useless.
Read’em and sell’em
To the next pupil in need.

Why hold on to something
I’ll never hold again?
If you love’em, set’em free – right?

Only with poetry books
I have the most passionate affairs.
Addictions I can’t shake nor sate.
Read’em and keep’em
And return to them, eventually.
I’ll afford one more
That’ll make my heart coil and swell,
Unaccomplished and understood.
I’ll turn the same pages for years on.
Fingers baffled by the last verses
Anticipating the succeeding,
Like when you drag your skin
Over your most intimate lover’s body:
You know what you’ll find
And still your senses fray.

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Belgium A to Z – Z

Z – Zuid

Once, when I was being trained into womanhood, I was told that I should avoid low necklines and mini-skirts, because such things provoke men and might lead them on into treating me wrongly. To this day, this still ranks first in my top 10 Most Stupid Sentences I’ve Ever Heard. (It’s a close call against “The DNA is right next to the spleen.”)

I never understood why some people insist in treating men like morons incapable of controlling themselves or, even worse, in their dull right to overpowering the will of women and abuse them emotionally and even physically. I don’t understand men who think it’s fine to call a woman gorgeous, a good c**nt or a whore in public. Nor those who make sure to make women aware that their outfit works for them, even if they poorly disguise their comments with polite flatter. Neither do I understand why society, west and east, indulges such behaviors. Mild or ostensibly abusive men are either sick or stupid (as previously discussed), not morons who react upon boobs and bums like monkeys upon bananas.

I don’t want to dig in further why I believe my low neckline is an humanitarian manifesto. Let’s talk about the lesson coming from this alphabet’s Z. A couple of weeks ago, a documentary premiered in Belgian TV about sexism in the streets of Brussels. Sexism here is actually an euphemism. The story of this documentary, called “Femme de la Rue” (nice…), is this girl who lives in the Zuid/Midi area started noticing (as if she could not…) that there are these disgusting men in the streets talking dirty to women. Some start by talking nicely, but soon set off into insults if the women don’t promptly reply to their invitations to have sex with them. This documentary reports intense and widespread sexual harassment in areas of the Brussels Zuid area. It’s so intense, that women end up changing the way they dress and act, in order to draw less attention. Or just using earphones so that they don’t listen to them anymore.

“… I love Brussels’ theater, I love the chocolate and waffles, I love guys treating me like a slut all the time… Wait. What?! …” (Picture and quote are nor mine, of course.)

I’m often yelled at from scaffolds in construction sites. I’ve even had burning cigarettes thrown at me and been spit on because I ignored disgusting wank**s calling me from tuned cars. Despite unacceptable, these are anecdotal episodes which happen every once in a while. I was shocked to watch this perfectly normal Flemish girl next door walking in her neighborhood with that flowery dress, the knee-high boots and her hair tied… and being offered pay for sex and called several different things countless times on a short distance path. Do watch this scene, which is a common every day reality for women of all ages, looks and races in certain parts of Brussels Zuid.

Of course, this documentary has been hot topic, particularly because it’s linked to other problems of this multikulti Brussels. But it’s not nice and we don’t talk about it. Citizens are baffled and politicians prey on it (left wing wants more integration efforts, right wing wants these men out of the country). It’s a short lived spark in an old debate. Maybe not before the communal elections in October, but it WILL die out soon. And then… gays will be boxing bags, women will be whores, we will all be so much more important than the person next to us.

Belgium A to Z – Y

Y – Yikes! / Yay!

Yikes: — interj Informal an expression of surprise, fear, or alarm. (source)

Yay: — interj informal  an exclamation indicating approval, congratulation, or triumph. (source)

This post is a top 5 and bottom 5 of stuff in Belgium. It’s a compilation of the worst thing I had to face and the most pleasant surprises this country has presented me so far.

Top 5 Yikes!:

5 – The dogs are too polite. I miss my dogs so much I always try to hijack people’s dogs in the streets and in the parks to play a bit. But they ignore me and stay coolly with their owners. ‘Cause being cheerful and friendly with strangers is too mainstream.

4 – Almost everywhere you go, it kind of smells like either sewers, garbage, truck exhaust or brewers’ yeast.

3 – The growing popularity of Flemish nationalist parties, because they make me feel unwelcome. A polarized society leaves little room for integration. But I guess that’s their point.

2 – The disappointing seaside.

1 – All this rain all year round. It really REALLY sucks.

…but Yay!!

5 – Bicycles! I’ve mentioned that before.

4 – Belgium is a healthy half way between the stereotype of the perfectly oiled machine of Northern Europe and the southern Banana Republics. Things are organized and I feel I can rely on them. But all their flaws dissipate the feeling of being a bum in the Country Club.

3 – All this green. (Yes, I know it depends on the rain I complain about.) There’s bright green trees everywhere in the springtime and summer. And then they turn to brown, yellow and red and it’s even more beautiful!

2 – When it snows.

1 – Lame but: The very nice people I’ve been having the pleasure to get to know!

Belgium A to Z – W and X

W – Waffles
Waffles are a bunch of butter, flour and sugar battered together and cooked between two hot irons. These hot irons are like toasters and are called a waffle maker or, in Nengels, waffelizer. In Belgium there are two official types of waffles: the nice rectangular ones from Brussels, which don’t have caramelized sugar and are lighter, and the ones from Liège, which are dense and sticky. Then there are the free interpretations of those concepts that can be found in supermarkets or made at home. Waffelizers are a common appliance in Belgium homes, like a bread roaster or a coffee maker. Once someone even brought one to the office along which a huge pan of dough and we baked waffles all afternoon until we felt sick and the entire building smelled of butter.

I love waffles. Well, not the waffles themselves – there’s nothing so special about them. But they’re comforting. First, well, because it’s butter and carbs. Second, where there are people there are waffles. Even there’s nothing else to eat for sale, I can always count on a warm waffle to stall my hunger. Third, because it’s nice to grab one in the street when it’s really cold and warm up my hands and my tummy. I love waffles because I don’t have paper cones full of coal roasted chestnuts.

X – XS

I’m chubby – there, I’ve said it for the whole WWW to read.

I’m chubby or curvy in the good days (lusciously curvy in the excellent days). And despite the increase in sports activities, I don’t know if it’s the food or the hormones or what, but I’m getting chubbier by the year since I’ve been living in Belgium. Luckily, this change in my body was accompanied by a change in clothes tags. My Large/Medium in Portugal is now a flattering Small (sometimes XS) in Belgium.

It’s as if clothes retailers here accepted their reality: Belgian girls are generally healthily curvy (and often quite hot and/or athletic). Hence, they decided to make clothes FOR them, not for them to LOOK AT with sad resentment because it won’t fit. They decided to sell nice bras for womanly pairs of boobs, tight jeans for curvy good quality I-intend-to-have-children-someday booties and dresses tho wrap around feminine bodies, not sticks.

(If you’re Belgian and you’re reading this and you just think I said you’re fat, you’re not getting the point so stop reading and go strive for an eating disorder.)

Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? So why did I have to come to Belgium to not scavenge all sales season for a piece in the piles and piles of no one -fitting XS and S leftovers in the shops along side the chubby women (curvy in the good days… some of them at least) who make the majority of the Portuguese feminine population?

Of course, the skinnier girls complain. If I can fit in an XS, they’d need an XXXXS. But I find this very pleasant! It’s as if I’ve been suffering from rejection and attempted brainwashing by the Inditex empire all my life and finally saw the light!

Belgium A to Z – V

V – Velo

Vélo in French, fiets in Dutch and velo in Leuven (or so I heard somewhere) – means bicycle.

One of the first things that I loved about Leuven was the fact that the best way to move around is by bicycle. Everybody has a bicycle. Some people have 2 or 3 among a city bike, a road bike and a mountain bike. Or a bike at the train station or the student residence and another at home. They’re everywhere in this country and seem to be more generalized when in the more “low-country-ish” areas.

Bicycles are very useful to cover short distances, but some people actually commute 30 or 40 km every day by bike. They’re also an important part of leisure life, as bicycle trips are a national favorite and any competition involving cycling earns a lot of attention. In the summer, the Belgian highways become full of trailers with bicycles hanging in the back heading to their holiday destinations.

When I read those advocates and opponents discussions about commuting by bike, I find them really weird. Since I came to live here I find it rather natural and don’t see why people don’t do it and cities don’t prepare for it in more and more places. Of course it’s annoying when it’s too cold or pouring or when you have a meeting and don’t want to show up all sweaty and stinky. But it’s cheap, eco-friendly and really fast and your efforts with be awarded with better physical endurance and nice looking legs and bum, especially if you go up hill often (at least for me it works).

It’s a way of life. In the humid suffocating heat and in the cold of deep winter, against the wind struck rain and on icy pavement, day or night, people cycle from home to work, then to the supermarket or the pub, maybe stopping at daycare and packing a bunch of kids in those little baby trailers or on a baby seat attached behind the saddle. There are the ones with flowers and ribbons and colorful saddle bags, the really old ones rented for cheap from the University, the ones with a furry saddle cover, the shiny fancy ones, the squeaky ones, the cracking ones, the blinking ones, the electric ones, the ones with a box in front to carry children, gear, groceries and even dogs… And, of course, there’s a bike thief mafia to go along with them, breaking the hearts (and wallets, sometimes) of affectionate owners.

I suck at cycling. I’m hesitant and clumsy and I have a helmet shaped like a watermelon and records of several crashes (always alone, embarrassingly fortunately) to prove it. That’s how my fancy bike turned into a cracking bike… I swear I didn’t see the lane was covered in ice!

I see what you did there

A tale of the stupidity of bibliometrics

The impact factors of 2011 have been out for a couple of weeks now. It’s like New York Fashion Week for geeks or as if Moses got a brand new pair of stone tablets every year! I’m no exception to the buzz: I studied the JCR to check where my publication list stands and what are the trends for next year. I’m pretty glad with my news but that’s not what I want to talk about.

Right on the top 20 journals ranked by IF, there’s a journal of my field. Not possible. My field is IF 10 max! Truly intrigued I was, so I checked the journal’s website. Weird: unsophisticated layout and no electronic submission system. What is this, the XX century?? But the editor is renowned they did publish a lot last year and on interesting stuff… the same authors appear repeatedly in each paper… Hold on a minute.

Back to JCR, this is what I find:

the jerk

The jerk is the most well adapted humanoid kind and exists with the sole purpose of annoying and disgusting its fellow citizens.

There is no consensus regarding the origin of a jerk (jerk families? circumstantial drift? transitory testosterone drive stage?). His reproduction can only be ensured by either stupid or desperate women. Until the jerk finds that woman (and often even after he does), the jerk treads the environment occupied by regular humans attempting to simulate situations of actually having a chance with regular women. This implies harassment and picking fights with possible male competitors, in which the jerks imagines he’s seducing rather than annoying and also that he actually stands a chance of being taken serious rather than disdained and/or kicked in the nuts.

This imaginary world of success with chicks is only possible because jerks have a unique physiological feature: a nerve connecting its penis to its anus to then to its mouth, which makes the his verbalization highly susceptible to what it seems to be sexual talk but its actually just crap.

the construction worker subtype reciting its poetry from a scaffold

The subtype “construction worker “, is easily distinguishable from the common jerk because its vernacular character seems to be limited to its workplace and varies inversely to the height to the scaffolds. In addition, the construction worker subtype only exists in certain nationalities and its culture has been fostering highly creative, dirty and sometimes explicit compliments to women which are accepted and even embraced by the people as a humorist movement (masons or scaffold poetry), whereas the common jerk is endemic to the entire western world and does nothing good.

Furthermore, unlike the construction worker subtype, the jerk can have different appearances, from the distinct suit and tie to the suburban rapper wannabe. Nonetheless, some features can hint the citizen on whether or not he/she is the presence of the a young jerk: the combination of tight t’shirts and hair gel; a cap barely balancing on top of the head because it’s too small and the jerk’s gait (or swag) is that of a hyena with its buttocks sewed together; a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of an alcoholic drink in the other combined with a farsighted gaze and what appears to be an incontrollable need to curse out loud. Not always, but unfortunately often, the young jerk “evolves” into the adult common jerk. With good guidance, he might divert to the superior construction worker subtype or even find redemption as the middle aged man in the parochial parties who dances with his own bottle of beer.

Translation “Sometimes the future does not lie ahead of you, but rather right behind you.” – A good prognosis for this young jerk, if you ask me! (Fonte: http://atomic-kim.blogspot.com/)

The presence of the common jerk makes any moment of the day turn worse, especially for the female citizen… but its worse when we’re out trying to have fun. Any woman knows the discomfort of having to listen to jerks, walking down an empty street where jerks are or trying to dance with jerks at sight range. The jerk is my number 1 most annoying thing about going out at night. If I would make such a ranking, jerks would beat meeting at 21h for dinner without having a reservation and walking around asking waiters for a table in full restaurants or, even worse, discussing whether you’ll all go for thai or pizza. If I were to make the equivalent ranking for daytime, it would beat public transport strikes and beggars with those tiny drugged dogs holding a basket in their mouths. Worse than beggars with the tiny dogs with baskets: that’s just how much I detest jerks.

Belgium A to Z – U

U – Uur

The clock. The round ruler which measures our days and indicates us the moment when certain things should take place. Time and clocks are the same everywhere and yet its interpretation can vary so much from place to place. For instance, I’ve gradually moved my normal dinner time from 21h to 19h, for no particular reason, just because that’s how it goes here. This means I rarely leave my workplace after 18h, which is a beautiful thing!

The amusing thing about time here is telling it. The confusion starts with a typical Nengels mistake:

– How late is it?

– Not late at all, we’re right on time!

*confused silent stare*

Dutch time-telling explained. Source: Dutch Language Blog

The confusion continues with how time is told and interpreted. For example, half negen (half nine) is 8.30h. Even worse: “Het is nu vijf over half negen. = It’s five above half nine.” or “Het is nu veertien voor half tien. = It’s fourteen for half ten.” EIGHT THIRTY FIVE AND NINE SIXTEEN, PEOPLE!!

As a result, the number of hours spent in Dutch class devoted to telling the time is exceptionally high for such a simple content. Still, I’ve lost restaurant reservations and have been late to meetings, which has made me weary of “half-something” appointments, especially those made by phone. Good news is: it wasn’t always my fault!

Finally, the word hour – uur – is prone to mispronunciation… I’ll just give you a translated example:

– How late is it?

– Two hookers.

*awkward silent stare*

the packing list for not so exciting trips

Some may call me a lazy tourist. I prefer the term comfortable. My proficiency in comfortable trips has included a range of experiences from fancy bucolic B&Bs in France to sleeping in the floor of night trains in Eastern Europe (or, even worse, cheap London hotels), as well as a range of mobility options, from the kayak to the car (my own or the kind stranger’s who accepted to take me to the next town).

All over the web there are packing lists for the roughed traveler and its dream trips like hiking in the tropical rain forest or crossing Australia carrying only a daypack. All of this seems very exciting and it sure demands careful luggage planning. But how about the quiet not too energetic tourist who just likes to stroll around in relative independence the least beaten tracks in easy civilization-confined places? Doesn’t the non-badass-Livingstone character deserve a careful and efficient packing list as well???

Say it with me: WE DO!

Weekends to months as a tourist, who isn’t really fond of peril and requires a shower at least every two days, have taught me to never leave the nest without some less obvious things.

      • A pocket knife – not Rambo at all, it’s just plain useful.
      • A reliable dry bag – because things get wet and you would like to preserve your passport, electronic stuff and a pair of socks and panties.
      • A digital camera which is small and light enough and still won’t let me down. I’ve done the journey back from the DSLR and must say it’s liberating. (I have such a babe, but I’d gladly change it for something smaller.)
      • My most comfortable shoes.
      • Plastic flip-flops – because I can’t wear my shoes everywhere and won’t walk barefoot anywhere.
      • Paracetamol.
      • An umbrella or a plastic poncho.
      • Otherwise, a wind stopper and something to cover my head with. I learned this the hard freezing way on a summer day.
      • A bathing suit, because there are only few things more frustrating than not taking an unexpected opportunity to swim in a beautiful lake or beach. Also if it’s pouring or you’re kayaking, it’s easier to dry your own skin than damp clothes.

Kayaking in the rain with a bikini AND a plastic poncho. I must say I’m kinda famous for this.

      • A roll of toilet paper and a small pack of baby wipes.
      • An health insurance card.
      • A compact yet warm sleeping bag. Really, you never know what you might need to keep away from your skin while you sleep (learned it in cheap London hotels).

What would you add?