27 Nov 2011

Du Pain, Du Vin ...

Jugendstil villa in Bonn - Bad Godesberg. November 2011.

In spite of alarming daily news reports about the euro crisis and the fact we still don't have a government after 500+ days of negotiating, the majority of us seem to lead our daily lives with little noticeable change.

For me personally, these are hectic but stimulating times. The past fortnight I've spent 4 days in England (London and the Cotswolds), 4 in France (Lille, mainly) and 2 in Germany (Bonn - Bad Godesberg). Most of the travelling was done for work, but I've managed to squeeze in a couple of days for myself.

Spare wine racks, anyone?
In my scarce free time I've been studying for next week's exam (I'm taking 'Communicative French' evening classes twice a week) and of course I had to attend two of the annual wine festivals that are common in France and Belgium in late autumn.

Some big, others small, these wine fairs are the perfect occasion to discover wines from independent winemakers and many of the smaller vineyards all over France.

As a result, we're now in dire need of extra wine racks, but I understand that's a luxury problem.

And now for some trivia:

My top 5 observations of the past 2 weeks.

  1. Lille is truly a beautiful city, with striking architecture, a vibrant atmosphere and wonderful restaurants.
  2. The French Alsace region, famous for its white wines, makes surprisingly good pinot noirs that offer great value for money.
  3. Anybody who thinks English people are cold and reserved, hasn't met my friends. I had the chance to meet up with several of them when I was in the Cotswolds and even though we don't see each other often, the time we spent together was once again heartwarming.
  4. Once you've learnt a language, even if you don't use it for ages, it's ingrained in your brain. I had French in school between the ages of 8 and 17, then didn't use it for almost 20 years. Now that I'm taking classes again, I'm surprised how quickly it all comes back.
  5. Bad Godesberg's residential villa quarter is stunning. When Bonn was still the capital of West Germany and later the official seat of united Germany's government (until 1999), many of the foreign embassies were located in stately Jugendstil villas.
Residential villas in Bonn - Bad Godesberg. November 2011.

So, my dear friends, what have you been up to?
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13 Nov 2011

Lucky 13: Women Writers about Character.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

- Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre)

“The sisters and brothers that you meet give you the materials which your character uses to build itself. It is said that some people are born great, others achieve it, some have it thrust upon them. In truth, the ways in which your character is built have to do with all three of those. Those around you, those you choose, and those who choose you.”
- Maya Angelou

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.”
- Anne Frank

“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny.”
- Anaïs Nin

“I can't decide whether I'm a good girl wrapped up in a bad girl, or if I'm a bad girl wrapped up in a good girl. And that's how I know I'm a woman!”
- C. JoyBell C.

“Whatever you are physically...male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy--all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.”
- Cassandra Clare (Clockwork Angel)

“But what man does out of despair, is not necessarily a key to his character. I have always thought that the real key is in that which he seeks for his enjoyment.”
- Ayn Rand

“When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.”
- Edna O'Brien

“There is a curious thing that happens with the passage of time: a calcification of character.”
- Jodi Picoult (My Sister's Keeper)

“Her beauty satisfied [his] artistic eye, her peculiarities piqued his curiosity, her vivacity lightened his ennui, and her character interested him by the unconscious hints it gave of power, pride and passion. So entirely natural and unconventional was she that he soon found himself on a familiar footing, asking all manner of unusual questions, and receiving rather piquant replies.”
- Louisa May Alcott (A Long Fatal Love Chase)

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
- Helen Keller

“Don't separate the mind from the body. Don't separate even character - you can't. Our unit of existence is a body, a physical, tangible, sensate entity with perceptions and reactions that express it and form it simultaneously."
- Susanna Kaysen

"character--the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life--is the source from which self-respect springs.”
- Joan Didion

Image: 'where did rachel "gun show" get her guns?' by sean dreilinger. Available under a creative commons license. © 2011, sean dreilinger.
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8 Nov 2011

Fear of Writing.

Just a thought today:

'Fear of writing is like when you're fresh in love, and every time you see that person, you freeze. Not because you don't have anything to say, but because you want your words to be deep and meaningful. 
So instead you stand there and choke, or - if you see them coming - duck behind a postbox.'

How do you deal with fear?

Image: 'Postbox: London, Great Britain' by Chris Wronski. Available under a creative commons license. © 2011, Chris Wronski.
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4 Nov 2011

Choc-o-licious: Chocolate Festival, Bruges.

Today I got to experience one of the perks of living in Belgium ànd being a blogger: I'd been invited to the press event of Choco-Laté, the chocolate festival in Bruges.

Choco-Laté is a festival aimed at professionals, devoted chocolate fans ànd more casual ones. As a self-proclaimed healthy hedonist and passionate chocolate lover, I have been there in the past and I can testify it's a treat, a true feast for the senses.

This year's edition will focus on chocolate in its purest form: the origins of the cacao bean, organic fair-trade chocolate and authentic recipes prepared on the spot by representatives of the Kuna people of Panama.

Choco-Laté organiser Eddy Van Belle,
chocolatier Dominique Persoone &
representatives of the Kuna people.
The Kuna people have featured in several medical reports because of the absence of high blood pressure among them and remarkably low death rates from stroke, cancer or cardiovascular disease. This might be linked to their cocoa-rich diet, which is an interesting path for further research.
But I digress.

At this festival you can discover visually stunning chocolate art, learn about the origins, production, health and wellness benefits of chocolate, sample chunks and nuggets at a wide variety of exhibitor booths, or get your hands dirty (and lick them clean again) in truffle-making workshops. All this takes place in a unique historic location, permeated with the rich, velvety scent of more kinds of chocolate than you and I knew existed.

Trust me, it's not an event you want to miss.

'Choco en Lala'
book cover chocolates
The parents among you don't need to find a babysitter. Take your kids along and drop them off at the Choco Kids Village, where they can play and learn about chocolate while you indulge in more adult activities. Allow me to make a few suggestions: find the perfect wine to go with chocolate, design the perfect cocoa drink or watch the bodypainting artists at work - with chocolate!

When you're at the festival, be sure to drop by author Marc de Bel's booth. At Choco-Laté 2011 he will present his new chocolate-themed children's book: 'Spikkel en Spekkie: Choco en Lala'.

(Come to think of it, chocolate should play a much bigger part in my novel!)

'Bruges swan'
chocolate dress.
At first sight, fashion and (calorie-dense) chocolate might not be a good match, but this year even fashionistas will be able to indulge.

Star designer Nicky Vankets, known to yours truly because of his gorgeous wedding dresses (I got married last year - did I mention I ♥ his 'White Couture' collection?), has teamed up with my favourite 'shock-o-latier' Dominique Persoone to design a fabulous 'Bruges swan' chocolate dress.

I so want one. Or two: one to wear and one to eat.
But I digress again.

Choco-Laté 2011 will take place at the Bruges belfry from 11th till 13th November.
For more information and tickets, go to: http://www.choco-late.be/en.

If you can't make those dates, do not despair. Bruges has 52 (hyper)active chocolatiers, who sell their scrumptious creations all year round.

On top of that, until 8 December 2011, the city of Bruges celebrates "Choc'in Brugge" - chocolate month, if you will, with gastronomic events, chocolate-themed city walks, chocolate wellness and much more. You can find the programme here.

Last but not least, if you live too far and can't make it to Belgium this year, have some great chocolate wherever you are and consider stopping by in the future.
When you do, drop me a line and I'd be happy to point out a number of places that are worth a visit.

Have a choc-o-licious November!

Bonus picture. From left to right:
shock-o-latier Dominique Persoone, fashion designer Nicky Vankets
and yours truly, plotting an escape with The Dress.
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