Full frontal nudity in a store window. There’s something you won’t see in America. This is the display window of a bookshop in Brussels. And not the triple-x nudie bookstore; this is a plain ‘ol bookstore—what I call the “Belgian Barnes and Noble.”
Nice, um, hat.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this. Where are the protestors and the death threats and the boycotts and the local news cameras? I mean, how are our children supposed to learn to be ashamed of their bodies without them?
A common breakfast in Germany—mett brotchen. Raw pork on a roll.
I know what you’re thinking. But the odds of getting trichinosis are actually very, very, very low. To where saying “I’m not going to eat that because it’s going to make me sick” is like never eating a carrot because someone got salmonella from one once.
From the Centers for Disease Control:
Infection was once very common and usually caused by ingestion of undercooked pork. However, infection is now relatively rare. During 1997-2001, an average of 12 cases per year were reported.
It doesn’t taste bad, but I can’t get past the texture. According to Matt, the only real problem with mett is this.
So today was Earth Day. Here’s a little bit about how it works over here. Recycling is mandatory. Trash is picked up every two weeks (at best). You are charged for garbage by weight. And you pay for the water that runs off your roof.
We have 5 trashcans by our garage. One for paper. One for compost. One for recyclables. And two cans (the smallest of the lot) for everything that can’t be recycled or composted (the garbage trash). (I have four corresponding trash cans in the kitchen too.) The bins are equipped with an RFID chip, weighed and scanned by the trash truck. You pay a yearly fee to rent them from the city and a per kilo of fee for garbage.
Compost, recyclables and garbage are picked up twice a month. In case you didn’t catch that—garbage is only picked up twice a month. (So you’re screwed if you forget to push the bin to the curb; you can’t just throw your trash in someone else’s can when they’re paying for it.) Paper is picked up once a month. Yard waste (like tree branches) is picked up every three months. Branches have to bundled and there is a specific size they have to be.
The rain gutters on our house run into the ground and to our basement where the water that runs off our roof is metered and charged as wastewater.
You pay a deposit on glass bottles, ranging from .08€ to .20€ depending on size and country, plus a deposit on the plastic crate they come in. Not that strange except that most soda bottles also carry a .25€ deposit. Any other glass gets separated by color and put in a set of recycle bins in each town.
Contrast this to San Angelo where we used to live. No city-wide recycling program. We had an old-school metal trash can—like Oscar lives in. (I seriously didn’t know these still existed until we moved there.) People didn’t bag their trash and the West Texas wind would whip it up and scatter it everywhere. The city had moved to switch to the big wheeled bins with lids. They even secured a contract, but city council caved and cancelled it when people complained: “We like living in the past! We want trash blowing all over our fine city!”
(Okay they didn’t actually say that, but that’s what I heard. The only valid complaint was re: elderly citizens not being able to push the bins to the curb. Trust me, not an issue. Our 81-year-old neighbor does it for our entire street. Then again, he’s German. And Germans aren’t Americans. And what happened to helping your neighbors?)
Point is: going from there to here was a shock. I don’t consider myself a big environmentalist, but it now sickens me to think of all the things we used to casually throw away. Once all the recyclables are separated out, there really isn’t much left. The small garbage bin is plenty big.
So today, maybe try to do something good for the environment. I know it’s not always easy to recycle in the U.S. (How I wish we had the German system.) But maybe you can take a walk and pick up trash. Sign up for paperless statements. Go online to cancel or decrease the frequency of the catalogs you receive. Or park and walk instead of driving. It doesn’t have to be something big. It just has to be something.
Happy Earth Day!
So as we were driving to Belgium today to pick up a couple cases of Westy 12, a car in front of us on the autobahn hit the center guard rail and flipped. Fortunately, the driver was okay. (Matt thinks he may have fallen asleep since he veered over from the right lane. Had he not been asleep and floppy, he probably wouldn’t have survived.) And fortunately, we were about half kilometer to 800 meters behind him or we would have hit him. Matt jumped out and ran over to help while I called 112 (Europe’s 911).
That was the first (and hopefully the last) time I’ve called either emergency number. I always wondered, should anything happen and I have to call 112, would they be able to understand me, would they speak English? Today I got my answer. Well, sort of. Belgium has two national languages: French and Flemish/Dutch, but English seems to run a close third—a large percentage speak it.
Only in Europe: The funny things is, the guy, after hitting the guard rail, flipping his car and being pulled out thru the window, popped his trunk. Traffic was already stopped, but he staggered back to place his orange, reflective warning triangle the required distance behind his wrecked car. Totalled his car, but damn sure wasn’t going to get a ticket for not having the triangle out.
Who has the presence of mind to do that? I’m going to go with diagnosis: head injury.
FYI: Belgian emergency services and police speak perfect English. There are markers at every .1 kilometer on the autobahn making it easy to relay your location (Take a lesson United States—a marker every mile? Do you know how long it takes the average American to run half a mile?) Europeans are waay better drivers than Americans. Autobahn accidents are rare, but usually fatal. Each country has a different 3-digit emergency number, but 112 is universal.
Here are few screenshots from the Sittard, NL Kinderoptocht (children’s carnival parade) on Sunday April 27. This is the family-friendly one that’s before Carnival Monday (this year March 7). A lot of the participants are children, including babies in decorated strollers.
We opted not to go. The weather was forecast to be sunny and 58 degrees, so, naturally, it was 41, windy and raining. Instead I watched and listened to it on the city’s webcam in the market square (gotta love the Internet). I know. Kinda lame. Way to have the true European experience. But it was cold! Passing might not have been a good idea. Carnival takes place earlier the next two years. Likely the weather will be worse (last year it was snowy) if we try to go next year.
The thing about European parades: they’re more like processions—marching bands, groups of people dressed in costume. Not so much the big, elaborate floats we associate with parades. Now, at the big parade (Grote Optocht) March 6 there will be floats. Not Macy’s Thanksgiving Day big, but far more impressive than the pushcarts in this one (look for the gondola in the pics below).
Also notice the lack of barriers for crowd control. Granted there weren’t nearly as many people as I expected to see, but the crowds still encroached on the route. I’m not sure how the marching bands made it thru. The first one had baton twirlers, twirling and waving their batons. Didn’t see any, but like to imagine people getting whacked by them. The other groups of twirlers were marching, swinging their batons at their sides.
I imagine they’ll bust out the barriers for the big parade. Web site says 80,000 people attend versus ten of thousands (?) for the Kinderoptocht.
We’ll miss it (Zythos!). But if you can, tune in. The Grote Optocht takes place Sunday March 6 at 12:55 CET. It’ll probably be hitting the market square 20 mins later. Watch it here on the webcam. You won’t be able to move the camera during the parade, but on a normal day you can by using the drop-down menu below the video.
More info (in Dutch) and pics are here.
M O R E P H O T O S
From Sittard, NL Carnival Parade. Web cam screenshots, Feb 27, 2011
New Year’s is a little different in Germany. They don’t have burn bans or regulations to get in the way of all the fun. Fireworks are sold everywhere, and you can shoot them off wherever you want. We’re not talking sparklers and M-80s, but full-on, big fireworks. And our German neighbors shoot them off in their backyards.
Walking out into our backyard is like being in the middle of a huge display. You can turn 360 degrees, they’re all around you. I was going to set up the tripod, but you really don’t know where to point it. And there is always the danger of getting hit by a stray one. So these pics were just all taken with the flash off, holding the camera.
I followed one firework across the sky with the camera. It was one of those that does a small unimpressive explosion, but shoots shoots 6 or 8 small firecrackers out. It landed in our yard and exploded all the small firecrackers in the fruit trees not far from where I was standing. Needless to say, I didn’t get much of a picture of that one.
Note: I didn’t color correct any of these. This is how the camera captured; it was a foggy night.
M O R E P H O T O S
From New Years 2011. Shot Jan 1, 2011