Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Well THAT was bizarre.

It's gotten hot. I mean like 85-90 degrees so not nearly as hot as the ol' Manhappiness, but just hot enough for me to have a marvelous sunburn in the shape of the neck of my dress. I was outside for probably four or five hours for our "Staff Away Day" in which the staff of AGE went in the backyard and had meetings/activities outside. It was fun. We had a nice picnic lunch and went around and said something that no one knew about us. Which, for me, that was everything because they know virtually nothing about me. Also, during lunch, the director of AGE, Anne-Sophie brought fresh cherries and passed them around and then she was like "hey look what I can do!" Then she proceeded to tie the cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. Better yet, everyone began to attempt to do so. Here I am, sitting at the table while my coworkers all tried to tie cherry knots with their tongues... weird.
Oh, and the mosquitoes are back. Possibly because of the weather, possibly because the chemical plug in thing ran out, possibly because they've mutated and accumulated bug spray anti bodies and are now only out for my blood... i can't be sure. All are viable options. All I know is that I have eight bites right now and they keep a-comin. Excellent.
I am 200 words into my 3000 word internship paper due tuesday! Also excellent!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not bad at all

Guess who was at the European Parliament today?
Frederic Daerden the Belgian MEP (member of European Parliament) of course. Who'd you think?! JUST KIDDING I WAS!!
I mean, Frederic probably was too. But the point is that I was.
First off, the European Parliament complex is enormous! It's three huge glass buildings and there's two restaurants, a salon, and a sports complex! Plus meeting rooms and offices for each MEP (and there are like 750 of those). To reiterate, it's huge. And going in it is like going into an airport, they make you go through metal detectors etc. Marcela and I went with AGE's parliament correspondent Maude, to sit in on the crisis management meeting. Usually, for the big meetings, there are all kinds of translators in these glass boxes lining the room and if you can't understand the person speaking, you put on the headphones and then you can hear some english speaking ghost whispering what they're saying to you. But since this was a smaller meeting, there were no translators. It was supposed to be conducted in English and French (so whoever speaks can pick one of the two). However, since I am in Belgium... about 75% of the meeting was conducted in French. Crap. Though I've been here a month and a half and my comprehension has gotten a bit better, I am going to just come out and say it. I still don't understand it. If a person is speaking slowly and deliberately to me, possibly with hand gestures, I can pick it up fine. But, Miss Pervenche Beres, the chair of the Crisis committee, and her thirty words a second really do not cater to my inadequate ear. She'd ramble on for minutes and in my head I'd be like, "kay... I caught 'travailler' which means to work and 'peut etre' which means perhaps. Yep, I think I got the gist thanks." So, that was an interesting experience. After the meeting Maude, Marcela, and I went to one of the restaurants and ate and Maude explained about Belgian parties and politics. I find it pretty fascinating. Then after that, Marcela and I sat in on the huge Economic and Monetary Affairs meeting with all the MEPs and yes, all kinds of translators. So, I could accurately understand what they were saying but my knowledge of European economics is really just sub par. So it was just as tough to comprehend.

On a completely different note, I've had this stuck in my head all day :

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pass some of that HOLLANDaise sauce!

Get it?! Cause I just got back from Holland.
Well, first I'll talk about my Friday evening after my eight hour art history class. Maddy and I went to this... concert thing in one of the huge parks in Brussels. And by concert, of course I mean hundreds of people sitting in the grass, drinking beer, and listening to a DJ play all the songs Michael Jackson ever recorded. Did I realize that it was going to be a Michael Jackson tribute night? No, no I did not. Not that I do not appreciate him, but let me tell you, Europeans LOVE their MJ. LOVE him. There was a little candle and picture memorial. And there was this man holding a giant flag pole with three flags of Michael's face waving proudly in the Belgian breeze. Perfect.
Moving on....
This weekend was our last planned ISA excursion! Ah! Then next weekend is my English music festival adventure and then the weekend after that, I go home! Crazy! We went to the Hague and Delft in the Netherlands. Lots of museums, artwork, walking, eating, boat rides, the usual. Saturday night we all went out to the beach of the North Sea in the Hague and hung out at the clubs along the pier. Very cool. The club we ended up was this open area with lots of couches and tables under white cabana/umbrellas. And they had this DJ playing a nonstop stream of techno. There wasn't really a designated dance floor. There was just a little area up front by the speakers where this couple were dancing ALL NIGHT. I wonder if they were paid to dance all night because they had some moves, man. So, you may ask, did we get up and join the two people with their coordinated hip rolls? Why yes. Yes, we did. Mary, are you a horribly nerdy dancer? Yes, yes I am. I'm sure all the suave Europeans were looking at us like, those kids must be on SOMETHING because obviously this repetitive catchy techno music is not for DANCING. But you know what? I will never see any of them again. Hopefully. Or else they'll say, "there's that girl who snaps with the beat as she dances!"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No pictures please

Yesterday after work, I went to the Magritte Museum (devoted to Rene Magritte, the surrealist artist who painted the picture of the guy with the bowler hat and the apple in front of his face).
I take my camera out of my bag and as the security guard is taking my ticket, we have this conversation:
Mary: Are we allowed to take pictures inside?
Guard: Absolutely not. Six months in jail if you do.
I decided to put my camera away...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Good afternoon, My name is Mary and I like Adventure

So, this weekend I did not do any of things I intended to do. But that's okay! I didn't go with the group of girls to Paris because I needed to do laundry, write my art history paper, and start my internship paper... did not end up doing any of those things. Oops. But, I did have a really good time! So potato, potahto. Saturday, Travis and Chantel and I decided to check out the Waterloo reenactment. Apparently this weekend is the anniversary of the battle so they put on this HUGE reenactment with a thousand soldiers and horses and canons and costumes!! We ran around Brussels trying to figure out the bus or train to take us out of the city and to the battlefield. Finally, we were at the train ticket counter and the guy told us that if we wanted to go to the reenactment, we didn't want to go to Waterloo. We wanted to get off at Braine-L'Alleud. All right, Train Ticket Man, you know better than us! So, we followed his directions. We got off at a station in this tiny little town and were like, "okay... now what?" There were a bunch of buses going to Waterloo so we were like hey! that's most likely it. So we asked the driver if he was going to the reenactment. He said no. So, we didn't get on. Then he left and we found out that, yes, that was the bus we needed. Excellent. So, we waited for the next one which arrived fairly quickly. But, alas no! The bus driver was taking a 40 minute break. It was already 6:30 and the reenactment started at 7. We gave up, found food and made sure to arrive back at the station when the wall schedule said to be back. Ah but no, the wall schedule was very incorrect. We missed our train. We had 50 minutes until the next one. So, we went across the street to the bar and watched the Cameroon/Denmark game over a beer until our train came. In summary we intended on going to Waterloo. Didn't make it. Intended on going back on the next train. Didn't make it. BUT it was a fun adventure. So, Point: Mary.

Then today, Travis, Chantel, and I went with Sabine our director to the caves in Han-sur-Less. They were awesome! There was a river running through them so we walked through these giant caverns, over bridges with the river underneath. Then at one point, in the largest cavern, we sat down and there was a light show. After the caves we went to Dinant, the town where the creator of the saxophone was born. We went to this big fortress. Then we went back to Brussels and ate at this little crepes place. Yeah!
Oh and in case you were wondering... it was 54 degrees and cloudy/rainy today. I wore a coat and a scarf and I was still chilly. So similar to Kansas probably...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Out of Loop, as usual

Mary's excited (so excited she's speaking in third person). Why, you may ask. Because I just bought tickets to this:
I get to spend my last weekend in Europe at a farm on the English countryside listening to Bob Dylan. H to the Yeah. With the train/hotel/coach/tickets, it was pretty expensive. But I figure, I'm already over here! So, that's taken care of! And this is my birthday present to myself. Apparently I love myself a lot...
Just to get you as excited as I am, watch these. They'll all be there and then some:
Fun experience of the day: for work I always get off at the Shuman stop, which is where all the businessmen and businesswomen get off to be important and fancy. There are two directions you can get off at the stop. Both are in the same vicinity but the Justice-Lipsus direction is much closer to my office, so that's where I always exit. Well, this morning, my exit was closed. Weird. And then I saw a bunch of police with dogs sniffing the platform. So, I went through the only exit that was open and noticed that there were about A MILLION people outside and there were barricades everywhere and helicopters etc. Apparently today was the day that the European Council was meeting. And I work in the heart of their business area. Glad no one told me. Glad I felt like an idiot, standing on the sidewalk with my mouth gaping open, wondering what was going on. Luckily, I was working in a different building this week because of our expert group meetings. So, I turned around and took the metro to a different stop.
This week has been really interesting. I feel professional and important (ish). I sit in on these meetings full of people from all over Europe. Then they say brilliant things and I write them down.

Monday, June 14, 2010

That Mary Hunt, she knows how to clear a room!

Awkward anecdote of the day:
It was one of my coworkers birthdays today and she brought a cake. So, everyone in the office gathered in the break room to eat it and drink coffee/socialize and such. Lots of rapid french, once again. And... once again I stood in the corner and pretended I knew what was going on. There was a lot of laughing. Apparently the man coworker is hilarious. I'm fine with sitting back and smiling. I really am. But, my brain is always like "Mary! You're being rude! Say SOMETHING." I know you who are reading this are saying "No mary, you really don't have to say anything. They understand that you are an american and that you speak very minimal french. Silence is fine." Ah but of course I decided to open my mouth. They're all laughy-laughy jokey-jokey and then they give the birthday girl a sunflower for this special occasion. There was a lull in the conversation and yes, those of you who know me, know that I must fill awkward silences. So I said, "Oh a sunflower? I'm from Kansas. It's called the Sunflower State! They grow everywhere! It's great!" Everyone just looked at me. So naturally I kept going. "Yeah, we have fields of them. They grow like weeds!" SOMEBODY STOP ME. PLEASE. They all just kind of nodded at me in an odd way and literally left the room without saying anything.
God, I'm an idiot.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Birthday and Internship

My birthday is always interesting. It seems that I am never at home for my birthday. I've had a Mexico birthday, a Chicago birthday, two Summer Choral Institute birthdays, and now a Belgian birthday. Except, it was a Belgian birthday on a weekday in which I am a contributing adult member of society, so it was less than CRAZY. It was on Wednesday. It poured all day. And I worked 8 hours with a group of people that I had met the day before. So me waltzing in and announcing it was my birthday would've illicited a "oh hey! happy birthday!" and that's about it. So, I decided not to tell anyone except the other intern Marcela. Funny story though, I was compiling contact information for the Commissioners of the EU (important, I know) and my supervisor Alice (pronounced Ah-lee-CHAY not "Alice") told me to find out their birthdays. So I casually added, "Oh okay. You know, it's my birthday today." She laughed because she thought I was kidding and then carried on with her work. Silly american girl, trying to make a joke. Later she called me from her desk and said, "Mary, I actually need to know your birthday because if you go to one of our conferences, we'll need to know your information." And I said, "Okay.... It's today." Then she was like "Oh my gosh! I didn't understand! Happy Birthday!!" Apparently June 9th is a popular day because the office manager and the AGE director's birthday were also that day. They came down and gave me two kisses on the cheek because that's what you do for birthdays. After work, my host family had this delicious raspberry pastry pie for me. They didn't make me dinner because I told them that my friend Maddy had made dinner reservations for me. After pie, I met Maddy and when we got to the restaurant, almost all the people from my study abroad program were there! It was very nice :) And this hobo man came into the restaurant with flowers to sell and two girls bought me a pair of roses. How thoughtful. I love hobo roses. We were going to go out on the town after that but dinner lasted until like 11 and man, I'm not a teenager anymore. I am tired and lame and I work 8 hour days. So I went home and went to bed. Perfect. Not quite the birthday bash as years past but nonetheless, it was pleasant. Plus, I was in Europe for it! So I'll always be able to say that.

As for my internship, I started on Tuesday. There are two interns- me and Marcela (whom I like a lot). I work in this old townhouse just down the street from the huge glass buildings of the European Commission of the EU. It's funny, on the metro, I've started playing a game with myself to guess which stop people are going to get off at. I don't know what's at every stop but roughly, I have an idea. De Brouckere is the main shopping stop with Grand Place and there are always a lot of people on and off there. Parc is by a the Royal park, obviously, and the royal museums and the palace. I won't bore you with the details of the game because there are a lot of stops, but at the Shuman stop, where I get off for work, there are always lots of suits. LOTS of suits and briefcases. And fancy shoes. Anyway, my internship. Our office has two floors. There are high ceilings and creaky wooden floors. It's painted yellow and there are stacks of colored publications everywhere!- on desks, and shelves. You walk in and it LOOKS like what a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) should look like. The people are all very nice. I think there are something 11 people in the office. That's it. Plus, me and Marcela. I like that it's small because the things I do actually matter. I can see the point of them so it doesn't feel like grunt work. So far I've worked on updating our database a lot, figured out how to upload and write articles on the website (yes, some of the official website is my work now!), edited works in English, translated articles to french, stuffed envelopes and restocked our publication shelves (of course), and right now, we're preparing for these two meetings. One is on anti-discrimination and the other is on employment (of older people). Then later, we're having one on social protection. But, they're gathering all these experts from all these organizations and having dialogues and things. I get to attend! I'm excited. At first, I was kind of bummed about having to work 8 hour days instead of galavanting around Europe but, I'm beginning to see the worth in this experience.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Problem solved

Two nights ago I killed two mosquitos with my BARE HANDS. I bet my host family thinks I have very weird sleeping patterns if I'm constantly clapping in my room at 4 in the morning. I'm a freak. But, I have learned that if you have a problem, you have to be vocal about it. So, I informed my family that my flesh was getting eaten every night and they gave me this chemical thing you plug into the wall and it miraculously kills the mosquitos!! Science is amazing! I am learning so much here. So, I think I've got the mosquito problem under control. Hopefully.
Saturday, we took an excursion to Antwerp. I liked it but it's a bizarre city. The buildings are very mismatched. There are art deco ones and next to old ones. I saw about four bachelorette party groups, all wearing matching shirts and crowns. Weird. "Hey I'm getting married! Where should we go to party? ANTWERP." Not Brussels, no. I'll go to the wannabe town. Just kidding I liked it. We went to a few museums and churches. But, in the evening, we were in for a real treat. We went on a ghost walk. Yes, a ghost walk. I really have no words to describe how bizarre our guide was. He was wearing a top hat and tails and talking about the "myths and legends" of Antwerp. He smelled like alcohol. The stories were very randomly detailed. I suspect he was making it all up off the top of his head, which made it that much more entertaining. Oh and get this... it was a TWO HOUR ghost walk. Anyway, the next day we went to Malmedy, Belgium. Only half our group came because apparently they were all tired so it was a very relaxing day. I liked it better than Antwerp. Sue me, I like small towns better than big ones. Malmedy was a three hour bus ride away. It's in the country and it's where the Battle of the Bulge occurred. We went to a museum on that. And then we went to this Abbey and relaxed/hung out at a cafe all day. This is my kind of Europe.
Tomorrow my internship starts. I am nervous/excited.

Friday, June 4, 2010

My last days of hanging around...

My internship starts the 8th of June and I only have class on Fridays so this week I've been getting up and going to Le Grand Place with my good friend Maddy and shopping, walking around, enjoying life. It's been grand. And the waffles are stupendous. But, I am aware that it must come to an end. Because once I start working 8 hour days... it'll be a little less easy breezy. Which is fine because I'm actually very excited for my internship (though I'm still unsure of what exactly I'll be doing). I've only had two classes so far. It's an 8 hour art history class. BUT we travel around and actually see what we're discussing so it's really interesting. The thing is... it's an EIGHT HOUR CLASS. Today, we went to the Royal Art Museum in the morning and were assigned a painting to analyze and present to the rest of the class. Then we took a train to Bruges (Bruges? I love Bruges!) and went to a few museums there. I'm beginning to get into the analysis of art. It's kind of psychologically draining because you have to try really hard to interpret what may not be written out for you but it's cool. Though after about four hours of in depth Biblical Triptychs... I'm beginning to thank my parents for not raising me catholic. Lots of suffering. And beheading. And skinning! Like, the REMOVAL of the skin from your body. They do not mess around!
Tomorrow is our excursion to Antwerp!
Also, just one note. I love my host family. Love them. And I love the apartment we live in and Anderlecht, the commune we inhabit. I'm establishing that first. But I am getting EATEN ALIVE. We leave our terrace doors open at night and the mosquitos viciously seek out my blood. I think it's because my bedroom window is right by this big tree that must be like the breeding ground of all the mosquitos in Belgium. Before I go to bed, I have to sneak around my room with my shoe in one hand and kill all the buggers I can see. But then I still wake up in the middle of the night to incessant buzzing and ticking/biting of my flesh. I understand that mosquitos are creatures too... but they are mostly just creatures that should die.
I'll be okay though.