Saturday, April 22, 2006

Outing to Mont St. Odile: trek through the woods

it may be slow, but it is determined Posted by Picasa

Outing to Mont St. Odile

Story has it that this sacred Catholic nunnery is seated on top of spring source which is reputed to have magical healing powers and a "Force" that is strong (like in Star Wars).

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

In and around Strasbourg: Orangerie

Cigone: baby-bringer

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Strasbourg, week III

UPDATE 17 May 2006
This confirms that the Europarliament in Strasbourg is there because of a matter of pride:

But how much longer will MEPs sit in Strasbourg for a few days every month - a trip which costs the European tax payers, according to one estimate, £200m a year? Swedish member Cecilia Malmstroem has started an online campaign to keep it in Brussels all the time. Fat on the fire is the allegation that the French city has been ripping off the Parliament by overcharging rent.

The mayor has had to appear before the budget committee, and I'm told was ordered to do so by President Chirac, who's worried that it will lose its place as "the capital of Europe", as he puts it. Of course, the French would not give up without a struggle, but one Labour MEP, Richard Corbett, has a cunning plan. Why not hold the meeting of heads of state there as a fair swap? It strikes me the French don't do so badly out of the EU, so why not base it in Budapest or Bratislava?

  • Sign the peitition here to keep the Parliament in ONE place! And help Eurotaxpayers save €200million per year that could be better spent elsewhere!

Soon to start another week staying here in Strasbourg, here with my friend. To be honest I’ve become accustomed somewhat to the whole daily routine…wake up, breakfast (if it’s late, then brunch), do some shopping and ‘official business’, then before you know it it’s time for dinner, a movie and then bed. Of course many different things happen everyday, and many conversations and experiences each day are oversimplified by the description above, but you get the point.

The other day my friend and I took a break from one another. She did her thing, and I went, for a change, to look around the city a bit. A sort of holiday, from one another. Sometimes it’s necessary, before it gets too much.

I headed toward the ‘European Quarter’, where all the grand buildings of European institutions (Europarliament, Council of Europe, European Court of Justice) are located. I was disappointed. Not only could you not enter those buildings, they were practically wire-fenced and cordoned off from the public. So much for bringing the whole idea of a united and popular Europe (Union) to the people, thus. Shiny glass windows, empty halls and open, desolate spaces. On the outer walls of the Europarliament itself, celebrations of the glories and achievements of the grand European project is plastered in bold letters in the twenty-five spoken languages within the Union. Even the (failed) Constitutional project has left its marks with non-sounding ‘Yes’ (in twenty-five tongues as well) scribbled all over. Symbolic overtones, and pompous architectural marvels erected here and there…but where are all the ‘representatives of the people’? Thoughts of corruption, idleness, bureaucracy and waste instead crept over my mind. Government by the people? Government for the people? Perhaps if the Europarliament did not spend millions per year in pointlessly shuttling its representatives between its main location in Brussels and the branch Strasbourg, people would be more enthusiastic.

A long sit and lunch in the open, green spaces of the Orangerie was where I found peace again. People jogged, children played, mothers chatted, while squirrels scurried to and fro. I was there a week early, but that day had been cold and gusty. This time the weather had become as warm as summer, and the same barren trees I remember from a week before had donned on a fresh light coat of spring. Buds, leaflets, bees and blossoms…all signs of a new approaching season, expressed in such amazing displays of lights, colours and smells. Where have I been all this time?

In and around Strasbourg: Orangerie

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In and around Strasbourg: nature Orangerie

Spring green

Spring meets Autumn


Blossom Posted by Picasa

Europarliament Strasbourg

UPDATE 18 May 2006
Mark Mardell describes the Europarliament building:

I love the look of this Parliament. It's an open, almost jungle-like space with little wooden bridges joining the two divided halves of the building. And hanging creepers and ultra modern glass lifts. You can see the whole five floors at once. But it's also a confusing, frustrating place - you can see where you want to go, even if you can't work out how on earth to get there... We have an exceptionally busy day. I make 19 live appearances in all.

This involves trotting between the press room, the camera position and the editing room. They are on different floors and on different sides of the building, which are linked by those walkways or passerelles. It's the jargon name given to the clause that allows the EU to increase its power without a new treaty. Perhaps "ascenseur" would be better.

Parliament tower building

Circle of unity

Connecting Europe

Winston Churchill building Posted by Picasa

Europarliament II

The names, in 25 languages, says what it is

Promotion for the European Constitution

YES! to the Constitution

View of the Europarliament from far Posted by Picasa

European Quarter

The flag

Council of Europe building, front

Council of Europe building, back

European Court of Justice, Court of Human Rights Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sampling of my culinary and decorative skills

Potato wedges with mixed herbs, roast courgettes and tomatoes, chicken and mushroom cream sauce with pastry (yorkshire pudding)

Roast chicken, with vegetable curry, steamed minced meat with salted cucumbers, stir fried vegetables in salsa sauce, and burritos!

Crepe a la tuna, mushroom, Gouda cheese and onions, with mozarella cheese and tomatoes

Lindt Goldhase chocolates and an egg-citing pot of plant from flowery Holland Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Je ne suis pas le père

The first few days I’ve been helping the friend move to the new apartment and settle down. Really, those who’s not been pregnant before can’t imagine how difficult it can be doing everyday tasks. I’m learning everyday about the untold hardships, from experience, and from the complaints (and whines) of my friend. Everything has to be done slowly, and carefully. It’s not just one life, but two lives, that are at stake here now, as I often say. I try to make the diet as varied and balanced as possible, but it’s difficult since my friend was warned after a blood test that her blood sugar is overly high. There’s many things that she can’t or should only eat in moderation…rice, bread, and fruits even! Calcium-rich products are a must, since the baby takes a lot of it away, and a deficiency can cause cramps that leave my friend screaming in pain in the middle of the night. Cookies, sweeties and chocolates are definite no-no’s. She’s often quite hungry, as the baby grows the most in the final month or so of pregnancy. And it’s best to have a little bit more than the daily recommended allowance of nutrition for an adult, but not too much more, spread over many meals in one day.

I look at my friend, often as she sleeps. Pregnancy takes a lot out of a person…physically, emotionally and psychologically. The fact that the stomach gets bigger is obvious, but then all the pains and cramps associated with that, and constantly carrying a 5kg sack around adds a lot of strain. And there are the nauseas, the constant need to ‘answer nature’s call’, the ugly cobweb-like stretch marks and lines strewn all over the body due to the bloated belly. And then there are the fears and uncertainties. How will the birth be? What about after birth, and the process of growing up? A mother’s heart and worries are never at ease. All the while, hormones are raging, and the baby constantly wriggles and kicks, seemingly purposely just as the mother is trying to get some rest. It’s sweet and touching to see a mother with a baby on a bus or strolling in the park…and it’s surprising the kind of things that a child could do or say, but what you don’t see is all the hidden pains and difficulties that make those idyllic scenes possible. It’s a full time job, which requires a lot of commitment, patience… and most of all, love.

Being with my big bellied friend, to be honest, is a little embarrassing at times. Whenever I accompanied my friend to the hospital, I’d mentally rehearse the phrase “Je ne suis pas le père” (I am not the father). The look in people’s eyes every time someone looks at us walking side by side, feels as if they thinking that I’m the ‘responsible one’. The more I think about it the more I feel stupid and somewhat selfish to be worrying about what other people might think. I mean, as a single parent my friend has a lot more to be worried about. It’s just that the thought that I could ‘father’ another being into this world seems really terrifying. I’ve never imagined that I’d be able be a father, despite what others say about my caring and attentive nature. And this past week taking care of my friend made me even more certain about my doubts of ever being able to father a child. It’s all so intimate, so intense, and so physical…it all feels so, put mildly, off-putting.

I discovered more about myself the past week or so. I’m glad to be helping a friend, because it is really in helping others that I find purpose in my life. And the many expressions of gratitude and praises of my ‘sacrifices’ are to me unnecessary. At one moment, while I was busy in the kitchen, my friend suddenly cried out and beckoned me to go to her quickly. On the dew-covered window “David is an angle” appeared out of nowhere. A most unsuspected divination, we both joked. I felt embarrassed, lost for words, and even a little ashamed, for no reason.

But I don’t feel like an angel, despite what many others have said about me. Sure I help, sure I am there when my friend is in need, but as the days go by I seem to grow tired, and at times irritated. Perhaps it’s the fact that you spent so much time together with one person in a confined space, in which wherever you turn the person is to be see…perhaps it’s the whole depressing atmosphere, made worse at times by more grumbles and grievances…or perhaps it’s just me, being distracted and torn and preoccupied with thoughts of what little I have accomplished ever since I got back to Europe. Those ‘grand plans’ and visions of getting a job and once and for all settling for a study seem so far away now.

Another day, another moment gone by.