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img_606X341_1211-Christmas-Tree-Polemics-Brussels (1)(credits)



What you see above is one of the most talked about topics in Brussels and has even made it to international media. Instead of the real tree that usually adorns the city’s Grand Place during the holidays, this year the City Council decided to dabble in the modern arts and try something new.

The result is called “Xmas 3”, a 24 meter high electronic structure made mostly of steel. For 4 euros, you can even climb it and get a 360° view of the UNESCO-protected square.


(what the usual tree looks like –  credits)

As you can imagine, it wasn’t a popular decision. Since its inauguration, around 25,000 signatures have been collected in an online petition against it, and it has been a recurrent topic in the media. The reasons that lead to the decision of doing away with the tradition tree vary. While the official stand is that it’s a way to show-case the city’s “avant-garde character”, others believe it’s a politically correct choice, so as not to offend non-Christians, especially Muslims. This sparkled a lot of debate about larger social issues.

Whatever the reasons, no one is indifferent to it. I’ve heard it called “The Scaffolding” and “The Pharmacy” because when green the glowing cubes look like the popular green cross.

What say you?

A video of the daily light show around the tree (it’s quite a sight…)

Last week Joanna and I met Annie Proulx during her stay in Brussels as a Passa Porta resident writer. I don’t know if these resident writer programs exist in other parts of the world, but they’re a great idea. Passa Porta is a literary center that includes a multi-language bookshop, a workshop and a space other literary organisations can use for their projects.

They also have an apartment available to foreign writers who are in the city researching (or looking for inspiration in) Flemish and Belgian culture and literature. Notable authors who’ve passed by include Jonathan Coe and Michael Cunningham.

Annie Proulx is now in residence, while doing research for her ambitious upcoming book. It’ll be a century-spanning novel about de-forestation and it include a local character, a sailor in the (sorry if I got that wrong!) Dutch East Indies Company. Most of the talk focused on Bird Cloud thougha memoir of the building of her isolated and oh-so-lovely Wyoming (the “emptiest State“) house.

She spoke about her love of geology and how the land influences people and culture, the challenges of writing short-stories (“the hardest literary form“) and the upcoming Brokeback Mountain opera (!), but my favorite parts were about her experiences as a reader and how that influenced her writing:

I don’t think of myself as a writer, I think of myself as a reader.

When you read a lot, you get a feeling for what works and what fits. It’s good to read good stuff!

You can go over a sentence 200 times until it feels right. Understanding where to stop is a matter of experience, and that comes from reading.

And here’s a photo of me and my bump getting a copy of Bad Dirt signed.

photo (1)

where-in-the-world-are-you-reading1TrishKailana and Lisa have come up with an interesting monthly meme – Where in the World Are You Reading – to get bloggers to share a piece of home. Each month will have a different theme.

This month: Companion
December: Holiday Reading Escape


It’s clear that this month’s theme had a pet in mind, but since I don’t have one, I’ll post a picture of me and my most frequent reading buddy: a nice cup of tea.


And with a theme like Companion, I can’t resist also adding a little geeky inside-joke. I’m only missing an Inara figurine!


Lately my Google Reader has been full of posts about food – is it the season? I’m not a very interested cook, but I’m a committed foodie. Fortunately I found a fellow-foodie partner and a not insignificant amount of our family budget goes into trying new restaurants and bringing home local specialties (olive oil, honey, tea, wine) from our travels.

To follow the food blogging trend, I’d like to introduce The Brussels Food Club to the world. It’s the brain-child of my friend Inês, a talented amateur cook and professional graphic designer (check out her site at The Avenger Butterfly).

The idea was to challenge our group of friends to try new things and share established favorites with others. Each month we choose a theme, bring one or more dishes to that month’s host’s home, present them to the others, and then… we eat!

So far we’ve had four meetings:

The “Food From My Childhood” Edition

There were probably about 10 different nationalities in a group of about 15 people. So interesting to see the cultural differences. I made my mom’s chocolate salami.


The “Cookies, Cupcakes and Muffins” Edition

This was a special gathering because we all cooked together, divided into three groups (go Cookie Team!).


The “Out of Africa” Edition

My favorite Club so far for the sheer deliciousness of the food. The theme was dishes from Africa, any country. I brought two experiments and mint tea from Tunisia.


The “Exotic” Edition

Last weekend we got together to present our experiments with unusual ingredients. I used persimmons to make a tarte tatin.

Next month it’s the Christmas Edition and I might go to Nigella for some ideas. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Do you remember Advent with Austen? We (myself, Ana, Iris and our master of ceremonies Yvann) had so much fun organizing it, that we decided to do it again this year with Margaret Atwood. Even the name continues to ring perfectly, it’s a sign!

So look in your bookshelves for something by her, and post about it anytime in December. Yvann will host a The Blind Assassin read-along (exactly the one I had in the TBR, hurrah!) and we’ll probably also organize a joint viewing of The Handmaid’s Tale on Twitter, watch this space.

Hope you’ll be able to join us!

A few weeks ago I signed up for the All Hallow’s Read Swap and yesterday (hurrah!) I received my Secret Hallow’s gift. It was The Ivy Tree by Mary Steward (has anyone out there read it?) – which looks suitable spooky and Gothic, a usually winning combination with me.

Thanks again Tasha, it was the perfect choice and extra nice to receive it from an already blogging friend 🙂 Only hope my package will make its Atlantic crossing safely and arrive in Georgia soon.

It’s that time of year again: Boekenfestijn was in town and this time I went a bit wilder than in previous years.

Yes, what you see there are 21 of the 34 books (so far) of the Morland Dynasty series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. What makes it even worse is that the first one has been on the TBR for years now… (*blush*). They were so cheap! And they do look like the sort of books I’d love!

The others in the loot:

  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – I’ve heard great things about it;
  • The Olive Tree: A Personal Journey Through Mediterranean Olive Groves by Carol Drinkwater – because I’ve always been fascinated by olives, olive oil and olive trees;
  • The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell –  I really liked The Hand That First Held Mine and wanted to try something else by her;
  • The Glass Painter’s Daughter by Rachel Hore – I know nothing about this one other than the blurb. It’s my blind choice of the year.

TrishKailana and Lisa have come up with an interesting monthly meme – Where in the World Are You Reading – to get bloggers to share a piece of home. Each month will have a different theme.

This month: Waiting
October: Coffee Shop, etc.


Unlike previous times, I had no idea what to do for this month’s theme – “Waiting” – of Where in the World Are You Reading. So yesterday, with the deadline looming closer, I had to think fast and the first thing that came to mind was waiting for this baby to be born in mid-March.

While I wait, I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Remember when a while ago I mention that life was happening on this side of the line, leading me to a blogging and book-slump? I meant that literally. Here’s the proof!

Now that I’m done with the first trimester I’m returning to life and doing Things again. Things that don’t imply eating, sleeping and watching past episodes of Project Runway and Doctor Who, that is.

Meanwhile I also did a bit of travelling. Had a conference in Orlando and then took a few days off to go on a road-trip around Florida. So now that I’m back in already-chilly Brussels, hopefully blogging will return to regular programming.

Happy Fall/Spring (depending of where in the world you are)!

The perfect parking spot for my rented car.
Fort Myers entered history as the location of my first Gulf of Mexico swim.

One of the descendants of Hemingway’s cats at the Hemingway House, Key West.

Reading A Farewell to Arms where it was written.

One of best beaches I’ve ever visited – South Beach, Miami (reading Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry).

Simulation of Apollo 11’s launch, Kennedy Space Center.

Have you noticed how most book-lovers are also list-lovers? Someone should look into it scientifically. My favorite lists are of course book lists: I’m a regular explorer of GoodReads’ Listopia universe and have others in the computer that I update regularly, like the seven below.

Some of them were put together by literary experts/critics/academics while others are the choice of the general public. Of the seven, my favorites, and the ones more trust-worthy as a source of recommendations, are BBC’s The Big Read and the 100 Favorite Novels of Librarians (they’re coincidentally the lists where I tick more boxes).

Do you also have book lists you update regularly? Send them my way! I can already imagine the happy times ahead going through them.

1. BBC The Big Read

Read: 65/100
TBR: 6/100

In April 2003 the The Big Read and BBC began the search for the UK’s best-loved novels and then put together a list with the top 100 and top 200. It’s an old list (does anyone know if they plan to updated it?), but still the one of the best.




2. The 100 Favorite Novels of Librarians

Read: 64/100
TBR: 9/100

Also an old list that deserves an update. Who knows better than librarians?!





1001 Books to read before your die

Read: 123/1000
TBR: 16/1000

Probably the most famous best-books list around. I use the 2010 edition.





Guardian’s 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list

Read: 149/1000
TBR: 23/1000

This is a 2003 list selected by the “Guardian’s Review team and a panel of expert judges”. It’s an interesting one because it’s divided into eight categories: love, crime, comedy, family and self, state of the nation, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel.




Waterstones’ 100 Best 20th Century English Novels

Read: 40/100
TBR: 6/100

In 1997, Waterstones announced the results of its Books of the Century poll to find out what the public considered to be the 100 greatest books of the twentieth century. Over 25,000 people participated. It’s similar to the BBC and Librarians lists, but slightly more high-brown.



The Modern Library 100 Best

Board’s List
Read: 17/100
TBR: 2/100

Readers’ List
Read: 25/100
TBR: 2/100

Although I only update the 100 Best Novels, Modern Library also has a Best 100 NonFiction list. For each they published the books chosen by a panel of experts and another by the general public. It’s interesting to compare both.


Times all-time 100 novels

Read: 22/100
TBR: 2/100

A 2005 list by TIME’s literary experts. It only includes English language novels published anywhere in the world since 1923, the year that TIME Magazine was created.





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