Monday, December 12, 2011

Frosty Nuts

One of the most strategic battles of World War II was fought in Belgium - the Battle of the Bulge.  During the bitterly cold December of 1944, American soldiers held off the German advance, particularly around the town of Bastogne.  The heavy-armor German Panzer needed access to the many roads going through Bastogne in order to take the port of Antwerp.

The poorly equipped American troops dealt with dense fog, snow and harsh cold as they huddled in foxholes dug into the forest floor.  Fires were not allowed as it would give away their positions.  American units that fought at Bastogne include the 101st and 82nd Airborne, 10th Armored Division and the 44th Infantry.

When the German commander pointed out that the Americans were surrounded and requested their surrender Gen McAuliffe gave the brief, but succinct answer that is now legendary:
   To the German Commander, 
   The American Commander.

The people of Bastogne, and beyond, celebrate this battle every year in early December with the Bastogne Walk and a parade, which I hear includes the throwing of nuts.

Our motorcycle club makes the annual pilgrimage and I took part this year.  The temp was about 6 degrees Celcius when we departed Brussels on Friday.  On Saturday we met more friends and did the Walk of 18 km (more than 11 miles) through areas of reenactments, down muddy roads, through the forest, in small towns of Foy and Noville - all while dodging tanks, jeeps, cars, trucks, and transports of all kinds.  The Belgians have kept and restored many of the vehicles left after the war.  They made the walk as realistic as they could, it was quite amazing.

Along the way we met Eve (sp?), a native Belgian with a love of history and a conviction that this story should never fade.  He does the walk each year in full gear - you should feel how heavy that full steel helmet is!  He told us lots of history that we would not otherwise have known.

All in all, an excellent trip on my motorcycle, with good friends and several personal challenges bested.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Le Creuset

One of the most enjoyable things about living in different parts of the world is to pick up some of the items unique to the region.  This weekend couple of friends and I took a road trip to the town of Fresnoy-le-Grand in Northern France where Le Creuset manufactures cast iron, enamel coated cookware - for their annual sale.  The prices are 70-80 percent off European prices, which my friends tell me are much less than what you would pay for the same items in the States, due to high import taxes.

The above picture is what I purchased.  I had a great time with the ladies and cannot believe how much fun it was.  When the alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. my first thought was why in the heck did I say I would go?!!  But I began to feel excitement after morning tea at my friend's house and we hit the road at 7:00 a.m.  We certainly weren't first in line, but we did get into the warehouse in the first tranche.  I REFUSE to participate in the lurid Black Friday type shopping and this made me question briefly if I had succumbed to base desires of greed.  But even though the crowd was thick, people were respectful of others. 

Walking the wide aisles of the warehouse there were display items on top of unopened boxes.  What was available was all there was.  If you found the teapot you wanted then you may only find it in one color, so the finds of the day were just that - treasures.  I did fall in love with the Caribbean color, as shown above.

So now is time for cooking and I have some ideas!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Driving in Brussels

I think one of the most telling characteristics of any place is  the answer to the question "what's it like to drive there?"

Brussels is one of the most densely populated cities in Europe.  Belgium as a country has more than 860 people per square mile.  Add to that the street grid that is not only East/West and North/South, but diagonal streets on every corner.  There are NO stop signs in Belgium.  Instead they rely on the rule that any auto entering the street from the right has right-of-way.  This holds true for dirt roads entering from fields, country lanes and regular streets.  I thought I understood this until I discovered that the "priority right" as it is called, also holds true even if the car entering from the right hand side is turning left.

Likewise they use traffic circles instead of red lights at intersections.  These are not so bad, unless they are too small to accommodate the amount of traffic.  You basically yield when entering the round-about...but not always.  I have a round-about near my house where anyone entering from the right thinks they have priority over those already on the round-about.

All this is confusing enough, except the streets themselves are not generally wide boulevards, but narrow streets barely wide enough for two cars to pass.  And they often weave among obstacles, meandering through the city like an afterthought.  If you are driving on a two lane road there may only be a single lane ahead, or if you think you are on a wide single lane street, you will find people driving beside you - there are no lines! How do you know?

So with the prevalence of priority right you would think you can make right hand turns easily?  Nah!  If you are stopped at a red light, you may NOT turn right on red AND there is probably a bus lane to your right where you are not allowed to drive

Left hand turns are another cluster.  Very seldom are there left hand turn lanes, if they exists there are even fewer left hand turn signals.  What happens is that anyone wishing to make a left crowds into the intersection, sometimes going around the back of cars from the other direction turning left.  When the light turns red, then all those who were able to fit into the intersection can make their left hand turn.

Driving 3 miles in the city can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes on a good day.  It once took me an hour and a half.  You must yield to all pedestrian, bicyclers, even the people driving "hover rounds" on the never know what will jump out in front of you next.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day Memorial Ride

For Veterans Day, I and a dozen of my motorcycle riding friends visited some of the more obscure memorial sites in Belgium. 

Our first stop of the day was in Brugelette, where we witnessed a formal ceremony and laying of the wreath at not one, but three separate memorial sites.  We walked between the plaques and memorials along with the procession while a band played.  At each stop the townsfolk reflected on the significance as the band performed the Belgian, French and American national anthems.

In Mons, there is a memorial to the Big Red 1.

In Wavre City Municipal Cemetery we paid homage to Private H.C. Jamieson.  He perished 22 January 1918 while serving in the Canadian army.  There are only seven World War I graves here.  He is the only American.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making Me a Priority

We’ve all used the excuses.  I would work out if the gym were closer to my house; if it weren’t so expensive; if I only had a personal trainer…

I finally have a fully stocked gym just down the street.  It is free. So is the trainer.  If I don’t do this now, when would I ever do it?  It is all on me now. 

There will never be enough time.  There has never been enough time in the day to get everything I needed, nor most of what I wanted, to accomplish.  That is not going to change, thus I will have to make it a priority.

A priority for what reason?  It isn’t because I enjoy it, though I hope someday to.  A priority so that I may add more years to my life; so that those years will be more enjoyable and active…and because if you look better, you feel better.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Note to China

Just wanted to publicly tell all those who might be lending the U.S. money--I'm not paying the bill.  There is no more income and we cannot afford to pay any more debt.  The people in DC are signing on the dotted line to borrow money that I cannot pay back; debt that I do not intend to honor.  Just saying.

Congress thinks this country is wealthy and that in the long run it will all take care of itself as it always has in the past...after all they are just talking numbers.  They have no comprehension of the meaning of the numbers.  They authorize the printing of new 100 dollar bills, but what makes those pieces of paper worth anything?  The industriousness of the American people have always put the value behind that paper (after being taken off gold as the standard).  But the American people are losing jobs, losing their resources-still the government takes a majority of their fruits.  American industriousness is being quickly used up.

They are borrowing against the future golden eggs, but killing the goose that lays 'em.

I see my country going down in flames.  The strong, the ingenious and the crooks will all survive, even thrive; the rest will perish.

Interesting how this statistic comes out at the same time..."Washington D.C. Adults are Nation’s Top Drug and Alcohol Abusers."  Seems they have too much money and overindulge in hedonistic pleasures.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Just Another Brussels Protest

There is a protest just about every week in Brussels, they are scheduled like concerts.  Most are political protests, some are social protest and in this case, an impromptu protest.


This happened very close to my residence, I actually drove thru the very first part of it.  Apparently a taxi driver who was not licensed to pick up passengers at the airport did just that.  Then when a policeman wanted to check his registration papers he ran over the officer and drove with him on the hood for 2 km.  The officer, trying to get the car to stop shot at the driver and mass chaos ensued.

Welcome to Brussels 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It is Official

Its official - I don't like this post.

Don't hate it or I'd be leaving here tomorrow, but it will NOT go down as one of my favorite postings.  I've been here 265 days and I don't like much more than when I arrived.

The job satisfaction is right up there with my previous job in a "private bank," come to think of it the morale is just about as high.

My bid list should come out in the next few months and if I'm lucky I might get out of here by next May.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rare Glimpse

Okay, my friends are always asking about what it is like working for the Department of State.  Most of the time my answer is very general, as we are very protective of what we do, which we feel is very important.  The Department and "diplomats" are often painted unflatteringly in the media, but you will rarely hear a public rebuttal from the men and women who serve with that unique American sense of honor. 

U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Cynthia Stroum Resigns. 

Here is a rare glimpse behind the scenes.  It is an interesting read, though it may have some dry parts-it is an Inspector General's report after all.  This is all public information.

There is so much to learn here, more in what you don't see than what is overtly stated.  Diplomats by nature avoid high emotion, preferring long term, objective, factual reporting.  In diplomatic-speak this is actually quite extraordinary.

And though some would laugh at how this could be important-this is Luxembourg!?!!  It is exactly the low key, consistent work that your representatives do everyday in small (and big) posts all over the world that serve our interest so well.  Officers make contacts, build relationships and show themselves to be people of good character.  This reflects well on all Americans.

When the day comes that we need something from our counterparts - be it help with criminal banking transactions, repatriating U.S. citizens, or a kind word on our behalf to a friend-of-a-friend nation - those relationships matter.  And it truly is important that our ambassadors are people of character, with a strong sense of decorum and well developed manners.