Tag Archives: Brussels

Leo, seven years later

“So how much am I going to get paid?” Leo asks. A good question indeed… but coming from a seven year old, slightly unexpected.

“How much do I get for being a model?” he insists.

“Well, Leo, you get the glory that comes with appearing on my site.” He eyes me suspiciously as if my sole purpose in life consisted of ripping off little children. “I want money”, he says in a tone reminiscent of Addie Loggins in Papermoon.

I have known his mother, Isa, since the mid-eighties, when we attended school together in Brussels, formed a student union, fomented a revolution, and went our separate ways. My path led to Texas, hers to Thailand but always with a foot in Belgium.

Christmas 2001: I found her with child. I had not expected it. I knew nothing about it. I rang the doorbell and she opened the door with the tiniest wee baby in her arms. The baby wore a strange hat. That was the future negotiator in chief, Leo.

l17b

Luckily, I had my camera with me! It’s not as if I would not have come back to photograph him but you have no idea how difficult it is to park in Brussels when you have completely lost the habit to parallel park in spots as big as pocket handkerchiefs.

il8

A year later, Leo is up, not yet running but close!

leo-2-yr

The baby is adorable and not asking for money yet.

Unfortunately, during the next few years, Isa, Leo, and baby daddy Claude spent all their winters in Thailand, on beaches of white sands and turquoise waters. Can’t say I blame them, especially if you live in gray and rainy Brussels, but in the midst of all this whirlwind of international travels, meeting became difficult… until the munchkin began elementary school last year then the nomads got stuck.  The following photographs were taken this Christmas and you will notice that while Isa still looks exactly the same, Leo has morphed into quite a little man.

isaleo_002

isaleo_012

Next year, I think I’ll have to show up with a pile of cash and pots of money. That kid drives a hard bargain.

The Many Faces of Circe

“Circe, go wear something fancy and I’ll take your photograph, okay?”

circebellyCirce the Belly Dancer

Circe, the seven year old daughter of my friend Fred, decides that “fancy” means belly dancer outfit (complete with socks.)  Before I take her portrait, she checks herself out in the mirror and sucks in her little belly. After a few pictures, she flies upstairs to change into something else.

circeperruquePreparing to emulate Marilyn Monroe

Circe is not in the mood for classic portraiture. She trades in the oriental costume for the Marilyn look. She then reclines on the settee and looks at me from under her eyelashes appearing slightly underwhelmed.  The portrait is vaguely disturbing, even more than I had anticipated, but the rule is to let her do and wear whatever she wants.

Circe has a new idea for a fancy outfit and tells me it will be a surprise. She will call me when she is ready. Five minutes later, she screams my name from the top of her lungs even though I’m just in the room next door.

circelionne1Circe and the lion

In her happy messy room, Circe, dressed like Tarzan’s Jane, is lying on her bed with her favorite lion… and the little stick to beat him into submission.

I ask her to find something a little more simple and she comes back in a white dress.

bcircefenetreCirce a la fenetre

I hear a bit of commotion outside the room, open the door, and find myself facing Catherine C., my neighbor from 35 years ago. I had not seen her since she had moved from our street in the seventies but I recognize her immediately! Weird! I ask Circe not to move while I go downstairs to meet her husband and children. One thing leads to another and before I know it, I’m having a cup of tea and cookies. More exactly tea and a cookie. The confections had all been made by Circe and taking a bite out of them is a mere impossibility. We all sit around chatting and dutifully sucking on our cookie, trying not to break any teeth.

Half an hour goes by and I suddenly remember poor Circe. I grab the camera and run up the stairs. This is what I find when I open the door:

circequiattendCirce who awaits

She has not moved an inch but looks mildly resentful (and freezing.) I have now created some abandonement issues in that sweet abiding little girl and I’m not feeling very proud of myself.  The mood has soured and the session appears over. I am not used to being obeyed. Who in their right mind would obey me anyway?

This session was photographed with a medium format film camera. I went back to film for the first time in many many many years, only to find out that in Dallas, you cannot find a lab with an old-fashioned dark room!

The Very Hairy Christmas Card

My sister faked cancer.  She faked not one, but two cancers. If you are going to tell a big lie, you might as well fabricate an even bigger one for maximum effect. In the end, it turned out that her stomach and esophagus cancer surgery was in fact a gastric bypass to rid her of her obesity.

My sister and I are not on speaking terms. Blood may be thicker than water but when you put your 75 year old mother through the ringer with imaginary health problems, my blood thins out considerably. Seriously. She even attempted to turn the situation around by claiming that her lies were a cry for help and that my failure to recognize her anguish denoted a clear lack of compassion on my part. Nice try.

With my habitual  Christmas foreigner abandoning me to go frolic in the Argentinian Pampas this year, there would be no Christmas dinner with my sister and I sitting at the same table. Instead, she gave her son a card for me with the strict instruction to open it only the next day, on Christmas.

The card was in a white envelope with a small golden bow.

odile_001

It was a pretty thick envelope and all evening, I kept wondering if perhaps it contained a letter of apology (way overdue.)

The next morning, in bed with a good book and my morning coffee (it’s unbelievable the number of books you go through when not blogging!), I looked at the envelope on the night table begging to be opened with its cute little bow.

odile_0021

The card looked very average. In our family, we always go for funky and the Golden Retriever carrying Christmas ornaments definitely did not pass the originality test. Very unlike my sister. I opened the card.

bodile_004

Eek! Eek! Eek! Hair!!!! I kid you not. With roots! My sister cut all her hair off and stuffed them in my card. My instincts kick in. Or woman’s intuition, whatever you may want to call that special 6th sense. I think my sister is not going to apologize. I can just feel it with all my mighty powers of deduction. I push the hair aside.

bodile_005

What did I tell you?!  The use of English remains a mystery since French is our first language, but nevermind the semantics. This is my first hate Christmas card ever! I didn’t even know such thing existed. In retrospect, the use of the golden bow on the envelope seems quite deceiving when coupled with the nice curvy handwriting.

I’m going to take the hair and make a little pillow with it.

Just kidding. I’m going to keep this card for the day my body is found in a Belgian gutter, stabbed to death by a hairless assassin.

Bring out your Belgian dead!

Running out of place to bury people is never a good situation. In 1866, a cholera epidemic swept through Brussels and swiftly killed more than 3,000. Well, that was a bit of a problem. Quickly, the Cemetery of the Dieweg got created to palliate overflowing morgues.

Belgians being obviously deficient in cemetery planning affairs, the new death venue got rapidly saturated. After 1945, inhumations grew rare. In 1958, it closed down. Slowly, nature took over.

The crosses became one with the trees.

Ground cover swallowed the stones.

Sporadic light piercing through forests of trees gave the graveyard an eerie feel.

The neighbourhood of Uccle where the cemetery is located is home to most of Brussels bourgeoisie. Some of the tombs lie adorned with impressive monuments to the glory of the great families. Some say we are all equal in death but, I’m sorry, some tombs are way better than others.

On one hand, gigantic statues, on the other, little Jesus with no legs. Equality? Come again!

Walking around, you wonder whether you are experiencing the ultimate romantic interlude,

Or whether when you reach the end of the “Sematary”, you’ll stumble upon the “deadfall.”

While absolutely unable to deal with death on any levels, I dig cemeteries. The Dieweg graveyard falling into the category of crazy weirdness, it rates second on my top ten list. It is no wonder that Herge, Tintin’s creator, obtained a special derogation to be interred in the closed down venue.

It is only closed to the dead people, the living are most welcome to visit.

Halal or not halal, that’s the question

Diaka. A beautiful Muslim Guinean woman who happens to have been dating my brother (the one that sucks) for a few years. She measures 6 feet and dwarfs me but still, I like her a lot. With time, it seems she has grown accustomed to our crazy family ways. Or has she?

Diaka, the Tree

You cannot go to my mom’s house without being fed like a goose. “Eat, it’s love!” is the message you must read between the lines. You pack the pounds and hope that she’ll love you a little less in the future.

My mom offered Diaka a bit of her delicious salmon mousse the other day. Earlier my mother had asked her if she wanted to drink a mint tea and gave her hot water with mint leaves and not a trace of tea.

Diaka jungle

At this point, Diaka should have been slightly suspicious, but salmon mousse sounded great. And it was. You spread it on a toast (made with real bread not like in the US) and it is light and very tasty. Diaka thanked my mom and told her how much she was appreciating the treat.

My mom then casually mentioned: “I was really lucky, they had such good ham at the butcher this morning.” That’s when Diaka choked and promptly excused herself.

The Guinean

My mom just turned 75. I guess she cannot be trusted around people on a strict halal diet. Salmon – ham, same color eh! Almost the same, right?

J’adore Bruxelles too!

Brussels, a quaint version of Paris (well, minus the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou and other miscellanies.) It’s quieter, more bon-enfant, more genuine. Walking in the Foret de soignes and the Bois de la Cambre, you actually breathe fresh air. In Paris, you go out five minutes, and you feel you need a shower. But j’adore Paris nonetheless…

Reveries

Reveries at the Bois de la Cambre

Family jogging

Family jogging in the Foret de Soignes

Kid running

Being a kid in a park

Michael with the Apple

Michael with the Apple

Gordi fato

Well-fed little boy in the Bois

Just quaint and peaceful…

Gege, Barbecue Warrior

The other day, I discovered my cousin Gege from Brussels was a barbecue warrior. I had never met one before. I feel honored we dispose of such hidden talents in the family.

Barbecue Warrior II

Concentration

Barbecue warrior attack

Attack

Barbecue warrior salute

Victory

And just to show that the apple did not fall far from the tree as far as emoting goes, this is the son of the Barbecue Warrior, Nicolas:

Son of Barbecue Warrior

We are a family with character.

Party time

Parties always offer great opportunities to catch displays of genuine emotion. While I photograph events for a living, I rarely resist the temptation to bring a camera along when invited as a guest as well.

My friends would argue that my social time would be spent more wisely concentrating on finding that forever elusive oxymoronic “decent guy” than hiding behind a Canon but history, mine anyway, has demonstrated time and time again that photography is much more emotionally rewarding, not to mention longer lasting… I digress.

Party for Steph

Going back to Brussels for Christmas allows me to occasionally run into people whose paths I have not crossed in decades. This year, the “pony bunch” gathered to celebrate one of their own’s birthday. This tight-knit group of friends grew up dedicating their youth to competing one another on high-priced ponies. All were show-jumping at an international level, traveling together, and causing many headaches to hotel managers and chaperons across Europe. Today most have married, procreated, and passed along the passion to their children.

In the following photograph, Steph, surrounded by her two sons, reads the letter which sends her and family to Rome as a birthday gift.

The gift

When photographing an event, I avoid using a flash as much as possible. One, it kills the mood, and second, it annihilates any chance of remaining discrete. A wide aperture lens generally solves the problem. It’s a choice. Capturing movement remains iffy as evidenced by the next photograph of Chloe and husband demonstrating acrobatic rock in the kitchen in the morning’s wee hours.

Rock

The cutest moment of the party happened when Diego, Steph’s 12 year old son, surprised her with a gift. He had gotten into major trouble during the afternoon for disappearing on his bike for a whole hour and refusing to provide any explanations as to his whereabouts. He had actually pedaled for miles to get to the nearest Godiva and purchase a little box of his mom’s favorite chocolates with his saved up allowance.

Steph and Diego

Steph and Diego 3

As a woman sans child, I was touched by the gesture and suddenly felt quite cheated. Luckily all the mothers around the table were quick to point out that mommies around the world have to put up with years of sacrifice and suffering in order to blessed with such a charming attention once every blue moon. All righty then! The pang of parental deprivation had lasted exactly a minute and thirty seconds.

It takes me hours after a party to process the gazillion photographs, but I do not mind. The reward is in the party goers’ smiles when they receive their prints. And in this particular case, I also get to bring back to Texas a little piece of Belgium with me, a little piece of my past.

Noel a Bruxelles

Christmas is always spent in Brussels, Belgium. Not necessarily by choice. I fear that the family I left behind fifteen years ago would irreversibly shun me and remove my name from the will if I ever failed to show up, all bundled up in the three sweaters I own and ready to be fed like a goose for two weeks.

Manege d’Andrea

Don’t misunderstand me. I love most everything about Brussels. The weather, however, could use a little global warming. The day after I get there, I am always full of good resolutions, determined to brave the chilly elements to photograph my most favorite places.

L’oiseau

The said good resolutions lasted about two hours this year. Just enough time to document the Christmas market at Place Ste Catherine, and eat enough beignets to kill someone twice my corpulence.

Le Robot