Tag Archives: Family

Bed Head Colleen

Strolling in Curtis Park, I saw a little girl with crazy hair.

Look: it’s bed head Colleen!

Hair made of straw, eyes made of sky

A dimpled smile

Daddy will need weapons

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.

When all else fails, import a foreigner

If you belong to the normal average dysfunctional family, you know very well that clan gatherings may turn into somewhat painful occasions.

Nicolas

Nicolas, mon nefioo. Drama king. Set himself ablaze after Christmas dinner

In my very colorful Belgian family, tradition dictates that, prior to any meeting, the matriarch create a fabulous table centerpiece. The floral arrangement (elevated from simple bouquet to original work of art over the years) comes in handy in the midst of any argument.

Over the screaming and typical exchange of insults, you can always hear my mother bellow in a screeching voice: “Has anyone noticed my centerpiece?” It’s code for “you ungrateful children, I’ve carried you 9 months in my womb and cooked a wonderful dinner for you and now you are ruining everything for me and if you continue, I’m just going to leave the table and kill myself.” Mildly embarrassed, we generally quickly drop the bone of contention and utter a few admirative comments for the masterpiece.

Snow in Brussels

White Christmas

I noticed these last few years the rapid erosion of the centerpiece tactic. One night, after a complete breakdown where both my sister and brother ended up covered in chocolate mousse, I devised a new strategy. When all else fails, one must import a foreigner. The thinking behind the new scheme is that people generally carry themselves better in the presence of a stranger. You must however follow four essential rules:

  1. Your foreigner must be well-behaved: experience has taught me that the host family matches the degree of civility exhibited by the guest.
  2. Your foreigner must not be acquainted with the local language. For an American family, a mere English-speaking Canadian just won’t do. Think South or Quebec. By forcing your family members to express themselves in an unfamiliar vernacular, you greatly reduce the risk of infighting .
  3. You must not sleep with your foreigner. This rule ensures repeated use of said foreigner.
  4. After three utilizations, the foreigner must be replaced. When the family begins showing too much ease, your foreigner has become “a friend of the family” and it won’t take long before your relatives revert to their bad habits and drama.
Robbie

My foreigner Robby

My current foreigner, Robby, imported to Brussels from Texas, has almost reached the end of the road. My family likes him way too much for him to remain fully effective. The search is officially on for my next victim…

The quintessential Cat Lady

17 cats may appear like a LOT of felines to the common folk; it actually constitutes a vast improvement compared to the 40 cats my sister Odile used to nurture when she shared a large mansion with her husband in the outskirts of Brussels.

Bengals, Maine Coons, Ben-Coons and Maine-gals, the rescue cats, the dog Le Iench, the VERY large snake rescued from a lamp maker in Morocco, the mice befriended before becoming reptile food: all lived in perfect harmony… except for the husband who undoubtedly could not compete against so much furry love and left the menagerie to lead a more appropriate lifestyle for a respected banker (Oh how very boring!) In all fairness to him, my sister seems to live in a whole different world than you and I.

Chat6

In my sister’s reality, her dog Le Iench is not obese, she has an “uncommonly large thoracic cage.” The poor thing spends all of her time on her back, perfectly balanced by generous pounds of fat. The dog is the most humongous dachshund I have ever encountered.

Iench

Eventually, my sister had to sell the castle and purchase a smaller house in Waterloo. She moved in with 9 cats, placed the other 31 with loving families. She did not have to worry about the snake anymore since he had escaped from the yard one afternoon (for all of you inhabitants of Braine l’Alleud whose dog, cat, pet pig or wee child disappeared one day, I think the culprit may be Moroccan.)

That was two years ago. The count is currently back to 17 but in Odile’s world, she has only 11.1/2. Hilarious! You see, according to her, one cat belongs to her son Nicolas (who can’t remember which one exactly.)

chat 1

Another to her son Antoine (who does not even like cats.)

Chat2

A gray kitty now belongs to Antoine’s new girlfriend (the cat won’t let her approach him but that’s just a detail.)

chat3

The housekeeper has a cat as well although I’m not sure she knows about it.

chat 4

The dog, yes no typo here, the DOG owns a cat. Finally, one cat just comes home during the night, therefore and in all logic, he merely counts as a half cat. So, really, you see she only possesses 11.1/2 cats!

I’m surprised Albert II King of Belgium does not own one of her cats!

albert2b

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.