Tag Archives: personal

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.

The Wife, her Roomate, and the Husband

Numata, Japan. People sometimes have the weirdest living arrangements… or, sometimes, uncommon marriages too. Since my arrival in Numata, Ross and I had been having conversations about his musician friend Kelly. He had told me Kelly lived with his wife, her roomie, and Shoichi the little one. Now, I do not know about you folks, but a husband, a wife, and her roommate sounds like something suspiciously triangular to me. I felt like prying a bit but the right words eluded me. After all, the guy is a rock star and the wife comes from Brazil which is, as you well know, hot hot hot…

On Sunday night, after the Nikko trip, we would all meet at an izakaya for dinner and I would finally meet the two women in Kelly’s life.

When I am asked how Japanese people live, I do not know what to answer. I can pretty much tell you how a Canadian goes about his life in Numata, but Japanese people remain an enigma. All windows have opaque curtains so you cannot peak into their private space (no lack of trying on my part) and if you go to a restaurant, you end up being separated by a curtain or dine in a separate elevated screened room.

Entering the private room, I was surprised to see only one woman. Kelly introduced us: Nathalie, my wife, her roomie. His wife, her roomie? One person? For the last three days, I had been imagining the oddest menage a trois and it all boiled down to a wife called Harumi? Truthfully I felt a tiny bit disappointed… But Harumi proved to be a very fun dinner companion despite our language barrier.

Throughout dinner, Ross and Harumi sometimes adopted the same expressions (but I think Ross may have been committing emulation here.)

Kelly and Harumi did their very best to converse with signs and expressions so I could follow.

Monsieur Ross sat comfortably in his Prometheus shirt, acting very cool and controlled contrarily to Harumi and I.

He ordered the little shrimps you eat whole and while they may not look like much, they are delicious and not to be missed under any circumstances.

The dinner progressed with Kelly grabbing my camera and Ross making a demonstration of… either a religious ritual or how to chop a particular kind of meat. I could not tell you for sure but he seems definitely quite inspired.

This demented-looking man is the owner of the izakaya, Kei Chan. I took this photograph doing my rounds in the restaurant.

This friendly man showing off his skewers is Kei Chan’s faithful cook.

Kei Chan is also a magician and he came into our cabana to perform some tricks.

Ross appeared very interested, acting as skillful assistant too, but knew a lot of the magic and showed me later. After Kei Chan left, Harumi reclined on the floor and made faces. Harumi is a lightweight. Two sips of beer and happiness flows. I think this is what they called “meeting your match!”

As Kelly explained in one of his posts, musicians can be jocks too.

I surmise this was a case of “putting your money where your mouth is!”

And succumbing to the weight on his shoulders…

By this time of the evening, both men are calm and collected, and basically Harumi and I are, as we say in Belgium, “sur le toit” (on the roof.)

This is Harumi sur le toit.

Sur le toit, that’s generally when I let people take my picture.

And Ross wonders how he ended up with such a monkey woman. I think he may even have called me a baboon. The look on his face speaks for itself. (That was Kelly’s favorite photograph.)

Then we took photographs of all our feet (except for the feet of Sir Ross who was not in the mood for toe display.) Suddenly the reasons behind the need for an enclosed private space made a whole lot more sense to me. We left shortly after. Foot photography is always a tell-tale sign that all good things must come to an end.

Walking back to the house, I took this photograph of a man preparing the newspapers for the next day. He showed a bit of surprise at the sight of me entering his office. Ross, while very supportive of the idea, declined to follow me inside.

This is my Numata apple. I unfortunately dropped it. A gift from Harumi, it did not survive the walk home. Numata apples are famous and I can attest to their deliciousness thanks to the roomie. Apples are produced with great care in Japan with growers plucking the leaves off each apple to ensure balanced sunlight. Some of these practices have been discontinued to respond to the US competition after American apples were introduced on the Japanese market in 1995 at a much lower price. (sigh)

Numata apples are collected from more than 100 orchards and are integral part of the culture. A typical Japanese family outing is to spend time picking apples in a farm.

I did not go pick fruit in Numata.

Toshogu, wat een chinese stuut!

Religion confuses me greatly. Raised in Belgium, a country where you either are catholic or not religious for the most part, I was a bit puzzled when first exposed to the myriad of different Christian denominations that exist in the US.

Japan with its mixture of Buddhism and Shinto left me confounded as well. The two co-exist in harmony and even complement each other. For example, a large number of weddings are held in Shinto style, but death being considered a source of impurity, most funerals are Buddhist ceremonies. Shinto Gods are called kami but many Buddhists view them as manifestations of Buddha.

Ross took me to Nikko to visit the Toshogu Shinto shrine (which also contains Buddhist elements – of course!) It is dedicated to the kami of Ieyasu who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan from 1603 through 1867. To create a worthy shrine for the Shogun, 15,000 craftsmen worked for two years (just like for the Scottish castle!) and used 2.5 million sheets of gold leaf.

One of the telling signs you are entering a Shinto shrine and not a temple is a torii gate. This is the Ishidorii, one of the three best stone torii gates in Japan. The complex of shrines is surrounded by a magnificent forest of over 13,000 cedar trees.

The original seventeenth century five storied pagoda burned in 1815 and was rebuilt three years later. It has no floors inside, no foundations and contains a suspended pole which swings like a pendulum from the fourth floor to maintain the equilibrium of the pagoda during earthquakes.

Kikazaru, Iwazaru, and Mizaru

The Sacred Stable (Shinkyusha), is traditionally home to an Imperial white horse, a gift of New Zealand. The horse stays at the stable a few hours a day except when it rains or snows. It was raining on the day we visited so I did not get to see it.

I was wondering why so many people were standing around the empty building until I suddenly recognized the famous Three Wise Monkeys carving on the facade. The maxim originated out of a wordplay on “zaru” which means monkey, but is also an archaic negative verb conjugation.

Monkeys have been considered guardian protectors of horses since early times in Japan.

Another famous carving is that of the “Imaginary Elephant” on the Kamijinko, one of the three sacred warehouses. Why imaginary? The Chief Carver, Tanyu Kano had never seen an elephant therefore liberties were definitely taken for the representation.

While most Shinto shrines are characterized by a minimalist architecture that blends in the surroundings, Toshogu appears much more Chinese in its lavish intricate decoration, colors and representations of dragons, birds, flowers, and sages. Some are said to be repelled by its gaudiness but I found it mesmerizing. I would not want it in my living room but such splendor in the forest felt magical.

The mausoleum of Ieyasu in comparison to the pictured constructions is very simple but I took no photographs of it. You have to climb 200 very steep steps to accede his tomb and there were just way too many other things to see without exerting yourself in the process. My mother would kill me, but disown me first. I’m glad she does not read my blog.

The lanterns are very beautiful. There are more than 120, all donated by warlords.

This one has an added human element.

There were a lot of people despite the rain. Some seemed more appropriately dressed than others.

Honestly, I do not know what is happening here. It appears that the hand of a small child is rubbing the shaved cranium of one of the men. I wonder if Ross’ students try to pat his head too.

A classic!

Cool looking painter who could have come straight out of a Tintin book

Japanese tourists

Purification troughs are typically found near the entrance of a Shinto shrine. There is a precise ritual involved in cleansing yourself: you need to fill a ladle with fresh water and clean both hands, then transfer some water from your cupped hand to your mouth, rinse it, and spit the water next to the fountain. You cannot put the ladle to your mouth nor are you ever supposed to swallow the water. A lot of people skip that step all together.

Another very cool lantern.

This is a God.

This is a photograph taken by Ross of someone holding what would appear to be a heavy God.

The God of Thunder

The God of Wind

A Very Blue God

A Dragon guardian

While we visited, a dance festival was taking place in front of the five storied pagoda. At first, I attempted to photograph it holding the camera with one hand and the umbrella with the other, but I gave up because frankly the process lacked the comfort factor. At the end however, the weather improved, and poor Ross who thought we were driving back to Numata was in store for an other hour of Japanese dancing photography. Ross is a very patient man (thank you!)

Back to Nature After Sake Overdose

Numata, Japan. After the debauchery at Gen Roku the night before, it was time to go back to the pasture a bit and enjoy the more natural treasures of the area. On Sunday morning, we set sails early. Oscar Wilde said “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”, so we skipped breakfast all together and bought hot coffees in a can from a street dispenser.

Hot coffee in a can! Awesomeness right there AND Tommy Lee Jones stars in many commercials as a coffee spokesperson AND an alien who looks exactly like Tommy Lee Jones (eventually he goes back to his planet BUT he misses the coffee in a can so much he returns to earth.)

Ross refueled the van. I can confirm that he does in fact have a bumper sticker that spells “Vaginas are way cool” (in case you had any doubts.) We drove towards the mountains on Route 120, the Japanese version of the German’s Romantic Road.

The red dot is where we were and I’m not sure where we were going on the map, but our final destination was Nikko. Ross promised we would stop along the way to check out some famous waterfalls.

Fukiwari no taki or Japan’s Niagara Falls in Tone Village is a shallow but a rather impressive waterfall. It was created from the stream eroding the soft monolith rock and is shaped like a banana.

You can get very close to it but if you step over the white line, Monsieur Ross lets you know in no uncertain terms that it is not safe nor allowed.

There is a pathway which allows you to walk besides the stream and it gave me ample opportunity to abuse my designated model.

Abused here,

and abused here,

Downright violated. Actually he was absorbed in contemplation here.

Going upstream, a very cool bridge

A little store sold fortunes. The tradition is to keep the good ones and tie the not so good ones to a rope to leave them behind. Walking pass all this bad fortune is probably not recommended.

The serene scenery from the bridge

After walking 10,000 miles (30,000 for me) we hopped back in the vagivan and cruised towards the next waterfalls using a very twisty road in the mountain. Each turn is designated by a different kana and we tried to memorize them BUT it is better to attempt the exercise after a full night sleep, no sake, and no beer, as I found out (after a few turns.)

We stopped at what we thought were perhaps Kegon Falls and Ross explained that since I had my camera, he would leave his in the van… then he saw all the Lotus cars and he went back to the parking lot to get his camera. Men!

We finally found the Kegon no taki which flows from Lake Chuzenji and which water plunges down 97 meters! There were bus loads of people and the observatories appeared jam-packed.

It was as fun to photograph the people taking pictures, some with their cell phones.

I do not think this one will make it to the album.

But this one might.

And voila the explanation for all my woes. A pint-size kid posing for his mom. Making the peace sign. I think the peace sign might be the equivalent of our “cheese”, and could be ingrained in the Japanese youth by well-intentioned parents before children learn how to walk.

Fish on a stick! I did not taste these. They were snacks sold at the Kegon falls and I’d rather have my fish raw and without a head or a stick. Besides, we had had plenty of Nikumans along the way.

This was just the beginning of the adventure… Back in the van and en route for Nikko (after desperately trying to find some ladies bathroom with an actual toilet instead of holes – which may be quite economical for the Japanese but absolutely irreconcilable with my deep-seated Jackie O. complex.)

Izakayas + Japadians = Fun Tonight, Hell Tomorrow

Numata, Japan. Saturday night. Kelly came over for a before drinks drink. Ross and I showed him our new toys and Kelly oohed and aahed politely until he spotted the coin bank, then he really meant it!

We debated whether it was motion, sound, or touch triggered, screaming at it and making all kinds of cool gestures in front of it but, in the end, we could not tell for sure. To this day, it remains a mystery. Time flies by when in Numata, and we suddenly realized it was 10 pm and we were starving. Off we went to Gen Roku Izakaya.

We sat at the “bar” where your legs and feet dangle into a hole in the floor. Of course, we first had to take our shoes off which still weirds me out a bit.

Ross and Kelly had beer (and let me tell you Japanese do not serve little rikiki beers), and I had sake which I adore and is very dangerous for my sobriety. Soon, I was taking the camera to a nearby alcove when youngsters were eating and mostly drinking.

They seemed to welcome me crashing the party and made multiple peace signs.

And more peace signs… If you try to convey that you’d rather them NOT make peace signs, they get very confused, soooo get used to it. Many more peace signs to come!

By the time I got back to our bar hole, Kelly was lovingly kissing my handbag.

Ross was making peace signs too (they were peace signs, right Ross?) and I was feeling quite, er, relaxed and amorous. I generally do not go about restaurant reclining but my shoes were confiscated and my sake goblet never ran out of liquid (by the way, in Japan, a woman never pours her own sake, she has to hold the cup, and put her other hand under it – so that if the guy misses, she’ll sustain third degree burns but the table cloth will remain immaculate – then hopefully a man notices her begging for sake and serves her some.)

The owners of Gen Roku, traditionally called Master san and Mamma san, were the bomb!

Kelly lifted Mamma san off the floor and moved her around a bit (I think she liked that.)

But Master san had an expression on his face which makes me think he liked his Mamma san better with her feet on the ground and away from the rock star.

Master san’s sock shoes had issues.

Me too. Poor Ross. It must be fairly difficult to have dinner with a monkey woman hanging from your neck! Well, as I mentioned before, Ross is a very polite man and he resignedly let me have my way with him. Then I decided to document the azakaya’s kitchen.

I think the cooks san were trying to convey the delightfulness of the food at Gen Roku – either that or the guy san on the left is rubbing the Buddha belly for good luck.

Cook san on the right presented the kitchen which appeared spotless and a fun environment.

I would fail all my duties if I did not post the traditional peace sign photograph too. You will not be spared.

Oh yeah, no sparing for you!

My last souvenir of Gen Roku Izakaya: Ross in animated Japanese discussion with Master san and Kelly really needing to go home. Ross and I took a cab to the 7/11.

This is our cab driver. My experience of izakayas with Ross and Kelly is that when you get out of there, you generally need some kind of food otherwise waking up in the morning feels miserable.

That’s the best hangover preventive ever: the Nikuman that Ross describes as a “gorgeous creation of doughy crap and possible meat all just waiting for you when you walk in the door.” He can eat four on the row which is really quite impressive when you think about it.

Dallas is not half as fun as Numata with the crazy Japadians. Blogging about this makes me feel all sad and nostalgic and I have not even been back a week. On the other hand, I have felt inexplicably much better in the morning since my return.

The Quest for the Holy Santa Claus

Numata, Japan. When I arrived at the house of sir planetross on Thursday night, the first thing I noticed in the living room stood on his bookshelf. The ultimate funky toy. A marvel of orange hair and manic looks: Road Rage Racer!!!

He makes all the sounds of the motor and acts totally pissed off and nuts off the charts. I had to have it. So Saturday morning, Ross drove me the Aeon Shopping Center so I could purchase one as well as a Backgammon board to give him a spanking (I ended up being the flogged one but that’s a matter I do not care to dwell upon as I am still feeling rather sore.)

I generally do not take photographs from cars, but traffic lights in Japan must be mentioned. They stay red forever! It’s heresy. Kelly had written a post about them on his venting page and frankly, I just thought he was taking romantic liberties with reality for literary effect but not at all.

Stagnating at red lights gave me the opportunity to practice ’emanating from the car through the windscreen” photography and to allow you a bird’s eye view into the scenery. After arriving at the mall, we shopped at several toy stores and we both purchased incredibly cool coin banks, then we headed towards the Hideaway Store where this skinny man sold me my Road Rage Racer:

Then it was time to go listen to Kelly play at Lockheart Castle in the area of Takayama village. Lockheart Castle was built in the south of Edimburgh in 1829 as Milton Lockhart, the mansion of John Lockhart, biographer of Sir Walter Scott.

In 1988, at a time where Japan could still buy the world, actor Masahiko Tsugawa (“Tampopo”) fulfilled his dream of having the Scottish castle dismantled brick by brick and shipped in 30 containers along the Trans-Siberian Railway to Japan. The reconstruction lasted three years and, according to the official website, involved 15,000 workers (just like the pyramids but more.) It was renamed Lockheart Castle and a slew of shops were added to the edifice. Kelly sings there often.

After we listened to a few songs, Kelly got assaulted by a gang of Japanese people who wanted to buy his CD, so Ross showed me around.

In the castle, he sat on the throne. I am not sure he was supposed to but he did anyway and I think he looks very regal sitting there. He then told me about the Santa Claus and Christmas Museum on the second floor of the castle. I kid you not. That’s where it becomes a wee bit on the tacky side for me. In a castle, you expect stuff like Holy Grails, not Santas. Now add Japan to the equation…

I don’t think I have ever felt so over-christmased. What a strange gig! Hundreds of Santa Claus figurines doing various things I’m sure Santa would never dream of doing (including an Elvis impersonation and that’s just plain wrong!)

Kelly having finally disengaged from the admiring masses deigned join us and I asked the boys to pose together.

Taking a cue from one of my previous posts, Ross and Kelly did act as if they were uncomfortable posing together. They did a pretty convincing job of it in that photograph and the other twenty that followed where I was able to witness a vast array of facial expressions that I would qualify as singularly unnatural (but they are very funny!)

Finally, I was very happy with this one.

And I was even happier with this one (thank you Kelly!)

Right now, I am toying with my awesome Road Rage Racer which stands right next to my laptop. It ranks high up there with my Pinocchio with retractable nose but in times of frustration, it definitely works much better.

planetross eats skewers of bones

Numata, Japan. At 9:50 pm, planetross leaves work. Not before saying to his remaining colleagues he is sorry to depart before them: “Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu”, “osaki ni shitsurei shimasu”, etc. Between you, me and the fence post, I don’t think he really means it (I would surmise the opposite is probably quite true), but Japan seems really big on manners and planetross is an extremely polite man.

At 10 pm, I see him pull up in his driveway from the balcony where I’m roosting (my favorite place to observe the neighborhood.) I run downstairs with the energy of someone who has been sleeping the whole time he has been working. No mercy! I feel eager to discover Numata by night.

planetross, Ross really, announces we will go eat at an Izakaya which is a bar/restaurant combo but sounds so much more exotic in Japanese. We walk for about a minute when I realize that for every step Ross takes, I have to take three. Hurriedly. He is a whole foot taller than I am and I think it’s all in his legs. At the traffic light, I look at him sheepishly and we go back to the house where I trade the four inch heels for threes. We are finally good to go!

Numata late in the evening looks deserted, a true ghost town. Pretty lanterns adorn each side of the main road but once you take small streets, it can get pretty dark.

At one intersection, Ross spots one of the teenagers who study where he works, going home on her bike. It’s 10:45 pm! On a Friday night! He explains that in Japan, to enroll in the good high schools, the student must perform well on an entry exam. If the results are deemed unsatisfactory, the Numata kid has to attend class in the high school from another town located an hour and a half away! Needless to say, the kids appear highly motivated to study and they spend most of their evenings and week-ends cramming for the exam.

I was surprised to discover blankets hanging from the sides of houses like this one. Ross explained that when two houses are conjoint and one is demolished, blue tarps are temporarily placed to provide some insulation. Often, they are not replaced by more permanent construction.

Of course, I make Ross pose in front of the tarps! You may be wondering why he never smiles on the images I post but I’m trying to balance out his own photographs where he is always cracking up. In fact, I have a lot of him smiling too 😉

When we get to the Komachi Izakaya, we sit at the bar where we can see what happens in the kitchen. I grab the menu. Ha! Ha! It’s all in Japanese. No drawing. No pictures. Not a trace of English. I am not sure what I would have done had I been on my own. Probably stay close to the 7/11.

I give Ross the menu. Ross is now de facto the boss of what I eat. He suggests skewers of chicken skins, skewers of chicken bones and little shrimps you eat whole with the eyes and everything. I look at him funny because, of course, I think he is joking. He is not joking. The man has insane tastes! He never blogged about eating bones! Generously, he also orders some chicken and green onions which makes me feel much more comfortable.

It turns out, after a bite of the chicken skins (a little one just to show that I am worldly and would try just about anything), well it turns out they are so yummy I want them all to myself! The shrimps? Oooh heavens! So good! After hearing Ross eat the bones, I decide to draw a boundary but Japanese cooking absolutely rocks big time!

When we leave the Izakaya, we meet these happy young ones who seemed much less serious when not wearing a school uniform. The V is not for victory but for peace. All my photographs of young Japanese people include the peace sign. Nothing can be done. It is endemic.

We walked to the Suga Shrine where the Numata Festival ends every year. It feels extremely strange and surreal to be in a place previously described by Ross in one of his posts.

At the end of this dark alley, a Snack Bar. That’s not the place where you get a sandwich and a coke to go. This is where you go when as a man, you would like the company of a woman. Platonic company I must add. You buy a bottle, and a woman sits and talks to you. They seem fairly popular. Numata also has a number of Love Hotels where you can rent a room for a very short time. Some people just rent rooms for karaoke sessions or to have a place to entertain a group of friends.

It is 1 am and time to go to bed because tomorrow, we have to shop for toys, visit a Scottish castle, listen to Kelly perform, and have more chicken skins and a lot of sake for me (I’m still hesitating about posting some of the photographs!)

Oyasuminasai!

Tattoos

Tattoos are dumb.

10 years ago, my sister got a lion tattooed on her butt. Now it’s a Shar-Pei.

note: I’m very happy she did not have a Shar-Pei tattooed on her butt 10 years ago.

double note: I am a proud virgink. No tramp stamp on this chickie!

triple note: what do you call a woman with tattoos on both breasts? Tit-Tat-Two. 😉

The Ham in the Alley

Wrapping up a session at the Arboretum (meaning walking back to my car, evaluating time from parking lot to bed for well-deserved nap), I stumble upon two exotic-looking wee girls in an alley. An estimated four-year old model and her matching mini-me.

“Aaaah don’t move! Hold that pose! No, no, don’t move!” I say, trying really hard to hypnotize them into stillness while digging my camera out of the bag.

By the time I adjust my exposure, the lovely portrait I had in mind turns into the following:

The fall of the Asian Empire

Since inadvertently precipitating the fall of tiny daughter (but happy to have recorded the event), I figure it would be rather proper at this point to introduce myself to the mom. The least I can do. Really.

Sisters

Joy seems definitely more receptive to my Belgian devilish charm than cohort Ivy. Ivy does not like me much. Coming across as a freakish photographer barging in out of nowhere may have something to do with it.

Joy is a HAM

Joy is a HAM. She gets up, works her angles and gives me… Zoolander’s Blue Steel. I swear!

Haute Couture

Then, prima donna-like, breaks into an aria…

Joy breaks into a song

And bursts out laughing.

Joy laughs

My five minutes are over. I love my life.

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…