Friday, October 16, 2009

Spotted in Antwerp

5:45 p.m., Keyserlei, in front of Media Mart: a tall, grey haired, frowning middle-eastern man skips down the street. At full speed. And somehow manages to smoke a cigarette at the same time. Heads turn, incredulous at how it is possible to skip so joylessly.

6:09 p.m., intersection of Astridplein and Carnotstraat: a businessman's bike gets caught in the tram tracks. It wheels around and smacks right into another bike. Both riders flail their arms uselessly and the tram track man is launched head over handlebars in slow motion, his briefcase flung into the air. Five people, all different ages and races, immediately rush to his aid - no losing faith in humanity in this town.

Monday, October 12, 2009


There is nothing like the sound of chainsaws and blood curdling screams to remind me of home. Changing leaves, ripening pumpkins, fake blood: you know it must be fall!

I spent this weekend hanging with this dude, and others like him. The undead brides. The axe murderers. The rando monsters with extra eyeballs for no apparent reason. Also a carful of Canadians I came with, who were joyful with anticipation of the horror yet to come. So was I, despite my German friend Uli assuring me that they don't actually celebrate Halloween in Germany.

I have to admit that the production value is far superior at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights - it's more about the entertainment than fear, and I'm guessing this is only because they have a larger budget. They have a new theme or character every year - there are even entire backstories written about them. I remember "the Director" from when I went in high school - he's a crazy snuff film director and his next victim is YOU.

But low budget or no, I really have to hand it to Movie Park. They may have been smaller than Universal, with fewer roller coasters, but it was a hell of a lot creepier. When push comes to shove, Germans can just pull off scary monster better than the average family-friendly American "cast member". Plus, with the amount of punk- and gothic- dressed locals it was sometimes hard to tell apart the mortal souls and the vengeful undead. In any case they had one thing in common: when there was a sudden downpour of rain, both ran for cover to prevent their makeup from running.

Here's the real reason the Movie Park monsters are scarier: they are allowed to touch you. In one of the haunted houses, an undead bride even pulled my hair, moaning "lekkerrrrrrr" [tasty] in a scary ghost voice. At Halloween Horror Nights, I guess you could probably sue them if they touched you. Or maybe they are more afraid of people attacking the characters and them suing the park.

Well, no matter. Germany was still way scarier.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Just like spring is a season of colors, fall is all about smells and tastes. For those of you like myself whose lives already revolve around food, fall is perfect. And since I never got to experience this season growing up in a swamp, there isn't a crunchy leaf I leave untrod.

In Antwerp, I like fall because the cozy pubs finally fit in with the nasty weather (it was annoyingly perfect all summer). Because of the wind, rain and cold, Petra and I have declared winter already here and have started making hot wine for ourselves. More importantly, we buy bushels of exotic (at least to me) fruit at the weekend market...plums, dates, pomegranates, figs, and these giant Belgian nuts that I think are some kind of pecans. Not only that, I have eaten at least two proper steaks in the past week.

Other than eating as usual here, I was lucky enough to spend some time of the turn of season in Madrid, which this time of year is not as tropical as you might expect. But it is definitely more awesome than you might expect - thanks mostly to the company. But you know me - I'm going to talk about the food.

One distinctive taste of Madrid was that of Andres' dinosaur cookies (best when dipped into coffee). I hadn't tasted them since my childhood. Although I'm pretty sure it's a different brand in Spain, they are still the Best. Cookies. Ever. I was sad to learn that apparently in the US they are apparently now extinct!

My taste buds also remember the never ending plates of finger food - sausages, salami, cheese, croquettes and mini-hot dogs - from the standing only, working-class bar in the outskirts of the city. The amazing thing about this place was that if you buy a beer, the food is completely free. And it just keeps comin'. The catch? There wasn't one.

Andres told me that the owners were four childhood friends (now about 60) who had worked every day in shifts for the last twenty years as barmen together. Any time any one of them got a tip, a cheer went up from the crowd, the barman rang a bell and a stuffed parakeet started chirping. The mood was so loud and frenetic that I forgot to stop eating and gave myself a stomachache. Maybe that was the catch...

OK, I'm off now This post is making me kinda hungry.