Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pink Martini

To make art accessible to as many people as possible, free of elitism but without lowering standards - Victor Horta

Who needs a backstage pass when one and all are given the opportunity to be on stage with the musicians.  The night Pink Martini enchanted fans at the BOZAR in Brussels gave me a taste of something much more powerful than anything served at a bar.

The BOZAR, or Palais des Beaux-Arts, is a large unobtrusive art deco building created by Brussels most famous architect, Victor Horta.  If you’re a lover of the Humanities: Photography, Art, Architecture, Music, Literature, Theatre, and Dance, then you’re in for a treat.  This center successfully blends all elements under one roof, a natural fit for a band that embodies the above prerequisites.

This Portland, Oregon based ensemble serves up a heavy shot of cultural melodies.  In one magical night, tunes floated seamlessly through the air in French, German, Japanese, Spanish, English, and Turkish.  Not unlike their attire, the band was full of contradictions.  They’re sophisticated, yet playful.  A few are Ivy League graduates while others are scrappy, brilliantly self-taught musicians.  At times their sound is quiet and restrained, and then with a slight twist the audience is transported to the sounds of a Cuban beat that gives your feet a heartbeat. Those attending the concert were as varied as the band.  There were tailored silver haired gentlemen sipping wine along with youthful hipsters wearing t-shirts and jeans. The band’s creator and pianist, Thomas Lauderdale breezed by as the eclectic crowd sipped on pre-concert cocktails.  Resembling the boy superhero, Dash from The Incredibles, Mr. Lauderdale’s petite frame topped off with a streaked Mohawk, fluttered on air, so quick in his motion that no one noticed as he glided by.  Twenty minutes later he was on stage, along with eight other musicians and their dazzling lead vocalist, China Forbes.  The overhead chandelier in the Henry Le Boeuf Hall foreshadowed events.  An ornate gold and white, three tiered upside down wedding cake (or so it resembled), befitting of a group that would turn a subdued crowd into a party scene.  James Bond might affirm, these fans wanted to be shaken, not stirred.  

The band was dressed in elegant threads.  All of the males appeared as though they had strolled off the set of Men in Black: black suits, white button down shirts, and skinny black ties.  As Ms. Forbes waltzed onto the stage in her floor length black gown, a slit up to her thigh, and high heels that shimmered liked diamonds, the scene was complete. 
If pixie dust exists, I’d have to say the night Pink Martini graced the BOZAR, the stars aligned.  Throughout the night, in his genuinely clumsy broken French, Mr. Lauderdale liked to equate his energy to the ten cups of coffee he had enjoyed throughout the day.  His adrenaline was palatable.  And it came not from coffee consumption, but from the eager heartbeats seated before him.  The audience’s energy became a tangible element that Mr. Lauderdale consumed with one gleeful gulp.

You have to listen to this eclectic band in order to be transported. In one evening I escaped to six countries without ever leaving the comforts my red velvet seat.  During the two hour show, on three different occasions the audience was encouraged to go on stage and dance. Accessible to the crowd, just as their vast repertoire of lyrics and melodies would suggest, there were no barriers or boundaries.  

By the end of the night I was intoxicated with the lingering sweet elixir of the band. Who needs a drink, when you have Pink Martini?  Victor Horta’s vision still thrives within the Humanity filled walls of the BOZAR.  Cheers to accessible art, in all forms~

Friday, May 17, 2013

Paris & Popsicle Sticks

I have an idea possibly crazier than me for my 40th birthday.  My goal is to have 40 daydreamers join me for coffee in Paris!  Sounds like a tall order for such a vertically challenged individual, but it’s my goal nonetheless. I’m also economically challenged, so it will be 40 photo copied faces on Popsicle sticks that will actually accompany me for a cup of Joe in the “City of Light”.

I'm inviting you, the daydreamer to email an image of you or someone you might like to imagine in a Parisian Café (mom, sister, friend, husband, etc...).  I will then paste the image on a popsicle stick and bring it along with me in search of finding a picture perfect café to sit and sip. You will be emailed an image that will help your daydream become a little more tangible.  An image of us sipping coffee in Paris~

Life often interrupts our dreams: Money (or lack of), family commitments, work commitments, health, basically the realities of life.  Living in Belgium gives me wonderful access to Paris.  My gift to you and me is an experience to remember. 

I will only be able to commit to the first 40 responders.  My teeth can only take so many coffee stains! 

I hope someone, anyone responds.  If not, I’m left to believe there are no more daydreamers and my teeth will remain white (or, Mother of Pearl).

A café in Paris is waiting…. 


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Camping in Holland

My husband and I have always romanticized the idea of taking our family of six camping.  In youth, my mother always took my sister and me camping in the Ozark Mountains, an eight hour drive from our home.  All three helped pitch the tent; mom cooked on a two burner gas range.  Our fancy meals consisted of potato soup with spam and scrambled eggs with bread.  Entertainment was fishing, learning the art of skipping rocks, choosing sticks for roasting marshmallows, and walking to the showers. There were no cell phones or TV’s, just three girls and a tent (and, if we were lucky cousins). 

As much as I love these memories, modern day standards had crept into mindset: aching backs from sleeping on tree roots, no electricity, no toilets, cramped space with no wall for privacy.   So after searching for campgrounds in Europe, I found one that offered a glamorous option, cabins.  It was less than three hours from where we live and affordable.

Duinrell Park sits in an affluent neighborhood in Holland, Wassenaar.  As we drove down the sleepy tree lined boulevard leading up to the park I noticed how pedestrian friendly the area was, as paths could be seen from every direction.   The entrance seamlessly nestled into the suburban landscape (I wondered how the locals felt about this?).  After a quick check in, we were given keys to our home for the week, cabin 446.  

Two of our four kids resisted camping.  Even the upgraded cabin accommodations didn’t seem to smooth things over.  So it was a nice surprise when they walked in without rolling their little eyes.  They weren’t bubbling over with excitement, but I could tell they were curious and interested in this new mode of lodging.  Looking around, I felt guilty.  Not only did we have beds, we also had a coffee pot, dishwasher, and more guilt…a Senseo machine!  The cabin was roughly 450 square feet with three bedrooms, a bathroom with shower, and a living/dining room space.  The only hint of my yesteryear camping was the daily walk, not to the public bathrooms, but to the theme park that was attached.  

Living within a theme park was both beautiful and beastly, beautiful because the kids were in cotton candy heaven.  Sensory utopia usually equates to a more relaxed vacation for mom and dad.  The beast lurking was the sense of selling out.  What did my mom possess that wasn’t carried on into my DNA?  Why does it take a cabin and theme park to entertain my kids when it only took skipping rocks for me and my sister?  My thoughts were interrupted by a four year old eager to dash and discover the park just beyond our cabin door.

The park’s mascot is a cute green frog.  He looked jolly and happy, always giving me a smile and thumbs up, as if saying, “Really it’s okay you sold out, the kids are having a blast”.  And he was right; the kids really were having a good time.  They enjoyed the roller coasters, the bumper cars, and the indoor water park.  My four year old was the first to sniff the chlorine in the air.  In her words, “Mommy I smell swimming!”

Luckily the park closes daily at 5pm.  This means the evenings are left to read and play board games, well not quite.  Our small cabin also had a 17 inch TV, allowing us to watch episodes of Seinfeld.   

Our family’s best vacations entertain the girls while offering a few quiet moments for my husband and me.  In fact it had accomplished the above prerequisites, but I hadn’t expected the nostalgic memories of days gone by.  The simplicity of pitching a tent with my mom and sister and the beauty that came with those long walks to shower and wash dishes in the communal sinks…but then, I didn’t recognize those at the time.  If I asked my mother I’m sure she would remind me of all the complaining she had to bear on those camping trips.  How my sister and I would plead for her to take us to Silver Dollar City Theme Park.  Now that I think about it, I don’t think I was a fan of canned spam either. 

It’s funny how the mind and time changes a point of view. Like most things in life, it seems the treasure of the present isn’t discovered until long into the future.   The guilt I initially had with “selling out” was replaced when I noticed how happy the kids were.  Turns out living in the moment and appreciating the past are two wonderful gifts I discovered while camping in Duinrell Park.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cheers to the Unknown

It’s been almost two years since our family moved to another continent.  My husband and I attempted to challenge conventional wisdom.  The wisdom that says, “You’re middle aged, your oats should be sewn, move on and proceed with caution”. There were two mind sets when word got out that we were uprooting our four school-aged girls to live in Belgium. It was pretty black and white.  Many believed we were crazy.  Who in their right mind picks up at this stage in life to seek an adventure…with four kids!  We also had supporters.  Several friends and family members expressed how happy they were for us to expose our girls to life outside of our own backyard, to take a leap. 

The first year in Belgium was not a picnic.  For those that secretly hoped for our failure, you can rest assured, tears of frustration were shed. Could it have been the painstaking process of living out of a hotel room for the first 6 weeks with four kids?  Maybe it was the first water bill, a whopping $400. I can still see the landlord rolling his eyes, with his French accent saying, “Yes, Americans use a lot of water compared to us Belgians”.  As my mind continues to reflect back through the haze, literally haze, it rains almost daily, I’m reminded that my yearning to leave could have come the day I walked into our house and found a confused old man rummaging through our fridge.  He apparently had escaped the day prior from a retirement home for those with dementia.  After changing his catheter and neatly placing it into the trash, he then helped himself to an open can of Dr. Pepper.  If this wasn’t enough to send me running, we recently found ourselves in a divorce settlement (and no, not our own!).  It seems renters in Belgium are responsible for the debt settlement on property within a divorce.  We now pay a lawyer our rent, as opposed to our landlord.  So yes, for all of you quietly sitting back in the comfort of your suburban home thinking, “Let’s just watch this train wreck from across the ocean”, you’ll be happy to know, the train did crash.

A funny thing happened rolling into the second year.  I started to relax.  I laughed at myself for being so naive and ignorant.  I began to chuckle at the peculiar ways of this little country (really, we’re paying for a stranger's divorce settlement, nuts!).  My heart started to slow a few beats as I started to reflect on the challenges of everyday life in a foreign country. I began to remember how in my youth, I loved to be challenged.  When did this change, or had it?

I find the word challenge has recently been replaced with opportunities.  Opportunities to learn are at every corner.   If it weren’t for our astronomical water bill, I would not have realized how wonderful Belgians are with conserving water (and how wasteful I had been).  The high cost of a tank of gas was also an initial shock. Now that I’m paying $9 a gallon, I find myself learning once again.  Really, do I need to get in the car and drive just for something trivial like a bag of potato chips?  My family’s health has also improved since arriving.  My kids walk to school and my husband walks to work.  We walk everywhere! Another huge learning moment came from the lost man that found his way into our house.  When the Belgian police arrived, their first words were not of concern for our well-being, but “How lucky that you left your house unlocked, he would have died of dehydration.”   I chewed on that statement for a while, unsure whether I should be insulted by their lack of concern for our safety. Then my clouded visions began to clear, it’s so rare to hear of violent crimes in Belgium.  Petty crime yes, but anything other is almost unheard of. The officers that came to our house naturally assumed the old man was lost.  They saw no harm in the man coming into our unlocked house. He was cold, thirsty, and needed to change his catheter.  End of story.

We left the comforts of home hoping to show our daughters what exists beyond the back yard, but it turned out to be me that has much to learn.  Cheers to unlocked doors and uncertainties that lead to discovery...