29 June 2009

Brussels Brocanteurs

Here in Brussels we have a spacious apartment, in London, the inverse will be true. This necessitates getting rid of useless possessions and seldom-worn clothes (of which we have many), and turning them into other peoples treasures.

In Canada we would have a garage sale, or go to the flea market, but in Brussels, we were able to go to the alluring-sounding brocante, and become, for one fleeting 12 hour day, brocanteurs.

Defying the predictions of thunder and lightning we woke up before 7am Saturday morning, drove to the edge of town, and had just enough time to unload the car before rain started cascading down, soaking our possessions and the people who were rifling through them.

Fortunately, we undertook this endeavour with our friend Philippe. He is nice, and he is also French, which helped in those situations where a depth of language beyond shouting French numbers at looky-loos was required.

There were not alot of customers after that brief flurry, until we were able to peel back the plastic and reveal our treasures to the peoples.

A personal highlight came when the clouds parted and somebody played Axel F on an old stereo when I came back with cappucinos and croissants.

This lady spent all day hanging outside her window, watching the action.

In case you suspect that this event was not really an awesome festival of community fun and excitement for the whole family, I present to you two key pieces of evidence.

Street dancing

Fishing town: the funtruck

We didn't spend much time soaking up the fishing and dancing: we were too focused on product liquidation. The constant haggling we were engaged in was complicated by the tendency of our clientele to be fixated on the price of 'one euro' - no matter the object or objects for sale. (Unless you originally suggested 'one euro' to be a fair price, in which case they would fixate on '50 cents').

We have now experienced the frustration of unsuccessfully trying to convince somebody that two euros is not an unreasonable price to ask for the forty euro shirt they are obviously keen on.

We have now experienced the joy of selling an old plastic lanyard for 10 cents.

It was a day of highs and lows.

Chiara has quite reasonably decided that this is something we never ever do again. The positives we gained: a lessening of our stuff-load, some euros, the experience; they are not enough to lure her back.

Perversely I am preparing myself to re-enter the ring, with more stuff, bigger bargains, greater salesmanship, and become a Capital 'B' Brocanteur.

And maybe, next time, I can walk the other side of the street blanket, and just possibly, I will be able to find that once-in-a-lifetime bargain: something on the same plane of awesome as this knee-high Bruce Lee 'Enter the Dragon' statue.

The guy paid 10 euro for this. He did not visit our stuff-station.


26 June 2009

Free Album Downloads - 2 x Music!

Let me turn you onto some fresh new music so you can download them and put 'em into your boombox.

First, download Sick of Wasting... - the new Sage Francis mixtape.

Go to Ugsmag to get the download link. As a bonus you can read about the origins of each track. This isn't an album per se, it's a collection of unreleased material new and old.

If you dig it, and you probably will, go and order some stuff from his label Strange Famous Records.

If you're not familiar yet, I suggest bumping 'Strange Fame' the first track to get at his sense of humour - daily life raps of an underground superstar, with David Bowie samples.

Then check 'Conspiracy to Riot', which is right up there with the rest of his hyper-political work. I suggest tracking down 'Makeshift Patriot', written a month after those two planes crashed into the skyscrapers in New York on the eleventh of September in 2001, so you can hear what focused, articulate anger sounds like.

Another worthwhile download is the Cybersex sampler from Sub Pop. It's a diverse collection of music with tracks from Flight of the Conchords, Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine and more.

As a nostalgic bonus, the Cybersex webpage is laid out in the fashion of old school internet goodness, back when it was just scientists geeking out on their series of tubes.



25 June 2009

Terrible Thai Food - Mitra Brussels

Do you like Thai food?

Then I have an excellent recommendation for you.

Do NOT go to Mitra in Place St. Catherine, Brussels.

  • You like overpriced restaurants

  • You think a 1 out of 4 success rate regarding your servers accuracy with your tables' orders is pretty good

  • You think that a 50% satisfaction rate for your tables' meals is pretty good.

  • You enjoy having a cranky waitress with an inexhaustible supply of pained expressions
On the actual plus side the eclectic music selection, including Feist and Talib Kweli, was enjoyable. Too bad everything else sucked.

Why did we go? I can only say that on a Monday evening, there aren't alot of other options.

However, next time we're out on a Monday in the area and confronted with limited options, we'll go with Option B: 'Anywhere Else'.


Letter Home- Beyond the Fall

Dear All,

I've been slightly negligent in my implicit promise to stuff your inbox with group emails. But group emails are like haircuts and cleaning - less is more.

Anyway, it seemed time to report a couple of developments, though some of you already know. The main development is the fact that Chiara and I are getting the fuck out of Brussels.

Two and a half fairly enjoyable years in the Capital of Europe has left us professionally experienced, culturally ambivalent, and craving new ideas. That means a new city and new challenges. More specifically, that new city is London, and those new challenges are Masters Degrees, warm lager, and sky-high rents.

Here in Brussels I've had the opportunity to do alot of things: communications for a European agency, freelance copywriting, write an award-winning play (The Power Force!!) and a short film (now in post-production)... and some other pursuits that have led me to realize "I like writing, I'm pretty good at it - even earning money doing it. Maybe I'm on to something here."

But I'd like to get better at it. I'd like to go from being a part-time writer to being a Professional Writer. This is why I enrolled in the Professional Writing MA at London Met University.

Chiara has been having a parallel experience in the workworld (gaining good experience, but finding it unfulfilling) that has led her to an MA in International Law at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London.

So as of September 1 we will be located more or less full-time in London. For a number of reasons we will still keep our Belgian residency, but we've already found someone to rent our place, so this summer will be alot of selling, bagging, and boxing.

Otherwise... on Sunday I hosted an improv show starring students of a workshop I've been teaching, and it was awesome. The rush of performing is something I love and I'm looking forward to ingratiating myself into the London improv community, which seems large, varied, and full of drop-in workshops. I love teaching workshops and performing - and hopefully there will lots of opportunity for that in London - but also it's been far too long since I've been able to go and jam with improvisers. So right on to that opportunity.

This summer we've scaled back our holiday plans. They were focused on traveling many miles to attend important weddings and other events; now our summer plans consist of driving short distances to relax in thrifty comfort. This is to address two concerns: one is Chiara's health, which is, for anyone keeping score at home, a battle we're currently not winning. The second is acknowledging that moving to the most expensive city in the world will severely try our financial resources and appetite for instant noodles.

Regardless, we're hoping for some quiet time on the coast of Normandy in France. Travelling the short distance from Belgium this seems like a consolation prize holiday-wise, but we understand that the French coast is pretty amazing, and so we're not complaining.

I hope everyone is on the cusp of an exciting, relaxing, interesting, challenging, and sunny summer - if that's what you want. If you're planning to look us up beyond September I recommend trying London.

But first, send an email or give a call.

Much Love,
Ryan de Millarickx


22 June 2009

Impressive Improv: they nailed it!

My third 'Impromptu!' Brussels Beginners Improv Session (courtesy of the American Theatre Company) was again a success of which I'm very proud. I say 'again' because the two prior workshops were also very successful, but there was a special element to this one: disappointingly low enrollment.

In the end only 4 students completed the course. This could have been a Very Bad Thing, but was, in the end, a Great Thing.

I was concerned that low numbers might equal low energy and less enjoyment or Return On Investment (ROI), for both participants and instructor. 24 long and painful hours spread over two agonizing weekends.

On the contrary the laughs were plentiful from workshop start to showstopping finish, even while the learning curve was steep.

As an interesting sidenote: the depth of work I was able to do with such a small group was rewarding and eye-opening.

And last night, there was an outstanding improv show that featured hard work, well-earned laughs, and a cast full of flushed success. A decision was made to bolster the number of performers so we could have a great show - featuring the four participants but ably supported by some favorite folks - with a slight alleviation of the pressure. This also provided some very talented improvisers some sorely-lacking-in-Brussels improv stage time.

In the end the cast was the participants, plus 3/4 the cast of The Power Force, and the delightful Mason family, and hosted by me. If you weren't there, you missed out, and if you were there, you laughed until beer came out your nose. Thanks again everybody.


18 June 2009

The Superiority of Giant Bear


Mankind is a species most remarkable - there is no disputing that. From the successive inventions of fire, the wheel, sliced bread and skytrains, civilization's inexorable march of progress through history has been unprecendented in the whole of the entire universe.

Giant satelite dishes in backyards and on rooftops bear silent testament to man's thirst for knowledge and television. Olympic gold medals, MVP trophies, and bungee jumps flaunt man's will to adventure and physical prowess.

Yes, even while climate change, overfishing and disease threaten to threaten the very survival of the species, you cannot doubt the indomitable spirit of man.

When in competition with nature, most often it is man who emerges with victory clenched tenaciously in his human jaws.

However, the competition isn't always mankind vs nature. Sometimes it is just man vs nature, or even more specifically, a man vs a bear. And, (spoiler alert) if it is a contest of eating, bear will win.

Even if the man is Kobayashi, the greatest eater in the history of competitive eating. Always, but always, bet on the giant bear.


17 June 2009

Office Management Lingo Bingo


Office drudgery got you down? Mired in the doldrums of humdrum banality? Maybe you need a peptalk from a motivational-minded manager. Something like this:

"Alright, it's blue sky thinking time. We need to quit trying to stuff ten pounds of crap into a five pound sack. The right approach isn't ready, fire, aim... we've got to eat this elephant one bite at a time! The fact is: 9 women can't make a baby in 1 month!

"So, I want us to be proactive, not reactive. Let's push the envelope outside the box so we can fast track this thing right to bed."

Cries of protest.

"Everyone, please, for the love of lunch... don't try to backpedal around the roses. I'm going to push back on all this dipsy-doodle, I'm tired of trying to herd cats."

Awkward silence.

"C'mon team! Put on your thinking caps and go that extra mile. I don't think I need to beat anyone over the head with a clue by four. It's obvious: we need to move the goal posts! We're not trying to boil the ocean here."

Meaningful pause.

"Thank you Sam. That is a great idea. Did everybody hear that? We are going to develop a metric to benchmark the skill sets. The triple bottom line here is synergy! I want to tick all the boxes."

"Ali, you take point on this tiger team. Let's touch base on the game plan tomorrow. Get outta here."

Has the buzzword heavy scenario above got you all psyched up? Then take it one step further and play Lingo Bingo.

Print out a list at Potfire, Sippey, or Hobotraveler and bring it to your next meeting. When you hear 5 buzzwords you get to shout BINGO! Go on, give it a try.

This jargon drive actually originates not from my office, but from my improv workshop on the weekend. The last thing we did on Sunday was play a game called Slide Show. I hosted and the participants were the characters in my slides. The suggestion was a trip to New York.

The host-character was an asshole executive talking about a very impressive business trip. The self-important blather and condescending attitude were a whole lot of fun to play.

Quite frankly, I like this character. He just needs to learn how to talk the talk of a self-aggrandizing, buzzword-happy hotshot. Fortunately there are so many resources out there to help this fictive character (and myself, and you) develop into a competent jargon-user.

Improv workshop was great, by the way. We were six participants, all told, and we got from Point A to Point C. With alot of laughs along the way. I'm looking forward to next week. Including Sunday night show! I think it will be a strategic fit. Leverage! Synergy! Crunchtime!


16 June 2009

Deadline: post-its (video)

Post-it notes are so useful. For writing notes and sticking that note to things or people, but also oh so much more.

Check the brilliant stop motion video by Bang-yao Liu and co. Concept, execution, and three months of planning coming together for 2 minutes of awesome.

Thanks Mental Floss for the link (also check out the making of video).


12 June 2009

Improv weekend- small group, big times

This weekend I embark again on the spiritual journey that is teaching improv to beginners. The ATC is sponsoring my third - and last (as a Brussels resident) - Impromptu Workshop.

In an interesting turn of events, my workshop series, begun in Rome and now going through a third Brussels run-out, has a small group of participants. The first few times there had been a large waitlist on top of the dozen attendees, but due to (I suspect and hope) the short span of publicity this set should have between 7 and 8. And to get this number I've had to more flexible on attenance than I've been in the past.

The number difference (3 or 4) might not seem like alot, but the shift in the group dynamic will be significant.

Smaller group means more work for everybody, less anonymity, less mobbishness, and we can take more time on some elements, and slow some bits down, pick things apart... more so than we have in the past.

A couple of weekends ago I taught a 1.5hr workshop to 21 people. That was wild, unwieldy, and a lot of fun. This weekend we move to the other end of the spectrum.


New! Element 112

A new super-heavy element is being added to the periodic table thus rendering your old periodic table embarrassingly outdated.

According to the CBC, The element is created by "firing charged zinc atoms at lead atoms with a particle accelerator. The nuclei of the two atoms merged and immediately begin to decay."

As yet, there is no name for the element - which will be the heaviest element on the table, but can only exist for a fraction of a second before splitting up into radioactive waste.

Depending on which awesome aspect of the element you want to empasize, I've got a couple of suggestions:

  • Decaynium
  • Megamassogen

    Or if you want to get into the implications of the (brief) existence and rapid radioactive deterioration of this element:

  • Celebdivorcinium

    Or, if you just like that science does stuff just because it can do stuff:

  • Unnecessaron

    Good luck trying to christen this thing, science!

    P.S. If you like Awesome Periodic Tables, check out the Periodic Table of Awesomements.

  •

    10 June 2009

    A million words!?


    The millionth word in the English language is... get ready for it...

    "Web 2.0."

    Global Language Monitor, the company making this claim, is run by the dubiously monikered Paul JJ Payack. Reuters goes more into detail about the hype and controversy.

    I for one, can't splink why a word as crumpulent as Web 2.0 would be quindled into dictionaries in a manner as ribbled as this.

    Frankly, it smells like, at best a skiddly attempt to snoozle the profile of this beflidged company, and at worst, outright kriggery.

    I guess bling-bling, jiggy, and googling are already accepted, and other less cringeworthy neologisms, are not yet plufted enough to be considered.

    Are language purists purpling with ginchiness? You betcha!

    Neologists unite, onward to 2 million!!


    Two line-ups, zero flying pigs


    I spent all morning in line-ups yesterday. Actually, the first part of the morning I spent in traffic, the part right after that I spent looking for parking, and then the rest of the morning I spent in two different but related line-ups.

    My initial lining up bore fruit, as I was given a pink ticket to take to the line-up across the hall.

    There I lined up for about twenty minutes, took a 45 minute line-up break to go up the street for a muffin and coffee (I had the ticket, remember?), and then came back to line-up for another 30 minutes.

    I got alot of reading done; that was a great way to pass the time, but still, I couldn't help but wish for Flying Pig, the Kids in the Hall sketch character who visits me in my memory every time I line up. Just the thought of Flying Pig can cheer any line, but as of yet, he has never visited me in real life, no matter how long the line up is. I'll keep hoping and remembering.


    03 June 2009

    Tales of the Mundane: Waking up

    Waking Up: Part I: Waking up

    I woke up. The alarm had not gone off yet. This was not that unusual, sometimes it can happen up to two times a night. What was unusual was the timing - the clock face read 07:37, and the alarm was set for 07:38. That is: the alarm was scheduled to go off in precisely one minute. I barely had time to comprehend the implications of my internal clock being so closely aligned with, yet slightly in advance of, the actual alarm clock, when the alarm went off.

    I pressed the pressable face, silencing its digital beep. The beep is the perfect alarm noise: not jarring or unpleasant (or alarming), but definitely worth getting up for. So I did.

    I sat up and turned to gaze at my wife. She was sleeping. With an effort neither Herculean nor particularly agile I clambered over my wife, out of our bed, and stood up.

    Mild aches and pains coursed gently through my unbelievably muscular body. I had played football the night before and that activity involves alot of running. And kicking. Whenever I do alot of running and kicking you can be sure of at least two things: I will get sweaty, and I will wake up with sore muscles.

    I thought about showering, but then remembered I had showered last night after football, I would not shower this particular morning.

    Instead I got dressed. Bottom-half first. This includes both jeans and boxers - though not in that order. That would be silly.

    Morning is not a time for silliness, it is a time for dread as you prepare for the long day of boredom and disappointment that stands dauntingly before you. Or, if you are of a more positive mindset: a kind of laissez-faire, "Meh, fuck it all over again," attitude.

    Waking Up: Part II: To the bathroom!

    Next I went to the bathroom to apply some deodorant. The bathroom is right next to the bedroom, so I was there in no time flat. I have a new fancy deodorant that I received as a gift from my Brother-in-Law. It smells so nice I started using it almost immediately.

    However I recently discovered that I had not yet finished my old deodorant, thus leaving me with two deodorants on the go. This is unnecessary; while I cherish freedom of choice, I am still at heart, a simple man. My brand of simplicity is the brand of a man who needs only one deodorant in the morning.

    Thus, I opted to use the old almost-finished deodorant, and applied it extra-liberally, so I could be rid of it all the sooner, and rid my morning routine of this unnecessary double-deodorant complication.

    The next stop this morning would be down the stairs: the kitchen. Where we keep the food. Quietly I descended, while buttoning my nearly wrinkle-free, office-suitable shirt.

    Waking Up: Part III: Kitchen Party

    As usual, I had only one task to accomplish in the kitchen this morning: lunch preparation. Often it consists of making a sandwich for my wife, and/or one for each of us. This morning I vowed to make her a sandwich that would not have tomatoes on it.

    Nearly one year on, I've learned that marriage is a series of compromises. One example that springs readily to mind is the example of tomato on a sandwich. I like tomato on a sandwich - not all - but certainly most - sandwiches can be improved by the addition of some tomato. My wife disagrees.

    We were at loggerheads on this issue, until I learned a valuable lesson.

    "No matter how much you personally believe the taste of a sandwich would be improved by the addition of sliced tomato, do not put tomato on your wife's sandwich. She does not like it."

    But sometimes, in my singleminded focus on designing and delivering the ultimate in nutritious and well-rounded sandwich, I lose sight of this lesson. Such is my dedication to sandwichcraft.

    However, this particular morning I applied the lesson as surely as I applied mustard, lettuce, avocado and cheese to the slices of bread; though I felt a twinge of guilt, as I knew my actions were in direct defiance of the deliciousness of the tomatoes in the fridge.

    So be it.

    It was done, and that is the crux. And wrapped in tinfoil, that is the preservation means. And left on the counter, to the left of the banana, where my wife was sure to find her tomato-less lunchprize. The banana was also part of her lunch. Lunchprizes, then.

    Waking Up: Part IV: Back to basics

    My morning routine inevitably involves a trip back up our steps to the floor containing the bathroom, both bedrooms, all my clothes, and my wife. Depending on the day this second pass can involve getting socks, a belt, a sweater, brushing my teeth, kissing my wife, grabbing a book, grabbing my wife, or some combination of the above.

    This day it was sweater and a kiss. As it turns out, the weather warmed up later in the day, and I ended up carrying the burdensome sweater in my bag like an albatross around my neck. But the kiss I gave to my still sleeping wife was pretty nice, if unreciprocated.




    Yes. I know the whole point is to take it easy, but I can't help but get excited and even passionate, about the way Dudeism clarifies The Dudist philosophy into a coherent and admirable faith. Worldview, even, in the parlance of our times.

    As the website says, Dudeism "really ties your life together."

    How much do I abide by this religion?

    Click through and find out.


    02 June 2009

    Belgian Weightlifting


    Very little about Belgium makes sense. Most of the time this defiance of logic is aggravating.

    However, sometimes the things in Belgium that do not make sense are so ridiculous that they transcend any approximation of sense-making and become an unintentionally sublime situationist spectacle.

    I'm referring, of course, to Belgian Weightlifting.

    On 17 May 2009 Belgium held its National Bodybuilding Finals in Vlissingen, Netherlands (to avoid the buzzkill that is 'steroid testing', natch).

    Try and imagine, if you will, twenty outrageously muscled bodybuilders in their tiny speedos, standing in front of the mirror and applying muscle cream, bronzer, and hair gel.

    In the audience the judges and spectators are swapping notes, and buying XXXL souvenir t-shirts, eagerly anticipating the parade of oily, freakishly built manbeasts. Def Leppard Hysteria is playing quietly in the background.

    Suddenly - despite the organizers' having moved the event across the Dutch border to avoid just such an occurence - three Belgian doping officials show up and introduce themselves to the field of competitors.

    Cue a mass stampede for the exit, as every single participant runs out of the event, into the streets. Every. Single. One. This sudden lack of entrants naturally forced the cancellation of the event.

    According to the ESPN website, doping official Hans Cooman had this to say, "I have never seen anything like it and hope never to see anything like it again." Well, alright, Hans, I guess not. But I sure would!

    Of course this travesty is a blight on the world of weightlifting and bodybuilding, and even sports in general. But more importantly, it is also hilarious.

    So thank you Belgium, for again refusing to be bound by what may be considered good sense - for defying the rules en masse, and unintentionally creating a spectacle that I imagine was as enjoyable on the day as it was to read about afterwards.

    Thank you particularly to every member of that Belgian weightlifter stampede. Thank you for enhancing your physical attributes to such an extent that, while it may have prevented you from competing for the title of Bodybuilding Champ, it did enable you to escape from three paper-pushing bureaucrats, and run free in the wilds of Holland.

    Go Belgium!