Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Changes ... I could have done without

I don't know whether there is still someone out there reading my blog? After all, I haven't been a very loyal contributor lately.

A lot has happened since my last post. On a national level, Belgium is slowly recovering from the March 22nd attacks. Life is more or less back to normal with all undergound/metro stations open and operational again (even Maalbeek, where a bomb killed and injured a great many people). Brussels airport is running at 80% of its normal capacity - 70,000 people on Ascension Day! Part of the departure hall is still under reconstruction though.

A photo from happier times. Almost a year ago I was about to set out on my Corfu adventure.
These are the three palm trees that grow near the entrance gate of the hotel.

On a personal level, disturbing events have been popping up as regular as clockwork. First of all there are the sleepless nights due to my noisy neighbours. Asking them kindly to keep the noise down after 10 p.m. only have a 24 hour effect ...

Next, beginning of April, I learnt that my cleaning lady, who has been coming in every fortnight for the last 15 years, has a serious heart condition and is not allowed to work anymore. Finding a new cleaning aid, whom one can trust, is not easy. So I have taken it upon me to keep the apartment spic&span ... for the time being. I'm considering the purchase of a cleaning robot. If you have any experience with this clever device, please let me know whether it is worth the investment.

Next, the situation at the office is very tense, with rumours of letting off over 1,000 people over the next 12 or 18 months. With my early retirement file still going through the required procedure, I hope they won't change their mind and put me on the redundancy list after all. 

Next, my mother's cousin - the last relative living nearby - is selling her house and will be moving before the end of summer ... another familiar face and figure from the past moving away.

Finally, I learnt today that my mother has skin cancer. Nothing life threatening in the immediate future, but I'm not sure that her frail health and advanced age (she'll be 88 in August) are up to the treatment (surgery and after-treatment, including ???). Her physician, whom I've never trusted, insists. I told him not to spring the news on my mother himself. I want to tell her and discuss the options with her, taking into account the risks and the consequences ... especially on her moral and general well-being. I want it to be her decision, not his, nor mine.

To end on a happy note: I've planned a short trip to the Belgian coast in a few weeks time. I hope that by then things will look brighter and that some, if not, all of these issues will be partly solved or have taken a turn for the better.

Monday, 4 April 2016

A fitting new start and tribute

Yesterday, Sunday April 3rd, 12 days after the deadly explosions at Brussels airport, the first commercial flight since the attacks took off from the damaged airport. A temporary departure hall has been erected. Its capacity is limited to 800 passengers per hour. Peanuts compared to the airport's normal capacity, but at least the airport is rising from its ashes.

Yesterday's re-opening was more symbolic than operational, with only 3 planes taking off in the afternoon and returning to home base in the evening. All three of them were Brussels airlines planes. The first one took off shortly before 2 p.m..It's destination: Faro in Portugal. The airbus had 85 passengers on board which is approximately 50% of its capacity depending of the model and the interior configuration.

I was lucky to see it climbing towards the sky from my mother's flat window. I was too late to shoot a photo. So you'll have to make-do with the one below, which I borrowed from the '' website. It was breathtaking and very moving. Moreover, they used the 'new' Magritte theme plane that had been presented to the press and the world only a few days before the murdering attacks.

A fitting tribute to one of Belgium's greatest surrealist artists. 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' - remember. There was a time that one of Magritte's paintings adorned the tale wing of the Sabena air fleet as part of the company's logo, before it went bankrupt in 2001 due to mismanagement by its partner Swissair.  

Google images

Today 54 flights are scheduled, and according to the new's sites, everything is going according to plan. Tomorrow there will be even more flights, with other foreign companies  serving their slots again. The damaged departure hall is under renovation. Teams are working day and night to have everything ready for the summer exodus. In the meantime you can't get into the airport without a ticket, a valid identity piece and a thorough security check. There are several identity checks, even on the road leading towards the terminal. I think taking a plane has never been safer.

The airport will be rebuild, planes will continue taking off and landing ... but the shock, the pain and the loss of so many innocent lives and the suffering of their next of kin and of those who got badly injured and who will bear the scars for the rest of their lives will be engraved in our hearts and minds for ever. 

And this also goes for the victims killed or injured at the Maelbeek metro station. Trains are using the line, but they don't stop at the station yet. The premises have been declared stable by the engineers and the rails have not been damaged, but it'll also take weeks before the underground will be opened again to the public. 

P.S.update:I just noticed that this is my 1,000th post! I' m dedicating it to all the victims and their families.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

First Paris - now Brussels

In November 2015 I was at home when terror struck the city of Paris. It was horrible ... Next came the lockdown of Brussels. My employer asked us to work from home. Metro, train stations ... everything was closed. There were soldiers everywhere. Brussels was like a city under siege. Yet, we never felt that the terror was close by.

However, just over 48 hours ago, the terror became real. National security services had been expecting an attack, but they had no idea of when or where it would strike.

On Tuesday March 22nd I went to the office as usual. I left home at 6.20 a.m. and arrived at our office on the outskirts of Brussels little before 7. a.m. I had my usual breakfast from the office 'bar': a freshly made smoothie and a 'pain au chocolat' 'still warm from the oven, Mmmmm - yummy ... My colleagues started arriving one by one. The main subject of conversation was the stress we are all under due to a budget cut, resulting in not keeping temporary extra forces on for the next year. An ordinary day so far ...

Around 8.15 C. arrived and said that she had heard on the car radio that there had been two explosions at Brussels airport. Immediately all people present surfed to the websites of our national broadcasting company and newspapers. They all confirmed what C. had said. Then the first photos appeared on the internet and an hour later the news of a bomb explosion in the metro at Maalbeek station.

Although we were far from the scenes of terror, nobody was able to work, surfing the internet for the latest information, distracted by the constant noise of police and ambulance sirens that flashed by our office building. Everybody was longing to get home as fast as possible. However, people using public transport soon learnt that there were no buses, trams, metros or trains running. For those of us who come by car, we were instructed not to leave the building. The message was: You are safe inside. Don't go out!

Being a member of the marketing and communication department, I was drafted around 1 p.m. to prepare the 'crisis' communication to our clients (B2B) and end-users. There were newsletters to be written and posted on the extranet and internet. There was to be an update every hour. It all became very hectic and although we were never in any physical danger, adrenaline levels have never been higher!

By 4 p.m. we had sent out three messages informing our clients about our modus operandi for the next 48 hours. At 3 p.m. the news had come that we were allowed to go home, asking people with cars to organize a carpooling system for those who had come by public transport. I offered a ride to a colleague who lives in Limburg. It wouldn't take her home, but at least she would be out of Brussels and get a train from Leuven to her hometown.

I left shortly after 4 p.m. The roads were unusually empty but the few people on the road drove like crazy. You could feel the stress just by watching them clutching their steering wheel and taking unnecessary risks.

When I got home 30 minutes later, I was exhausted. The adrenaline had stopped working. I served myself a cool beer, sank into my couch and watched the horror on TV. Final toll (so far): 31 killed and over 250 injured, 17 of which are in critical condition.

A colleague of ours (I don't know him personally) was in the metro when the bomb exploded at Maalbeek. He is badly burned and is kept in an artificial coma. Although his life is not in danger, it is hard to live with these facts ...

P.S. Thank you all for your kind comments and emails. I'll get back to you later. Right now I just don't have the energy.