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    February 28th, 2013EuropasionariaLife

    facebook-profileToday is Rare Disease Day. I saved the date months ago and thought I absolutely needed to write a post on that day. A relative of mine suffers from one of these diseases. A blogpost is not much. Just a little message in a bottle thrown into the sea hoping it’ll change things. A little. At my level. My way.

    This person who I care so much for suffers from a disease with a rather ugly name: Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). A warning before I start explaining what it is: I am not a doctor hence what I will say about the disease might not be totally accurate. The fact that there is so little information about this disease does not help describing it correctly either. Causes are unknown and so is the cure.

    How does one find out about this disease? First doctors diagnose Parkison’s disease since MSA symptoms are quite similar at first sight. Patients can have a number of symptoms but usually not all of them at the same time. This person I care so much for does not have tremor, one of the well known symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It all started by a frog in the throat, a tendency to write really small characters, and balance problems… after seeing several doctors, the diagnosis was made: PARKINSON. Two years later, since the medicine that usually helps control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease did not work, the diagnosis was revised. It was MSA.

    MSA is a neuro-degenerative disease (another ugly name). It damages certain parts of the brain, which progressively deteriorates the ability to move and to speak, amongst other symptoms. Within 5 years of the diagnosis, half of the patients need to use a wheelchair.

    But it is a rare disease. This means there is little information available and not much research is done on it. When facing this disease, you feel powerless. You want to help out but you don’t know how. You discover all the flaws of the system. And you don’t know which one should be tackled first. What can I do? A blogpost? A couple of tweets? How frustrating.

    I found out that the UK Multiple System Atrophy Trust is quite active. March will be MSA Awareness Month. You can support the movement by adding a little logo to your Facebook and Twitter profile pictures. It’s simple; take a look. Are you going to help me then? I know that since it is a rare disease you are probably not concerned by it so why would you add a badge on your profile pictures? I understand. Today I’ve already thrown a few messages in a bottle into the sea by posting messages on Facebook and Twitter. Nobody relayed the message. You might not be directly affected by the disease but you have read this post until the end. Just a couple more clicks and you’ll get my ever-lasting gratitude. This way please. Thanks.

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    February 20th, 2012EuropasionariaBrussels, Europe, Life

    Like many expats, Brussels was not a choice of love but one of reason. I came here for work. I had tried first to find a job in which I would combine my passions for Europe and for politics in Amsterdam, a city I fell madly in love with at first sight. But there was no job for me there. I tried in Paris too but it also turned out unsuccessful. I didn’t want to work in the Euro-bubble of Brussels because I thought Europe should be everywhere. Being surrounded by people who live and breathe Europe didn’t seem to be the best way to give a push forward to Europe and be its advocate. I wanted to spread the word to the world. I wanted to share my love for Europe with people who wouldn’t have a clear idea of what it consists in. But I also wanted to live from this passion. That’s how I ended up in Brussels. I’ve been here for six years now.

    The mess

    © Frederic della Faille

    At first, Brussels drove me crazy. Nothing worked. The general mess exasperated me. But little by little, I found those little flaws endearing and funny. I like this chaos now because it’s always surprising. When Parisians visit me in my lovely Brussels and I see them getting upset à la parisienne at the malfunctioning of the city, it makes me smile. I tell them then: “welcome to Brussels”, with a big smile on my face, tell them not to be bothered, to relax, and to cheer and enjoy. Brussels is surreal. It’s part of its charm.

    A beauty to discover

    © Geert Schneider

    After a year and a half, I understood I was here to stay. I had explored the city. Even if it didn’t have the stunning beauty of Paris or the simple beauty of Amsterdam, it was beautiful too. Brussels’s beauty is full of flaws and surprises. For who knows how to look, Brussels contains a flock of hidden treasures. For example, on a sunny day, you look up and notice this gorgeous little art nouveau house, which you’ve passed by every day but never paid attention to.

    A capital-village

    © Marc Delforge

    I like the capital-village aspect of Brussels. Human-sized capital, Brussels has the best of both worlds: big enough so as never to be bored but small enough not to feel dehumanised by the anonymity of big cities. When I go out in Brussels, I always meet people I know, but not too many –that would be smothering- just enough to feel warm.

    European laboratory

    © David Kenny

    During a single night in Brussels, I can use the four languages I speak, a delight for language lovers. And being able to make plans on how to save the world around a beer with Greeks, Brits, Spanish, Italians, Poles, and Germans, is one of the most beautiful adventures one can experience. It happens to me every day.

    Brussels and I had been living together for three years when one day it stroke me. It was a beautiful day and I told myself that I liked this city more and more. Since then, I often get this feeling. I look up, notice a lovely little detail that I had so far ignored, I take a deep breath of humid air, and tell her: Brussels, every day that goes by I love you more and more.

    Did you like this post? You might also like Paris, je t’aime… moi non plus

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    July 22nd, 2011EuropasionariaEurope, Life

    22 July 2011. I’m in Brussels. Tweets of Norwegian friends inform me that a bomb has exploded in the centre of Oslo. Another tweet from them later informs me that there’s also been a shooting at the Norwegian Labour party youth conference.  At this stage, we still don’t know what happened exactly. As I watch the news giving more details about the events, I feel a mix of anger and despair. I know this feeling too well.

    25 July 1995. I’m in Paris. I hear there have been bombs in the busiest metro station of Paris. My family and I are aghast. My aunt commutes through this station to go to work. She was fine. Since then, seeing armed soldiers in the Parisian metro’s corridors has become usual. But I never got used to it.

    11 September 2001. I’m in a car with my father somewhere between Grenoble and Paris. He’s just helped me find an apartment in Grenoble where I’m about to move. It’s around 2pm. We hear on the radio that a plane has crashed in one of the Twin towers in New York. Analysts say that’s when the 21st century really started, just as WWI was the real beginning of the 20th century.

    11 March 2004. I’m living in Amsterdam in a shared flat with 12 other people. 8 of them are Spanish. I look at their mortified faces as they watch the Spanish national television relate the bomb attacks in trains close to Madrid.

    7 July 2005. I’m still in Amsterdam. It’s early. I get out of bed, turn on the TV and soon realise there’s been bomb attacks in the London Tube. My boyfriend is still asleep. One of my best friends lives in London.

    We all remember where we were during these events. I always get the same weird confused sensation: a mix of incomprehension, helplessness and pessimism for the future of humanity. I try to avoid anger. Violence begets violence. And violence is never a solution.


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    March 15th, 2011EuropasionariaBrussels, Life

    I’ve been quite silent on this blog in the past two months… This is because I’ve moved from one commune of Brussels, Etterbeek, to another commune of Brussels, Ixelles. In Paris the town’s districts have numbers; in Brussels they have names. Where it gets complicated is that there is a Brussels commune called Brussels. It’s Brussels, Brussels, the oldest district of the city. It’s tiny. All around it, the communes have different names. I am now a proud inhabitant of Ixelles, Brussels, where you can find some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings.

    9 & 11 rue Vilain XIIII © Fonk/Twitter


    Finding a place in Brussels is not that difficult … but a move is a BIG DEAL. You’ve got to find boxes, kind friends to carry them, a moving van, a driver, sign all kinds of paper at the bank, cancel your Internet subscription – which took me half an hour over the phone, find a new Internet provider – it took me a month to get the connection active, terminate your current renting agreement, clean up the mess that’s kept on growing in your old place for years, buy furniture, assemble your furniture, tell the various organisations and institutions that still like to send you post mail that you’ve moved, go register at your new commune, etc, etc, etc… as my favourite online cartoon Hyperbole and a Half put it, you kind of feel like that every day for two months: “I did three things yesterday! Now I’m supposed to keep doing things? It’s like the things never end!”

    To make a long story short, I’ve been busy preparing my move for a month, and I’ve been Internet-less since then. Tough for a blogger. The good news is: I should finally get the Internet tomorrow. Hurrayyy!


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    January 16th, 2011EuropasionariaLife

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    January 4th, 2011EuropasionariaLife

    This is an incredibly motivating video and all of that in only 1:18 minutes.

    I’ve found it on Céline Camoun‘s blog, which I’ve just discovered and that I highly recommend!

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    December 28th, 2010EuropasionariaBrussels, France, Life

    ©John Brody

    I was born and raised in Paris. I speak Paris slang called “verlan”, which consists of putting word syllables upside down. I have a Parisian accent. I swear and grumble a lot. I am an intellectual; I can talk about politics and films all night long. I could find my way in the underground blindfolded. Yet I have trouble doing so outside. I am a feminine feminist. I’ve never really gotten rid of my bad smoking habit. In short, I am a true Parisian, genuine produce of the city of lights.

    As any Parisian, I have a love and hate relationship with my city. I left when I was 22 because I couldn’t take it anymore. Paris was too much for me. Now every time I come back I feel like a tourist in my own city. The beauty of it amazes me.

    I live in Brussels in the expat community. When you meet someone there, the first question you are asked is always: “Where do you come from?” I used to respond: “from France.” But as this answer is always followed by “Where in France?” now I’m taking a short cut and respond directly to the first question: “From Paris.” The mention of Paris always has the same effect on the person I’m talking to. Shiny stars appear in their eyes and they ask me filled with wonder: “Don’t you miss it? Paris is such a great city!” With a typical “been there, done that” Parisian look on my face I usually say: “No. Actually I’m not really fond of Paris”. And each time, it makes me feel as if I was telling a child that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

    But I’ve evolved over the years. There are things I love about Paris and things I dislike. So I thought I would make a list.

    Things I love about Paris:

    • Shops that open late
    • Butcher’s shops, bakeries and cheese sellers at every street corner
    • The old Parisians known as “titis parisiens”
    • The markets you find every 5 minute-walk
    • Food is a religion
    • Asian restaurants that are both good and cheap
    • Waiters. I know they have a bad reputation. But they don’t behave the same with tourists as they do with Parisians. Being a waiter in Paris is more than a job; it’s a career. Their professionalism always astounds me. Besides they always make funny jokes. I love them.
    • Parisian waiters calling me Mademoiselle
    • Politico-philosophical discussions until the end of the night
    • The city’s harmony, the beauty of its architecture, illuminations
    • Cultural diversity
    • Department stores’ windows at Christmas time (see video below)
    • Public bikes
    • The Eiffel tower by day
    • The Eiffel tower by night

    Things I dislike about Paris:

    • The snobbery of some Parisians who think Paris is the best city in the world although they have never lived in another city
    • How very French every conversation is, the ignorance of anything that takes place outside of Paris, be it in the rest of France or in the rest of the world
    • Sky-high housing costs
    • The underground. I don’t know why but it seems it’s always pick hour in the Parisian underground.
    • Hours lost commuting
    • Cars and their constant traffic
    • The underlying violence in the air. As soon as I get out of the Thalys at Gare du Nord I can feel it. It’s ineffable. Something is in the air. People are frustrated and unhappy. As a woman I don’t feel safe walking around on my own at night in Paris.
    • Going out is expensive. I remember a night out in a trendy club a few years ago. Entrance was 12 Euros. Nothing outrageous. Then I ordered two bottles of Heineken: 14 Euros. Ouch. In these conditions, what do young Parisians do to have fun? They throw dinners and parties in their own apartments. As a result, they only meet people like them and Parisians function in tribes.
    • The noise, the shops at every building, the crowd, the lights everywhere. Too much of it all.

    But I like Paris. I even like the Parisians. Yet sometimes I dislike Paris… and especially the Parisians. A friend sent me a test on Facebook: “Test your relationship with Paris. Paris and you, where do you stand? According to the test, it’s perfect love between Paris and me. Who would have thought?

    Here’s a piece of Paris wonders, the animated Christmas windows of the most emblematic Parisian department stores:

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    December 26th, 2010EuropasionariaFrance, Life

    What’s that like? Well, it’s pretty much about eating as many delicacies as you can, which on second thought is probably Christmas purpose in any country. We started our Christmas lunch at around 3 pm (my father’s Spanish influence) and ended at 6 pm. Three hours – eight dishes.

    It could have been worse. We skipped the apéritif, this social moment that takes place before the meal and is real cult in France. We usually have one or two drinks and lots of snacks. Needless to say, kids are already stuffed by then and adults are… well, slightly intoxicated already. But that’s just the beginning of the gourmet marathon.


    © rc!

    Traditional French Christmas starters include sea food platters –oysters, shrimps, crabs and all kinds of seashells, smoked salmon on buttered toasts, and of course foie gras! We couldn’t set our mind on one starter only so we decided not to choose and in the end we had four: shrimps with some garlic mayonnaise from the South called aïoli, smoked salmon with toasts spread with butter, foie gras with toasted brioche bread, and… snails, cooked in the oven in their shells filled with butter, garlic and parsley.

    Le plat principal

    © Guinea Fowl Flock

    Then comes the main dish.

    Turkey is not very traditional in France for Christmas. We usually prefer more rustic birds such as goose, guinea fowl or capon, a castrated rooster that gets very fat.

    Gourmet as we are, we opted for a capon guinea fowl served with chestnuts, cooked in the beast’s juice with wild mushrooms known as chanterelle.


    Fromage et salade

    © Monica Arellano-Ongpin

    A real French meal never comes without a tray of various stinky cheeses. We had Sainte-Maure, very savoury goat cheese from Touraine, my mother’s region –actually my grandmother used to do it herself back in the day- creamy Reblochon from Savoie, and Saint-Nectaire from Auvergne. Originally there should have been my all times favourite the Morbier but the fromager forgot to put it in my bag (I didn’t pay for it though).

    These wonderful cheeses were of course served with a simple green salad with a vinaigrette dressing. That’s supposed to help you digest all you’ve ingested so far, and allow you to make room for the dessert.

    Le dessert

    © romkey

    Traditionally a French Christmas meal ends with a log-shaped cake called bûche, which is French for “log”. It’s a spongy cake with butter cream. It’s heavy and no one likes it but we still keep on having it at Christmas.

    But it’s true it looks pretty and very Christmassy.

    In my family we prefer to have a log-shaped ice cream, much lighter at the end of such a heavy meal. Of course the dessert is served with Champagne.

    Café et digestifs

    © Petitlouis

    Coffee is served.

    That’s also a last opportunity to eat more for the bravest.

    There are usually chocolates, marrons glacés – chestnuts cooked in sugar – and fruits confits – fruits cooked in sugar – circulating around. Cognac and Armagnac are offered “to help you digest”.

    Of course each meal has already been served with a different wine.

    This is what our Christmas tree looked like this year. In case you wonder, the paintings are my grandfather’s. And the golden star at the top of the tree? Yes I made it myself when I was a kid…

    © Europasionaria

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    December 21st, 2010EuropasionariaGirl Power, Life

    Maybe our mistakes are what make our fate.
    Without them, what would shape our lives?
    Perhaps if we never veered off course, we wouldn’t fall in love, or have babies, or be who we are.
    After all, seasons change.
    So do cities.
    People come into your life and people go.
    But it’s comforting to know the ones you love are always in your heart.
    And if you’re very lucky, a plane ride away.

    I’ve found this quote on the Facebook page of the series Sex and the City. I thought about it yesterday when I wrote the post about E-blogs, where I argued that failure is alright as it paves the way to future successes.

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    November 24th, 2010EuropasionariaLife, Web 2.0

    Watch this hilarious video about the use of Facebook by the elderly. If you don’t understand Spanish, what’s below will definitively make you regret it. It was posted on Facebook by my fabulous aunt who joined Facebook just a couple of months ago, and immediately shared on her wall by my 70-year-old mum who just joined Facebook as well and who is, just like my aunt, showing a remarkable ability to use it. To put things in perspective: a month ago my mum asked me to explain to her what a blog was…

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