29 Sep 2009

Silence on the Belgian Front


So it's been pretty quiet around here. No posts in a week?!?! Sorry 'bout that, particularly about Fishy Friday! :o(

Most of my classes started up last week and since I'm so disorganised I spent way too much time preparing them, rushing to avoid arriving late to them and meeting with students for an oral evaluation to see if they could be exempt from class participation.

I've also kept up doing guided tours in the Aquarium and Zoology Museum in my "free" time and I've had to sit down and study a bunch of material on Charles Darwin for our special exhibit...

Throw in an engineering-related (scary!) translation and it's no wonder my Fishy Friday post is only 1/2 done! (That and trying to find a video somewhere online of dogfish reproductive behaviour).

And now I've gone and got myself a nasty cold... my yearly "welcome to the Fall" cold is EARLY!!! That's what I get for coming north I guess... UGH! My head feels so backed up it's rush hour on the Beltway! Tomorrow I'm going to show up for class looking like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer... sigh!

As soon as this clears up I'm back in action. Fortunately I happen to have 1/2 a Fishy Friday post already written (lol!) so there should be no problemo this week! ;o)

Hope everyone else is having a better transition between seasons...

22 Sep 2009

What's on Belgium's mind tonight?

Juju (a.k.a. Justine Henin) is baaaaaack!!!

Fans of women's tennis REJOICE!

The rumours have been all over the place since Clijster's return to the circuit this summer, reaching a peak of intensity with her victory at the US Open (bravo!)... but still they were constantly answered by "No, no more tennis". Tonight she officially announced she'd start playing professional tennis again in January, with her old coach.

Perhaps she'll be able to complete her career Grand Slam by winning the one title that has continuously eluded her? As her coach said on the news "Je vais tout faire pour l'essayer d'y arriver" (I'll do everything to help her make it i.e. win the missing title). Look out Wimbledon, her she comes!

Click here for the NYTimes report on the big return.

Hmm... methinks having lived 8 years in Belgium has made me slightly biased in favour of their the country's two star players... But they do play some beautiful tennis! ;o)

If you understand French, here's the story in her own words:

And since I can't resist the chance to put up some of my own pics... here are some images from Justine's final Roland Garros in 2007 (which she won, again. She surprisingly retired while still number 1 in 2008 just a few weeks before RG). Unfortunately they're all of the big screens... I got tickets to the men's 1/4f matches but couldn't get seats for the women's. That day we had general admissions tickets so saw matches on the smaller courts (for example the Brian Brothers up real close!) and saw bits of big matches like this 1/4f vs Serena Williams on the big screens:

21 Sep 2009

TV Addiction: a "Horrible" duo!

Aren't these two wonderful?!

Thank you Joss Whedon for this kookie invention of a Sing-Along-Blog! (and for giving me an extra excuse to admire Nathan Filion! lol)

19 Sep 2009

Journees du Patrimoine: Tour Eben-Ezer

So, after several "real-life" related delays, we've finally made it to Day 2 of the Journées du Patrimoine! This year's theme was "Patrimoine et Modernité", making the star of the show modern constructions, which usually aren't my cup of tea. But when I read in the booklet about a modern (1962) tower built "old-style" with four winged animals crowing the corners... I couldn't resist!

Tour d'Eben-Ezer in Eben-Emael... here I come! ;o)

Here's where we're heading, it already looks freaky across the fields:

Walking around it towards the entrance...

It's a 30m high tower all built from silex! The site was originally a silex (you know, the material for arrowheads and stoneage tools?) quarry, and they found quite a few archaeological remains as they began the project. If you go to the Muséum du Silex website, you can find a collection of old photos from when it was being built.

These steps weren't very easy to handle (between the height and the material...)

Ready for a closer look?

The Tower wasn't built as a residence, it was supposed to be a manifestation of its creator's - Robert Garcet - personal philosophy, of his beliefs, of his anti-conformity. He was an amateur historian, paleontologist, anthropologist. He was a writer and a sculptor. He was anti-clerical and anti-war and I'd say generally anti-establishment! Apparently (from the anecdotes told by our guide who worked with him many years before he passed away in 2001) he was quite a character! He wouldn't let anyone in who was wearing a uniform... and that goes for the local priest who used to wear a cassock (before they abandoned those) to a military group that was coming to visit (he said no problem as long as they didn't show up in uniform... apparently the head of the troup showed up wearing a Hawaiian shirt!). If you can read French you can find out more about him here (click on Robert Garcet). This was the original welcome sign:


To Pacifists, Internationalists, Optimists, Anarchists (?), War Resistants,
To all those who fight for peace,
To all those who engender Fraternity.

The inscription around the door is a statement of the rights and obligations of humanity:

Liberté - Egalité - Fraternité -> the original statement from the Declaration of the Rights of Man (written in the French Revolution) = Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

But having rights also means having to fulfill certain obligations, and according to the architect these are: Aimer - Penser - Créer = Love, Think, Create.

The tower is rife with symbolic references, nothing in its construction or décor was left to chance. Dating back to the Tower of Babel, towers have symbolised a link between men and the gods, they're anchored to the ground but reach up to the heavens. Robert Garcet's objective in building his tower was for it to be a means for men to reach another existencial plain by following a path of knowledge. The Eben-Ezer tower represents Humanity as she is represented in the Bible by the Celestial Jerusalem, a mythical city of 12000 "stades" (2160km) in length. Not having that large a space for his tower Garcet did keep the same proportions in his work and the sides of the Tower measure each 12m. (text adapted from the website)

How 'bout we go on inside?

Damn, I just realised I didn't get a complete picture of the main room, just the details! The room was an interpretation of the Apocalypse.

In the centre was the column holding up the upper structure. A hidden column, all we can see are the four cherubims in the Apocalypse shoulder to shoulder around it, with the heads of a lion, a woman, a bull and an eagle:

In the four corners can be found the four horsemen of the Apocalypse:

Our philosopher interpreted the Apocalypse as an end of the wars, a period of peace. Among things he condemns in these odd images are all of humanity's wars, and here's a looong list:

And check out this dinosaur!

I believe a Mosasaur, a species from the Cretacean discovered in this region (near Maastricht). He's got his foot on a sacrificial lamb, above his back are various slogans man has fought over throughout history:

His head is leaning on a Bible:

Open to the Gospel of Matthew, high-lighting what he believed to be the most important commandment, the one which sadly almost no-one obeys:

"Love thy neighbour as thyself"

Time to make our way UP the tower.

Check out this room:

an aquatic festival! full of models and fossils of aquatic critters from the Cretacean and photos of great scientists. A banner in the corner is another manifesto:

"A Nation will no longer draw a sword against another and we will no longer learn War..."
But where I really wanted to be was all the way on top, with those statues (the four cherubims from the Apocalypse) we saw from a distance... The spiral staircase leads up and out under a lion! Written around the wall:

"Like a Lion I stand on the tower all day long and I am at my post every night.
She is fallen! She is fallen Babylon the (...)
And all the images of her gods are broken!"
I really liked that lion:

Isn't it gorgeous?!

The other three corners were occupied by a Sphinx:

A winged Bull:

and a Griffin:

Check out the view from up here, breathtaking even on an overcast day:

Time to leave, and say farewell to these guys who look just as impressive from below:

And voilà! A couple of days late due to an annoying element called work, but better late than never! :p
After the Tower I headed in to visit my favourite Church in Liège that is sadly rarely open due to Restoration, but I'll leave it for another day/week when I get around to talking about the many churches in this city! ;o)
I hope you enjoyed re-visiting the Journées du Patrimoine with me!

18 Sep 2009

Fishy Fridays ep.2

Welcome back to Fishy Fridays and our ongoing visit to the Liège Aquarium!

Today we're going to start with Aquarium Tank #1:

This is one of the starting points in an Aquarium visit (we have 4 different points we can start the tour at, depending on the number of groups we're taking around simultaneously), so I'd usually start by giving you the general intro I did last week (see here). I'd also mention the fact that our fish are divided into four sections depending on the waters, and we're starting in the first section:
  1. Temperate (cold waters) marine fish
  2. Tropical (warm) marine fish
  3. Tropical freshwater fish
  4. Temperate freshwater fish (local species)
Today I'm just going to talk about the star of the tank: Sparus aurata, the gilthead sea-bream or Daurade as we call him around here (dorada en español)! Clicking on his name will send you to his Fishbase page.

16 Sep 2009

Journees du Patrimoine: Abbaye de Paix-Dieu

So, about a kilometer down the road from the Chateau de Jehay (see yesterday's post) was an old cistercian Abbey founded by nuns in the 13th century: l'Abbaye de Paix-Dieu. The current buildings were built in the 17th and 18th centuries in brick and limestone (the colour is typical of architecture from the Mosane region).

Check out the old water-mill:

Although currently privately owned (it was sold off in 1797 after the French Revolution), it was declared a Monument in 1974 and in 1996 the Walloon Government leased most of it (except for the farmhouse and lands) for archaeological work, to restore the buildings and use the site as a Centre on Restoration Crafts... it's become an important site for people (artisans, construction workers, architects, engineers, art historians, archaeologists...) to come and learn or perfect their skills in ancient construction techniques. They also have a dorm room in the old Abbess's apartments for schoolkids to come for 4 days and awaken their interest in archaeology.

Thanks to another wrong turn (damn the lack of signs on small country roads!) I made it there just to late for the last guided tour... but since the same thing happened to another 4 people the head archaeologist from the site just decided to take us out and explain the work that was being done herself! Sweet! It's cool getting your info from the boss herself... ;o)

Here you can see the south side of the old Church, under scaffolding, and in the background the old infirmary where the current owner lives:

Just on the other side of the digs you can get a better impression of how the buildings are connected, the Abbess's apartments to the Church, which used to be connected to the destroyed cloisters. The metal mesh with glass roofs will be a garden wall to recreate the feeling of separation in the ancient Abbey.

In the old brewery they're working aluminum and also re-building the top of the pigeon roost tower.

Check out the wooden pegs holding it together:

Here's the farmhouse, still used by the current owner:

Driving away... the small tower was the pigeon roost.

Tomorrow: one crazy tower built in the 1960s by a very talented (and slightly crazy) guy: philosopher, architect, artist, palaeontologist...