May 31, 2013

Message from the gods

Gabriella's birthday was two weeks ago, and she received a twin message from the gods. Personally delivered by Hermes, the Greek stud with little wings on his shoes. Her first gift is becoming an annual classic: her mom gets her a scarf from Parisian fashion house Hermes. That's quite a process actually, going to the local store in downtown Chicago, and exposing yourself to oddly unsocial personnel who are reluctant to showcase the scarves as if they are the queen's crown jewels. Not uncommon for these high end fashion houses, I guess that's intended to be their interpretation of "exclusivity". Nonetheless, Hermes makes beautiful scarves, and Gabriella got a particularly awesome one with black, lime green, fuchsia, bright pink patterns.

The second message was already on notice when we were in Holland last month. During that trip, we visited our favorite art gallery, an old farm in the countryside only a few miles away from the southern border with Belgium. It's also close to Breda, the city where Gabri spent most of her young years, and where her mom still lives. At the gallery Jeroen got Gabriella's birthday present, a picture by Dutch artist Margriet Smulders. Margriet Smulders is a photographer who takes her inspiration from stills by the 16th and 17th century Dutch masters, and attempts to reproduce the colors and vibe of those iconic paintings of flowers and fruits. For GABROEN that creates a link to our roots and history, but the piece is turning out to be more multidimensional to us, and it's evolving even after the decision to buy it.
Interestingly, we both fell in love with it for a number of reasons, some of which only came to bare after we bought it. It is a Ciba chrome print of 13 dye containing polyester layers, which is no longer used because it is too labor intensive, but is as vibrant as nature itself. It has lavender in it, the flower and herb forever associated to our sister-in-law Marjolein, who we buried just two days before by leaving beautifully fragrant lavender twines on her coffin. It has a reflection of clouds and blue skies in it, reminding us of the valuable lessons we learned last month, of celebrating the beauty of life, of the little cloud from which we're sure Marjolein is watching us. And we only found out its title after we bought it. It's called "Hermes". No kidding. It's colorful, powerful, inspiring. Just like the birthday girl.

May 29, 2013

Tokyo (1) - Sushi and sashimi

A three-day trip to the largest urban area of the world. With over 13 million people in the city proper, and almost 36 million people in Greater Tokyo, this is a massive town. It is the true concrete jungle, with roads winding over canals and under railroads, pressed between grey buildings of all, mostly not too pretty, shapes and styles. Add on top a mumble jumble of billboards and led-screens and you get a cacophony of screaming color and movement. What does not turn all of this into a sensory overload is that the city is squeaky clean, and the vast majority of the thousands and thousands of people on the streets dress the same: the men in dark suit and white dress shirt, and the women in either dark suit and white dress shirt, or in earth tones.

Although there are people everywhere, and there are so many of them, it doesn't feel like a human anthill. No one bumps into each other, and there is universal respect for personal space. For a bystander, the society seems very well organized, friendly, safe, and utterly incomprehensible.
The reason for my trip was 1.5 days of meetings at our Japan office, so that left 1.5 days for sightseeing. This was also my first time crossing the international dateline, and that makes for an interesting experience. Although it was a 13 hour flight, getting on a plane on Sunday morning and getting off on Monday late afternoon is a bit confusing. But in particular the return flight made the concept of time utterly surreal; after a 12 hour flight you arrive earlier than you left.

So somewhat confused and at a loss what time and day it was, I kicked off my stay Monday with an excellent sushi dinner prepared right in front of you - incredibly fresh fish makes you realize what we're missing out on with the US or European imitations.

The swank Grand Hyatt hotel I stayed at is in Roppongi Hills, a new high-end shopping and residential development with many expats. Definitely not lost in translation like Bill Murray in the Park Hyatt, but it does feel very un-western nonetheless.

Waking up jetlagged and early, I ventured to the Tsukiji fish market during morning rush hour. The market is the largest in the world and is at its most hectic from 5 to 9AM, with delivery guys on mopeds, electric carts, bicycles or hand-trolleys swarming in and out of the massive market halls to haul the most exotic types of fish to the local restaurants or to trucks standing by for delivery further out. This is so busy that they don't want strolling tourists to enter before 9AM, but you can enjoyably wait it out over a sushi breakfast nearby. Thinking that yesterday's dinner was fresh, breakfast was still swimming in the ocean just 4 to 6 hours before landing in your bentobox, and the shrimp were actually still alive on the breakfast counter. Marvelous mackerel, sumptuous squid, terrific tuna. And uni, aka sea urchin.

For someone who typically eats crunchy granola, I didn't think I would ever have sea urchin for breakfast, and the one time I had an uni hand roll for dinner in the US made me a little wary this time around. That said, tthis time around it tasted much better, but anything that draws slimy threads between your chopsticks and your mouth will not be my favorite...... Other than that, this massive concrete jungle is a foodie's heaven.

May 7, 2013

Trix week

Last week was Trix week, of Trix going and Trix coming. The Trix going was our good old Queen Beatrix of The Kingdom of The Netherlands. She abdicated her throne on April 30th, which was the national 'all Dutch go nuts' Queen's Day for the last 71 years. She vacated her seat to her eldest son Willem Alexander, who just became the first king in over 120 years, and with that Queen's Day is now becoming King's Day. April 30 was actually the birthday of Juliana, the Queen Mother, or I guess we would now have to call her the King Granny. When Beatrix became queen in 1980, she did not change the date of Queen's Day to her own birthday, January 31. Although a little kid, I do remember her announcement at the time that this was 'in honor of her beloved mother'. Her mother indeed was very beloved, but now that i'm older i'm pretty sure the main reason was the weather. Late April is much more amenable to the typical outdoor festivities than late January. Coincidentally, Willem's birthday is very close to his granny's, April 27th, and starting next year King's Day will be 3 days earlier than Queen's Day.

With the new king also comes a new queen. Queen Maxima, a blonde Argentinian girl who's spontaneity and exotic flair stole the hearts of the Dutch people. So Argentina is on a role in 2013: after the historic election of a pope, they now have their very first queen as well. I'm sure the whole country is wishing to complete the trinity with a title in next year's world cup soccer, even sweeter as it will be hosed by nemesis Brazil...........

Speaking of soccer, GABROEN likes to listen a Dutch radio show hosted by an iconic soccer and sports commentator slash music fan. The radio show has nothing to do with sports; this guy is just playing records he likes, but he provides commentary in pretty much the same way he does sports. One record we heard some 3 months back was from Trixie Whitley, an up and coming singer-songwriter from Brooklyn and Belgium, daughter of jazz rock guitarist Chris Whitley. To our pleasant surprise, she came to play in nearby Evanston last week - so she was the coming Trix.

After a surprisingly strong opening act by the frontman of Echorev (never heard of), up came a skinny blond which looked passionate and possessed. She put on an intense show, playing her heart, voice and guitars out. Each guitar was out of tune every time she ploinged and plunked its snares through another emotional song. Her voice was hoarse before she even started, but that didn't prevent her from leaving her soul on stage. Its hoarseness actually gave her performance a more tantalizing, almost haunted feel to it. But the real magic entered the intimate nightclub venue every time she got behind the piano. Powerful stuff can be produced by a skinny girl with a voice blown to pieces. Just watch the video of Pieces

Trix week - a historic week all around.