16 December 2011

OMG, Klezmer!!!

Some of you out there may just have been wondering, "Where's the Klezmer?" in this blog entitled Adventures in Klezmer. 

Well, here's a big ol' bunch o' klezmer coming at you.

I've had 2 klezmer infused nights in a row, actually.

The first came as a surprise. I had been looking for something to do on my second night in Paris, particularly considering that I would be staying up all night because of the very early flight I had to catch in the morning.  While I was in the Jewish quarter with my friend Melanie, she brought my attention to a poster advertising a klezmer concert that night!  And so, while she had other plans, I decided that it was as good a place as any to go!

It was at Les 3 Arts that the "International Odessa Klezmer Orchestra" were playing.  They are led by American expatriate Ronald Grun, a bassoonist and clarinetist who has been living in Paris for 20 years.  Grun, a Jewish musician, told me his story is no different to anyone else's.  He heard klezmer growing up, but wanted nothing to do with that "old-fashioned" music.  Now, however, he's playing klezmer and bringing it to Paris.

Clarinetist Ronald Grun and the International Odessa Klezmer Orchestra

As I later found out, it was the band's first concert (with 2 more coming up in the next few weeks).  It is definitely an enthusiastic group of musicians, playing on that night with tuba, accordion, 2 banjos, cajon (percussion) and flute.  However, while enthusiastic, it sounded as if the band was more at home playing Balkan music (which seeped into the arrangements of the songs as the night wore on) than klezmer.  When playing the Balkan rhythms, the band was very tight and rhythmically energetic, but never seemed to be able to get the accompaniment in the klezmer style quite right.

Other individual players also seemed to stumble stylistically in the klezmer tunes, but it made little difference to the audience who were most appreciative, with several members getting up and dancing towards the end of the set.

In the end, I'd say that Grun's band is certainly trying (with Grun's guidance) to play klezmer in an earnest and exciting fashion.  Grun really has had no contact with the overall klezmer international scene, and Paris seems to be a scene where most players are really striking out on their own.

I was able to find what I felt was lacking in the Paris concert the next night in Berlin at the Klezmer Stammtisch.*  I went with Franka Lampe (my accordionist friend from Yiddish Summer Weimar last year), and we found Stas Rayko, a Ukrainian violinist who now lives in Berlin there with a flute player friend of his.  They were playing together when we arrived, and others were listening, with full tables of people aside from the Stammtisch.  Franka and I joined in, as did Susanne (a violinist) and a guitarist on occasion.  Here, I found that klezmer feeling that was missing in Paris.

The musicians here understood the klezmer style at a very deep level (particularly Stas, who is a master klezmer musician, playing with The Other Europeans).  It's a feeling that I only get rarely as a performer and while I struggled to remember tunes (since I haven't been playing so much lately), and fumbled with other familiar tunes in weird keys (silly string players), the feeling of playing klezmer with real klezmer musicians kept me awake** until the end of the music, well after 1am.  It's hard to describe this feeling to non-musicians, but it's like putting on a comfortable old shoe as opposed to one that doesn't quite fit right.  You're always trying to make that strange shoe fit, and devoting that much more of your brain power to your feet and away from your other activities.  With that comfy old shoe, you slip it on and away you go!  That's pretty much how I feel when I play klezmer with musicians who really "get it."  And they got it.

So .... Klezmer!  Woohoo!


* A "Stammtisch" is a table reserved for regular guests.  Thus it's a "usual table."  In this case, there's a regular (monthly, I believe) table reserved at the restaurant (who's name I don't know), and according to Franka, the owner loves klezmer so much that if a guest doesn't want to sit and listen to it, they are asked to leave. 

** I hadn't slept the night before.  My flight out of Paris was at 6:45am, and in order to make sure that I was at the airport on time, I needed to take the 4:35am bus (to avoid paying 40 Euros for a taxi) to the airport.  That meant that I needed to leave at 4am from Jonathan's house.  I'm glad I left myself lots of time at Gare de Lyons (where the bus stopped), because finding the actual bus stop was very tricky!

2 Days in Paris, Part 2

For day 2, I had a 4-pronged plan to get the most out of my 2 days in Paris:

1) Eiffel Tower (yes, I went to the top.... super windy!), and walk to the Arc du Triomphe

2) Meet my friend (also from KlezKanada, and ethnomusicological conferences)  Melanie for lunch in the Jewish quarter for falafel.  Apparently this was the "best" falafel in Paris. Although it was good, I there are better in Toronto . . . but the place was packed, and the falafel was pretty good.  All in all a very cute neighbourhood.

A Jewish Bakery in Paris

3) Walk to Montmartre.  The walk up there really tired me out, but it was worth it.  The area is a little over-touristy, but I'm glad I'm here in December and not July.

4) The Louvre (for realz this time). 

2 Days in Paris, Part 1

Wow. 2 jam-packed days in Paris.  And I'm actually going to talk about klezmer (but that will come a little later)!

So the little getaway didn't really start off too promisingly. I awoke at 6am after only 3 hours of sleep to get to Schönefeld Airport in time for my 9am flight to Paris.  After discovering that the EasyJet terminal at the airport kept very poor hygiene (particular in the washroom), I embarked the plane.  This was the singlemost turbulent flight I've ever been on.  In the take off and landing phases, I felt like a bridge-crew member on Star Trek, getting shaken violently left and right in unison with my fellow travelers.  The winds were so bad that on the descent into Orly airport, the pilot had to abort the landing and circle around for another try.  We finally got on to the ground on the 2nd attempt, much to my stomach's relief....

The trip from the airport into Paris was as smooth as can be, but with the multiple trains, took well over an hour.  I arrived at Jonathan's apartment right within our arranged window of time.  Jonathan is a friend from KlezKanada a couple of years ago . . .he's a great Jazz saxophonist.  We went to lunch and then he went off to work (teaching clarinet... sound familiar?) while i returned to the apartment to plot my time in Paris while taking shelter from a freakish, sudden hail storm.  Fortunately, it passed quickly and left lovely weather behind while I set off into Paris, first to the nearby Bastille.

My first stop after the Bastille was Notre Dame.  And wow. not only was it breathtaking (inside and out), but with the sun coming out, and starting to set, the light was absolutely amazing while hitting this beautiful cathedral.

From there, it was on to the Louvre.  While it wasn't open (not on Tuesdays), the setting sun made for awesome photos.

Finally, I wandered up to the Opera house and got on the Metro to get to Cabaret Sauvage, the venue where I would see Gogol Bordello.  Now, if you don't know who Gogol Bordello is, head to www.gogolbordello.com right now.  The concert itself was amazing.  Basically, the band was closing their acoustic tour in Paris.  For them, acoustic meant leaving the electric bass player and electric guitar player at home, playing with a 5-piece band  consisting of acoustic guitar (and lead vocals), accordion, violin, percussion, and back-up singer.  The room at Cabaret Sauvage was fantastic, with amazingly clear sound.  The place was pretty full, complete with crowd surfing, at least one woman throwing her bra on stage, and a plethora of encores, probably due to the fact that it was the last show of the tour. 

Finally, I made it back and got a decent night's sleep at Jonathan's, which I was really going to need!

12 December 2011


Some graffiti I found around the block from my apartment.

Nuff said.

10 December 2011

A man's gotta do . . . his laundry

Today has been an exercise in patience.  I have been traveling now for a week and a half, and I needed to do laundry.  Looking around, it's been difficult to find a laundromat nearby, and I was going to take my laundry to a "full service" facility.  Upon arriving (after a much longer walk than I had anticipated), I was told that the clothes wouldn't be clean in time for me to have clean clothes for my quick jaunt to Paris next week.

Following directions from the lady who worked in the shop (that seemed pretty vague to me), I walked another 10 minutes in another direction, winding my way through the streets of the Kreuzberg neighbourhood (near Görlitzer station if that means anything to you), and finally found the laundromat. 

Once I figured out how to work the fully automated system of paying, I walked around a bit, bought a German newspaper and sat with my dictionary, slowly hacking my way through an article while drinking an Italian coffee at a cafe across the street.  I am very careful to note that it was "Italian" coffee because the purveyor of the fine establishment was Italian and insisted that the coffee came from Sicily and wasn't watered down like the other coffees one might get in the area. 

Anyways, once I finished my laundry (the whole process took about 3 hours, including the wandering around trying to find the place), I returned to my apartment for some saxophone practicing.  Then, I learned that the special offer that the German rail was having on a savings card (25% off for 4 months for 25 Euros) was ending today, so i went over to Ostbahnhof to purchase said card.

And I waited.  To "improve service" (so they said on their sign), you took a number and then waited for it to be called.  At the time I got there, my number I received from the machine was almost 20 above the number that was currently being served, and there were 3 people serving the customers, with one customer seemingly taking absolutely forever.  However, this annoyance made for some camaraderie (the spelling of that word doesn't look right to me) in line and people who had taken care of their business in another way, or had just given up waiting were giving their numbers to other people waiting. 

And so, after about 30 minutes, I finally got my Bahn Karte, and made my way home.  And here I am. 

9 December 2011


My apartment has a name, Isabelle, which is also, not coincidentally, the name of my landlord's dog.  It's a nice little place, a studio apartment with enough room for me.  I have a separate space to work (a decent desk, with an uncomfortable chair), a sofa, a table (that can actually be folded out of the way), a pretty roomy washroom, and a very basic kitchen.  However, there's no microwave, no toaster (or toaster over), and the utensils are just enough for what I might need (a few knives, 2 pots, 1 pan, wooden spoon, spatula, ladle, etc.).  There's plenty of cutlery and dishes as well. 

Now that I've been here for a few days, I've managed to stock the apartment with a few "extras" that I thought were necessities to get me through the next few months.

1. large plastic storage bin (on wheels to keep under the sofa).  This was really important, considering that the apartment has no closet.  This is currently being used as a drawer for my sweaters and pants.  I may get another one for my laundry.

2. A kettle.  Here's a picture of the one that came with the apartment. 

And no, I didn't just dismiss it out of hand as "old" or "obsolete."  I tried it.  And it took forever to make lukewarm noodle soup.  So I bought a modern, electric kettle.  Deal with it.

Ok, so there's just 2. But they're fairly big.  I'm currently resigning myself to not having any kind of oven (toaster or otherwise) to cook things in, as it was a big part of my cooking before.  I can deal with stove top cooking, but it is a little more difficult.

Outside the apartment, I'm still getting to know the neighbourhood, but there are lots of amenities not too far away. 

Here you can see my location Berlin.

Ok, it's smaller than I thought it would be, but I'm at the red marker
As you can see, I'm pretty close to the middle of the city, and I could walk to a number of important sites, like Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and other things.  I have seen some of these things.  Here's a picture of the Brandenburg Gate:

And since this post has become "all about the photos," here's another picture of the Fernsehturm (the CN Tower wannabe).

Fernsehturm (literally TV tower), from Alexanderplatz
Those pictures are from my phone, when i wasn't carrying my camera along with me.  Oh, random thought.  I managed to unlock my spiffy smartphone, and I can now text faster than the 2 minutes per word it was taking with the ancient phone I was using here.  I even think that I might be able to get a data plan here pretty cheap . . . but more on that later.

So as I was saying, my area is pretty cool.  i generally find myself between the transit stations of the S-bahn station at Ostbahnhof (the Eastern station, which is also used for regional and international trains), and the U-bahn (Subway) station at either Schlesisches Tor or Görlitzer Station, depending on where I'm going.

Berlin's transit network is pretty spectacular (although I hear it's not quite as efficient once it snows).  I've been able to get pretty much anywhere in the city via the network of U-bahns, S-bahns (kind of commuter rails, but they go right through the city), trams and buses (coming home from a jazz jam at 2am on a Wednesday night, all that was running were the buses).  While not the cheapest ticket in town, the transit isn't a bad investment.  I'll definitely look into buying the monthly pass in January.

As you can see from the following map, there are several grocery stores in the area.  The best one that I've found, however, is Rewe, which is located in the basement of the Ostbahnhof.  Some of their vegetables are not conducive to the single man (bulk packaging), so, unless I host more often, I'll probably start buying some produce at the stalls near the Market right near the Aldi (see map).

So, while the place looks like a dump from the outside, the neighbourhood is quite safe (and there's a night bus that runs right down the street), and the apartment is pretty cool on the inside (with both meanings of the word cool being operative).  While it's not unbearable, let's just say I'm glad I have a warm hoodie with me.

I'm still getting to know Berlin and the neighbourhood, but the great things about the couch surfing and ex-pat communities here is that they're very active in many parts of the city, so I'll be getting to know more of at as the days, weeks, and months go by.

5 December 2011

Berlin is windy.

That's about it for now.  Berlin is windy.  I was walking along Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse today, and the wind was strong enough to make me feel like it was pushing me backwards.

I'm gettin' too old for this shit

Now, please don't misconstrue the title of today's blog as being negative.  It's more a reflection on how I feel physically today after yesterday's adventures. 

One of the things that I promised myself before I came out here (to Berlin, if you're just joining us), was that I wouldn't disappear into my PhD hidey-hole, and I would force myself to be more social.  When given the choice to do something or not do something, the choice would have to be to do something. 

The other thing that I decided to do was to join the "Couch Surfing" community.  This is a web-based community of people who, as part of the web site's mandate, ask for and offer couches for people to crash on while traveling (thus enabling travelers to "surf" from couch to couch).  While having a couch to offer up is preferable, the community is also an excellent way that people (particularly those who are new to a particular city) can get to know each other.

Lo and behold, after registering, I see "events in my area" . . . and a long roster of things to do.  For yesterday (Sunday) there were as many as 4 different events organized by people on their own time, and mostly for their own amusement (as well as that of others).  I chose the one that looked to most interesting... the Berlin Walk, which was in the process of tracing the path of the Berlin Wall around the city. 

This "Mauerweg" is now a public park, walkway, cycling path, jogging trail and just a place for people to get out, mostly on the edges of the city.  I decided to join this event which started at the S-bahn station of Heiligensee, close to the Berlin border.*  I boldly ventured out to the Heiligensee S-bahn station, using my trusty transit map, as well as the BVG.de website (much like TTC's and the New York Subway's), and in about 45 minutes, arrived at the rendez-vous.  Eventually, 4 others gathered (with another catching up along the way), and we walked.  And walked... and yes, we even walked. 

One of the things that fascinated me the most seems to be the result of both the European urban amalgamations, and West Berlin's status as a walled in city.  On one side where the wall was, the "city" was a collection of villages that had been incorporated into Berlin at one point** and was then walled off in 1961.  On the other side was the former DDR (at the beginning of our walk, this was to the west.... yes, a bit weird).  where there was pretty much nothing.  Sometimes there cornfields, but other times it was forest, or just open fields.  This stark difference, was due to the fact that I think the Communists wanted to keep the space surrounding Berlin empty, and thus, the "urban" (although these villages barely count as urban in the current sense) development went on elsewhere in East Germany.

There are info markers along the route, with some memorializing people who were killed trying to cross the border, and others marked checkpoints between the west and east.  All in all, it was a lovely afternoon, where the weather generally held up (with only a little bit of rain), and we managed to cover about 12 km over the 3 1/2 hours.  We then adjourned back to the city to Oranienstrasse (right down the street from the synagogue, which I'll have to check out at a later date) for coffee/beer and something to eat.  Three of the other walkers were living in Berlin, but a couple (a Swiss guy, and Belgian girl) were in town for the weekend and had decided to do something off the touristy map.  These two had actually met while they were living in Vancouver, and seemed to be very pleased to meet a Canadian over here!  After the rest of the gang went their separate ways, Lukas, Alice and I went for dinner, followed by another bar for a drink, followed by another bar for another drink.***

I arrived back to the hostel (my last night in a hostel!) to discover that I had a roommate again (The first night, I had one, second night I didn't).  However, this dude was not nearly as respectful as the first guy.  In fact, i would probably classify New Roommate^ as possibly the worst you can have.  He a) snored, b) woke up at 5:30 am, and proceeded to pack and dress and prepare for a full hour, all the while keeping the light on.  Thus, I had slept fitfully between about 12 and 2 or so (using my ipod to drown out the snoring), and then was awakened for another hour before being able to get back to sleep after he had left.  He said something about a training program.

And so, dear readers (who I encourage to follow the blog, or comment on it so I don't feel like I'm just writing for the sake of my parents), you are now caught up.  I'm sitting in a cafe after having my "Schwartze Kaffee" (black coffee), and a sandwich (for breakfast), waiting to get into my new flat.  Since there was someone staying in it on the weekend, it needs to be cleaned, and the cleaner should be coming within the half-hour, after that, I'll know when I can go over and pick up the keys (and the rest of my stuff). 

And so, what is the "shit" that I'm too old for?  I'm too old to share rooms with snorers who don't know enough to pack a fucking flashlight so that they don't have to turn on the lights when they want to get dressed or packed.  I'm too old to get far too little sleep the day after walking 12 km (although the actual distance I walked yesterday is probably closer to 15 km, due to walking to and from subway stations and bars, etc).  I'm too old to wake up in the morning the day after the aforementioned walking, and not have a sore back.  Hopefully the next few months of German living will get me back into good enough shape to be able to take a beating like that and wake up feeling better.  But we all have to start somewhere!

Until next time, Tschuss!
* this "border" is important when buying subway cards, because you can pay one price for everything within it, but if you want to travel with the BVG (like the TTC in Toronto, or MBTA in Boston) beyond this boundary into zone C (inner zones are A and B, the furthest is zone C), the fare is slightly higher.

** Don't ask me when.

*** The last bar was the Chagall Cafe (or Cafe Chagall), near Senefelder Platz.  They serve Russian food, and were showing some weird German movie about Adventures in the Magic Forest on one of the walls when we arrived.

^don't know his name, don't wanna know.

3 December 2011

A short day's journey into a long night

Yesterday was a long day/night.  It began at the East Seven Hostel, when i woke up, and packed up again to drop off most of my stuff at my apartment to be, which I'll finally get into on Monday.  After the trip to Kreuzberg, I got back on the U-bahn and headed back to the Alexander Platz area to find my new hostel, the Pangea People Hostel.  from what i understand, this hostel is fairly new, and they're still working out the kinks.  The doors close extremely loudly, and the footsteps down the hall echo prominently.   They also wouldn't let me get into the room before 3pm, so I took a walk in the wind and rain and headed to the DDR museum for refuge.

The DDR Museum was interesting, giving the visitor a small taste of life in the former East Germany (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, although we all know the "Demokratische"part was hooey).  it was a small museum, but there was a lot to see and do and touch.  Particularly interesting was being able to look at workbooks or assignment books from East German school children, especially their units on Marx and Engels!

When I returned to the hostel, I met Pat, an American who has been spending the last month in Germany traveling while waiting for his girlfriend, a German professor in the US to arrive in the country on Monday.  He recommended the "alternative" pub crawl.  Alternative to the large crawls that take tourists to all the touristy bars.

It was after that that I had dinner with Dave, a Torontonian ex-pat musician who one of my musician friends in Toronto put me in touch with.  Dave recommended a nice italian restaurant and we talked about the music scene here, in Toronto, and life in Germany as an expat. 

Finally, since I was already in the area of the beginning of the pub crawl, I walked up to the starting bar.  It was definitely an interesting pub-crawl, hitting bars that I would never thing of going into (or even realize they were bars) had I seen it from the outside.  As the night progressed, the bars went from chill (Yesterdays), to a little weird (the ping pong bar), to loud (the bar with a really bad rock band of 15 year olds -- or so it seemed), to the final dance club that just rubbed me the wrong way . . .

My favourite bar was probably the goth bar, where the music wasn't so goth.  I'm pretty sure I heard the Dropkick Murphys, Queen, Blink 182, AC DC, and some German pop that wasn't very Goth.  The people were mostly goth, but there was just a vibe there that people could be themselves and have a good time!

The adventures didn't stop there.  At about 2:30am, I had had enough of the crappy dance club (in a sketchy industrial area near the Warschauer strasse S-bahn station), so i decided to leave, and stood in line for at least 15 minutes to get my coat from the coat check.  Once I got my coat, i made my way back to the S-bahn station, and found out that the next train in my direction would be at 3:04 am.  So I waited the 10 minutes, only to find that once the train left the station, it went very slowly, and stopped for long periods of time.  I was sharing the car with a few Spaniards, some germans and couple of english blokes.  One of the english blokes had 3 little bottles of Jagermeister in his hand and was wondering if drinking them would kill him. 

Slowly, and not so surely, the train proceeded, and by about 3:30, we pulled into the Ostbahnhof (East train station).  For those of you familiar with the Berlin train system, that's one stop.  I had actually ridden the same line earlier in the day.  It should have taken no longer than 4 minutes or so.  When we were just short of the station, we could see police running up to the train and boarding the car in front of us.  Finally the train arrived at Ostbahnhof and the police left the car in front of our.  Usually when the train arrives in a station, a button can be pushed on the inside of the door which will open them.  This time, however, our car was locked.  Until the cops came in to the middle of the car (i was towards the forward end).  They got one person off (he went pretty docile-ly), and we finally moved on.

I ended up getting back to the hostel around four am, and was very glad that Pat and I didn't have any other roommates!  However, due to the loud doors and footsteps, I didn't sleep well, and I'm currently writing this while hanging out at the hostel, taking refuge from the rain!

1 December 2011

Day 2/3: Arrival in Berlin, Taking Care of Business

My arrival in Berlin was quite smooth.  The flight (on Brussels Airlines) was quite empty, allowing me to get all my carry on luggage on board the plane again.  From there, I hit the ground in Berlin and put my German to good use, finding the proper bus downtown, and from the station in Alexander Platz, taking the U-bahn (Subway) up to where my hostel is.  It was actually quite easy to find, a much smoother process than finding my place of lodging in London when I was there in 2009. 
After finding a Deutsche Bank machine, I walked around Alexanderplatz, enjoying the Christmas festival (photos to come).  After taking a nap, I forced myself to wake up (or be cursed with being unable to sleep any time after 2am), and walked around the hostel's neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, finding some dinner, then having a (remarkably cheap) beer with some of the hostel guests and staff.

I went to sleep (again) and woke up at a decent hour (8am).  Yay for beginning the trip with some semblance of a normal sleep schedule!  

Yesterday (Wed., November 30) was "business day."  I spent the morning checking out my new apartment (although I don't move in until Monday), and lining up a phone.  Eric Frank, the owner of Berlin Cribs, the company which handles rental of vacation (and longer-stay) apartments, was most helpful in getting me started with the phone and the SIM card.  This running around was also good in that it helped me get to know my new neighbourhood a little bit, finding grocery shopping, drug stores, restaurants, shops, U-bahn station, etc.  

I spent most of the afternoon working on job applications, and then later in the evening, I ended up going to a free-improvisation concert in Kreuzberg.  This was a great concert and allowed me meet a couple of new musicians to talk and hopefully play with in the future!

Day 1: Airports and Airplanes

My first day of traveling begins with my trip to the Pearson International Airport in Toronto.  The busiest airport in Canada, the Terminal 1 gate that Jet Airways uses was pretty quiet except for people boarding that particular flight.  At check-in (after standing in line for at least 15 minutes), I got one piece of good news, and one piece of bad news, which ended up cancelling each other and living up to my expectations.  

I had done quite a bit of investigating of Jet Airways before booking my ticket.  Jet Airways is an Indian airline, and I was somewhat wary of India's reputation for chaos (more on how the airline actually measured up later).  However, their information about baggage on their website said that only one piece of carry-on baggage was allowed.  Because of this stipulation (and the assurance on a long phone call, that I would, indeed, only be allowed to carry on one piece of baggage), I was working on the assumption that I would have to check my saxophone at a $50 cost for checking a second bag.  Mentally preparing for this, I double checked the insurance on my horn, bought what is universally regarded as the best travel case, and hoped for the best.  Lo and behold, when I arrived at the check in, after asking if I could carry my saxophone on, a supervisor came over and said, "no problem!" (I'm paraphrasing).  However, my main piece of checked luggage came in about 4 kilos over the limit, so I had to pay the extra $50 for that (a process that Jet Airways seems very ill equipped to deal with).  In the end, I was pretty much where I started, paying an extra $50, but with the piece of mind that comes with having my instruments with me, inside the pressurized cabin.  I think, in the end, I came out on top in the deal.

As for Jet Airways itself, I would give them the highest marks for comfortable (relatively) seating, plenty of legroom, and yummy Indian food for dinner.  Their service was actually quite good, and the boarding was quite organized and efficient.  Lower marks go to the (seemingly) abnormally high number of very young children who cried, screamed, and made various other loud noises throughout the entire flight.  But I guess I can't blame the airline for not coming up with a program to anaesthetize young children for the duration of the flight.  The in-flight entertainment was actually quite good, with a wide range of movies (both Hollywood and Bollywood) to choose from.  I watched most of Harry Potter 8, and then watched "Everything is Illuminated" in its entirety, which is rather appropriate, considering the book I bought in the Toronto airport was another one by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I'd seen the movie before, and really enjoyed the music (excellent work by the music supervisor for this one), and really appreciated Liev Schreiber's direction.  He really understood the Foer's humour, as well as the real emotional heart of the movie without making it over-the-top sentimental (which Foer's writing is most certainly not).  Considering the subject of the film, and the recent passing of my grandfather, I have to say that it really hit me hard, this time around.  

Finally, Jet Airways gets a big, giant FAIL for their use of Kenny G-like Muzak to pacify their passengers on embarkation and disembarkation.  I mean, I confess to grooving a little to the instrumental version of "Just the Way You Are," but when you get cheesy saxophone (wait, I'm in Belgium as I write this -- saxophone du fromage) playing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," that's when the contents of my stomach become unsettled.  

I'm writing this right now to kill part of the 4 hour layover I have here in Brussels.  They sure know how to bilk their customers.  As you can see from the picture that I'll probably attach eventually, my breakfast of 1 500 ml bottle of water, 1 brown bun, 1 hard-boiled egg, and 1 30 g circle of Brie cost 7.80 EU. 

 In addition, the reason I'm not posting this at the time of writing, is that the internet in the Brussels airport costs 10 Euros for 1 HOUR!  That said, the bread is as good as I remember (maybe better), and the little round 30g serving of Brie cheese was delicious.  God, it's good to be back in Europe, where the standard of food quality is so much higher than back home in North America (no, I didn't indulge in a Philly Cheese Steak when I was down in Philadelphia).  To be able to get REAL Brie cheese, and a perfectly baked roll (crispy on the outside, soft on the inside) at 8AM, in an airport where they've probably been sitting out all night is outstanding.  I will also avail myself of some REAL Belgian chocolate before I board my plane to Berlin (where things will be cheaper, thank god). 
Unfortunately, I can't indulge too much, as I seem to have left my stomach somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.  This isn't the first time the lack of sleep on a redeye flight has left my normally rock-steady digestive system uneasy.  Or maybe it's just Brussels.

And so, i bid you all adieu, as i sit here, watching the sun rise over some chunky airport building.  It's actually kind of blinding me, so I'm going to move and practice my German, or something.