The Estate of the Chateau de Seneffe

This weekend I discovered a little-known gem: the gardens of the Chateau de Seneffe in Hainaut, Belgium. Only dating to the Eighteenth Century, the grounds are lovely and the chateau appears to be in good shape. We didn’t go in, my friend and I, but we certainly enjoyed the lovely summer weather, not too hot nor too humid. Summer is the time when smart people like the Belgium weather. At least most of the time.

The Eighteenth Century Castle of the Domaine of Seneffe

The Eighteenth Century Castle of the Domaine of Seneffe

The grounds are spectacular, with everything from an aviary to modern sculptures to a wide variety of flowers.

Collage2 It’s a relaxing place to walk, with long and picturesque paths. Pretty views greet the walker from every angle. There’s the couple hundred year old castle as well as anachronistic sculptures by Mauro Staccioli from 2014. It’s a very interesting place.

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There’s an aviary with parakeets and other exotic birds, once a status symbol of the rich, and an orangerie, as well as an old ice house; it stored ice for the residents of the estate to use, a luxury only attainable by the most wealthy.

The Ice House for the Chateau

The Ice House for the Chateau

The flowers and trees are lovely and varied. Currants, Rose of Sharon, and the surprisingly fragrant milkweed delight the senses.

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Only a half hour from Mons and not a lot more from Brussels, the park is open until eight p.m. for walking, but you have to go earlier if you want to visit the castle or the brasserie. Lots of grass means it’s cooler on the grounds than in the nearby towns, and in air-conditioning deficient Belgium, that’s a welcome benefit.

The English version of the website is not available, but the French language one is here. Take a few hours and take a walk. It will be good for the body and the soul.

 

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Eight Years

The End i

El adiós a La Roja (Goodbye to La Roja) ii

El fracaso deportivo de La Roja en Brasil (The Sporting Failure of La Roja…) iii

La Roja abdica en Brasil (La Roja Abdicates in Brazil)iv

La Roja de verdad echa a España del Brasil (The Real “La Roja) Throws Spain out of Brazil)v

Such were the headlines in Spanish news over the past week. Just in case you don’t know, “La Roja” is what Spain calls her national soccer team. Disappointing and disillusioning headlines indeed.

Now, I don’t know a lot about soccer. I know I love to watch it, especially when La Roja or Real Madrid are playing. Those are my teams. Yes, yes, I know; I’m American. So what? Americans suck at soccer. And I don’t like American football at all. I got hooked on Spanish soccer four years ago when I was dating an Englishman who was into the World Cup. I started watching with him, and lo and behold, I really liked it a lot. So much so that we were heartily cheering for two different teams at the 2010 World Cup final – he for Netherlands and I for Spain. Spain won, in spite of Netherlands’ questionable tactics and deliberate fouls, and I danced joyfully through the house. He huffed and said with superiority, “You’re NOT Spanish.” We broke up shortly thereafter.

So I’ve enjoyed this lovely ride along with La Roja as they have reigned as kings of the football field. Their players come from great teams all over, including Manchester United, Napoli, and Chelsea, but the roster was always heavy with starters from Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Champions of Europe, Champions of the World, virtually unbeatable for six years, they were a joy to watch, like magic. In the midst of a national crisis that has left one in four Spaniards under 30 out of work, this team was like money in the bank or a safe place to lay your head when all else was crashing around you. When they played, you knew they would win, or on the rare occasion that they didn’t, they would play well and mesh as a team.

So what happened? Heck, if I knew, I’d write a book and get rich! I suppose it’s very complicated, but I think there are two factors that played important roles in this debacle. First, the starters are too old, and like Xabi Alonso, defensive midfielder, regretfully said, not hungry enough. The team’s long-time Manager Vicente Del Bosque was reluctant to start the new young guys, and so had 33 year old Iker Casillas (my personal, very handsome favorite) as goalkeeper, and filled the field with other great, but older players, most notably, Iniesta, 30, Xabi Alonso 32, Xavi, 34, and 2010′s World Cup star, David Villa, 32. All of those players, along with a good bit of the rest of the team, have already won a World Cup (2010) and maybe didn’t want a second one as bad as the younger guys wanted their first. Unfortunately, most of the younger guys didn’t start.

The second factor has to be the fault of Jose Mourinho, the former coach of Real Madrid.  Two years ago, before Mourinho left Real Madrid to coach Chelsea, he benched Casillas, the captain and goalkeeper of the club. Whether he was trying to make a statement about “who’s boss” or not is irrelevant for the moment; what is important is La Roja’s starting goalkeeper was on the bench for his own club, first for just a couple of games. Then he broke his hand, so was out for a time, and when he came back, he didn’t start. Neither did he start for the new coach, Italian Carlos Ancelotti. So for two seasons “San Iker,” (Saint Iker) as the press used to call him, arguably the best goalkeeper in the sport, sat on the bench. It is fairly obvious, isn’t it? To stay on top of your game, in terms of any sport, you have to play. Iker didn’t have a chance to perform up to his usual standard. How could he have after losing two seasons of regular play?

These two factors created a perfect storm for La Roja, and they led to a crushing and humiliating 5-1 victory for Netherlands in the first game for Spain – a vindication for my Dutch friends, of course – and then the 2-0 loss to Chile, and it is all over. Yes, Spain plays once more, but they are, nonetheless, out of the competition for the title of the Champions of the World.

So is it the end of an era? Reluctantly I concede that it is. Will Spain come back? Without doubt. One of my friends, the fan of a rival national team, said it will take decades, but I think that’s just gloating glee talking. It will take a few years, perhaps six until they are truly a winning team again. But for now we fans are thinking about the next eight years. Eight years of discovering more young and gifted athletes, eight years of honing their skills, eight years of of bringing all these youthful Spanish players together for the national team games, and eight years of retiring the older players and coaches. We will miss our beloved players (Casillas et.al.) and these glory days, but 2022 is coming. Inevitably.

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Prom. In a Castle. Yes, that’s right…

God bless my lovely students in Concord, NC. They were some of the sweetest kids I’ve ever known. Some of them remain important to me today and will always. Like most teenagers, they looked forward to their prom as much as any teenagers ever did, spending untold hundreds of dollars on dresses and rented tuxedos, and taking the entire afternoon to get ready with updo’s and limo’s and dinner before-hand at Carrabas’ or Olive Garden or Red Lobster. The Cabarrus County high schools all hold their proms in the same location: the County Events Center, which is where they also have the Truck “ROAD”EO and various agricultural and equestrian events. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I, a former student of the very agency for which I now work, enjoyed my own prom in a real castle. And my current students are similarly blessed. I’m sure they don’t realize how good they have it, but I certainly did when it was my turn; my mom made sure of it. Nevertheless, some of them were griping last week about not being able to go to IHOP or Denny’s after prom — nothing in Belgium is open that late! I’m guessing they will have forgotten that when they look back on this lovely Belgian night in this magical setting. I know after my own arrival at my prom, I simply revelled in looking gorgeous in my borrowed gown, dancing with my date who happened to be my best friend’s brother (my GI boyfriend decided he was “too good” for a high school prom, thank goodness), and the incredibly beautiful surroundings of a hundreds-years-old setting. I am so incredibly blessed, as are my lovely students.

This post is mostly for my precious students and their parents, but as long as they don’t mind, I hope my friends who read the blog will enjoy them as well. (And if you are a student or a parent and want a photo you are in removed, please send me a message and I will do so!)

A note: if you or your child is in one of the photos, please feel free to take the photo for your own. If not, as always, the photos are copyright protected and the property of only me or the people in them.

 

Chateau de la Roque

Chateau de la Roque

Bucolic Charm

Bucolic Charm

Pretty...such a setting.

Pretty…such a setting.

The Principal and one of his Minions keeping watch

The Principal and one of his Minions keeping watch

A tower = a castle

A tower = a castle

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An International group of pals

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Gotta love a kid with her own, special style!

Gotta love a kid with her own, special style!

An American, a Dominican, and a Greek walk into a Prom, and...

An American, a Dominican, and a Greek walk into a Prom, and…

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A Spanish boy and um, three Polish girls…yeah, seems about right.

Ah, yes, a sit-down dinner: how many proms get that?

Ah, yes, a sit-down dinner: how many proms get that?

And this year's goody bags included dark shades and fake moustaches! Woot!

And this year’s goody bags included dark shades and fake moustaches! Woot!

 

One of many international couples

One of many international couples

 

 

 

 

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The pretty brunette on the bottom left was the Prom Queen.

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Spanish-speakers -- they hold a special place in my heart!

Spanish kids — they hold a special place in my heart!

As the night wore on, the setting became more and more enchanting.

As the night wore on, the setting became more and more enchanting.

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Carrying her shoes? Dang right — those heels on cobblestones are deadly.

 

Carrying the girl -- who should have to walk and carry her shoes? Chivalry is alive and well!

Carrying the girl — who should have to walk and carry her shoes? Chivalry is alive and well!

Young, happy and free. Let's dance!

Young, happy and free. Let’s dance!

And maybe I kinda like having my own photo taken with my students...

And maybe I kinda like having my own photo taken with my students…

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And I also like having my picture taken with my friends!

And I also like having my picture taken with my friends!

And what's a prom without a selfie with a Spaniard pretending to be in Men in Black?

And what’s a prom without a selfie with a Spaniard?

Let’s Dance! Video footage of dance is linked here. And here. And finally, here, too!

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A Musical Spring in Belgium

A couple of nights ago, I was invited by a nice new friend, whom I like, to a concert — classical music, which I also like, so I accepted. Only later did I find out that the concert would be in a private castle and that we would likely meet the old Belgian aristocracy who live in the house.

Well, how about that?

So I dressed up, evening clothes and my sky-high heels. I met my friend for dinner at a nearby restaurant, La Maison du Cocher. I was very impressed with the service; the gentleman who waited on us was, I think, one of the owners, or at least he acted like it, which of course is a good sign. And the food was good. A side note: if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you won’t find a lot of (read: any) restaurants outside of Brussels with anything besides a vegetarian salad on the menu, and some places, like this lovely restaurant, will have nothing. But if you’re lucky, and the restaurant is good, as this one is, they’ll make a nice vegetarian meal for you. But don’t try for vegan — they won’t know what to do with that at all.

But I digress.

After dinner, we headed to the Chateau Morval, which isn’t actually a castle, but rather what we would call in the US, a “mansion.” It’s an 18th century residence that was built to replace the former family residence. No telling how many rooms, but it is enormous. There were folding chairs set up in rows in one of the rooms, with a big grand Steinway at one end. The room was grand, too, with high ceilings and old rugs, and hundred year old (or more?) paintings on the walls of family ancestors. As we found our seats, we passed a pair of chairs that had sheets of paper on them reading “Ct et Ctesse d’Oultremont.” The owners of the castle.

Nice.

The Count of Oultremont

The Count of Oultremont

The concert, the opening of the series called Printemps Musical de Silly (that’s the town, “Silly,” not the, um, silly town. Or maybe it is silly; I don’t really know it. In any event, this first in the concert series was, as we say in the southern US, a humdinger! The pianist was terrific, a young Belgian named Jean Capelle. The baritone, another young Belgian, was the exceptional and prize-winning Sebastien Parotte. The soprano, again young and again Belgian, was world-class Julie Mossay.

Soprano Julie Mossay

Soprano Julie Mossay

So other than being Belgian, what did these three have in common? They are young! Because the Printemps series is intended as a showcase for young talent. But their youth is a ruse to draw you in, and make you suspect nothing. In fact they are ridiculously talented, far beyond their years, and not just in music. The two vocalists are gifted actors who have clearly done a lot of stage work. They sang an hour and a half of comedic duets and solos, complete with body language that made the French lyrics inconsequential for my friend, who is just beginning to learn the language. And of course, they sang wonderfully.

Sorry the photo is grainy; iPhone pics inside.

Sorry the photo is grainy; iPhone pics, you know.

Afterwards there was a lovely reception where we did, indeed, meet the Count’s family. His sons, both older men themselves, were charming and friendly, and my friend and I were the only Americans there, so we drew some attention, in a good way.There was champagne, orange juice, chocolate, hors d’oeuvres. We met some interesting people other than the aristocracy, too. It was an altogether lovely evening.

I was so impressed, I bought a season ticket. It goes right up to the end of the school year, and there’s something every weekend. I’m pretty excited. But I’m not sure it will top this night. Here’s a sampling.

Deci Dela

My friend and I, decked out for the evening.

My friend and I, decked out for the evening.

Here’s a link showing information about Printemps Musical and with a photo of the castle.

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What Betsy Saw (Subtitle: Spring comes to Belgium)

This is Betsy.

Betsy on ottoman best

Betsy is a senior dog, probably twelve or thirteen at least; she is likely a Chihuahua-Pekingese mix, known as a Pikachu. She likes a lot of things: cookies, treats, soft food, eating off a fork or spoon, sleeping, sitting in the sun, my cats, barking at cyclists and at other dogs, and sitting on my lap. But what she likes most are walks. Short walks, long walks, walks in the cold, walks in the heat. Betsy loves walks. And her favorite walks are ones like our walk today: 65 degrees Fahrenheit, sun shining, little or no traffic on our country road. And this is what Betsy saw today on her walk.

Horses!

Pretty gate leading to a house up the road

Pretty gate leading to a house up the road

Ivy starting to grow up the corner of a house

Ivy starting to grow up the corner of a house

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Neighbor’s flowers starting to bloom!

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Brave little yellow flower on the side of the road

These little "daisy-like" flowers are everywhere.

These little “daisy-like” flowers are everywhere.

Look closely and you can see the local chateau behind the trees.

Look closely and you can see the local chateau behind the trees.

Blue sky: a rarity in Belgium

Yep, those are flower buds!

Yep, those are flower buds!

Springtime is finally coming to Belgium. Betsy is happy about that. So am I.

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Bouillon and its Chateau-Fort

I decided to head to Bouillon when I saw a picture of the castle on Facebook. The photo showed the castle at night, and it was stunning. This week offered an opportunity to go, and the castle did not disappoint. From the dungeon’s torture room to the views of the Semois River, it was spectacular.

The Chateau-Fort from the banks of the Semois.

The Chateau-Fort from the banks of the Semois.

The Chateau-Fort sits predictably over the town of Bouillon on the narrowest part of the peninsula created by the Semois River.

The Chateau-Fort sits predictably over the town of Bouillon on the narrowest part of the peninsula created by the Semois River.

The Chateau-Fort of Bouillon probably dates to before the tenth century, but there is no proof of that. We do know for certain that it was in the hands of the House of Ardenne until 1096. The Ardenne Duke, Godefroid, sold it that year to finance his part in the first Crusade. When he departed from the Castle headed for Jerusalem, it was with the hopes that he would return and buy it back.  Unfortunately for him, in spite of having conquered Jerusalem, he died there in 1100. It is said that he was named “Defender of the Holy Sepulchre” because he refused to wear a king’s crown “where Jesus Christ had worn a crown of thorns.” As a Believer, I find that particular statement startling and confusing; Godefroid held a belief in my God, yet he managed to kill thousands of Jews on his way to Jerusalem and thousands of Muslims when he got there. Hard for me to fathom, but that’s another post, and another blog.

In the Salle de Godefroid, a large cross was found under the floor. It is highlighted now by glass blocks.

In the Salle de Godefroid, a large cross was found under the floor. It is highlighted now by glass blocks.

The torture chamber in the dungeon of the castle.

The torture chamber in the dungeon of the castle. The cylinders with spikes on them are a particularly nasty-looking RACK. The hanging weight is how it was tightened.

The prison, in the dungeon, near the torture chamber.

The prison, in the dungeon, near the torture chamber. Look closely at the chains hooked to the wall.

The views from the tower are spectacular. On the one side, the town of Bouillon. On the other, the lovely mountains of the Ardennes region. I visited in late winter, so the trees were not beautiful, but thanks to my maternal great-Aunt Katherine, I learned years ago to appreciate the unique beauty of this season, especially as it allows for views that summer foliage spoils.

The Semois River and the Pont de France.

The Semois River and the Pont de France.

The Semois from another perspective, over the town of Bouillon.

The Semois from another perspective, over the town of Bouillon.

Still another lovely view of the Semois

Still another lovely view of the Semois

And finally, one more.

And finally, one more.

This is a trip I recommend. At just under two hours from Brussels or from Mons, it’s worth the journey. There are several brasseries and a tearoom with quiches and sweets and a rich selection of teas. Go. Take your camera. And your love of history.

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Boys Will Be Boys

So most of you know I’m a teacher. A Spanish teacher, in fact. Occasionally a French teacher, but a Spanish teacher in a secondary school for eons. As a Spanish teacher, I sometimes show a movie that has some relevance. In level one classes, that means a culturally relevant movie in English with Spanish subtitles or vice versa.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to show part of a film, and I chose one of my favorites, Selena. This was Jennifer Lopez’ “breakout” film in the starring role of Selena Quintanilla, Tejano musician who was wildly popular in the 90′s. For those of you who have never seen the movie AND don’t know the story: SPOILER ALERT!!! I’m about to tell you what happens, so you might want to go watch the movie then come back to this, because it’s a really fun movie. Just sayin’.

Anyway, we watched the first hour or so and the bell rang, and curriculum being what it is,  we never got back to it. As we are now approaching our Carnival Break, the students begged me on Tuesday if they could finish it. I said, “okay, if you’re really awesome today.” And naturally, for the first time this year, they were. (Not really. It might’ve been the second time. Or maybe the third.)

So today I showed the rest of the movie. Throughout the fifty-five or so minutes, one macho boy, a seventeen year old with hormones raging particularly high, kept making good-natured but mocking comments, complete with wiping away fake tears. “Oh, it’s just so, *sniff sniff* touching,” and so forth. Now remember, this is far enough in the past that most of these kids don’t know who Selena was or how she died, and they weren’t around to see the outpouring of love there was for her afterwards.

When the ending began, with what looked like real news footage of the crime scene and standoff with her fan-club president/killer, everyone, and especially this one boy, was completely silent, eyes glued to the screen. The atmosphere in the room was thick with emotion. No apparent tears, but clearly empathy reigned.

When the movie ended, I immediately put on a youtube video of the killer proclaiming her innocence on 20/20 a year after she had been sentenced to life. “It was an accident,” she said, describing how the “accident” happened in what was obviously an elaborate lie. This big, strapping boy thrusts his hand at the screen and calls out sarcastically, “Right, I went and bought a gun, called Selena and told her to meet me, then I just happened to point it at her and it just happened to GO OFF!! Whatever! Who is she trying to kid?” Etc. etc. etc…

I had to keep myself from laughing out loud. So happy to see that even big, strong, macho seventeen year olds have a sensitive side. Bidi bidi bom bom!

Bidi Bidi Bom Bom by Selena y los Dinos

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