Book vs. Phone

The man sat on the sun lounger by the side of the pool is reading a book. His female companion, in the adjacent sun lounger, is looking at her smartphone. I am in the pool.

I hear raised voices and turn towards them. The man is gesturing vigourously at his book, to the point where he’s repeatedly stabbing the pages with his finger as if to physically ram home his point. He speaks in a language I do not recognise. He becomes agitated and shoves the book towards the woman’s face, then waves dismissively at her phone. She replies in a soft, hurt voice, but he’s not listening and continues to rant for several minutes. He seems to be saying something along the lines of “Why are you playing with your stupid phone when you should be reading a good book like I am?”.


Dressing up

Yesterday we made a return trip to the Japanese garden in Hasselt where they were celebrating Children’s Day. A local Japanophile cosplay organisation took the chance to come along and strut their stuff, dressed up as various characters from manga and anime. Not that I recognised any of them.


The young lady in this photo must have been freezing. I had a jumper and jacket on and I was cold.


Every now and then they’d switch into character and strike a few poses for the cameras (mostly their own). I can see the point of this if you’re going to take part in a show of some kind, but to make all the effort to dress up and then just to hang out and chat among yourselves seems a bit of a waste.


Then a long came this lady with her little entourage. At first I thought Lady Gaga had stopped by to shoot a video, but then I realised it was a married couple using the gardens as a picturesque backdrop for their wedding photos.


I love the head-piece. Only afterwards did it occur to me that maybe her religion forbids her from showing her hair.



I get onto the metro this morning to go into town. In front of me sits a woman wearing a hijab, her back to me. Opposite her sits a young man in an eggshell blue shirt, with chunky silver rings on all his fingers. It’s not clear to me whether or not they know each other.

After a couple of minutes he apparently touches her foot with his. She seethes “Don’t touch me don’t touch me DON’T TOUCH ME!” A pause. He says to her “Nice watch”. She takes off the watch, which, like his rings, is silver and chunky and heavy-looking and hurls it at his face, catching him just above the eye. When he has regained his composure he smirks and says “Nice clothes”. The response is not what he had hoped for. She harangues him, saying that she’d told him a thousand times to leave her alone, that she’s not interested, that he should stop following her around like a puppy.

Throughout her face remains hidden to me, so I can only see him. Occasionally he’ll fight back or make some sarcastic remark but she’s relentless, and across his face flit a variety of emotions from disappointment to fear to embarrassment to contempt to discomfort. Mostly he seems confused and upset. This clearly wasn’t how things were supposed to go.

She gets off at the same stop as me, leaving him sitting alone, blushing and rubbing his sore temple.


Last night I went into town to see a film and as I had about 45 minutes to spare beforehand and the light was still good I wandered around with my camera. Look, we’re in the centre of Brussels. There’s a handy sign:

In this kind of weather there are always plenty of people out eating on terraces.

I’ve always wanted to stand on a street corner with a long lens and pick faces out of the crowd, but I either get self-conscious about pointing a camera at strangers or someone passes in front of me and spoils the shot.

That’s Charles Buls, mayor of Brussels and tireless campaigner for the preservation of its architectural heritage.

And finally I circled round back to the Galeries Royales, where the Arenberg cinema is situated.

Every summer they run a festival called Ecran Total. They always have an interesting programme; this is where I saw In This World, Atanarjuat and Manufactured Landscapes, among others.

Last night I saw Moon.

A woman a couple of seats along from me was obviously unimpressed by the film’s languid pacing and spent most of the running time sending and receiving text messages. I was constantly distracted by either the buzz of an incoming message or the tap-tap-tap of her reply, and the faint blue glow from the phone screen. My sporadic sighs and glares were in vain.

When the film ended and the lights came up I looked across and saw her composing another message, tears streaming down her face.

Bonjour Metro

This week the Brussels public transport network is launching a “civility” campaign, encouraging people to be nice, or at least not actively rude, to fellow passengers. As I was standing on the metro platform this morning an announcement informed us that today was “Bonjour Metro” day, and that we should all turn and say “Bonjour” to the person on our left.

Just as the message was finishing, the train pulled up and a fight broke out between a man and a teenage boy, one pushing his way onto the train, the other pushing back, struggling to get out.

Abandoned at ballet

As we entered the ballet school with our two daughters, we noticed a small (about 4 years old) girl in the regulation pink dress and tutu, lurking in the hall, crying. Obviously there for the same class as our daughters, we tried to coax her up the stairs to the class, but she refused to budge. Another parent said that they’d seen the mother drive up to the school, let her daughter out and shoo her towards the door, and then drive off. And apparently when other people had opened the door to go in this little girl had even tried to walk back out and onto the street.

We called down one of the school staff and he managed to persuade her to come up to the class. I hope he gave her mother a good talking to when she came to pick her up an hour later…


The trees are all pretty much completely bare around here now (well, the deciduous ones, obviously), so I’m just in time for the obligatory “Isn’t autumn photogenic?” post.

A recent family walk in a nearby park yielded plenty of “Oooh – pretty colours!” moments…

as well as one “WTF?”

At one point we sat under a tree for a snack and noticed a couple of girls on the other side of the park taking some photos of their own. For some reason they seemed uninterested in the beauty of nature surrounding them.

They were there for quite some time, trying out a bewildering variety of poses.