The Exorcist and the C(o)unt: or How I got the Luxembourgish nationality 

IMG_3329Time has arrived to look back on my personal experience on becoming Luxembourgish. I applied for the Luxembourgish nationality in 2016, pre Brexit and before the new law.

For this, I studied Luxembourgish for 3 years. But don’t you schwätzt wann ech glift méi on me! I can do small talk in the language of Rodange and Dicks. However, small talk is something I generally hate, so … I rarely use the language.

However, I know enough to to understand hate comments on the RTL website, especially those articles about foreigners’ right to vote or Flüchtlingen. Funny thing is that I also know enough to see that those comments about how one cannot use his own language in his own country! are 90% of the time not grammatically correct.

Luckily, this is not representative for real Luxembourgers. In fact I found here more acceptance and more freedom than in any other place where I lived. I was blessed to know a few exceptional Luxembourgish  to whom I am and will always be grateful for their support, kindness and open-mindedness.

I truly think that knowing at least a few words in the language of the country where you live is a must. However, it takes more than this to make a nation: culture, history, etc.. In the process of learning this language and during my 9 years here, I discovered music, traditions, expressions and the UNITED ZOHA*. And I made friends.

The second challenge on the way is the civil right classes. I had to attend 3: Human Rights, History and law and an optional. Now the system changed and there are more hours of courses to attend.  Back then the class would have around 25 people. Now they do it in amphitheatres. Thank you Brexit and Trump!

During my 3 classes I came across the same people, a colourful crowd from all over the world. Each class had its share of peculiarity, but by far the one that marked my spirit for a loooong time was the Human rights class. It became a tale of dark humour and awkward cultural misinterpretation.

Introducing the characters, people who were in the room:

  • O, a Romanian woman with an identity issue on the edge of falling asleep. Ok, that’s me.
  • Islam – an intelligent man from Bangladesh cursed with this surname
  • English guy (this was pre Brexit) with red cheeks who was holding his eyes with his hands in an attempt to stay awake
  • German woman with a superiority complex
  • The pedantic Danish couple who already knew all the laws
  • The American – a Jewish older guy with glasses who could at any time play Woody Allen (if old Woody ever stops doing films)
  • Two African men dressed in white robes with kufis
  • A Belgium woman who winked at me after the class

And last but not least, in the leading role: the teacher.

I walked into a room and I wondered if I needed an eye control. The first thing I saw was a woman at a desk. It came to my mind the time when a photographer gave me a tip: don’t combine dots and stripes. How about combining dots, on the sleeves, stripes all over and checkers on the margin in all colours of the rainbow? This was the teacher. She had white hair that gave a literal meaning to the expression: “A bad hair day”, but, but… very important: she had a Vuitton bag… and a bright pink expensive brand coat.

The class began and everyone had to introduce themselves in spite of the class “only” being two hours long. The teacher addressed us with the speed of snail going up a window and warned us that her English skills were not so good, because English was her fourth language. She also told us that her ancestors were Prussians who came to Luxembourg because they were fed up with Prussia.

So why did everyone want the nationality? First, we all agreed that the Luxembourgish passport makes travelling life easier.

Then there were other reasons. The German woman was in search of her true national identity, which was in-between English and Luxembourgish. I would have asked her if she wasn’t in search for her manners too, because she spoke with her feet on the table. The Asians and Africans obviously wanted  to live here without paying visits to the authorities every few years. The Danish couple wanted their children to be part of national sports teams. Yes: they were good looking and smart and their kids did performance sports! Plenty of reasons not to like them! The American because in Europe there’s a thing called “social protection”. The Englis was concerned about the (yet improbable at the time) perspective of Brexit. At least this I think he meant when he said that he was afraid to lose his own nationality. Or maybe I was in the wrong institution.

After all these, you probably won’t believe the reasons why I wanted the nationality. Besides the passport, I wanted it because of pure selfish pride, stubbornness and rebellion. I refuse to define myself through one nationality. Without disrespecting my origin, we do not have only one identity. Out of the numerous identities one can posses, some are not even cultural. And secondly because I sincerely love this country. I came to this place because this was where I wanted to live and I made this place my home. Being Luxembourgish is a symbol of all that, and it’s my story.

After that introduction round that lasted a small eternity, we started the class. I fell under a sort of sleep state.

I was waken up several times: one time when the teacher exclaimed: “I’m so glad that people exorcise Luxembourgish at home”. She was wrong: this language is nowhere near being exorcised. This language will haunt us for a long time, especially if Brexit happens and all the Brits living in Luxembourg will have to learn it. This language will haunt us through the new generation of kids who will stay home until they will be 30. It will haunt us through parents will have to learn how to communicate with the kids schooled here. This language will haunt us through the motto of resistance to change (mir well bleiwe watt mir sinn). No, dear, this language will not be exorcised! Still, I imagined the scene of an exorcist coming into a dark house, looking around and saying: A strange language has gone into her. I think she is possessed.

The second time I woke up was when she was giving us a lesson of history. Luxembourg was founded by a cunt. In fact several “c unts” have come to Luxembourg trying to settle with their horses, but one particular “c unt” named “Siegfried” managed to stay here. Most people in the room didn’t notice the mispronunciation. Just the Serbian next to me smiled. The English guy and Woody Allen were both playing with the phone. In the end most of us came in this world through a “c unt”, so what’s the big deal.

The lesson continued through the history of the women rights in Luxembourg, at which point the two African men interrupted her with a question. It was the first question of the evening. She was so happy to have finally a question that she didn’t come back to the subject. That question was: Is it true that they plan to increase the minimum salary? Of course, no, answered the Danish instead of the teacher. Everyone simply ignored the sudden change of topic, considering normal that minimum salary to be discussed at the same time as women rights.

And finally, towards the end, there was time to talk about the integration of the foreigners. The discussion turned to the Portuguese. And here, there was a phrase from the teacher which capture the whole essence of Luxembourg: “Since there was a migration in the 17th (she wanted to say 70s but I forgive her) we are trying to sensibiliticize them to learn the language. But it is very hard. Very, very hard. Because… men work outside and women work inside”. To be mentioned: there was no Portuguese in the room. They were probably having the same class in Luxembourgish.

Now, there’s one thing that I want to make clear: I don’t hold anything against the teacher. I’m sure she did the best she could to give that class. Everyone does fashion mistakes. I do plenty and my hair on a usual day looks awful. I also do funny language mistakes in English, not to mention Luxembourgish. Thank God no one cared so much, when by mistake I directed people to the “horny lady” instead of the “golden lady”.

I am certain that she didn’t have mean intentions. I’m sure that for her it was something normal, inoffensive to classify all the Portuguese in the country into housewives and construction workers. I’m also sure that if she ever reads this she will feel offended, but, I hope that she’ll understand that this text has a satirical scope.

What I would also want to say is that she is wrong again. The new generation of Portuguese speaks very well Luxembourgish. As well as the Italians who came before them. They are (as a friend said) very ambitious and they will succeed where the old generations of Luxos won’t.

And of course, I don’t see the problem with men outside, women inside, when they obviously won’t learn Luxembourgish from each.

Towards the end Islam raised the most intelligent question related to human rights. I was so concentrated trying not to laugh about the exorcist and the cunt that I couldn’t listen to the answer given by the Danish couple.

But please, don’t think that all teachers are like this or that these classes are useless. I learned important information from each of it, especially from the history and politics. These classes introduced me to the overly complicated voting system. Learning the history confirmed that Luxembourg was not actually founded by a cunt but by a count. I learned that there were other capable men and women who made this small country a place where people want to join the nationality.

And in the end, how would you exorcise fear and obsolete ideas imprinted in the conscience of a nation with an identity issue, if it’s not through … humour?

* United Zoha , also called the N rule is a grammarian oddity in Luxembourgish (that most native speakers don’t know as such) consisting of adding N at the words ending in E, when the following word starts with U, N, I, T, E, D, Z, O, H or A. Simple, isn’t it?  

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My view on this “me too” hashtag

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I have mixed feelings about this Me too campaign. At first I thought to post the hashtag myself and yet, after giving it a longer thought,  I realised that I have some reserves.

1. The worst stories will remain untold

The first thing that made me hesitate is the same reason why I rarely talk about the subject  with other women: because I sometimes feel that the aggressiveness I experienced is so insignificant compared to what others have been through, that I should be grateful for my luck. I know women who had been raped, beaten, molested as a child, and during a class trip my colleagues and I had seen a boy in a train station being paid for a sexual act. Growing up, I was more exposed to violence than I am today and sometimes it’s just too much or it seems inappropriate to say these two words in this context.
Sometimes you tell a story to people, and they come back with their own and the empathy and pain it brings up is so overwhelming that I think to myself: Who am I to rub into those wounds?The simple truth is that each experience is different: some are simple to wash out (after all people are hurting each other in so many ways daily) others mess us up in such deep ways that it takes years to undo or they never get fixed. And how is this different from other things that kill parts of us and leave open wounds for ages like domestic violence, mobbing or robberies?

2. “Me too” enforces the stereotype of women being victims

Second hesitation is that, once again, it shows women as victims and has nothing positive or transformative to it. Me too. Then what? I want to ask. When are we beginning the real work on this?The hashtag being linked to feminism, associates sexual abuse only to women which is, from my point of view, a huge mistake.

Men also suffer from it and we are very, very rarely talking about it. So far, I haven’t seen statistics on how many teenage boys are being sexually assaulted when bullied in schools, not to mention prisons or human traffic. Men’s sexual abuse history is still one of the biggest tabous of all times, and it has common roots, perpetuating the same type of danger that women face. I heard about men who had posted the hashtag and were being mocked about it or excludes due to this being “a women’s thing” and that let me a bitter taste. Which leads me to my third point.

3. The message gets lost along the way

Throwing a hashtag on a matter like this just diminishes the power of the message. I don’t think that society is unaware of the size of the issue, on the contrary, those who should be ashamed of it couldn’t care less about a bunch of women posting comfortably from their homes “me too”.

Women need a change in narrative
I don’t think that “look how many victims there are out there” is a good story to tell if we want change. Because where there are victims there is an unconscious call for more aggressors. It is like the quotas and other ideas that work against feminism more than sustaining it and stir up competition between sexes, frustration and ultimately more violence. As if we didn’t have enough of those already. How is this going to work, I wonder?


I crossed paths with sexual agression several times in my life. One of those encounters, at the age of 12 had an impact on me. It wasn’t something that traumatised me but it did hurt the little girl I was and took away a part of my confidence. It also popped out when I was least expecting in relationships with men. I don’t want to say publicly what and how it affected me (again, as I said in the beginning is insignificant compared to other experiences I know). But there were moments when it bothered me and I wanted to share the story in the intimacy of a relationship. It was more of a call for care: look, this happened, so please be gentle about this aspect which I’m still trying to figure out.

I told a long term partner about it, as an act of trust and his reaction made me shut down. He answered the exact same way he did when I was complaining about my period pains: “How’s that my problem? That’s just that you women have this morbid preoccupation for these things. You just seek for attention.”
Needless to say, how much this ressembles numerous reactions to the Me too hashtag.

Years later, at 30  I told that story again in a late night confession to a much older man. I found it easier to open to him than to many other people of my age, maybe because his maturity was trustful.
His response was to reassure me that I was not the first, nor the second, nor even the fifth woman who had told him a story like this. He pointed out that I should not be, under any circumstance ashamed, that everyone who receives this sort of confession should show care and understanding and.., that I managed, in spite of all this to become the woman I am now. In the end he whispered to me: “Don’t worry, Pheonix. You’ll rise from your own ashes again and again”.
He had taken my tale of a child’s fear and transformed it into a story of resilience and strength. From that defining conversation I finally let go of it.

Other stories would still haunt me, even today. They are not about sexual abuse but about (mostly) psychological violence, ignorance and being shut off. Certainly, life would have been much easier without having to fight for being accepted and listened to. But in the end, I built resistance and I made my way.

There are other ways to change

I don’t need people to formally acknowledge that we have been all abused one time in our life. Most of us have been.

I would rather see that we teach the girls and boys of today how to protect themselves. I would rather call for emotional education. We’ld rather stop shouting for change and pull up our sleeves and start the hard work. From my experience change only comes through one looong process called EDUCATION and, like it or not, it takes time and commitment to carry it. And time and commitment are not really compatible with social media.

What if instead of shouting “Me too, I was abused“, we would cherish those who supported us. What about saying instead: “I made my way through this and I refuse to pay your aggression with the same currency“.
What if we try to be simply kinder and treat others with more care.
There is this video, I’m sure you’ve seen it about putting people in boxes and it ends with a strong message: “And there’s us who acknowledge the courage of others!” That’s the easy part. But having the courage ourselves to resist violence,ask for help and give the support others… Well, this  is really courage. And it will all change when we would have looked back on a world with less violence and be able to say: me too, I contributed to that change.
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Something´s happening in Luxembourg

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Yet another Nationalfeierdag has passed with fireworks and crowded places. The bridge is healed, the tram is getting ready, constructions still rise everywhere and the population of Luxembourg is growing. I saw yesterday a sea of people, much more colourful and diverse than 8 years ago when I arrived here. Luxembourg is changing, is growing. There are so many cultural activities, networking events that flourished in the last year that I heard many times people saying: “something´s happening”.

Though a part of me already lingers for a piece of lost paradise, the lost paradise of quietness and long walks on empty streets on a Sunday evening, some other part of me tells me that now is a good time: a time for renewal, for hope. Something´s happening, and I think that what we feel are the tectonic movements of our society moving towards a new decade. I heard this somewhere, that the cycles of the world last for about 10 years. And somehow it’s true: why else would we talk about the 90´s, the nostalgic 60´s, the lost 20´s? Though in the core of it, human nature doesn’t change, we indulge in the hope that society does.

I remember also a story of my own about cycles. It was probably 2006 and I was friends with a woman who used to work for the library of the university who had a passion for astrology. She wasn’t the naïve horoscope reader, and, in spite of what one may think, she had a lot of knowledge about stars because her father was an astronomy professor. She was just throwing a symbolism on the astronomical events. So, one day, at a coffee in this old room smelling like old books she read my natal chart and she told me that Jupiter (or Saturn) was about to move in my sign in the following year and this is a cycle that will last for about 12 years, that soon I will undergo a huge change in my system of beliefs. Right, I said… and I moved on. However, as Saturn (or Jupiter) started to move towards the constellation of Scorpio, I did start to change beliefs. I was in my 20s and, as I found out later, there is a psychological equivalent for what was happening to me, and it´s called the “social identity crisis”. Just to give you an example of beliefs that left my constellation that year: the belief that God only resides the Orthodox Church and that he counts the number of times you do the sign of the Cross, the believe that the entire world has something against my nation and the belief that we are all soo different, the idea that sex is shameful, that moving to another country will be a failure.
The fact is that I didn’t just changed. It was part of a process, part of a journey. All that helped back then though, was to take the changes from the environment and try to swim on the wave. That year Romania joined the EU, the economy was up and things were looking good. And then the financial crisis came and we were faced with new challenges. I remember the wave of concern. Where I was working it was like the end of the world was coming. And yet we survived.
And yet the prophecy turned true, not because of Jupiter or Saturn (or maybe, who knows) but because it was time to.

And this is how I felt on the evening before the National Day in Luxembourg.
I attended this play by Serger Tonnar with refugees about refugees: Letters from Luxembourg. This is an emotional journey through concepts like “freedom”, “God” or “home”. It shows the human face behind this term “refugee”, with satirical glimpses on the bureaucratic system. It shows people who miss their loved ones, who ask themselves questions of identity and escape a sea of water to drown in a sea of paper.

But the simple fact that this play was put in place is a step ahead. I watched the dedication and the emotions of those people through the glass of my own becoming and I feel grateful to be the receiver of this artistic act. I am grateful to see people putting a piece of their heart out in the world, expressing, creating in spite of tough things they went through. Having the chance to do so, is already a seed of freedom that we can grow.

Yes, something’s happening. We now have a comedy scene starting, a poetry scene coming behind a little bit more shy, we have festivals, art events and open air concerts. For me they all are linked by an invisible thread which is the need for expression and creativity. In this part of the world where our basic needs get met, the need for meaning starts to show its shy head. I know that still the majority lives in the hamster wheel of “eat-work-sleep”, but there are more and more people who reach out for more, for something to feed their soul with.

If I say that it’s already a very positive thing, because you don’t know it but I was born and raised a pessimist. Me acknowledging that there is hope for our generation is like an acrophobian saying that he might consider sky diving in the coming year. At least this is the effect that these tectonic movements had on me: they turned me into an unexpected optimist. Don’t worry, there is a downside to optimism: since I’ve become an optimist, I tend to go out without an umbrella. Which not always works.

Don’t get me wrong: there are still a lot of problems happening around. There is still hate, there are crimes, stress. There were 3 major accidents on construction sites and there are still refugees welcomed with suspicious looks. There are still poor people on the street and there are those who get fired without explanation. There are still burnouts, oh there are more burnouts than ever, in fact. But I also found more people rising from their own ashes than ever. As I noticed from my life experience, for someone or for a structure to grow, either one has to learn from the others (and how do I know, most people don’t have the capacity to do so as we are never encouraged to), or to get to a place which is so uncomfortable that one starts to feel the need to get out. Sometimes we need to go down to hell, like Dante, to walk our way up, through purgatory to paradise.

And the road from hell is a long road uphill. Like these valleys that surround Luxembourg and its plateaus. Sometimes you seem to have reached the peak but you didn’t and you get down again, deeper in a new valley, and then you go up again on the old fortification towers and so forth and so on.

But when something seems to be happening, we can still look with curiosity towards the future and maybe… maybe if we have the courage, to look for what we can contribute to this change.

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I don’t want any more objects. I have enough

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When my parents visited me, I told the story of assembling my Ikea bed. It goes like this: a friend helps me bring the boxes in the bedroom. My sister and I go step by step through the assembly process and everything goes perfectly well! There is no missing piece, every bolt and screw is in the package. We managed to get the bed frame standing and stable.

At this point we take a break and there’s one more step to complete: fix the 4 flexible metal bars that hold the frame together. Easy peezy… We just had to put screw nr 117327 in 12 little holes . Or not.
I could only think that assembling an Ikea bed might discourage the myth of the 40(or 72 virgins). Who would ever like to deal with that after trying to make screw nr 117337 go in it’s hole?

I only had an electrical screw driver. It didn’t work. Apparently when it’s too small you don’t need force. You need precision and being gentle. And I tried from the top and from the bottom. I tried making the holes bigger, but metal on metal doesn’t go well. In the end I managed to screw around 6 of the 12 screws and I gave up. So, if my bed falls apart one day, you’ll know why.

I bought then a new manual screwdriver that turned out to be as useless as the previous.
At that moment in the story, my father did the following exclamation: “And do you have a hammer?”.
Now, being used to the logic of my family, I know exactly why my dad asked me this apparently unrelated question.

The reason has nothing to do with crafting, or DYI or nails for that matter. It has to do with tradition. No, we have no tradition of hitting each other in the head with a hammer. The man was simply looking ahead to the next occasion when he will have to, for the sake of tradition, buy me a present.

“No, dad, I don’t have a hammer since my ex boyfriend took it with him 3 years ago.”
“What??? You don’t have a hammer? I’ll buy you one tomorrow. As a present.”
“Thank you dad, but I don’t need a hammer.”
“Why? What will you do if you need to put a picture on the wall?”
“Like I always did: I’ll use the rolling pin. I never use it for backing but it’s perfect for hammering nails.”
“And what if you will absolutely need a hammer. What if you need to assemble something that needs nails?”
“I’ll borrow one.”
“But why? I’ll buy you a hammer tomorrow.”
“Dad, I have lived for 3 years without a hammer. I can still live for another 3.”
“Then what would you like for a present?”

That’s the thing. I don’t want anything. I have so many things, so much stuff that the idea of desire itself is gone. Instead I have less and less space and tend to spend more and more time outside.
Have you ever felt fed up with something? I did. With objects.
I appreciated all the presents that I received in the previous years. I still know who gave me the scarf I was wearing yesterday or each book, but I also know that the most valuable gifts received from them were non material. For instance I remember when a friend of mine gave me as a present The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This is a book that I devorished, and I watched the movie. But I have other memories with her that I value more, like the times when I was visiting her over the weekend. I was just beginning to live in Luxembourg and I was alone with all this time in my hands. She had a 28 square meters studio in Nancy, France and we were watching movies and talk and walk and when I was leaving was always a feeling of emptiness and loneliness again. All gifts from her were valuable, but those times are even more important to me.

And there are those few presents that I wanted to have and I couldn’t have. One time, someone promised me for my birthday the crystal unicorn figurine from his collection. But in between the promise and the time when he was suppose to bring me the unicorn, our friendship broke into pieces. Now you know what the unicorn on my bracelet represents.

I know I can’t help myself from buying presents and I do put a lot of heart and energy into finding the right one. But ultimately I would like to change that. And I’m working on it.

I would like to challenge this idea. Ok, birthdays are birthdays. We all benefit from time to time to have a special day. But Christmas… this should be about sharing and not presents.

My parents had a job in sales and the most busy time was December. Many years in a row I received from them a pyjama, bought from the store next to the place where they were working. Yes, it was sweet but the memories of all these pyjamas are in fact quite bitter. There was a lot of useless guilt on both sides of this gift: them for not being able to put a greater present under the tree and me for their effort that did not mean much to me. In fact, for a strange reason, I hate pyjamas, as I hate any set of closing. I don’t own any costume in my wardrobe. I only wore a skirt suit once for graduation and because my mother forced me to. And that was because the skirt was different from the jacket.
Anyways, coming back to the pyjamas. Strangely enough, I remember them all and in relation to my parents. The most vivid memories about those were about me being sick.

Back to presents. I really think that we could slow down on buying Christmas presents. Why can’t we just give up on one tradition and build other more meaningful? Why is it soo hard to give up on a thing that won’t matter anyway? Are we doomed to bury each other under objects? In stuff? Is happiness only about having things or cumulating mountains of plastic?

I remember the times when my grandmother was cleaning the storage house, an event that took place every two years in summer. In my family, you probably got it already, we love to entertain paradoxes. We had the house with the 5 rooms which was called “the house” and a small annexe – only one room where we were throwing all the useless shit, and that was called “the BIG house”. Once every two years the BIG house was put under reorganisation works. Did I mention that my grandparents lived most of their lives in the scarcity of communism so the number of objects they cumulated over the years is probably the tenth part of what a family would hold today in one year?

And then the show would start. Grandma was taking everything out from the big house into the sun and would make piles of what is to be given away, what is to be thrown and what is to be rearranged. And when she got the three equally big piles she would go for a nap and when she came back she would find my grandpa (also called “the collector”) who was shifting the last two piles back.
“Why are you throwing this dress away?”
“Because it’s eaten by moths.”
“It looks good to me”
“It doesn’t fit me since I had kids”
“Maybe the girls would wear it”

And when it wouldn’t work with the practical argument he would try an emotional one. Sometimes it worked if he would track back the touching memory of an object, but most of the time, the negotiations were tough and totally unpractical.
But grandpa didn’t like presents either. When he was asked what he would like for a present he would say: “Bring me that sweater that doesn’t fit you any more. I’ll wear it when I’ll feed the animals”. He never appreciated new things but each time he was receiving a good pair of worn shoes from my father his eyes sparkled.

For years I thought that he was just too attached to objects to let go, but towards the end of his life, when fear of death started to slip in, I understood that it had nothing to do with the stuff itself. It had to do with the memories of his life, pictures of his girls cheering up, joy and beauty that he once lived, and something else. Because here’s another element about this wise man: he was a craftsman. Nothing was ever lost, everything was transformed. Whatever was there in the piles, he saw a potential to use it. And it wasn’t the stuff itself he didn’t want to give up but the idea that one day in the future he will do something with it.

I wish I had the time and motivation to do like him, but the problem with the world today is that we have a lot more. We are in the middle of an excess crisis. We own too much and feel too little! We give with comfort and relief. We give to clean our conscience, we pay money for it. There is more love that goes into not giving than into this meaningless exchange of benefits: money against doing your duty in the tradition.

That being said, I would like to make a point for all those who feel guilty that they didn’t buy all their loved ones a gift for Christmas. Don’t feel! By all means, don’t feel guilty for not adding to the mountain of meaningless stuff under which we bury ourselves.
Do something else: write them a nice card, bring them to a show, a movie, cook something (only if you’re good at it) or simply spend time without fighting! Be kind! Think about not hurting someone! Give attention! Leave your phone aside for a day and go in the woods with them.
That’s what Christmas should be about: quality time, not stuff.

Merry Christmas!

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A train story

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The below happened under my eyes in the train which was taking me and my sister to Bruxelles to spend holidays with our family. It’s not a tragic story, it’s just slightly bitter as a day of winter when the sky turns grey and you know that it was supposed to snow by now but you slip under the dim light of your desk lamp and dive your nose into the computer and you let news of climate change be covered by some video with a dog eating a Christmas tree.

It was the day of the attack in Germany and the news were grim, nerves were stretching, a few dark thoughts passed through my mind.

I fell asleep around Namur and woke up near Ottignes where the whole scene started. A man walked into the train, a young man of presumably Moroccan origins. He put his luggage and sat like any normal passenger, with his girlfriend, a redhead young woman. A few seats in front a Muslim woman with her hair covered sat alone.

Just a minute later, another man entered the train. He had washed out jeans and a brown leather jacket, he was bold and had unsteady eyes, surrounded by large black circles. His moves were swift and irregular. He was holding an unlit cigarette between his fingers, using it to point towards imaginary people. His eyes seem to be running in all the directions. His lips were moving as if he was talking to himself. My first thought was “drugs”. He entered our car and went straight to the first man, mumbling and baiting at him in a mix of French and Arab.

Soon the tone started to raise and everyone in the train was terrified. The woman with the headscarf was obviously scared. She had her fingers on the phone, as if she was ready to call someone. What I could understand from the mix was: “you’re not a good Moroccan. What? You’re only speaking French? French? The language of these …? Of these … You’re Moroccan, you should be ashamed to speak to me in French! You think you’re a Belgium? You are Moroccan. French is the language of scoundrels!”
The insults were pouring in this strange language mix, in spite of the young man answering in Arab with an impressive calm. My sister told me later on that she could see his hands shaking while the deranged was shouting at him. It lasted for too long. Other people in the car were looking down, on the window. We continued talking soddly as if nothing was happening. I could smell the fear in the air, this fear that oppresses us lately, the fear of an attack, the fear that raises the tensions, fear of other humans, fear that there was a bomb under that brown leather jacket.

I could smell it and I was myself drowning in it, with every new stronger wave of the verbal violence. I could understand a word in 10 but I could feel the hate through the language barrier. The woman with the headscarf looked more and more worried and the young man was managing to keep calm.

After a while he stopped answering in Arab and any language. The violent guy left the car but he was watching him though the door, still moving his cigarette. A controller came and asked his ticket. For just the 2 minutes they spoke, his face changed at 180 degrees. He was smiling, showing his ticket as if he has been smiling for the entire journey. I was surprised that the employee of the railroad didn’t ask anything about his cigarette, which he was still turning and pointing in his hand. Maybe he didn’t want to know more.

Meanwhile the young man was talking to his girlfriend: “I am so ashamed and I feel guilty for his attitude. You can’t imagine the words of hate he said to me in Arab, all the insults…”

When the train entered the first station in Brussels, it stopped for another extremely long minutes. The deranged open the door and from there he asked the young man why he doesn’t want to get out of train. The young man said that he goes to another station.
That created a new tsunami of affronts and insults. The door kept automatically closing and he was hitting the handle to push it back like crazy, while he was yelling: “your a fagget, a homosexual! You’re not a real Moroccan! Fucking fagget! You only speak French!! You wanna fight? Let’s fight! Let’s see who’s stronger! I know box! You wanna fight, you PD?”

At this point the young man who was saying nothing in this second round, could not take it anymore. He raised his tone and shouted out: “ok! Let’s fight!”

Silence in the train. Nothing was moving for a few seconds. He was still sitting in his seat when the mad shut his mouth for once. The door closed for good and the mad man stepped out of the train.
I let out a sigh. The woman with headscarf let her phone on the table and breathed.
The last thing I heard the young man telling his girlfriend was:
“I can’t feel my hands! I was so scared! My heart is pumping.”
“Would you have gotten into a fight with him?” she asked.
“I don’t know”

There are so many questions I think about while putting in writing this events at 1 a.m. I wonder about fear, about war. Are we about to lose the paradise, the safety and freedom we were used to?
From outside it may look like “Arabs fighting between themselves” but from where I was it looked exactly like a consequence of raising hostility between “us” and “them”. As if this “us” and “them” should even exist.

Someone in a post on Facebook, wrote, referring to the Berlin attach: “Muslim immigrants don’t understand the principle of our democracy.”
When I was telling the story into family, I started with introducing the young man, but I called him, for the sake of simplification, “a young Arab”. I could see that from my first words, they were expecting him to be the negative character of the story. As the story unfolded, he became the hero.
And I was wondering what is our so called democracy that allowed so much hate between us as we are no longer recognising the courage, the kindness in a man, just because of a word that I wrongly chose to describe someone?
And do we really know better with our democratic, European values that hang by a hair? What do we know about this large culture? What do we know about being an immigrant and being raised in a family that does not belong and having to fight your way and feel guilty for someone that doesn’t share anything with you, except your language and maybe some obsolete religious rituals? We, the so called “western world” know nothing. This is not a war between the “Arabs” and the “Western world”. It’s a clash of cultures and educations. None of the sides understands the other and those in between, the generation of hard working people who tries to live here like us, well, they are just “immigrants”.
It’s a war of fear. Of course, somewhere in this fucked up world there is blood flowing in rivers and suffering and abuse, but here, in the safety warm, western world we can close our eyes and hide under the blanket. We are no longer used to violence so every outburst is an event.

But then, there was something positive about this story. There was a young man who didn’t answer violence with violence, one of the most forgotten Christian lessons. There was hate giving up in front of courage. There was also mistrust and fear. No one thought about calling any authorities, which shows how much trust we all have in them.

I learned something from the attitude of everyone else in the train.
You can not suppress fear! In front of violence, fear is something real, touchable, it throws you out of control. But, even in those moments, one can chose his or her attitude.
I regret not going and saying an appreciative word to that young man when I was leaving, a simple word of recognition. I was still under this fear that something might have happened.
In the airport there were men patrolling with guns. They didn’t make me feel safer or better. Hate from inside kills as much as the hate from outside.

I don’t have any solutions for the current state of the world. I find that the most difficult to bear is feeling tied, hopeless,  feeling useless. My only way of dealing with these feelings has always been and will always be writing. So, I write. I tell the story as it is, as insignificant as it may look and somewhere in this process I found a glimpse of hope.

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You know it’s October in Luxembourg when…

My first Jack-o'-lantern

Pumpkin missed its chance to become soup

Did you hear? Autumn is in town, blowing it’s redhead temperament over the Grand Duchy and its countless forests, and you might still not want to believe it… Well, good or bad news, October is here and it’s planning to stay at least 3 more weeks. As for me, I find it difficult to explain (to others) but fall is my favorite season, and October is it’s high time. It’s a good month to draw some lines, start some projects, let some creative thoughts kindle the inner Jack-o’-lantern.

However, if you happen to be in denial, here are some hints about how to identify the month of October here. So, here we go.

You know it’s October (or simply fall) in Luxembourg when:

… Everyone get nuts about going to the nut fair Vianden, a perfect occasion to buy nut liquor while moving along in a sea of people.

…When people start panicking that WINTER is coming!!! even in those years when we’ve been blessed with an Indian summer. You hear the first people setting appointments for the winter tires and women whispering to each other: “I have to admit it… I could no longer resist it. I know I shouldn’t have done it but…. I did it. I turned the heating on. …. Did you?” “Oh yes, I’ve sinned too!”

…When expats complain most about the depressing weather in Luxembourg.

…When Cineast starts. In case you do not know, this is a film festival bringing Eastern European productions to Luxembourg. The subjects of these films are limited to a manic-depressive sphere. We have deranged family drama and revolutions (Romanians are the specialists here), deranged politics with a glimpse of religion (go Poland!), Czech films with jokes about Slovaks that no one understands, war drama and tragedy (any ex-Yugoslavian country excels in this) and obviously, immigration and poverty which are the two topics that unite us all in the Eastern + Baltic bloc.
To break the bitterness now and then comes a Balkan music concert or a comedy (usually dark comedy on the above topics) and culinary events.
And despite all the drama and the depressive tone, the festival (which I LOVE by the way) seems to expand every year with new selections, new countries and to last longer. Maybe in a few years it will cover the entire month of October and all cardinal points.

…When you start planning the month of December and you realize that you no longer have any day left without a End-Year Party, Christmas party, charity party or team dinner, friends gathering dinner, let’s-go-to-the-Christmas-market-dinner-lunch-or-Sunday-afternoon-party and you start thinking with horror how you are going to run for Christmas presents between the 21st and 24th of December.

…When Auchan sets up a mushrooms stand and Cactus starts selling stollen (traditional Christmas cake).

…When you’re panicking because either you don’t have any more holidays left or you have too many. In any case you’re not allowed to complain because you’re in Luxembourg and you have more holidays than the rest of the world.

…When you understand that soon you’ll do most of the things in the dark or artificial light.

…When you start looking for flights to places where it’s sunny.

….When in your office you have arguments about whether it is ethical for someone who coughs to come to work or not.

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A Jack o’ Lantern called O. October.

As for me, I knew it’s October when I realized that I had received this mini pumpkin in September. It was a gift from a friend’s garden and it was supposed to become part of some soup. Instead, by the time I got to my kitchen a month has passed. So, I assigned it a new destiny and it became my first  Jack-o’-lantern, to lighten my balcony.

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My trip to Iceland

2 weeks, 5 friends, one Iceland

Three weeks ago I found bliss.

It’s not my intention to write a guide for visiting Iceland. This country is already so sexy for tourism that has tons of free online documentation. It’s heaven for anyone who secretly believes having a little talented photographer inside their head. That’s most millennials plus half of the older population. My intention is to put here some stories of my trip and a few pictures, hoping I will not have to repeat them to all my friends.

This was, probably the most beautiful, disconnecting, spiritual holiday I took. I imposed on myself to connect less on Facebook and just enjoy the ride through land of fire and ice. It could also be called the land of ashes and moss, of whales and sheep, of puffin and elves.
One thing I learned from this trip was that we do not need so much in life to feel happy. Food is pretty basic, but you get so used to eating sandwiches and fish cans on the edge of the road! I packed way too many clothes and used half of them. Looking back I realise that in all my pictures I’m wearing the same orange waterproof jacket to which I am eternally thankful. That’s one thing you will actually need in Iceland: an waterproof jacket.
I also got used very quickly to the shower water. In Iceland hot water comes directly from natural hot springs. It smells like rotten eggs and turns silver jewellery yellow or black. I also got used to drinking tap water in restaurants. Btw, tap water is really good there.

Now, let me put in random order what I remember from the trip.

The Blue Lagoon

I was warned not to go to the Blue Lagoon, but, the spa junkie in me, couldn’t resist.

The scenery around is magnificent: steams in the middle of a black lava field. The water is white-blue, enriched with minerals, known for their benefits for the skin (they help even treating psoriasis). All is nice and beautiful until you get to the price. The common 70 euros / day package includes two masks, a towel and a drink. Therefore, most visitors of the Blue Lagoon are spoiled rich kids in their early twenties. They do selfies with silicate white masks on their faces. It looks like the Venice carnival… without Venice.

Facilities include a steam bath and a sauna. In case you don’t know: I love sauna, so I’ve put big hopes in the Blue Lagoon. Unfortunately, the hygiene conditions cooled me down too quickly. The floor of the steam bath burns like the inside of a volcano. Everyone went in the sauna with swimming suits and sat with their wet butts on the wood, opening and closing the door whenever they wanted. I was afraid that the temperature inside is not high enough to kill the bacteria. It also smelled weird.

Going out, I count’ find my towel. There was just a pile of wet textile, which was definitely stepped over by a bunch of dirty feet.
The water is enriched with minerals, but these are not naturally in the water – they come from an exploitation next door. Despite the hair balm provided, these wonder minerals made my hair feel and look like Icelandic wool for a few days.

I do not regret going there, but I’ll not do it twice. Also, if you’re hesitating, there are plenty of other less expensive hot springs where you can enjoy really Icelandic bathing.

Nature in Iceland is the sexiest thing around

The word “geyser” probably comes from Geysir, the most known in it’s time. Now it’s extinct and its celebrity place is taken by Strokkur. Strokkur is the star in the middle of a field with boiling water pots. Seeing Strokkur surrounded by its paparazzi (many with very expensive photographic equipment), was a reminder of how much we are at the will of nature. We live under the illusion that we control many things (like our Facebook posts), but we can not know when and how Strokur will strike. People just wait there, fingers clenched on the camera, staring to a mini pond that gathers water. The water expands and waves and you feel tension building as the waves get bigger. Sometimes there is a deep bubbling sound but then nothing happens and people wait and wait.

Then out of the sudden Strokkur makes a roaring sound, like a call to war and boom! It sends the water up in the air and everyone wows and waves. It’s nature porn at its best: a huge crowd gathered with cameras  to record a massive ejaculation. And once in a while the blow is so violent and high that the water gets in the head of all the poor humans waiting around who all start to run away with their tripods and cameras as if they were not expecting this guy to come as quickly and powerfully.

But in the nature of Iceland one could find also the equivalent of the female orgasm: volcanoes. It happens more rarely but when it does, it’s an event with earthquakes and all. Remember Eyjafjallajokull?

But enough dirty talk for now and pass to a different subject.

Seals are divas on the rocks

We were driving in the East Fjord, along the water, on a gravel road when I noticed it in the middle of water. “Is that a seal? Quick, stop the car!” We ran down the road on the water edge to take a picture. After us, I counted 7 cars stopping in a few minutes and soon the seal had gathered about 30 paparazzi. It seemed to be a young female seal with  big eyes and a white tail. It was too far away from me to take a decent picture. Nevertheless, the seal was posing like a pro, turning its head towards the crowd, as saying “suckers, you don’t get me so far away!” Sometimes it was raising its tail up, and looking to us over the shoulder. Later on, I’ve read some folkloric tales about how seals are in fact beautiful women who sometimes go on earth to party in caves and leave their skins at the entrance.

Whales are also fascinating. We took a boat and had the luxury to see two swimming together like pals. Unfortunately another boat filled with noisy tourists went too close and I could feel how the whales got defensive and went down for a deeper dive.

Elves and trolls and ghosts
When I saw the formations of lava, the rocks and the moving earth on glaciers, I started to see in them faces, skulls and once in a while ex boyfriends. Therefore there is no wonder that Icelandic have so many myths and stories about ghosts, trolls and elves.
Let me explain what an elf is. An elf looks exactly like a human and has human characteristics, including very changing moods and ambiguous morals, but it’s a hidden human. What differentiate an elf from a us is the power to decide whether humans can or can not see them. They live in rocks and hills (these are actually houses but we don’t see them as such) and occasionally they annoy or save humans.
On our last day, we made a “haunted tour” in Reykjavik where a charmingly sarcastic historian takes the tourists through the town to tell stories. The tour includes everything from the visit to an elf’s house to a walk in the cemetery. It is not actually intended to be scary, though the guide involved in a consensual chat with American tourists about  the dark future: Trump. After two weeks without Facebook or news I had forgotten that we are in the middle of that horror show.
The tour finished at dusk in the old cemetery. To add a creepy story of my own, on the first tombstone I looked at, the deceased had the same birth date as me. Bu ha ha!
Human Experiences
I pushed my limits a little in this trip through Iceland.
One time I took the wheel. I haven’t drive in two years, and I wasn’t an experience driver even before. Therefore I almost killed my friends taking the car off-road. I am very lucky to have friends like this. They didn’t get upset despite the little roller coaster ride. They even encouraged me to try again. So I drove them back safe, through a horrible fog and serpentines. I’m proud of it.
They also, let me play the music from my phone, for an entire day in the car!!! After that everyone was intoxicated with my music, whistling Johnny Cash’s “Ring of fire”.
But they got their revenge. I climbed a very steep slope because, like a sheep, I followed my group and not my instinct. At a crossroad, I realised that the road downhill looked pretty impossible. My feet refused to leave the ground for half of hour. Under them little rocks were sliding, falling.  I could visualise myself rolling down and being peeled of my skin on the way. It took a lot of persuasion and encouragements. I managed to walk down on a 70 degrees slippery slope and get back to the sulphuric field below. That’s an incredible memory.
I also went on Tinder and had some very nice chats with the Icelandic guys. I’m not sure if they were human or elves, because I only met one, for a coffee. He bought me a cookie, but I’m not sure this proves anything but his kindness. People were nice and open minded and live a peaceful life, despite the cold and the wind.
Food stories
The return to civilisation was harsh. The only comfort is eating vegetables that have (a little) more taste and food which has a minimum of seasoning. Food (especially in most restaurants) is not Iceland’s strongest point, in my humble opinion.
One friend ordered a salad and some bread. The waitress looked puzzled: “we do not have any bread here.” I never thought I’ll ever hear this phrase in a restaurant. After some reflection, she said: “Only hamburger bread.” She went away and returned with the salad, ostentatiously called “The Real Cesar salad” but had more peanuts than parmesan. My friend does not like peanuts so he gathered aside a fistful. However, they were considerate enough to bring him only the top side of the “hamburger bread”. Yes, they actually went through the effort of separating the halfs to keep the bottom.
The woman president in sheepskin
One unexpected surprise was a museum in Akureyri. In my ignorance, I didn’t know that Iceland is the home for the first woman president in Europe, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, elected in 1980. The museum featured a collection of her clothing. She is renowned for having worn a traditional wool costume. An Icelandic woman knitted it for her and offered it with the request to wear it if she ever becomes the first woman president. Vigdis wore it in recognition the evening when she was elected. She also went on an official visit in Denmark where she wore a traditional sheepskin coat. It was to promote the Icelandic wool, but this brought her the nickname of “President in sheepskin”.
During my short visit to the museum I grew an immense respect for this woman. She is still an elegant lady with diplomatic qualities, the type of politician that does not exist anymore. And I loved how she challenged the current standards of fashion where black has become the norm: “When did we all started to dress like Italian widows?”.
Back to Luxembourg
The return to work was harsh. It’s the kind of trip that puts you in a different world. Returning to buildings of glass and metal is like a return to civilisation. There is always a nostalgia for a lost piece of paradise. I left a little piece of my soul there, on those black volcanic beaches and on those lava fields covered with moss. And I also think this country will haunt me for a long long time.
PS: I didn’t see any famous footballer. Just a few empty stadiums.
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A tribute to the lake of Esch sur Sure


Esch sur sure

I rarely write or read poems, usually over a glass of wine or a cigarette, and both happen quite rarely. That night they must have happened simultaneously, because I still wonder if it is me who wrote it.

It has to be mentioned that the lake of Esch sur Sure is our main source of drinking water in Luxembourg and a great source of natural beauty. The water is clear. It’s a delight to swim there on the rare days when it’s not too cold. Unfortunately there were a few contaminations in the last years.
One summer day, I saw a big greenish oily stain spreading on the lake and it remained in my memory as an uncomfortable feeling: a bad premonition, the image of destructive actions, and more often non-actions, we inflict on both nature, our source of life and personal relationships, our sources of happiness.
I wrote this poem during a cold night on my balcony as a souvenir of summer.
 The lake
Grey-blue reflections
were troubling the water surface.
The lake was just the excuse
for a lonely encounter with the past.
I wished I were in a cooler place
but I was where I was supposed to be,
in the heat of the last day
of the summer when I left you behind.
It was a prime day
as no other day of the year
was as hot as that one.
The sun was spreading over the rippled surface
and I, and you, and all the world
could only think about heat.
There was a forest behind,
dark and cool and it made us all afraid.
Laying on the shore of the lake,
I touched you and you looked away.
A young girl in a dotted red swimsuit
was floating on her back
making angel water wings with her arms
and from the river, a dark oily stain
spread on the water
until it reached her and the shore
and I knew that afternoon
that nothing would ever be the same.
The lake was just the excuse
The stain was the ache of the lake
And we were all just dots
On a young girl’s swimsuit
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Ech welle GUER NET bleiwe watt ech sinn

IMG_8631

I do not, in any case, want to remain what I am.

Did you know that Luxembourg is one of those countries which has a national quote. Fancy, right? It sounds extravagant and intellectual. It states Mir wir bleiwe wat mir sinn. I hope I spelled it correctly and in accordance with the last rules of grammar, because Luxembourgish grammar is younger than the quote.
It means We want to remain what we are and it originated (at least that’s what wikipedia says) in 1859 around the building of the first railways connecting Luxembourg to the neighbouring countries. In a time when mobility was increasing and people from other countries were coming to visit easily, the Luxembourgers wanted to show that they exist on the map, they have been there since some time and want to remain what they are.

Fast forward to World War 2. The Luxembourgish citizens were forced to declare that they were speaking a German dialect, not a language of their own. This time not only was their identity mocked and questioned (as it has always been and still is the case today), but it was literally denied. It was a tough time, and it even went as far as to deport people who would refuse to sign it.
So, in those circumstances,  it made perfectly sense to say: we want to remain what we are.

Fast forward to the 60s or d’Sixties (the name of a documentary about the golden decade in Luxembourg). Luxembourg was negotiating being founding member of the European Union (which didn’t exist). At that time the population of the country consisted mostly of farmers and metal industry workers, so basically it was a poor country. A handful of people formed outside the country came with the ambition to make Luxembourg one of the three centres for EU institutions. For that purpose the Grand Duc and Grande Duchesse gave the permission to transform Kirchberg which was only fields and forests into a modern quarter and to put a red bridge to connect it with the city.

When I saw d’Sixties I imagined a peasant sitting on a stone, looking at his field, looking at the clouds gathering, letting a sight go because the crops seems to be compromised and a group of people passing by asking: “Hey, dude, what would you say if Luxembourg would be part of this new thing called European Union? What would you say if Luxembourgers would host European institutions?”
And the peasant looking at the clouds again, looking at his crops, shifting on his seating stone, thinking “This stone might be a little edgy,  it might hurt my butt a little but at least I’ve been sitting on it since years looking at my crops” and saying “Ne! Mir well bleiwe watt mir sinn“.

Fast forward another 40-45 years later, during the economical boom. Luxembourg was a country with the best salaries and the banking system was flourishing, companies were blooming and there was work to be found, cross boarders arrived from all three corners of the country and there was cheep alcohol and cigarettes. Luxembourgers finally had time to create a grammar and to implement the written language and in the mean time there was a general opening towards languages and foreigners. They were building museums with plans made by famous worldwide architects and Luxembourg was becoming the European Capital of Culture.
No one gave a damn about mir well bleiwe watt mir sinn. Even some farmers became rich by selling their land to investors.

And then, by the time I got to Luxembourg, days before I start my job, a big bank crashed in the US and it created a big economical crisis.

And here we are in Luxembourg these days, where the unemployment rate is still acceptable (at least compared to other countries in Europe) and the prices of housing continue to raise artificially because of locals selling their parents houses and moving in France or Germany and some referendum tries to open the rights of voting to the foreigners, out of the sudden, again, the Luxembourgish resurrect the national motto.

Now, I consider this country to be my home. I was more welcomed here than anywhere in the world. I found incredible people, my best friends are here. I appreciate the life in Luxembourg. But why on earth, why why why would you like to remain WHAT you are. 

Why WHAT and not WHO?

Actually the WHO we are? is the BIG question in Luxembourg and is equally a theme for the locals, for the 2nd generation of Portuguese and Italian, for the expats, for the cross boarder workers, for the immigrants. Who we are, us who live here?

If I wouldn’t have asked this precious question “Who am I?” years ago I would for sure wanted to remain what I was.
And I am a lot like Luxembourg, in a way. Just a glimpse of personal memory here: what was I some time ago? You might not know so let me tell you.
3 years ago, the woman writing these lines had already passed the big challenging of integration and had a nice job, a boyfriend and a bunch of friends. Life was comfortable sitting on the stone and watching the clouds that were gathering. 3 years ago the woman writing these lines was terrified by the idea of change.
She was afraid and unable to climb a few stairs without stopping in the middle.
She was afraid to go for a run.

She was afraid to express her thoughts.
She was afraid to step out of a relationship which was breaking.
She was (at least in her opinion at that time and for many domains of life) worthless.

Back then if you would have asked me, I was damn sure that I wanted to remain what I was.

But I didn’t. One day I realised that WHAT I was didn’t define me, that I was asking myself the wrong question. WHO I was had nothing to do with the WHAT I was, because who you are is that thing in the middle of our soul that defines our values and shapes our personality. What we are can be changed.
So I changed! And that’s the thing about change: it’s addictive. I’ve become something else. I don’t know how it look to the outsiders, but from here, from inside it’s far better.

I also understood that we do not have to limit our identity to one thing. One can be Luxembourgish even if one has an Italian and an English parent (a situation that I saw in Luxembourg)… and be Jewish on top, who cares.

So because Ech well NET bleiwe watt ech sinn, I will apply sometimes in the future for the Luxembourgish nationality.

And because Luxembourg didn’t remain what it was, we now have the possibility to live in a country where important decisions are taken, where we are still not afraid to walk in the streets and where we can have a happy life (because we have more than we need to have a happy life). We also have the opportunity to live among hypocrisy and fear and xenofobia and whatever. But are not doomed to remain what we are. We also have the chance to live among people from all the corners of the world and learn from our differences. We can change for better!

Yes we can!

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Piss in peace

manneken-pis

Brussels Nord train station. At the entrance of the toilet,  there is a table on which I see a grey doily and a basket with plastic little pink roses, also a notice: 0.5 EUR P.L.S.

Around the table there are three corpulent women in their 50s. One of them is black, she’s smiling, and I can see she’s new in the business. A more experienced one is speaking loudly sharing knowledge while people come in and out. An old man stands confused by a pile of paper tissues on the table, but none of the three pays attention.

“Listen my dear, they have to pay your fees in time and to provide you with a replacement!” She turns to the man standing: “Help yourself, Monsieur! Yes, there is paper in the toilet, this you can take if you want to dry your hands after!
“You hear me, dear? A replacement. Very important. A re-pla-ce-ment!
“Here,” and she hands the new woman a small paper as if she would be reading tarot cards. “Here you mark everything you do: WC, (Go on Madam, don’t be shy!), mirror – that’s when you clean in front of the big glass, and so on…
“But very important, when you can’t make it, there has to be someone to replace you. That’s what the union guys always tell us: the replacement is mandatory! If you get sick and can’t make it to work they HAVE to find you a replacement!!”

The three women all nod and the new one smiles with a sense of being accepted in the group. Just above their table I see two intriguing small prints, and now I regret not having the presence to take a picture of that whole set up. One is the Belgium flag. The other a Catholic icon.
I don’t get to see who the patron saint of “damme pipi”s is because I get disturbed by another character entering the toilet: a Muslim woman with a blue veil, the apology of multi tasking. She’s dragging a child with one hand, a small suitcase with the other and she’s speaking on her huge smart phone which is held in place to her ear by the veil.

As I go out of the toilet, I bump into a man asking around “Marie, Marie? Where are you?”. It takes me a few good seconds to understand what is he doing in the women’s toilet. He’s blind.

The conclusion I get is that in any case you can piss in peace in Brussels, because the ladies cleaning the toilets are very serious with their job and, if they can not make it, they always have a replacement!

… Memories of my last passage through the city of Manneken Pis, soon after the attack on the 22nd of March.

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