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?  

My view on this “me too” hashtag

 IMG_9766

 

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.

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.

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.

Little drummer girl

Little drummer shoes

Years ago, one cloudy December, I bought a CD called Putumayo – Celtic Christmas. It contained among others, an instrumental adaptation of that Christmas “Ram pam pam pam” song, called Little Drummer Girl on which I obsessed for a looooong time.

Seasons changed. Spring came and I reached my maximum weight and I did my best to show to people that I don’t give a damn. Well, I succeeded!
I watched people running every day and I was secretly admiring them. I could barely walk more than half of hour before becoming too tired. Though, I’ve always done some sort of sport regularly, I could not run more than 50 meters.

Some people told me not to run, because it will be bad for my knees. Others told me,  that everybody can run. Sure! Easy peasy! Well, many people can, however, it was not easy for me when I started.
If now I have a few extra kilos, back then I had a few more (18 to be more precise). If you’re a pretty good runner with a normal weight, try getting those flexible weights for the arms and legs, a backpack full of sand in front and another one in your bag and try doing your normal routine. That’s how running felt for me.

However, it was not the extra weight that introduced me to this sport. Like all the hobbies and passions that I built over the years (cinema, writing, yoga, sauna, facebook…), this one also originated in times of distress and deep frustration.

It was the summer of my separation. I was still living in the same apartment with my ex partner, though he was there only the weekends.
One sunny Saturday, I woke up too early, with a very uncomfortable feeling. Back then, during the rupture of a relationship that lasted almost a decade, the world seemed to fall apart. My world. The apartment has become too small and I could not stand the idea of being under the same roof with him, who was peacefully sleeping while I was contemplating my failures. I grabbed the first clothes that I’ve seen which happened to be a t-shirt and a pair of leggins, I’ve put on some sports shoes (the only ones I had anyway) and I went outside in the park.

As I stepped under the light and the warmth of the sun, with my ipod, I shuffled this song Little drummer girl. Here I was: the first warm day in Luxembourg and me listening to a Christmas carol.
But there was something in the rhythm, a force that pushed me into running. And I did run, up to the middle of the song, more than ever before in the previous 10 years. I walked the rest of the song. It was a tiny little step, but a step forward.

Next day, I imposed myself not to stop until Little drummer girl was over. It worked. One Little drummer girl. I walked another one, and I managed to even run up to its middle again. That summer I started to count my workouts in Little drummer girls. I managed to 3 without stopping.

What went in my head during this instrumental 3 minutes was a mix of motivation and despair. Towards its last third, the song has a short pause, as if it stops “Pam pam”. At that point my brain starts cheering “Yupii!! I did it!” But the song starts again Ram pam pam pam…
And then I get those moments when my mind just screams to me to stop:
“You’ll suffocate”
“You’ll drop dead in the middle of the street. Inexperienced runner found dead on Kirchberg! That’s what L’essentiel will show tomorrow!”
“Look, a hedgehog! There are snakes around! Stop!”
“Look a squirrel! How rare in Luxembourg, honestly, never again will you be able to take a picture of a squirrel in these parks.”
“You’re gonna’ loose your hair band, the hair will blind you and you’ll be hit by a car!”
“Look, a hair band on the street. Is it yours?”
“Look, what a beautiful view on the city!”
“Are there two people having sex in that house across the street?”
“Your bra will break. Is there a crack in the pants that makes you feel like a airflow in your back?”
“Look! A field full of poppy flowers. Did you know what can be produced from poppy seeds?”
“You ran 3 songs in a raw, now you can stop!”
“The ground seems so close! The sky is falling! It’s the end of the world!”
In those moments I started to motivate myself back:
“Comme’on one more song, one more pam pam pam!”
“Common’on! You ran two songs in a raw, you can’t stop now!”
“Comme’on. You don’t even have the hair so long for the hair band!”
“Comme’on. One more pam pam pam. I’ll show you, you little drummer girl!
“I’ll show you, you little bitch! I’ll beat you with your little drum, smug little bastard!”

During those conversations with my imaginary little friend, one day I could not stand to hear the same song  over and over again. So I created something incredible called a playlist.
My first playlist consisted of : Little drummer girl and Du Hast from Ramstein – which fitted my feelings for the girl towards the end of the workout. Then I started to add all kind of songs like Daughter – Home or Sweet Dreams from Eurythmics. At some point there was even some opera there.

Then it got to a point when doing a number of Drummer girls didn’t help any more to increase my resistance and then I learned the secret of alternating running with brisk walking.

Little drummer girl is still my favorite song to start my workout. In the meantime the frustration that started all this has gone. The apartment was cleaned of memories and I found new rhythms. My knees are better than ever, but I do listen to them. It’s all in the rhythm. In these two years I increased my average workout distance from 0.5 km to 6 km and I earned two things: courage to run in the ING Team Run (tomorrow!!!) and hope that one day I will manage to hold more than 100 drummer girls which would be a whole marathon.

Little by little, step by step, I’ll do it. I promise you little girl, one day you and I will do more than what seemed impossible the day I bought that CD.

 

Don’t take yourself tooo seriously

Embrace the glorious mess that you are

Embrace the glorious mess that you are – Liz Gilbert

My friend and life coach at Proactive, has a saying: “Never take yourself too seriously!”. Lately, thinking about that, the below story came to my mind:

My parents had an acquaintance. They always referred to her as a single mother (divorced) with a 6 years old boy with angelic face. She was dating serious men, trying to find a decent step father for her child. She was herself, a pretty hard working, intelligent woman. But the main character of these stories was her mother, a retired respectable doctor, a widow at the time when this took place, and of course the granny of the boy with angelic face.

Granny is one woman that I would have loved to meet in person. She was, from what I heard, a very smart woman. She had worked in the emergency hospital and I can imagine that it was a very stressful work sprinkled with very dark, gross or heartbreaking incidents.

So granny had developed her own methods to keep her mental health, as close to some sort of normality as possible. She was also a very opinionated woman. She hated politics with all her heart (no comment on that), but mostly the president at that time. On occasions when the president was passing on TV, she would pull her skirts up and show him a nice piece of Granny bottom. That made the situation for her single daughter quite difficult, because they were living in the same house. Try dating and finding a serious man who would have to accept both a step child and a lunatic Granny !

At the time, the little boy was going to kindergarten or school. The only issue with little boy with angel face was that as soon as he would open his mouth in classroom, it was like the doors to hell would open and a river of curses and slang words would come out. Soon the entire classroom was contaminated and the teacher was appalled, so she called for a meeting with the mother.

To her surprise, the mother could not take time off that particular day so she sent Granny to talk to the teacher. Granny was dressed in a very elegant suit. She was still a good looking woman, inspiring self confidence. She greeted the teacher and even gave her flowers. Impressed, the teacher started to explain:
“Madam, your grandson, I hope you won’t take it the wrong way, but he uses all the time very very bad words. Some of them I don’t even know myself.”
“Oh, my grandson?” Granny said obviously concerned. “This is unacceptable. We are a good family, with a very intellectual background… Can you call him to explain his behaviour. This is unacceptable.” The teacher nodded in approval, relieved that she had found sympathy. She called the boy with angelic face.

Granny leaned from the waist, looked him kindly in his blue eyes, pinched his cheek gently and said something that, if it would be translatable, it would sound something like this: “Listen, you little piece of shit! Where in the fucking hell  have you learned to talk like this? If I’m told again that you speak like a mother fucker, you’ll be grounded for life! Understood?” The little boy, listened carefully, put on the Shit! I messed up with Granny! face and said seriously “OK”, and apparently he decreased the frequency of bad words.

It is said, however, that the most valuable lesson was learned by the teacher. Not only she became less uptight, but she also found different creative ways to pass some politeness message to the children.

Of course, our days, the scene can be considered anti educational, probably shocking, who knows, especially if taken out of context. What I think, however, is that she gave more credit to the child assuming he is mature enough to understand some borderlines.

It’s not about being a clown all the time. I hate these eternal clowns. But let’s not be constant martyrs. Both eternal clowns and martyrs are such tragic characters! It’s not about being rude either. It’s about letting yourself go once in a while, finding a valve to release stress and remembering to be a honourable human being the rest of the time.

So, dear fellows, let me make a point here: from time to time we all need to be a little bit like Granny!

The day when I took a nap

SOMEtimes all you need is agood sleep

Since we get close to the big event, I feel that I have to confess that I don’t really like December (this is what I’ll celebrate on the New Year’s Eve: its ending).  It’s a month with a lot of pressure: buying presents, social events, finding ideas for season’s greetings (at which I suck, by the way). There’s also this delusional deadline we put on all our small achievement, the father of all deadlines: before end of year. Buhuhuuu! (guess why I’m writing on the 30th!)

It’s also the month with the winter solstice, the darkest of the year. I noticed that the older I get, the more sensitive I am to the solstice. I might be in denial but my body knows it. So, as we approach the solstice this wonderful body of mine starts to send signals of exhaustion: muscle pain, bad sleep, dark shades under the eyes. From time to time, it just shouts: have a break!!!

This reminds me of a day when I took that break. It was a day (in December) when many urgent stuff started to cumulate at work in a short amount of time. Most of my colleagues were on holidays. I couldn’t sleep the night before.

At the coffee machine two people told me that I look “really sick”. I did my best to deny it and smile. As the morning progressed, I started to fall deeply into stress. With every new email that seemed to be urgent, my hands were shaking. With every new file I was trying to work on, I was doing more and more stupid mistakes. Then I would realise that I saved and closed and that, like Sisyphus, I needed to start over again to correct and I would do another mistake.

When I got to a 3rd trial of a task, I had an enlightening moment. I took two hours for lunch, went home and had a nap.
That was the first time in my life when I experienced a power nap. I barely had time to throw my shoes off, I dived in the sheets, closed my eyes and the next thing I knew was the alarm that 45 minutes have passed.
I dreamt during those 45 minutes. I dreamt the warmth that was surrounding me, the void in which there was no thought about work or deadlines or emergencies.
And when I woke up, I brushed my teeth, I threw cold water on my face, and looked in the mirror. Indeed, I was looking very bad, but better than before. And most importantly, I could keep going.

 

I was looking in the mirror and I started to recall the other big time when I took a break, despite all the emergency alarms which were shouting at me: You already had enough breaks! 
It was the day when I presented my final project and paper for my Bachelor degree. Stakes were high, and I had had many (unhealthy) breaks. So many that my project and my paper were still not entirely finished at 5 a..m.. in the morning. That’s the exact hour when I came home from the printer shop, which, thank’s God in some countries these shops. are open 24h/24. I was still determined to work until the last minute and started to do a last fine tuning of the software that I was supposed to present and… tadam! I broke it.

 

That’s when, I turned off my PC, confident that I have a backup of the previous version and I decided to take a break. I slept until 10 and I went to have my presentation at 11. It turned out that I had taken the wrong version of my project: unfinished and not working, but somehow, in the torment of my stressed mind, the sleep had made an effect and I pulled out of my ass a joke which saved my presentation. And the most important: I didn’t fall that day in my bathroom and didn’t hit my head on the bathtub.

 

No, that had happened the year before when I needed to submit another project and hadn’t been taking a break. It was the enlightening experience that makes me today listen to my body. I only had a bruise, but I was lucky.

Coming back on the day when I took two hours for lunch. I came back and my phone was flashing red. There were three call backs. I took me an hour to have the courage to return those calls. In the meantime, for all three of them, people had found solutions without me.

The moral of these stories is pretty simple. Sometimes is good to take a break. Sometimes is absolutely vital. Usually your body knows it and the world keeps turning even if you take a nap.

Unfortunately in Luxembourg, in the world of banks, audit, traffic jams,  under a constant threat of losing your job, we can see through the glass building, but not through ourselves.

After I finished my bachelor degree, I’ve never been close to a burnout. That was a question of choice. That morning at 5 a.m. after coming from the printer shop, I took a short video of birds singing and the sun rising over the city and I promised myself solemnly to never get there again. Ever. And I kept my promise.

 

I do know, however, (too many) people in Luxembourg who have been in the territory of burnout. The law does not fully recognise it as a medical condition nor are people very empathetic about it. Like many other things, it’s a big taboo.

For the coming year, that’s one of the things I hope for to change. Among others.

I’m wishing you a hopeful year 2016!