BIG NEWS

This blog is about to get a LOT more interesting.

I didn’t post anything last week because I was in Madrid. It’s strange how it all happened, because I was sitting there thinking how I was going to have a week of vacation from French class and I didn’t know where to go, and how I wished I had money, when….

I got this phone call from an international media company inviting me to a job interview/training in Madrid. Like, four days later. Specifically, on Easter Monday. Which means I’d have to fly on Easter Sunday. Which, as everyone knows, is the day EVERY SPANIARD comes home from his week-long Semana Santa vacation. I barely even remembered applying for this job, though further reflection has led me to believe that I found it on Monster and applied as a long shot. The ad said something about traveling 11 months of the year to countries all over the world, and involved some kind of media aspect, and that was enough for me.

Anyway, a ridiculously expensive plane ticket and many international phone calls later, I was in Madrid. I went to the initial interview, and found myself being invited (three of us out of a group of ten) to a selective training for the next four days. Suddenly I went from my tiny little 2-star hostel room to a four-star hotel (where, by the way, the service was a lot crappier) and had to plan outfits that would qualify as “business attire.” (I own exactly two suits. I haven’t had to wear either one more than five times).

Tuesday came and four more people joined us. In total we were seven, from the USA, Belgium, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, and Canada. There was a four-day whirlwind of paper and presentations and media and sales pitches and neckties and coffee, and then on Thursday night I found myself being offered a job as an International Sales and Media Consultant, which involves traveling around the globe, interviewing CEOs, presidents, and Prime Ministers for special reports in publications like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Independent, among others. I prefer the title “Secret Agent Woman.”

Of course, there was celebrating, and a hotel room pre-party (complete with serenades and drinking games) and a super-exclusive magazine launch party where Alejando Sanz’s girlfriend was supposedly in attendance, and champagne, and dancing, and falling down in the middle of the street, and stealing goody bags, and owning the dance floor. Then there was a moment of deep self-reflection, where I was reminded of all the things I was hoping for when I moved to Belgium: the chance to actually stay somewhere for a while, a stable, simple job, a chance at a relationship, an end to the drama and chaos of the recent past.

This job is none of those things.

And yet, I have to take it. On Friday we (sleepily) went over the details, had questions, answered those questions, which led to more questions. We left weighed down with papers and details and names and Things to Remember. We went out for tapas (oh, tortilla, pimientos, jamon, oh my!), and then went dancing until the wee hours of the morning when we caught our flights back to our respective destinations, with a contract and a start date and as much insecurity as ever.

I am supposed to be leaving on Monday, April 7 for my first 3-5 month traineeship project. I have no idea where I am going, and it could literally be ANYWHERE in the world, from Angola to Kazakhstan. I even get a press pass!

I plan to take advantage of this new job to create a better blog, and of course, add tons of photos! I have no idea what’s in store, but I am sure it’s going to be interesting!

The craziness is about to begin!

World Music Showcase #4

I missed my World Music Showcase last week. Oops!

I was waiting until today to present this week’s World Music Showcase beacuse I was supposed to go to a concert last night, so I’d have some photos or something to post. What actually happened was that I took a metro, then a bus to the university, then I walked around for more than forty minutes in the pouring rain and cold with water sloshing into my shoes, asking dozens of people where Building Y was. Then, unsuccessful and on the verge of a cold, I got back on the bus, then the metro, and went back home. End of evening.

That’s one thing that’s terrible about living in a city full of immigrants: no one knows their way around. No one knows where they are, and no one knows where they’re going. Anyway, I had been waiting for this concert for over a month and I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get to see it, but here anyway is the band of the week, which I’m sure would have been worth a bus ride and forty minutes in the rain if I had been able to find the Kultuurkaffee:

ARANIS

I discovered Aranis by accident at FNAC. I was browsing the world music section (where else?), and they had those headphones where you can sample music. I picked up Aranis on a whim and was captivated by the first song, but it was the second song, Vala, that completely overwhelmed me. I don’t know what it is about Aranis, but their music is…intense. I would describe them as contemporary classical, a paradox which is really not a paradox at all. According to their website:

“Two violins, a double bass, accordion, piano, flute, guitar and almost no voice: it is quite clear that Aranis wants to make music you do not hear just anywhere.”

and

“The secret of Aranis lies in the compelling fact that, as a listener, you are flung to and fro between the finesse of a classical concert and the excitement of a rock concert.” It’s true.

On their website, if you click on CDs, you can watch a video and listen to pretty much all of their music. On their MySpace page, you can listen to other clips, etc.

“Vala” and “Jona” get me every time I listen to them. Music for an imaginary film…

Because after all, it really is a small world

On Thursday night, I went salsa dancing with my new salsa dancing partner Fred. We took a break and I was looking around, thinking to myself that here I am, an American, with a guy from Ghana, dancing Latin dances at a club in Belgium. That’s three (or four, depending on how you interpret the origins of salsa dancing) continents in one experience.

On Friday afternoon, I had coffee with some of the students in my French course, including two students from Poland, one from Holland, one from Spain, and one from Singapore. The girl from Holland had lived in Singpore and the guy from Spain had lived in Holland.

On Friday night, I had tea with Mohcin in the Moroccan quarter of Belgium, which might as well have been Morocco itself, and we discussed Israel and Palestine and the U.S. and everywhere in between.

On Saturday afternoon, I wandered around with a map and happened to meet an Irish bookshop owner (her shop includes pretty much every book on my reading list, and she has a book club!), and a guy from Belgium who had lived in Sweden and hardly spoke French, but was fluent in Dutch and Swedish, and a guy from Chile who ran a Spanish deli and wine shop who had an Argentinian girl helping him.

On Saturday night, I was in an Irish pub, having a conversation with two Irish guys and a Belgian girl, two of whom had lived in Spain and one of whom had lived in France.

…Just your average Brussels weekend. It’s almost enough to make your head spin. And I love it.

Public Service Announcement

Proof that climate change exists, and that the effects have begun: I challenge anyone to watch this video and tell me that this is “normal,” that this “happens all the time,” or that, if these kinds of things were to happen more regularly, it would be “no big deal.” Do you still deny that global warming exists?

130km/hour winds cause massive destruction in France, Great Britain, and Spain….a wave of over 8 meters in height broke the barriers in A Coruna and caused injuries and entensive damage. Even here in Belgium, it’s been uncomfortably windy and I can’t sleep at night because my house sounds like it’s going to fall down.

Scary stuff, people.

A Letter of Appreciation to Skype

Dear Skype,

Thank you for existing. Thank you for recognizing that it is virtually impossible for people to access reliable, affordable, easy-to-use international telephone service when in foreign countries. Thank you for SkypeIn, which allows me to have a U.S. phone number connected to my computer so that my friends and family can call me for next to nothing, and I don’t have to stand outside in the rain at midnight to use a phone booth. That means that I can talk to my mom and dad every Sunday without having to fight with the mean guy at the corner kiosk who sold me invalid phone cards, or with the phone booth which will only take Belgacom cards that charge 1.45 euro/minute for international calls, or with hard-to-navigate and often sneaky cell phone plans with hidden charges and double rates. This also makes my life easier so that, when I have to call PayPal’s customer service center and be on hold for 830000 minutes, I can comfortably surf the net and don’t get charged anything at all. Thanks for understanding what it’s like to live somewhere else, and how difficult it is to deal with the day-to-day details of international living sometimes (banks, phones, and all that other crap you never think about until you’re thousands of miles away). Thanks for not making my life any harder, and in fact, making it a whole lot easier.

With sincerest gratitude,
Jessica

World Music Showcase #3

A lot has happened since last week, and last week’s angry post, but I didn’t feel like writing about any of it. Everything has calmed down. I passed my French exam and have skipped a level into the next course. I have a place to live with Alice, an Italian girl I met the first night here. We only speak French together, and she invites me to cool events all the time. I think this is a good move.

Anyway, last week I posted in the Belgians community, and I discovered a TON of awesome new music to share with everyone. This one has been my favorite so far, so I am pleased to present the next Belgian artist you should all know about:

GABRIEL RIOS

Okay, actually he’s Puerto Rican, but he’s lived in Belgium since he was 17, and is very popular here, so I think that counts. His music is…well, I think his MySpace describes it as something like an orgasm for the ears. The audio equiavlent of 169 proof alcohol. Anyway, here are some of my favorite songs/videos:

“Angelhead”…he sings mostly in English, rather than in the Dutch of his hometown of Ghent. That’s probably better.

“Baby Lone Star”…I love the rhythm of this song, and its many layers…. the same reason I also love “Broad Day Light”. It always makes me want to sing along!

In Spanish, I love “Tu No Me Quieres”, not only because it makes me want to dance, but because I think the video is funny.

To me, Gabriel Rios is an extremely creative artist who manages to combine Puerto Rican rhythms and danceability with European pop into something everybody can like, but that doesn’t sound just like everything else out there. Find out more at his MySpace page.

The great thing about Belgian artists, too, is that when they do tours, you know it won’t be long before they’ll be performing in your city, or somewhere nearby. There’s not a lot of ground to cover here! Gabriel Rios, live, March 26 – Leuven. I’m there! 🙂

(Hey, is anybody reading/enjoying these things?)