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New Year, New Experiences

popcorn a mallon family tradition

Popcorn: A Mallon family tradition

The New Year is upon us and my jetlag has more or less worn off from our trip home for the holidays and it occurs to me that Maastricht Minutiae has laid fallow for long enough. It was never really my intention to go without a post for a few weeks but visiting family and friends in the States took more out me than I anticipated. It wasn’t until a tiny Carneval parade banged down my street yesterday that I finally shook off my travel funk and got back to work.

As we’ve spoken about on the podcast (and alluded to on the blog), Dan & I were in New England this year for Christmas and New Years. We’ve been in Maastricht for nearly a year now, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this first visit home. Turns out it was pretty painless. I’d been missing my family and friends since Thanksgiving and was thrilled to see them, but I don’t particularly miss anything else about the US. I did get a little homesick when we visited friends in Boston; but after having built the first 5 years of my marriage in that city, it stands to reason.

The thing I was struck the most with was what I think I’ll call the “luxury of space” we have in the US; something I never noticed before. Its a funny concept and I’ll be holding onto it for a future post. I think Maastricht has also ruined me (in a good way) for the sprawling life of the average American town/city/suburb.

And huge freaking cars. Seriously. Why are American’s all driving boats on the highway?

Dan at Harvey's Lake

Dan playing with the ice at Harvey's Lake in West Barnet, VT

Anywho, we’re home in Maastricht now and the New Year is a time for new plans. Firstly, I plan to continue expanding Maastricht Minutiae and finally move it over onto its own server space where I can have some more flexibility. We got a great new camera for Christmas and I’m hoping to improve my photography along with my writing this year. I have some series planned out on several topics of interest in expats which I’ve tweaked for the Limburg set. I’m happy to see some serious improvements in expat resources in Maastricht and hope that my little blog can be a part of it.

Dan & I are finally going to launch his online comic, Walking the Lethe, on January 19th. Its a dark story about a man who makes a deal with a demon to break his wife out of heaven. The comic will be available for free to read online (pages posted one at a time, Tuesday and Friday), with an optional monthly subscription that allows you to read ahead by about 24 pages. FYI: it is a mature comic. I’m very excited about this project (I’ve been building the websites for months) and I hope you’ll swing by and check it out after we get rolling. I’ll be giving another heads up on launch day and then probably in a month when we have some pages up.

By extension, I’ve been muttering on and off about starting my own Information Services business and I think that now is the time to finally dig in. I’ll be doing a combination of freelance copyright research, writing, and other organizational administrative tasks as befits my archivist/librarian background. Expect to see more in the next couple of weeks as I do all the paperwork and set up a little website. I’ll blog about the process too of course. Starting a freelance business in the Netherlands isn’t actually that complicated, but it does take more work than in the US.

Finally, everyone needs to have a fitness resolution right? Before the holidays (and snow) threw me off my schedule, I started an interval jogging program called Couch to 5k. The idea is to start out slow and work your way up to running a 5k (2.5 miles) in 30 minutes over the course of 9 weeks. I’ve always been anti-running, but my first couple of weeks were a lot of fun. Plus we bought new running shoes in the US. Now I’ll be starting from the beginning to get back on task. If you’re interested in starting up too, I’d love some virtual running partners.

I hope everyone out there is having an excellent New Year. I’d love to hear what your plans are and/or what you think you’d like to see here at Maastricht Minutiae. A new podcast will be out in a day or two as we get back on the ball with that as well. Cheers!

A Comics Pilgrimage to Brussels

In celebration of our 5th year anniversary, Dan & I decided to make a special, comics-themed, trip to Brussels, Belgium. This year Belgium is having a series of comics related events, many of which are located in Brussels, but we didn’t expect to see as much as we did. It turns out that Brussels is something of a European comics mecca. They call comics the 9th Art here. Finally some recognition.

We visited a comics museum, a special exhibit on the Grote Markt, discovered about half of the comic murals, and visited a couple of the many comic shops that dot the city. The city was fun and interesting, but somewhat confusing to get around in and the public transportation map was the most complex one I’ve ever seen.

Another summer benefit, the Brussels International is offering a really good deal. When you reserve your hotel via their website, you get a voucher that you can turn in for a 24 hour Brussels Card. While the voucher technically says you only get one card, we were given two at the tourist office. The card gets you into a number of museums for free, gives you included public transportation for two days, and a bunch of coupons (none of which what expiration dates).

Willy Vandersteen Special Exhibit
Willy Vandersteen Banners
Tucked next to the tourism office on the opulent Grote Markt, a special exhibit of original pages by Willy Vandersteen is on display until September 27th. Vandersteen, a Belgian artist, is known for his Suske & Wiske series and this exhibit was dedicated mostly to images from his 8 “Blue Books”. The art was fun to look at, but since this was our first encounter with the work, we didn’t have much context to appreciate it.

Belgian Centre of Comic Strip Art
Big Books
The central museum of our trip, the Comic Strip Center lived up to its reputation as on of the best comics museums in Europe and provided a great introduction to many European artists and writers we’d never encountered before in the spandex-clad American comics market. Sure, we knew Tintin, Asterix, and the Smurfs, but placing those comics in the full context of their peers was exciting. The museum also discussed the changes in comic creation and focus in the 1970s and 80s, and the story telling focus almost never strayed to superheros. Of course there were many beautifully inked and hand-painted pages too. While most of the displays were only in French & Dutch, the museum does provide a free book with English translations that made the museum very accessible.

We were a little disappointed that the museum did not address modern comics creation (such as digital methods) or webcomics. I expect that will come in time. The only comics they were selling in English were Tintin, which frankly I’ve read, so you probably won’t want to buy comics at the Center unless you can read French.

Brussels Comics 2009 Series
Mural: La Chat
In honor of their celebration of the 9th Art this summer, Brussels has had several comic murals created throughout the central ring of the city. I found a map of the mural locations online and we set out with the intent to photograph them all. We found about half (and some of the areas were a bit sketchy) but it was a unique way to see the city. Before we left the city we discovered a book called De Strip in de Stad (Comics in the City) which is a more detailed guide to these murals and more murals and statues throughout Brussels. We’ll use it on a future trip to finish photographing the murals.

Expect to see more about these murals. In the mean time you can see my photos here.

Food in Brussels
Mussels & fries
A break from our comics pilgrimage, we had a lot of good food in Brussels. The best was the traditional Mussels & Fries at an old fashioned looking restaurant with a very modern name, H20. For a snack while mural hunting, we bought escargot from a street vendor. They were spicy and tender. We also bought some Godiva chocolate to bring home for much less than we could get it in the USA.

It rained on Sunday, keeping us away from the murals, so we took in some more traditional forms of culture instead. First we visited the extensive Museum & Archaeology site of the Coudenberg Palace. Located underneath the modern day Palace Royale, Coudenberg was one of the main residences of Charles the Fifth. The site was preserved after a devastating fire by new construction. Construction techniques of the day required that the new palace be built on a flat surface. Since Coudenburg was on an incline, a lot of the lower part of the structure was preserved.

Following a little archaeology (and the 45 minute wait in line) we visited the brand new Magritte Museum. Magritte was a well-known surrealist artist and the museum is dedicated mostly to his paintings but also included a few statues and films. I was a little disappointed that this new museum did not include much English language signage (newer museums usually do these days). It was worth seeing but not deeply informative and I don’t know anything about surrealism.

The Comic Strip House
After a late lunch (pizza), but before we left, we investigated the Comic Strip House, a museum and comic shop near the Central Station in Brussels. We decided to save the museum for another day, but we did take some time to browse the store (mostly in French) and this is where we found De Strips in de Stad. I believe that this book will be a great tool when we go back to finish photographing the murals.

Not the Comic Strip House

Not the Comic Strip House

Comics to Read
We came away from this trip with a few comics we’d like to find in English (or Dutch in a pinch).
- Lanfeust of Troy & its accompanying series: This is a long running French series that simply looks beautiful. They are “manga-izing” it for the new generation of comics readers which I think is really sad.
- Blacksad: A noir anthropomorphic comic published by a French company (but created by a Spanish artist). The art is simply beautiful.
- Suske & Wiske: A Belgian comic contemporary to Tintin. I’m just curious and think if we picked this up in Dutch it could help us with reading comprehension.
- XX* Ciel: I’ve only seen the mural for this comic, but the art style appeals to me.
- Odilon Verjus: Another one we discovered from a mural. Frankly, I want to know what would bring a monk and a woman with a pet cheetah together in the same image.

This trip was so rich, you can expect to see more from me about it. In pariicuarly I hope to create a slideshow and maybe a map of the murals to share with you the experience. Click here for photos of our Brussels visit.

The Humble Hot Dog

Kitty Hawk is (c) Braden D Lamb & Vincent LaBate

Kitty Hawk is (c) Braden D Lamb & Vincent LaBate

I was catching up on Kitty Hawk today (a great pulp-style webcomic about a woman pilot) when I ran into this comic. It kind of hit home for me. Not that I miss American hot dogs that much; I only eat all-beef with natural casing ones anyway, but the 1600 types of sausage plays to one of my shopping frustrations.

There are so many different kinds of sausages and meats (few with names that Google Translate can handle) that I’m often left confused or buying the same things over and over again. I’d like to branch out, but with things on the shelf like “tongue-worst” (a cold-cut you can see slices of beef tongue in), I’m not brave enough to just randomly select. I don’t think I’m up to eating organ meat, or at least I want to know what it is first.

Anywhoo, enough about meat. If you like pulp-style stories and well crafted comics, take the time to check out Kitty Hawk. The story has an Indiana Jones feel to it (without the womanizing) and I really like how the main character’s memories appear like living people around her.

Wase Stripzomer: Comics Events All Summer in Belgium

AfficheMartinIf you will be in Europe and are a comics enthusiast this summer, you should take a trip to the Waasland region of Belgium where they are holding comics related events for all ages. Sponsored by the Waasland Tourism Board (English), The Wase Stripzomer runs from April 1st to September 30th, 2009 to celebrate comic strips and stories in Beligum. According to their website (Dutch only), the events will mostly be child-friendly and include workshops, exhibits, bike tours, film screenings, and more. Here are a few of the events listed in the brochure I picked up (translations guesstimated from Google Translate, email me if you can correct my translations):

- Comics Bike Tours/Quests (Stripfietszoektocht): Lochristi, April 26 – Sept. 13
- Children’s Treasure Hunt (Kinderspeurtocht) ‘In het spoor van Jommeke‘: Sint-Niklaas, May 15 – Sept. 13
- Family Urban Bike Tour & Treasure Hunt (Gezinsfietszoektocht langs de Urbanusfietsroute): Lokeren, May 17 – Sept. 13
- Jommeke Bike Tour/Quest (Jommeke fietszoektocht): Waasmunster, May 30 – Sept. 13
- Bike & Walking Tour/Quest of De Rode Ridder (Fiets- en wandelzoektocht De Rode Ridder): Sint-Gillis-Waas, June 21 – Sept 21
- Film: “Suske en Wiske en de Texasrakkers (fansite in Dutch): Siniscoop Sint-Niklaas, July 12
- Film: “Asterix & the Olympic Games” (Asterix en de Olympische Spelen“): Siniscoop Sint-Niklaas, August 9 (I’ve got a soft spot for the Asterix series, but can’t believe this is live action.)
- Expo with Paul Geerts, ’2nd father of Suske & Wiske’ (Expo Paul Geerts, de 2de vader van Suske en Wiske): Temse, August 29 – Sept. 27
- De Zaat Raast met Michel Vaillant (could not translate): Temse, August 30

Belgium is supposedly not quite as accessible language-wise to people who only speak English (they speak Dutch & French depending on the area), but that has never stopped us before. Dan & I will take the time one of these weekends to check out these events.

Evil Inc Artwork Framed

Nothing motivates a person to finish getting the little odds & ends tied up like having a dozen guests. One of my projects was to take this great original art from Brad Guigar of Evil Inc and get it framed. Since he has draws in black & white, but the comic displays on his website in color, I custom cut the mat to accommodate both the original and a printout from the website. It looks great hanging in the living room.

Click for a larger image

Click for a larger image

Evil Inc is a humorous webcomic about supervillains who have taken villainy to the corporate level. Even if you’re not typically interested in superheros (I’m not), its definately worth checking out.