Well, not really. Maceió is really more of an unilingual environment which is actually very helpful in terms of learning Portuguese. Nothing motivates as much to study a language as the dire need to make yourself understood.
What I still have trouble getting used to though, are the looks, the heads turning and the whisper whenever talking in French or German in public places. Especially after the time in Brussels where it was nothing unusual to overhear people talking in Russian, Polish, English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Arab, French, you name it, during a single metro ride.
Having spent more time on public transport than I would prefer to recently, I’m still startled at how badly people in Brussels drive.
I always thought it a good habit – one might say intelligent – not to drive into a crossroad when you can see that you won’t cross it (sic!) during the green light. Here, already driving schools drive into the cross road when the traffic light turns yellow (if not red) and thus block the traffic from the crossing road. Of course, drivers from that road will (have to) do the same just in order to get forward somehow. That life would be much traffic would flow better if everybody would stop when a crossing isn’t possible in the first place, hasn’t not been understood.
But then again, it makes kind of a weird sense. Traffic light in this city have apparently not been built to guide the traffic but to obstruct it actively. The concept of the green wave – traffic lights turning green in a rhythm that allows cars to drive smoothly without stopping if driving at a certain speed (50 km/h) – is utterly unknown. Busses and more often than not, tramways are sharing a lane with the cars, blocking each other with amazing efficiency from advancing.
I can’t help but wonder if some of the so-called urban development in this city is only bad planning or intentionally bad. If it is meant to keep the cars out of the city, this much is sure, it clearly hasn’t worked.
Not even a month after sending the email contestant les faits, i.e. contesting the fine for putting out the garbage on a non-collection day, I received another letter from the commune. What I wrote was not enough to challenge the facts, says the letter n°2. What letter n°1 did not say was that I had only one shot to get this right.
My new choice now is to pay a 40 euro fine – instead of the initial 80 – or to go to court. For this, I would have to pay 35 euro: les frais de requête auprès du Greffe du Tribunal. But never mind. What annoys me is that I will give in.
Something inside me is nagging that I should not give in by principle. But the other side very insistently makes the point that I ‘saved’ 40 euro and that I really have other things to do. Only for the nagging side to retort that this is probably what most people do and this is why the commune doesn’t even need to proof that the garbage was collected that day neither bothers telling me what the hell I’m supposed to do: Come back from work and check if the rubbish bags are gone?
**Imaginez à cette place une très forte insulte de votre choix**
Actually, not laundry and not even dirty – just the yellow bag full of paper I put out on Tuesday night, got me into trouble. Le service de la police administrative of Ixelles accuses me that I left the paper bag outside for rubbish collection on a Wednesday. As the rubbish bags are really an ugly side in the city, it is forbidden to put them outside the house outside the official collection hours.
If ever you have been to Grand Place on one of the collection days, you know that it doesn’t help an awful lot. Piles and piles of white, blue and yellow bags give Brussels a dirty, creepy, poor look. But noooo, the problem is not the bag, it’s when you put it outside. Sure thing.
Anyway, I did put the bag out on Tuesday night – during the right hours – but the rubbish wasn’t collected as it should have been on Wednesday morning. Do I still have to pay the 80 euro fine? Or am I supposed to come back from work and check? That would not surprise me at all in this city and that’s something we’ll find out soon. The email contestant les faits is sent; let’s see what answer I get.
To me it certainly seemed that this was the first sunny Sunday in ages. Hence, quickly the map, a bottle of water and some biscuits in the bag pack; plus the camera and everything to fix a flat tire and off I went to la Hulpe.
Or to be more precisely to Château de la Hulpe – a bit more than 1:30 hour cycling South of Brussels. Though I certainly enjoyed the park and seeing the castle, the most beautiful part of the trip were the long alleys of beeches, sunshine filtering through trees and the silence on the less popular ways.
To pick up chestnuts on the way home and roast them in the oven was the cherry on top of this beautiful day. If you see what I mean.