woensdag 27 februari 2008

Gravensteengroep - The Castle of the Counts Manifesto

This is an unofficial translation of the "Gravensteenmanifest" or the Castle-of-the-Counts Manifesto as it has recently been drawn up in the shadows of the Castle of the Duke of Flanders in Ghent, near the river Lieve. http://www.gravensteengroep.org/
I signed this manifesto, because I totally agree with its content and I do feel that something has to be done about our Belgian situation in the positive sense.

Belgium is a wonderful country and I don't feel the need as such to let it split up, but the marriage of two people can only stand when there is mutual respect for everyone's rights.
(I should take some time to have a personal introspection and look into my own marriage, I admit, yes, that too, but ...)
Foreigners living in Belgium, all too eager to support the unity of Belgium, should have considered learning a bit more about the Belgian problem, before emotionally joining the plea for Belgian unity.
I can understand their fears and their eagerness in wanting to keep Belgium as it is. I can also understand their troubles with understanding the labyrinth that a small country like Belgium apparently has turned out to have become, but with regards to the Flemish cause, I couldn't help but feel somewhat offended by the rather inconsiderate and emotional stanza a lot of immigrants have taken in due course of events throughout the past half year, led on by partial information and particularly not enlightened by any awareness of Belgian or Flemish history.

I would like to forgive them all in doing so, they only love my country as any foreigner would love another country "where chancing to be is at its best" in their situation.

Here comes the actual Manifesto:

"The people signing this manifesto, calling themselves the Gravensteengroep (or Castle-of-the-Countsgroup,)
are all coming from a diverse background of political and ideological families, but all agree in their appreciation and beliefs in democracy and respecting human rights. They emphasize on liberty, equality, solidarity and mutual respect and furthermore, they condemn all forms of racism and xenophobia.
These people have been worried by the fact that, with the recent debates about Belgian state-reform, the impression seems to arise that reasonable and justified Flemish demands repeatedly seem to become associated with extremist right-wing ideologies. To clarify all this, they wish to propose their points of view.

Ever since the start of Belgium in 1830, the francophone bourgeoisie has taken every chance to preserve its priorities, by installing a regime which mainly favoured social inequality and discrimination of the Flemish population and its Dutch language. This socio-economic discrimination saw itself obliterated in due course of time owing to an active and engaged trades-unionism. The Flemish people however, had to force their rights to obtain their own language and culture by a large number of extremely complicated political compromises. This resulted in a labyrinth-like structure of Belgian institutions with seven parliaments and six governments.
The damage to the Belgian image, in the perception of other countries, has not solely been done by the political crisis, but is also a result of the political patchwork, which has characterized Belgian politics over of the past 177 years. The results of the election-polls on June 10th 2007 in Flanders have evoked the discontentment about this historical conjunction and these seem to take an irreversible option on a new future.
It seems highly unthinkable that a large part of the Flemish cultural establishment should lack the intellectual courage to make this analysis. That exactly this establishment seems to cling on to the traditional Belgian status-quo, along with the old Belgian elite, is unacceptable. This self-proclaimed ‘progressive Flanders’ is taking a conservative stanza and is about to miss its appointment with history.
Our point of view does not stem from an old-fashioned Flemish Romanticism, but from the philosophies connected to the age of Enlightenment, the democratic principle of equality, a modern vision on decentralisation, subsidiarity, and the tendency towards scaling down and development of regional autonomy which as an issue is currently very much alive from Scotland to Kosovo and from Catalonia to Estland.
Crucial to this is the principle of territoriality. In 1962-1963 the definitive borders had been set out to define Flanders, Wallonia and Germanspeaking Belgium as linguistic and cultural environments within the Belgian federal system. This happened after 1932, and with strong pressure from the Walloon community, the regions acknowledged and accepted their own single language. In this context, a language border obtains a similar importance to a state-border.
Defining spaces implies defining different rules, quintessential to a healthy social climate.
Throughout the world, it is commonly accepted that an immigrant will do his best to adapt to his new social environment by taking on the language of his new country. This does not deny him of his human rights within his ethnicity and within choosing his own religion and speaking his own language in his own private and personal atmosphere.
Badly educated immigrants seem to succeed in their efforts to blend in with flying colours, whereas much better educated native French-speaking intellectuals in Flanders refuse to do so out of principle, encouraged by the political support from their own politicians. Some people tend to think that it will suffice to acquire a majority in a border-community to alter and adapt a border. In doing this, they are putting the principle of political solidarity in between the cultural communities under pressure and by consequence they are questioning the entire Belgian federal structure. One should stop and wonder to think how the French would react whenever a German-speaking majority in a French village would be wanting to alter the border of both countries in favour of Germany.
Therefore, the people who sign this manifesto believe that any discussion about socio-economic solidarity is rendered impossible if political solidarity is not being observed and this implies mutual respect for boundary and cultural space.
A change in mentality with French speaking politicians is therefore a necessity: we do not need to buy respect. The Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde split, is just another implementation of the territorial principle as it is stated in our constitution. Furthermore, the recognition of Brussels as bilingual capital region, retains Belgium’s last chance for survival.

For as long as a consensus about these crucial principles is not being agreed upon, any debate about a new state-reform is futile. This would force us in the direction of having to prepare our separate regions for entering the European Union as separate independent states.
Apart from this, interregional solidarity in the post-Belgian context of European cooperation could still remain a major factor. We want, as an economic quite wealthy region, to ensure interpersonal and interregional solidarity. With our minds and within our hearts, but not with a blatant unjust feeling of cultural imperialism, unhealthy parasitism and hidden party-political agenda’s.
This Belgium, which would lack any clear and absolute open agreements on these stated issues is unworkable; whoever would refute a reform on democratic grounds, indirectly is pleading for the decay of this country.
In the light of our tendency to modernize political life, we request clear transparent political structures, more autonomy for local authorities, the implementation of democratic basic rights and we demand more respect for the integrity of the language borders. We would like all this with our French-speaking friends if possible, but we will take this without them if we have to.
Everyone will benefit from more autonomy. It is a positive thing to see an increase on both sides of the language borders in the notion that French-speaking Belgium is destroying its own chances on economic growth if it allows itself to be kept hostage by politicians not wanting to abandon their status-quo.
These old hostile fixations should make way for new and groundbreaking forms of cooperation, based on a balance between solidarity and responsibility. Wallonia as a befriended partner-state to us is much more appealing than a political system dragging itself from crisis to crisis.

On behalf of the Castle-of-the-Countsgroup

Etienne Vermeersch
Jan Verheyen
Frans-Jos Verdoodt
Piet van Eeckhaut
Jef Turf
Bart Staes
Johan Sanctorum
Jean-Pierre Rondas
Yves Panneels
Chris Michel
Bart Maddens
Paul Ghijsels
Paul De Ridder
Dirk Denoyelle
Peter De Graeve
Eric Defoort
Jo de Caluwe "

zondag 3 februari 2008

The Sanderushuis - The Roots of a Personal History II

Together with Maurice D’hondt, Ivo Roegiest returns to Sleidinge with the plans for the new machine that would guarantee Maurice Ghijsbrechts his success.

With the monopoly on “billot” fruit caskets in Belgium, the orders come in and the profits are huge. They are huge enough for Maurice Ghijsbrechts to keep his promise and in 1926 a first step to his ambitious plans has been completed: “Het Sanderushuis”, which is a house in Old-Flemish style, room for an Inn, including a village-cinema.

Sanderus is inaugurated at the first weekend of October in 1926.

Ivo marries Albertha Roegiest and both start their business as landlord and landlady of a new prestigious, building with a typical old façade, which gives the village a more authentic feel as you enter the centre of Sleidinge.

The name Sanderushuis, Sanderus house, refers to priest and historian Antoon Sanders, or Antonius Sanderus, who is best known for his historical work dating from around the 1640s called “Flandria Illustrata”.

This man served a few years as parish priest from 1617 until 1622 in Sleidinge during a very vivid and unstable time of religious wars of the post Inquisitional times in the area, before moving on to the region of Sint-Niklaas, where he would do most of his important historic writing.

Ivo receives the right to live and work at the Sanderushuis for free. Living off the profits generated by the Inn and the cinema and his regular job at the sawmill.

About 300 yards to the South along the road the couple receives a grant to build a house on a strip of land which belonged to Maurice Ghijsbrechts’ Summer residence.

In 1936 Ivo and Bertha build a house in English cottage style. The house still stands and the front of the house still has retained its original character up until this day.

Ivo starts his work on the interior.

A complete concept unfolds in making the café into something unique. Maurice Ghijsbrechts, wishing and wanting to place his lasting hallmark to the village that he calls his universe, commissions three major paintings for the interior of the café by local painter Leo Steel. Two of which are copies of well-known Bruegel paintings. A third major work covers the complete upper third of the northern wall in the pub and includes the scene of a local harvest carnival with important local historic figures.

All pictures are being painted with the Italian “All’ fresco” technique, with paint onto wet lime and chalk.

To the South Wall, East of the chimney, a copy of Bruegel’s “Peasant Wedding” slowly appears. Artist Leo Steel leaves out a few details from the original. The one the most directly noticeable is with the little boy, sitting and licking his plate. This boy distinctly misses a feather in his red cap in this version, which is there in the original.

To the South Wall, West of the chimney, Steel makes a copy of “The Farmers Dance” which depicts a village-scene in which locals are celebrating their successful harvest at the end of Summer.

The North wall hosts an original work by the artist: this painting
is called “The rendit

ion of the keys” and features Ivo Roegiest's face at the front row of the trumpeters in the parade. The rest of the painting hosts other local and historic paintings including the artist, the local parish priest at that time, commissioner Maurice Ghijsbrechts and

Antonius Sanderus.

One particular detail is worth mentioning because of a funny story. Just above the exit-door in the painting, you can see a shepherd guiding a lamb. If you would look closely at the painting in

more detail, this shepherd has a lighter coloured spot near his buttocks.

This actually was a mistake by painter Leo Steel, who had been continuing his work on his painting after having had way too much to drink: the lamb, which is clearly seen facing West, had originally been painted facing the East. So the lighter spot near the buttocks was Leo Steel’s attempt to hide as much as possible of an inebriated error.

Ivo Roegiest himself carves out the lionheads in the mantelpiece and chisels in the Flemish call “Hou ende Trou” which

refers to the Battle of Gavere, July 23rd 1453. These words are the motto of the Flemish Guilds in Ghent which united against the Duke of Burgundy to preserve their city rights in late Medieval times.

The walls of the pub are in solid concrete, but Ivo himself paints the walls and drips on lighter coloured stripes to create a magnificent illusion of wood panelling. It had all been done so meticulously that one would only know for sure about the walls by copping a feel. The chandeliers have been made by him, the woodwork in the pub was all done by him.

The bar area used to be crammed with Flemish pottery, with porcelain depicting Flemish proverbs. The furniture is being made by a firm from Bruges, which delivers old-style seats and tables. The tables are massive, the chairs are huge and hard, but you would have easily imagined Spaniard rolling their dice during the Inquistion if you would have seen them.

I still managed to collect a few old postcards from the interior, which used to be sold for a few centimes to the punters or occasional non-local passers-by.

So have a good close look and look back: this is the very house where my mother was born.

Needless to say that I am very proud and honoured.

Ever since opening in 1926, this Inn became the unofficial cultural venue for the village. It hosted all the main cultural societies: the local choirs, the brass band, the local drama company, several women’s societies and men’s clubs.

Come World War II, it hosted 30 officers of all occupying or passing forces.

At first in early May 1940, the British Expeditionary Force had a few men in there, afterwards a company of the German 6th army acted as occupational force. Most of these men would be sent off to Stalingrad afterwards. Only three men of the original 150 in this German company based in our village would survive Stalingrad. One man would return to Sleidinge by request of a deceased comrade to tell a local girl that her German had been run over by his own German Panzer after having been shot down.

Come the liberation in September 1944, het Sanderushuis becomes the regional British HQ in this sector for the battle of the river Scheldt. My mother is still a child of only 12 years as she sees eye to eye with General Montgomery, as “Monty” spends the night here on a visit to the frontline in December ‘44 during one of the harshest winters of the century.

It was a big change for Monty’s Desert Rats to come across this cold.

Our later prime minister, Wilfried Martens, born and raised in Sleidinge, would come in as a kid and played cards here.

These are my roots. This building is a part of my parents life, this building is by now part of Sleidinge’s heritage and this building is a part of me, even though I can hardly come there anymore as the Inn is now only used for private function dinners or at weddings or funerals.

When I was a kid, this is where I learned my first musical notes, where I rehearsed with the brass band with my dad as conductor, where I have sung in the choir, where I have kissed my love. This is where I lived through memorable nights of local “café chantants” everytime when the mood was right and my dad had enough to drink to go and sit at the piano and start making the atmosphere.

This was the ultimate Inn where I learned to experience the social aspect as the most rewarding thing in a person’s life.

I’m perhaps still quite young to say that “those were the good old days”. I’m living other good days now having evolved from a teenager into a faithful working, law-abiding father of two … but the genuine laughter and enjoyment as I have experienced that in the Sanderushuis in its heydays, is something I will miss for the rest of all my life. Truly and honestly.

And that’s why, I felt the need to write about this.

donderdag 17 januari 2008

Of fish and grans

As a small kid, I always used to love the different seasonal fairs in our village.
The Spring fair at the last weekend of April and the Summer fair around July 6th were undoubtedly my most favourite moments. I may never have gotten that much money to spend at the attractions, but it was more than enough to tend to my needs as a child.
I used to try them all at least once for as far as my budget would allow it, except for the shooting stand and the one with the bumper-cars. The shooting stand, I always found too violent and with my bad eyes, I wouldn't be hitting anything and, as for the bumper-cars … well, they an under ten in those days wasn't allowed to drive yet, so I had to wait, but it wouldn't be long anymore, only a few years, before I'd be zooming around on that smooth surface with my foot on the pedal and my back firmly fixed in the seat. I guess it's a fact that Theo's fixation clearly is genetic if you look at how I was looking forward to driving those things.
But "Be prepared" was the motto. Any older teenager could be coming out of a dead angle at high speed to push his nose in your side or up your rear with his car.
It always felt like being struck by a shark-attack. Suddenly, swiftly, smoothly and quite often at the very climax of the attack, the microsecond just before impact, to my horror, I would see those older teenagers close in on my left side, as I was driving peacefully along the outskirts of the driving surface. Their face would be gruesomely concentrated, their body firmly fixed with tightened muscles and the arms would deliver extra power to clutch the steering wheel and concentrate on impact. Everything would get in position, ready to give their car the extra push to practically bump me out of the attraction. The more they would close in on my car, the more wicked you could see their smiles become, only to open blissfully with laughter after having been shaken after impact as proof of the successful impact that had been delivered upon my cart.
When I would be repositioning my glasses, yet again, I knew I had been had once more.
It would take me another two years and another six fairs before I had grown into it and had perfected my style. Ever since I was thirteen, I started to give the older macho guys a hell of a time in trying to attack me, cleverly turning away at the emphatic moment, to sometimes see those older and more hormonally infected teenagers hit the side of the stand with their vehicle, whilst casting looks in sheer disbelief that they had missed out on me, or you could see them curse at me after experiencing that the major impact they had been banking on only seemed limited to a soft scrape at the rubber bars that would let the power of the impact peacefully die down. I sometimes succeeded in timing my evasive action so neatly that in the end they ended up bumping into the wrong people. Consequently, usually a little play of avengeance ensued, between the two or three cars with older guys, of which I often luckily was able to stay out. I tried not to grin too hard, but I enjoyed avoiding the crash-packs, zooming past with the wind flying through my curls …
Ah! Those were the days! I suppose it did inspire me to try and drive as defensively as possible now that I have my own car.
I was thirteen at the time and clearly growing up with my hormones enjoying the primitive feelings that bumper car provoked. Those hormones probably meant they were about to get the better of my childhood.. The weird thing was that at that age I was already being reminiscent of those days at the fishing stand.
Five years earlier you could win live goldfish as a prize as well, if you had fished out enough points from the pond.
So I guess I must have been eight years or something when I had fished my first goldfish. You paid the landlady for a stick, you hooked up a few plastic fish onto it as a result of your patient catch, which generally took 45 seconds per plastic duck or per fish and when the points at their bottoms added up to the right amount, you could take a live goldfish home.
I guess I did that twice, of which one delivered quite a memorable moment.
The little shiny plastic bag went in my hand and I went off home. The little tiny goldfish, suddenly in a very limited space would make a few quick moves, and I did manage to spill some water along the way. I'd never been a handyman and, alas, handy I still am rather not.
But I got my fish home safely.
But now what?
The sheer ignorance at keeping fish , would give me some uncertain feeling.
Where would I put that in?
Mum helped me out with our salad bowl. If I would be able to keep it for a few days, she even might be considering buying an aquarium, but I guess it never was a straight promise.
For some reason, my mother never made straight promises. I now could wonder why she never did, but perhaps her situation in her house was a reason not to do so, with herself being locked in in a stalemate between the demands of both her husband and her mother who was living in.
Anyway, the little animal was dropped into the bowl with nothing but water and it seemingly swam around quite happily. The calm and peace of the goldfish, its slow moves to gracefully move around in its new environment, I found it all quite relaxing, even at my early age of eight years. I quickly grew to like this animal that seemed the embodiment of calm and the complete picture had a certain Zen about it all.
But now our family had a fish. Now what?
How do you look after it?
Feeding a fish seemed to be a mystery. When does a fish require food? What does a fish eat? We generally eat the fish, so it was usually the other way around.
The first morning after the funfair, we decided to give it some breadcrumbs and the day after that and the day after that and the day after that the bowl seemed so filled with breadcrumbs, you might as well have put the bowl on the fire, stewed it and eaten the whole lot.
My grandma, who was about to turn 84 and who always could be quite anal about keeping the house neat and tidy, was living with us. She clearly noticed that some things in that bowl weren't like they were supposed to be. Gran was always cleaning everything, everytime, everywhere, so now seemed a good time to have a go at that goldfish-salad-bowl.
Her first problem was how to ever get that fish into something else. She decided to take a cup, and hunt for the fish by hand.
Was it her old age or her eyes, I do not know, but after an intense chase of about fifteen minutes with the cup whisking up the water like a big tractor on a tiny patch of land, she came to the conclusion that this tiny fish was a bit too fast for her and she tried to think of something else. Another reason to call off this way of hunting was that the shelf the bowl was on, was getting all wet. And cleaning a salad bowl was alright, but having to mop up the whole kitchen would be a little too far fetched for the effort, even for my gran, who reckoned that the kitchen needed a wet mop everyday to keep clean. But perhaps even that was a bit too much over the top for her if she would be doing this in the afternoon.
Wait a minute! How do you usually get fish out of a fryingpan?
With a skimmer!

Brilliant idea!

Grandma went over to the drawers next to the cooker and took out the largest skimmer we had. She prudently drowned the skimmer in the bowl and had it lying in wait until the goldfish would swim over it.
Alas, her patient tactics of slowly raising the skimmer seemed just as pointless. For some reason, this little fish was quite smart: he just kept on escaping.
Grandma was about to get mad. She never really had been the most patient of persons.
Another infuriated effort of drowning the skimmer followed and with a quick move hoisting it out of the water, she made herself look like a hunting bear catching a fish out of an Alaskan cold river. The power of the paw, the quick and short gracious move of the catch. It all had a certain poetry as I sat worriedly watching the whole of her efforts.
The skimmer was raised with one quick flashing move and grandma had triumphed.
The fish was out of the bowl on the skimmer only to temporarily transform itself into a red tit, to then land on the green tiles of the kitchen floor with a big fat *SPLAT*, nervously desperately fighting to take to the air again with its wings now back to fins again.
Who ever said fish couldn't fly? For a moment that goldfish clearly did.
I was as quick as to pick up the fish and place it into the cup with water where it slowly calmed down only half realizing what it had endured.
Grandma was swearing and cursing in her anger about the floor that had been wetted.
My brother mutedly chuckled after secretly having watched the entire scene over a book and he hadn't read a single page since he had seen gran walk up to the bowl.
A few days later, the morning after yet another cleansing operation by my grandmother, my fish, my little pet, that I had been so proud of in winning and to which I had developed at least some emotional attachment was floating just under the surface. Apparently my gran was just too much for the little animal to handle.
I cried my heart out, with big warm tears rolling down my cheeks. Comforted by my gran with shouts that I had better stop soon, because she needed the bowl for the lettuce mother had just bought.
She handed me the dead orange body by the tail and told me to get rid of it.
I stood in the kitchen, sniffing up the last of my tears. The last of the water on the fish was dripping yet again onto the floor of our kitchen. Grandmother went off to fetch her mop again.
I had just come down from my bath. I wanted to bury the fish in the garden, but mother would be mad again if I was to dirty my hands again.
I went up to the front garden. I moved some of our pebbles aside and put the fish in there to rest. I took a last pathetic burst to get the last of the tears out, blew my nose and went in again.
Mother was waiting for me.
What had I done with that fish? In between the pebbles, frontgarden ...
"What?? Get it out of there before it starts to smell!"
I felt so unhappy having to do a post-mortem, I slowly walked out the backdoor in mourning. I went past the driveway only to see nextdoor's grey tiger cat digging in our pebbles and then run off ever so quickly. Wasn't there something orange in between its jaws?

I went back inside thinking this world was ever so cruel!
I had a difficult few days after that. The death of my goldfish meant my first experience with a feeling of bereavement. And at the early age of eight, I thought it was quite something to bear.

Sadly, people just can't grow up without any frustrations ...

donderdag 27 december 2007

The Industrial Spy - the roots of a personal history

"Deliver me the plans to that machine and I will make sure you get a decent roof above your head!"
The last words are still ringing in Ivo's ears as he leaves the house of Maurice Ghysbrecht.

Maurice Ghysbrecht was one of three sons in an industrial dynasty that had everything to do with wood. Their father had started out producing wooden barrels for gunpowder in his factory in Wetteren for the Belgian army, but when tin cans started to replace wood, it seemed that their industry was looking for a new market. Maurice moved to Sleidinge in the 1890s.

This small but rather rich rural village, in the early years, just after the Great War, was booming economically, with its successful brand of so-called Empress-pears, which grew in the magnificently huge orchards. Each year scores of English ladies from around Birmingham and Liverpool would come over to this little Flemish town to help with harvesting the delicious fruit from August until early October.

Ghysbrecht saw his chance and had erected a saw-mill which, among other things, would produce wooden fruit caskets for this industry. All went well, until some French firm came up with a certain "billot"-casket, which seemed much better designed, lighter but still sturdy enough and this French firm used a new revolutionary method of stapling the fine wooden components together. The "billot"-casket was oval-shaped and in relative terms could take more weight with less damage to the delicate pears.

If only Ghysbrecht could produce this new casket, he could have the lot of the Belgian fruit farmers as his costumers and that would mean a lot of work, a lot of return on assets, a lot of profit.
He would be having the monopoly in Belgium and, hang on, perhaps this Ivo might be just the man for the job.

Ivo Roegiest, at 25 is a young man in his prime. He is perhaps not one of the most handsome, but he seems quite talented. Ivo had only just returned from fulfilling his military service and according to the Belgian military laws was granted unlimited leave, which meant that he had just came back home after his transfer to the Ghent regiment of the national reserve. If all is well, he would sit out his time in the reserve and he would have to hand his military gear in to the authorities in 1934 to be officially relieved of any military duty but 1934 is still a long wait.

With only his basic primary schooling, Ivo used his military service to teach himself French, music and a certain basic knowledge of mechanics. Trained as a craftsman clog-maker, his wooden shoes seem to be well appreciated by the costumers. The rather reticent, -and somewhat mysterious-, lad apparently has golden hands when it comes down to technical things and not only that: he's a rare musical talent on his flugelhorn in the village band as well. Even his officers at his regiment acknowledged that and in the end he even played along in the regimental band as the only amateur, which was quite an achievement in his time for a peasant lad without any decent education.

But with a soldiers pay of 30 Belgian centimes per day, from January 1920 onwards until January 1922, you just don't get far. And there is this girl that he is seeing and apparently, he wants to marry her too. He needs at least some financial backdrop to convince her parents.

Ghysbrecht, in charge of his saw-mill, recognizes the technical talent of the young man, especially his more introvert and musical side. Well aware of the financial needs of the young man, Maurice Ghysbrecht asks Ivo to go on a mission which would involve industrial espionage and he promises him a house.

Ivo Roegiest is facing a tough decision. Not accepting the offer might mean him getting the sack and at the same time it's also an offer he can't refuse.
"Deliver me the plans to that machine and I will make sure you get a decent roof above your head!" It's a gentleman's promise. One man, one word.
And within the next couple of days, Ivo packs his suitcase, he grabs his flugelhorn, grabs some money and he sets off tramping through France.

The exact happenings are a mystery for a lot of people but in September 1922 Ivo's fiancée Albertha (Berthje) Van Hulle receives a card from Mussy-sur-Seine...

The text reads: "My dear Berthje, I have been lucky enough to find the façade of my 'villa' on a postal card. That is why I am most happy to send you a copy of this card. So behold and think what you might fit. The house is a little more bleached by the Sun than the other one next to it. I have drawn an arrow to point it out."

Rue du Couvent in Mussy-Sur-Seine région de L'Aube around 1922...

Ivo had located the French saw-mill in the Aube region (Champagne en Ardennes).
Whilst busking as a flugelhorn player, he is picked up by a musical director in the region. Ivo helps the conductor out as a valuable extra flugelhorn for his band and ends up transposing and transcribing scores for him.

"If ever I can do you a favour, just ask!" says the conductor.

Ivo needn't think long about a favour and expresses his dream of working at that particular saw-mill in Mussy-sur-Seine. The conductor of the French band puts in a good word for him. And one day he comes up to Ivo and says: "My dear Ivo, you can start work at the sawmill near Mussy. They need someone to adjust and sharpen the teeth of the saw-blade. This requires specialised skills. Are you able and willing to do that?"

Ivo accepts the offer, knowing very well that he technically can't do the job
"I'll take it," says Ivo "But would they be willing to grant me another two weeks? I'm about to get married!" Ivo replies.

An excuse, sees a desperate Ivo run off home. Ivo arrives back in Sleidinge with good news and bad news for his boss: the good news is that he's in, the bad news is that he can't possibly do the job and he demands a crash course for the job. The local sawmill in Sleidinge stops working to make sure that Ivo gets all the training he needs to do his new job. After ten days of emphatic heavy practice during long days, Ivo sets off to Mussy-sur-Seine once again and starts to work in his new job, alledgedly married to Albertha Van Hulle, but in truth still a bachelor.

Ivo does his work without suspicion and works along quietly. But alas, the machine is technically much too complicated for him. Ivo sends some basic sketches home and explains he needs help.

Maurice D'hondt, a technical designer, from the local saw-mill is being sent for. Ivo helps Maurice to a job at the Mussy-sur-Seine plant and both they start work at drawing up the detailed plans of the machine.
In presumably 1923 or 1924, after completion of the plans, they disappear from Mussy-sur-Seine, never to return or never to be seen again by the locals.

Upon their return in Sleidinge, Maurice Ghysbrecht immediately orders the construction of the machinery. And to everyone's relief: it all works out!
The orders flow in, the monopoly for Belgium had been achieved. Now Maurice Ghysbrecht has to live up to his promise.

And this is one small picture … the rest of the story behind Ivo's house, I will write about in another blog.

And for your information, if you'd like to know why I posted all this: Ivo is my grandfather on mother's side.

Theo ... my fine young son ... *err* ... is he?

Theo's my boy ...

Born in 1998 and with distinct features in his face of his dad (ME, *wahey*!!!) and the family of his grandad, indirectly the family has laid all their hopes on him. The hunt for similarities is inevitably on whenever a kid resembles someone, but the little boy has been showing a few weird interests and habbits over the last few years ...
Physically, Theo's undoubtedly a son to his father, but in some aspects of his character, you'd give him some qualities of my brother Luc. He's quite introvert, intelligent and stubborn (which.I'm probably less.)
He's quite able to play by himself for hours with his toy-cars, which is quite normal considering the fact that his first word was "auto", NOT "mama" or "dada" or "papa". NOPE "auto" in Dutch it was, complete with the perfect pronunciation, turning other mums in awe at the perfect ability of speech by the youngster. The disillusion of the audience that this turned to be his only word ran really deep. Yet, his diphthong in "auto" as a word was so perfect ...
His "wheels-focus" developed without any problem. He knew the different car-logos driving around before he was three, recognizing the mothers of his fellow-students at kindergarten and calling out to us who was driving which kind of car whenever a similar type of car passed us. The fishing stand at the fun-fair always produced a new set of wheels and now that he's eight, he still takes to the floor with a die-cast companion to stress out. It sometimes feels like he's a Buddhist. Instead of humming "OOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHMMMMMMM!" he simply drops down and starts with "BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRMMMMMMMM!" and away goes all his stress of the working day at school. You'd sometimes wish it was all that simple ...
So what's weird about all that? Nothing really, he's a little more introvert, he's doing allright at school, but as a proud straight heterosexual male-chauvinist-pig father, I got quite a shock whenever he brought home a pair of Barbie-pink pumps from that same fishing-stand from the funfair. His second fishing round had produced a set of plastic jewelry, with a little Miss World-like crown, ear-clips and a necklace.
When he was nearly four, we had a Scottish piperband over in our village. I had walked the streets with Theo behind the band, enjoying the music. Theo had thoroughly enjoyed this and the week after he asked me to put on some music by the "Scotters".
Picture this!
Theo had found a brown blanket which had a bit of a tartan pattern, with black, white and yellow lines to form the tartan-squares. He neatly folded this up to make a skirt and put it around his waist. He took a yellow scarf and rolled that one up to go over his shoulder across his chest down to his kilt, just like a bandmaster. Add a hobby-horse to that, which he held like a Marines drum-major by the stick and off he went on "Scotland the Brave" around the table in the livingroom.
I sometimes wondered afterwards whether this incident set him off into "other directions".
The pink pumps went on his feet, the jewelry he wore with pride. He combined this with a set of short white summer pj's and all of a sudden, my fine young boy nearly looked like a go-go girl from the thirties, ready to dance along to Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher". The weirdest thing of all was that he looked EXCELLENT in it. The tapping of his pumps on our kitchen floor drove us practically mad, but he surely had the legs for it.
Theo now still loves to cross-dress. He got a long skirt that his gran used to wear. A white one with black speckles, which at first he used to wear and spin around in, like the Turkish Dervish. Lately, he's become more creative, undressing to his trunks and pulling up the skirt just under his shoulders and wearing that like a dress. He tied ribbons to the rim of his top. My mother, who gave that skirt to him, was quite surprised at the sight of her granson in her old stuff, marching by like a mannequin. I should have taken pics, I know ...
And everyone says he's got a great eye. The little boy's got taste, he knows how to dress, he's creative. We get comments that he'll probably make a good fashion-designer but everytime when he cross-dresses, my sisters sighs and worriedly tries to assure us that we'd better not fight the nature of our little boy.
I think I'm about this far that I won't do that, if I want to see him happy, but I have to admit that my sister is genuinely getting on our nerves, always repeating that we can't fight Theo's nature ...
The more she says it, the more I feel nervous about it all. Yet, whenever I saw him look at some other girls, I still think there's hope ...
We'll know more when his voice drops in a few years time ....