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Saturday, May 26, 2012

There and Back Again

We're back in Gent for a brief stint before leaving for Morocco on Monday. And Ben has arrived!

London was grand -- cold and gray, as it should be (and as Gent has been up until two days ago), and full of friends and fun. We spent Monday, before our train, visiting Sue's place of work, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. It's a real treat going through exhibits with her. She's a museum curator, so any question you ask will have an informed and fascinating answer. We looked at displays of pharmacy/apothecary objects through the ages (and learned the difference between pharmacists and apothecaries. But you have to look it up). Phil was most intrigued by a display of badger testicles, which apparently were used to cure baldness. In fact, there were many, many cures for baldness in the exhibit. Phil found it quite disturbing that in an era when bubonic plague was rampant, baldness was considered a disease.

Sue pointed out only one error in my latest novel, which has several apothecary scenes. There may have been many more mistakes, but she was kind enough to stick to one. And she excused it by pointing out that it's fantasy, after all, so glass jars could well have been used in my make-believe apothecary shop. Oops. Corrections will be made in the 2nd edition, should there be one.

We also had a delicious and fiery Chinese meal to fuel us for the Eurostar back. It included a hot and sour soup that made us all very red in the face, and ended with some peculiar objects that looked like mints, set on a little platform atop a steaming moat of water. We tried to eat them.

Turned out you were supposed to drop them in the hot water, where they unwound like those little fireworks snakes and became warm cloths to wipe off dirty hands and hot-and-sour-soup sweat. Oops.

On Thursday Phil gave his last lecture, and we celebrated with -- what else? -- beer. On a boat. It floats on what we've thought for 20 years was the canal outside our window but turns out to be the River Scheldt. Oops. I, of course, peeled off the beer labels with my fingernails while the waitress wasn't looking.

Yesterday when Ben had recovered a little from his journey, we went out to find the Augustijn monastery in Gent, where once was brewed one of the finest of Belgian beers (now made by a conglomerate that uses the monks' recipe). We got quite lost. When we found it, we convinced a tiny, ancient monk to take us through the place. He gave us a personal tour, using a mix of his Dutch, his mediocre French, his nonexistent English, my mediocre French, and my Dutch (you can get pretty far with "please" in Dutch, it turns out). It's a beautiful place, founded in the 12th century but rebuilt in the 18th after a fire.

Tonight we're going to a local nightclub, Trefpunt, to hear our friend Michel Delville perform with his band, The Wrong Object. Apparently they play a mix of progressive jazz and Frank Zappa. I am trying to get my head around that.

And then we're off to a new continent entirely, where I'm sure we'll spend a good deal of time lost and confused. Just to cover us, I say in advance: Oops.

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