After the Rain

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© Eleanor Parks 2016

I called this picture “After the Rain” because, well, it was taken after the rain. There had been a storm overnight, and the next morning, as I walked up the drive to fetch the morning post, there was the most perfect hazelnut leaf I’d ever seen. It lay on the drive, dappled and bedecked with droplets of rain that glistened in the morning sun.

For a few moments, I stood and stared, transfixed by the beautiful image before me. I then ran inside to get my camera, hoping that one of my cats didn’t decide to walk over, or sit on, the leaf, before I had a chance to capture it. I tried shooting in colour first, but felt that it didn’t do justice to the details of the image. After switching to black and white and playing with the exposure, this was the result.

After a night of witnessing nature’s ferocity, her beauty was later revealed in a pretty perfect symbol of stunning simplicity.

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Angels With Pockets

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I often wonder what it is about us humans that compels us to give a piece of advice. It is the one thing that people – even the most shrivelled up, decrepit of soul, withered old misers – are eagerly willing to share.

Think about it: we all know that there are plenty of fish in the sea, but there will always be a plethora of well-meaning friends, queuing up to reveal their pearls of wisdom on how best to navigate the tricky, emotional maze which we call life. You may be a jilted, mawkish mess, slowly sobbing yourself into a puddle on the floor, but as surely as night follows day, you will have a veritable army telling you that “This, too, will pass”. And, of course, it will. But the last time someone told me that, I believe I responded with, “Well until it does, I’m going to live on F*ck Off Island and get blitzed every night on Prosecco and Piña Colada!”

To turn on any computer these days is to be swept away by a deluge of memes telling us to be strong, or kind, or positive, or comparing your friends to the contents of your knicker drawer. And believe me, I’ve met my fair share of Granny Pants and Butt Flossers in my time!

Some advice is great. I distinctly remember being told that if I ever felt like writing an explosive letter or email, to absolutely go ahead and write it…but then to save it, leave it overnight and then read it through in the morning. Nine times out of ten I’ve ended up not sending it. I also love the piece of advice to “Go to bed and sleep on it. You’ll have a different perspective in the morning.” To me, this is the human equivalent of “Try turning it off, leave it ten seconds and then turn it on again.”

Yet, it strikes me as rather odd that, despite the fact that we all love to give advice, few of us will ever ask for it. Even fewer will actually take it and act on it. Why is that? Perhaps it is because in giving advice, we feel we are somehow imparting knowledge, while simultaneously helping a soul in need. Whereas, to ask for advice could be seen as actually being a soul in need, something that isn’t always easily admitted. Then again, perhaps the 1997 movie, Devil’s Advocate, had it right when Al Pacino’s character, John Milton says, “The worst vice is advice.”

Of all the advice I’ve ever heard though, something my granddad used to say has stayed with me, and seems ever more true as I get older. My granddad was a hard working miner. He never had much, but he did have a wife and children who adored him, and that was everything to him. He could never understand why people are so intent on accumulating stuff, always eager to have the next big thing, or to make and save as much money as they can. His motto was that so long as your bills were paid and there was food on the table, anything left over was to have a good time with. “You can’t take it with you” he used to say “I mean, have you ever seen an angel with pockets?”

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My Trinacria Tattoo

Regular readers of my humble missives will know all about my plans to celebrate the milestone that is my 40th birthday. For those of you who are new here, or who may have stumbled in accidentally, why not stay awhile and read all about it here and here.

So, yesterday dawned a dull and rainy, but not cold day. I awoke with trepidation and anticipation, knowing that within a few hours I would be having my very first tattoo!

My appointment at Awa Art Tattoo in Antwerp was for 12 noon. As is normal for me, I was early, so early in fact that I had time to stop and have a coffee (which turned out to be one of the worst coffees I have ever tasted!). A walk around the block, and it was time for me to go in. My heart was pounding so loud and the studio was so quiet that I was sure that Alex (the tattoo artist) could hear it! Was I on the brink of cowardice?

My husband was with me, and he said that he would take some photos and videos of me during the session. I had in mind that it would take maybe an hour or two, but oh no! Perhaps if Alex had told me that it would take five hours, I may have chickened out, so I’m glad he didn’t tell me beforehand. Likewise, I’m glad he was less than explicit in how much it would eventually hurt. When he first began, I thought to myself, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about tattoos. This isn’t painful at all!” Four hours in, and in the midst of colouring and shading, and I was regretting my earlier bravado. I can only compare it to being deeply scratched, over and over again, in exactly the same place…and you know that each one is going to happen!

Once it was done and cleaned off though, it honestly just felt like bad sunburn. This morning, it still feels like sunburn…really bad sunburn. I think it was well worth it though! Alex is one hell of a talented artist! Below is the picture I gave him to go off, together with pictures of what he created. A true artist in every sense of the word! What do you think?

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The image I gave to Alex as an indication of what I wanted.

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My very first tattoo! A five hour piece of artwork depicting an interpretation of a Trinacria. © Eleanor Parks 2016

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My Trinacria tattoo!

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The Up-Shot

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An imposing up-shot of York Minster. © Eleanor Parks 2016

I love to look up and take up-shots of buildings. Especially when such buildings happen to be the grand and imposing Gothic monolith that is York Minster. While the Minster looks imposing from any angle, I find that an up-shot enhances the imposition.

Similarly, this shot of the Campanile di San Marco in Venice, is to me (I know it’s my shot so I’m biased), all the more dizzying for the angle at which it is taken, than if I had taken the shot from a distance. And yes, before you ask, I did go to the top of it!

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Campanile di San Marco, Venice. © Eleanor Parks 2016

I don’t know where my next trip will take me, but one thing I do know: I will always be looking up!

To see more of my photos, please visit my photography page. 

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The Death of Common Sense

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Dearly Beloved, 

We are gathered here today to mark the sad passing of Common Sense. He was cut down long before his time; his life snuffed out by the two demons of our age: Political Correctness and Health and Safety.

Today, as we sit here together in contemplation, looking back through the mists of time, we find ourselves wondering, “Did we remember to thank Common Sense enough?” For all the times he stood alongside us, protecting us from the ridiculous vagaries, not only of Political Correctness, but Political Preposterousness. Who can forget his valiant fight when Political Preposterousness wanted to prevent the British press from reporting on the cash-for-honours case in 2007, while simultaneously refusing to tell the press what it was they were being prevented from reporting. Brave too was his fight when the European Parliament, beset with a severe case of Political Correctness, introduced proposals to outlaw titles stating marital status, such as “Miss” and “Mrs”, so as not to cause offence. Good old Common Sense was outraged, and managed to win the day just in the nick of time, before “Madame” and “Mademoiselle”, “Frau” and “Fraulein”, “Señora” and “Señorita”, were banned from all public places.  

Common Sense was forced to up his game, however, when Political Correctness and Political Preposterousness joined forces in 2008. Their combined efforts resulted in Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in Kent, banning the term “brainstorming” and replacing it with the phrase “thought showers”.  By way of response, I suggested that Common Sense should inform Tunbridge Wells Borough Council that he had had a go at a thought shower and had decided that whoever decided to replace brainstorming with such a nonsensical term, must have been inebriated beyond the exuberant confines of their own perspicacity. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council declined to comment. 

It appeared that Common Sense was winning the war. However, just when we, and all our fellow Common Sense supporters were planning our celebrations, the news came through that a school in Seattle had renamed its Easter Eggs “Spring Spheres”, in order to avoid offending anyone who didn’t celebrate Easter. This, sadly, proved too much for Common Sense to bear. As he pointed out, not only was the renaming unnecessary, but an egg is not spherical, but elliptical!

Browbeaten by the ludicrous litany of examples of Political Correctness and Political Preposterousness getting drunk on their own absurdity, the heart of Common Sense, sadly, could take no more. And so, dear friends, we find ourselves here today, and we realise that no, we did not thank Common Sense enough. And now it is too late. 

This, of course, is a purely whimsical, hypothetical funeral speech. Yet, I for one, would like to do away with Political Preposterousness and preserve our beloved Common Sense, if only For Posterity.

Common Sense is there for us in all our every day lives. How many times have we seen a hole in the ground, one without a cordon around it, and thought, “Shall I step into that?” At that precise moment, Common Sense steps in and reminds us that our parents raised us not to be idiots. He is there too, when we are told by some nannying, officious jobsworth that we cannot have toothpicks on a public dinner table because they have sharp points and we may hurt ourselves (this actually happened at a council dinner). Similarly, Common Sense races to the rescue when some poor sensitive soul argues that the classic British pudding known as Spotted Dick, should henceforth be known as “Spotted Richard”. This poor, unenlightened soul appears to be suggesting that the word “dick” in Spotted Dick is both a shortened form of the given name Richard, while simultaneously a slang term for the male appendage; thus it is so confusing that the name should be changed to avoid offending people, who (1) probably have no idea why they’re supposed to be offended anyway, and (2) are no longer twelve and so don’t find the word dick amusing. Common Sense tells us that the word “dick” in Spotted Dick actually comes from the shortened Old English name for pudding: puddick. Therefore, unless you are a man named Richard, who not only hates being called Dick, but has an appendage shaped like a puddick, you’ve no reason to be offended, concerned or embarrassed.

In short, we need Common Sense, not just for posterity, but to ensure that neither Political Correctness nor Political Preposterousness ever win. We need it too, to ensure that over officious Health and Safety Execs are kept in their place, and to prevent overly sensitive creatures from imposing their vicarious offence upon us.

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Exciting Times!

You may remember the other day I posted an article concerning the fact that, at the end of this month, I will be forty. In the article, I mentioned that I had started a Bucket List, a list of the things I wanted to do, things that I have been putting off, things that will help me discover who I am at this age. 

Two of the things on my Bucket List were (1) to get a nice haircut and (2) to get a tattoo (or maybe two). On Thursday I took a trip into Breda in the Netherlands, to Bunker Tattoo. I’d seen their work online and was impressed; I was impressed too by the reviews they received. So, walking up the stairs into their studio, I opened the door with a little trepidation. This is my first ever tattoo, and up until this point, I’d never even set foot in a tattoo studio before.

The first artist to greet me was called Boy (seriously, I asked him if that really was his name, because where I come from, if you called someone boy, it’s seen as being disrespectful. I certainly didn’t want to come across as disrespectful, especially to someone who may be putting ink on me!) As it happened though, I needn’t have worried. For not only did he insist that his name really was Boy, but he also told me that they had a waiting list, and that the first available place was either in September or October 2017! That’s right folks! They have a waiting list of over a year! Now, I don’t mind waiting for quality, but the idea was for me to have a tattoo for my 40th birthday, and somehow, waiting until I’m 41 seemed to defeat the purpose!

I returned home disheartened, but not defeated, and after speaking to a couple of friends and searching some more across the internet, I found a tattoo studio quite close to me in Antwerp, one called Awa Art Tattoo. I took a trip there yesterday, and was lucky enough to watch the artist at work. He was busy creating a tattoo on a guy’s arm, and I have to say, it looked good. We chatted about the design I wanted, and after taking some advice, I have made an appointment for 12 o’clock on Monday! Eek! I shall be sure to post some photos once it is completed, so watch this space peeps!

Then on Tuesday, a very good friend of mine who works as a colourist and stylist will be creating a whole new hair colour and style for me. As with the tattoo, I shall be sure to update you, my lovely readers, with some photos.

Exciting times!

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The 40 Year Old Bucket List

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I remember distinctly when I turned 21 how many people would tell me that “from now on, your life will fly by”. Equally distinctly, I remember telling them that they were only saying that because they were older and filled with regret for all the things they didn’t do when they were my age. Oh! How I now regret my arrogance of youth!

At the end of this month I will be 40! That threshold of achievement brings with it mixed emotions. Firstly, I find myself wanting to find whoever it is that is in charge of working out people’s ages, because seriously, someone has messed up big time! I mean, how the hell can I be 40? I was only 21 a couple of years ago! That in turn brings me on to the second emotion, of wanting to go back and tell all those old people filled with regret that I’m sorry, that they were right all along, and that time does indeed slip through your fingers like fine sand; and now, I too am thinking about all those things I never got to do.

But I still have time!

As I approach my 40th birthday, I am finding that I am not dreading it at all. In fact, I’ve started to peel away the layers of all the fears and doubts and the notions of “one day I’d like to…”, to find out who I am at this age. Because one thing is for sure: the 40 (almost) year old me is nothing like the 21 year old me. So much so that I’m not sure if the two versions of me would recognise each other if they met on the street!

In peeling away all those layers, I have found such a desire to not only do all those things that I have been putting off, but to also change who I am, that I have started to make a Bucket List. Naturally, I had a few things in mind, but I wanted some fresh ideas too. So I looked online, and immediately burst into fits of laughter. For the first list I read was “Business Insider’s Experiences To Have Before You Turn 40”.  I’ve already celebrated New Years Eve in a foreign city (I was in Los Angeles for the millennium), seen an iconic artist (I’ve seen B.B. King, Paul McCartney and Blondie) and been skinny dipping (don’t ask!) but as I read through the other items on the list, such as “travel across Europe on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express” and “bungee jump, sky dive or go white water rafting”, it was clear that I was holding a woefully inadequate bucket.

So, enough with looking for ideas amongst the lists of people who clearly have an unlimited budget and a private jet at their disposal. I’ll make my own list, one that suits the life of a busy writer with twelve cats and a husband. Here’s what I have thus far:

  1. Get a NICE hair makeover. I’ve already put the wheels of this one in motion by contacting a good friend of mine who is a colourist and stylist. I saw him today and all being well, next Tuesday he will cut, colour and style my hair. He initially said that he would make me beautiful, but when I pointed out that he would only have a day, we agreed that he would just do his best!
  2. Get a tattoo (or two). I intend to go to a studio in Breda in the Netherlands some time this week, to give them a couple of designs and, of course, to find out if I can afford just one or both of them.
  3.  Write all the books and screenplays that I have ideas for. OK, I know this is a biggy, but I reckon with a decent enough coffee machine and a massive slug of discipline and determination, I may just about manage it.
  4. Move to Italy. Actually, this was suppose to happen this year, but the teaching job I had lined up fell through and so we weren’t able to go.
  5. Speak fluent Italian. This links in with #4, and I’m already learning, but not fluent…yet!
  6. Find a great prohibition era recipe for beer and make it. I love the prohibition era, and what could be better than to recreate the beer that clubs and speakeasies may have served.
  7. Meet Stephen Fry. OK, so this is perhaps the most unrealistic item on my list, but given that he is, in my opinion, the closest this modern world will get to Oscar Wilde, and that Wilde is my ultimate literary hero, it would be remiss of me not to include it.

And that’s where I’m up to so far. Yeah, I know it’s only seven things, but I will be adding more, I promise! In the meantime I’m going to concentrate on living my life as fully as possible, and every time someone nudges me and smiles and tells me “You’re 40 this year” I shall insist they buy me a bottle of champagne to celebrate!

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BiC For Her: Autonomy For Female Writers!

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Attention ladies! Put down your cross-stitch patterns and leave those little crocheted dollies to one side. Remove your flowered aprons, take off your marigold gloves and listen to what I have to say. Your husbands will be home from work soon and will expect to have their dinner on the table, so it is vital you pay attention now so that I don’t have to repeat myself and thus make you late. Now, are you sitting comfortably? Good. I’m glad that you’re sitting down because this news is startling and will revolutionize our lives! Those clever men at BiC – you know, the pen company – have come up with a pen designed specifically for women! It’s called BiC For Her! I know! Isn’t it amazing?

BiC say that this is a “beautifully smooth ball pen designed specifically for women. The pink barrel has a great floral design that continues onto the metal cone. Super smooth Easy Glide ink and a cushioned grip make writing with this pen ultra comfortable.” And as if that were not enough, ladies, they go on to say that it is “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand”.  Well, I can tell you that I for one am thinking that it’s about time!

There have been so many occasions in the past when I have sat at my desk, all ready and eager to jot down a few writing ideas (I have to write things down, otherwise all the thoughts about puppies and little fluffy kittens push all other thoughts away, and I end up worrying my pretty little head about what it was I was doing), only to find that there are only man pens available. I have tried writing with these man pens, ladies. Believe me, oh! how I tried. But they felt so thick and masculine in my hand that it was all I could do not to fall into a swoon! I tried drinking a glass of fortified wine to steady my nerves, but to no avail. Eventually, I realised that the only thing I could do was to ask my husband to write things down for me.

However, thanks to BiC, I now have the autonomy to write down all my ideas myself. It has completely changed my life! For the first time I have a pen that fits into my delicate female hands, and thanks to the “Easy Glide ink” I don’t have to try too hard at all to make my words appear on the page. That being said, I cannot say that this remarkable invention is entirely without its drawbacks. One of the disadvantages is that it is a little expensive. The current price is £19:95 for a box of twelve. My husband was initially reluctant to allow me to spend so much at first, but after he did some research on something called the “internet”, he found that if any product is made in pink, it inevitably costs three times as much as it would do were it made in any other colour. So, he relented and ordered a box of these pens for me.

When they were delivered, I then encountered an unforeseen drawback. You see, naturally my husband was at work when the package was delivered, and not only did the delivery man only have a man pen with which I was to sign for the delivery (an arduous task in itself), but given that I am a woman and therefore weak and helpless, I simply found myself unable to carry an entire box of twelve pens into the house on my own. As eager as I was to try them, I was forced to leave the package on the step until my husband came home and have him carry it in for me. He’s so strong. Do you know he lifted that box of pens as if it weighed almost nothing?

I asked my husband if he thought it might be a good idea for me to write to BiC and ask them if they would consider making a range of paper designed just for us women, you know, so we might write even easier with our BiC For Her pens. After all, currently we only have man paper to write on. However, my husband thought that this might be thought of as far too radical, and so the matter was dropped.

I have, however, been forced to write to BiC in any event. For you see, yesterday, my husband accidentally picked up one of my lady pens and attempted to write something about tree-felling with it. His writing came out all flowing and effeminate, and he dropped the pen as if it were made of hot lava, and began examining his hands as if they were not his own. He then looked at the window and muttered something about getting “lavender drapes” and then ran and locked himself in the bedroom. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was “listening to Barbra Streisand, looking at kittens and finding cupcake recipes”. So I have written to BiC to ask if they have an ultra masculine pen that I might be able to buy to counteract my lady pen effects.

All in all though, though this has been a positive experience and for all you lovely ladies out there, I can highly recommend you buying this product. Please though, be sure to keep them out of reach of your menfolk !

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Trappista! The New Beer On The Block

Whether you are a beer aficionado or just an I-enjoy-a-pint-at-the-weekend person, chances are that whenever you think of Trappist beers, you immediately think of Belgium. And little wonder when you consider that this small country, squidged in between the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Germany and France, and which has been my adopted home for over fifteen years, is home to more Trappist breweries than any other country worldwide. But what is it that makes a Trappist product? And why have Trappist beers come to be renowned as a symbol of excellence within the brewing fraternity? The answer lies in the monastic reforms of 1664, the French Revolution and Belgium’s very own Prohibition Act of 1919.

In 1664, the abbot of La Grande Trappe Abbey in Normandy, France, began to institute reforms designed to halt what he saw as a decline in values and to return the Cistercian Order to what he saw as a truer form of Benedictine monasticism, whereby an austere life of work, prayer and self-denial, surviving on the fruits of their labour, would form their core identity. The La Trappe monks, as well as those who later followed in their footsteps, were officially recognized in 1892 as “The Order of the Cisctercians of the Strict Observance,” though today they are more widely known as “Trappists.”

Despite their life of self-imposed solitude, the monastic beliefs also teach hospitality and charity. Even today monasteries have worldwide renown as places of refuge or sanctuary, where the troubled or the mere weary traveller can find a decent meal or perhaps a safe bed for the night. The Trappists either grew or traded services for their food, and at a time when water was unsanitary and unsafe to drink, they also brewed their own beer and wine. The very act of brewing beer and wine not only sanitized the water, but also added nutrients. Thus beer and wine were widely known as not only being safe to drink, but also as being readily available at monasteries. The monks were also acting, in everything they did, in servitude to God, meaning that they took every care to ensure that whatever goods they produced – including those of an alcoholic nature – were of the highest quality.

In addition to the quality of their brewed product, the Trappists also implemented a system of effectively reusing the grains, a technique which was first documented by the Jesuit monks. In a similar principle to the pressing of olive oil, whereby the first press yields the premium and most flavourful oil, the second less so and the third lesser still, the Trappists would run water through the mash several times with each run being sequentially weaker than the last. The Jesuits documented offering a 5% beer (first run) for travellers and a 2.5% beer (second run) for themselves. The Trappists however, realized that people were prepared to pay a higher price for a stronger beer, a price which exceeded the extra cost incurred of producing such a product. The result was the production of far stronger beers which in turn allowed for more runs. The first run would naturally produce the richest and strongest beer in terms of flavour and alcohol content; the second run less so, with the third and final run being the weakest. Traditionally, the first beer would be offered to guests and sold to maintain the abbey. The second was reserved for the monks themselves and the final run would be what was often termed “charity beer”, in that it was given away as a safe beverage to the poor.

By 1789, however, the Church – specifically in France – was being viewed with ever increasing hostility. The Church owned approximately six percent of French land and many of its institutions, of which the Trappists formed a part, were seen as an all too visible reminder of the wealth and dominance of the Church over society. In spite of the fact that Catholicism was the religion of the vast majority of French citizens, its all too public wealth, combined with the fact that it did not pay tax, meant that trust of the Church was readily and steadily eroded. By the time crowds began to mass in Paris on July 13th 1789, the Church of Saint Lazare and its neighbouring convent had been sacked in search of supplies and weapons. On November 2nd of that year, the Constituent Assembly passed a decree which placed all church property – monasteries and convents included – at the “disposition of the nation”. The irony of this act was that the monks, who had for centuries provided sanctuary and refuge for any who sought it, now felt unsafe in their own land, and so they fled, scattering their number across Europe and into the brave New World of America.

In the aftermath of the French Revolution and the defeat of Napoleon, many Trappists began a slow return to their homeland. However, many decided to stay on in their adopted countries, continuing to practice their beliefs of manual labour, self-sustainability, prayer, solitude and hospitality.

Those Trappists who remained in The Lowlands (Belgium and the Netherlands), found the cultures to be far more beer oriented than their native homeland, and since the soil was not conducive to the growing of vines, the new monasteries focused on beer as their monastic product of choice and as a way to maintain their abbeys. By implementing the multiple running techniques, the Trappist monks were able to produce a product which was superior, both in flavour and alcohol content, to those on offer from the standard local breweries.

Nevertheless, the Trappists would have to wait until the early twentieth century and two cataclysmic events, before their position in the highest echelons of brewing royalty were secured. The first of these events was the influx of cheap, foreign low alcohol beers into Belgium. Pricewise the Belgian breweries could not compete and with many losing money hand over fist, it was not long before many of them drowned in the tide of foreign imports. Those breweries who were just about managing to keep their heads above water, soon succumbed when, in 1919, the second cataclysmic was engendered by the government of the day.

Known as the Vandervelde Act, this was Belgium’s prohibition. Beginning around the same time as the Volstead Act in the United States, Belgium’s prohibition law was enacted to stem the tide of alcohol consumption and brought about by the realization that many workers were turning up for work on Monday morning too hungover from their weekend long binges to work efficiently. The government’s plan to introduce a standardized eight-hour workday led to real concerns that workers would have even more time to be in the bars and, combined with the very real health concerns, the prohibitive Vandervelde Act was introduced. Despite its similarity, the Vandervelde Act differed to that of its American cousin in that it was not a blanket ban on all alcohol, but rather only the sale of spirits in bars and public places. It was still possible to buy strong alcohol from liquor stores; however, the new law limited sales to two bottles per customer at any one time. Naturally, the price of strong alcohol such as gin (Belgium’s beloved Jenever) skyrocketed, taking it far out of the reach of the working class. The Vandervelde Act differed too in the fact that whilst America’s prohibition lasted for a mere thirteen years before its repeal in 1933, Belgium’s prohibition was to last sixty-six years, finally being repealed in 1985.

With spirits taken out of their reach, the general working class turned instead to the high alcohol beers brewed by the Trappists. As local breweries went out of business and the low alcohol foreign imports now being generally disregarded, Trappist beer grew in both popularity and quality.

Naturally, as the Trappist beers grew in popularity, some unscrupulous non-Trappist beer brewers began labelling their product as “Trappist”. It became such an issue that in 1962, the Trappists finally resorted to legal action to prevent non-Trappist brewers labelling their wares as such.

By 1997, the six Trappist monasteries in Belgium (Achel, Scourmont Lez Chimay, Rochefort, Orval, Westmalle and Westvleteren), Echt-Tegelen in the Netherlands and Mariawald in Germany, formed the International Trappist Association (ITA). In addition to the creation of association, the monks also created a special “Authentic Trappist Product” logo which can only be used on products produced by the Trappist monasteries. The rules which govern the legally protected rights to use the logo are:

  1. The beer or must be brewed or made within the walls of a Trappist monastery, and be brewed by, or under the supervision of, the monks themselves.
  2. The brewery must be of secondary importance to monastic life and must be subject to the business practices commensurate with monastic life.
  3. The brewery must be a non-profit making venture. The proceeds are to be used to maintain both the monastery and the living standards of the monks, with any excess monies being used for charity.
  4. The quality of the beers in subject to stringent quality control.

Up until the beginning of this year, only ten Trappist breweries worldwide were recognized as being allowed to use the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo. These are the six Belgian Trappist breweries and La Trappe and Zundert in the Netherlands, Engelzell in Austria, and St. Joseph’s Abbey – Spencer in the United States. Now, however, an eleventh has been added to the list.

Despite Italy being more synonymous with wine rather than beer, the Abbazia delle Tre Fontane (Three Fountains Abbey) in Rome has become the newest name in Trappist beer. Earlier this year, the abbey set up its own microbrewery with the intention of brewing a beer with the aroma of eucalyptus (the monks planted a great deal of eucalyptus around 1870 to combat malaria). The first brew was officially tasted by an ITA delegation which, in declaring it to be a Trappist beer said of the product, “The beer has a mild-sweet aftertaste caused by the eucalyptus and this purifies and freshens the taste. The bitterness of the hops balances the sweetness”

I suppose time will tell as to whether or not we will see Tre Fontane on the supermarket shelves here in Belgium (in the UK you can thank AB INBEV for the fact that non-Trappist Belgian beers such as Hoegaarden and Leffe are on your shelves), but one thing is for certain…the next time I find myself in Italy, I’ll be sure to pay a visit to the Abbazia delle Tre Fontane to sample their delicious-sounding Trappist beer. And if you’re thinking of where to go and what to do for your summer vacation this year, I hear that Rome is lovely in summer!

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The Gondolier and the iPhone

When I saw that this week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge subject was Opposites, I immediately thought of this photo which I took in Venice.

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Nothing is quite as synonymous with the beauty and romance of Venice, as the gondolas and the gondoliers. Yet, there are few objects and professions which are so emblematic of a city, while their origin is simultaneously so shrouded in mystery. The first accepted documentary evidence of the gondola appears in 1094; however, neither then nor now can anyone agree on where the name “gondola” comes from. Some say it has Maltese or Turkish origins, while others say it comes from the Greek for “cup” or “mussel”. The poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote of the gondolas that they “are things of a most romantic and picturesque appearance; I can only compare them to moths of which a coffin might have been the chrysalis”. 

As ancient a vessel as the gondola may be, so the profession of gondolier is just as historically enigmatic. This was the primary reason why I took this photo. For here we have a gondolier, one of whom Mary Shelley wrote in 1840 that she, “enjoyed the gondoliers singing Gerusalemme stanzas about Clorinda’s death (after her lover tragically and unknowingly kills her in battle)“, imbued with all the history, romance and tradition that his profession implies, checking his iPhone – that opposite of tradition and history, that epitome of modern technology and whose romance extends about as far as sexting and Grindr!

But it would be remiss of me to end on such a sour note, so I will return you to Shelley for the last word on Venice. “The silent streets are paved with water, and you hear nothing but the dashing of the oars and the occasional cries of the gondolieri.” 

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