Well it has been a jam-packed 48 hours full of fun and boneheaded forgetfulness. But first the fun: On Thursday morning I was picked up by the lovely Renée and driven to a school in the middle of Brussels for two visits. The kids had all read “We Are All Made of Molecules” in French, for the Prix Farniente, and some had read “Henry K. Larsen” as well. They were really great, armed with lots of questions, and a full class set of books.
Then we drove to a part of Brussels I’d never seen before, past a lot of the embassies, to an international school (I think there are a lot of these in Brussels). This was possibly the fanciest looking school I have ever visited. Below is the building that houses the reception. Yes, just the reception.
I thought this was particularly awesome as I believe this poster was started by some librarians in the States, and it’s gaining traction with librarians all over the world.
I had a great afternoon session with a group of students, all of whom had also read “Molecules” for the Prix Farniente (which, by the way, I now really want to win, because I found out the winning author gets – get ready for it – a hammock and Belgian chocolate. How’s that for the perfect combo? All that’s missing is Belgian beer!). The lovely Renée then raced me to the Musée Magritte so that I could have an hour to wander there before it closed at five. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know Magritte was Belgian before this trip. It was an exquisite museum and oh how I love his paintings. I’m of course familiar with his famous works, but I saw so many beautiful paintings that I didn’t know about.
The other thing that struck me (from the audio guide at least) is just how relatively normal and content he seemed – married to the same woman his whole life, which in itself is a rarity – but perhaps there are darker aspects of his life that they didn’t share in the audio guide!
I had a beautiful wander back to my hotel under sunny skies, and after a quick dinner I headed out to meet a Flemish book club who traveled to Brussels from Bruges to meet with me. The lovely Catherine Jottrand from the Prix Farniente hosted us at her apartment. It was a great evening – and I covet Amy’s sweatshirt (it reads “I Am Fluent in Sarcasm”). After a pig-like sleep I woke up this morning and finished packing, then went downstairs to eat the delicious buffet breakfast on offer at the hotel.
Yes, those are crepes! Then it was off to the Foire du Livre with my bags. I managed to get in a quiet wander before the crowds started to show up. Here is a book I’m hoping Tundra will publish in Canada:
Yes. I really am that immature.
I stopped by this booth and proudly told the woman there that I was friend with Elise Gravel. She said, “Well, she’s right over there.” And she was!!That was an amazing surprise. Unfortunately we couldn’t drink Belgian beer together later on because I was heading to Rotterdam in the afternoon.
And this was my team of translator/interpreters (yes, I really had three): And this was my amazing interviewer, the incomparable Sophie Gagnon, better known in the book world as Sophie Lit. She’s Quebecois, but has lived in Belgium for the past three years. And she is awesome.
After lunch it was time for me to get a cab to the train station. I was blithely walking around the station when I noticed I had a text message: “You forgot your passport at the hotel.” My heart just about stopped. I could picture my passport, in the safe, in my room … where I’d put it the first day … and had, obviously, completely forgotten. The hotel had called the festival (who booked the room), the festival called the Prix Farniente people, and the Prix Farniente gals kicked into gear. Two of them dashed to my hotel and picked up my passport and brought it to me, all with a half hour to spare for the train. They were very, very kind about it … I bought them coffee (I know, I know – the last of the big spenders) … and they waited with me until my train came – I think they were worried I’d get on the wrong one and head to Italy, instead! And truly, who can blame them? First my phone in Vancouver, now my passport … I have never done this before, and I dread to think what I might forget next!
The train ride was effortless, and they’d booked me in a first class compartment which meant I got a free Belgian beer! I was met at the Rotterdam station by the lovely Linda Bertens from Lemniscaat, my Dutch publisher. Wow, from the little bit I’ve seen so far, Rotterdam looks amazingly cool. First, my hotel: Citizen M – is fantastic. Small-ish rooms but very very efficient use of space, so they don’t feel small. All automated check-in. A huge bed. And fantastic “living rooms” downstairs for guests to use.
The Hotel California-like corridors.
I only had time to drop my bags and turn around to have dinner with Linda and Jean-Christophe Boele Van Hensbroek, the publisher of Lemniscaat. Here is Linda, waiting on a couch in one of the living rooms: We had a quick dinner at Jamie’s Italian in the famous De Markthal. It was great to chat with Jean-Christophe and Linda. Then we trotted off to Donner Books, a beautiful, enormous shop near the hotel, for a meet and greet with readers. Honestly, I figured no one would be there – “Optimists” is only my second book in Dutch. But I was greeted with this on the wall when I walked in:
And there were readers there! Donner and Lemniscaat did a great job with getting the word out. We had a great evening; first, an interview:
It was a really action-packed and super-fun day, in two different countries/cities – and I’m delighted to be in Rotterdam for the weekend. Tomorrow, more bookish events, and maybe a little time for sightseeing! And hopefully I won’t forget something else … like wearing pants …