Faithful readers, we apologize for our long absence. We spent last week visiting friends and old familiar places in Leuven, Belgium.
It is always bittersweet for us to be in Leuven, because we love the place and the people so much, and for a while it was home for us. Denis, who was delighted with how much he remembered -- both of places and of his Dutch -- was having a hard time sorting out these happy/sad/wistful emotions one night, so we had a great conversation about the meaning of the word nostalgic.
We had a warm and wonderful welcome from old friends like the Servaas-Miller family, Christel Snels and her family, and our dear friend Rada Arsanukaeva and her family, as well as others who patiently allowed us to practice both our English and our Dutch with them as we caught up with each other. One highlight was an invitation to dinner from Molly and John Berger, the current residents of our old home at Begijnhof 19. We had a great time, though the children complained that the house had gotten smaller than it used to be.
We had one day of sightseeing. Fritz, Denis, Sophie, Nathan and Bethany Miller and I went to Gent and visited the Gravensteen castle, a crusader-style castle that has been wonderfully restored and sparks many fantasies. It even got Sophie to pick out the weapons she would take with her on her quest. She looks all pacifist and all, but keep you might want to keep your eye on her and see if you can see where she's hidden her dagger. Nathan and Denis, of course, conquered the castle while we were there, so we knew we were in good hands.
The other thing we did in Gent (besides eating some good Flemish frietjes and mayonnaise)
was to spend a lovely time visiting the van Eyck masterpiece The Mystic Adoration of the Lamb altarpiece. It is truly one of the masterworks of the Flemish "Primitive" painters of the 15th century (from whom the Italians learned the technique of oil painting), and it is beyond my linguistic powers to describe. All I can say is, if you're ever in the neighborhood, definitely make the effort to see it. This portrayal of the heavenly garden has many amazing details, but our friend Bethany was most struck by how much the heavenly city in the background looks like Flanders. Go figger. Here are the children climbing into the laps of the van Eyck brothers outside the cathedral.
We began celebrating Sophie's 13th birthday on the 17th of March so that we could do it with the Servaas-Miller family before we left Belgium, and we continued upon our return to Rome, where we had a great lunch at a local trattoria yesterday (the 18th). There is some confusion about which day actually counts as Sophie's birthday here, because she was born at 6:18 pm on March 18th in Baltimore, but with the time difference, that would be 12:18 am on March 19th here. Then Fritz starts to throw in daylight savings time, and things get really confused. Our solution is to keep celebrating, and we will have a special dinner of fresh pasta and fried zucchini flowers tonight just to make sure we cover our bases.
We hope that you are all well and wish you a wonderful Holy Week. I'm sure we'll let you know about ours here in the Eternal City....