Monday, July 20, 2015

Brussels day 2: The Waft of the Waffle

So where was I? Oh right, I was fast asleep in Brussels, belly full of mussels and visions of beer bottles dancing in my head. The morning was chilly and cloudy but I was happy. Through each and every decision and coincidence that had happened in my life up until that moment, I found myself in Belgium. It was, therefore, time to ponder some other surrealisms for awhile. To the Magritte museum!

Here are some photos I took during the walk from the apartment to the museum:

I also took a lot of photos of buildings that could have been ancient wartime strongholds or they could have been the Belgian equivalent of a CVS...I know not. I just know that Brussels is full of beautiful buildings.

My favorite Magritte painting, The Lovers is at the MoMA but what could be better than seeing a lovingly curated set of work by an artist in his home country? I wasn't disappointed. This collection incorporates a lot of biographical information and a decent amount of early work and sketches. It is always fascinating to me to trace the development of an artist through their own work. I got the audio guide, which was exhaustive and which also alerted me to a fact I hadn't known before: Magritte insisted his work didn't contain any underlying meaning. In fact, he bristled at the notion that there was any symbolism at all in his work. I mean, fair enough but walking around the museum, absorbing the vivid and intensely surreal legacy Magritte left behind, I felt depressed thinking that it didn't mean anything. So I've decided to believe that his insistence that it didn't was part of the symbolism of the work. I realize that might not make sense but we are talking about an artist who painted this: it doesn't have to.

Next on the agenda was a beer tour. After leaving the museum, we had about half an hour to get to the meeting point for a four hour beer tour and, guided by the sights and smells of the Grand Place, we decided to get our first street waffle. The Grand Place was busting out all over. Seeing all the tourists and hearing the sounds of a hundred different languages spoken is one of my favorite memories of the trip. Then, when the waft of the waffle beckoned, I answered. We stopped randomly at a corner vendor and ordered two liege to go. Not being fancy with sweet foods, I got mine plain; it was my first time after all, I needed to go slow. Below is an accurate dramatization of me after I took my first bite.

It is now and shall remain one of the top three things I've ever eaten. It was so good, in fact, that I tried many many times during the trip to repeat that first taste. However, repeating that first taste was really just chasing the dragon. Here's me eating one early in the morning after a very late night, also on the streets of Brussels:

It was difficult to move and keep going with life after eating that little bit of other dimensional heaven in a thin paper sleeve, but I managed. We made it to the meeting spot for the beer tour just in time.

I have always been a fan of Belgian beer and taking this tour was the top thing I wanted to do in Belgium. Aside from the beer tastings (and I should emphasize that "beer tastings" really meant "an entire bottle of beer, many of which were 8% alcohol and higher), we would get to take a walking tour of the city and visit old pubs and local hangouts. Our tour guide for the day was a very knowledgeable, very handsome and very friendly man named Archimedes. He was born and raised in and around Brussels and even though this was a prescribed tour with stops specially chosen ahead of time, the tour felt like just hanging out with a local.
Our first stop was the Theatre de Toone, one of the oldest pubs in Brussels which, although I don't have exact years, is probably really, really quite mad old. (That's a very official guess.)

Here's a picture I took and one of the first beers which was and remains my favorite beer of all time: Orval.

Not pictured: Archimedes

Want one now.

Our tour group had about 15 people in it, all from different places in the world. The great/terrible thing about this tour is that there was a lot of beer involved. Great because it was Belgian and we were in Belgium; terrible because, fueled by only one albeit superior waffle, sloppy drunkenness was inevitable. Like most things that happen after day drinking, there was an air of absurdity to everything after a specific, at the time, unnoticed moment. For example, we passed this en route from one bar to another:

Those people are topless and/or naked. I would have thought this a false memory but my camera does not lie. The afternoon carried on as it does while drinking with new friends and I had a wonderful time talking and tasting and learning about beer. Archimedes also threw in a lot of fun historical facts about the places we walked by and the pubs we visited. He also had bee stung lips. Did I mention that?
Anyway, here's a picture of me and Lauren at the last stop:

That plate of cheese and meat was the only thing we had to eat aside from waffle.

The beer in those glasses was the last one of the tour. It was 11% alcohol. What followed after that snap was taken is best recounted in bulleted format, mainly because that is how I "remember" it: in vague statements of memory as opposed to a coherent plot with a beginning, middle and end. Think of this as slightly longer tweets. So here's what happened, as I recall:

  • The tour wrapped up at the bar where we are sitting in the picture above. The tour members lingered here for another beer (or at least ten of us did) and we got to know each other in that drunken way that makes everyone an old friend.
  • Lauren befriended a group of French men on vacation that were not part of our group but they were so friendly and fun and they absorbed us into their plans (after another hour or two of drinking). I remember their first names and they were all super French names like Luc and Jean and Henri? Maybe. One of them was wearing a Pulp Fiction tshirt and we had a long, meandering conversation about Quentin Tarantino during which I kept trying to get him to say "Tarantino" over and over again because the French accent plus that name amused me. 
  • The following phrases were said over 500 times in the course of a few hours: Is good for you? and You unnerstand? You can read those in both an American and French accent if you like. 
  • I was put under enormous pressure, after the French guys found out my profession, to come up with the names of ten French authors. For the first 20 minutes I drew a COMPLETE blank. I literally could only think of the names of Belgian beers and, because I was really hungry at that point, food items. But I came through in the clutch and I mention this only because I think I discovered my super power: naming French authors after 20 minutes after drinking too much. It's my cross to bear.
  • Realizing none of us had eaten, we wandered away from the bar to get some food. It must have been very late at this point because all the restaurants were closing up, though seeing as the sun does not set in Brussels until about 11pm, I have no idea what time it was. After wandering for, oh let's say about two weeks, we found a restaurant willing to serve us but we only had two choices: croque monsieur and spaghetti. Oddly specific yet random menu.
  • This restaurant holds two memories for me. It is the place where a) I last remember having my jacket with me and b) Lauren inspired the entire restaurant to sing a Spanish song. It was a pretty crowded restaurant too so the mood was likely...let's go with raucous. 
  • After finishing up dinner we walked to the location of a big music festival that was happening in Brussels earlier that day. The French guys wanted to see if it was still happening but sadly, it was not. Here's a picture I took of the festival grounds. Not a particularly good one but one that serves as proof that I went there.  
    I think that's one of our new French friends in the distance but who knows?
  • So we then decided to go dancing. I mean, why not? When in Brussels... We ended up getting rejected from one place because, seeing as we are not club goers at all, we were dressed very down in sneakers and jeans. Eventually we ended up at a club that was one of the most stereotypically European places I've ever been to. Especially if it was 1988. It was very late 80s inside that place, the name of which, I have no idea. I just know there was a bright pink and blue neon sign hanging on the wall that reminded me of Demi Moore's apartment in St. Elmo's Fire.  
The club we went to.

  • This club was the first time I realized that you have to pay to use the toilets in many places in Belgium. Something that would vex me for the rest of the trip.
  • We left the club and walked out into sunshine. That's not a measure of how late it was but rather how eternal the daylight is in Brussels. Oh and it was also a measure of how you can really convince yourself that you are younger than you are in reality if you try really hard. 
  • In the cab on the way home our driver drove down a street backwards at a not slow speed and my life flashed before my eyes. That happens to me in New York cabs but at the very least they are driving in a forward direction in NY! After he stopped, a police officer came up to his window with what I was certain was going to be a ticket or some kind of yelling match. Instead he spoke to him in Dutch with what I assume was the verbal equivalent of a jovial pat on the head. 
  • I took this photo on the walk back to the apartment. Apparently Brussels also never sleeps as there were tons of people still milling about at that hour: 

We were due to leave the next (or that same) day and head off to Bruges for a night on our way to Amsterdam. So it was time to sleep for a few hours before leaving beautiful Brussels. I know I promised the peeing boy statue but that will have to wait until part 3: Goodbye Brussels/Hello Bruges, the continuation of a series that I'm positive no one in their right mind is still reading.

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