Monday, September 22, 2014

If we had blogs in 1999: Waffles, apologies, and Guinness - Belgium

Here's the latest installment of my 1999 travel journal from the Transatlantic Seminar on the European Union. We go to Brussels, which, for some reason back then, I didn't like as a city (I'd go there in a heartbeat now), though I claimed to love Flanders above all else in continental Europe. On the weekend we went to Leuven, a place Brad and I had loved on a previous visit I wrote about here.

The publication of these travel journals is an exercise in self reflection. Not only did I want to revel in nostalgia and use these memories as stand-ins for actual travel, but I wanted to revisit how I'd come to think and write the way I do. Self improvement is not found in a self help book, religious doctrine, or a yoga class. It comes from observation, awareness, research, and reflection. Ask yourself what you can do to make yourself a better person who contributes something valuable to society. I don't want to be that person who just sucks up resources and leaves waste all over the planet. Life is a learning process. I will continue to seek knowledge, hone my writing skills, and search for answers as to why human beings make living such a tragedy when just breathing is cause for celebration.

As always, spelling, grammatical, and factual errors have been preserved, and today's comments are in red. Special apologies go out to Michelle, whom I wronged in a moment of the shallowness of youth.

Begin journal entry

Dinner for the evening was held at Le Grand Cafe, translated conviniently by Dr. Mason as The Grand Cafe. I enjoyed some Leffe and a decent dinner for a change. We ate there every night. Brussels was not fun. Our hotel was in a shitty part of town. My roommate was Eva, which would have been great had Brad not been in our room every night, especially after he'd smoked up and was really annoying. See, he was ecstatic because the "cool" crowd had been paying some attention to him because he had hooked up on the trip. He acted like the quarterback of the high school football team had invited him, the class nerd, to a party. No longer were his nerd friends (me) good enough for him. They didn't dress right or treat people like dirt, so they weren't good enough anymore. He was like a 14 year old boy who'd just visited a prostitute; she would never think of him again, but he thought he was in love. I think I hated him at this time. Imagine spending 24 hours a day every day over the course of (at this point) four weeks with the same person with little sleep and constant travel. That's all this was, pure fatigue. Nowhere did I mention what I bear I was at times or how I dragged Brad to bar after bar because I wanted to go out and meet people and have "grand conversations" about life and blah blah blah. Brad just wanted to stay at the hotels and read. He was probably just tired. I, on the other hand, would save sleep for Ohio. You spend that much time with a person, and you're going to have disagreements. We left the seminar with our friendship still intact.

It was pretty cool getting to visit all of the government buildings of the EU. Brussels was backwards. I enjoyed the seminars immensely but detested the free time. It was thrilling to sit at the table of the Council of Ministers behind the Luxembourg sign. It was thrilling to sit in the chamber of parliament and to steal the water glasses and the posters from there. Perhaps I enjoyed them more because I didn't go out at night and I got some sleep, but I don't think that was the reason. It was kind of like going to Congress or the White House and getting to do special things that no one else gets to do. Only a lot of people got to do stuff like this because the EU uses all propaganda tools possible. We even had an Irish guy sit in on the Council seminar with us. I think this means that you can arrange to visit EU institutions, sort of like you have to arrange to see Congress now. But I still felt special, like all of it was arranged just for us. However, I was much relieved when the Brussels session was over. There was one particularly odd moment at SHAPE when we were having lunch in the base cafeteria. It was amazing seeing all of the different officers from different countries eating together. But that wasn't the odd part. What struck me was a faint glimpse of something in the past, a quick flashback to something similar that I had experienced when I was 4 or 5 years old, sitting in a Marine officers' mess. I don't recall any details, and it is probably something I saw quite often at that age, but it was a glimpse of a blocked out portion of my life. My father was a Marine (though not an officer.) Seeing all of those people in military uniforms must have triggered an early memory of being at the base.

One evening at the Grand Cafe, Michelle invited herself to come along for the upcoming Leuven weekend. Brad and I had already planned on going, since Oxford, and I invited Eva along. Michelle was sitting next to me and she said she was going. Now I had not the courage to say no - then. She was really getting on our nerves. So anyway, we finished our last seminar of the week, and we were leaving the building when I handed her a note saying she was unwelcome. I was scared to say something, but I was left with the dirty work. Eva later denied to her face that she was unwelcome, which kind of pissed me off, because we all three had made the decision but I was the only one who'd say anything. So I handed her the note & ran away because I felt so guilty and she almost cried. But Brad, Eva, & I left for Leuven while she went with Bill to Normandy & fucked him, the lesbian did. This sounds incredibly mean and juvenile, and I did it in a very cowardly manner. I'm sorry I did it, but she did invite herself and her travel style didn't mesh with ours, though I don't recall what she had been doing that irritated us then. As for her "issues," it was college. Many people had them. Leuven was more of a personal excursion for Brad and I, as we had fallen in love with the city when we had visited on our MUDEC study tour, and we had decided early on back at Miami that we would revisit the place. Eva would come along because she and Brad were, as one would say, an item. Also, I just liked her. We got along well. But sorry for this, Michelle. Come to DC and I'll show you around. I'll take you to L'enfant Cafe or the Brasserie Beck and we can drink some Belgian beers.

All I wanted to do was get trashed in the Leuven square but it was summer and a lot of the university students were not there. We visited a couple of places that night including a gay friendly bar where Brad tried to pick up the bartender and Eva got pissed and left and got lost for an hour. It was all quite fun, really. I'd been in both of those bars on Tony tour. Our hotel was like a dormitory. I had my own room and Brad & Eva shared a room. It was across from the train station.

Saturday morning I awoke around 10 and went for a walk through the town. A Kosovo refugee came up to me and asked for money, but I only had 1000F bills and couldn't give him any. He spoke English and I fretted about it all day. I ate a great Belgian Waffle despite the food crisis in Belgium. I'd gone into Match before I came back to the hotel and it was a madhouse. The shelves were bare,as things had either been bought or pulled. I bought some Bailey's Hagen Daas. Anyway, waffles had been on the forbidden list because they had eggs in them. But I didn't die. Belgium had had an outbreak of salmonella or something, and so many food items had been taken off the shelves that there was a shortage. I have a vague recollection of being startled by the empty Match grocery store. The juxtaposition of the refugee from war torn Kosovo and the panic over food in peaceful Belgium must have been lost on me as I wrote this. If he really was a refugee and not a scammer. The story made an impression on me, because here was an actual person who had been affected by a current war rather than something I'd just read in history books. It was a dose of reality. I'd been following the Balkan conflicts more closely because the topic of my research paper was European defense integration, and wars on European soil would influence the integration process (or lack thereof.)

We ate a late lunch on the square. An Irish guy sat by us and invited us to a birthday party at an Irish pub. We went. Brad threw one of his fits. He just wanted to "go back and read." I don't know what his problem was but he was a real jerk, even to Eva. So we stayed. I'm glad we did. 7 or 8 rounds went by, and we were having a great time. We stayed out till 4 or 5 talking to some Irish & English guys about 10 years older (actually, I think the guy Eva was talking to was 40.) It was great craic. There was a great girl who was wearing this blue wig that was hilarious as was she. She even let us eat sandwiches from the party. The guys kept buying us rounds, the black stuff for me, Kilkenny for Eva. We were the last ones to leave the pub. Eva stopped to call her dad and I passed out in a bus stop shelter until she hung up. We slept for two hours and then had to catch a train to Ostende. We were taking a ferry to London. This was one of the best nights of the entire trip. Funny, because we went to Leuven to drink the great Belgian beer and ended up drinking with a bunch of Irish expats who were quite generous. These are the kind of travel experiences I live for - it's about the people. If you're traveling just to "see the sights," you're doing it wrong.

End journal entry

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