17th Feb 2007

Fun in Belgium

Not long back from a long weekend in Brussels to visit my friend Stephen who’s working there. It’s an odd city. With its reputation for being boring and bureaucratic I expected it to be clean and tidy and orderly. It’s not. It’s quite charmingly messy. As anyone who’s seen my house will testify, I like clutter. Brussels works for me.
Visited the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée (Belgian Comic Strip Museum), which is a bit crap, and spent about two hours browsing in its bookshop, which is fabulous. Picked up a couple of albums by Frereric Boilet and Miguelanxo Prado. Resisted the Milo Manara – once of you’ve got one Giuseppe Bergman adventure, you’ve seen ’em all, but boy are they pretty. Also visited the Palais de Justice, which is an outrageous building, all marble and columns and classical proportions, built to an absurd scale. The actual courtrooms are tiny, but the building itself is like God’s waiting room. Discovered a very nice Belgian trappist beer called Chimay, and a strawberry beer called Framboise that tastes exactly like Creamola Foam, and visited a microbrewery just off Grande Place which appeared to be entirely run by lesbians.
Best night was the Sunday. Three of us sitting in an Irish bar (yes, I know), trying to get over the rugby team getting beaten at the last minute by the French, when in come a couple of girls from East Anglia, alone in a foreign country, knowing no French and desperate for someone who speaks English to talk to. And when I say “girls”, Rachel’s 17 and Kat’s 18, far too young really to have such womanly figures. We were perfect gentlemen, at least outside our heads. We got on famously. Later we’re joined by Rene, the German barman who can’t speak French either, when he gets off duty, and he drags us next door to the Karaoke night. We all do a turn. Rene and Rachel do Summer Nights from Grease. Various Belgians do Metallica and Evanescence songs. I do Try a Little Tenderness, and not only get away with it, but completely own it. Not quite in the Otis league, but maybe Andrew Strong. We finally leave about 4am, because Steve has to get up for work in the morning.
I did my best to speak French whenever possible, although when served by an impossibly beautiful girl in a sandwich shop I’m not sure I even remembered any English. Point and grunt. The only coherent bit of French I managed all weekend was when they turned the TV in the pub over to the football when the rugby was over, we got into a stilted conversation with a fellow called Ahmed, and I managed to say that Thierry Henry, quand le match est important, ne joue pas bien. Steve takes the Claudio Ranieri approach – have a go, who cares if it’s all wrong – and it seems to work.
Now I’m back in sunny Belfast, and trying to remember not to say “merci beaucoup” all the time.

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