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Dave Go Round

I am a world traveler. These are my stories.

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Aug '16

Ring my Belgium: Partie Un

Hungry for the heat and friction of the ground, at odds with every other flight oriented piece of the plane, the wheels bounced with delight in the dark waking the other passengers. I hadn’t slept as the last flight from Frankfurt slipped in to Brussels Airport. The spots of light in the dark did nothing to let me understand what was out there waiting.

From the moment I touched down in Belgium to this moment, waiting for my plane to take me away, NOTHING has gone according to plan. And it’s all turned out just fine. This has been a practice of just letting go and rolling with it. Some things get figured out… and some just remain a mystery and you move on with life. Like why are the vowels missing in all the airport signs? And what IS Nutroma, and is 0% REALLY premium quality?!

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I was to meet a friend, Tim, at the central train station, but Tim had lost his passport and sent another guy, Matthias, to come meet me. Unfortunately, Matthias and I had never seen each other and I had no way of contacting him after I left the airport. A bit like a microcosm of slingshotting a probe to where you think Mars will be at some future point.

Oddly, my innate American-ness saved the day. As I stepped out of the train station, I said “sup” to a guy riding by on his bicycle who turned out to be Matthias. As Brussels natives would never speak to a stranger, given the choice, he figured I must be the lost American he was looking for, and we walked across town to Tim’s apartment. Tim’s apartment that was 20 meters from the start of the neighborhood in Belgium where some of the nastiness in Europe recently is purported to have originated: Molenbeek. If you don’t know about this, read up on it.

Tim’s place was awesomely Belgian and reminded me of something from the opening scene of Moulin Rouge. The door didn’t meet the doorframe. Toilet and shower were separated by the kitchen. Three tenants and three visitors staying there, and not a level surface in the whole place. I was in love with it immediately. The first floor of the building was a typical Belgian bar, so we wandered down and sat on the street drinking as Tim and Matthias explained what Belgian life was like. Once we had closed the bar down, it was finally time to sleep. Tim gave me a sleeping bag and pointed me at the futon in the haphazard living room.

I slept like a king.

The problem that would ultimately separate me from my beautiful new abode arose with me the next morning. Tim’s wifi wouldn’t work and he had already left town at 6 a.m. for Germany to see his girlfriend. I decided to wait and see if the other roomie, Pieter, could do something about it and I took wandered off through the city to hit the train station and see about tickets to France, Holland, and Luxembourg.

Returning home from my mostly successful sortie, I hoped that Pieter would be available and we could see about the wireless and my laptops. Having walked across the city and back without disaster, I was feeling chuffed. This was short lived, I’m afraid. After some unsuccessful troubleshooting, I was forced to concede that I would be unable to work from Tim’s place. I booked an apartment nearby on AirBnB and got settled into my less authentic, but serviceable digs and get some work done.

Along with my lovely new apartment came new neighbors. A young, very dark guy from Senegal 20-ish, accompanied by a 50-ish distinctively white lady. I remember them as they were bringing in groceries while I was leaving, and they were quite pleasant, if in a hurry.

I also remember him because he was sleeping on my doormat in the hallway the following morning as I left. More on that later.

Brussels is full of lots of good food. Just make sure you go eat it before 8 p.m. Everything begins closing down shortly after this, and your options narrow rapidly. This is always something of a learning curve when entering into a new society… how and when do they eat? Years ago when Joe and I went to Argentina, we would go out for dinner at 8 p.m. only to have the restaurant manager laugh in our faces, telling us that they weren’t open obviously and to come back later, at a more reasonable hour. I made this mistake a couple times in Brussels; trying to get dinner shortly after 9. I have a sneaking suspicion that Argentines don’t come to Belgium, or Austria for that matter. They would all be emaciated and starving in the streets in a few days. One night, I went to bed hungry. Another, I managed to slip into Le Pré Salé for moules, which are a huge thing for Belgians and they were right in season for my visit.


Did you know Belgians invented “French” fries?

The practice in Belgium when going to a restaurant is to walk in and sit down wherever the hell you want. This is similar to Austria. Once there, you wait until the server notices you and comes over to see what the hell you are doing there. I am not accustomed to this, and often find myself standing around looking obtuse when I first enter a restaurant and stand around until someone asks me what my problem is because I’m behaving like a crazy person.

OK, so, back to the dude sleeping in the hallway… I was on my way out to Lille on my second morning in Brussels, this would be my first visit to France, and opening my door I saw the dude had taken my doormat and slid it away from the door and tried to curl his almost 6 foot frame onto it; rather unsuccessfully. He looked around in a very confused manner and started stammering in French. I just told him to get his act together, and messaged the property manager informing him of the situation. Once I got all the run down from the property manager and the Senegalese himself, I decided he was having the most fucked weekend I’d heard of in a while.

Apparently Senegal isn’t exactly overflowing with lucrative business ventures, even for the most enterprising of young men. In a time honored tradition, perhaps the oldest profession, some of these guys had turned to tricking; selling their bodies.

In my lovely North American life, I am not exposed to this sort of thing.I don’t know any prostitutes, and sex tourism really takes a different feel in the USA becoming more of a green card marriage than a cash transaction. This was something of a surprise to see.

The Senegalese was away for a weekend as a boy toy to an older woman who wanted to scratch that itch, and he had apparently lost his luggage after they arrived. This included his passport and basically everything other than the clothing he had on. He and his matron had a falling out the night prior and she had kicked him out of the apartment, but he hadn’t left the building; leaving him awkwardly perched on my door mat. The best part of it all, for me at least as I’m sure the humor was likely wasted on him, was the phrase slapped across the doormat in black bold lettering…


I can’t imagine that he agrees.

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