erik lundegaard

Things I Learned On Vacation in Belgium and France

Our Lady stands.

  • Motorized scooters are big in Paris even though nothing seems less Parisian
  • Segways are big with tourists everywhere even though nothing seems less human
  • From the traditional vantage point looking east, Notre Dame looks the same. We know it's not, but at least the exterior holds up
  • There is actually a bigger and—dare I say it?—more beautiful Notre Dame in France: the one in Strasbourg, which was built between the 12th and 15th centuries. I thought I was done with European cathedrals from the Middle Ages until I saw that one; then my mouth just fell open.
  • Spider-Man #3, with the introduction of Doc Ock, which cost 12 cents in the U.S., cost 9p in Britain. A comic shop south of Montemarte was selling this Brit pub, along with Tin Tin and a collection of Silver Age Marvel comics. I think the proprietor thought my French was better than it was, because he tore off on a story that was probably fascinating but with which I couldn't keep up. The gist: he bought the Marvel comics in NYC in the 1970s and ‘80s, when bookshops were everywhere, and man weren’t those the days? He was asking either 300€ for the Spidey (what was writen on the back of the plastic covering) or 1,000€ (what my shitty French thought he said). I was tempted

  • The French version of “The Catcher in the Rye” is called “L‘attrape-coeur” (literally: “The Heart Catcher”), and the phrase “...and all that David Copperfield kind of crap” is translated as “...et toutes ces conneries a la David Copperfield.” One of those newstands/shops along the Seine was selling it, as well as Salilnger’s “Nine Stories” (“Nouvelles”). These I bought, but they were cheaper: 7€ for the deuce
  • I could spend a lot of €s at those newstands/shops along the Seine; they have my stuff. I still regret passing on those Tour de France posters
  • The only time I ever want to smoke is when I'm sitting alone at a small table at a Paris cafe watching the world go by. A cigarette feels de rigueur
  • They‘ll use anything to sell anything: In this case, a photo of communist leader Che Guevara with a stogie to promote Father’s Day specials at a cigar and spirits shop in Brussels. I'd say Che is rolling over in his grave but, given the T-shirts and everything else, he's probably rolled out by now

  • The train station in Antwerp should be declared an international treasure
  • Is it a new fashion trend in Belgium for young women to wear men's dress shirts as dresses? I saw it a few times. Let me speak for all men in the world: We approve
  • “Ghent” in Ghent is spelled “Gent.” Muscles from Brussels, Gent from Ghent. What does Antwerp get? Twerp? Seems unfair. Someone work on that
  • Someone should publish a book about all the memorials in all the small towns throughout Europe to their WWI dead; I would be your first customer. They are heartbreaking
  • Belgian breakfast cereals include Choco Clams and Honey Bubbles and Miel Pops Loops and Choco Cookies and “Cereal Flakes Met Pure Chocolade Au Chocolat Noir.” Really anything with chocolate

  • It's hard to find pannekoeken in Ghent, which is a crime
  • It's hard to find mussles in Ghent, which ditto
  • Apparently the most stolen painting in the world is “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,” 1432, by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, and one of its panels, taken in 1934, is still missing. The painting was a key component of the George Clooney movie “The Monuments Men,” which almost makes me want to watch it again, even though I found it pretty disappointing upon its release in 2014
  • Is adoring a mystic lamb far removed from idolizing a golden calf? Just tossing out
  • Artists in the Middle Ages couldn't paint babies for shit
  • Museums are best when they intermingle centuries-old art with modern art, as at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent
  • If you bike outside the cities in Belgium you‘re going to see lots of cows and horses

  • If you’re biking to an artists colony outside Ghent, chances are you‘ll find exactly zero artists and lots of rich people. It’s really a rich people's colony
  • Not many groups of humans are known as “colonies.” I can think of three: leper, nudist, artist. The first two, in a way, contain elements of the third
  • Cheese, chocolate and bread from a convenience store and eaten on a park bench is a way better lunch for the bike-ride-weary than anything you might get in, say, an expensive restaurant in a rich people's colony
  • Remember to take video as well as photos. Coming across that classic car parade in Eke, for example, would‘ve been a good moment for video, Erik
  • Get off the beaten path in Bruges; go to the danker places with the locals
  • If you’re biking east of Bruges, the restaurant to go to is Siphon, which is a few miles east of Damme (pronounced DAH-me). It's a fourth-generation family-run restaurant that is closed on weekends but was packed on a Monday afternoon around 1:30 with older folks dressed to the nines. Oh, and get the steak. I didn‘t, but I saw it arrive for someone else and goddamn
  • Getting zero laughs when you pronounce your team “Damme (pronounced DAH-me) bums” doesn’t necessarily mean they didn't hear you  
  • Go left at Siphon, rather than right, if you want to make Sluis, Holland. We went right. Which was wrong. We never made Holland
  • Asking directions when you‘re lost is better than relying on maps or GPS
  • I have a good sense of direction on a grid but add diagonals and curved streets and I’m hopeless
  • European sports fans watch the Super Bowl! I had no idea. When we mentioned we were from Seattle to some Germans in Ghent for the weekend, the first thing they said was: “Seahawks!” Then they talked up the Super Bowl, which they said they watch every year. Because sports
  • But they don't watch baseball. Because boring. To them
  • Europeans are still wearing Yankees caps. Someone needs to tell them that they‘re wearing the cap of the favorite team of Donald Trump. OK, I will
  • Trump has replaced Pinnochio as the international symbol for lying. A Dutch magazine we saw in a Ghent laundromat used this cover line: “Iedereen liegt: De Trump in elk van ons,” which translates to “Everyone lies: The Trump in all of us” 
  • A clothes store window in Ghent displays not only dresses and outfits but tiny versions of same on dolls. Fun!
  • My name can pass as Flemish
  • Expect to be admonished by wait staff if you don’t finish your charcuterie in Strasbourg
  • Expect to get a “Bien sur” shrug by wait staff when asked if the charcuterie and cheese plates come with bread: “Oui, c‘est France”
  • No Michelin guides for France were made between 1940 and 1944, for obvious reasons
  • In museums, sometimes the story is the crowds around the artwork rather than the artwork

  • Henri Matisse visited Harlem in 1930 and became a fan of jazz
  • A lot of people in the 21st century trust their lives to that grinding gears of 19th century technology that is the Eiffel Tower. I am among them
  • In France, the Waldo of “Where’s Waldo” is called Charlie: “Ou Est Charlie?” He looks the same

  • There are those who maintain and those who let things get run down. The Hotel Chopin in Paris is among the former, and is recommended; the Midnight Hotel in Paris is among the latter, and isn't
  • No number of yellow-vest protesters is so worrisome as to prevent a line of 3-4 cops from turning to check out a stunning blonde walking by
  • Vive le France et Belgique
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Posted at 07:59 AM on Mon. Jul 01, 2019 in category Travels  
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