Monday, September 9, 2013

Straight up, WWI sucked.

We've been tooling around the country near Roselare for a few days now. Really, ever since we got here. We're getting around, now, to setting out from the womb of R&Breakfast for the cruel, cold, rainy, Belgian coast. I suppose if we had gone five days ago, we would have found sun and heat, but then, the Belgians are a people starved for sun and heat. If we had gone five days ago, then we also would have found crowds. Which terrify me. Even more terrifying than crowds are crowds of people speaking a language you don't understand. And even more terrifying than that are crowds of people speaking a Germanic language that you don't understand. If I thought that there might be crowds of people speaking a Slavic language that I don't understand I simply wouldn't go.

No, it's much better that we find the beach wrapped in the damp embrace of misting rain and drear. I would otherwise find myself reduced to a quaking puddle of tears, self-loathing, and french fries.

These last few days in the Roeselare area have been a little bit of a blur. We made it back to Ieper/Ypres/Yjpr and Passchaendaele in a more timely fashion and made it into the museums which had locked the door in our faces before. We visited a couple of very small breweries, and a very large cookie factory. We rode bikes on some little roads and Tom really liked the light. We went to this rally race. Hollande was ridiculed by Europe and the NYT.

I've come to a couple of conclusions.

Belgium is, by many rights, the land of beer and chocolate (I haven't been in to a chocolatier yet . . .), but beer selection in pubs is actually sort of limited. Beer production seems to be either at a national/international scale, or an incredibly local scale, without much in between. So when you go to a pub, you can get 3-4 of the national brands (think Budweiser, but more difficult to pronounce) and a handful of the local beers. But each bar has, pretty much, the same 8-10 beer selection. It's not the orgy of innumerable tastes that I had anticipated. After a day or two you sort of find something that you like and roll with it.

This beer (available Sateside) warns us not to turn the bottle on its side or pour it into a juice glass.
We dropped in on the Saijsoenbrouwerij Vandewelle for a meeting with the brewer, a tour of the place, and a taste. Unreal. This is Chris Vandewalle:
Simply put, the man loves beer. And it shows. Even though Belgium is a mystical wonderland where beer is a cultural pillar and there is 1 brewery for each 6,500 people, they are susceptible to the same economic forces as the rest of the world. For decades the craft brewer struggled to compete with the scale of the national names (like Stella), but Chris explained to us that there has been a resurgence of awareness for small batch, locally made, seasonally available, organic, humanely raised and harvested, artisan beers in the last several years. Apparently there are hipsters everywhere, only in Belgium they seem to be doing some good.

Chris works four tens throughout the week so that he can afford to take Friday and spend fifteen hours brewing in his home operation. He only makes 4,000 liters a year for sale, "and more on weekends for myself, when I'm getting low."

Chris shows off his grandfather's recipe book

Also in Lo-Reninge we visited a giant cookie factory. All I can really remember from that is the anxiety that I felt when one of the cookies would sneak past all of the vacuum powered cookie sucker arms that moved the finished product from a conveyor belt. It makes me think that there's a Finding Nemo-esque story in there somehwere . . .

Hang in there, little cookie. You are lost but not forgotten.
We also checked out the rally race on the way to the WWI museums. It's big doings around here, and I couldn't help but notice that many of the local drivers seemed . . . inspired. It also turns out that rally racing is way more exciting in a four minute clip on the internet than it is in person. We sort of just stood there with a group of Belgian rednecks (they exist) and listened to Adele on the iPhone in someone's pocket. Every five or ten minutes a fancy and loud car would drive by real fast. Even though you could hear these cars coming from a mile away, and Tom and I were pretty sure that we could cross the street in less than ten minutes, and we promised not to sue if we got smoked by a rally car, the course marshal still made us go all the way around the finish.

Then we spent several hours in the Ieper and Passchaendaele WWI museums. 

WWI sucked.

So we're off now to Bruges and the rainy coast.

1 comment:

  1. Read "The Guns of August" to see how WWI started and shaped Europe for decades afterwards.