I am now on the train out of Brussels, and not sure when I'll get a free internet connection again. The train, rather more packed than the one I came in, is hurtling across the Waloon–Flemish divide, and on its way to Roosendaal in North Flanders, oops, the Netherlands, where I'll change trains for Nijmegen, and some choice ales therein.
(Dutch train conductors dress like train conductors. Belgian train conductors dress like South American generalissimos. I have no idea what's up with that.)
It was a productive work day on top of being a productive blogging day; worked fairly solidly 10–3, with an hour break in between to eat tarte à citron. As often these days, I spoke with more authority than I actually have, but to my mild astonishment, I got out of it a coherent story for our work collaboration. I also got some incoherent notes that I will have to transform into something legible later on. Dank u wel pour l'hôpitalité, David and Franz.
(We're at Mechelen station already? And clearly north of the linguistic divide now: no bilingual signage.)
Anderlecht was not that bad by the light of day, once I was taxiing out of Chaussée de Mons: there were some stolidly proud buildings left. Things got more chic the closer I got to the European Precinct, where my meeting was. It's actually a shame I wasn't more mobile when I was last in town: the monumental architecture I like was not in Groote Markt, but further south.
(The South American generalissimo has just checked my ticket, and has said something to me in Flemish about my itinerary. I have no earthly idea what. Eek ben portugees alstubleijft?)
After work, I secluded myself for half an hour to do a couple of emails and blogs. As you saw, the building (European Schoolnet headquarters) was across the road from the Greek Embassy. This was pretty fortuitous, given that the cabbie I came in with asked whether I was Portuguese. (The one thing to note about my French accent, apart from that I don't know what I'm doing, is that I nasalise only 20% of what I should; so Portuguese was the wrong Mediterranean swarthiness to pick.) I didn't have the patience or the language skills to launch into how I was Greek-Australian, let alone the cool way my friend George put it: "the guy looks like a Greek greengrocer, but acts like an Englishman." Instead, I just said grec. And the cabbie didn't even notice the embassy he ended up parking at.
(17:50, and the sun is already low enough to be a nuisance in my eyes. Found out Amsterdam is 52°N—about as far north as Terra del Fuego is far south. Better keep that Gulf Stream going, people.)
European Schoolnet is in premises formerly occupied by Reuters. John Cowan, I don't know whether this is in any way a metaphor or not, but this shot's for you:
I decided I'd blogged and emailed enough by 15:40, and bade David point me to the nearest cab rank. Yes, he could have ordered me a taxi, and indeed offered to; but I wanted one last chance to be bamboozled in French, before retreating back to the Anglosphere. (The Anglosphere really does include the Netherlands; it certainly includes the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen.)
And my chance was offered. If it's a day of the week in Brussels ending in a Y, there's a protest going on. The front cabbie at Schuman station cab rank heard my request of "Brussel. Station. South.", looked at his van, looked at the traffic jam congealing down Law Street—
yes, Law Street. If they're going to say it's both Rue de Loi and Wetstraat, I'm going to say Law Street and Gebotstraße. Remember, German's also an official language of Belgium. And that was Mountain Avenue I was staying at last night, too. But Fred Thompson can stay in French. He Funny.
(Antwerp. Time does go fast. The station lighting makes it look like a Philip Glass opera set.)
—and announced "Sir, there's a protest on. Just look at that. Take the metro, sir, it'll be quicker."
Euh, bien. It was still 15:50, the train wasn't leaving till 17:18, plenty of time to get lost in the subway. So I walk the way he gestured, fail to see a subway entrance, then realise that the cabbie was gesturing in the direction I would end up—not in the direction of the subway entrance that would actually get me there, which was Right Behind Him. As I turned around and walked back, the cabbie behind the "Take the metro, sir" cabbie leapt forward: "I'll take you sir". Work's paying for this (eventually), so that was fine by me too.
ME: It is seeming, every times I am in the Brussel, there is the another one protest.
ME: (Well, I guess it is symptomatic of globalisation and its malcontents, as a late manifestation of capitalism... oh, he means Brussels is the capital of Belgium! Right!)
(Le minibar wheeling past was emphatically Flamandic in its linguistic behaviour. No, I'm not in Brussels at all.)
The cabbie was helpful ("This time, it is the sans-papiers persons demonstrating!" That's illegal immigrants, right?). The cabbie was also utterly nuts, which is how we managed to detour around the traffic jams and up several one way streets the other-than-one way ("I know another trick!" "There are always solutions in this life!" "My colleague, he needed only to reflect that there are ways to get around traffic jams!" "In life, one must pause to reflect, non?" "Oops!" *beep*): all in time to get to Bruxelles Midi by 16:20. I was pretty surprised how well we were able to hold a conversation. Well, he held the conversation, and I said "yuss" and "not one problem" a lot. I also tried to explain that where I come from, we don't have a protest every day of the week ending in a Y, and workers embrace the go-slow rather than the overt strike. But I think he thought I was Irish, so I may not have contributed to international understanding there.
(OK, Antwerp sun, that's really low in my eyes. Stop that now.)
The cabbie joyfully deposited me at the station ---
ME: I is to having sufficient time for waffle perhaps!
CABBIE: tulˈtɑ̃! tulˈtɑ̃!
ME: *blink* (Oh! tout le temps! All the time in the world! Yuss!)
--- and I chose to use my tultã not for a waffle, but for gueuze. Mm, gueuze, thou one true lambic and vindication of all quarrels Belgic. Waffles, I can get at Flinders Street Station thank you very much. (What do you mean, but those aren't real Belgian Waffles? Bruxelles Midi was flogging waffles through Häagen-Dazs; how's that any more authentic, when Häagen-Dazs isn't even a real name?)
And to complete my prandial sampling of Belgium, I thought I'd have a hamburger from le Quick burger joint after all, since I declined them so emphatically last night. Un Pepper Supreme Solo, s'il vous plaît.
(Pretty close to Dutch border if not already over it, and those are some pretty serious trees. Ah, a canal or lake or something. Weelkoomeen een Needeerlaand.)
(And a dude bicycling while SMS'ing. Definitely Neeedeerlaand.)
(Note to self: Wildert Station. Must check if it is actually in Neeedeerlaaand, or Beelgiijë.)
The time I saved with the death-defying cabbie of four-dimensional driving abilities, I lost because le Quick forgot my order. Which was not as unpardonable as responding to my Bad French in Good English, and no, I don't want a coffee in compensation, just my burger before the 17:18 to Amsterdam via Roosendaal leaves.
(Roosendaal pretty soon; I declare this blog posting at an end at 18:24, 2009-03-18 CET.)
(And unlike Neeedeeerlaaand, Roosendaal really is spelled like that.)
PS (at Roosendaal): Wildert Station is not in the Netherlands:
But given the behaviour of the locals, there is a case to be made for annexation...
OK, blog posting now ended for sure.