Monday, November 14, 2011

The Weird Photography Shoots of Belgium

What do Belgium and the state of Virginia have in common? They're the same size! Only Virginia is much bigger! Since my 2011 Euro agenda included four days in the former, I naturally felt compelled to see more than just the city of Brussels. My first suggestion was Antwerp because, well, let's be honest, that was the only other city in Belgium I had ever heard of. Susy, the first of the two friends I visited in Belgium suggested that perhaps Bruges, a quaint touristy town with pretty scenery, might be better.

Since France dominates my European points of reference, my constant compulsion is to compare everything ever in Europe to something French. After listening to the description of Bruges, I of course blurted out that it sounds like Annecy, a gorgeous touristy town northeast of Lyon. Unfortunately, no one in Belgium understands my damn French, so the conversation went like this:

Me: Bruges is like Annecy.
Belgium: What?
Me: An-nUh-cey.
Belgium: What?
Me: An-nEh-cey.
Belgium: What?
Me: Ant-sy?
Belgium: What?
Me: ::Sigh:: A town in France.
Belgium: What?...this isn't France.
Me: No kidding.
Belgium: ...What?

As I debated the merits of making my French understood in this droplet of a country, I was presented with another challenge in the Annecy/An-nUh-cey/An-nEh-cey/Ant-sy of Belgium: the jacket that I had used approximately two times decided to crap out on me.  Benetton's ten million dollar ads failed to report their ten cent zippers, and as a result, I had been reduced to slipping in and out of my jacket like a skirt. I do not mix well with skirts. We had an argument in 2004 and have not spoken since.

Between the pronunciation wars in my head and the jacket skirt around my waist, by the time we got to the city center of Bruges, not Ant-sy, I was starving. Fortunately, Susy and I have bonded over our common interests in human rights, global migration, and junk food. For those who eat together...should really encourage each other to see a cardiologist. Naturally, the first thing we did once we reached town was eat junk food.
As those of you who failed 'World Religions 101' know, Hindus eat a lot of beef. No dummies, that's the midwest, BUT, I am a poor example of a Hindu and devoured a burger in six seconds flat. Successfully covered in grease and guilty satisfaction, I started in on the healthier part of my meal (French fries) as we people-watched near a statue of some god or prince or duck or whatever. 

Like me, most of the people outside were there for a nice afternoon stroll or a sacrilegious snack. One man, however, was apparently there to set the world record for walking the most number of pointless circles around the god/prince/duck statue. Of course this man was Indian. Decked out in the official Indian tourist outfit of white New Balance tennis shoes, formless jeans, a rain jacket and beltbag, circling Indian tourist man shot at least 100 pictures of the same damn statue in less than 2 minutes. I'm 78 percent he was one of two things:

1. A Google maps employee
2. Crazy

(The 22 percent of doubt is based on a complicated algorithm involving quantum arbitrariness.) 

On the off chance circling Indian tourist was indeed the second of the two, we decided to let the windup toy proceed uninterrupted.

Seconds after the weirdness of circling Indian tourist disappeared, a second set of weirdness materialized in a far creepier form. Against the backdrop of buildings from the 12th century, little children enjoying waffles, and grandmothers returning from the Farmer's Market, a woman appeared in booty shorts, black stockings, 4-inch heels and enough cleavage to blindside Hugh Hefner. Her objective? Have a boy of about 13 take pictures of her in (what she thought were) seductive poses.
No matter how hard I tried to be distracted by my fries, conversations about human rights and junk food, or my jacket skirt, this woman managed to draw my attention using her gross powers. While listening to Susy describe her work in rural Thailand, the woman struck no less than five poses with her jaw unhinged in a very Anna Nicole Smith fashion. While fussing with my crapped up zipper, the woman struck no less than five poses while stretching and shaking her dry, crumpled hair. In case you were wondering, nothing is more awkward than an obese woman in booty shorts catwalking down 800-year cobblestones while trying to make deep eye contact with innocent bystanders. Oh wait, unless she's being photographed by a 13-year old boy.

Susy and I stood frozen in a masochistic wonder for at least 15 minutes before one of us made the suggestion we walk for five minutes and get more junk food. During our happy pit-stops on the boat tour of the city's canals, our visit to the city's most famous bar, and our visit to a waffle stand, chocolate shop, second waffle stand, and second chocolate shop, catwalker made random appearances with her 'photographer' in tow. As the tour guide explained the significance of the Bruges university, there she was stroking her chest in front of the library. As the bartender explained the 600-year old fermentation process, there she was splashing beer on her face. As we ate our first waffle, there she was slowly licking chocolate off a spoon.

By 8 o'clock or so, Susy and I decided we had had enough junk food (until dinner), so we picked ourselves off of the window sill we had been sitting on for the past two hours (sorry neighbor) and walked back to the bus station to catch the train to Brussels. Around that time of day, the buses come about every 60 seconds. New York could stand to learn a lesson from Bruges. But even with this knowledge, whenever I see my bus of need pulling away, I have a second compulsion that always wins: run for bloody murder. As I made my sprint down the cobblestone station, I stole a quick glance to my right to take one final look at this quaint Annecy of Belgium. And what did I see, you might ask? 

Indian tourist making maniacal circles...around catwalker. 

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