Tuesday, June 10, 2003

i was in europe last weekend, like real europe. the brits hardly consider themselves european and the feeling seems mutual on the european side. that little channel that separates the two may as well be an ocean, they're so different. and it leads back to the age-old question that's often been at the very heart of the british debate: should britain be an atlanticist nation with even closer ties to the US, which binds them with a common language, history and culture, or should it emulate its european neighbors and begin brewing better coffee and enjoying lazy siestas?

the city was a stunner

in any case, brussels truly felt like europe, with old, gorgeous buildings and good food. so much happened, i'm not even sure where to begin, so i'll just provide a rundown of the major points of the weekend.

NATO schmato: the trip began on friday with a morning visit to the headquarters of NATO, you know that almost defunct organization created by the US to counter the once bulging muscles of the soviets. we spent the morning being lectured to by NATO employees on how very strong and important NATO still is, despite all evidence to the contrary. some of the speakers were all too happy to take cheap shots at the media, who have been guilty of dismissing NATO as a has-been.
cheap shot at NATO -- security was super duper tight at the headquarters. we couldn't take our cameras in and had our bags x-rayed. we then endured the lectures in a scorching hot boardroom with faulty air-conditioning. one of the speakers conceded that the building was old and there had been talk of an upgrade for years. "well, you know, it's government funded," she smiled.

European Union HQ: the contrast between the two was striking -- and laughable. the EU building had very light security, it's doors opening onto a busy street (whereas at the NATO HQ, one had to pass through a series of checkpoints before even getting near the building). the EU liaison scheduled to meet us was about a half hour late. when we did finally get situated, we had two lecturers. the first was a british dude just oozing anti-americanism and incredible wit. he was in charge of the "USA unit" of the EU, so i'm sure he had plenty to be bitter about. the second was some other foreign dude who explained the complicated structure of the EU. i still don't think i understood it all.

Beautiful Brussels: after friday's day of visiting the HQs of acronyms, we pretty much had saturday and sunday free to explore brussels.
the mood in the food is good -- i feel like the rest of my time there was spent eating seafood, waffles, cheese and chocolate (oooh, the chocolate). i can't describe it. if you've never tasted a belgian chocolate before, it's an experience that rivals having an orgasm. i saw many of my classmates' eyes roll up to the heavens after plopping a piece into their mouths, causing them to walk around with a silly grin afterward. personally, i've never been the biggest fan of the substance, but i converted for the weekend.
fear of rejection can be your friend -- catcalls, nasty propositions, following women down the street, even grabbing them -- all part of the mating game in belgium, apparently. i remember this being a fixture in france as well, but a modernized western country should not make a habit of treating its women like meat slabs to be poked, prodded and surveyed, cultural norms be damned. walking through the streets enraged me and often made me feel unsafe. their mothers should be ashamed of themselves and the disgusting sons they produced.

brugge, tranquil and scenic

don't brood, brugge! -- saturday saw a side trip about an hour outside of brussels to brugge (pronounced BREWGE), a charming medieval city made up of canals. unfortunately, i spent much of my brugge time at the local H&M shopping for cute clothes (they were a hell of a lot cheaper there than in london). another chunk of time was occupied by my classmates and i discussing how rude some of the peeps in customer service were to us. i'm guessing it's because most of the european public is still pissed off over the iraqi war, and here come the american tourists with their special requests. ("we wanna split the meal, so can you bring us two plates?" "can i get ice cream instead of whip cream on that waffle?") most served us through gritted teeth, but one downright bitchy lady asked us to leave, so we left.
i like the nightlife, i like to boogie -- back in brussels, foul men aside, night time was really the right time -- that place goes off. tons of people meander the streets, even at 4 a.m. there's a center plaza that people just sit down in while they sip their high-alcohol belgian beers. the side streets leading into the plaza are full of seafood restaurants, where you can start your meal at midnight. for a nocturnal being like myself, it felt right.

what'd i tell ya?

i know what you're thinking: what can top all of this? perhaps another class trip, this one to belfast -- in the cards for this weekend.

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