February 22nd, 2006


I never did write about my visit to orewashinanai, just the difficult drive home.

The visit was great, however, and deserves a post.

(many pages of writing elided)

Wow. The post got so long I'm breaking it up into multiple parts. I'm writing mostly for myself, I guess, because I don't want to forget things.

A very late Friday night...

orewashinanai is in Mechelen, Belgium, attending the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn". Mechelen is just close enough not to be completely unreasonable as a weekend trip, although my being kept late at work in Friday night meant that I didn't arrive at my B&B until after 2AM. The drive to Mechelen was long and uneventful, through Germany, the southern tip of the Netherlands, and Belgium, though by the time I arrived I was pretty much out of gas, both literally and physically. I got quite lost in the center of town, thanks in part to a set of directions from viamichelin.com which told me to turn left into a street which was permanently blocked by traffic barricades.

I felt bad about arriving so late, but I'd called the owner of the B&B before I left, warning him I'd be very late. He'd said it would be okay, because it was a weekend. I found him still awake, but looking like he was closing up, as I was an hour and a half later than I'd said I'd be.

orewashinanai was also still awake, so after I'd picked up a key for the B&B we met up and moved my car to a lot out along the ring road near the Youth Hostel where it wouldn't be ticketed or towed in the morning. orewashinanai told the story of his first, ill-fated visit to Mechelen, with the Yale University Guild of Carillonneurs, which included getting lost, running out of gas, and asking directions in French in a Flemish town. It was a lot more amusing to listen to than it probably was to experience. It ended with them lost and calling the Youth Hostel repeatedly for directions. Inevitably, when they found it, it was across the street from where they had been calling.

It did look pretty difficult to find from the road.

...followed by a busy Saturday morning

Continental breakfast was as late as the owner and I could arrange. It was a leisurely affair with the owner and a boy who appeared to be his grandson. The owner and I had a pleasant conversation about Mechelen's recent history--recovery from a long decline--and the carillon school and its director, Jo Haazen--quite a character, apparently. Mechelen really doesn't figure on many tourists itineraries, he said, and those who do visit don't generally stay. "We do get some Japanese tourist buses, but they're in and out in the same day."

"So what do people in America know about Belgium?" he asked.

Thinking quickly, I said, "Well, there's the beer."
"Oh, yes. The beer." He nodded.
"And the food," I added, thinking of mussels and frites.
He seemed satisfied by that.

I did add, for honesty's sake, that most people in America probably didn't know very much about Belgium at all, but I didn't go so far as to add that the other things some Americans might know about Belgium were that it was said to be boring, and that they were having a nasty language dispute.

Meanwhile, the boy, who looked about six, contented himself with opening his egg with an odd ring-shaped tool ("Very Belgian," said the owner) and occasionally strolling into the kitchen to help himself to more cold cuts from the fridge.

"He likes to go down to the bakery and pick the breads he likes for breakfast," said the B&B owner in that doting way grandparents have.

"Most people who live in Mechelen are old," he said. "What do you expect? If you want young people to live here you have to give them something to do. But what did they do instead? Some years ago, the big department stores decided they wanted the land the movie theaters were on, so they managed to get them closed down and replaced them. Then they built this big movie theatre with lots of screens far out of town, where you have to drive to it. And once you've driven there, you're not going to come in to Mechelen later; you'll find things to do out there.

"It doesn't help that all the old people complain about noise, either. I think a little noise is okay, if it means people are having a good time."

Later that morning I met up with orewashinanai again. He took me to a Belgian waffle place. We chatted with the owner, who had a place in the south of France, but rented it out and opened a little waffle and ice cream place right off the Grote Markt, the big market square in the center of town. "It's very nice down there in France, but very quiet," he said. I asked him why he'd picked Mechelen. He looked a bit taken aback, and replied, "Well...I think it's a place with a future."

The waffles were tasty.