Belgium - Brussels

by Kimp 15. December 2012 04:25

Photo Blog

Throughout History, Belgium, like Poland, was in an unfortunate geographical location between several strong world powers. Belgium is a natural stepping stone for any England, France, Germany or Scandinavian Army wanting to go make a move on the others. However, being flanked by France, Germany, and being close to England and Scandinavia which are all historically strong economies, also has its benefits. 

After World War II, Belgium initiated a free trade zone between themselves, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands (two of their neighbors). Before that, trading goods between them would have been costly due to excise taxes levied on foreign goods. That agreement proved to be very beneficial to all three countries and soon after, eight more European countries wanted into the same agreement. That worked out so well, that they decided to expand the agreements beyond economy and into a Union of European Countries. Belgium being central, relatively small and great at negotiations, put them in the drivers seat to host the European Union and Brussels is now the seat of the EU (much like Washington D.C. in the US).

The EU is a standard set of agreements, and not a complete governing basis. All of the countries in the EU maintain their own governments and may or may not participate in all EU agreements. Some agreements are mandatory, such as the need to support human rights, but some are optional, such as the adoption of the Euro and the Schengen agreement. Being an EU member representative sounds like a pretty good job, because they are only in session for two days each month.

The UK is an EU member but still uses the pound for currency.

The Schengen agreement (it is called Schengen because it was created in Schengen Luxembourg) is what allows travel between some European countries without displaying your passport nor going through any other border controls. The concept of Schengen is that if a country does not need to protect all of its borders, then they can devote more manpower and controls to protecting international airports, international shipping commerce and illegal foreign workers. Before Schengen an expatriate could work illegally in one European country for 3 months, then migrate to another for 3 months and so on. All of the time using their tourist passport as a cover. With Schengen that is no longer possible because the countries share tourist entrance and exit records. As a general rule a tourist (anyone without a working Visa) may only be in Europe for 100 days out of ever 6 months. Ireland and the UK are a members of the EU, and neither participate in Schengen, but they have a pact between themselves that is similar in nature.

Finding an English speaking person in Belgium is very easy, since it is close to England and English is the common language between most European diplomats, their support team, lobbyist and many businesses. There were a few English channels on TV in the hotel where I stayed. With that and being a very friendly country, I believe that Belgium would be a great place to ease into European culture.

Belgium cuisine is something that most American's would take a liking too. They love french fries (there is no such thing as a small order of fries there), sausages and Belgium Waffles. Have the most flavored beers (about 150 produced locally). They produce a very high grade of chocolate and many varieties of very colorful sweets. Yet Belgians consume those in moderation and have the lowest obesity rate in both Northern Europe and Western Europe.  In my opinion that might be due, in part, to the large consumption of shell fish. They love any kind of shell fish and besides being the main course, they put it on or in just about every prepared meal. Shell fish has a lot of taste and I tend to not eat so much of it, but I do enjoy it. It might also be due to the high cost of items. They are more about high quality and less about high quantity.

Brussels star attraction is a little 2 foot tall dude named Mannequin Pis. You will see him everywhere. Water systems were introduced there in the 10th century, and to showcase that, the Belgium King built a fountain with a little boy peeing. The boy has manly features, but a pudgy boy face, posing in a very indiscreet and in your face posture, and he has been constantly relieving himself for the last 1000 years. That statue has been stolen twice, but was reconstructed and lives on. Visiting foreign dignitaries, bring costumes to display their countries heritage and the statue gets a costume change several times each week, which adds to its appeal.

Belgium is famous for its cartoon artists. While much of the rest of Europe has put their artistic landmark in a serious art form, Belgium choose to express their artistic appeal through cartoon. The most beloved in all of Europe is TinTin. TinTin was created in 1929 by Georges Remi. TinTin was a very adventurous young teenager with a trusty dog named snowy and his adventures had a lot of variety.  They were intermixed with mystery, political satire, humor, fantasy and fiction. Later on a character named Captain Haddock was introduced. Captain Haddock was a very wise adult figure who helped TinTin in very tough situations.

Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse in 1928. As I was surveying some of Georges Remi's work, I kind of wondered if they knew or knew of each other. Perhaps, but they took completely different paths. Walt Disney wanted to capture the imagination of young kids, while Georges Remi wanted appeal from a much more intellectual crowd. They could have probably been good friends and collaborators, as there would not have been any competition between them nor the development of their characters.

Belgian has a famous surrealist painter named Rene Magritte. I really enjoyed Magritte's works on display at the Royal Museum of fine arts. There was a whole section of the museum devoted to him. Most of the female figures that he painted were of his child hood sweetheart and wife Georgette, so I could see her age over time and I also saw what Rene saw in her. Rene and Georgette, also dabbled in Surrealist photography for a short time. Some of that was on display and it appealed to my imagination as well.

Brussels is the home of the Communist Manifesto. Karl Marx meet Frederich Engles in Paris and founded Socialism. His work there was controversial, so he took exile from Paris in Belgium. There he became a leading person in a political party named the Communist League.  During that time, he and Engles created the Communist Manifesto in a bar in Brussels main square. Publication of that, subsequently kicked off revolutions in several European countries and he ended up taking exile again in his native country of Germany (Colone). He started a newpaper in Colone and a few years later he had to seek Exile again. This time he went to London with his family, where they were reduced to a status of poverty. He died long before any of the revolutions ended up in a Socialist government, so he never got to really participate. I wonder what he would think of its use today? 

Many tourists do not even stop in Brussels, most head for the coastal town of Brugges which has more ancient history. I enjoyed Brussels very much, but the main reason I was there was to visit with a very good friend and his wife, whom I haven't seen in a few years. Brussels is a great place to go around Christmas time. Brussels is one of the best pedestrian cities I have seen, the Belgians are all outside in large numbers and they really know how to do up the Christmas season the right way. It is like a giant people magnet, with lots of food, lots of crafts, lots of street entertainment and lots of good cheer.

My siblings and parents have always gotten along very well. We are a good mix of traditional but progressive and everyone enjoys each others company and always have. 

However, Christmas has long been a very difficult time for me. Despite what I feel was a good earnest and responsible effort on my part, I have had several train wreck relationships in the last 30 years. A train wreck relationship, is when things appear to be going along fairly well with a few manageable bumps in the road, then one day it ends abruptly and life as we knew it, takes a drastic change in course. I used to use the 1/7 rule (repair and rebuild my life for 1/7 of the time the relationship lasted) and retry, but now I am content just living day to day and not putting much thought into it. If I do something that I have done before or are around familiar places that remind of some that have hurt me, Christmas tends to bring some of that pain back into my life, so I try to only lightly involve myself in those types of activities.

This was the perfect Christmas season interaction for me. It was something completely new and spent with people I enjoy and whom enjoy me.

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