Well how do you summarize a trip to Europe? I guess with words. And to start, I’m sure everyone is wondering what my favorite part was. And luckily, that is an easy question to answer. My absolute favorite thing that I did, and it really isn’t even close, was going to the Anderlecht soccer match. I know that this is probably a disappointment to many of you who were hoping that it would be some museum, or some meal, or some old church in some old city. But no. It was a sporting event. But a sporting event unlike any that I had ever been to. So I want to sincerely thank Frans from the bottom of my heart for taking me, and apologize deeply for giving Jeannot a taste of blood.
Which brings me neatly to the second part of my summary. I can’t thank Frans, Maria, Jeannot, and Figaro enough for what they did for me. They opened their house up to some strange American from the other side of the Atlantic, and couldn’t have been nicer to me. They went out of their way to make sure I was enjoying myself, to make sure I had delicious things to eat, and overall to make sure that I had a great trip. And especially Frans, who took 8 days and basically gave me a personalized tour of Belgium and Paris. So thank you.
Now what did I think about Europe? That’s really hard to summarize. It is like asking what someone thinks of America. Unless you are just going to take a stereotyped view of the world, it is impossible to answer. So maybe it is best to say that Europe met all of the expectations that I had for it, while at the same time being completely different than anything I could have imagined.
I think that Americans can have a tendency to romanticize “The Old Country”, and think of it as castles and old buildings and cobblestone streets. Basically we think of it just as how we left it. And that is certainly there. In Paris it is there, in Brussels it is there, and certainly in Bruges it is there. There are churches that have been around for almost 1000 years. There are curvy streets that were clearly laid out before anyone had ever thought about something like a car. There are castles where you can imagine being a Duke in the middle ages, lording over a field of serfs. That is all there for your consumption.
But just focusing on that misses a lot of other things. The high rises, and the restaurants with food from all over the world. There are modern transportation systems, and lots and lots of funny looking French cars. LOTS of funny looking French cars.
So really, it defies all expectations. You don’t know what to think. You don’t know what to look at. And when you are trying to capture it on film, or in blog posts, you find yourself completely at a loss. How do you capture Paris? I’m certainly not Hemingway, and so I don’t even know where to start. And I was only there for 3 days. You could spend 3 months there and still not know what as going on.
How do you capture a place like Belgium, with language and political issues that still don’t make a lot of sense to me?
I guess all you can do is focus in on the little snapshots, and that is what I tried to do. And it is also what I liked most about the cities and the people. Because in the little snapshots that you see, you realize that we really aren’t all that different. The people listening to their iPhones on the Metro in Paris aren’t that different from the people listening to their iPhones on the subway in New York. The people cheering for Anderlecht aren’t really that different from the people cheering for the Cardinals. The drivers stuck in traffic after a long day in the office are the same on both sides of the Atlantic.
So in the end I came away overwhelmed, and confused, and in awe. But I also came away with a feeling that the world is a much smaller place than I thought it was, and I kind of like that.
Except for all of the funny little French cars.