So, after a month of notably low public discourse, it’s all over. The ink applied in nearly 835,000 polling booths is fading on something like 413,000,000 fingernails; the 4,690,575 polling personnel have gone home, and the Election Commission has gathered its well-deserved bouquets. The General Election of 2009 is over, the guys who are better than the other guys have won, the talking heads are on, and next on the schedule is the national spectator sport of government formation, in which the country watches the winning entities attempt to get over 8,000 incompatible pieces from several different political puzzles to form the administration they want.
In other words, we will soon peacefully be able to return to our national pastime of heaping abuse on the worthies we went to such pain and expense to elect.
I missed much of the initial frothing and foaming, woe is me, because I’ve spent the last few days walking around Belgium, beginning in Brussels. [Pause for inevitable remark about sprouts.] This is the city famous for the tiny fountain statue of a male child urinating, the legendary Manneken Pis, which now pees all over mugs and keychains and t-shirts. I’m told a male relative of mine once almost got arrested for climbing on random statuary in the city and attempting to replicate the Manneken Pis with real urine, while under the influence of several of Belgium’s famous Trappist beers. Lucky for him, the Belgians have a sense of humour, or perhaps they’re so (justly) proud of their beer that they’re willing to forgive all kinds of weirdness performed in its name.
Mine was a whirlwind trip through four cities in as many days, during which we walked for roughly twenty-nine hours a day. Here’s some advice for anyone thinking of walking around Belgium: Wear shoes with serious cushioning, because medieval cobblestones are as hard on the soles as they are easy on the eyes. This doesn’t, however, stop Belgian women from scaling the peaks of chic in a large variety of high-heeled boots, many with pencil heels. I asked one lady, as I careened around twisting my ankles in perfectly flat shoes, how on earth Belgian women did it. “Practice,” she said grimly.
A friend of mine who produces a long list of demands for spirits whenever I travel this time wanted only one thing: a Tintin poster. I would have bought one for him had it not cost the arm and leg that I doubt he expected (Tintin is surrounded by a barbed wire fence of copyright). Much about this trip reminded me, yet again, of how difficult life is in Europe in many ways, despite the creature comforts and the relatively clean air. Water is expensive, parking is tight, and you have to pray that you don’t break a leg, because if you’re immobile, you’re sunk. No matter how disabled-friendly a city is, there will always be those spots where the only option is the stairs.
I can’t say much about my trip until I’ve written the official feature elsewhere, but here’s a weird fact for those very specialised people who sit up at night yearning for weird facts about Belgium: Belgian workers are supposed to work for seven hours and thirty-six minutes a day. The government arrived at this figure after doing some mathematical contortions involving hours per week and lunch breaks; but the result is that if, mid-meal, your waiter suddenly rips off her uniform and pulls on her pencil heeled boots, you can be sure that she has hit her seven hours and thirty-seventh minute.
My hope is that someday I’ll be able to return to Belgium and take it in properly. Meanwhile, I’m off to hunt down a good foot massage.