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19 May 2007 @ 08:41 pm
do not feed the botulism  
Saturday night's alright for getting the Eurostar from Brussels back to Waterloo, as Bernie Taupin once famously put a big red line through. A mostly pleasant couple of days has been spent in the Belgian capital, with experiences ranging from gawping in amazement at incredibly racist antiques, to attempting to enlarge our history glands by getting up early(ish) and going to a museum – only to find that it opened its doors between the hours of 2.30pm and 5.30pm. That's a slim window of cultural opportunity, really. So we went to a few bars, and then when we remembered the museum again, the museum had shut.

kwak_brussels.jpgThe first evening was spent around the ponds in Ixelles - two beautiful ponds, replete with varying amounts of nature. You know, nature. Trees, ducks, that kind of thing. Oh, and big signs warning you of the risks of botulism. It wasn't clear to us exactly what you had to do to contract botulism – possibly swallow one of the ducks alive, I don't know – but we didn't catch it. I don't think so, anyway. By the ponds is a rather lovely café called Café Belga – large, airy, complete with fittings manufactured in the 1950s, and clientele born in the 1980s. I had a beer called Kwak. Last time I was in Brussels, Kwak was served in a glass with a completely round bottom, requiring it to be propped up in a rather elaborate wooden stand in order to keep it upright on the table. In a move that makes financial, ecological and common sense, they've just flattened the bottom of the glass slightly. Good idea, Kwak. Keep it up.

Friday saw my reacquaintance with that most Belgian of brews: the lambic. Lambics aren't fermented with yeast, like normal beers are. Oh no, that would be too simple. Lambics are poured into gigantic shallow trays, possibly several miles long by several miles wide, and then the rich Belgian air is blown across them, allowing them to ferment naturally. In their most palatable format – as served up in ceramic jugs at the gorgeous A La Becasse bar in the centre of town – the lambic is a refreshing, light, easy-drinking beer. Even, dare I say, more-ish. As beers tend to be, eh lads. But when you've hit on a winning formula, it's tempting to hone that formula and produce something more unique, more memorable. And the blend of lambics that the Belgians call gueuze is pretty bloody memorable. The Time Out Guide to Eating and Drinking in Brussels and Antwerp (surely it isn't called that, but I can't be bothered to dig the book out right now) compares the taste of gueuze to cheap tinned cider. However, having been introduced to the stuff by a bloke from CAMRA who poured it from the bottle in an extremely solemn fashion and handed to me with the words "this is incredible", I've developed something of a reverence for it. The Belgians are certainly proud of it, and Time Out's description definitely does it a disservice, but it's really, really difficult to defend gueuze when you get someone to try some, and they look back at you as if you've handed them cat piss cordial.

Jenny had a mouthful of Carillon gueuze – one of the most exalted blends – at a bar on Friday lunchtime, and she looked at me in horror. "I suppose it's meant to taste like that," she said. "Yep," I replied. "It's not for me," she said. I took a sip. I could see exactly what she meant. It was like an wildly unsuccessful stab at a Lithuanian salad dressing. But... I had to keep ordering gueuze, where'er we went. I've been sucked into that mass psychosis that's been created by the small Belgian brewers: this stuff is highly refined, exquisite, delicious. At a bar called L'Atelier, in a small side street a few miles south of town, they were serving bottles of Rodenbach Grand Cru. It was like, I dunno, gin and fizzy malt vinegar. Truly revolting. But somehow essential. If you're the kind of person who finds yourself repeatedly doing things you're supposed to enjoy even though you hate them, I suggest you give gueuze a go. Rather like listening to Trout Mask Replica, watching Test cricket or reading Finnegan's Wake, it pays off in the end. Maybe.

We chose our eating and drinking destinations with utmost care, but Jenny must have had a dodgy morsel last night, as she was up at 4.30am throwing her guts up. Having only had a small sample of one of her dodgy morsels, I am merely mildly queasy. We managed to eat a bit of food earlier in a restaurant in the centre of town before we got the train. Annoyingly, the place didn't take plastic. So I was forced to dash around the neighbouring streets looking for a cashpoint – not easy, in Brussels – with slight gutache. (Which looks like a French word, but is, of course, gut-ache.) As the bill needed to be paid, and we had about 50 minutes before the train departed, this quickly became an extremely serious matter, and I must have looked like a cross between a panicking child who had lost its mother and a diarrhoea-stricken tourist. To the citizens of Brussels, I apologise for this. But everything worked out OK in the end.


PS – by the way, to any Belgians reading this, can you shed some light as to what on earth this woman is meant to be telling me? She's everywhere on public transport, and she's been giving me wildly conflicting signals for two days, now.
oldblokeoldbloke on May 19th, 2007 08:36 pm (UTC)
The section about lambic/gueuze really needs to be in a Real Publication of some sort.

The woman is saying "If you drink Timms you can duck me, or somebody who looks like me, or who you'll think looks like me after a few Timms".
Obvious really.

Except I doubt that the Belgian for duck rhymes with the Belgian for fuck - although stranger things have happened.
The Uitlander: Beeruitlander on May 19th, 2007 09:16 pm (UTC)
Gueuze rapidly became my favourite beer when I lived there, although Carillion is a tad sharpe even for me. It was explained to me, with considerable solemnity, that Belgian beers should drunk at the appropriate time of day. For Gueuze this is in the late afternoon on a sunny day, preferably sitting outside. I can't fault the logic.
Elainehypocriteshrink on May 19th, 2007 09:41 pm (UTC)
We're not sure either, and we've debated it quite a bit over the last few minutes. We've decided to go with, "Fruit and beer? What the hell IS this, and what is it doing in my bath? Get this out of here and quit bugging me."

However, we are not Belgian and are probably missing some crucial cultural information that would allow us to make a more confident interpretation.

class_worrier on May 19th, 2007 10:46 pm (UTC)
She's bent over and she is clean (so the duck says).
Any Belgian would know what that meant.

I had a crap joke that didn't involve Lambic Pentameter but I've forgotten it.
Alex Bottentheealex on May 19th, 2007 11:51 pm (UTC)
Perhaps the duck is the titular spirit of Tim(m)? She can't see it? He looks a bit added on afterwards...

Ghost Duck?
40% less vagueperfectlyvague on May 20th, 2007 08:00 am (UTC)
It's everything you need for a nice bath?
class_worrier on May 20th, 2007 09:07 am (UTC)
I've remembered.
It was about Lambic Opik having a cheeky bouquet.

I'm sorry.
Alfred Armstrongalfaguru on May 20th, 2007 11:08 am (UTC)
The lady is saying "God, I am soooo pissed I can't be bothered to get out of the bath. Another one of these and I'll probably drown! What the hell, eh?"
McGazzmcgazz on May 20th, 2007 11:10 am (UTC)
Whenever women look at me like that, they throw up on me shortly afterwards. That might just be me, though. As for the duck, Christ knows.
besskeloid on May 23rd, 2007 02:24 am (UTC)
The Time Out Guide to Eating and Drinking in Brussels and Antwerp (surely it isn't called that, but I can't be bothered to dig the book out right now) compares the taste of gueuze to cheap tinned cider.

Balls. It's tall & thin & tarty.

(Maserati not included.)
ledargestaltenledargestalten on June 3rd, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
ugly ducklings and so forth
The most likely explanation is that for the ad to be allowed on public transport, someone had to photoshop the picture to cover her left nipple. An additional lock of hair would've done it, but then again why should the photoshoppers not be allowed to have som fun in their own obscure (or obtuse) way?
The less likely explanation is that the ad is supposed to convey a message to the spectator: "Drink Timms my ugly duckling and I'll be Leda to your swan. grrrrowl"
The totally unlikely explanation is that the model refuses to photograph whithout her security duck.