Out of the cauldron and into the fire...

Brussels Travel Blog

 › entry 6 of 20 › view all entries

I only say that because apparently that's what Den Heksenketel means in the English: 'the witches' cauldron'! Anyways, it was a fantastic hostel, and it'd be great to return in order to check out the rest of Antwerp's sights (as well as those in Ghent and Bruges). And into the fire 'cause it's ridiculously hot in Belgium.

I did manage to see the cathedral in Antwerp though, and it's truly quite nice. Full of really depressing statues and other such artwork, but it would hardly be much of a cathedral without them. One does smile though, and it's amongst my many many photos... It's the statue of a smiling Mary and Jesus, one of two worldwide apparently.

.. Jesus is so cute.

At night, back at the hostel/folk bar/witches' cauldron (oh PS, I missed the Birdy Nam Nam show... I was too exhausted), there was a celtic jam session. I always thought that 'celtic jam session' was a bit of a misnomer, because it implies a few things that have nothing to do with what really happens there. First, in terms of music: jam session conotes experimental tendencies; and second, in terms of organization, it seems like it should be open-ended and inviting so as to enable the former musical engagements. But throwing 'celtic' in front of 'jam session' makes for the most regimented institution outside of the army, and jam session no longer approximates what goes on at these things.

The first thing you'll notice is that there is a celtic ringleader.

He's on 4 or 5 different instruments throughout the night (and if he's clanging his foot wildly on the hardwood as well as playing a lute or mandola, then it counts as two at once because of the percussion), and he knows everyone in the circle of instruments by name, instrument and date of birth. To him, the goal of unrelenting and fundamentalist purety of celtic music is like his pillar of Islam, his one commandment, and it can only be achieved through the most unrelenting faith.

It's a bit messianic too: like any other band leader (check yourself if you thought this was more casual than a rehearsal), his is the word of God, and whatever he says, the followers will follow. Their devotion is quite extreme, as they've managed to memorize each and every nuance of the version of whatever celtic songs the ringleader has adopted as his own (and as it's all done by ear, this is indeed quite an achievment).

They're also all above 40, since commitment like theirs is probably hard to come by in those who play video games, or who were around to benefit from the invention of written music. And they do it over and over and over. Some adolescent Canadian backpacker might think, for instance, that it's incredible that they keep doing this (and that they drive down from Holland on the first Thursday and 3rd Monday of each month to keep it going). But then that fiddle-playing backpacker will think back to a similar situation at McNally's on every second thursday, or at a celtic pub in Australia that probably also had a circle of celts that met on a similar biweekly basis, and he will recall that there's something more than the music behind it all. At McNally's, one of the more senior members of the group had experienced a loss in the family.
When he showed up that week to the jam session, everyone there knew about it, and they shared their condolences. They played sad songs that week.

Maybe that's why I've never quite felt at home at these things. Hell, I think I hate them. It feels like I'm intruding on the private life of a very close family. Like it's supper time, and where they make an effort to try to bring you into the fold and the conversation but ultimately, you aren't one of them. Not until you make the biweekly celt-a-thons for years straight.

It's not so bad actually. I never really enjoyed them enough, but meanwhile, where do I find musicians?

Anyways, on to Brussels. I spent the first half of my first day there trying to find a 10-trip metro pass.

The machines were broken or unable to take anything other than coins (I hardly have eleven euro in coinage), and the libraries (little newspaper/convenience store hybrids) all seemed to be sold out. I did manage to find one, and by that time I'd had more than enough practice with math, navigation and language and was ready to go home to Sleep Here, a nice little B&B in the northeast of Brussels. That's the thing though: Brussels is mostly french, and this is so awesome. Being able to speak the language is so incredibly useful, and a pleasure. I'm a lot more capable at holding conversation than I thought I'd be, especially ones about buying metro passes (I guess they call them trams here) after all that practice. I'm obviously pretty terrible when compared to anyone else here, but still.
.. you don't know how excellent communication is until you can't do it anymore. That's very duh, but it's key.

After, I hit up the Comic Book Museum. Heck yes. It was pretty much the Tintin museum, but whatever. I was convinced that the only things that Belgian comic book artists drew were boats and pirates, but it turns out that I was just trapped in one exhibit. I'd say that learning things in museums is the hardest thing yet that I've done. To force oneself to concentrate long enough on the text beside all the nice, colourful displays is difficult, but to do it ad nauseum is sheer plod.

I think that's all I can write now.


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photo by: Vlindeke