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Benelux Travelogue

  • Submitted by: Mark R. Leeper
  • Submission Date: 10th Feb 2005



August 17, 1990:




It is 2 AM in the morning as far as the trip is concerned but the people around me here at JFK airport think that it is only a little after 8 PM. We were due to be picked up at work at 4:30 PM, but due to some mixup over a telephone we were sitting around waiting for the limo driver and he was sitting around waiting for us. 'Us' in this case refers to the lively and talented Evelyn Leeper, her dashing husband Mark (who will here hide under the aliases 'I' and 'me'), Ms. Josephine Paltin, and her husband Dale Skran. For completeness I will also introduce at this point an as yet absent friend, Kate Pott, not from our home of New Jersey but from Massachusetts. She will join us at the airport, We finally got together with the limo driver and got our luggage into the back of his car. Airport limos have not changed very much since I first rode in them twelve or thirteen years ago. The only difference is they now have a big telephone sticking into your legroom with an electronic display that constantly says 'Please phone' as if you had just been paged. We talked about the financial state of AT&T, and the weather was ugly too. We drove in a heavy rainstorm. However, by the time we got to JFK the storm was over. We checked in at the KLM counter with a man who was extremely Dutch. At least he had all the characteristics I have come to associate with the Dutch. That is, they are friendly, helpful, courteous, and always seem to enjoy their job, no matter how awful it is. I hate to generalize, but I have found no people in the world I would rather be around. I came to this unexpected conclusion after a five-hour plane layover in Amsterdam. I never was asked so many questions in an airport security check or felt less like I was in a security check. The guy chatted with us about all the places in our passport that he had also visited. It occurred to me after the fact he might actually have been checking out our answers to see if they sounded true. If so, he was good at his job. All I sensed was friendly curiosity. After going through the X-ray check an attendant gruffly asked us to open a package we had bought in the airport there. It was a gift stuffed animal in a shopping bag that you could seal shut. We opened it and he thanked us, explaining he knew we'd just bought it. He just wanted to see what kind of animal we'd gotten. Another attendant came into the waiting area and wrapped her arms around herself as if to say to us, 'I'm cold. Are you cold too?'

And of course Holland has a history of defending its minorities and valuing its diversity. Many Dutch Christians died during the Holocaust defending Jews. Holland, as I see it, acts like most other countries would if they would just grow up.

At work, when I mentioned my positive feelings toward the Dutch, two different people have disagreed, saying that in South Africa the Dutch have been somewhat less than fair-minded. I distinguish between the people who are Dutch and the people of Dutch origin who are no longer Dutch.

At any rate we checked in and had dinner from a local Pizza Hut concession. There was a time when the food you got at an airport concession would be both unpalatable and unhealthy. In fact, its main virtue was that it was too unpalatable to eat much of. Unfortunately, unpalatability began to eat into sales so they learned to make the stuff of as unhealthy food but now at least it tasted good.

While we were eating we saw Kate Pott walking by, having just arrived at the airport by bus (from Massachusetts). After talking to Kate for a while I got myself some TCBY frozen yogurt. As with the pizza, they undercharged me, I pointed it out, and they still went with the lower price rather than go through the effort of reversing a sale. Ah, what has happened to loyalty to the employer?






August 18, 1990:




At a little after 3 AM (9 PM) we boarded the plane after a long stand in line to board. It was a very tight fit sitting down. At this point I'd gone 39 hours with only about thirty minutes of sleep. In spite of rather uncomfortable seating I fell asleep right away, was awake a few minutes for the take-off, and then nodded off again. Again I awoke for the snack and dinner. The latter was quite decent, including a salad of lox and crab meat. It also had chicken and something like spaetzel. KLM's service is quite good though the seating is darn uncomfortable. With ten seats across and four of us in a space intended for three things are darn uncomfortable. Also, I was sitting next to Dale and we are both wide enough to need the armrest. I woke up about 6 AM with a squalling baby in the row ahead of me and a man who kept clearing his sinuses in the row behind. The in-flight movie was NUNS ON THE RUN. They did not charge for headsets. It didn't matter. My walkman earphones were more comfortable and fit into their jack. More and more you see on planes earphone jacks (of the walkman style) next to the two air-driver ports. If you have your own earphones you don't need theirs. Well, it is 9:13 and we land in about another eighty minutes.

Boy, I hate these flights in seats packed together like compartments in an egg carton. I think when we fly to Asia I am going to have the vet give me a shot to knock me out.

We landed in Amsterdam a bit ahead of schedule which was good because it was hard to untangle ourselves from our seats. Kate was met by her local friends and we will see her again later in the week.

We got tickets for the train to near our hotel and caught the train. There are apparently two classes of train service and you take a car with a '2' if you get a second-class ticket. The car was already pretty full by the time we got on. We found two seats together and two more seats separate. Dale and I got the two together and each of the women got a separate seat. But Jo came back to where Dale and I were sitting and talked to us. She said her seat was wet. Besides, she'd been sitting for eight hours and preferred to stand. We each offered her a seat but she still refused. Two women sitting opposite us did not understand English and only knew that two American men were sitting and letting a woman stand. They gave us a dirty look. I guess Americans really are rude barbarians!

The train stopped at Central Station and disgorged us barbarians. We all started walking toward the exit. A woman came up to Evelyn and asked, 'Are you American?' Evelyn said yes. 'Aren't you Evelyn Leeper?' Somewhat surprised, Evelyn said she was. It turned out to be someone we had met at a science fiction convention. How many people can be in a European capital for the first time and within ten minutes they have been recognized by someone?

From there we tried to find the tourist agency, here called the VVV. A sign on a store said it was outside and to the left. Out we went but the VVV was not where they claimed it would be. I left the group together and went off in search of the VVV. I finally found it across the street. The line was too long so we went for a taxi to take us to our hotel, the Engeland. It is an oldish Amsterdam hotel with steep, narrow steps. It had been recommended as being inexpensive and near the museums. It turned out to be that and not much more. It is a little spartan, but not too bad. The manager took a tour street map and traced on it regions where it is good to visit and other regions that are not safe. The rooms are small but uncomfortable. The bathroom has the single sunken floor that the bathroom of the Nanjing Guest House had. (I assume the reader has been to the Nanjing Guest House!) The whole floor is the floor of the shower with one drain and it is tipped so that the whole floor does not get wet when you take a shower. It makes it very easy to clean the floor. In Nanjing, however, they did not keep the drain clear. The whole bathroom rested in an inch or so of water. It was quite a mess. The Dutch seem to be a little more careful ... so far.

Our first destination after setting into our rooms was the Rijksmuseum. We set off for it on foot. For the first time I realized that Dale, who had borrowed an Ace bandage earlier for a knee injury, was going to have some mobility problems. He injured his knee kicking somebody in the head at Tae Kwon Do and did not let it heal but went a second time, making it a lot worse. He did not slow things down when walking with us. While we were walking Ev, Jo, and I made a side trip to the VVV and Dale sat and rested his knee and we came back for him. I will describe the area in more detail later. I did see a sign that I found somewhat interesting advertising a guide and escort service. The picture was a silhouette of a nude woman. There were tastefully implying that other services might be available. Perhaps at an additional fee, of course.

The Rijksmuseum is the local National Art Museum and features the art of Rembrandt. It may be just me, but I did not find this to be an outstanding art museum. I saw a number of famous and familiar paintings but there is much less imaginative art than you see at places like the Prado. The Dutch artists we saw were much more literalists. The museum was founded in 1808 by Louis Bonaparte. The current building seems to be very big with an odd and not entirely logical layout. At one point we wanted to see an exhibit at some distance from where we were and the way not only had a great deal of walking but it also required both climbing up and climbing down stairs. And the route seemed quite twisty. We followed a sign to see 'The Night Watch' and it took us a good 45 minutes to get to it by their path. The path took you through a whole history of Dutch art culminating in this one painting. We all kind of liked Asselyn's 'Threatened Swan' along the way. It is an angry and frightened swan honking at a small dog. By looking at it you learn more about the anatomy and musculature of a swan than you are ever likely to need (though some might be useful to know on Thanksgiving). Finally at the end of this long educational walk you come to a room that tells you the history of this painting and of the efforts to restore it. Finally you go one more room and there it is! And three feelings strike you at once:

This is familiar. Yes, I have seen pictures of this painting before.
This is big. The painting is big enough to be a mural.
Have I missed something?
Other than its being big and being popular I know of nothing that sets this painting apart from hundreds like it. There are, I guess, just certain works of art that strike a chord in some and to others seem unexceptional. Another painting in the same area is perhaps Rembrandt's most famous and most often reproduced painting. This is the one that Dutch Masters cigars copped as their trademark. They did have one piece that was like a triptych, but had seven paintings. I guess you would call that a septych. While we were walking I made polite conversation with Dale, who is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I asked him how he had hurt his knee. He explained he strained it trying to kick somebody in the head. The culturedlooking woman next to him looked around at him and then quickly moved on to the next painting.

The museum also had a section devoted to art from the history of Holland. They had ornate model boats, paintings of sea battles, metal body armor, etc. Finally we saw the collection of oriental art. This was the display that took so long to get to.

We left the museum about 5 PM. I was not sure what the next order of business should be but Jo said she was so hungry she felt dizzy. So dinner was decided upon. As we were walking we passed a candy concession. Evelyn said I would probably like to stop at one. I said not so much for me, but I might want to get chocolates for my group. 'Belgium is the place to get chocolate,' I was told. 'Isn't Holland known for its chocolate?' Evelyn asked Jo. Jo said that it was Belgium that was known for its chocolate. I was the only one in our group who had ever heard of 'Dutch chocolate' but I swear the stuff really exists. Maybe it is just a flavor.

For dinner we tried an Indonesian place. I had Indonesian only once before but I found I like it a lot (to nobody's surprise). I think what I had was called chai chai. It was cuttlefish in a sauce with a mound of rice, some pickled vegetables, and about a teaspoon of a sweet peanut concoction. There were two sauces on the table looking much like Chinese counterparts. One looked like a soy sauce and one looked like a hot pepper sauce. That was sort of what they tasted like but each also had a sweet flavor, giving them a really unique taste.

After dinner we walked with Dale and Jo back to the hotel and after a short rest went out walking the streets of Amsterdam. If I had to put my finger on the feel of this city it would be Greenwich Village with canals. My town has a bunch of people who live in their houses almost all of the time and are not tremendously intellectual. Greenwich Village has far more people living much of their loves outside in the streets and interacting with each other. It also seems to be a more diverse community than my home town. Amsterdam seems like that to me. There are a lot of open cafes like you'd have in Greenwich Village. There seem to be a lot of young people in Amsterdam and they are getting into sex and drugs and you see a lot of public service signs recommending devices for safe sex. You might see that in Greenwich Village but you wouldn't see it in my home town.

Actually it is amazing to see how much this town has adapted to a large foreign population. You see more billboards in English than in Dutch. And one gets the impression that if you want to say something that will be read, you put it in English. There are not many people who read Dutch and not English, and there are a whole lot of people who read English and not Dutch. The streets are full of them. If you overhear a conversation in the street anywhere near the commercial district, it is usually in English.

So while the city is mostly an old city of people with their own unusual way of doing things, much of what you see as a tourist could be out of London.

Much of what made this city what it is is related to water. The city grew out of a dam on the Amstel River. The dam was there to stop the river from flooding the lowlands. As the city grew, it needed a good cheap way of moving things around. They could build and maintain roads but with all the water available they decided a more effective method would be to dig canals. Once it is dug and flooded there is very little maintenance needed for a canal. They dug so much canal that the city is now 900 islands. The canals made things easier if you had access to them. But there was not enough frontage on the canals to serve all the people who needed it. If you had just a few people with canal access the canals lose much of their purpose. What you need is to give a lot of people just a little bit of access to the canals. Narrow houses were the answer, but how do you get the people to want narrow houses? Governments have only two ways to get people to do things contrary to their nature. You can use force, but that is expensive. Or you can use taxes. That not only does not cost money, it makes money. So they started taxing frontage on the canal. Homes went tall and narrow. Most go four stories high but are narrow enough to have very little frontage. Narrow houses have narrow stairways. Ever try getting a bed up a narrow stairway? Particularly since the rooms have high ceilings to make them a little roomier so the stairs are steep. Rather than force all furniture up a narrow stair they tried a different approach. At the top of the roof a girder juts out. From it hangs a good strong hook. On the hook you can put a pulley. Then you put in very big windows. Large objects are hoisted up to the top floors and pulled in windows. I bet there aren't a whole lot of double beds in Amsterdam.

We walked around the city. There are a lot of street performers. Mostly you find mimes and magicians. We watched a street mime for a while. We went into bookstores, but the price of books is very high. We eventually decided it was getting too dark and went back to the hotel. Having had two nights of sleep deprivation (about half an hour of sleep on one and a few hours on the plane) I was really tired. I tried to bring my log up to date but I kept drifting off to sleep and had to pull myself back. At 10 PM I fell asleep and slept till 7 AM. Nine hours is unusual for me but it was about what I was hoping for. I woke up with absolutely no jet lag. I think Jo thought I was nuts to keep myself up all night before flying. She says she never gets jet lag flying east. Both she and Dale looked pretty bleary-eyed at breakfast. I was crisply awake and had absolutely no lag.






August 19, 1990:




Breakfast was Cholesterol City. A hardboiled egg, a ham and cheese sandwich, bread and butter, and coffee with cream.

Dale did not want to do much walking on his knee and the rest of us thought it would be cruel for anyone else to walk on his knee, so it was decided he would spend the morning resting and the rest of us would head out for the most famous house in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House. I would explain to you what this house is and why it has become revered, but if you don't already know, shame on you.

You come in through the front door, pay, and go off to the left where there are two flights of narrow stairs. You are not yet into the hiding place. There is a ten-minute tape that you watch telling a little of the history of the place with earphones on the wall for people who want to hear the tape translated into obscure foreign languages like Dutch.

From there you go through the doorway behind the bookcase. The Annex itself which was the hiding place is not much to look at. That's not the point. You want to see it, to feel the claustrophobia that you'd have if you had been imprisoned there, then you come out into sections of the factory where the Frank family could not go.

Now the film was actually shot in the Anne Frank house, but it showed it as having a view of the canal. Wrongo! That is the factory side, now an exhibition room. The view the Frank family had was basically a back yard. The factory has been turned into a word-and-picture exhibition telling in more detail the story of the Frank family hiding from the Nazis and their eventual capture. It did not go into detail about how the Franks died, though that is now known also. It then tells how the diary came to be published. Finally, at least for this room, you see some fifty or so different editions of the book. Go down a floor and they have a display of the history of anti-semitism and a bookstall. One more floor down and it tells about the work of the Anne Frank Foundation, which was instituted to combat bigotry of all sorts. They included problems with anti-Muslim bigotry which seems to get very little coverage in the United States, where I think we tend to forget how large and diverse Islam really is. To judge the actions of a Malaysian Muslim based on what Muslims are doing in the Middle East is much like judging the actions of a Presbyterian from Oregon based on the actions of Christian Phalangists in Lebanon and the Irish Republican Army. But not surprisingly the AFF seems to concentrate largely on anti-Jewish discrimination and I cannot fault that, certainly.

The Anne Frank House done, we walked back to our hotel to get Dale, who'd been resting his leg. Walking the streets of Amsterdam is something of a problem. The sidewalks are about two-and-a-half feet wide and very often blocked by obstacles and mined with canine digestive calling cards. On the other side of the street there are parked cars and if you walk on either side you have to dodge into and out of the automobile lane which is about one car wide and used for both cars and bicyclists. You spend a lot of time endangering your life. The main streets are a little better but the side streets are tough to walk down. As we walked back I again noted the funny billboard planted all over the city. I don't know how many people realize how funny it is. It is for Tivoli cigarettes. The caption is 'Some girls have more fun.' It shows a stunning woman in an Afghan rebel outfit smoking a cigarette and in front of her we see the shoulder of some luscious Afghan hunk with two leather straps over his shoulder. The woman looks oh-so-sophisticated. The ad does not tell you smoking causes lung cancer. But then any Western woman who goes to Afghanistan, puts on a rebel uniform and then lights up a cigarette and tries to look sophisticated is not going to die of lung cancer. Do not attempt this trick at home, boys and girls. And really do not attempt it in Afghanistan.

We got Dale (that took a while, since he'd fallen asleep) and before going to the Van Gogh museum we went to a cafe for lunch. None of us really knew what to order so we all ordered fairly unexciting things like cheese sandwiches. We tried to look cool sitting around this tiny table in an outdoor cafe but let's face it, we had 'AMERCIAN NERDS' written in 45-point type all over us.

After we mellowed around the cafe for a while we headed out for the Van Gogh Museum. It took a fair amount of searching to find it. While I was walking I suggested that someone ought to open a concession selling dried apricots outside the Van Gogh Museum. Nobody understood why so I had to explain it was a visual pun. I am not always really popular, even with my friends. It turned out we had lingered a bit too long at the cafe. There were big mobs and nobody selling dried apricots.

In the Van Gogh Museum they have four floors. You start at the fourth floor and work your way to the first floor. On the fourth floor they have the art of Van Gogh's contemporaries; on the third floor they have Van Gogh sketches; on the second floor they have Van Gogh paintings; on the first floor they have torn everything up without bothering to warn you or give you a discount on the admission. Extrapolating from the upper floors I think they eventually intend to put in Van Gogh movies on the first floor.

One of the nice touches of the museum is if you worry about how you look--and people who go to the Van Gogh Museum worry about how they look, I can tell you--you can see yourself in many of the paintings. This is because they have helpfully put sheets of very nicely reflective glass over many of the paintings and had the main light coming in from a central atrium. By moving around you generally can see pretty much the whole painting and you constantly have the reassurance of knowing if someone is sneaking up behind you, which given the crowd that comes here seems possible. I give the architects the second Hermitage Award for designing an art museum that is perfect for just about everything with the possible exception of viewing the art.

I cannot claim to be a real expert on art. I sort of like Van Gogh. He has an interesting style. But he rarely succeeds in interesting me in his subject matter. He does flowers and trees and people sitting around posing. If he shows a field of people working, that is a little better but not much. The one piece that looked abstract in the museum turned out to be 'Roots and Tree Trunks.' Give me Goya. Give me Bosch and Brueghel. The sketches of Heinrich Kley are imaginative and fascinating while Van Gogh's are merely reproducing what the eye sees in a reasonably articulate manner.

***Heresy Warning** I generally find more of interest in a painting by Frank Frazetta than in one by Vincent Van Gogh.
***All Clear**

It was nice to see some of the classic Van Gogh paintings like the self-portrait and 'The Bedroom.' But 'Starry Night,' which I had seen a week before at New York's Museum of Modern Art was a very lamentable absence from this display.

Seeing the sketches, which were mostly taken from his letters did give some insight as to how his talent evolved.

I asked the group a question at one point. If you could reach back in time and pull people forward who would be more astonished at his/her museum: Vincent Van Gogh or Anne Frank. I think we concluded that it would be Anne Frank. Van Gogh would just say, 'I told you so.'

When we got out of the museum it was raining. We stood around hoping it would let up but after about twenty minutes decided to go for it. Evelyn had found a shortcut back to the hotel and it really was shorter than we'd expected. Back at the hotel we dried off and found in the tour books a recommendation for a good place to eat dinner. We went only to find the place closed. We are instead at a mediocre Israeli restaurant. The owner came to our table and asked how it was. Everybody but me said it was great. I just sort of shrugged. 'You didn't like it?' 'It was okay,' which was the truth. 'There wasn't enough,' he suggested, but luckily did not press for an answer. It was a small portion of spaghetti and it was just okay. Dale needed money so we paid him and he paid on his Visa card. The waiter took the card but proceeded with his other duties and did nothing with it. We had tickets for a canal cruise and it was getting late. 'Let's ask for our card,' someone suggested. 'Oh, yes, it's coming.' Finally the waiter came along and pulled out the imprinter and started looking at it as if it were a frozen bat he found unexpectedly in the icebox. 'Click! Click!' the owner told him helpfully. 'Put the paper in. Go click-click.' He put the charge sheet in and went click and pulled it out. 'No, you go both ways.' He tried to put the form back in but the handle of the imprinter was on the wrong side. It didn't work. 'Pull back the handle and go click-click.' He put back the handle, put in the form, and went click-click like a pro. Archangels sang in heaven.

Leaving the restaurant we rushed to the boat in part because it was getting late and in part because it was pouring rain. Great evening for a boat ride.

I was taking more picture than notes on the canal cruise, which was narrated in about five languages so it was pretty tough to tell when the guide was going to say something we would understand.

The canals were dug by hand in the 17th and 18th Centuries by wealthy merchants. (Somehow I doubt that. I bet they paid someone to do it for them. But it's nice to see private industry improving a city.) The guard rails next to the canals were installed by wealthy insurance companies who got tired of paying to replace cars that were driven into the canal each weekend when locals who had been drinking tried to park on the edges of the canal. We saw the narrowest house in Amsterdam. It was a few inches wider than its door.

The canal cruise lasted about eighty minutes but was rather unexceptional. On the way back to the hotel we stopped for ice cream and then to bed. I kind of dislike coming into the hotel. The manager chain-smokes and if you think American cigarettes smell bad, try smelling Dutch ones.
And the smell comes right up two flights of stairs.






August 20, 1990:




To find out what breakfast was like Monday read what it was like on Sunday. The eggs were not as hard-cooked.

Monday was a winner of a day. Right after breakfast we set out for Central Station to start the Jewish walking tour. As soon as we got on the tram I realized I did not have my camera with me. Get off or go on? I would make do with Evelyn's camera. We got to Central Station, changed money, felt flush, and decided to go back for the camera. We did that and returned to Central Station. (This was just the two of us today, by the way.) Our first major stop was a metro station that required the demolition of many houses in the Jewish Quarter. After much protest, the metro was limited to a very short run and to apologize to the area residents they put up photographic murals in the subway depicting the cultural diversity that fell to the wrecking ball. They also put in the wrecking ball. And they made it a piece of art by showing it in its natural habitat with a simulated wrecked wall being knocked down. It's all to say, 'Oh, shoot! Look what we did!'

The next major site was not really on the Jewish tour, but it was there, so what the heck. It was Rembrandt's House, decorated with lots of his etchings and a few of his paintings. The first etching was of the three crosses. It was a Biblical scene, of course, of the crucifixion. We saw three different versions as he made improvements. What sticks out in my mind is at the crucifixion he depicts as an onlooker a horseman of the Italian Renaissance. I suppose the horseman lost his way, as many horsemen of the Italian Renaissance were wont to do. This particular horseman will have quite a story to tell, assuming he can find his way back to the Italian Renaissance.

Rembrandt did a number of other surprising pieces, including two that were variations on the same idea. Both were depictions of the circumcision of Christ. I frankly do not remember the New Testament ever mentioning this joyous event and generally I would suggest that the story it was based on was 'apocryphal' but in this case the use of that word might be ill-advised. I guess if one accepts the New Testament as gospel (or is that the wrong word also?), one would be put in a quandry by the very question of whether this event occurred. If Christ was perfect, would we not assume that He was born pre-circumcised? Would a perfect being be born with this task still remaining to be done? But if He was born pre-circumcised then He would go through life without ever having gone through the circumcision ceremony, and that also seems to contradict the assumption of perfection. I don't know if this issue has ever been considered by authorities on the subject. By and large such authorities tend not to consider such issues because the subject seems in some sense unwholesome.

In that sense it is similar to the question of bodily eliminations. One wishes to believe that a truly perfect being is above bodily eliminations as it has been suggested He was above sexual inclination. But I have never actually heard that stated or the contrary stated. The New Testament does have Christ eat and He does not appear to be above needing nourishment, but there is little to explain what happens to the materials after consumption. Presumably He might be 100% efficient in turning all of what He eats into energy. This certainly would help to reinforce the assumption of perfection. But I suspect some people would have a hard time finding faith and solace in a God who was part nuclear reactor, albeit one that was 100% efficient. Besides, even with the few references to Christ eating that one can find, His energy expenditure appears to be nowhere near as great as would be required to be to dissipate even the little substance we know He took. Medieval artists depicted Him with an aura, of course, but there are no reasonable figures I know of on how much energy could be dissipated in an aura of any reasonable magnitude. No, one rather suspects that if Christ was truly to be above normal functions of elimination, the matter would have to be dispensed with through some form of divine intervention. However, if that is the case it is a miracle that has undoubtedly gone unrecognized for two millenia. And that is a pity because it was most necessary that Christ be perpetually and uninterruptedly at His best, and He could not be but for the timely application of this miracle. And certainly such a miracle would be more colorful for Christ's followers than, say, the Annunciation.

Evelyn pointed out how often Rembrandt portrayed dogs in his etchings. There almost always seem to be dogs present in his Bible scenes and occasionally in somewhat compromised positions. Rembrandt was apparently quite fond of dogs. The museum also has a slide show on Rembrandt's life that runs on the half-hour.

Our next major stop on the walking tour was to be the Jewish Historical Museum but we decided to eat lunch first. We found a little cafe. Evelyn had a roast beef sandwich and I had a croquette and fries. The croquette is more traditional Dutch food and it was quite tasty though when I described it later to Jo it did not sound all that good. Basically it is meat ground almost into a paste and then fried up with a crisp breaded shell. It came with a mountain of fries that usually are served with mayonnaise. I would have ordered them that way but my Dutch was not up to it.

The Jewish Historical Museum is quite unusual among Jewish museums in that it apparently is not run by Jews, nor does it really need to be. It is run by the Dutch government in continued defiance to Nazi bigotry and all anti-Jewish bigotry. Most of the collection, I am told, was made by the Nazis for their planned 'Museum of a Vanished Race.' This museum is probably on a par or such as menorahs, ceremonial silver, etc., they also have a history of the Nazi invasion of Holland, the anti-semitic actions of the Nazis, and finally the liberation of the Jews. Perhaps the most touching item was the photo of two old men, one snipping with scissors the yellow Jude-star from the other's jacket. We walked along behind what was apparently a Dutch grandfather, non-Jewish, telling his American granddaughter (dressed somewhat punk) about the history of Jews in this neighborhood. He was pointing out where in the neighborhood the Jews had built barricades to defend themselves at one point. I guess I was just flattered that Gentiles would take the time and have the interest. Did I say I liked the Dutch?

We ran into Dale and Jo and sat with them for a little while in the coffee shop. From there we went on to the Portuguese Synagogue. There I was the subject of a rather embarrassing incident. I was wearing a cap to keep off the sun. There were yarmulkes available at the outer gate, apparently, but nobody pointed them out to me, I presume since I was already wearing a head covering. So when I got inside the synagogue I was madly looking around for where to find the yarmulkes and they were nowhere to be found. Everyone else had a yarmulke of one sort or another and I had only this silly sunhat. People were polite about it but it was one of those moments when if the earth had cracked open and swallowed me I would have lived happily after.

The synagogue itself is quite large and ornately carved of wood. When the Jews were thrown out of Spain as described in my last trip log (q.v.), many found refuge in Holland. Three communities of Sephardic (Iberian-origin) Jews grew in Amsterdam until they merged. In 1675 they built for themselves the largest and most ornate synagogue in the world. The locals made them agree to sort of camouflage the synagogue among other buildings. Still from a distance you can see it is the tallest building in its complex.

There were several other sites in the tour but most amounted to little more than seeing a building with a Jewish star somewhere. We finished the tour about 4:30 PM.

Next we were curious to see the famous red light district. Of course, this was a little early to do that, but we knew very little of the ground rules at this point and were unaware that there is not much to see at this hour. In New York the similar area are seems to run almost all day. We walked down one street Evelyn thought--from the map--was part of it (totally wrongly) and saw nothing. We realized we would have to kill some time. Since on these trips we are constantly behind in our log writing, this trip not being an exception, we looked for a place where we could sit down and write to pass the time until there was more happening. We were right night the square in front of the Royal Palace so we decided to walk there and sit down. It did not offer much in the way of something to sit on. Eventually we decided to have an early dinner. We found an Indonesian restaurant and each had chicken dishes. Through this effort we were able to pass the time until about 7 PM. We walked down a street that looked on our map to be one of the major red light streets but found it to be pretty tame. Eventually we decided that there really was not much of interest and since the street we were on led to the Central Station we decided to pack it in and return to the hotel to write. We did that. About 10 PM Dale and Jo returned. They had walked through the same district but on comparing notes they seemed to have seen different things so we asked them to show us what street they went down the following night.






August 21, 1990:




Tuesday morning breakfast was oddly reminiscent of the breakfasts we had Sunday and Monday, or at least the menu was.

Unfortunately, the City Historical Museum did not open until later so to pass time the four of us went first to the Bible Museum. Now I knew at the outset that this was asking for trouble. I suspected that the people who ran this thing were the same people who leave little Jesus-loves-you tracts in public restrooms. They also tend to come to people's doors on weekends. I have been told, incidentally, that when these people come to your door you must never talk to them or they will come back week after week. I have found this not to be the case. I enjoy discussing religion and will generally talk to these people. I am told that this is the exact formula for turning them on and getting them never to leave me alone, but for some reason they tend to leave after 45 minutes and do not come back for a year or two. But I would like to feel that the ones who have visited me have learned something about religion and are better able to question some of the things they have been told. If they have, I feel it is worth the time I have invested in them. In any case, the Bible Museum was more interesting than I expected, at least a little. It was not a Christian evangelical front as far as I could tell. In fact, the vast majority of the museum was devoted to the Old Testament. It seemed more intended that whatever you are now you would be more of. They seem to be assuming that if you are coming to a Bible Museum you are already a believer. The museum shows mostly how Bible research is done and some of the absurd conclusions that it comes to. They have, for example, models of ancient temples. The models implied that at least one of the temples would have been on the order of 4000 feet across. I frankly doubt that the Israelites built on scales that so much beggared the other cultures of the time. By pressing a button you saw a simulation of what the sun made the temple look like as the day progressed.

Perhaps the most unusual model was a lucite model of the Temple of Solomon. It was really a non-detailed sketch of the subject rendered in plastic to make it seem more modern perhaps. To my mind, however, it seemed just a bit too RAIDERS-OF-THE-lOST-ARKlike. While much of the interesting stuff was in Dutch, the museum was not without some interest, with fewer negatives and more positives than I expected.

Our big museum visit of the day was to be the Amsterdam Historical Museum. We got there, showed our museum cards, and then everybody decided they wanted to eat before going on. The cafeteria is dominated by a statue of Goliath roughly 18 feet high. There is also a statue of David next to it. This is the sort of kitsch one usually associates with America, but here it was in the Netherlands. I had a croquette and fries.

The museum covers the history of the city starting with an electronic map showing the expansion of the communities around the Amstel Dam and expanding out. Each fifty years was represented and there was a click of relays whose loudness increased with the size of area so you heard louder and louder clicks as the population grew--very dramatic. I expected a light to come on and say 'game over' or 'tilt' or something. There was a fair amount to see in this museum. It is a large museum laid out in chronological order so each room advanced you between forty and a hundred years. It starts with models of ships and with weapons in a tradition that is much like we would associate with the Vikings. We also see a crossbow hanging with an odd mechanism of ropes for leverage. They progress through the nautical tradition with navigation instruments. One very nice piece is a mural showing a scene of buildings and people in the street and a box next to the painting shows details of what is happening in the town and explains them. Here you see ships docking and their wares; there you see a man being taken to prison; in another corner you see someone selling patent medicines; somewhere else there is a rat catcher, etc. It is sort of a city tour in one painting. Further on there is a carillon display where you can actually play a carillon or hear carillon music from any of six town buildings. Eventually you get to the 20th Century with exhibits of union actions and war material.

Following this museum we went to see the Royal Palace, built in 1648 as the town hall, but appropriated in 1808 by Louis Napoleon to be used as a palace. The building is fancy to the point of garish with a sort of art that does not particularly appeal to me. I seem to remember cherubs and fat ancient gods and flowers. Dale pointed out at the debtors' office a relief of rats crawling over the coffin of a debtor chewing his unpaid bills, but that was about the only piece of art that was at all amusing. Not my style of art.

After the walk through the palace Dale and Jo were thirsty. So we temporarily left them at a cafe. Evelyn has been active for gay rights at AT&T (just picking it out as an issue she did not feel was getting sufficient attention) so she had some interest in seeing the Homomonument, a memorial to the homosexuals killed by the Nazis. We expected that to run over there, take some pictures, and be back would take about half an hour. It turned out to be much closer than we expected. They are three pink granite stone triangles about 35 feet on a side set in the ground to form the corners os a larger triangle. One of them is right next to the canal and has steps down. It actually forms a sort of stone pier.

After that we went back to the cafe. There we talked to Dale and Jo for a while and then set out looking for a good place to have dinner. It took a while to agree on a place. Dale and Jo wanted a place a little fancier than Evelyn and I really felt dressed for or wanted to spend for anf on top of that the menu did not look all that interesting. After more searching and farbling we all compromised on a sort of steak house. The food was pretty good though it was nearly impossible to get water. The water did not come until I had asked for it four or five times and after I had finished my entire meal. As I remember, we finished our meal at about 7 PM and we did not want to take the obligatory walk in the red light district until 9 PM, so we had about a two-hour wait. We walked around for about an hour. We stopped at a bookstore and Evelyn and Jo talked while Dale and I browsed. A couple of the books did interest me, but the cost of books in English here really is quite high. We walked around a little longer and were all getting cold so we stopped into a small restaurant for dessert. Evelyn and I had a pancake. In Holland a pancake is much like what the French would call a crepe except that it usually is a disk about a foot in diameter decorated with fruit and served with white sugar and/or treacle. (I guess treacle is molasses though I have not actually had that verified.) The dessert took up enough time so that it was about 9 PM when we finished. That was about the time to walk up and down the canal that has the main street of the district on either side.

I, of course, had heard for years about the classy red light district of Amsterdam with the women tastefully sitting in the windows. It is considered to be one of the major tourist sights. I have to say it was a minor disappointment. It has a little more class than New York's similar neighborhood (which we have to walk through whenever we park in the Port Authority), but that isn't saying much and I was less than totally impressed by what I had seen. It was a lot of women, mostly overweight, I think, sitting in their lacy underwear in windows. Except for the overweight part that was much what I expected, but it seemed to be forced. Many wore the same white outfits that looked much like swimwear that glowed under black light. It was as if they had been organized by one consortium and it was pretty much an 'if you have seen one you have seen them all.'

There were various clubs along the walk with hawkers out front who were quite good at guessing the nationality of the groups walking by. One called to us in French, but all the rest recognized that we were English speakers.

From there we walked back to the hotel. Our last evening in Amsterdam was over.






August 22, 1990:




Wednesday morning I awoke early. Our shower had the same problem our similar shower in Nanjing had: the drain clogged. And, of course, since the entire bathroom floor is the floor of the shower, the whole bathroom floor flooded, bathmat and all. Lovely surprise.

Breakfast was much like it had been the previous day. This last morning in Amsterdam we visited the City Municipal Museum. Not bad for a city municipal museum. They have the Chagall painting Evelyn calls 'The Fiddler on the Roof.' And they had a groundbreaking painting by Piet Mondrian. He always does horizontal and vertical black lines and colored rectangles. But this was really a unique painting for him since he did it on a square rotated 45 degrees. So if you are willing to count the edges of the canvas, there are actually diagonal lines in the painting. It was nice to see that he had mastered his fear of non-horizontal and non-vertical lines. That's the great thing about Mondrian: he was always willing to shock his audience by putting in a rectangle of a different color or of different dimensions than he had put in before. I feel certain had he lived he might have re-invented the triangle!

Another interesting piece is a piece called 'The Old Beanery,' which is a walk-in piece of art. On the outside it is a big metal box, but if you walk inside it is a bar and cafe except all the people (but one) have clocks for heads. Very strange.

The museum cafeteria has what almost looks like a dinosaur made out of metal parts. He is bellowing for food with a giant fork in one hand and a spoon in the other. Actually very funny.

We finished up with textile art, but it left me cold. About half the museum was closed for renovation. At the museum we said good-bye to Dale and Jo, who were staying in Amsterdam another night. We returned to our hotel, picked up our luggage, and took a tram to the train station where we grabbed the train for the Hague and for the 48th World Science Fiction Convention.

On the train we wrestled our luggage into the rack above the seat and sat down. A group came on and Evelyn said, 'I bet they're going to the convention.' 'Why?' 'Because he's carrying a copy of CROSS-TIME ENGINEER.' And they looked at us and said, 'It's the Leepers.' This time it wasn't a question if our fame having reached to some unexpected point. These were all people we'd been introduced to before, but my twin-carburetored, dual-action, turbopowered 7/100-volt memory had somehow forgotten them entirely. One said we'd been introduced twice. The other is a math teacher whom I'd met at the last Worldcon and whom I'd chased around discussing math with two or three times. He is Bruce Burdick. We talked about Amsterdam and the con and fandom through the ride. It turns out Bruce is staying at our hotel. The ride itself is under an hour and from a distance I saw my first--and so far, only--windmill.

We got to the Hague, bought three-day tram tickets, and rode out to our hotel. We are sharing a room with Kate Pott. She had already checked in but was not in the room. We looked through the tourist books to find something to do and hit on the Gevangenport. Literally that means the Prison Gate and it is a museum that fits in with my interest in macabre history. It is a museum of legal punishment and torture through the ages. It is, in fact, Europe's largest museum devoted to this subject. It is not as sensationalized as England's London Dungeon, but it feels more authentic. The guide appears to be a policeman whose presentation combines black humor with an obvious knowledge. They had racks, but not stretching racks as one might expect. It is really just a device for holding someone down. There were stretching devices but the ones they had were all vertical. The rack was really for people to be 'broken on the rack' and that is a different process.

They had a collection of thief catchers, which contrary to their names were just devices for holding thieves at a safe distance at the end of a pole when being walked to prison. Presumably it would not be too painful if the prisoner cooperated. Another way to keep a person harmless is basically to put a barrel over him with a hole in the top for his head to stick out. That makes it tough to lift a sword. I won't go into detail about some of the more painful devices. Many were just sort of degradation devices. People would be tied up in a public square or in some other way restrained and passersby could throw mud, rotten vegetables, even rocks at them. Often a collection box was placed next to the person and those who enjoyed this high-minded activity would be expected to contribute to the poor for the pleasure they were getting. At least this way somebody benefited. Then there was a nice collection of beheading swords.

The rich could get special treatment if they wanted to pay for it. (Big surprise, huh?) The poor were packed twenty or more in almost pitch-black cells about ten feet square; the rich had spacious rooms with nice panels, paintings on the wall, and for entertainment a view of the town gibbet. There was also a medium class of accommodations for debtors. The tour ended with a visit to the torture chamber which I will not describe in detail, and a tenminute slide show.

Local heroes--or martyrs might be a better word--are the de Witt brothers, Johan and Cornelius. They were accused of attempting to kill the king, though they are now thought to have been blameless. They were held in the prison and later apparently killed by the crowd. There are now statues to them at various places.

After the Gevangenport we decided to walk around. The air was just a perfect temperature, a little warm if there was not a nice cool breeze that brought the temperature just down to perfect. The sky was very blue and to be walking around the pond in front of the civic center with its geyser fountain in the middle was just exactly the experience people are looking for in an idealized view of what things are like in Europe . About the only thing less than perfect was the occasional blaring of loud American rock music from passing cars. We walked around the tourist section for a while and it blended into a downtown area like any medium-sized city. It just had fewer restaurants. Eventually we bought a pseudo-Delft eggcup for our chatchka table. It was real Delft, but it was Delftic.

Dinner was at an Indonesian restaurant and, while the service was not good, the food was. What he had was basically a feast with two big sample plates. There was sate, which is meat on brochette with a peanut sauce. There was meat in a spicy sauce. There was something like half a hard-boiled egg that is then fried on the outside, cut in half, and the interior covered with a spicy sauce. There was chicken in a bland sauce. And of course, there was rice (in my dish), noodles (in Evelyn's), and coconut.

After dinner we decided just to go out and ride the trams (which were now free by virtue of our three-day tram passes). What we saw was a lot of what looked like London suburbia. Lots of blocks of flats. Eventually we returned to our hotel. Kate was there. She had already registered for the convention. I started flipping through her program book. One item attracted my attention and I went through:

Pleasure--I see my name in the program book.
Surprise--It is a program item; I didn't think I was on the program.
Fear--I have to get up in front of an audience.
Curiosity--What do I have to discuss? 'Big-name fans have their say.'
Astonishment--Somebody considers me a big-name fan.
Terror--What do they mean I have my say? What do I have to say?
Indignation--Why has nobody told me in time to prepare for this panel which would be in about 22 hours and which I had found out about by chance.
Let me go off on a tangent about the organization of the convention ConFiction (and I am actually writing this Saturday afternoon, when the convention is about half over). There are some things about this convention that are working reasonably well, but the organization of the program is having problems like I have never seen at a world convention. I found out I was on the program by noticing my name on a program item. So I registered with Evelyn as a program participant. It turned out our materials had to be retrieved from the materials of the non-participants. Seeing my name buried in the program was my only notification. Well, I am not a major guest in spite of having been mislabeled a 'big-name fan.' But it is turning out that very few panels seem to have even half the advertised participants. Many of the panels list people like Clive Barker, who are definitely not at the convention. Other people were listed for panels before their arrival at the convention. Clearly there was a breakdown somewhere.

So we were sitting around the room at 10 PM and started hearing fireworks on the beach. It turns out there is an international competition in fireworks that is held in Scheveningen each year and awarded to whichever country puts on the best display. There are ten competing countries, so there were to be two fireworks displays Wednesday night, two more Thursday night, then on Friday and Saturday night there were to be three each. Our room's balcony is a very good place to watch because, while there are buildings between our hotel and where they were fired off, there is a conveniently placed gap in the buildings so we can see the rockets fired off. We saw one display at 10 PM and one at 11 PM. The second one was from Japan and appears to be the one most locals expect will win the four-night competition. They have rich blues which are apparently hard to get, but what is really impressive is an effect I have never seen. They can fire a cloud of pieces that flash at random to give the effect of a cloud of falling glitter or the way light reflects off water. It is a very nice effect.






August 23, 1990:




Thursday morning we had breakfast. Breakfast is pretty good at our hotel: fresh fruit and bread and cheeses and meats and cold cereal, all on a buffet. Ever see a box of Frosted Flakes with instructions on how to eat Frosted Flakes printed in fourteen languages? The bread is really very nice. We sat with Bruce. Then Kate, Evelyn, and I took the tram to the center of town again, very near the Gevangenport. For the Mauritshuis Museum. Once again we saw paintings we had only seen reproductions of before. There were Rubens, Van Dycks, the obligatory Rembrandts. What impressed me the most was a painting of two bulls by Paulus Potter.

I will not go into great detail about the convention since I am certain Evelyn will cover it in greater depth. AT 2 PM we were at the convention for the opening ceremonies. The chairman of the convention came out and gave a talk about how good it was to be in charge of the first Worldcon to have a contingent from Eastern Europe and from China, as well as the more usual countries. The Guests of Honor made a dramatic entrance through a trap door in the floor of the stage. The Dutch Minister of Culture made a speech that has been hotly debated since. I think it was a bit patronizing. She drew the distinction between 'reading matter' and 'literature' and said that really some pieces of science fiction could be considered actually to be literature. While it is nice to have such an important person at the opening ceremonies, one suspects that her frankness in basically saying that she is above all this stuff was sort of a put-down.

After the opening we checked out the Huckster Room, which is smaller than we would have expected. The last convention in Britain had a huckster room of easily twice the size and probably more like four times the size. Not that it really matters. With the expense of books here, I will probably end up not buying anything.

At 4 PM we attended a panel 'Guest of Honour--Honour or Harassment?' at which Algis Budrys, Poul Anderson, Norman Spinrad, and Robert Silverberg discussed various inconveniences they had been put through being convention guests of honor. The sort of thing is being asked to be interviewed on radio in a foreign language. Budrys once went what he claims was 2000 miles on a bus to go to a remote convention. Along the way he had to change the tire on the bus because the driver did not know how.

After this panel we started scouting places to eat around the convention center. We walked out on the street, could find nothing open, and ended up eating in the cafeteria actually in the convention center. The food was not very good. I got a sort of baked chicken with some sort of potato balls and mixed vegetables. The sweet roll I had for dessert was quite good, however.

After that was my panel. Not being a 'Big-Name Fan' and not having a whole lot to speak out on, I decided to follow the lead of the others. In fact, there was nobody on the panel who really did have a whole lot to say. We all introduced ourselves. There were two Americans, a Dutchman, an Australian, and a German. The German when introducing himself said he had been in fandom longer than any of us, having gotten started about 1945. As the discussion started to drag, things were getting awkward. I decided that Waldemar Kumming, the German, was the most interesting person on the panel, so I took the bit in my teeth and started to interview him. Now realize that I have a very bad ear for untangling accents. Waldemar spoke with a very thick German accent, so at least one sentence in three I was not absolutely sure I knew what he had said. After about ten minutes the moderator tried to wrest control from me and Waldemar. Bruce Pelz, the other American on the panel, cut off the moderator. He did not want to return to the former awkwardness, I would assume. In fact, I got some interesting information from Waldemar. A quick summary of what we learned is that, as I suggested, Germany had a thriving science fiction market before the war, but German science had been somewhat discredited by World War II, so there was little international interest in science fiction from Germany. Their fandom developed isolated from other science fiction fandom in the world. Also discussed was how science fiction affected one's spare time. I was the only one who really felt that it had its manifestations in pretty much everything I do. When I travel, it is to see how different cultural assumptions manifest themselves in actual cultural differences. It is, of course, a question that is central to science fiction.

We went to two more panels. One featured Evelyn Leeper and was called 'Anthropomorphics' and was on the question of whether having realistic aliens was possible in stories or whether it would give the reader too little to identify with. Evelyn was on this panel. The final panel of the evening for us was a discussion about whether the science fiction film was killed by STAR WARS. The two people who ran the discussion were two very strange-looking Dutch fans who, I guess from context, put together the film program. They were sort of an odd-looking pair. One I suspect may have had some sort of wasting disease but was very thin. His arms seemed no bigger around than a fifty-cent piece. The other fellow had a sort of pasty complexion and looked much like a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD zombie. They were really into nihilistic art science fiction films such as ALPHAVILLE. Their main contention was that science fiction films had their Golden Age in the 1950s and had somewhat deteriorated under the influence of STAR WARS. That is something I have said myself, so while we quibbled on the value of some films, we were basically in agreement. To me the tongue-in-cheek approach and the teach-the-computer-poetry denouement really ruins ALPHAVILLE, which they admire. On the other hand, I think they underrated the first two-thirds of BRAINSTORM, which is a very fine piece of science fiction, well grounded in the real research community and covering real technological issues. Had Natalie Wood not died and had they been able to complete the film in the tone of the first part, it would have been the most intelligent science fiction film ever made. One could have made thirty sequels without ever exhausting the implications of the concepts in the film. And it was a post-STARWARS film.

So that was Thursday at the con. We returned to the room, watched the fireworks at 11 PM, and not too much later went to bed.






August 24, 1990:




Friday the first panel was at 10:30 AM and was a discussion of the works and influence of Jules Verne led by French author Jacques Sadoul. It mostly dealt with the influence of Verne and his popularity in France even though he was considered to be a juvenile writer. They had not heard of two early works that were just turned up this year, a book of poetry and an account of a trip to England with discussion of social issues that was described as being Dickensian in tone. The discussion shifted to Verne's style of suing only natural extensions of existing mechanisms. H. G. Wells invented new mechanisms; Verne exaggerated existing ones, often to the breaking point. The famous example if Verne's dislike of FIRST MEN IN THE MOON because it depended on a fictitious metal that cut off gravity in order to get its characters to the moon. Verne used the existing if inappropriate technology of firing the people to the moon from a gun. The acceleration would kill the passengers that way but at least guns existed in Verne's time. Verne's approach is what we would now call 'hard science fiction.' Wells wrote more speculative science fiction. Apparently Verne really did dislike Wells's writing because Wells invented (and probably also envied Wells's popularity, though Verne himself had a substantial following). I had heard rumors that some of Verne's writing was passed off as true (a la THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER), but Sadoul denied this. I also asked Sadoul if he liked any of the films that had been based on Verne. He really detested filmmakers insistence on putting in female characters who were not in the story (I pointed that 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA did not do that). His favorite was a Czech animated film which I identified as the film known in the United States as THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE. As I pointed out, the same people had done a version of HECTOR SERVADAC called ON THE COMET but THE FABULOUS WORLD was better, using an animation style in which the frames looked like engravings by Gustave Dore.

A panel on Homo universalis turned into a discussion of space travel by down-loading the entire human personality into a machine. Oddly enough, this seems as if it would be feasible with technology not too far beyond what we have now, but if your personality could be down-loaded, how long would it remain like you? It now presumably would not feel the need for food and sex, since there is no real need to put these needs into a machine. The argument runs that because of this it could not be like us. My contention is that all the things that separate us from such a being are things that interrupt us. It could be more like what we want to be that we are ourselves.

Following that Evelyn and I went out for a walk and visited an odd local museum. It is hard to put my finger on exactly what this museum was. Evelyn described it as being a science museum, but the Museon is not quite a science museum. It's not clear what it is unless it is just sort of a museum of everything. It has artifacts of many cultures such as Arab, Indonesian, American Indian, Chinese, etc. Then there is a room devoted to nothing but spiders. There is an exhibit about ancient Egypt and another about the Netherlands in World War II. Another room has physics experiments. Then there is one on the North Sea petroleum drilling experience and exhibits of extinct animals. I'll let you figure what kind of a museum it was.

We had lunch in the museum cafeteria and I got back to go to a 4 PM presentation which was basically a history of magazine illustration in the pulp and early magazine days. I retreated to the Green Room to write for an hour and then went to a panel with Evelyn and David Kyle on 'The Detective in Science Fiction.' As it turned out, the panel was more about cross-fertilization between the detective fiction field and science fiction. That gave us about a half hour before our next panel so I went to the program room and volunteered to be on a panel about science fiction television shows.

The next panel was about United States books on the Common Market after 1992. The subject was what effect was the coming unification of Europe was going to have on the European market for American books. Also what effect it would have for English books. There was also a persistent fan in the audience complaining about the high price of British books in other parts of Europe. I stayed about a half hour, but I have to admit that publishing industry problems are not really one of my more central concerns. Evelyn and Kate stayed while I retreated to write more on my log. It seems that no matter how much effort I out in I am staying 45 hours behind and by then I am forgetting some of the details.

I got about a half hour to write, then Evelyn and Kate came out and we returned to Scheveningen for dinner. The first tram went right be us and we were starting to get concerned but eventually a tram stopped. I think the buses go pretty much the same route as the tram tracks, but of course they are not electrified so they sort of go along humming to themselves 'I got no strings to hold me down/To make me fret or make me frown.'

Anyway the tram finally came and we headed out to the beach area looking for a place to have dinner. None seemed really good and most were closed. We settled on a pancake restaurant. Evelyn and I split one chocolate pancake and one apricot pancake. Kate got a tuna fish pancake which was very strange, but she said was good. It was tuna and egg in a sauce on top of a powered sugar pancake. She said it was quite good and I admit some curiosity as to what it must have been like.

After dinner there was a fireworks display on the beach (it was 10 PM). Then Evelyn and I returned to the area around the con, in this case the Bel Air Hotel, which is next to the convention center, in order to get to the @-sign party. This is a party of people who know each other from Usenet. Evelyn knows many of these people and is outgoing and brings along her pet husband who often finds nobody to talk to. At least that is how I describe it. Evelyn claims I am a slow starter and then when she wants to leave she cannot pry me away from my conversation. I made some effort to talk to some of the people, but I am not so well-known as Evelyn and could not find anyone really to talk to. I sort of orbited Evelyn and exerted a low-level tidal pull. We arrived about 45 minutes before the party was due to close because it was in a rented room and another party was due to start. So we left and were standing near the elevator when somebody from Turku, Finland noticed my name. He had read SFLovers before his site had cut it off and he recognized my name. I think his name was Salminen and he was here with someone named Engholm, also from Finland. (Apologies if I got the names backward.) Well, I started talking to him about what it was like to drive through Europe to get here. I had told him we had been to Helsinki but I had not remembered Turku. In fact, we'd been there also, as Evelyn pointed out when she joined the conversation (that we had been to Turku also and had caught the ferry there). She was not sure the two Finns believed us that we'd been to Turku. They had a car parked nearby but we walked back to the tram most of the way with them because they were returning to a car parked in the same direction. We got back to the room and to bed.






August 25, 1990:




Saturday. Good breakfast, much the same as previous days. We had breakfast and came to the con. My first panel was 'Disappointed in SF?' The first disappointment was that only one of seven scheduled panelists showed up. Talk about disappointments! The panel was a discussion of modern writers and did not really touch on what I find disappointing in science fiction. In fact, their disappointment seemed directly opposite to mine. The others thought that style was not keeping pace with the time. Me, I am less interested in the style than in the ideas. I want to read new ideas written in stories with simple, straightforward and unambiguous style. At one time I read mostly short stories which were ten and twenty pages long. Now when I read novels, I tend to think that many would make very good twenty-page stories. Short story ideas are still very big in science fiction and few make it to works that brief. Short stories are simply not where a writer makes money. If you take the fifteen pages of idea and 380 pages of style, you have a full-length novel. I rarely find a novel that I think is really tightly written and really should be of novel length to express its idea. Too little science fiction really looks at a likely future any more. How many writers really extrapolate from AIDS and global warming? For the most part, current science fiction writers ignore the important trends rather than incorporate them into their writing and extrapolate.

At 1 PM I went to Forry Ackerman's 'My Collection in Slides.' Forry, of course, is a world-renowned collector of horror, science fiction, and fantasy memorabilia. This is the second time I have seen what is basically the same slide show and he made the same mistake both times. He has what he claims was the articulated model of the stegosaurus from KING KONG and it is really the styracosaurus from SON OF KONG. Getting the breed wrong he might consider a technical point, but getting the film wrong should be the sort of mistake that he would be embarrassed about.

After that I sequestered myself and worked on my log for a while until the non-Hugo awards ceremony at 4 PM. This has been moved off of the mainline of programming and has been banished to a remote auditorium. It usually is something of an embarrassment. Last year the Seiun Award for Best Translated Novel went to Orson Scott Card. I forget the novel. He was given a nice Japanese sake set and he thanked them for the tea set. Generally these awards are just sort of ignored by the fans. It is a little rude, I think, to treat the countries that give such awards with such indifference.

When that was over we met Kate and went back to Scheveningen for dinner and for Evelyn to get ready for the Hugos.

Before Evelyn got ready, she wanted to eat, even if it was only about 5:30 PM, since if she got dressed up first she felt she would undoubtedly spill the gravy on herself. So we went down to the beach and tried to find a restaurant that would serve us that early. We tried a place called 'The First Choice.' I asked for water and they served me bottled water at $1.65. (Fl2.75). They tend to do that a lot. I think you have to ask for 'tap water.' Unlike some places, 'ice water' does not convey the point, since they look at you blankly, then bring you a bottle of water with a glass of ice. I ordered 'beef stroganoff.' Apparently their idea of stroganoff is different here than in other places. It is beef in a tomato sauce. We sat watching the beach, which is topless. I commented that in the Middle East the United States is considered to be sinful and decadent. In Europe and by European standards the United States is puritanical because of our efforts to ban tobacco (which make no mistake about, I wholeheartedly endorse) and the ban on nudity (which I wholeheartedly wistfully regret). Funny that Iran and Iraq never consider Europe to be 'the Great Satan.' I guess that this is something to do with the fact that we have troops in Saudi Arabia and, from what I read, Europe is not committing itself to nearly as great a degree. We may not be the most successful industrial power any more, but we sure are second to none when it comes to defending the industrial powers.

We returned to the room and Evelyn put on the tuxedo she bought for the occasion. Now the only way to get to the convention again was via the tram and with most people dressed for the summer heat it was quite unusual to see a woman dressed in a tux on the tram. I took some pictures.

At the convention we were put in a room together with a bunch of other nominees and their others of varying degrees of significance. Holding forth over the scene was fan artist Tom Mayhew, a large man who was sort of a cartoonist who had a pocketsize book of cartoons which were on- and off-color in varying degrees and also funny in varying degrees.

Eventually they led us to the Prins Willem Alexander Auditorium, which was already pretty full. We sat with George 'Lan' Laskowski, who publishes our stuff in LAN'S LANTERN. They usually play some sort of music to start the Hugo ceremonies. Last year it was the Imperial March from BEN HUR. This time they made an unusual choice. They played a piece Ennio Morricone wrote for ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. It is sort of a sad piece of music that mourns the loss of the Old West with the coming of the railroad. It speaks of a melancholic change of eras. With the fall of communism, eras are certainly changing, but I am not sure what the loss is that whoever selected the music is bemoaning.

Through some sort of coup, they got C. Howard Wilkins, the American ambassador to the Netherlands, to speak. I was expecting another 'surprise, some science fiction may be literature and enjoy your space mouse' sort of speech. Instead, he said that he himself was a fan and talked about his pleasure in meeting some of the writers. He talked about his own reactions on reading science fiction (in general, he thought he could be as imaginative as Bradbury, something that is very likely true). His speech had phrases such as 'the rapidly expanding popularity of our field.' It sounds a little strange having an American ambassador refer to science fiction as a field partly his. Saul Jaffe said people who got a chance to talk to him on a one-to-one basis were impressed by how much he seemed to know about science fiction. Later when he presented the Hugo for Best Novel, he said that his own code name was Noah Ward and it was he who had been nominated in every category. It was clear this gentleman was a class act. The American came out looking better than their European counterparts.

All but the last award was announced by writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, who read the names too fast at first. As a result, Evelyn's name was read about fifteen seconds before her picture was shown. The picture they chose was the two of us in safari gear at Olduvai Gorge. Wow! My picture was shown to the audience at a Hugo ceremony. I guess I have arrived. Well, sad to say, Evelyn did not win a Hugo and neither did LAN'S LANTERN. On the other hand, for the first time in recent history the stories I wanted to win in both the short story and the novelette categories did win. In fact, of the twelve stories nominated in the two categories, they were the only two I can say I actually enjoyed. What struck me as odd was that shortly after having completed the Hugo nominees, I picked up a book called RIVALS OF WEIRD TALES, which was a collection of fantasy and horror stories published in the 1930s and 1940s (at the time the famous fantasy magazine WEIRD TALES was being published). I read three stories of about the same length. I liked three stories out of three. The stories written now are more literary, I suppose. They are just not very entertaining and they are not very good narratives. Form has triumphed over substance. Style has won over story-telling. It is remarkable how often now I can finish a story sure I must have missed the point.

When the awards were over, Evelyn went off to the Hugo losers' party and I together with Kate, Jo, and Saul Jaffe went to see a play that was being put on. The play was written and directed by someone named Svarapa. It was a murder mystery set on a background of neo-pagan ritual. The first scene had a number of women getting together for a ritual. Included is a mystery writer named Edgar Allan Poe. An oracle in a large pot warns of dire happenings. The women discuss the warnings. Then there was about eight minutes of mediocre chamber music poorly played. The next scene has a ritual and one of the characters dying to the regret of the others. Then there was more uninteresting music. The third scene featured a lot of very bad acting as a police detective, whom we are told is very good but who acts very stupidly, shouts her lines and asks a bunch of very uninteresting questions. The high point of the scene is when the group I am with gets up and leaves looking for something better to do.

We found it in a late-night panel on the erotic aspects of the vampire novel. Late-night panels are often a waste, with drunk panelists being what they mistake for funny. Blessedly, this panel took place on a high level. It was partially on the nature of the vampire and partially on experiences of the writers with some of their less balanced fans. That ended about 12:30 AM. We found the shuttle bus back to the hotel. It did not leave until 1 AM. Evelyn was already back at the room.







August 25, 1990:




Saturday. Good breakfast, much the same as previous days. We had breakfast and came to the con. My first panel was 'Disappointed in SF?' The first disappointment was that only one of seven scheduled panelists showed up. Talk about disappointments! The panel was a discussion of modern writers and did not really touch on what I find disappointing in science fiction. In fact, their disappointment seemed directly opposite to mine. The others thought that style was not keeping pace with the time. Me, I am less interested in the style than in the ideas. I want to read new ideas written in stories with simple, straightforward and unambiguous style. At one time I read mostly short stories which were ten and twenty pages long. Now when I read novels, I tend to think that many would make very good twenty-page stories. Short story ideas are still very big in science fiction and few make it to works that brief. Short stories are simply not where a writer makes money. If you take the fifteen pages of idea and 380 pages of style, you have a full-length novel. I rarely find a novel that I think is really tightly written and really should be of novel length to express its idea. Too little science fiction really looks at a likely future any more. How many writers really extrapolate from AIDS and global warming? For the most part, current science fiction writers ignore the important trends rather than incorporate them into their writing and extrapolate.

At 1 PM I went to Forry Ackerman's 'My Collection in Slides.' Forry, of course, is a world-renowned collector of horror, science fiction, and fantasy memorabilia. This is the second time I have seen what is basically the same slide show and he made the same mistake both times. He has what he claims was the articulated model of the stegosaurus from KING KONG and it is really the styracosaurus from SON OF KONG. Getting the breed wrong he might consider a technical point, but getting the film wrong should be the sort of mistake that he would be embarrassed about.

After that I sequestered myself and worked on my log for a while until the non-Hugo awards ceremony at 4 PM. This has been moved off of the mainline of programming and has been banished to a remote auditorium. It usually is something of an embarrassment. Last year the Seiun Award for Best Translated Novel went to Orson Scott Card. I forget the novel. He was given a nice Japanese sake set and he thanked them for the tea set. Generally these awards are just sort of ignored by the fans. It is a little rude, I think, to treat the countries that give such awards with such indifference.

When that was over we met Kate and went back to Scheveningen for dinner and for Evelyn to get ready for the Hugos.

Before Evelyn got ready, she wanted to eat, even if it was only about 5:30 PM, since if she got dressed up first she felt she would undoubtedly spill the gravy on herself. So we went down to the beach and tried to find a restaurant that would serve us that early. We tried a place called 'The First Choice.' I asked for water and they served me bottled water at $1.65. (Fl2.75). They tend to do that a lot. I think you have to ask for 'tap water.' Unlike some places, 'ice water' does not convey the point, since they look at you blankly, then bring you a bottle of water with a glass of ice. I ordered 'beef stroganoff.' Apparently their idea of stroganoff is different here than in other places. It is beef in a tomato sauce. We sat watching the beach, which is topless. I commented that in the Middle East the United States is considered to be sinful and decadent. In Europe and by European standards the United States is puritanical because of our efforts to ban tobacco (which make no mistake about, I wholeheartedly endorse) and the ban on nudity (which I wholeheartedly wistfully regret). Funny that Iran and Iraq never consider Europe to be 'the Great Satan.' I guess that this is something to do with the fact that we have troops in Saudi Arabia and, from what I read, Europe is not committing itself to nearly as great a degree. We may not be the most successful industrial power any more, but we sure are second to none when it comes to defending the industrial powers.

We returned to the room and Evelyn put on the tuxedo she bought for the occasion. Now the only way to get to the convention again was via the tram and with most people dressed for the summer heat it was quite unusual to see a woman dressed in a tux on the tram. I took some pictures.

At the convention we were put in a room together with a bunch of other nominees and their others of varying degrees of significance. Holding forth over the scene was fan artist Tom Mayhew, a large man who was sort of a cartoonist who had a pocketsize book of cartoons which were on- and off-color in varying degrees and also funny in varying degrees.

Eventually they led us to the Prins Willem Alexander Auditorium, which was already pretty full. We sat with George 'Lan' Laskowski, who publishes our stuff in LAN'S LANTERN. They usually play some sort of music to start the Hugo ceremonies. Last year it was the Imperial March from BEN HUR. This time they made an unusual choice. They played a piece Ennio Morricone wrote for ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. It is sort of a sad piece of music that mourns the loss of the Old West with the coming of the railroad. It speaks of a melancholic change of eras. With the fall of communism, eras are certainly changing, but I am not sure what the loss is that whoever selected the music is bemoaning.

Through some sort of coup, they got C. Howard Wilkins, the American ambassador to the Netherlands, to speak. I was expecting another 'surprise, some science fiction may be literature and enjoy your space mouse' sort of speech. Instead, he said that he himself was a fan and talked about his pleasure in meeting some of the writers. He talked about his own reactions on reading science fiction (in general, he thought he could be as imaginative as Bradbury, something that is very likely true). His speech had phrases such as 'the rapidly expanding popularity of our field.' It sounds a little strange having an American ambassador refer to science fiction as a field partly his. Saul Jaffe said people who got a chance to talk to him on a one-to-one basis were impressed by how much he seemed to know about science fiction. Later when he presented the Hugo for Best Novel, he said that his own code name was Noah Ward and it was he who had been nominated in every category. It was clear this gentleman was a class act. The American came out looking better than their European counterparts.

All but the last award was announced by writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, who read the names too fast at first. As a result, Evelyn's name was read about fifteen seconds before her picture was shown. The picture they chose was the two of us in safari gear at Olduvai Gorge. Wow! My picture was shown to the audience at a Hugo ceremony. I guess I have arrived. Well, sad to say, Evelyn did not win a Hugo and neither did LAN'S LANTERN. On the other hand, for the first time in recent history the stories I wanted to win in both the short story and the novelette categories did win. In fact, of the twelve stories nominated in the two categories, they were the only two I can say I actually enjoyed. What struck me as odd was that shortly after having completed the Hugo nominees, I picked up a book called RIVALS OF WEIRD TALES, which was a collection of fantasy and horror stories published in the 1930s and 1940s (at the time the famous fantasy magazine WEIRD TALES was being published). I read three stories of about the same length. I liked three stories out of three. The stories written now are more literary, I suppose. They are just not very entertaining and they are not very good narratives. Form has triumphed over substance. Style has won over story-telling. It is remarkable how often now I can finish a story sure I must have missed the point.

When the awards were over, Evelyn went off to the Hugo losers' party and I together with Kate, Jo, and Saul Jaffe went to see a play that was being put on. The play was written and directed by someone named Svarapa. It was a murder mystery set on a background of neo-pagan ritual. The first scene had a number of women getting together for a ritual. Included is a mystery writer named Edgar Allan Poe. An oracle in a large pot warns of dire happenings. The women discuss the warnings. Then there was about eight minutes of mediocre chamber music poorly played. The next scene has a ritual and one of the characters dying to the regret of the others. Then there was more uninteresting music. The third scene featured a lot of very bad acting as a police detective, whom we are told is very good but who acts very stupidly, shouts her lines and asks a bunch of very uninteresting questions. The high point of the scene is when the group I am with gets up and leaves looking for something better to do.

We found it in a late-night panel on the erotic aspects of the vampire novel. Late-night panels are often a waste, with drunk panelists being what they mistake for funny. Blessedly, this panel took place on a high level. It was partially on the nature of the vampire and partially on experiences of the writers with some of their less balanced fans. That ended about 12:30 AM. We found the shuttle bus back to the hotel. It did not leave until 1 AM. Evelyn was already back at the room.






August 26, 1990:




One of the things that requires the greatest creativity in travel but which gets the least attention is the toilet. Rare is the toilet that works as expected and it is always a complex puzzle to figure the never-written rules for getting the desired result from one of these babies. When we first checked into our room the toilet was making a sound like the sink was running. 'Obviously we just missed Kate,' I thought. The toilet is still running. Ten minutes later it was not so obvious that we'd just missed Kate. I tried some of the obvious first type of actions. I should explain that traveler's toilet flushing actions are classified in five types:

Type 0: Flushing the toilet in the obvious manner. It is called the zero-th kind by the masters because if this works the masters say there really is no puzzle.

Type 1: These are generally simple external actions. Juggling the handle is an example.

Type 2: Surgery. Open the tank. Again do simple attacks like pulling up the float.

Type 3: Finesse and magic.

Type 4: Get a plumber.

Type 1 actions failed and I tried to side-step the whole puzzle by reporting the problem. I reported the problem Thursday morning and was told the problem would be fixed Friday morning. Friday morning, no change. But then I realized the statement I got was ambiguous. They did not necessarily mean that the toilet would be in a fixed state when we used it. Rather they could have been saying that the task of fixing might actually occur Friday morning, in which case the statement that 'the toilet will be fixed Friday morning' would still be true. I cringed at the thought that I might actually report the problem a second time only to be fixed by the stare of an angry desk clerk who would remind me that the repair had not yet fallen overdue. I gave the hotel the benefit of the ambiguity.

Alas, Saturday morning, when the problem was still with us, I decided the hotel's last non-lie interpretation had run out. I intrepidly reported the problem again. 'Oh, yes, we will get your toilet fixed. However, today is Saturday and the man will not come out on a weekend.' This is what I get for trying too hard to avoid the wrath of desk clerks. By this point we had discovered that it helped to sleep with the bathroom door shut. Besides, I comforted myself, water shortages were not supposedly a serious problem in the Netherlands. If the toilet used up too much water they could always take the little Dutch boy's finger out of the dike.

Anyway, Sunday morning I found a Type 3 solution to the problem. If one merely stands on the seat of the toilet when it refuses to turn off, it stops the water from flowing. With this wonderful solution we can pass the problem on to the next resident of the room, as the last eight probably passed it on to us.

Sunday's panels were one on style in writing, and one on alternate histories in which Evelyn could discuss her views with Robert Silverberg. Later I was on a panel about science fiction television series. I figured I earned my participant ribbon that way and, as it turned out, it was a really easy task. Melinda Snodgrass was also on the panel. She is involved with STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. My field of expertise is series before the first STAR TREK. Since so few fans these days care about anything but STAR TREK and the more current television series, there was not much for me to do but listen to a whole lot of audience questions to Melinda. After that we went to the convention center restaurant for dinner, which was good food served in tiny portions with bad service. They also forgot to bring us things like bread. Of course, a bunch of people in T-shirts might not have been what the restaurant had in mind either. I tried to dress nicely but the rest of our group was pretty much in con gear. I mentioned to Kate that the poor service we got may have been related to the counter-culture dress some of us had. She did not believe me. In my group I seem to be the only one who really believes that the way people treat you in a fancy restaurant may be related to your appearance.

The Masquerade was really very bad. I would have thought Europeans would have been into costuming. Not so. There are three classes that costumers fall into: novice, journeyman, and master. A day before the masquerade they had only ten entries, all novice. They got about fifteen other costumes together so the masquerade would not be too much of a disappointment. Still, it was obvious that this was a very bad masquerade. While the judges decided, they had a modern artistic dance group come out. They were just awful by general consent. I walked out (again to work on my log). Evelyn and I tried going to some of the parties afterward but they were too crowded, so we went back to the room.






August 27, 1990:




Monday was the last day at the convention. Evelyn and I went to the same first panel. It was 'Will SF Have Another Golden Age?' It was held in the big auditorium. We got there and nobody else was there. After we had waited a few minutes, someone came in and told us it had been moved to a meeting room. Only two of the panelists showed up. The panel more or less had decided that another science fiction Golden Age was unlikely. Twenty minutes into the hour three more panelists and a bunch of audience showed up. They had arrived late, met in the big auditorium, and decided that Golden Ages of science fiction were happening all the time and would continue to happen. Thus, by a mixup in programming, a Golden Age of Science Fiction was brought about.

The second panel had Evelyn, LOCUS editor Charlie Brown, and Pascal Thomas in a panel called 'This Book Should Have Been Nominated [for a Hugo].' I walked out in the middle however, because I was curious to see a film on the video program. My first and probably last film of the trip, but one that had never been particularly available to me. Don't laugh: it was MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. It was better than I expected. In fact I give it a -1 on the -4 to +4 scale, mostly due to some decent visual design by the comic artist Moebius. The story had touches in the range from okay to wretched. Some of the problems with visualization would have been okay in a foreign film (such as THE NEVERENDING STORY), but I think were considered sub-standard in an American film, which hardly seems fair. It is not a film I will ever want to see again, but I am glad to have had a chance to see it this once.

Finally came the closing ceremonies. No really special guests except the guests of honor. Then the 1990 Worldcon was over. Evelyn looked around for Dale and Jo in order to do something with them in the afternoon. They were not around so we went back to the hotel. We had previously arranged to meet them for dinner anyway. After freshening up at the room, Kate, Evelyn, and I went walking around Scheveningen just to see the boardwalk. By about 4 PM we were ready for a snack so Evelyn and I had pan au chocolate and Kate had a grilled cheese and pineapple sandwich. In Europe cheese and pineapple seem to be a pretty standard combination. Pineapple is even a standard ingredient for pizza. After that we walked on the boardwalk looking at junky souvenir shops. Then we went back to the room and Evelyn napped while I wrote. At 6 we went out to the boardwalk again and met dale and Jo for dinner. We chose an Italian place. I had grilled fish. I should get back into the habit of eating fish. In this part of the world fish seems to be a specialty and meat dishes are not. Fish is, of course, also healthier. The five of us went to a very nice Italian restaurant with occasionally too loud live music. This was our last night in Holland and we toasted Holland. I did have a minor distraction through dinner. I am not sure what it is about Holland but the mix of backgrounds seems to give rise occasionally to some women of stunning beauty. We had a waitress at a fast food place who looked like a young Ingrid Bergman. A woman who sat across the way from me at this restaurant was just as good-looking. I am not usually a girlwatcher but it was hard not to look over occasionally. There have been four or five such attractive women I have seen here in a week. At home I wouldn't see that many I find that attractive in a year.

After dinner we returned to the hotel for discussion of what we'd do in Belgium. Kate recommended that Dale get his knee xrayed. He probably will do that. We went to bed around midnight.






August 28, 1990:




I was up by about 6:30 AM and Kate by 7; Evelyn slept in until 8 however. About 9 we went down for breakfast. I should, I suppose, mention what a pain the key situation is in Holland and Belgium. It is impossible to lock your key in your room because you need the key to lock and unlock your door. That means you are safest leaving your key in the door at night since if there is a fire you will need the key to get out. It also means that you have to remember to lock your door from the outside when you leave. All room and building locks seem to work the same here.

This was the day we'd planned to go to the Municipal Museum of the Hague. (I never did know why Hague got the article 'the' by the way. I suppose it is like 'the Kremlin.' But I cannot think of any other cities you do that for. You don't tell someone, 'I am going to The Pittsburgh.') Anyway, we had head the museum had rooms upon rooms of abstract art. Because of that and because we did not know what the hotel situation would be in Brussels, we decided to skip the museum and get on to the next country.

We went to the same station we'd left (after saying good-bye to Kate, who was kind of down to be going back home and to work). We bought our ticket and went to platform three. At about ten minutes before the train was due, it pulled into the station. I got on and asked, 'Brussels?' No, it was going to someplace else I've forgotten, but I could change there for Brussels. Wrong train. I heard the doors start to close and dashed out the door. You don't board a train, even an international train, ten minutes early because it isn't ten minutes early into the station. Another train came and went before the Brussels train, which arrived the minute it was supposed to and stayed for a minute or two more. I would love to have transportation that precise in our country. At work we waste an amazing amount of time because people show up to meetings ten minutes late and everyone waits. Arriving late has become a way of saying, 'My time is more important than yours.' The way to avoid sitting around waiting is to arrive late yourself. Then other people arrive even later. My friends think that I have a sort of bugaboo about punctuality. Actually, it is somewhat less so since I have taken to carrying magazine articles with me. If someone had kept me waiting, I pull out a magazine article and get that reading done while I am waiting. And when I travel I pull out my trip log and write a paragraph. But that takes effort I would rather not spend and would not if trains and people were as punctual as these trains.

The train itself is hot and noisy. If you open a window, it gets noisier; if you close it, it gets hotter.

It was a kind of hazy day. I saw my second traditional windmill, but only from a great distance. We are not really spending our time where the famous windmills are. I have seen a few of the more modern wind machines, but those don't really count.

The land you pass is mostly farmland with an occasional city such as Rotterdam. You cannot see much from the train but a few big buildings in the distance. After about two and a half hours we got to Brussels.

So there we were in the Brussels train station. Sitting in the station with our luggage. Now what? I left Evelyn with the luggage and went to scout but found nothing. It turns out there was an information stand not far from where we were, but it was only for train information. Nonetheless they were able to point out a real tourist information office only about four blocks away. So we set out, dragging our heavy luggage, trying to find the place. We were following two other tourists who were directed by the office. It took a fair amount of trial and error before we found the office, which with the heavy luggage and the heat wave with 90 8o 9+ temperatures was no picnic. The tourist office found us a place to stay only a few blocks away near the center of town and near Metro stations for Dale's knee. They just wanted a chunk of money up front for finding it and we didn't have a Belgian franc to our name. We asked if they took Visa. No Visa. But there was a bank nearby in which we could get a loan on the Visa. Rule for the future: first thing you do in a new country is get some of the local currency.

So the room was straightened out. We started dragging our luggage through what was apparently a street but what looked at one end to be a dangerous alley. It had the ominous name Rue des Bouchers. Scary stuff, huh? It turned out to be nothing but a string of one tempting restaurant after another. Deadly to diets. The specialty is mussel dishes. But there is all sorts of seafood

Following the instructions we found our hotel, the Hotel Opera. We are near the opera house and a lot of concerns locally have 'opera' in their name. There is a bar called the Opera Drug. We also saw La Pharmacie de la Opera. I started humming to myself to the tune of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA:


We have your aspirin needs And laxatives. And if you get nervous We've sedatives.
Anyway, we got to our room and found it hot but tiny. The hallways are dark with timed light switches to give you two minutes of light. That seems to be an idea used a lot here to save power. Escalators look to be broken and start running only when you start to step on.

The room itself is too small to open the doors of the cupboard. The bathroom puts a spring in your step because the linoleum has warped an inch or so over the real floor. Ironically, the toilet works with type 0 actions. The whole room shook with the noise of a workman drilling somewhere. All this for just about $60 American/night. I guess location is everything. We freshened up and went out to see Brussels. Evelyn wanted first thing to get a drink and she bought an iced tea in a can from a vendor. Surprise! Ever heard of carbonated iced tea?

I think it is time to mention the city of Brussels' tragedy. It becomes very quickly apparent to any sightseer and it is very sad indeed. Sometime around 1963 somebody must have brought a model building into the country without getting it inspected by customs officials. It was infested with a dangerous pest, the Scaffold Moth. Just one moment with their guard down and this treacherous insect got into the country. Now it is almost impossible to look at even a few of the city's historic buildings without seeing the unsightly reminders of this horrible insect. I would say at least one in three historic buildings has been enshrouded in ugly scaffolding hiding its beauty from the viewer. The Town Hall's great tower is encased, of course. These scaffolding cocoons seem to cover just about any building you want to see.

Near our hotel the streets are very narrow. The awnings from the restaurants on each side reach to each other and at some points are no more than eighteen inches apart. Brussels is an international city, the headquarters of NATO, so it is relatively easy to get by with English, but not quite as easy as it was in Holland.

Our first destination was the majestic Grand' Place, a large marketplace in the center of town. In Mexico it would be called the zocalo. There are two huge buildings. One is the Hotel de Ville but nobody stays overnight because it is really the Town Hall. It was built between 1402 and 1410. It has a tower 300 feet tall and, like many of the local buildings built to the French and German taste, it is jaw-droppingly garish. How many people you know decide their Town Hall would not be complete without gargoyles? This building has herds of them. The architect felt it there was a square foot of surface space without a statue getting in the way of seeing the building then hornets would feast on his flesh.

Second prize for bad taste goes to the garish Maison du Roi. It is also done in the Notre Dame style. If we'd wanted to see that style, we would have gone to see Notre Dame. Actually, the style was of some interest so we went to see Notre Dame. In this case it was Notre Dame de la Chapelle. It was about three blocks away. Here it was, a Gothic cathedral here in the heart of the future capital of Europe! (Not such a big surprise, but I did want to throw in some drama at this point.) It supposedly has a very nice facade. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be seen at this point because scaffold moths have been at work cocooning the whole place in scaffolding and plastic so there is not much to see. Evelyn said we really should see some churches this trip since we'd seen five synagogues so far. Apparently the Jewish Historical Museum was made from four synagogues. It is not a synagogue any more, I'd say. And even if it was, we'd still have about 87 synagogues to go until we'd seen even numbers.

Well, we wanted to see a cathedral without all the scaffolding so we thought we'd try the town's biggest and brightest and most devout. This is the Cathedral of St. Michael. Just getting in to see it costs 250 Fr. That is more than a movie costs in the United States. How kind of the church to charge the locals only the paltry sum of 250 Fr. to see what the church bought with the collection plate funds! On the outside, of course, the building was being mercilessly ravaged by scaffold moths. We did not go in.

In the time remaining we just walked the streets. We passed a bank that had a very tasteful statue of Noah counting the animals. I guess he was one of the most famous counters in history and hence was very appropriate. Noting how tasteful the statue appeared to be, I told Evelyn, 'There is Noah counting, for taste.'

Evelyn had stopped for tea before, but I was getting thirsty, so I stopped for a drink. They had a local brand of soft drink called Oasis and I got their tropical flavor. Good stuff. It is like Hi-C but where Hi-C is 5% fruit juice, this is 20%. It is like a tropical fruit ade. The flavor is quite fruity. It is subtle and fairly fruity. I will get more if I can find where. Ordering a beverage with a meal is quite difficult here. At home I can easily drink three or four glasses of water with a meal. Here the custom is not to drink much fluid with a meal. Having ended up with expensive mineral water several times when I have ordered tap water, I have decided that when in doubt I should order Coke.

We continued walking around more or less to whatever either looked interesting or was recommended in the tour book. Yes, we really are members of the League of Whim and Fodor's. Eventually we walked to the Church of Saint Nicholas. This is one of your more casual churches. They have free tours in four languages. Inside, the church is not all that different from other Catholic churches except that it does appear to be more friendly. I guess I noticed that mostly by a woman who had come in to pray and had brought her poodle which was sitting quietly on a chair beside her and looking at statues and the passersby.

From there we were hot so we stopped at a small grocery/fruit stand and got two peaches and two plums. In fact, the temperature was downright uncomfortable. While it had been cool in Amsterdam and comfortable in the Hague, in Brussels it was over 90. At home the temperatures don't bother me much because just about every building and even the car is air-conditioned. We use large quantities of energy to buy off the heat. Not so here. In Belgium it rarely gets very hot and when it does, as it is now, they don't really have mechanical ways to avoid the heat. You basically just perspire. What I will occasionally do if the heat becomes too much is put on a wet T-shirt. After returning to the room I discovered a cool shower worked for just about ten minutes, so I had to try the wet T-shirt and that worked fairly well.

After writing in my log for a while we decided to go out and try one of the restaurants of Butchers' Street. Each restaurant seems to offer a complete dinner for 595 Fr. and generally include three or four courses. We picked a place. I had fish soup (Evelyn has gazpacho), shrimp (mussels), grilled salmon (mixed grilled fish), and we each had chocolate souffle for dessert. Evelyn's gazpacho and mussels were better than my ordered dishes, but the salmon was great and her mixed grill was just okay. Of course the salmon was served with mussels. Just about every mean seems to be incomplete without the mussels of Brussels.

After dinner we went walking the streets to get a feel for the city. We saw modern shopping malls, various lace shops, and bookstores. Then we made what must have been an unusual turn and ended on a very ghostly site. It was some sort of memorial square. In the middle was a monument to Belgium's dead and around it were marble buildings. They had apparently been turned into university buildings and fast-food shops for a while. Now the windows were all boarded up and the square had a very neglected look. There was a feeling of neglected magnificence, magnificence that had flown. The Romantic poets might have had something to say about it.

Back in the room we started sweating in the heat almost immediately. Evelyn called Dale and Jo in the Hague to let them know we'd reserved a room for them and where the hotel was. I wrote in my log for a while then slept on a damp towel to keep cool.






August 29, 1990:




I woke up refreshed, ready to face the day, and discovered it was 1:50 AM. The same thing happened at 4:30 AM.

Wednesday we were to go to the museums that Dale and Jo were not interested in. We went down to breakfast at about 7:30 AM. It is not as nice as at either of the previous. You get two pieces of bread (i.e., a croissant and a piece of French bread) and coffee, tea, or chocolate. And if you know to ask for it (and we didn't the first day), a glass of very sour orange juice. If you want it, there is also a big square slice of processed cheese like a Kraft single.

Of course, the most popular type of bread/pastry in the world could well be the croissant. In the United States you will find restaurants/bakeries just devoted to them or with a selection that features croissants. You often find other types of rolls formed into crescent shapes as if they by sympathetic magic could take on the characteristics of croissants by just taking the shape. And what are these characteristics? They have a light flaky shell that comes from dough that has been rolled paper-thin, then separated by layers of grease. It is almost impossible to eat this delight without it disassembling itself into a pile of greasy bread flakes on your plate and often on your clothing. They almost always have a greasy, fatty flavor. They leave a thin layer of grease and bread flake in your mouth. Somewhere someone got the impression that this unhealthy, inconvenient, expensive roll was classy. Those who eat out for status rather than for the characteristics of the food are welcome to have my croissant when I am given some reasonable alternative.

Following breakfast we headed out for the Atomium. First we had to buy Metro tickets. You get a long stiff card that you stick into a machine rather than dropping a token in a turnstile. It stamps on the card the date and time so you can prove when and where you got on if challenged. Each time it chops a little piece off the card, so the new registration goes in its proper place. That is the same principle that United States public libraries use to stamp date-due cards.

We took the Metro to the Atomium. This is a 335-foot structure built for the 1958 World's Fair. It is a structure made of steel and aluminum that represents an iron crystal molecule and consists of nine spheres, each 59 feet in diameter, and twenty tubes, most 98 feet long. Three of the spheres stand up in the center and the other six orbit the center, three up, three down, in a trilaterally symmetrical pattern. The easiest way to picture it is to imagine a cube with a ball at each of the eight vertices and a ninth at the center. Now turn the cube through so the long diagonal is vertical. Twelve long tubes form the edges of the cube, eight more connect the center sphere to each of the others. It has been converted into a science museum. It is supposed to open at 9:30 AM and we should have smelled a rat when it did not open until 10 and seemed to have scaffolding up inside in part of where the exhibition space would be.

As it turns out, the corporation which runs the Atomium are doing so as a fraud on the public. How would you feel if you paid full-price to get into a museum only to discover there were no exhibits? That's just what the Atomium is. They take you to the top atom so you can look out through yellowed plastic covered with graffiti, then down to the central atom and you walk down from there past a photo display of the building of the Atomium and closed-off areas with signs apologizing for the mess while they are changing exhibits. There is really nothing to see, but there is no warning of that until after you have paid you $4 to get in. The implication is that you are paying your money for the joy of being inside and the exhibits are not part of what you pay for, which is clearly not true. The corporation which runs the Atomium is running a tourist scam basically because they probably feel most tourists, many of whom do not speak French, will not complain.

There is one interesting effect in the Atomium. You walk between atoms on a stairway in which all frames of reference you see are slanted at about a 30-degree angle. To Evelyn, who goes by internal feeling more than by what she sees, this is just going down a long flight of stairs. I go more by what I see and to me it felt as if I were walking on a long walkway in which I was somehow leaning backward. It was a very strange effect. It was as if gravity had suddenly shifted. We rode up to the top and came down twice, figuring we were owed at least that much.

We took the Metro to the next set of museums. Something should be said about the art in the Metro stations. Most of the stations feature art in some form or other which the Belgians claim accounts for the low suicide rate at the stations. In many of the stations the art is intended to be seen as you are moving past. In one, for example, you see a pattern like the sound track on a film. It is little waves in bigger waves and you only get a feel for how the whole wave is moving when the Metro starts up and you go past at high speed. Another features a series of pictures of people standing at a Metro. In the first everyone is in focus, then the people in the background start to look smeared and blurred. Then the same is true for the person at the front. Finally they all sort of blend into an abstract painting. Another touch I was not used to is that the train in some stations reverses direction. You can have been traveling forward and suddenly find yourself riding backward.

We rode the Metro to the Palais du Cinquantenaire, which houses some of Brussels' most nifty museums. Unlike in Holland, the state museums seem to have free admission and are quite good, usually having collections far too big to take in on one visit.

The centerpiece of the Palais is the Triumphal Arch celebrating Belgium's greatest military victories. It is reminiscent of the Arc d' Triumphe in Paris both in its scale and in that the great military victories it celebrates do not leap immediately to mind.

We first went to the Museum of Art and History (Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire). This museum has excellent collections of ancient Egyptian and Greek works of art and at the very least a good collection of Roman art. In Greek art there were many nice vases or pots with illustrations of mythic stories. There was a nice piece they called 'Hercules and the Amazons' and another of what I take it was 'Phineas and the Furies.' There was also a nice statue of a centaur. The Roman collection included a section that was a large piece of a floor, maybe sixty feet or more, that was an entire transplanted Roman colonnade. Another room was nothing but stone head of prestigious Romans. I was also struck by a decorated Etruscan brazier. It took me a few minutes to recognize that it was a brazier. The labeling is in Dutch and French with no English. Neither of these is a brick wall, though. I can understand the French about 60% of the time and the Dutch about 10% of the rest. Evelyn had taken to translating for me, even though she had never had French and I had been sort of letting her. I had had a year of French but was not greatly fond of learning anything so irregular as a language, so I denied I really knew French. However, once she told me she thought she was better at French than I was in spite of her never having had the language, I have taken to doing much more of the translation for her. Occasionally I am surprised by some of the things other people on the trip really are having problems translating for themselves. Jo has had three years of French and occasionally has problems that surprise me. Of course, there are probably times when other people's understanding is better than mine.

The Egyptian collection is also fairly complete, with many mummies and various examples of hieroglyphic passages, art showing the gods, etc. They take one mummy lid and stand it upright in a case in the middle of the room. We see a celestial goddess (whose name escapes me) stretch out so she will lie over the dear departed. As you keep walking, you see more and more recent art. You see art of the Middle Ages, including a seven-part retable of martyrs 'getting it' in all kinds of nifty ways. I guess there is nothing like seeing a good example of coming to a nasty end. Somebody here clearly took some ghoulish delight in how realistically he could show it. Today he would probably be making mad slasher films.

They have a rotunda with an Easter Island statue with an expression of studied disdain on his face. There were some ornate clocks. I told Evelyn that I would not like such a clock. They were well-decorated, but they were still just single-function clocks. I preferred my multi-function Casio. As we continued there was a clock with about eight dials, one for time, one for tides, one for day of the month, and who knows what else. Okay, so they had Casios even then.

What else did we see? Well, one thing surprising was the rooms that were set aside for the blind. One might ask how you could have rooms for the blind in a museum. They had models of cathedrals made of wood, statues, and several other pieces of art that were not so highly valued. The blind are invited to feel them and read the Braille descriptions.

Also of some interest were some sleighs of unusual design. One, for example, looked like a flower blossom. The collection in this museum was huge and made more impressive by the fact that two large sections are closed off on alternate days. The complete museum is substantially larger than what we saw.

The complex is an 'H' with the Arch being the cross-piece and gardens on each side of the H. Diagonally across from the Museum of Art and History is the Military Museum (Musee Royal de l'Arme et d'Histoire Militaire). This museum also has a huge collection, but unfortunately too much of it is not well explained, even in the local languages. It starts with a big collection of armor and swords from Medieval times. From there you go to the age of early guns and cannons. The type of thing you see is on the wall they will have a piece of chest armor and around it in almost a floral pattern will be forty swords and scabbards. There will be three or four of these in a row. Later instead of swords, there will be rifles. There is a lot of display there, but it is unlabeled and it really is too much to take in in one viewing. The floor will be littered with bell-like short cannons. Eventually you get to displays of the uniforms from first World War I and then World War II. There are five or six cases with three mannequins each showing the German uniforms, then at least one or two cases each for Russian, French, English, and American uniforms. Filling up the spaces between the mannequins will be memorabilia. They have an American Jeep with two mannequins dressed as soldiers. There is Eisenhower's uniform neatly folded. There is a map printed on silk that could be hidden in a uniform button. This reminded me that the Americans consulted with stage magicians and escape artists on what tricks and mechanisms could be used by Americans to escape from Nazi POW camps. The silk maps were supposedly recommendations they got, among many others. It was a very clever approach if indeed it was true and not folklore. A large section of the floor was blocked off; who knows how much more material it had?

A walk through a doorway and you are suddenly in the Air Museum. Again a huge floor covered with--what else?--airplanes and helicopters. They have the usual sorts of things, like the front of an airliner with a stairway to allow you to look at the controls. There was a DC-3 on the floor (I flew two of them in Africa, not this particular one though, obviously). There is a mezzanine with a full-sized model of a Fokker Tri-plane. There are gliders, there is a Sopwith Camel, there are sections of a Zeppelin, parts of a Messer-Schmidt, an entire V1 buzz-bomb, and a heck of a lot more.

Walk out to a courtyard and there are something like fifty armored tanks, including Pershing, Stalin, and Sherman. On the other side of the courtyard are tank memorabilia, including posters from the British Tank Corps, dioramas, cartoons, and who remembers what else? With paper documentation on the collections, these two museums could easily be worth two or three days' study.

There was a third museum called Autoworld, but it required a paid admission and we were pretty museumed out, so we gave it a miss.

It was a fair distance back to the hotel, but in spite of being tired of walking we decided to walk back and get a better look at the city. What we saw looked like pretty much any modern city. The batteries in our shortwave had died so we wanted to replace them. Without the shortwave there would be no BBC, and without the BBC we would be out of touch with the world and with what was happening with the Iraq hostage crisis. We found a photography store and paid about $7 American for four double-As. However, the pack said these were UCAR professional-quality audio and photo batteries. Gee, here Evelyn thought I was just some everyday slouch and here I am with professional-quality batteries! Pretty good, huh? We bought more fruit and then back to the room to write. Dinner was back on Petit Rue des Bouchers. I had mussels Provencale. Finally back to the room. At about 10 PM Dale and Jo arrived. They seemed very pleased with the hotel.






August 30, 1990:
We are now up to Thursday morning, August 30. We would spend our last few days seeing Belgium with Dale and Jo and head home September 3.

The day would be spent going to museums in Brussels. Our first stop was breakfast, of course. There was an American couple that turned out to be brother and sister who had a fight right there in front of us. It seems that the brother insisted on having the seat facing the window. Not that the view out the window was anything spectacular. It was a wall across an airshaft. For variety it had some windows in the wall but the curtains were drawn. His sister came down before him and sat in the seat facing the airshaft. The Ugly American came in wearing his usual outfit of pants and an undershirt stretched tight over a beer belly. He saw his sister had not left him the view and started arguing with her. He sat at another table. She eventually moved to the other side of her table so he could have the seat he wanted. Another morning he was complaining to the waitress who had enough problems with English that someone 'didn't speak no English.' Every day this guy did something else that was boorish. He seemed to drive Jo up a wall.

Our next step was the Grand' Place which was just a couple of blocks away. We walked in the rain, however, since the very hot temperatures finally broke and the next four days would be cloudy or rainy in the morning and clear in the afternoon.

I described the Grand' Place earlier, but today we would actually go into buildings. Things were not yet open so Evelyn read to us from the guidebook what some of the lesser buildings we were seeing were. They were mostly guild houses.

I tried to take a picture of the group with the Hotel de Ville as a background but there was a woman sitting on a box in the way and it was hard to take the picture with the right angle without getting her in. She stared at the camera and made no attempt to make things easier. I think she ended up in the picture. To some extent people are not as polite or helpful in Belgium as they are in Holland. As a side-note Brussels, like Manhattan, has its share of people who carry on heated discussions with (to us) invisible aliens from the planet Zaarquod. I just never heard these discussions in French before.

Our first visit was to Le Musee Communal in the Maison du Roi. It was not the Palace of the King, as the name might imply. It really was the low court for the King of Spain. They had a collection of retables. These are sort of statuary in a fold-out box. Typically there is a wide box in the center and two boxes the same size but half the width. In this way you can fold in the sides like shutters and it becomes a simple box. The smaller ones have handles on the side for easier carrying. I guess there are portable and console models of this medieval home entertainment center.

There were also several examples of china pottery made to look like what it was intended to contain. For fish soup the china would just look like a big fish with a big fish face. You can eat cabbage out of a large china cabbage. It also helps prevent items on the kitchen table from going uneaten because nobody knows what was in the dish on Uncle Fred's left.

Actually my favorite piece in the museum was a painting of the town showing off all its armaments, like the Moscow May Day Parade. There were lines of soldiers showing off weapons and military might. Some were firing off guns. But what I liked about the painting is standing in one of the lines of soldiers the artist drew one dragon. It looked like just a sort of subtle warning not to mess with Brussels. It just says if you make us really mad be warned we do have dragons.

I did not mention on our Tuesday walk the great symbol of the city of Brussels. The great symbol is a statue that is dear ti the heart of any citizen of this city. It is called the Mannekin Pis and it is a statue about sixteen inches high showing a little boy relieving himself into a fountain. Though the exact meaning of the statue has been lost, you see all over the city references to this statue, more than you see in New York of the Statue of Liberty. You see lace pictures of the Mannekin Pis, you see souvenir statues. Jo said that she even saw chocolates in the shape of the little boy pissing. (I asked but she could not remember if the chocolates had liquid centers.) I think one theory as to how this image became associated with the town was that one of the town fathers lost his son and found him in the act shown. Another has it that it is a memorial to a boy who saved the city by putting out an incendiary bomb using only the materials at hand. In any case, the town has taken the irreverent symbol to its heart. He is the city's Alfred E. Newman. They dress him in all kinds of weird costumes like Elvis suits. The suits in wide variety are on display in Le Musee Communal. Included are a Dracupis vampire costume and a filmmaker costume with the filmmaker holding himself with one hand and hiding a board that says 'Clap' in the other hand. In many cases the suits did not have flies. They often cleverly drill a hole right though the jacket.

From there we crossed to the Town Hall (or Hotel de Ville) for the tour there.

In 1695 Louis XIV had some particular hatred of this town hall. His French Marshal de Villeroy decided to pulverize the city, telling his gunners to use the tower of the hall as their target. They pulverized the entire square. All the guild houses were demolished. They even hit the tower a few times, but their primary target never fell. No wonder Louis figured that after him would come the Deluge.

The Town Hall is a building of more opulence than interest value. This is the kind of place where they have paintings on the ceiling of gods and angels and things. In the main council room where the burgermeister and the aldermen meet there is one of those tiresome angels whose eyes follow you around the room. It's the oldest trick in the artistic book, you know, the following eyes. It comes free with art on two-dimensional surfaces. Now what would be impressive is a picture that looks like it is looking at you when you are standing one place and that shows you the side of its face when you stand someplace else. When I was young I used to watch 'Have Gun Will Travel.' It always started with Paladin pointing his gun right at you no matter where you stood in the room. We used to run all over the room and that gun was still pointed directly at you. I kind of got it out of my system then.

Against my better judgement we picked a place to eat right on the Grand' Place. Evelyn got a recommendation for a place called 'The Cellar.' We ordered as weirdly as we could on the menu. I got something called Waterzooi. Evelyn got a weird beef dish (well, actually we went halves). The restaurant is expensive by United States standards but surprisingly cheap by Brussels standards. On the two Rues des Bouchers, dinners are about $20 and tend to be just okay. Beverages are just too darn expensive, however. An 8-ounce (or so) Coke is about $2.20 and after being dehydrated all day I usually drink two. While we were eating, a small black cat sat down next to me on the bench I was sitting on. It stayed about ten minutes and left.

After lunch we headed out for the Museum of Classical Art. (Literally translated, it is called the Museum of Ancient Art, but there is little I would call 'ancient.') This is another big museum with free admission. About the first thing you see is a gallery with neo-classical sculpture. At first blush I thought this would not have a whole lot of interest. I'd made a bad call on the restaurant and another on this gallery. The first piece I saw was called 'The Satyr and the Young Faun' by Pickery. In spite of these being mythical figures, their expressions were very human and very tender. A beautifully realized satyr cradles a young faun in his arms and looks at him lovingly. The next piece is 'The Amorous Lion' by Geets. A maiden sits next to (or on?) a lion who looks at her lovingly. The maiden was done unimaginatively, but the lion is done very well with what certainly seems like an affectionate expression. Its mouth, however, is very realistically done with big teeth and the lips shaped in a way that must have taken great study.







September 1, 1990:




Saturday morning we took the tram out to the Museum of Central Africa. This used to be the Museum of the Belgian Congo but was quietly renamed when the Congo was no longer Belgian. It is a fairly comprehensive collection of all aspects of the Congo. A tour gets off to a somewhat shaky start by showing all the uses of wood, such as we get from Africa. I don't know if you knew just how much wood touches our daily lives

However, after a less than fascinating start, things got a little better. You next go into a fairly good collection of tribal art. They are mostly wood masks and sculptures. After that you move into artifacts of the European exploration of Africa. There is a concentration on Stanley and Livingstone, though there us also mention of Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke, whose expedition was portrayed in the recent film MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON.

Some of the interesting pieces include tribal art depicting the Europeans, including a very funny model of a European driving a car.

There are European paintings of the Belgian conquest, many of which show what we would consider to be maltreatment of the native population, though it is not clear if it is the artists' intent to make an anti-colonial statement or just to picture what they see.

Toward the back of the museum there is a modern piece of art, a giant praying mantis maybe eight feet long.

There is also a very long boat--hand-carved. And there are mementos of battle like from the Mahdi Campaign. Oddly, there is no mention of Charles Gordon, who defended Khartoum for ten months against the Mahdi's siege. Gordon was defeated but it was a bitter victory for the Mahdi, who wasted on one city the strength he intended to use to conquer all of the Sudan and who knows how much else. The Mahdi died shortly after taking Khartoum and his campaign failed. Khartoum became for the British what the Alamo is for the Americans.

As Evelyn pointed out, the museum also talks about how the Congo eventually became independent but does not mention what a bitter struggle against Belgium it took to get their independence.

The museum finishes up with a look at the natural history of Africa, including large insects (one as thin as a twig but about a foot long). There are also exhibits of the geology and exhibits of stuffed animals. The latter had some problems. They would do dioramas of animals but show natural enemies too close together. Apes would be given unrealistically human expressions. There was one case with stuffed lions, including a new-born who was mostly head with a tiny body.

We took the tram back to the city, leaving Dale and Jo to their art museums. We had another site we were anxious to see.

In February of 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped his imprisonment on the island of Elba. In March he returned to France, where King Louis XVIII decided it would be a good time to be any place but France. With amazing speed Napoleon I rebuilt and army of conquest. He had reason to speed because he did not want to combined English and Dutch forces under Wellington and the PRussian forces under Bluecher to have time to organize. Napoleon won the race and split the two armies before they had a chance to get together. He routed the PRussians at Ligny and sent Marshal Grouchy to chase them. He already had Marshal Ney off fighting Wellington's force--smaller than Bluecher's--and now that he'd taken care of the PRussians he could join Ney. Wellington could not defeat both Ney's and Napoleon's troops and retreated to Waterloo. Napoleon rushed to Waterloo to crush Wellington's multi-national army. Saturday night, June 17, Wellington was dancing at a fancy ball. At 2 AM Sunday morning, Wellington got word that Napoleon's army was coming. Wellington could retreat further or stand and fight. In the hopes that Bluecher's army would hear of what would happen and join him, Wellington decided to stand and fight. As long as he didn't have to go far away, Wellington decided to dance till dawn. Wellington was something of a jerk.

Some time around noon the battle began. Napoleon took the offensive against Wellington and made a number of errors. He decided he needed Grouchy here, not chasing Bluecher's PRussians, and sent orders for Grouchy to join the battle. Neither side was fighting very well and both were having heavy losses. Napoleon's forces knew they could take the day if Grouchy could join them in time. Finally they saw what they were waiting for. The army was approaching from their right where they could fight Wellington on the other side. The French spirits soared, then fell. The approaching forces were not Grouchy's French army; they were Bluecher's PRussians, who had eluded Grouchy. It was the French who would have to fight on two sides. It suddenly became painfully clear to Napoleon that this would be his last battle. He continued fighting, even sending in his Imperial Guard, but he knew he'd lose his army this muddy Sunday evening. Eventually his army was routed and he fled. Four weeks later he was captured trying to escape to America and was exiled to St. Helena. He lived there almost six years and slowly died of gradually and secretly administered poison. The diagnosis of death by poison was only determined within the last twenty years, by the way. It seems to me traces of the poison were found in his hair.

The Napoleonic dream of spreading revolution to the world died about 175 years before the similar Communist dream would die.

Very important to the battle was the terrain of the field. Wellington's men could lie flat on the muddy ground and as the French approached they could rise up out of the ground. To understand what happened, you have to stand on the battlefield and look around you. That was our plan.

We had a hard time understanding the bus driver in Brussels. We guessed what was the right bus and asked the driver. He said something in French and realized we did not understand. 'To Napoleon?' he asked. Yeah, this was the bus. We and an English couple also looking for Waterloo boarded. The ride was nearly an hour. There was a commotion on the bus when two large families boarded, both quite noisy.

The bus left us off in a fairly unpromising farm community. The driver pointed off in one direction and we walked. You quickly see a large conical hill with a statue of a lion at the top. Belgian housewives had wanted to honor where the Prince of Orange had been wounded and brought baskets of earth to form this mound. It is something like 120 feet high. For 200 Fr. (about $6) you see a model of the battlefield with lights showing the movements of the armies. That doesn't sound impressive, but it was very well done. It gave you a strategist's view of the battle. You see it as line of force moving and it gives you a good representation of how the armies are slowly reduced in size.

Next you go see a fantasy film--sort of 'Twilight Zone-ish'--of a group of kids playing on the battlefield and suddenly finding themselves in the battle. Included was a liberal dose of stock footage from the 1971 Russian-Italian film WATERLOO, which has Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, and Orson Welles. Your ticket also allows you to climb the Butte. We climbed the hill and from the top read about the battle and saw where it all took place.

We bought a booklet by historian David Howarth that guided you to parts of the battlefield, then explained what happened there. That was really the most interesting part, due to Howarth's descriptions. This is all farmland and it smells like it, but you still get a feeling of really being there.

It was tough getting directions on how to catch the bus back. People tried to explain in English since it was clear from our eloquent inquiries in French that we were trying very hard to talk French and they wanted to put the same effort into speaking out language. In any case, no matter how obvious it was that our French was 'tres beans bocou,' people were more anxious to try out their English on us. Being good guests, we were happy to oblige them.

On the bus on the way back I read the booklet on Waterloo. Dale and Jo were already back from their exciting day. They had gone to the Horta House, a house that an artist had decorated entirely in Art Nouveau, a style in which there are no straight lines. It was clear they thought we'd been foolish to miss the Horta House in order to see Waterloo, but I enjoyed seeing and learning more about history, even at the expense of my Horta culture. I suspect that had we come by ourselves we would have been to fewer art museums.

The previous night was Dale and Jo's first and it took us quite a while to pick a restaurant on the Petit Rue des Bouchers. Jo had complained, 'What's the big deal? We should just pick one.' This time it was their turn to pick. Jo quickly saw what the big deal was, I think. It took them about as long to pick a place, comparing menus. They did. We sat down. Then they decided that they did not like the menu after all and we got up again and continued to look.

Finally we found a restaurant where the owner told us, 'The food is very good.' There was something about that I didn't like. The fixed-price menu was 695 Fr. (about $21) here, where it was 595 Fr. other places. The preliminaries were okay. I had a fish soup and something else, I guess a small piece of fish. They had put five pieces of bread on the table. I'd taken two. (I'd missed lunch.) Jo took two and Dale took one. By the time Evelyn decided she wanted one, there wasn't any, so we asked for more. (This was during the long wait for the food to be served.) We had to ask three or four times. The main course, for which Dale and I had ordered the same thing, was fish on brochette. It turned out to be three tiny pieces of fish and two slices of lemon on a five-inch stick. We were heartily unimpressed. My dessert was an okay chocolate mousse. Dale had a creme caramel which he discovered he did not like. When the bill came and Dale charged it, the waiter asked if Dale wanted to put on the 'tax.' By tax he meant, no doubt, the Bad Service Tax the waiter expected above the tip included in the bill. A tax for bad service. Dale said very straightforwardly he didn't think so.

After dinner Dale and Jo returned to the Grand' Place; Evelyn and I returned to the room to read on Liege, our next destination, and to write in our logs.






September 2, 1990:




If you think that Canada has tensions between its French and non-French speakers, Belgium has them much worse. Before there were Europeans in Canada the French speakers of Belgium (called Walloons) were in the thick of dissent and Liege was the center and capital of Wallonia and famous for its hot-air Walloons. In 1468 six hundred Walloons climbed the hill near Liege, sneaked into the encampment of Charles the Bold, found the most opulent tent and attacked it to kill Charles. Charlie was out for the evening, as it turned out. He was sorry he had missed his company and had them all put to death. Then for good measure he killed all the inhabitants of Lie whom he could find and over several weeks flattened every building in Liege but the churches. He would have flattened the churches also, but he didn't want to be accused of excess. The whole regrettable incident only served to make the surviving citizens all the more cross.

It was to the home of these feisty people that we went our last tour day in Belgium. We ate breakfast early and took the train. It was about an hour's journey. Each of the tour books listed different hours for museums in Liege and the Frommer's claimed that museums were all free on Sundays. We were relatively sure we could adapt to just about any hours we found. Getting to Liege, we stopped at the tourist agency where they gave us a different set of museum hours with a lot of things closed on Sundays. The train station is not really in the old city of Liege so we had to take a bus from metropolitan Liege into historic Liege. On the way we saw the Opera House as the bus went past it. The old city itself is on a river and it turns out on Sunday morning it is just choked with visitors from three countries who come for the street market. The street market is nothing but a really big flea market. The market is huge and could well claim to be the Marvel of Liege. And marvelous is the assortment of things sold, but for now it was simply an obstacle course for us getting through the streets of Liege. Dale and Jo had art museums to find. I was interested in a museum of arms and Evelyn wanted to stay with me. So the two couples split up. The streets really were hard to walk, with the terrific crowds and all the stalls. Most of the buildings were impossible to get to because of the stalls in front of them. We were afraid that the museums might be impossible ti reach. We found the Arms Museum and there was a small space for us to get to the museum, but the sign was in French and it looked like it said the tour of the museum was the only way to see the museum on Sunday and it started from another museum. We went to that museum and it too seemed closed, but it had a sign claiming there was a tour on Sundays. Evelyn went back to check the Arms Museum and we kept in contact by walkie-talkie. Evelyn called me, saying the tour would be at the Arms Museum. I ran to join her. The confusion in Liege is so thick you can cut it with a knife. It turns out that the museum is indeed closed, but you can get a guided tour on Sunday. The tour is, however, given only in French. They did have a museum guide they sold in English. On the back of the guide they had museum hours. Glued over the museum hours was a mimeoed sheet with revised museum hours. The revised museum hours has a big 'X' to indicate even the revised hours were wrong.

What we discovered once the tour started is that while Evelyn and I are on a par in reading French, and while I am better at making myself understood speaking French, she is better than I am at understanding spoken French. The museum had personal weapons of all sorts and claims to have the world's finest collection of practical craftsmanship in the field of gun-making. The museum is actually linked with the local arms industry which itself is probably linked with the Walloon tradition of dissent and the anxiousness to express dissenting opinions.

They start with a history of weapons. It has some things as crude as a cannon that looks like nothing more than an old piece of pipe. There are several exhibits on gun-making and the tools that are used to make guns. Next there is a room of the medals people through the ages could earn by shooting guns judiciously. Then there is a room of personal guns with nicer engraving than armies generally require. These guns have fancy art engraved on all the exposed metal parts (but usually not the barrel). There was a fourteen-barreled gun with two circular clusters of seven barrels each. It also had a powder box with seven holes. It probably spread powder so irregularly that you really needed seven shots. There is a room showing rifles of many countries. The American ones seemed to have the more straightforward design with little decoration. And there are rooms with armor and some weapons as primitive as slingshots and funny-styled crossbows.

When the tour was over it was something of a relief just because trying to understand the guide's rapid-fire French and failing and looking politely interested was a little taxing.

We were put out on the street and there was little to do but walk around the crowded street market. My last day in Belgium I had my first Belgian waffle. They put the sugar inside the waffle in crystalline tunnels in the wide part of the waffle. Lunch was tcetchouka from a vendor. It was scrambled eggs and spicy sausage in a roll.

The market also has a section with animals. There are birds, fish, mice, cats, dogs. Odd sights included a woman with a long white tail wagging out from under her dress. I really wish I had gotten picture and started to, but someone walked in the way. It really was that she had a large white dog who was standing in front of her. His tail was sticking out behind and her skirt length and the height of the dog were just perfect to create the effect. Also in the category of the shot that got away was two cages, side-byside, one with kittens, one with young rabbits huddled on the far side of their cage as a kitten poked a paw out of his cage and into theirs reaching for them. I also saw the biggest rabbits I have ever seen, at least eighteen inches nose to tail and proportionally big around.

We bought some dried apricots to snack on the rest of the trip and the next day. I made myself sick trying to finish them before taking them through customs. The street market closes at 2 PM and people started to disappear. No doubt this was at least partially due to the heavy trucks backing through the narrow walkways.

Our arrangement was to meet Dale and Jo at 4:30 PM at the Church of St. Bartholomew, where the baptismal font is one of the seven wonders of Belgium. A special committee was chosen at one point to find the seven art wonders of Belgium that every visitor must see. By an odd coincidence each one was in a different major city. This meant regrettably that visitors could not say they had been to Belgium without visiting all seven of Belgium's major cities. So guess what, gentle reader? I ain't been there. You've spent all this time reading the log of someone who really wasn't there. GOTCHA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

Yes, well.

So we had about two and a half hours to walk the streets of what is actually a fairly dingy city. We walked by the Palace of the Prince-Bishops. It should be explained that people in the clergy could attain secular power but did not have the two defined as the same in the way that Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Anglican Church and people all over the world look to her as the powerful religious leader that she is.

No, in Liege they were independent and you could achieve both. You could be both a prince and a bishop. In our society that is like being both a doctor and a lawyer, though one presumes the Prince-Bishops would not be quite so powerful, vicious, or unscrupulous. This is another building in the Gothic style, with thousands of statues and relief carvings. We walked to the Museum of Walloon Life to pass the time under the assumption that Frommer was right that museums are free on Sundays. It turns out not to be true any more and the idea of seeing another museum, and one with captions only in French, did not appeal so we just continued our walk. We went back to the Quai de Maestricht, the street of the Arms Museum. We talked to an American family visiting from Germany. (I assume it was a military family.) Then we went to sit by the Church of St. Bartholomew and wait for Dale and Jo. They showed up about fifteen minutes early but about twenty minutes after us.

We went into the church and took a look at the font. I suspect none of us were really bowled over by it, but it probably was really good work for the early 12th Century. It is decorated with five relief pictures of famous baptisms from the Golden Age of Baptism. There was Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. In another picture He baptizes two unknowns. A Roman soldier gets the water treatment from St. Peter in another. The pictures do make a nicelooking font. I guess it is like when I was a kid I had a toy gun with a picture of Davy Crockett shooting Indians on the handle.

As you walk through the church, you see an older section with a roof in the Romanesque style. That is probably something Charles the Bold left standing and the main section of the church was more recent.

After that there was a question of what to do with the remaining time. I think we were all somewhat disappointed with the possible activities in Liege on a Sunday late afternoon. Dale and Jo thought that the Palace of the Prince-Bishops was still supposed to be open so we walked there but it was all closed up. We decided to start back to Brussels. We took the bus to the train station and as it turned out just missed the Brussels train and had to wait for the next. I got a Fanta orange from the soda machine. Fanta is very different in Europe than it is at home. If you picture Fanta orange in the United States, it is bright orange and does not taste very orangey. In Europe it is genuine orangeade that is carbonated. The color is a pale yellow since it got its color from orange juice, not food coloring to make it look like orange peel.

My mother once commented to me that she thought life was very uncomfortable and unpleasant in England. I'd said that I thought that British science fiction was quite good and she said it was because the English had to have an escape from the unpleasant daily life. I cannot speak for the English. It is possible my mother is right, but I doubt it. I think my mother is looking at the disadvantages of life abroad, the things she has and would miss if she were living there, but she does not have an appreciation for what they have that we are missing here. Fanta sells a much less appealing product in this country because they do not respect the American taste. They could sell as good a product here as in Europe, but they don't bother. In Europe trains and trams and Metros run on time to the minute and there is a big clock at each station so you know precisely how many minutes to the train you are waiting for. That's incredibly convenient. Or more accurately, our lax approach to things arriving when they arrive, not on a schedule, would drive me straight up a wall if I were a visiting European. I would contend right now that with a VCR for time shifting and with cable I get better television than I get from England's four channels. Before I had these technical advances, I would have traded VHF and UHF for England's four channels.

It is difficult for me to assess whether overall quality of life is better in New Jersey or Old, but I certainly can find a lot in Europe I wish we had at home. Not the least of which are clean, litter-free public places and a population that cares enough to keep them that way. On the other hand, breathing other people's tobacco smoke has recently been estimated to be the fifth greatest cause of death in the United States and as rude as Americans are about tobacco smoke, Europeans are much worse. Or perhaps their cigarettes just smell a lot worse.

Waiting in the train station Evelyn bought and ate some chocolate. I got myself another Belgian waffle. While we waited we watched subtitled coming attractions. I don't know if I think this is a good feature or not, but most train stations in Belgium have television monitors set up and show film coming attractions. Well, if they have to have advertising, it is certainly one of the more entertaining varieties. Of course, this being Belgium, the trailers--which seem to be almost all for American films--are in English and subtitled in French.

Now after all I have said about religion, I will be accused of making the next story up. It happens to be true. I was staring out the window on the way back and saw a religious image. There was a hill and a cross floating over it. It could very easily have been a religious experience. It was actually a telephone pole on the other side of the train reflected in the window. I take it the window was exactly halfway between the hill and the pole. The effect lasted only for a second but it was quite startling, Maybe I have been to too many churches.

Back in Brussels we had to decide where to have dinner and to celebrate our last night in Europe. The only restaurant we really thought was decent was The Cellar on the Grand' Place, so we decided to go back there. We went back to the rooms to freshen up and then the four of us went to dinner. I commented to Jo that going back to a restaurant that was decent the last time would probably only disappoint us the second time.

It turned out that all the tables were full. The waiter told us if we waited three minutes, he could seat us. That sounded unrealistic to me, so I timed the wait. I was right. It was about four minutes. In spite of the restaurant being in the Grand' Place it turned out the prices were actually reasonable for Brussels. I wanted something adventuresome and they had it all right. An animal I'd never tried before. Horse steak. Now in the United States we tend to associate horsemeat as an inferior meat. But the reason is that in the United States we serve it only to dogs and so we reason, backwards, that it must be fit only for dogs. And that opinion is reinforced by seeing it only in the form of dog food, which looks absolutely terrible and smells worse. But beef we serve to dogs doesn't exactly meet gourmet standards either. I have been told that because horses are more muscular than cows and lead a more active life that by objective standards horsemeat is better than beef. The reason we don't eat horses is that it is considered cruel after they work for us to eat them also. In actual fact, a cow is probably smarter than a horse, and it may well be more cruel to eat beef. But we grew up with beef on the table and so we assume there is something natural about eating beef and not natural about eating horse. As I have said many times, any culture that takes the glandular secretions of a cow, separates out the fatty portions and then lets them congeal and calls that 'fresh creamery butter' does not really have much place saying foods popular in other cultures are disgusting. Real food is what you ate at age seven. If that included butter, you think butter is natural no matter what it really is. At age seven you probably thought of honey as an abstract sweet flavoring substance, so honey remains a nice natural thing to eat. I vaguely know how bees make honey. That's bad enough. I am afraid if I ever find out more precisely I may never be able to eat the stuff again. Intrinsically, the squid and jellyfish I eat in Chinese restaurants seem more natural than honey, and horsemeat more natural still. In any case, I have been trying to avoid red meat but when I saw something as exotic as horsemeat on the menu, I knew I had to try it. Dale ordered a more standard steak and the head waiter said hopefully, 'Rare?' Dale said, 'Medium rare.' I ordered the horse steak and he asked, 'Medium rare?' I said, 'Rare,' and he clearly was more pleased with that answer. In general, with red meat the differences among a good quality cut and an okay quality cut and a poor cut will be much greater on rare meat than on well-done. Generally speaking, if a waiter is encouraging you to have your meat rarer it is because he has really good meat and wants it shown off. I pass this secret on to you because I'm trying to stay away from red meat. I know this fact, but it is likely to do me little good in the future. (For those who care about such things, my cholesterol level dropped from 231 to 185 in the last two years and I assume that was almost entirely in the last six months or so.) Actually, on the subject of rareness, I had a high school teacher--one I liked very much--who on some pretext asked everyone in the class how they liked their meat done. I don't remember how she brought it up. Later in private she confided that how well done you like your meat was a sort of litmus test she applied to people. People who like their meat rare were more earthy and straightforward. People who like it well done are more affected. I'd say that this was one of the few tests in English class I ever did well on, but that would really not be true. This was Miss Easton, my senior English teacher. Through high school I was great at math and very mediocre at English. Then senior year, to my shock and surprise, my English teacher picked me out as one of the three best writers in a class of 200. What made he think that I have no idea. Today both my math and my writing are done only for recreation. But the only person who sees the math I do is me. People as far away as New Zealand and Sweden reprint my writing. It will probably never pay me a penny, but it is nice to know some people care about what I say. Thanks, Miss Easton.

Getting back to dinner--remember dinner?--Evelyn had mussels marinere. The food was much better than we'd had at any dinner in Belgium. A Japanese couple sat next to us. They seemed a little insulated. They did not really look around the room. I somehow think that Japanese feel more separated from other nationalities. Perhaps it is because there are a lot of similarities in European languages and Japanese is so very different. The husband took a picture of his wife sitting at the table. I made motions that I was willing to take pictures of both of them, miming snapping a picture and then making an angle with my hands that took both of them in. He hesitated but handed me the camera. One surprise was that holding the camera horizontally, the picture was framed vertically (portrait rather than landscape), but I got them both in. He responded 'merci.' He even took a picture of his food when it came, so I would hope he would want a picture of them both. As we left I waved to him and got him to wave back and smile, his first smile I saw that evening. We came out of the restaurant to find a big band box set up at one end of the Grand' Place and a jazz concert in progress. It was Benny Goodman sort of stuff that the Americans brought over during World War II. It sort of took root and flourished. I guess if Vietnam had been fought in the Ardennes then the concert would have featured 'Light My Fire' and 'Horse with No Name.'

The three of them sat down under the Gothic arch of the Hotel de Ville. I, on the other hand, had a momentary panic. I discovered my trip log was not in my pocket. Second only to my passport, the most valuable thing I take with me on a trip is a log which is a draft of the document you are currently reading. I write impressions as I go along I could never recapture later. Even my photographs don't recapture my impressions as well as does my log. Then there's the priceless record of puns. Or is it valueless?

I went back to the room--it was really only about a three-block walk--and found my log open on the bed. I grabbed it. On the way back I was helpful to a group of Canadian tourists who were in the lobby of our hotel and asking if the Atomium was from a World's Fair or something. I told them.

Back at the square I found our party and listened to the jazz concert a while. While we were there Dale dropped his walking stick three times until I helpfully put my foot on it, pinning it to the ground. Evelyn appreciated the thought, I think.

Singing with the Brussels Big Band was a woman who really belted out the songs. A look with our binoculars told us that she was Chinese. Imagine a Chinese Ethel Merman. The mind boggles. While the convert was on, Evelyn and I danced a little. A couple behind us on the stairs made love and it seemed like a Belgian Woodstock. However, all good things must come to an end and the jazz concert did also. When it ended the light show on the Hotel de Ville started. We saw it from right on the steps of the building and it was somewhat impressive. Finally our last entertainment item came to an end. We went for ice cream, then bade Dale and Jo adieu. They were staying in Europe another six days, either to return to the Netherlands or to see Luxembourg. But for us there was only the trip home.

I kept myself up till about 2 AM in the hopes I would make myself sleep on the plane. It didn't really work.






September 3, 1990:




This is the day of the trip I would be happiest to do without. There is nothing but travel pains and at the end of it you are just back to normal. I guess the way that sounds best to me to get home is how they do it in science fiction films. You put yourself in suspended animation and when you wake up, you are home. Of course, that is easy for them; they don't have a bunch of connections to make and all their luggage is checked. Not that checking luggage is such a great idea either, but at least you don't have to carry it around the way we had to lug our luggage, first to the Metro, then to a train. We travel light but it is almost impossible to travel light enough so that much lugging does not get to be a real pain. We bid our last farewell to the Metro stations. They are decorated so nicely with all the Jean Claude Van Damme posters for a film called WRONG BET. I don't know how much they paid to have all the Metro stations filled with pictures of this big, beefy, greasy guy in a sleeveless undershirt standing in a train yard, but it is in every Metro station at least twenty times. Skran tells me that Van Damme is from Brussels and is sort of a local hero. His nickname is 'The Muscles of Brussels.'

Speaking of unappetizing-looking men, there are also a lot of ads for a woman's hairspray called 'Taft.' Somehow the name Taft conjures up in my mind more pictures of a certain United States President who, not to put too fine a point on it, was supremely chunky. His picture is not exactly what one would want associated with a beauty product. I would say that in the United States you could not get away with a name like Taft on a beauty product, but now that I think about it, how many Americans can even picture Taft any more? I mean the President, not the hairspray.

The vending machines in the train station were of some interest. They have coffee machines like we do but they have special buttons labeled 'dosage' for you to choose how much milk and sugar to put in. When you order coffee (and I don't but Evelyn does) you get a device above the cup that it drips through so you get drip coffee.

The train trip back was uneventful. I bought my third and final Belgian waffle on the train. In Belgian society, waffles have pretty much the same place that doughnuts have in ours. The trip, incidentally, was to Schipol, the airport near Amsterdam. Just so I didn't fall asleep I set the countdown timer on my watch to count to our scheduled arrival time. As it turned out, we actually arrived at Schipol a little ahead of schedule--about twenty seconds. Since we'd been intentionally over-cautious in our scheduling, we found ourselves with about three and a half hours on our hands. We sat writing next to a nice couple with a baby. I am not sure what nationality they were, almost definitely something Islamic. My best guess is that they were Turkish. I made faces at the baby to keep her entertained. The couple spoke French but not English. Oh, one clue to their nationality. Both the mother and the baby seemed to have their palms and fingernails painted red. Maybe someone reading this log will know why. At one point they got up, leaving their luggage behind. I really wish they hadn't done that. I don't care how innocent they looked, it is not a good idea to leave unattended bags. As I was worrying I noticed the mother and child returned.

There is not much point in describing the next hour or so since it was fairly typical of any airport. We hastily spent the last of our money. About the only real memorable incident was that KLM impounded our walkie-talkies. We still are not sure if they thought we'd use them and they'd cause interference or if KLM thought they could possibly be some sort of detonators.

The flight was a long and dull one in very cramped quarters. Dinner was fish in a cream sauce that was only mediocre. The crew had some problems with English. 'Tea?' asked the stewardess. 'I'll take some,' said Evelyn. 'Do you have any lemon?' Evelyn asked. 'You're welcome,' she was told as the stewardess continued on. The movie was BIRD ON A WIRE. The fish was better. Time was when I would really love to fly. Anywhere. Any time. Then I got bigger and the seats got smaller. Under the false assumption that people don't like to be reminded that they are flying, they have made the windows tiny so only those who sit in the window seats can look out.

We had taken off about an hour late due, they said, to catering problems. Well, they always attribute it to something that sounds safe but uncomfortable. You never hear them say, 'We'll be a little late because we are patching cracks in the left wing and the fuselage.' I know I'd be really understanding if they did announce that. I'd tell them to go ahead and take the time to do the job right.

Anyway we arrived late by 45 minutes, got basically waved through the passport check and figured we were getting the time made up. Then they put us on the same carousel as a jumbo jet from Ireland. Their stuff got unloaded first. It was seventy minutes or so before our first piece of luggage showed up on the carousel. It was a mess with a lot of people milling around and it was very difficult to get to the belt to get our luggage. Customs was also just a wave-trough. Our ride was there and we went home.

Almost all that was left was the jet lag. It has been my tradition to wake up the first night home after a trip and not know where I am. Not only do I think I am still in the country I came from, I don't even think I am in bed there. The night I got back from China I woke up in the Reed Flute Cave near Guilin. This time I was in a Belgian church.

Evelyn doesn't have that problem, but she has another one I have. She wakes up alert, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed in the morning. Then she looks at her watch and discovers it is 1:30 AM. You can force yourself to stay awake when you're tired much more easily than you can force yourself to sleep when you're wide awake.

So Holland or Belgium? Which country is better to visit? Well, probably Holland had the edge. It was certainly more expensive in Belgium to do most things, especially eating. In Holland people seem to be happier and more optimistic. In Belgium the people seem more bland. Holland also seems cleaner, with Belgium seeming more dingy. As Americans, it is much easier to get along with English in Holland than in Belgium. Belgian people do try to use English with Americans, but the Dutch seem more familiar with English. Holland has a greater selection of cuisines to choose from. At least while we were there, the climate was nicer. The country seems to make things easier for tourists with one price for all tickets for things like the trams and museums. On the other hand, the most interesting museums we saw were in Brussels and they were free. Another advantage in Brussels is that you could more easily get local cuisine. I think in the Netherlands it is easier to get Indonesian food than Dutch. Finally, the historical sites are much better in Belgium. That may be because the Netherlands was a country of merchants to the world while Belgium provided the world with battlefields. It seems as if time and again two foreign armies would clash on Belgian soil. I suppose the fear of foreign armies could have made all the difference.

THE END