We got back from Italy on Monday. Tuesday, M arrived after having been to a wedding in Algeria. We had been texting with him on the cell phone intermittently during the Italy trip so we could cheaply keep tabs on each other's whereabouts, and I was just beginning to get the hang of it when he arrived. I'll never be able to infiltrate the youth of today without more practice!
M was already on Euro time, so he didn't have any jet lag issues. He did, however, have suitcase issues, in that his rolling bag only had a short handle and he was using a belt to lengthen it so he didn't have to walk doubled-over (he's, like, 8 feet tall or something). Use of the belt led to stability problems, and he was almost killed right off when his he lost control of his bag in front of an oncoming tram (usually we prefer to kill our guests after they've visited the ATM rather than before).
We went to a Thai place for dinner the first night so I could break out of the glut of Italian food I had been having. In addition to his entree, M ordered sticky rice, thinking it would be dessert, but it turned out to be a plain bowl of unseasoned rice delivered to our table after we had finished eating. We ended up having a face-stuffing contest with the rice which I lost in a very embarrassing fashion. Sadly, we can never show our faces at that restaurant again.
The next day I hauled him around to all the usual sights: ruins of the city wall, the Mannekin Pis, the Grand Place, and the local grocery, which he immediately identified as being part of the Food Lion family. I vociferously denied this, naturally, since the quality was so much better here, but further research revealed that Delhaize, which started in Belgium, did in fact own Food Lion. Makes me curious why the American version is so crappy by comparison, but that's a question for another day. M was on the lookout for reasonably-priced gift items, so he got some Belgian cat food from the grocery store for his feline. He reports back that, being the patriotic cat that she is, she refuses to eat the stuff, which she claims is "practically French".
We tried to scare up some cheap shopping the following day by going to some less-touristy areas of our neighborhood, the African and University quarters. Not having eaten breakfast, M decided he was going to compare eclairs that he encountered on his route, but gave up after three since the price and quality were so varied. The African quarter had not yet come to life, so we headed in the direction of the University, but not before stopping off for water and a breakfast samosa at a convenience store. That hit the spot.
I took us down all the wrong streets and there was not much to see on our route, aside from the excitingly-named Fritkot Bompa, which directed us to Google their name to visit the website (not recommended, but if you insist...). There was even less to buy. We ended up in the Ixelles graveyard, where I hadn't been since our first visit to Brussels in March. It wasn't much more lively this time around, being a place of final repose and all, but we did get to investigate some of the interesting fringe areas, where the more impoverished and/or non-European types seemed to be concentrated. After seeing some of the more creatively cared-for graves, M decided that when his time comes he wants to have a tree planted on top of his head so it can be nourished by his brains (a "braintree", if you will).
Over lunch at a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant that had tables on the sidewalk, I kept noticing people who were carrying a sheaf of papers and who would get to the intersection, consult their papers, then turn in one direction or another. They seemed to be of all ages and nationalities, with no defining characteristic other than the papers. I decided that it was some kind of University-sponsored scavenger hunt. The real flaw in this theory is that no one seemed to be having much fun, nor were they in any particular hurry. It remains a mystery. We also saw a gaggle of students dressed in blue smocks (I later learned that it is traditional for them to have to dress in 15th century peasant outfits as some kind of hazing ritual), and an extremely posh-looking bowling alley completely done up in gleaming wood and with a bartender in a suit. Must investigate that further at some point.
That night we went to dinner at the awesome pizza place near our house. Giant rectangular pizzas with high-quality and sometimes unusual toppings, you order your slice cut to size, and they weigh it and heat it for you. There's always new varieties coming out of the kitchen, so your best strategy is to park yourself in a corner somewhere and order a small slice at a time so you can get a little of everything without filling up too quickly. After dinner we stopped by the American bar around the corner from our house for a nightcap. We hadn't been there before because it has a silly name and looks pretty dingy from the outside, but it does have the advantage of being close and having an English-speaking waitstaff. The waiter/owner/manager dude was very nice and spent some time living in LA, and was keen to discuss the CA experience with M. He seemed to be on greeting terms with nearly everyone who walked down the street, and now he has added us to his list.
Friday we went to the comic strip museum, which was Tintin-tacular. Also Smurf-arific ("Schtroumpf-arific" to you French speakers), but to a somewhat lesser extent. The museum is housed in a lovely Art Nouveau department store, so it was a nice space even though the material was difficult to follow in spite of the English translations that they had given us in a binder. M seemed to be particularly taken with the portrayal of Africans through time. Disturbingly, there didn't seem to be any progress in the effort to draw them like real people until very recently, much more recently than I would have expected. The most interesting part to me was the section of comics drawn by contemporary artists, as they had some kind of relevance to me that most of the others did not. M took the opportunity of our visit to fry his brain at one of the interactive displays.
That evening we had a repast of Belgian food that consisted of stoemp for M, stoemp and meats for Jack, and mussels for me. After I placed my order they came back and tied an adult-sized cloth bib around my neck, which was a bit of a surprise. I'm sure I looked fetching. Since his return flight was at 5 the next morning and the trains weren't running at that hour, we sent M off that night so he could spend a fitful few hours trying to sleep in the airport. A short trip, but a fun one nonetheless.