The Belgians’ assertions about the superiority of their carbohydrates are not restricted to chocolate and waffles. They claim also to have invented and perfected frites, which are never called French fries within Belgian borders. The sliced potatoes are fried twice. Once the oil is drained, the frites are served with a variety of sauces.
We discharged our cultural obligation when we bought frites as an afternoon snack. Frites do taste better than their non-Belgian counterparts, but that was far from a culinary epiphany. I can do without them again for another few decades.
Most notable today was my reunion with M., with whom I made my first trip to Europe before the invention of wheeled suitcases. Together with HL, we revisited the Grand Place, Brussels’ medieval central square. Its carved and gilded buildings rise like walls on all four sides of the paved plaza. Restored and maintained since the mid-1800’s, the Grand Place looked as glorious as I had remembered. Dominating it were the Hotel de Ville, or City Hall, and the Maison du Roí, now the city’s historical museum.
The City Hall’s Gothic spire was emblematic of the power wielded by Brussels’ merchant class during the High Middle Ages. Opposite it physically as well as philosophically was the King’s House, never a residence but an imposing administrative center for the dukes of Brabant. It houses an extensive collection of art and artifacts pertinent to Brussels’ development. We were happy to find shelter there from the biting wind, among Romanesque statuary, antique town models, and many other treasures.
Every stroll in Brussels reveals more of its numerous monuments to the pedestrian. Towards dusk, we happened upon a war memorial containing the tomb of an unknown soldier. The monument was dedicated to those who died fighting in Belgium’s 1830 war for independence from The Netherlands, as well as those who fell in World War II. A statue of the Emperor Leopold stood atop the column. Particularly fine were the two bronze lions flanking the tomb, guarding the flame that undulated in the wind.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Back of the war memorial
M. in the Grand Place
The Museum of the City of Brussels, inside The King’s House