Today we went to the sight of the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. I was so thankful to the people of Belgium for the museum here. The museum told about the second World War from the perspective of a German Soldier, two Belgian citizens–one who joined the resistance and one who didn’t, and an American Airborne Ranger. Having grown up in an America where Nazis were the automatic “bad guy” in every book, movie or TV show, it never occurred to me to analyze the motivations of the German citizens in relation to the rise of the Nazi Party’s power. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t change my mind about the “bad guy” part and I’m pretty sure that the party was a magnetic force for some of the craziest maniacs of that generation, but the ordinary people were always a pebble in my shoe. How could people sit in their houses knowing that their neighbors were being exterminated and not do anything? How could they join? Why couldn’t they resist? Now I know. To see the voting statistics in the years leading up to Nazi power on maps that bore a striking resemblance to the way in which we show presidential election results? Weighty.
The memorial to American Soldiers erected by the people of Belgium after the Battle of the Bulge is one of my favorite memorials. The ten tablets on the inside of the pillars that hold the star shaped roof tell the story of the battle and express the heartfelt thanks of the Belgian people. It is nestled into the Belgian countryside and, from the top, you can see the battlegrounds and the topography that the soldiers were fighting in addition to each other. The tragedy of the death and destruction to a place so picturesque and unprovoking led us to talk together about what could have been done to prevent the Second World War and how life might be different.
When evening fell and we parked in front of an ancient building nestled in a picturesque village near the Chouffe Brewery (note to self–come back for that). We rang the bell, and a few minutes later, one of the other guests arrived with a beer in his hand to let us in. Kevin hit his head on the door frame tipping into the dark entry (I tend to think this is a good omen–his jury is still out). Passing the stairs and the small kitchen from which the most tantalizing aromas were pouring, we made a hard right turn into a rustic low beam ceilinged tavern and were ushered to the corner where a self serve bar stood with a tablet of paper and ball point pen for tallying drinks honor system style. Noting the presence of the stage in the corner of the tavern with raised eyebrows, we armed oursevelves with ice cold local brew and headed outside to the rear of the house where we heard the sound of laughter. We found a party. Twenty tipsy Belgians sitting around tables with their dogs zigzagging under the table legs, sipping beer and chainsmoking cigarettes from the largest packs of cigarettes we’ve ever seen.
Now, I understand French. My accent sucks, so I don’t speak French unless forced, but I comprehend words when they are thrown at me. I can answer questions. I can order food. But what these people were speaking was not French. It didn’t seem to be the German that we had heard for the first half of our trip or the Dutch that was being spoken in Amsterdam, either. Here I was, finally thinking that I coud get my bearings in a country, only to be face to face with a troupe of reveling Flemish People?! Flems? Hmmm. I’ll have to look that up. Either way, they pushed chairs around, motioned with their arms and changed immediatley into very nice English (much better English than my Flemmish, that’s for sure). We chatted through a few beers and found out about each other, in the true nature of a crowded B&B until we were called to dinner.
I’ll Yelp the food, honestly, I will. I vacillated about it for a few minutes because, well, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell the world about this place and come back to find it packed because, honestly, I have GOT TO TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!!! Dinner was amazing–had to leave the dining room to prevent succumbing to the fate of Toulouse geese amazing. They still followed us out to the patio with dessert. We were laughing around a large round patio table with the other guests with views of the ancient pastures and the fuzzy orange sun setting over the gentle green hills, drinking amazing Belgian beer from the brewery less than two miles away, petting the dogs, chasing giggling children and THEN. . . . the music started.
The owners of this B&B love music. More than that, they love karaoke. But not in some drunk-ass, off-tune, caricature of music sort of way. They have PIPES and TASTE. From the first note of the first song, I knew that I was in for a show. It became obvious that this little ground floor tavern was the official hang out for all of the talent in the countryside. They sang, they harmonized, they had choreographed dance moves. One of the singers sang an a cappella Janis Joplin that made the hairs on my arms stand up. The music was so magical and the company so grand (until you have heard Flemish grandmothers clucking at each other and at generations of out of line family, you haven’t heard anything great) that I stayed, despite having not slept the night before, until the music died at midnight.
Smiling so hard my cheeks ached, full, a little buzzed and exhausted, I made my way up to my room. Let me clarify something for you, people. . . I was staying in the FREDDIE MERCURY ROOM!!! Sandwiched between the David Bowie Room and the Liza Minelli Room (where my children stayed–“who’s Liza Minelli, mom?”) was an opportunity for me to sleep under the lycra bound gaze of Freddie Mercury. So I did.