Something of a last word on Europe -- maybe
I seem to be gaining a modicum of functionality once again as I accommodate the time-change and its concurrent jet-leg manifestation. Last evening I kept nodding out through Law&Order CI, which wasn’t as calamitous as it might have been if it had been an episode with my TV fantasy girl, Kathryn Erbe. Anyway, I turned in and then actually slept through to 6 a.m.
Anyway, I thought I would turn my attention to a very loose, not to mention singularly biased post-mortem of my European sojourn. An extended jaunt that was, in retrospect, a highly satisfactory endeavor. In that context, here are some of the impressions that stick in my mind from an excellent adventure of the globetrotting sort.
La France et Les Francais:
- French cities and towns have more graffiti per block than anywhere else I’ve ever seen, and certainly more than other European centres. Some of it is artistic (I guess) and some of it is crap. Some is political. And some is, no doubt, smutty, but I’m not up enough on French profanity to be able to say for certain.
- It’s appropriate that laissez-faire is a French term because they practice it more than any group I’ve encountered heretofore. A shop may or may not be open, depending on the whim of the proprietors. A restaurant may start serving dinner at 6 p.m. one night, but may not open until 7 the next night. France works the shortest week in Europe with a state-decreed 35-hours. At the same time the economy is reeling. Think there’s a connection.
- Highly state subsidized French trains are the cheapest in Europe, and they are splendid; fast and smooth.
- French women do ‘not’, for the most part, look or act like Bardot at her enticing best. Actually, they seem both prim and quite serious.
- French coffee is superb, and Wendy and I had cafes au lait at an outdoor bistro in Annecy that we concurred were two of the best coffees we’d ever had. On the other hand, they cost as much as a full pound of ground coffee at home.
- I wish I was still a drinker only in the sense that wine in France is practically free, and it is the sort of plonk you’d pay 20-bucks a bottle for here. There it would probably be €3 or 4. About five-bucks. Wine is much cheaper than coffee.
- The French are admirable in the sense that they absolutely do not give a shit what anybody thinks about them. The Gallic shrug prevails, and that is why they, as a nation, are so difficult to deal with diplomatically. They do everything ‘their’ way, regardless of whom they offend. I’ve concluded you cannot shame the French. We had food stolen from our hotel room, obviously by the chambermaid, since she was the only person with access. It wasn’t a big deal, but we thought we’d mention at the desk. We received that aforementioned shrug as a response.
What can I say? Some are French-speaking, some are Dutch-speaking but, blessedly, a huge number seem to speak English. Otherwise we found Brussels to be a much more enchanting city than we had anticipated and the restaurant district in the little side streets down from the ‘Grand Place’ will actually solicit customers on the street and try to entice passers-by into their eateries. We once succumbed, and didn’t regret it for a second. It was a splendid lunch. I love mussels, which are virtually a Belgian national dish, and I never get enough of them as a rule. This day I actually got enough of them. I would go back to Brussels and Belgium in general without hesitation.
England and the English:
England has, in the years I’ve been away, become much more progressive and in-tune with the modern world. One can also avail oneself of a truly nice meal at a reasonable price, and it is possible to not only get a decent cup of coffee, but it is now normal to get one. How civilized.
London remains for me just a fine place to spend time and is far too big to make a genuine dent in what it has to offer if one were to have months at one’s disposal.
On the other hand, the English have still not mastered plumbing. Every toilet is different and the use of such facilities must be approached with tolerance and understanding. Some, once business has been attended to, must be approached with firm resolve, and others with gentle cajoling. Even then, the facility might not function on the first, or even second attempt.
Whilst mentioning plumbing, it must be mentioned that women are treated unjustly in reference to public facilities. In other words, if a woman must attend to a call of nature, it is going to cost her 20-pence to get into a stall, even if it’s just to pee, rather than to attend to a ‘serious’ matter. Yet, urinals for males are free, and payment would only be necessary if the male had that sort of need. So, as my wife indignantly pointed out, if a woman didn’t have 20-pence she would either be forced to wet herself, or grit her teeth and carry on until she got home. That’s hardly right.
A final point might be made about the huge accessibility of public transit, trains, buses, the underground and more. The underground in London has become somewhat inordinately expensive, in my esteem, but commuter trains are somewhat of a bargain still. On the other hand, the roads and motorways remain hugely congested in a society that seems to love the car as much as North American society does.
And, in Bath, I actually saw a guy drive by in a Hummer. If somebody in the UK feels compelled to drive a Hummer, I am left to wonder what hope there is for any of us.