Pea Soup


How many famous Belgians can you think of? Two, perhaps, and one of those is fictional. Belgium sits rather smugly in between France and Holland, saying little, quietly notching up world records, such as the heaviest cheese sculpture in the world or a barman in Oostende who served beer for 102 straight hours to his customers. Things like that. Belgians haven’t had a functional government for over a year but the education system works, garbage is collected and the buses and trams run on time. This is mostly due to the fact that six out of ten of them speak one language, the remainder another and everybody has learned compromise without agreement. It’s entirely possible that the country might simply break gently in two like a blueberry muffin since nobody seems to care much either way. The Flemish language and culture is highly prized by its adherents. If Dutch sounds like a goose honking in mild protest, Flemish sounds as if it’s being garrotted as well.

Eighty percent of the world’s diamonds pass through Anvers. Showing spectacular ignorance I confessed to not actually knowing that Antwerpen, the second largest port in Europe, is its Flemish name, provoking gales of French laughter. The world’s largest diamond-cutting industry operates behind discreet façades in the Jewish neighbourhood.  If the appalling pun can be excused, it’s quite a little gem of a city – imagine Zurich and the Virgin Mary meeting Greenwich Village. Antwerp is also a celebrated fashion hub – style victims have taken over the fashion district, and the well-heeled hang out around Koning Albertpark. The Old Town however seems much as it was in the seventeenth century, built around the impossibly delicate spired Gothic Cathedral of our Lady – Rubens lived here and an exhibition was on show inside.
Long ago, people seemed to like writing their names in large letters on their business premises – above a bar on Groenplatz, a Mr Van Der Wee had advertised himself in letters eight feet high which caught my attention.
Just off the Hoogstraat  and converted from a 16th-century building, my travelling companion and I stayed at De Matelote, (do look, it’s worth it) a  stylish boutique  hotel with contemporary interiors and nine minimalist rooms decorated in shades of grey and a Michelin-starred restaurant. I rather wished we had eaten there, but after a truffle hunt around town, time eventually defeated us and we ended up much to Gipsy’s disgust at the Hilton with OK food and appalling service. I had pea soup.  Antwerpers pride themselves on being the descendants of the gluttonous Duke of Burgundy, thus I was able to engage and satisfy many sensual tastes – excluding those provided for by the bored women framed behind red lights, much tackier than their entirely legal, often spectacularly good-looking and taxpaying counterparts in Amsterdam. But, more of this anon…

It’s illegal to pimp, take photographs or buy hard drugs. So, there you go. I bought street waffles, a pair of shoes and, of course, pea soup.
Why the title? ‘Pea’ rhymes with ‘wee’ of course. Do try to keep up…

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2 thoughts on “Pea Soup

  1. I can't think of any famous Belgians, but I did know the Antwerpen thing. Not to worry – the French laugh at everyone except themselves. Canada would probably be better off if they could.
    The “compromise without agreement” deal is cool. Why doesn't it work anywhere else?

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  2. On Belgians – Jean-Claude Van Damme – the 'muscles from Brussels' and Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's fictional detective. His initials, I gather were chosen because he 'liked HP sauce'.

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