Daily Archives: July 1, 2014

Brugge

Where Brugge is:

  1. Belgium.
  2. Get a map.

How to get into and out of and around Belgium:

  1. Thalys. The Belgian high-speed train. Belgium is too small to need high-speed to get around it. The trains exist to get you in and out. Book first class in advance and save money. First class comes with food and beverage that, outside the train, would cost up to half your ticket price.

    Lunch with Thalys

    Lunch with Thalys

  2. Any other train, if you like moving slowly and don’t feel like eating or drinking for some reason. Or the Thalys doesn’t go there when you want to go there.
  3. Well, it’s not that big a country anyway.
  4. I really don’t see why you’d want to drive. What’s relaxing about that? Also, beer. This is Belgium.

Things to do in Brugge:

  1. Beer. Germans made beer pure; Belgians made beer interesting.
  2. Chocolate.
  3. Beer.
  4. Look around.
  5. Beer.
  6. Take photos.
  7. Beer.

    Beer

    Beer

  8. Chocolate.
  9. Some other food who cares French fries or something with one of the eighty-three sauces you can put on it maybe a sausage too if you must.
  10. Beer.

How to get around in Brugge:

  1. Walk. The old cute part is not very large. The streets are medieval-style: stone, not all that wide, pedestrians and vehicles often mixed together watch where you’re walking and what’s coming at you there are cars and they go fast
  2. Local bus. Good to get to and from the train station. Goes on the same streets as you walk on. Somehow manages to go in both directions on a street not quite wide enough for one.
  3. Bike. Stay at a hotel that has bikes. Bike in the park along the canal that rings the oval heart of town. Bike up and down the streets. Pro tip: when a sign says Uitgezonderd it means “excepted” – so if the sign is a No Entry or One Way sign and it has a picture of a bike and it says Uitgezonderd, that means you can go that way even though the cars can’t. Oh, by the way, watch out for the cars holy cow.

    Follow that woman. She will lead you to beer

    Follow that woman. She will lead you to beer

  4. Take a horse carriage if that sort of thing turns you on and you have the money flopping around and you forgot you were going to buy beer and chocolate with it.
  5. Drive? Not. Don’t do it. Locals blast through in their cars. You are not local. There are canals and stone walls and people. And you will be drinking a lot of beer.

What to see in Brugge:

  1. Brugge.
  2. Look, dude, it’s an outrageously cute medieval town. Bring a camera. You’ll only be taking the same pictures as one hundred sixty-five other people today, but you’ll want pictures to remember it by, especially if you drink all that beer, and to prove to other people that it exists.

    Congratulations! You are the 5,783,624th person to take this picture. The slight tilt gives an authentic impression of squiffiness

    Congratulations! You are the 5,783,624th person to take this picture. The slight tilt gives an authentic impression of squiffiness

  3. Bruges.
  4. Yes, Brugge and Bruges are the same place. We call it Bruges but that’s the French name and they all speak Flemish (Dutch) there so I prefer to call it Brugge, which also allows me to surreptitiously clear my throat on the gg, because that’s how you say the gg. But if you say Bruges people think of that movie.

    They only take the plastic off when company is coming over

    They only take the plastic off when company is coming over

  5. OK, you want specifics? See the churches. See the streets. See the canals. See the bridges over the canals. That’s what the name of the place comes from, the Flemish word for “bridges.” Walk walk walk walk. Bring a map or you are doomed, even though you can see the Belfort tower on the market square from many places in town. Seeing it and getting to it are different things.

    Brugge is canal retentive

    Brugge is canal retentive

  6. The inside of a brasserie.
  7. Chocolate shops. These are easy to find. Simply start walking. You will see several soon enough. If you don’t succeed, go to the market square and follow a horse-drawn carriage. You will pass some. Watch where you step, these are real horses, with asses behind them… sitting on the carriage, driving.
  8. The inside of another brasserie.

What to eat in Brugge:

  1. Beer.
  2. The little dish of cheese they bring with the beer.

    Food

    Food

  3. Chocolate.
  4. Frites, maybe from a truck in the market square, doused with a sauce you would never have thought of putting on French fries but is good. Curryketchup? Samurai? Andalouse? All of the above? 50 cents each.
  5. Seriously, did you skip the part about beer? Have a sausage. Whatever.
  6. Yes, of course they have restaurants. Are you there to eat or are you there to drink beer?
  7. Beer.

What beer to drink in Brugge:

  1. Tripel Van de Garre. This is the house beer of Brasserie van de Garre. It is sweet with lemon notes and a lasting ring of bitterness around the back of the tongue. It comes with a big head. It is 11% alcohol. They limit customers to three each. You get to Brasserie van de Garre by going along Breidelstraat just off the market square, through a little doorway off the south side, and down a rough cobbled alley. This alley is a sobriety test. If you can’t make it to the brasserie, you’re done for the evening. If you’re in the brasserie and can’t make it out, well, shucks.

    Abandon all sobriety, ye who enter here

    Abandon all sobriety, ye who enter here

  2. Anything by Gulden Draak. Nice, caramelly, and strong.
  3. Anything by Boon if you like sweet fruity beers. Kriek means “cherry,” by the way. Do not expect the fruity beers to be strong.
  4. Definitely have a lambic. Anyone’s lambic. Lambic is made by sticking the wort (liquid) up in the attic and throwing open the window and letting the local airborne yeast get it going. Look, you’re not in Germany. Belgian beer is Saturnalia for your mouth.
  5. Gueuze. Heh heh.
  6. Oh, did I mention that gueuze is really sour? I gueuze I forgot. Well, it is. And super interesting. You just ordered one and you can’t finish it? Fine, give it to me, I’ll finish it for you.
  7. Literally anything else that looks interesting. Especially if it’s on tap. Unless the bartender makes a little face when you ask about it.

    Tripel van de garrulous.

    Tripel van de garrulous.

What to buy in Brugge:

  1. Seriously?
  2. Don’t bother with clothing unless you have a pressing need. It’s the same as everywhere else and no cheaper.
  3. Don’t bother with trite souvenirs unless you have friends who really like them, in which case go ahead, there’s plenty to be found.
  4. …um…
  5. Chocolate, obviously! Some for you, some for your friends, and some for you.
  6. Yes, beer. Buy some bottles in a store too, for when you get back to your hotel.

    Our hotel room

    Our hotel room

Where to stay in Brugge:

  1. Well, we stayed at the Adornes Hotel, and it was nice, we would go back. Good breakfast too. Yes, yes, OK, we had real food at breakfast, cold cuts and fruit and cheese and pastries and muesli and tea and juice. Then we went cycling on free hotel bikes and then we went beering.

    Before beer and bike, breakfast

    Before beer and bike, breakfast

  2. If you want to look at other options, go on TripAdvisor. Look at the reviews. Make sure to look at the pictures. If many of the guest pictures of a hotel feature a steep, narrow, long staircase, that means you will have to drag your bags up and down it. Our hotel had an elevator, although you had to cower at the back as though hiding from a hitman or you would interrupt an electric eye by the door and it would stop.

Whether Brugge (Bruges) is like that movie:

  1. Yes.
  2. Minus the hitmen. I think.
  3. And the dwarf.
  4. Have another beer, you might see them anyway.

otter

“We are game-playing, fun-having creatures, we are the otters of the universe. We cannot die, we cannot hurt ourselves any more than illusions on the screen can be hurt. But we can believe we’re hurt, in whatever agonizing detail we want. We can believe we’re victims, killed and killing, shuddered around by good luck and bad luck.” —Richard Bach, Illusions

I think Richard Bach is the person who came up with the phrase otter of the universe. It has gotten around some since.

When I first saw it, used by someone else, it struck me as a useful play on author of the universe. Many people want to know who the author of the universe is. They want to find out how everything got here. They want to understand the author’s intentions.

When children approach a playground, how many of them ask themselves what things the designer had in mind, and try to do only those things? The ones who do (there may be some) are the annoying ones who suck the fun out of it. They probably grow up to be grammatical prescriptivists or similar dogmatists. Or I should say fail to grow up, because while play is childlike, dogmatism is just plain callow.

Otters don’t show up and try to establish first causes. They just look at what can actually be done. And one thing that can be done is play. Otters reallyliketo play. They make good use of what’s around them. And by good I mean fun.

The first time I saw otter of the universe was actually about the first time I became aware of otters as playful animals. I had always thought of otters as just sleek aquatic animals with a name that sounded like a ruler when you hold one end of it against a desk near the edge, bend and release the free end, and pull the ruler back towards the desk: “ott-tot-tot-tt-tt-ttttrrrrrrrrr.” Wooden, rigid as a rudder, a hard sound at odds with the water in which the animals moved. I oughta have known better.

The word otter is easily played with, after all. It’s practically made for a Dr. Seuss treatment: If an otter bites the butter that a potter put on platter for his daughter, will the potter hit the otter with a putter or a rudder? Will the potter’s daughter titter at the otter’s pitter-patter? Will the bettered, battered otter battle bitterly for butter? Or do otters bite on potters’ pretty daughters’ butter patties just to put on pity parties when they’re battered by the potter with a butter-splattered putter as they skitter to the water?

There’s more than that, though. The word otter comes ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root *udr-, ‘water’. This water has followed many courses: the hydro- root we get from Greek (and that multi-headed water serpent, the hydra); some of the words for ‘otter’ in some other languages (Slavic languages in general have something in the line of vidra; Latin had lutra, which has shown up variously changed in Romance languages); and of course various words for ‘water’, including water.

So this word has flowed around and frothed and leapt like water – and like otters in the water. Do the various flows and changes of words over time seem like utter madness? I’d say they’re more like otter happiness.

Language is my favourite sport. A word isn’t worth much in my world if it can only mean one thing at a time. Rules are made to serve communication, not the other way around, and sometimes what’s being communicated is first of all “Have some fun with this.” And sometimes that’s the best thing to do – whether or not the utterer thought of it, go with what the otterer will do with it. I want to frolic in the stream of consciousness. I want to push language play to the otter limits. And beyond!

And then, at the end of the day, we can rest like otters in the water, floating, holding hands, allowing ourselves even in sleep some play in the stream.