I love Belgium. The waffles, Le Grande Place, the dogs in the cafés, the Horta architecture, the goofiest sculpture ever made (the Atomium), Magritte . . .but old and new Europe are not mixing well, and I speak of the two cultures that seem to be present in every country I visit as I hop around the continent.
There is old Europe, shopping for cheese and meats at the traiteur, browsing for antiques, enjoying a café for a coffee in the morning before heading off to work in a new office tower. The locals return home at night, kiss the kids, perhaps take in a dinner at one of the soigne new spots around town, and go home. This is classic Europe, and whether these families are in their thirties or sixties it matters not.
But it's different indeed than the gypsy beggars in the streets or the hordes of disaffected North African or Middle Eastern youths silently chain smoking and mainlining coffee in the local bar-tabac. The small foie gras and oyster cafés (the oyster bar in the Passage du Noord is my fave) are increasingly more desolate, the Schwarma/Kebap stands are more prevalent, and the old guard can't understand why anyone would forego the former for the latter. My Sultan Special at the King of Kebap would explain it if they gave it a try—a grilled chicken and pickled vegetable pita that would curl your toes it's so good. But old Belgium won't accept the new immigrants and their customs and won't give them meaningful jobs and access to good schools—and this is a progressive country!
I came over here wondering about our immigration issues in America, and I return grateful for our system—which needs fixing—but Europe is a powder keg of jealousy and resentment, misunderstanding and denial, and it feels like the chances of a peaceful civil rights movement flourishing here, one that could result in mutual understanding and progressive change, is almost nil.
Next week, the best day of eating in Brussels and an update from the world's largest seafood show . . . .