From UK Resistance (of all the unlikely places), this Guardian article on the German sense of humor is fascinating, tying it to the language's highly-exacting structure. Kind of a comedic Sapir-Whorf, if you will.
And the results of the Great Nutella Blind Taste Test are:
Only three people out of six guessed correctly when asked to identify American and Belgian Nutella by their country of origin. Thus proving that, in this limited sample at least, people who claim that they prefer the European version either actually prefer the American or just can't tell the difference.
Extra points go to snobs who insist that the Romanian product is way better than the Belgian, especially after failing the test.
So: about Belgium.
The conference was a success. We got a quarter of a million hits on the site in five days, maxed out the streaming server, and had visits from the President of Liberia and the King of Belgium. Since the video stream could only handle 300 users at once, we ended up turning to audio downloads of the speeches, meaning that my writing and recordings became the main feature of the site. I hope that'll look good as I keep prospecting for jobs.
Brussels itself reminds me of the older parts of Paris, although I'm sure that's partly because they're both French-speaking (the Dutch contingent is a distinct minority). The city's style itself also reminds me of France, particularly older cities like Avignon, although a few team members who had lived there assured me that most of Brussels has been destroyed and rebuilt at least once over the years. Regardless, it's a very walkable city, with lots of cobblestone streets. I didn't get to stroll around very much of it, being busy with the conference, but I did get to see some.
This church outside of the hotel was being remodeled. I like that the scaffolding has a finished image of the church on it, almost as if someone thought they could fool passers-by.
La Grand Place at night. This is one of the big landmarks of Brussels. It's one of those city squares that's surrounded on all sides by these incredibly beautiful buildings, covered in intricate carvings.
Here's the other side of the square.
And of course, a picture of me looking jetlagged in front of the other side.
Walk past La Grand Place a little ways, as I did with a few team members, and you come to this old shopping district. Slightly farther is a famous bar that was once a landmark for the local bohemians, which shares its name with its house brew: "Sudden Death." Very encouraging.
Many of the buildings in Brussels have a very art deco feel to them, like this museum building. It used to be an insurance agency, according to a sign outside the entrance.
When we first got there, the staff were actually still putting the building together. They have a lot to do even now. Once you stepped outside of this conference room, there were missing carpets, too many doors, confusing exit signs--all the best parts of great planning.
But with that said, the conference room looked really good with 400 people inside. This picture is taken from when the heads of the development agencies first walked in, hence the photographers in the middle. The moderator, Nik Gowling, stood in the middle--a decision meant to encourage participants to talk to each other, and let him react dynamically to the proceedings.
But with all the technology there, the one thing that nobody had was a microphone stand, and I didn't pack one--I had enough trouble with security already. I had to improvise. Classy.
Belle uploads her pictures right away. Why yes, that is a general aura of procrastination surrounding me! Thank you for noticing!
These aren't all of my pictures from the trip--just the ones that tickled me for one reason or another.
West-to-east jetlag is one of my favorite travel bonuses, because I am not a morning person. Now after traveling from, say, France back to Virginia, all of a sudden I'm waking up at five a.m. and feeling great. Everyone comments on how refreshed I am! How productive! Of course, since I don't sleep much, this takes only about a day to wear off. But that one day is a glorious, golden moment for all mankind, particularly those portions at -5GMT.
It's surprising that I still managed to be so cheerful, since my flight was delayed and luggage didn't arrive until 1:30 in the morning. The luggage was shipped to my apartment, which was convenient (although disorienting), but I still spent more time than usual hanging around JFK airport. I occupied myself trying to figure out the reasoning behind the generous pornography section of the magazine racks. In Paris I could attribute the high proportion of skin mags at the airport to the general sexual atmosphere of France, but in the more prim and prudish USA it took me by surprise. It seems like a fundamentally stupid place to buy porn (as if there's an intelligent, insightful place), much less have a whole section devoted to it. Do people actually buy explicit material just before climbing onto a cramped plane where they'll be in close company with all ages, genders, and creeds?
Well, maybe they do. Like the redneck standing in the Men's Health section of the newstand, surreptitiously grabbing Barely Legal when he thinks no-one's looking and folding it inside a copy of Outside Magazine. I'm willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, but I can't imagine he's reading that for the articles.
Enough about domestic disparities, man! what about France itself? Well, it's a very nice country--beautiful and varied and not too big--but probably not my kind of place. The food is unbelievable, and the desserts are mind-boggling. I had an ice cream cone in Paris that I may never forget, and a pseudo-Mexican caramel dessert in Lyon that should be illegal. The traditional French food was excellent, as were some of its dodgier outliers--like steak frites. Those are long hamburger sandwiches available from street vendors with french fries and ketchup on top. It's like a whole combo meal in an easily portable package.
France is also a country on a schedule that's alien to Americans. Shops close early, or late, seemingly at random, and Mondays are for some reason oddly quiet. There is probably an excellent cultural reason for this, but I'll admit my ignorance right up front. It gave me trouble.
There is probably also an excellent cultural reason for the massive proliferation of real estate and analysis laboratories, and I'd love for someone to explain it to me, especially the latter. Every few blocks in the larger cities, there's an office marked "Medical Analysis Laboratory," which lends the country a clinical flavor not unlike an episode of CSI. One is forced to wonder if the French are, in fact, a nation of criminal pathologists, solving crimes left and right when they're not playing the real estate market for massive profit. Sorry: when you don't really know anything about a country, you tend to make up these little stories to keep yourself amused. I'm not really so much of a gringo.
Anyway, the major spoils of the trip are: a number of photographs, the highlights of which may be posted; some sketches, which may also be displayed if I can find a handy scanner; and a pair of the Big Ben DS headsets, already under dissection for use with Electroplankton. A good time was had by all, and it's great to be back. Thanks, France!