Sunday, November 27, 2011

My way to school, courtesy of Google

A couple of weeks ago, Belgium was added to Google Street View. Yes, you can now view the crowded streets of cities like Brussels, Ghent, Leuven, Bruges and Antwerp in all their glory through the magic of Google. Like everyone else, I promptly fired up Google Earth to find my house. Found it!

But I'm not going to tell you which one it is. I already have enough fantasies about people armed with ski masks and golf clubs burgling us in the dead of night.

Instead, I'm going to show you my way to school, thereby giving you a snapshot of Ghent from the perspective of a full-time student like yours truly.

After mounting my bike and traversing a couple of roundabouts, I pass under one of the fine old railway bridges that span the roads that connect Ghent proper to its southern suburbs. These roads have names like Zwijnaardsesteenweg ("the paved road to Zwijnaarde"), Kortrijksesteenweg ("the paved road to Kortrijk"), Ottergemsesteenweg... you get the idea.

Beyond the bridge I find myself on Ottergemsesteenweg, possibly the most nondescript street in the whole city of Ghent. The only exciting thing that happens on this street is students on bicycles almost getting crushed to death by impatient drivers. (Speaking from experience there.) But aside from the sporadic near-accidents, this is by far the most tranquil part of my daily journey.


I soon join the multitudes of young people impatiently waiting for the "go" signal at the corner of Normaalschoolstraat and Citadellaan. As I kick off at the flash of green, I am joined by up to a hundred students on bikes. None of these bright young people need bicycle helmets, for they are magically protected by their youthful spirit and cunning devices.

On the other side lies Overpoort. Normally as dead as an overrun hedgehog, this neighbourhood springs into life on weekends as those unfortunate few among the students who aren't going home to their parents drown their sorrows in the numerous pubs lining the street. Overpoortstraat becomes an obstacle course on Monday mornings when the cleaning crews have yet to show up and sweet away all the broken bottles, beer glasses, and half-digested kebabs that have accumulated on the asphalt over the weekend.

Overpoort is also home to Resto Overpoort, one of the university's restaurants. Sadly, it does not look as awesome in real life as Google Street View will have it.

Resto Overpoort, looking unusually futuristic.

On the last leg of the trip I pass by St. Peter's Square (Dutch: Sint-Pietersplein), a large open area in front of St. Peter's Abbey. The Book Tower of the Ghent University Library can be seen rising above the other buildings in the background. The Book Tower is one of a handful of structures in Ghent currently to be found as a 3-D building in Google Earth.


On St. Peter's Square you can also find Roxy Center, perhaps the biggest movie rental place in town. Inside its bowels you can find anything from Tom Cruise to Tom Six and everything in between.

Finally, I arrive at the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy at Blandijnberg 2. With half an hour to go before the start of the lecture, I have just enough time to find a spot to park my bike. Here's to another day without it getting stolen.

All images © Google.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jukebox Friday: Triggerfinger - Let It Ride

If you've been thinking that it would be a good idea to combine Queens of the Stone Age's "No One Knows" with Wolfmother's "Woman", this might be your song of the day.

Triggerfinger was founded in Antwerp in 1998 by Ruben Block (vocals and guitar), Paul Van Bruystegem (bass) and Mario Goossens (drums). Their sound includes droning guitars and distorted, echoing vocals.

The haunting "Let It Ride" is the second track on Triggerfinger's third studio album, All This Dancin' Around, which was released last November. The video was allegedly filmed by the band while waiting backstage to perform at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels.


Never thought I'd be your back door man
I sort of thought I'd hold the front but then
The perfect balance baby
A certain twist of mind
A tempting hint at something I might find

Never thought you'd wind me up again
I sort of thought I'd sprung the clock but then
The perfect moment baby
A taste of fantasy
Will flood the gates with your mystery

Just for tonight baby
Just let it ride baby
Whatever you hide
Whatever you hide
Just for tonight baby
Just let it ride

You spill your smile and then you drag your tail
Playing hide and seek on a very different scale
The perfect balance baby
Between the touch and go
You're still my favorite mental rodeo

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jukebox Friday: Yevgueni - Veel te mooie dag

"Veel te mooie dag" ("Much too beautiful day") was written in memory of Hilde Rens, better known by her stage name Yasmine. A successful Flemish television presenter, pop artist and LGBT icon, she took her own life in 2009 after suffering from depression.

Yasmine. Source

Featured on Welkenraedt (2011), Yevgueni's fourth studio album, the song is a first-person description of the narrator's immediate reaction to the tragic news. Although it was written with a specific person and a specific day in mind, it resonates strongly with the feelings of sorrow and denial we all feel when faced with something too terrible to take in all at once. Some may be reminded of a moment of regret, a moment when they know they could have done more for someone else but will never get the chance again.

The above YouTube video was dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Pukkelpop tragedy, when a freak storm devastated the festival grounds and caused the deaths of five people.

Lyrics (original Flemish):

Het leek nochtans een hele mooie dag
Het rook naar mensen en naar gras
Er was muziek en er was tienduizend man
Toen iemand zei dat jij er niet meer was

Een lopend vuurtje trok een sprintje door ons land
Tien mensen grepen naar hun tas
Tien telefoons, hetzelfde bericht
En iemand zei dat jij er niet meer was

En de zon maar schijnen een veel te mooie dag
En de zon maar schijnen een veel te mooie dag
En een verdwaalde vlucht
Doorstreept de blauwe lucht
En ik wou dat ik daarboven was
Of dat ik nog niet op de hoogte was

Het leek nochtans een hele mooie dag
Ik sprong in mijn auto en ik las
Een oud bericht wel honderd keer opnieuw

Het was van jou "dat het niet zo dringend was"

En de zon maar schijnen een veel te mooie dag
En de zon maar schijnen een veel te mooie dag
En een verdwaalde vlucht
Doorstreept de blauwe lucht
En ik wou dat ik daarboven was
Dat alles hier nog bij het oude was

Lyrics (English translation):

Nevertheless, it seemed like a really beautiful day
It smelled of grass and of people
There was music and there were ten thousand people
Then someone said that you were no more.

A wild fire spread across the land
Ten people reaching for their bags
Ten telephones, the same message
And someone said that you were no more.

And the sun just shines on a much too beautiful day
And the sun just shines on a much too beautiful day
And a wayward flight
Streaks across the blue sky
And I wish that I was up there
Or that I was still unaware.

Nonetheless, it seemed like a really beautiful day
I got in my car and read
An old message a hundred times over

It was from you, saying that "it wasn't that urgent"...

And the sun just shines on a much too beautiful day
And the sun just shines on a much too beautiful day
And a wayward flight
Streaks across the blue sky
And I wish that I was up there
That everything was still just as before


Bonus: For those of you who play the guitar, here are the chords.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Wapenstilstandsdag (Armistice Day) is a public holiday in France and Belgium. Originally held to commemorate the victims of the First World War, it has since become an occasion to remember the victims of all wars past and present.

The holiday is on 11 November, the anniversary of the Armistice with Germany at the end of the First World War in 1918. In Commonwealth countries, this day is known as Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Veterans Day, or Poppy Day. The latter is a reference to the remembrance poppy, which is commonly worn in the weeks leading up to and on Remembrance Day.

Remembrance poppies at the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres. Source

The armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed after three days of negotiations on board a train parked on a railway siding in the Forest of Compi├Ęgne in northern France. Hoping that a quick peace would quelch the fires of the German Revolution of 1918-1919 - which had already resulted in the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II - the German delegation accepted all of the Allied terms. The armistice came into effect at 11 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

The last soldier of the British Empire to be killed before the ceasefire came into effect died in Ville-sur-Haine, a village near Mons in southwestern Belgium. Private George Lawrence Price and his patrol were pursuing a machine gunner through a row of houses when he was shot in the heart by a sniper as he stepped into the street. He died at 10:58, only two minutes before the fighting officially ended.

George Lawrence Price (1892-1918). Source

The nexus of World War I remembrance in Belgium is Ypres, which I visited and wrote about earlier this year. Just as the remembrance poppy eventually came to symbolise all war victims of the past and present, so have Ypres, its memorials and museums become a testament to the basic horror and futility of war itself. A day in Ypres should be an obligatory part of any trip to Belgium.


Further reading: