Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Culture schmulture

Culture is all relative...

We went to the Flanders, just across the border, to Belgium for our mini-break where we rented a nice gite in an old barn that looked out onto green pastures and where we could hear sheep in the morning. Most people in northern France wouldn't even consider this an option - maybe Walloonia, maybe the Netherlands but not Flanders and definitely not a mere 30 minutes from Lille. Flanders is where backwards, frites eating, beer guzzling, uneducated, Flemings live (who seem to all be tri-lingual by the way).

One of the reasons we love Flanders so much is for the estaminet - which can be loosely translated as a country inn - these are traditional restaurants, often in old farms, lost in the fills between fields where they serve 50+ sorts of beer, traditional foods like carbonnade flammande and platters of cheese and country bread served on a wooden boards. They are often decorated with houblon (hops since this is beer country) and all have their own theme. We discovered T Groen Blad, an understated, beautiful and comfortable place with a genial owner, De Kawauckers, a traditional old farm decorated with houblon and a wood stove and copious meals and Wally's Farm a Flemish farm/Elvis mausoleum decorated with all sorts of farm-like tackiness and Elvis memorabilia, a small scall Statue of Liberty outside and an Elvis obsessed owner who performs from his Elvis repertoire on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of the month. (Jerome even suggested this place as a possible location for our 5th anniversary celebration. Seriously.).

So at night in our Flemish barn, drinking our Flemish beer and listening to our Flemish sheep, we caught up on our French TV culture while watching some music show on TF1 (a French station some claim to be the worst of TV, watched only by people who think fries are a vegetable and all Americans own guns, or so I've been told). We discovered a horrible police show with really bad acting and actors with large eyebrows and big noses, and we also learned a lot about the current pop music scene like Stanislas (which has been going through my head incessantly for days hence today's "what the voices in my head are saying"), this year's "pop sensation" Mika, Laurie, Alizée and a rapper named Soprano.

To finish off our mini-break, we went to the Mont Noir for a walk in the woods. But first, we had to bypass the rue du Mont Noir, the street that actually follows the boarder. On the French side, there is nothing much but on the Belgian side there are stores, schlock, tabacco, candy, 10 kilo bags of potatoes and South Americans selling hats and sweaters. All this to attract the blue law avoiding French shoppers. Schlock aside, we had a lovely walk in the Mont Noir around an old farm . The Province of Westhoek (Flanders) provides you with a great network of trails through the region as does the Region Nord Pas de Calais (but less detailed).

Jérôme once told me that until fairly recently, on maps of northern France, nothing existed over the border. But I really love being in the borderland, not knowing if you're in France or Belgium, here or there. Strange (hear the irony here), but I find something comforting in the ambiguousness of the Flanders.

So I ask : what's culture anyway?

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