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25 April 2015. Brussels, Belgium

I cringed slightly as I took the picture. Up until that point, it was the creepiest picture I had ever taken. Sadly, in less than an hour, it was going to become the second creepiest picture I had every taken.

The picture was of Manneken Pis. I was in Brussels and my companion, friend, and tour guide, Sebastian, a fellow 8th Floor alumni, was showing me around his city.

As we walked around the downtown area, Sebastien shared with me what he had learned in the two years that he had lived in Belgium.

Neither French Nor Freedom Fries

He shared the various Belgian foods that were popular: beer, chocolate, waffles, and my favorite, French Fries. Although to call them French Fries in Belgium is quite insulting.

I was told that fries were invented in Belgium, and it’s clear that today they are still a big part of their culture, with their tiny forks and myriad of dipping sauces to choose from.

The story goes that, during World War II, American soldiers came to Belgium and fell in love with the fries.

However, the Americans weren’t very good at geography, so they assumed that because the Belgians were speaking French, they must be in France. And thus upon their return to the states, referred to the delicious potato treats as French Fries… something the Belgians have not yet forgotten.

Maury Povich of Statues

Brussels BuildingAnother great story, though one likely made up by high school students, was that of a series of statues in one of the squares. 

There, atop one of the buildings, is a statue of a woman holding a baby, but instead of looking at the baby, the woman is looking at another statue.

Supposedly, she is looking at the other statue, that of a man, as if to say, “you are the father of this baby.” That statue, however, is pointing to a third statue, as if to say, “No, he is the father.” Statue #3 is pointing to a fourth statue, who’s looking down, to say, “Yes, he is in fact, the father.

At this point, I started to wonder how true these stories actually were, but ultimately didn’t care as they were thoroughly entertaining.

The Story of the Weird Statue

However, my favorite story brings us back to Manneken Pis and the awkward picture I had just taken.

The great story attempts to answer the question: how did a 3-foot bronze statue of a little boy peeing become the icon of an entire city?

And when I say little boy, I mean little. Not a 10-year-old but a 4- or 5-year-old. And when I say icon, I mean it’s a place where tourists flock with their selfie sticks to take pictures of themselves with a boy peeing in the background.

Mannekin Pis

I don’t know if that just speaks to the uniqueness of the statue or perhaps people’s lack of imagination for other things to do in Brussels, but alas, here I was still in front of the peeing boy, still taking a picture.

The reason for the iconic statue isn’t exactly known, but there are plenty of stories to say why it’s so important, and that’s what I love about the statue.

Some stories are more mundane, such as a witch found the boy peeing on her property so she turned him into a statue, or a father, who had lost his son, promised to erect a statue of his boy in whatever pose he found him in.

There were also a number of stories turning the boy into a hero. One story suggests that the statue was meant to honor a boy who had discovered an effective way of warding off enemy soldiers: by standing in a tree and peeing down on them. Another said that there was a bomb in the city and the little boy had peed on the fuse to prevent it from going off.

But my favorite story was a little bit more elaborate. It claims that there was a great fire way-back-when in Brussels that tragically happened during a great drought. The townspeople didn’t have any water and so they had no way to put the fire out. The town was doomed… until this little boy decided to put the fire out by peeing on it.

Now of course the boy didn’t have enough pee to put the whole thing out, duh, so he had to constantly drink beer so that he could maintain a steady stream to extinguish the fire.

Not only is it a hero story but also one that includes the Belgian beer.

One other great tidbit about the statue is that at one point, French soldiers stole the statue from the town. Later, Louis XVI decided to give the statue back, and as a way to apologize, gave the statue a metal honor. Meaning, anytime a French soldier passes the statue of the little boy peeing, they must give it a salute.

But alas, the tale does end there. For the last stop on our tour of downtown Brussels was where I took the new creepiest picture I had taken, of yet another statue.

This statue depicted a little girl peeing in a squatting stance, weirdly behind a fenced-in area. It was a companion piece to Manneken Pis, but for obvious reasons, wasn’t nearly as popular. It also sadly didn’t have any cool stories to go along with it, other than, “I guess we should make a girl one too?”

Jeanneke Pis (and the Weirdest Picture I've Ever Taken)

I made a bet back on New Year’s Day that the Bengals would beat the Ravens. They did not, and, as a result, I had to be a vegetarian for a week.

The bet didn’t take effect immediately, so I had time to prepare. I picked last week as the time to do it, strategically starting Sunday early evening on January 29th so I could start eating meat again on the evening of February 5th–just in time for the Super Bowl.

Incidentally, my last meal before starting vegetarian was Skyline Chili Dip. My first meal back–Skyline Chili Dip as well. I could go on for days about how delicious that is, but let’s get to the vegetarian week.

Here’s what I learned:

  • You don’t have to eat vegetables to be a vegetarian. I could have survived all week on PB&J, Ring Dings and ice cream. I didn’t, but I could have.
  • While it’s not that hard to cut out meat for only a week, it’s not something I want to do. I love chicken too much.
  • Being a vegetarian is more expensive (especially meal-time). It’s either expensive with regard to time (cooking / preparing food) or money (veggie burgers are more expensive than regular burgers).
  • Being a vegetarian can be inconvenient. If you choose to cook the food, you have to have the time and energy to cook it, eat it and clean it (‘it’ being the dishes in the last case). If you’re on the run, it’s harder to find hearty vegetarian meals at fast food places and bodegas.
  • Vegetarian dishes that try to pretend to be meat are upsetting. My preference for vegetarian meals are those that have a unique flavor or style of their own. Trying to cook tofu or seitan like chicken or beef just makes you angry because you’re eating tofu or seitan and not chicken or beef.
  • I tried to use the week as an excuse to try new foods. Here’s what stuck out from the week: despite my previous bullet point, vegetarian chicken fingers are good; pierogies are awesome; steamed broccoli isn’t as bad as I remembered; seitan is meh; peanut butter is delicious on everything.

Here’s what I ate:

  • Monday 1/30: OJ and Frosted Flakes; Celery with peanut butter; PB&J with potato chips; Carrots; Baked potato with butter and cheese; Black raspberry chip ice cream.
  • Tuesday 1/31: Banana and Frosted Flakes; Carrots; PB&J with potato chips; Vanilla cupcake; Granola bar; Chocolate milk; Pita and hummus, seitan with mashed potatoes spinach and green beans; 4 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures.
  • Wednesday 2/1: OJ and Toasted bagel with butter / cinnamon sugar; Grapes and protein bar; Chocolate ice cream and cookie/pudding dessert; Cheese pizza rolls; Banana; Peanuts, veggie burger, cheese fries, Doritos and 2 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures.
  • Thursday 2/2: Banana and Frosted Flakes; Protein bar; Carrots, PB&J with potato chips; 3 slices of cheese pizza; 6 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures; OJ.
  • Friday 2/3: Pastry; Carrots, PB&J with potato chips; Granola bar; 3 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures; Celery with peanut butter; Salad, pierogies, mac n cheese and chocolate custard.
  • Saturday 2/4: OJ and bagel with butter and cinnamon; Vegetarian chicken fingers with green beans, 2 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures; Banana; PB&J with Doritos and Chocolate milkshake; Slice of pizza; 2 S’mores cupcakes; Slice of pizza.
  • Sunday 2/5: OJ and Eggo waffles; Celery with peanut butter; Vegetarian chicken fingers; Carrots/cucumber slices… FINISH!

Final Thoughts

Overall the week wasn’t that difficult. I won’t be going vegetarian anytime soon (ever probably), but it was a good challenge and I learned a thing or two. I’ll probably try veggie burgers more often and every now and then choose a vegetarian option over a meat one.

I do think I’ll have to try eating vegan for a week (in the distant future). Not for any health reasons, I just apparently like to torture myself.

For a good vegetarian only restaurant, check out Candle Cafe (1307 3rd Ave, at 75th street).

For a good vegetarian friendly restaurant, check out Veselka (9 E 1st St, between Bowery and 2nd Ave). Go for the pierogies, stay for the chocolate custard.