|Nighttime in La Grand-Place de Bruxelles|
A high speed ride on the Eurostar took me from Paris to Brussels. Zipping along in a bullet train at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, I strummed my guitar until the coachmen told me, "You can't play music."
I arrived in Brussels, where a single occupancy room was to be had in the Jacques Brel Youth Hostel, not far from the station. These months of traveling made me leery of roommates. Those who are not afflicted with nocturnal log-sawing can never know the onus.
The hostel is named for Jacques Brel, the Belgian folk-singer, a Flemish Woody Guthrie. Early in his career he was humorous, irreverent, light-hearted. But later, wizened by age and disillusionment, he became morose, darkly philosophical. Monsieur Brel, Belgium's favorite son, epitomizes Belgian duality: optimism and resignation.
That night I strolled to La Grande-Place with all the 17th century Guild Houses packed side by side around the stone plaza.
Nighttime in November and, yes, it was cold. Restaurateurs plied their cuisine aggressively, recognizing the end of tourist season. I seated myself at a bistro, there to dine on cold lobster, shrimp, mussels, and oysters. I braved the challenge of raw oysters alone with none to witness my courage. Yes, oyster shooters. Mais, c'est finis. I have tried them. And that is enough.
The field is surprisingly small, considering that some 140,000 men came to lethal grips on it. For six hours, two armies grappled, bloodily, but indecisively. In the late afternoon, reinforcing troops were spotted hastening down the road that ran to the east. A moment of suspense . . . was it d’Erlon and the French? Or Blücher, with his Prussians?
When word came that the latecomers were Prussians, Napoleon, they say, muttered, "The one mistake I made in my life was deciding not to burn Berlin." From there, it was a foregone conclusion. At the crucial moment, the Old Guard made a valiant, desperate charge to break the Allied lines. Into withering fire, they set forth, hesitated . . . and broke! The sight of Old Guard flying in rout before the enemy changed the world. The mystique was ended. And so too Napoleon.
|Marshal Ney leads the charge|
|Armistice Day Commemoration, Waterloo|
I played guitar in the common room of the Jacques Brel hostel that night. I played with a heavy heart, pulled down by the many hands of the unnamed dead.
To be continued...
- Pt. I Amsterdam - Arnhem - Copenhagen
- Pt. II Copenhagen - Oslo
- Pt. III Bergen
- Pt. IV Flam fjord - Goteborg
- Pt. V Stockholm - Gavle - Stockholm
- Pt. VI Berlin
- Pt. VII Prague
- Pt. VIII Budapest
- Pt. IX Vienna
- Pt. X Munich
- Pt. XI Salzberg - Innsbruck
- Pt. XII Venice - Florence
- Pt. XIII Siena
- Pt. XIV Rome
- Pt. XV Naples - Pompeii
- Pt. XVI Cinque Terre - Geneva
- Pt. XVII Avignon
- Pt. XVIII Arles
- Pt. XIX Barcelona
- Pt. XX San Sebastian
- Pt. XXI Bordeaux - St. Lo
- Pt. XXII Paris
- Pt. XXIII Brussels - Waterloo
- Pt. XXIV Brugge
- Pt. XXV Amsterdam at last