VENICE OF THE NORTH
© By Ric Polansky
Party animal ... I ain’t. From Bean fests and clam bakes thru to wing-ding zuccini tastings social celebrations are usually more boring than their hosts. Festivities that always smack of a sameness—once or twice attended—should be avoided. Same people bitching about the same topics while quaffing the same food and chugging the same familiar drinks.
But, when Englishman Roger Pearce (long time home owner in Mojacar for 25 years) invites you to his 60th birthday in a far-ish away place that connotes different vitals, beverage and an unusual assortment of visiting kindred and folk—you know it will be an event uncommon enough to leave you thoroughly exhausted but fulfilled. As Roger’s background is advertising you also can surmise that you will be taken for a mystery tour that will leave you with the cerebral scars of “unforgettable” memories.
The party was. I am still recovering. And he is back out here already-- playing again.
Because of my specialty travels in South America, North America and Alaska I was uninformed about Brugge. Everyone else in Europe knew the place, had been there and had the fotos to prove their adventure. Brugge is as quaint as everyone says it is. A small medieval renaissance city surrounded by a river mote. The town miraculously remained untouched during WW II. It´s fairytale history and baroque architecture evokes the best reminisces of childhood dreams. And similar to Venice canals criss-cross the town allowing the myriads of day trippers to climb plenty of bridges and snap scenic shots of the tour boats below crammed full of visitors packed tight as sardines.
But the real secret of the locality is the photographic possibilities. Every building, house, shop or garage is adorned with trimmings, statues, gargoyles or some obsequious detail that begs to be recorded for posterity. If it isn´t a Saint strangling a snake it will be a tiny house with ancient wrought iron lettering announcing its founding in the year 1436 or some clever but antediluvian decoration that pleads to be photographed as another fond remembrance.
Brugge is unique. Only about 20,000 people live within the circular parameters but they are compensated by the 20-30 thousand daily visitors that cram within the limited confines to buy lace, chocolate, tapestries and snap architecturally perfect photos. On an average the tourists ages are about 75 years old: 60% English, 30% Dutch-German and 10% Asian. All well heeled and camera toting. The locales pride themselves in that their feet never walk on their own hallowed passageways— they ride bikes. Only the visiting philistines trod the cobblestones.
Roger’s OAP “black day” was fun filled and exiting for the thirty some that made the journey. Into horse drawn carriages for a trip about town, stopping for peach blossom-champagne alongside the canal. Then winding our way thru town and to the oldest continuous pub (1513) to imbibe Belgium’s finest brews. Our noisy banter and impolite chiding soon rid the archaic pub of local reverent beer enthusiasts. Two hours free time then dress for a gala meal in the Duke of Burgoyne, sumptuous, with only the finest wines gracing our discerning palates. A set menu embarrassingly splendid. Indulged and fêted like royalty our stupefied band of friends paid grateful homage to an English gentleman. Then the traditional song to the “Flying 103 Squadron” (formed in Mojacar at Lloyd’s EL CID beach bar) so long ago no one can remember when (nor why).
Somehow we all made it back to the hotels for a nightly snore and slumber. Recovery time was allotted until noon for those rare few that would over indulge. The next day the entire group arrived haggard, bedraggled and wasted. But, before our senses could clear we were whisked away to tour boats for a scoot about the canals and then paraded back to the market square for lunch.
Some four hours later we bid each other farewell. Some to waiting cars, others off to the trains and a few in taxis to the airport. Instantaneously the town seemed quieter and more serene. The frivolity and gaiety had dissipated and evaporated into the evening shadows. But, not the memories.