Zot van Antwerpen

Just in case there are any of you out there who are in any doubt – I actually quite like this wee corner of Europe that I live in.

Granted of course, there are moments where I find myself questioning why I am still here after almost seven years but there have to be reasons that prolong my stay here in Belgium and it is about that that I would like to write about in this blog.

First of all of course there is my job – the reason I first came to Belgium as a wide-eyed graduate trying to make his way in the Big Bad World and the reason why I decided to come back and do “The Belgium Thing” again 4 years later.

However, being employed as an SAP consultant, I find myself in the rather fortunate position of being able to use my profession to see other parts of the world. And yet, in spite of this, I am still here, having turned down opportunities in the past to work in such varied and interesting places as the US, Barcelona, Sweden, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Australia and err… Iran. There’s even been chances to go back to Ireland and work in ‘The South’ but none of these have proved tempting enough to leave Antwerp and go exploring.

Perhaps I’m holding out for the invitation to come and ply my trade in Afghanistan but I don’t think so; which means of course, there has to be something more to it than just somewhere I can eke out a career for myself.

So what is it that has kept me here for so long, especially considering I had decided on my return to Belgium to stay here for a couple of years, three maximum.

Anyone who knows me will I’m sure agree when I say that I am a bit of a social animal. I’m happiest when surrounded by people and find it difficult to spend time on my own; a rather strange confession for somebody who would place the rather solitary hobbies of reading, writing and masturbation high on his list of things to do during my free time.

But you see folks, whilst masturbation is most definitely done in the confines of my living space – even the Belgians would frown upon considering that as a spectator sport (believe me – it isn’t) – my reading and writing is almost entirely done in public view on a terrace during the summer and inside the welcoming, warmth of one of Antwerp’s many bars during the winter. I need to be around people.

So why is this?

I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that my apartment is pretty small, meant as a temporary solution to an accommodation problem I was experiencing after going through a messy ‘divorce’ with the ex but it is still providing me with a home of sorts, two years later.

I enjoy social interaction with people - conversing, telling stories, listening to stories, hearing crap jokes and telling even crapper ones, even just sitting watching the world go by. I don’t watch a lot of TV, save for programmes such as The Simpsons, The Sopranos or Lost.

Football takes up a lot of my free time as well – but I think even if I was to go ahead and get Sky TV installed in the apartment, I would still need the atmosphere of a pub with other football fans and the discussions that revolve amongst them as we all offer our extremely high-browed analysis of The Match.

Two years after moving to Belgium, I moved in with My Belgian Girlfriend and everything went more or less according to plan for the two and a half years that followed. Until I fucked it up of course.

So after four and a half years of living in Belgium, I found myself single and without a place to call home. I think I was officially at what is known as a crossroads in my life. Looking back, it was as good a time as any to leave Belgium and go farther a field. Indeed it was something that I threatened to do on more than one occasion but something kept me hanging on in, continuing with my existence here.

There’s no doubt that some of the reason was my policy of taking the easy way out in times of difficulty. Surely it was easier to continue plodding along with what I was doing than uprooting what little I had and moving on to the next chapter in my life. Not a particularly noble reason for staying but I have no doubt that it played a part.

But the problem with taking the easy way out is that there is always the nagging doubt in the back of your head that eats away and fills one’s mind with thoughts of doubt and regret over having made the right decision or not.

So there must be more to it than that.

Being a self-confessed social animal, I meet a lot of people. Over the past few years I have met many interesting and nice people. Some of them were even Belgian. I have a few people that I consider to be friends and am more than happy when in their company. So that’s already a reason to stay.

The female interest hasn’t been particularly successful in recent times but I think that is more to do with me than the fact that I live in Belgium. A few girls have been in an and out of my life since ending my co-habiting relationship but nothing has proved to be especially long-term. Not a situation that I was too familiar with but something that I grew to enjoy, perhaps too much at times. I wasn’t particularly looking for Mrs. Right and anyway – I think women can smell desperation from 10 paces away.

But I could have lived the single life style anywhere I wanted – without the baggage of a relationship, or children and at a relatively young enough age to travel some more, the world should have been my oyster.

And yet, I remained in Belgium.

So, just what the hell is it?

Such Belgian delights as 24 hour drinking, frituurs and waffles are not enough to keep even the least demanding of people happy for long. And yes, that includes me.

I’ve mentioned already that I have questioned my reasons for persisting with Belgium but it has to be said that most of my moments of doubt and self-analysis occur during the winter time. For you see folks, the difference between Antwerp - and indeed Belgium as a whole - in the winter and in the summer is quite remarkable.

I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that the number of outdoor festivals organised in Belgium is incredible but there are many, many other events organised by various towns throughout the summer months. Enough to keep a bogman from Northern Ireland more than amused.

A case in point:

Last weekend, the city of Antwerp played host to a mechanical elephant and it’s ‘owner’ a giant mechanical girl. Following a certain storyline over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, these amazing constructions could be seen around my adopted home town – the elephant sleeping on St. Jansplein, the girl shopping down the Meir, the elephant squirting onlookers through apartment windows as it walked through the student district of the Paardenmarkt, even the girl took a leak in full public display (see above)

And boy did the public come out in force for that one, with an estimated 650,000 people descending upon the city to catch a glimpse of proceedings.

On the Sunday afternoon, there was a free concert organised to promote the multi-cultural aspect of Antwerp. Some friends and I watched what can only be described as a Moroccan version of Take That, Flemish rappers and a reggae band from the Caribbean.

And all this before going to my local to watch the world cup final in the company of Belgian, Dutch, English, Canadian and of course Northern Irish. However, on this occasion I wasn’t the only one hailing from My Wee Country, the pub being besieged by a few others that came from the same neck of the woods as I do, much to my pleasant surprise.

How GREAT it was for my MATES to hear EIGHT people all pronouncing these words in capitals the SAME way as I do! A GREAT night was had by all and it put me firmly in the mood for my trip home for my father’s birthday a couple of days later.

But more about the trip home in the next blog – “IT IS OLD BUT IT IS BEAUTIFUL”

PS – No doubt the winter months will roll around once again and the whole of Belgium will go into hibernation and I’ll start questioning why I am here….