No World Wars In Western European Since 1945 = Nobel Peace Prize

Yesterday, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1993, I was living in Belgium and the Maastricht Treaty  (aka the Treaty on European Union) was taking effect.  It was all over the news…and I didn’t understand any of it.  I asked and a lovely Belgian friend explained it to me.   Before I tell you when they told me, lets detour to quick history lesson.   This is a list of just some of the battles that have the battles that have taken place on Belgian soil:


  • World War I The Battles of Flandres – There were five, yes five.  The First Battle of Ypres, the Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele, the  Battle of the Lys,  and the creatively named Fifth Battle of Ypres.  Germany and the Western Allies faced off once again in Belgium.  Industrialization increased the scale of wars and they took on a far more devastating nature.  Battles with over 50,000 fatalities became common.  Mustard gas doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to go either.  Belgian farmers still turn up canisters of gas when they plow their fields in the spring!
  • When the Germans wanted to invade France’s Mangiot Line fortifications built after WWI, they just went to Paris via Belgium.  Like many of the occupied countries during WWII, most of them weren’t too happy about their visitors.
  • Battle of the Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne) – After the Allies landed in Normandy, they made their way to Germany.  If you’ve read the last few bullets, you know the easiest way from France to Germany (and vice versa).  Southern Belgium has the Ardennes mountains, which happen to be a good place to entrench (and freezing in the winter).  The Germans mounted an offensive and surrounded almost 20,000 American troops.  It’s famous for General Anthony McAuliffe‘s line, ‘Nuts,’ in response to the German’s request to surrender.  Although I have heard that  ‘Nuts’ was the only printable equivalent of the word that was actually used, it goes without saying that a battle ensued.

You get the idea.  If you got tired reading that list, you can imagine how tired the Belgians were of the wars themselves.

My Belgian friend explained to be that linking their economies and cultures so thoroughly that untangling them was more difficult and costly than waging war was the only way to prevent it from happening again.  At that time, many people were alive who’d lived through the occupation and the war.  I met people whose family members were shot dead in front of their house by the Nazis.  When you think about it, Belgium is a country that only experienced intermittent periods of peace before foreign powers again waged war on their soil.  As a citizen of the tiny country that was continually caught in the cross-fire, they were hopeful that the European Union would help put an end to the seemingly never-ending series of wars waged by European powers like England, Spain, France, and Germany on their soil.

You can’t read the news today without reading about the European Union’s problems.  Some countries, like Switzerland, have good reasons for not joining (which they haven’t in order retain their neutrality and independence).  Nevertheless, as someone who likes a lot of Europeans and likes to travel, there hasn’t been a war on Belgian soil since WWII and I will happily celebrate that.

Why Is Antwerp A Center For Diamonds?

We took a quick jaunt around Antwerp when we were in Belgium.  We knew that Antwerp was a center for the diamond trade, we just had no idea why.  I did some research and here’s what I learned.

Until the 18th century, all diamonds came from India. Until Europeans arrived in India at the beginning of the 16th century, they made their way to Europe via trade routes.  One of the major trade routes cut through Venice.  It became the center of the diamond trade.  Bruges was at the end of one of the trade routes. Over time, it developed into a diamond cutting center.

Image from Snatch courtesy of Columbia Pictures and SKA Films

When the Zwin silted up in the 14th century, Bruges no longer had access to the North Sea.  A lack of sea access was not good for trading and the diamond business shifted to nearby Antwerp with its burgeoning trade.  At one point 40% of the world’s trade passed through its port.

Image from Snatch courtesy of Columbia Pictures and Ska Films, taken from Rotten Tomatos.

Antwerp began pioneering new diamond cutting techniques.  Cutting is extremely important because it influences the brilliance (the sparkle) as well as the size of the stone and therefore its value.  The waste should be as minimal as possible.

Image from Snatch courtesy of Columbia Pictures and SKA Films, taken from Austin Chronicle Website

Over time other towns gained in power and prestige.  By the end of the 17th century, Amsterdam had in power to such an extent that it had a virtual monopoly on the diamond trade.  While Antwerp still cut diamonds, Amsterdam kept the best stones to be cut by local cutters.  Antwerp’s cutters got creative and brought their “A” game, transforming small and mediocre stones into higher quality gems.

When diamonds were discovered in South Africa, there was a massive influx of rough stones into Antwerp.   The industry took a hit during the depression of the 1930’s.  Many Jews were involved in the diamond trade and fled Belgium at the outbreak of the Second World War.  To keep as much of the diamonds as possible out of the hands of the Germans, many diamonds were transferred to Great Britain for safekeeping.  The diamonds were returned to their owners after Antwerp’s liberation from the Nazis.  As a result, they industry was able to get back on its feet quickly after the war.

Flawless is a book about the Antwerp Diamond Center heist in 2003. Thanks for the image Union Square Press.

In 2003, there was a successful robbery of the Antwerp Diamond Center.  I’ve included a link to a great article about it.

A Two-Minute Tour Of Antwerp

He worked the morning after the Groezrock Festival.  With afternoon flights, we didn’t have much time to enjoy Belgium.  Regardless, he wanted to see a little something on the way to the airport and we had to transfer trains in Antwerp.  He’d never been before and wanted to check it out.  We got off the train, headed to the tourist information office for a map and headed on a whirlwind walking tour of Antwerp.

Antwerp’s famous zoo is immediately outside the grand train station.  The diamond district and the Antwerp Diamond Museum are also there (Antwerp is the world’s main center for cutting and polishing diamonds).  It was an easy walk through the main shopping district to the old town.  It was a nice walk although I would have preferred a stroll and window shopping to hoofing it.  Antwerp is trendy and has tons of shops from all over.  You could spend a lot of time and money shopping there.

It was a gorgeous day and everyone was trying to take advantage of the wonderful weather.  It is in Belgium after all.   They looked like they were having a delightful time.  Passing tons of cafes, fry places, praline shops, we soooooo wanted to stop.

Unfortunately, this was the closest we got.  We had to keep moving, see the city and catch a train to get to the airport.   There was no time.  Curses!

If you look hard at the top of this picture, you can tell that only one of the two planned towers was completed. You can see it in some of the photos below.

Instead of having a wonderful Belgian beer, we went to church.  The Cathedral of Our Lady was old and pretty with a lot of paintings that we didn’t have time to properly appreciate.  They have a fair number of works by Peter Paul Rubens (whose house/studio in Antwerp is now a museum), as well as paintings by artists such as Otto van VeenJacob de Backer and Marten de Vos.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Next on the list, the Grote Markt.  It’s a jewel of a main square.  It has the Brabo fountain which has a statue of a guy throwing a hand.  I’m not kidding.  Check it out.

According to legend, a mean, nasty giant controlled the nearby river traffic.  He extorted ridiculous tolls and cut a hand off hose who refused to pay.  Silvius Brabo, a Roman soldier, managed to kill the giant by cutting off his hand and throwing it in the river.  Wonderfully ornate guild houses in the Flemish Renaissance style surround the square.

Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe.  I would have loved to sit and watch the river traffic.  We could see workers readying boats for river cruises.   I think you could spend a nice afternoon strolling the river walk or taking a cruise.  Instead, we headed back to the train station.

Heading back to the train station, we passed The Steen.  Unfortunately, this is all we got to see of t’Steen, what remains of Antwerp’s old castle.  All in all, it was a wonderful little detour.  Although there were a lot of things we didn’t get to see and do in Antwerp, we are lucky to have been able to see the things we did, especially on such a nice day.

Oh yeah, we saw a Spartan too.  Rock on.

A Little Worse For The Wear, But Back For Day Two Of Groezrock Festival

We had a great time on the first day of Groezrock Festival.  I don’t think we were the only ones.  When we got off the bus for the second day, some people were looking a bit rough.  We missed the first band we really wanted to see… again.  We caught a bit of Zebrahead (great) and The Dangerous Summer before hitting the acoustic stage.

At the acoustic stage we saw Anti-Flag.  They said they were a were a bit nervous, because this was first time they were playing acoustically and their songs were not written to be played like that. They shouldn’t have worried.  Talent and hard work usually wins out.   They were fantastic and had the crowd eating out of their hands.

We know The Hard Lessons, who opened for and sang with Motion City Soundtrack.  The Hard Lessons are fantastic, fun-loving, musicians who put on a great show.  We wanted to see and support people they have toured with and so we went to see Motion City Soundtrack.  Doing so, we missed The Old Firm Casuals.   Curses.

After that we chilled in the sun listening to Hot Water Music.  There were lots of people outside soaking up the sun, enjoying the atmosphere and pulling shenanigans.

We ran into some Aussies that we’d met the day before at the Alkaline Trio show.  They had the tattoos and were pretty psyched for the show.  They weren’t the only ones.  We caught a glimpse of the guys from Anti-Flag checking out the show.  Love the Detroit Red Wings shirt too.  Way to represent.

We caught the tail end of The Bronx.   People were digging them, especially the kid in the viking helmet.

As expected, Anti-Flag put on a phenomenal show.  It was definitely one of the highlights of the festival.

 They weren’t afraid to mix it up and got out in the crowd.  The circle pit and crowd surfing were enthusiastic to say the least.  Groezrock seemed pretty prepared for it.  They must have had 20 big guys up there and were getting people over the barrier like they were working an assembly line.

We caught some of Against Me!’s Tommy Gabel on the acoustic stage.  It was pretty full and he sounded great.

We were also able to get a good spot for Simple Plan.  They were polished and had a lot of energy.

We tried to go see Chuck Ragan, but couldn’t get in the tent.  Disappointed, we consoled ourselves with some fries and called it a night.  Thanks for the great shows Groezrock.  We hope to be back next year.

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Mohawks Welcome But Not Required At The Groezrock Festival

We love to see live music and summer music festivals are big in Europe.  In January, we started looking at lineups and chose Groezrock Festival in Meerhout, Belgium as our first festival.  It had a fantastic lineup.  I am sure that many people don’t know these bands, but believe me when I tell you fans of punk rock are astounded by the sheer volume of great bands playing this festival.

Essentially, Groezrock is a giant music festival with four stages in the middle of fields in Flanders.  You bounce around between four stages (one of them acoustic) catching great music.  There were so many good bands that it was difficult to choose between several bands that were playing at the same time.

Arriving at the Main Stage where we saw the Menzingers. When you see the crowd surfing, you will understand why I didn’t bring my camera and only had my iPhone.

Unfortunately we arrived too late to catch Authority Zero.  The Menzingers had already taken the stage and were a great surprise.  We’d heard of them, but hadn’t seen them before.  Their music was strong and they sounded great.  We’ll definitely be buying their album now.

The Bouncing Souls on the acoustic stage

He is a huge Bouncing Souls fan.  We caught their acoustic set.  I think everyone tried to fit into the smaller acoustic tent to see them.  For good reason, they were great.

Reel Big Fish

The Bouncing Souls followed Reel Big Fish on the Main Stage.  I would have paid just to see them back to back!  They both put on great shows and had such a positive vibe. The crowd ate it up.  It was still relatively early and most people had tons of energy.

We didn’t have the best view of Reel Big Fish because we’d stopped to fortify ourselves.  Since we were in Belgium, that meant French Fries with special sauce.  So tasty.  We needed energy to keep from looking like this guy.

Set Your Goals

I’d heard some Set Your Goals on the Radio One Punk Show with Mike Davies.  After seeing them live, we became huge fans.  They were strong.  It was so crowded that I could only catch a glimpse of the stage by climbing the fence surrounding the sound booth.  It looked like joyful mayhem.  He saw guys in banana suits stage diving.

Yellowcard on the acoustic stage

We also caught Yellowcard‘s acoustic set.  He thought they did a good job wanted to see their live set.  It was even better.  Yellowcard was clearly motivated to put on a great show and excited to be there.  They had tons of energy and the crowd got the crowd really into it.

Bouncing Souls

We had such a great spot for Yellowcard that we decided to stay there to catch Face to Face, Lagwagon and Rancid.  It’s easy to forget how many great songs Face to Face has.  Seeing them live reminded me.  We hadn’t bought the album they released last year and will definitely be doing so.  They delivered a solid performance.  I love punk concerts for the energy.  It’s great to be someplace where you are encouraged to feel and move with the music to such an extent.  Face to Face was about our 10th consecutive hour of rocking out and we’d started flagging a bit.  By that point, I was too tired to jump around.

Face To Face

Crowd surfing during Face to Face

Even though it was their second show of the day, Lagwagon had tons of energy.  People were downing energy drinks like water and it showed.  The circle pit was huge and people were definitely rocking out.


We lost our key.  Oops  We went off in search of it and missed seeing Rancid…again.  Hopefully the third time will be the charm.  Given all the great music we saw, it is hard to be too bummed.

Here are some other acts we missed, but that got great reviews:

My Introduction to French Cinema, A List of Great, Entertaining and Fun French Films

I have been trying to watch TV in French.  Unfortunately, there are not many great television series in French. Thankfully, friends have suggested French movies for me to watch (thanks guys).

Thanks to Igor Film and Casbah Film

Volumes have been written on French cinema and there are endless ways of classifying meritorious French films (best, top, famous classic, popular, recent, great, good, and must see).  Classics like the 400 Blows, Belle du Jour, Un Chien Andalou, and The Battle of Algiers, do not appear on this list.  These films were chosen not for their cinematic adroitness, but for their entertainment value and insight into French culture.  They are divided into the following categories: Comedy, Black Comedy, Classics by Jaques Tati, Romantic Comedy, Dramatic Comedy, Dramas, Action, Animated/Cartoon, and TV (which contains a couple of old television series).

Thanks to Gaumont Films


Les Bronzés (French Fried Vacation) – Released in 1978, directed by Patrice Leconte, and starring Michel Blanc, Marie-Anne Chazel, Gérard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte, Josiane Balasko and Christian Clavier.  Perhaps I should have listed this under the “Cult” category as this satire was done my the famous sketch comedy group, Le Splendid.  Six vacationers from France find themselves in a Club Med like setting and take part in the organized fun.

Les Bronzés Font Du Ski (French Fried Vacation 2) – Released in 1979, directed by Patrice Leconte, and starring Michel Blanc, Marie-Anne Chazel, Maurice Chevit, Gérard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte and Christian Clavier.  The first film was such a success that they made a second one on the slopes.  This film is still quoted by Francophones (French speakers) on the slopes.  With all the skiing we have been doing lately, it is required viewing.

Courtesy of Trinacra Films

Le Père Noël Est Une Ordure (Santa Claus Is A Bastard)– Released in 1982, directed by Jean-Marie Poiré, and starring Thierry Lhermitte, Gérard Jugnot, Christian Clavier, Anémone and Josiane Balasko.  In this burlesque comedy classic, the main character hands out leaflets advertising a sexy Christmas party, but his girlfriend leaves with Santa.

La Grande Vadrouille (Don’t Look Now… We’re Being Shot At!, literally translated as “The Great Stroll”) –  Released in 1966, directed by Gérard Oury, and starring André Bourvil, Louis de Funès, Terry-Thomas, and Claudio Brook.  For over forty years, this film was the most successful film in France.  The crew of a RAF bomber shot down over Paris must then make their way through German-occupied France with the help of two French citizens.

Courtesy of Pathé Renn Productions

Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks, Welcome to the Land of Shtis) – Released in 2008, directed by Dany Boon, and starring Kad Merad, Dany Boon and Zoé Félix.  This is the most successful French film ever.  A man born and raised on France’s Southern coast is exiled to the Northern territories as punishment for lying to the government.  He is forced to relocate to the north of France, between Belgium and the English Channel where they speak an amalgam of French, Flemish and Latin.  He encounters cultural differences and struggles to adapt to his new life.

OSS 117: Le Caire Nid D’Espions (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies) – Released in 1996, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, and starring Jean Dujardin (the French George Clooney who has recently achieved recognition for is work in The Artist), Bérénice Bejo, and Aure Atika.  This spy comedy parodies Bond films and uses lame sight gags, crass sexual innuendo, juvenile action sequences, and hilarious coded conversations to great effect.  He even watched some of it in French with me…without subtitles.

Le Magnifique (The Magnificent) – Released in 1973, directed by Philippe de Broca and starring Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Paul Belmondo.  It is a slapstick comedy that spoofs B movies.

Courtesy of Alpilles Productions

Les Visiteurs (The Visitors) – Released in 1993, directed by Jean-Marie Poiré, and starring Jean RenoChristian Clavier, and Valérie Lemercier.  In this cult comedy, a 12th-century knight and his servant time travel into the present.

La Traversée De Paris (The Trip Across Paris, Four Bags Full) –  released in 1956,  directed by Claude Autant-Lara, and starring Jean GabinBourvil and Louis de Funès.  In this comedy, two men have to cross nazi-occupied Paris by night during WWII.  As they walk along dark Parisian streets they encounter various characters and have adventures until they are arrested by the German police.

Courtesy of Franca Films

Le Gendarme De Saint-Tropez (The Policeman From Saint-Tropez) –  released in 1964, directed by Jean Girault, and starring Louis de FunèsGeneviève GradMichel GalabruJean Lefebvre, and Christian Marin.  An ambitious police officer is transferred to St. Tropez where he struggles with persistent nude swimmers.  Even more troublesome, is his teenage daughter, who’s trying to impress her rich friends by telling them her father was a millionaire and owned a yacht in the harbor. He tries to cover for her and trouble ensues.

La Chèvre (Knock On Wood, literal Translation Is “The Goat”) – released in 1981, directed by Francis Veber, starring Pierre Richard and Gérard Depardieu.  In this buddy comedy dedicated private eye searches for a businessman’s daughter in Mexico, but the case is complicated by the amateur sleuthing of the client’s accountant.

Courtesy of Les Films de la Colombe, Les Productions de la Guéville, Madeleine Films

Alexandre Le Bienheureux (Blissful Alexander) – released in 1968, directed by Yves Robert, starring Philippe NoiretMarlène Jobert and Françoise Brion.  A henpecked childless farmer is oppressed by his authoritarian wife who does not permit him any rest.  When she dies, he decides that the time has come to take it easy and enjoy life a little, sets  his livestock free, and takes to his bed, practically disappearing. The only clue that he is still alive is his dog, who periodically goes shopping to the nearby town with a basket in its mouth, sparking town gossip about his fate.

La Vie Est Un Long Fleuve Tranquille (Life Is A Long Quiet River) –  released in 1988, directed by by Étienne Chatiliez, and starring  Benoît Magimel and Valérie Lalonde.  12 years after giving birth, families discover their babies were switched at birth leading to complications in the lives of both families.

Les Randonneurs (Hikers) – Released in 1999, directed by Philippe Harel, and starring Benoît PoelvoordeKarin ViardGéraldine Pailhas, and Vincent Elbaz.  Parisian friends fly to Corsica for a mountain trek guided by the married lover of one of the women. They all have their own reasons for going and it doesn’t turn out as planned.

Mon Oncle Benjamin (My Uncle Benjamin) – Released in 1969, directed by Édouard Molinaro, and starring Jacques Brel and Claude Jade.  In the 1750’s, a country doctor in love with the beautiful innkeeper’s daughter, but she refuses his advances until he produces a marriage contract.  He endures several trials including a humiliating practical joke and condemned to prison.

Courtesy of Lira Films

Le Sauvage (Call Me Savage) – Released in 1975, directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, starring Yves Montand and Catherine Deneuve.  When a woman breaks her engagement and runs away to Caracas, she is pursued by her jilted fiancé.  She looks to a French middle-aged man she met by accident for help.

La Folie Des Grandeurs (Delusions Of Grandeur) – Released in 1971, directed by Gérard Oury, and starring Louis de Funès  and Yves Montand.  Loosely based on Victor Hugo’s play Ruy Blas, this historical face tells the story of a nobleman who has been exiled from court and sent to collect taxes in the countryside.  His assistant manages to help the overtaxed peasants behind his boss’s back. When he decides to resume meddling in the monarch’s affairs using his assistant as his henchman, his schemes backfire badly.

Black Comedy

Delicatessen – Released in 1991, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, and starring Dominique Pinon and Karin Viard.  This post-apocalyptic surrealist black comedy about a landlord of an apartment building who murders people to serve cheap meat to his  tenants.

Courtesy of Téléma and FR3 Films Production

Tatie Danielle (Auntie Danielle) – Released in 1990, directed by Étienne Chatiliez, starring Tsilla CheltonCatherine Jacob and Éric Prat.  Auntie Danielle, is supposedly in ailing health but is really just a nasty old shrew.  The new housekeeper who starts looking after her, knows what she is doing, and deals with her accordingly.

C’est Arrivé Près De Chez Vous (Man Bites Dog, It Happened In Your Neighborhood) –  Released in 1992,  directed by Rémy BelvauxAndré Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde.  It stars Benoît Poelvoorde.  This dark satire is a documentary about a film crew that follows a ruthless thief and heartless killer as he goes about his daily routines. It gets progressively more complicated when the film crew gets caught up in the violence.

Courtesy of Les Artistes Anonymes

Jeux D’Enfants (Love Me If You Dare, Literal Translation Is “Children’s Games”) – Released in 2003, directed byYann Samuell, and starring Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard.  Two young friends go from childhood to adulthood in a friendship that revolves around daring each other to pull increasingly audacious practical jokes. They remain seemingly obvious to their emotionally intimate relationship.

L’Auberge Rouge (The Red Inn) – Released in 2007, directed by Gérard Krawczyk, and starring Christian Clavier and Gérard Jugnot.   In rustic little inn in a remote rural area of France, the inn’s proprietors support themselves by murdering stagecoach passengers who stop over at the inn, keeping their valuables for themselves. A passenger learns of the innkeeper’s homicidal schemes, but is prevented from revealing them by the rules of the Confessional.  He finds a solution.

Classics by Jacques Tati

Les Vacances De M. Hulot (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday) – Released in 1953, directed by Jacques Tati, and starring Jacques Tati.  Monsieur Hulot, a pipe-smoking, well-meaning but clumsy character, comes to a beachside hotel for a vacation, where he accidentally (but good-naturedly) causes havoc.

Courtesy of Gaumont Distribution

Mon Oncle (“My Uncle”) – Released in 1958, directed by Jacques Tati, and starring Jacques Tati.  In this follow up to Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Monsieur Hulot visits the technology-driven world of his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, but can’t quite fit into the surroundings.

Jour De Fête (Aka Festival Day, The Big Day) – Released in 1949, directed by Jacques Tati, and starring Jacques TatiGuy Decomble, and Paul Frankeur.  An inept, easily distracted mailman drinks too much wine and goes to hilarious lengths to speed the delivery of mail aboard his bicycle.

Romantic Comedy

Courtesy of Claudie Ossard Productions, Union Générale Cinématographique (UGC) and Victoires Productions

Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie, translates literally as “The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain”) –  released in 2001, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz.  This film was relatively popular in the US and ran semi-regularly on IFC. A curious and innocent Parisian girl who has her own sense of justice, decides to change the world by changing the lives of those around her.

Fanfan (Fanfan & Alexandre) – Released in 1993, directed by Alexandre Jardin, and starring Sophie Marceau and Vincent Perez.  Sophie Marceau has always been one of my favorite French actresses.  Although this romantic comedy starts out normally, it veers of and breaks the mold.

Dramatic Comedy

L’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck or The Spanish Apartment, translates “The Spanish Inn) –  released in 2002, directed by Cédric Klapisch, and starring Romain Duris,  Judith Godrèche and Audrey Tautou.  In this comedy, a strait-laced French student leaves his girlfriend and moves into an apartment in Barcelona with a cast of six other characters from all over Europe.

Courtesy of Bac Films, Ce Qui Me Meut Motion Pictures and France 2 Cinéma

Les Poupées Russes (The Russian Dolls) –  released in 2005, directed by Cédric Klapisch and starring Romain DurisKelly Reilly and Audrey Tautou.  This movies is the sequel to L’Auberge Espagnole.  This film portrays a reunion set five years after the first film.

Les Convoyeurs Attendent (The Carriers Are Waiting, an expression used when waiting for the repayment of a favor) – Released in 1999, directed by Benoît Marriage starring  Benoît Poelvoorde, Morgane Simon and Bouli Lanners.  A man who obviously loves his family, but doesn’t always connect with them.  One day, he learns an area business association is sponsoring a contest for a family that can break a world record, with the grand prize being a new car and drafts his son into the attempt.

Courtesy of Légende Entreprises, Film 99 Francs and Pathé

99 Francs – Released in 1997, directed by Jan Kounen, and starring Jean Dujardin and Vahina Giocante.  A satire on the business of advertising, a commercial ad designer wearies of his active free wheeling lifestyle and organizes a revolt against the business.

Les Valseuses (Going Places) – Released in 1974, directed by Bertrand Blier, and starring Miou-MiouGerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere.   Two whimsical, aimless thugs harass and assault women, steal anything of value, murder, and alternately charm, fight, or sprint their way out of trouble. The story picks up when a jaded, passive hairdresser, joins them as lover, cook, and mother confessor.

LOL (Laughing Out Loud) – Released in 2008, directed by Lisa Azuelos, and starring Sophie MarceauChrista TheretJérémy KaponeAlexandre Astier, and Alexandre Astier.  A teenage girl’s life is split between her studies in a prestigious Parisian high school, her secret diary, her friends, boyfriends, her divorced parents, drugs, and sexuality.  This movie is a remake of a 1980 film, La Boum.

Courtesy of Pathé, Bethsabée Mucho and TF1 Films Production

Mon Meilleur Ami (My Best Friend) – Released in 2005, directed by Patrice Leconte, and starring Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon.  An art dealer refuses to believe that her unlikable business partner has a best friend, so she challenges him to produce one. He scrambles to find someone willing to pose as his best pal and enlists the services of a charming taxi driver to play the part.


Courtesy of One World Films, Studio 37 and Universal Pictures International (UPI)

Gainsbourg (Vie Héroïque), (Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life) – Released in 2010 and directed by Joann Sfar It is a biopic of the life of French singer Serge Gainsbourg.

The Chorus (Les Choristes) – Released in 2004, directed by Christophe Barratier, and starring Gérard Jugnot, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, Marie Bunel, and François Berléand.    A successful conductor returns home and reminiscences about his childhood inspirations through the pages of a diary.

Jean De Florette – Released in 1986, directed by Claude Berri, and starring Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, and Yves Montand.  In this historical drama, two local farmers scheme to block the only water source for an adjoining property in order to bankrupt the owner and force him to sell.

Courtesy of DD Productions, Films A2 and Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI)

La Gloire De Mon Père (My Father’s Glory) – Released in 1990, directed by Yves Robert, and starring Philippe Caubère, Nathalie Roussel and Thérèse Liotard.  Based on the novel by the same name, it chronicles a summer in a young boy’s life in turn-of-the-century France. He witnesses the success of his teacher father and his arrogant uncle when they pend their summer vacation in a cottage in Provence.

Un Homme Et Une Femme (A Man And A Woman) –  released in 1966, directed by Claude Lelouch, and starring Anouk Aimée, and Jean-Louis Trintignant.  A man and a woman meet by accident and learn that they are each a widow/widower. They become friends, then close friends, and then she reveals that she can’t have a lover because, for her, her husband’s memory is still too strong.

Le Cœur Des Hommes (The Heart Of Men) – Released in 2002, directed by Marc Esposito, and starring Bernard CampanGérard DarmonJean-Pierre Darroussin, and Marc Lavoine.   Lifelong friends  are forced to confront situations beyond their control when the death of a father, a wife’s infidelity and a daughter’s wedding affects them.  They share their feelings, support each other, and analyze the true meaning of their lives.

Paris –  released in 2008, directed by Cédric Klapisch, and starring Juliette BinocheRomain DurisFabrice LuchiniAlbert DupontelJulie FerrierFrançois Cluzet and Mélanie Laurent.  In this ensemble piece, a professional dancer suffering from a serious heart disease is awaiting for a transplant that has the potential to save his life. While he waits, he observes the people around him, from the balcony of his Paris apartment.

Un Air De Famille (Family Resemblances) –  released in 1996, directed by Cédric Klapisch, and starring Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Catherine Frot.  When an upper middle-class French family celebrates a birthday at restaurant.  During the meal, they explore the family’s history, tensions build, and they explore memories.

Courtesy of Why Not Productions, Chic Films, Page 114

Un Prophéte (The Prophet) – Released in 2009,  directed by Jacques Audiard, and starring Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup. A nineteen years old, Frenchman of Algerian descent is sentenced to six years in prison for attacking police officers.  Upon his arrival, he is alone and illiterate.  He falls under the sway of mobsters who enforce a brutal rule and climbs within their ranks.
Les Petits Mouchoirs (Little White Lies, Literal Translation Is “The Small Handkerchiefs”) – Released in 2010, directed by Guillaume Canet, starring François CluzetMarion CotillardBenoît MagimelJean Dujardin, and Pascale Arbillot.  A handful of old friends make some unexpected discoveries about one another during an annual vacation after one ends up in the hospital after an auto accident.  Seemingly everyone has some secret that they have been hiding from their friends.
La Haine (translated literally as Hate) – Released in 1995, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, and starring Vincent CasselHubert Koundé, and Saïd Taghmaoui.  Three teenage friends struggle to survive in Paris’ ghetto suburbs.  When one is hospitalized after a riot, where a policeman lost his gun. His friend finds it and claims he will kill a cop if his friend dies.
L’été Meurtrier (One Deadly Summer) – Released in 1984, directed by Jean Becker, and starring Isabelle Adjani. This tragic tale of misunderstanding, obsession, and increasing madness,has a woman trying to avenge the long-ago rape of her mother.  In doing so she loses her mind and sets in motion a tragic series of events.
La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) – Released in 1969, directed by Jacques Deray and starring Alain DelonRomy SchneiderMaurice Ronet and Jane Birkin.  This film is about a love triangle that leads to disaster.
Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) – Released in 2007, directed by Julian Schnabel and starring Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner.  Based on a book by Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby about his life after he suffers a stroke and has to live with an almost totally paralyzed body.  Only his left eye isn’t paralyzed.


Courtesy of Cerito Films and Mondial Televisione Film

Peur Sur La Ville (Fear Over The City) –  released in 1975, by Henri Verneuil starring Jean-Paul Belmondo   In this French crime thriller a commissaire faces off against two old enemies, a gangster and a maniacal killer.

Pierrot Le Fou – released in 1965,  directed by Jean-Luc Godard, starring Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo.    An unhappy, recently fired married man escapes his boring society and travels from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea with  a girl chased by hit-men from Algeria. They lead an unorthodox life, always on the run.

À Bout De Souffle (Breathless, Literal Translation Is “At Breath’s End”) – released in 1960, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.  This film helped launch French New Wave.  A young hoodlum steals a car and heads for Paris, shooting a cop on the way. In Paris, he meets an aspiring journalist who agrees to hide him while he tries to trace a former associate who owes him money so that he can evade the police dragnet and make a break for Italy.

De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arête (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) – Released in 2005, directed by Jacques Audiard and starring Romain Duris.  A real estate thug is torn between a criminal life compete with thuggish father and his desire to become a concert pianist.

Nikita (La Femme Nikita) – Released in 1990, directed by Luc Besson, and starring Anne ParillaudJean-Hugues Anglade, and Tchéky Karyo.  Convicted felon Nikita, is broken out of jail, given a new identity and trained, stylishly, as a top secret spy/assassin.

Courtesy of Alter Films, Canal+ and Fidélité Productions

Anthony Zimmer – released in 2005, directed by Jérôme Salle and starring Sophie MarceauYvan Attal, and Sami Frey.  A highly intelligent criminal is pursued by international police and the Russian mafia.  He has extensive plastic surgery rendering him unrecognizable, even to his girlfriend, who enlists the help of an unsuspecting stranger on a train to foil those trailing him and embroiling him in the action.


Les Triplettes De Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville) – Released in 2003 and directed by Sylvain Chomet.  We saw and liked this film in the US when it was first released.  It tells the story of  elderly woman who goes on a quest to rescue her grandson, the Tour de France cycling champion, who was kidnapped by the French mafia for gambling purposes and taken to the city of Belleville. She is joined by the Triplets of Belleville, 1930’s lounge singers.

Courtesy of Les Armateurs, Production Champion and Vivi Film


Kaamelott is a French television series running originally 2005–2009.  Combining medieval fantasy and comedy, it presents a new “realistic epic” version of the Arthurian legend.

Panique Au Village (A Town Called Panic) – Released in 2000, it is a puppetoon series.


Beer In Belgium

Belgium has a long and rich brewing tradition. It is a country the size of Maryland, but brews 700-800 different labels! It is a part of their culture and there are many things that make Belgian beers unique:
Almost all beers are served in their own, specially designed glasses to optimize their taste.
They are incredibly diverse and have a lot of different ways of producing beers (spontaneously fermented, second fermentation, etc.).
Towns throughout the country have their famous beer pubs, with storied histories and a huge variety of offerings.
There are lots of specialty beer shops and festivals. Belgian beers are commonly found in wired and corked like champagne bottles (making them good presents).
By the way, Belgium is the home of the largest brewery in the world, InBev. You may have heard of them a couple of years ago when they bought a little company called Anheuser-Busch that makes Budweiser.

Ladies (And Gents) Love The Lambic

Lambic beers are a unique to Belgium and different from most other beers.  Lambic‘s fermentation is caused by exposure to native, wild, airborne yeasts and bacteria.  As a result, it is strongly tied to its place of brewing.  It undergoes a relatively long period of aging of up to 2-3 years.
There are several different types of Lambic beers.  They include:
Faro – light, sweet from the added sugars, low on alcohol
Fruits – flavors include: Framboise (rasberry), casis (black currant), kreik (cherries) and peche (peach).  They are often sweet, fruity and the flavors remind you a bit of Jolly Ranchers.  Mort Subite and Belle-Vue are probably the best known and most easily accessible of these.
Gueze – golden to light, amber, sour, acidic, rarely bitter, sometimes harsh with a champagne like sparkle.
Muscat – made from grapes and more like wine.
Lambics may not be our American Neighbor’s sort of thing (his everyday beer is Budweiser and I’m not lying about the everyday part).  Even if you don’t want to drink them everyday can really compliment a food, be fun to taste, or a nice change of pace.



Belgian Trappist Beers


Orval (Photo credit: jucanils)

“This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption… Beer!”

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, Friar Tuck

I thought this quote was perfect for the Trappist beers. To qualify as a Trappist beer, it must:

  • be brewed in a monastery,
  • monks must play a role in its production,
  • profits from the sale must used to support the monastery and/or social programs.

Trappist (Photo credit: Titimo)

There are 6 in Belgium:

The Netherland’s has the only other one in the world. While they are all yummy, they have different styles.

Achel trappist beer (Belgium).

Achel trappist beer (Belgium). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Achel was an established monastic brewery until the German army looted its copper kettels during WWI. They restarted brewing in 1998 and have continuously improved their operation. You are starting to be able to find this brand with more ease in the US.
The four varieties of Chimay, with Chimay Bleu...

The four varieties of Chimay, with Chimay Bleue in the glass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chimay, the largest and best-known Trappist brewer, now uses non-monks to do most of their brewing. This has created a bit of a backlash with two main effects arguments: (1) creation of a controversy whether they merit their Trappist designation, and (2) whisperings of a decline in quality.

They make three types: red, white and blue (by far the best). If you are looking to bring something other than wine, a large bottle of Chimay Blue is a nice and pretty easy to find.

Orval Trappist beer

Orval Trappist beer (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Orval is only known for one kind of beer. It is dry, light and hoppy (which makes it different from other Trappist ales).

The monastery of Orval has the beautiful ruins on their grounds that are worth touring. Their symbol is a fish with a ring.    This is because a noblewoman allegedly lost her ring in a pond.  A fish brought it to the surface.  To show her gratitude, she funded the monastery.  That’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

The beers of Rochefort

The beers of Rochefort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rochefort (not Roquefort where they make the yummy but stinky cheese) makes rich ales. I like them all, but if you have never tried them, Rochefort 8 (a bit lighter) and 10 (stronger and darker) are good bets.  Michael Jackson (the Beer Hunter, not the singer) wrote a great article about his visit there.

Westmalle Trappists and friends

Westmalle Trappists and friends (Photo credit: valde_)

Westmalle is the originator of the widely imitated Trippel style. (You are now officially warned about the high alcohol content of all Trippels, Dubbels too. In fact, be aware of the high alcohol content of virtually all Belgian beers. Trust him on this one.) Any of their beers are a good ones and relatively easy to find.

Westvleteren XII - Best bier in the world

Westvleteren XII – Best bier in the world (Photo credit: Philippe Clabots)

Westvleteren is the best beer we have ever had. They don’t market or distribute this beer. To lay our hands on a bottle, our friend Steamer traveled to Belgium, went on a specific morning at a specific time (they don’t sell it any old time) to the abbey and bought all he could.  Don’t quote me on this, but I think there was a six bottle max. It was so good that he drank them all over the course of his vacation.

Luckily, he stopped in a shop in Amsterdam at the end of his trip. They had just sent someone to the monastery to buy a limited amount. He managed to buy one and bring one back to the US for us to taste. Steamer is such a good friend! If you tasted it, you might not share. This beer is so good that it will set the bar by which all beers you taste will be measured (and found wanting).

For more in Westvlandren, here’s a link to an article about someone’s visit.


Kinds Of Belgian Beers

Belgium is known for many different kinds of beer. They include:
Abbey Beers – Abbey beers are generally brewed from traditional recipes under a license by a commercial breweries. Maredesous, Leffe and Grimbergen are good ones that are easy to find in the US. Some can be found in the Trippel and/or Dubbel styles.  Many American (and Canadian) microbrews emulate these.
Amber Ales – Belgium’s Amber Ales are similar to British Pale Ales, but are less hoppy. They are slightly spicy which is balanced by a bit of a yeasty taste.
De Koninck

De Koninck (Photo credit: Schlüsselbein2007)

Belgium’s Brown Ales are a specialty of eastern Flanders. They are complex, lack acidity, usually have a caramel-like malty sweetness and have strong flavors (often a sourness from several months of maturation). They tend to have a high alcohol content (notice the start of a pattern and consider this the first of many warnings). One that I have seen in the US is De Koninck.
Français : Delirium Tremens (bière)

Français : Delirium Tremens (bière) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Belgian Golden Ales are not the run of the mill golden ale that you get in the US. They have a higher alcohol content than many of the US ales (you were warned) but not as high as the Belgian Dubbels and Trippels.
Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel and Hopsinjoor

Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel and Hopsinjoor (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Belgian Golden Ales are clear with a clean taste and are maltier and hoppier instead of fruity or yeasty.  Quality ones that are easily available in the US include: Delirium Tremens, Duvel and Delerium Tremens.
English: Exterior of Délirium Café

English: Exterior of Délirium Café (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blanche/Whit/White Beers – These wheat beers are light, cloudy, and with a hint of citrus. They are similar to a German HefeWiessen, but have coriander and orange peel. The White Beers that are best known in the US include: Hoegaarden St. Bernadus and Blue Moon (not Belgian, but I thought it would help explain the style).
Lambic Beers – Lambics are pretty unique so they get their own day.  For the Lambic post, click here.
English: Maes pils

English: Maes pils (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pils – Pils are generally mass produced beers that are widely found in Belgium. Common ones there include: Jupiler, Maes and Stella Artois (which is easily found in the US).

English: Brewery Gaverhopke, Belgian beers

English: Brewery Gaverhopke, Belgian beers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Red Beers – This style comes from western Flanders. Red Beers are produced from red barley, aged in oak and highly fermented. They are refreshing, fruity, sweet and sour. Make sure that you drink it cold (not as much of an issue in the US as it is in other parts of Europe).  Rodenbach and Duchess de Bourgogne are two good examples of this style.

Trappist Beers – They are so wonderful and unique that they get their own day! Click here for the post.

Saisons – Saison Beers are a specialty of Walloon (the southern French-speaking part of Belgium). They are typically brewed in smaller breweries and have an artisanal quality. They are hoppier, spicier, have stronger flavors than many other beers and can be a bit tart. Most likely, they won’t have the extremely high alcohol content of other Belgian beers. They are brewed in smaller batches and you can taste it.  Some of the better ones that you can find in the US are: Dupont and Fantome Pissenlit.
Categorie:Afbeelding bier

Categorie:Afbeelding bier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Special Belgian Beers are some of the country’s best.  They are have a gravity of .060 to .095, use various herbs and spices and doesn’t clearly fall into any other category (more or less).  They offer a unique taste that is not easily replicated.  You can usually find some brands in the US: Golden Draak (similar in style to Piraat and a friend’s favorite), Kwak, Piraat (blonde, have a high alcohol content and amazing flavor), Dupont (I know that it is listed more than once here, try it and decide how you would categorize it) and La Chouffe (dark amber, rich, herbal, a great winter beer).

Sour ales from Belgium

Sour ales from Belgium (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)