There’s a coffee in this cafe I’m at that I’ve only heard whispers of. Kopi Luwak. It’s a famous delicacy in southeast Asia, and is notoriously hard to make and expensive. I’ve spent all of my Euros before leaving Europe tonight back to the UK, so I can’t shell out the 25 for a cup. I mean, I probably wouldn’t anyway, but I love dare food.
It’s poop coffee. Seriously. There’s like, a ferret or something that eats the coffee beans and then craps it out, and it does something to the flavor of the coffee (aside from making it actually taste like shit, supposedly) that makes it gut-wrenchingly good. Supposedly.
Truth be told, the trip has only been a marginal success. I’ve lost my ability to travel with open eyes and an open heart, which, for the most part, is awesome. I hate having an open heart. Like, today, there were these little kids running around the terminal giggling, and the girl in front of me stopped with this smitten look on her face, thinking, probably in French, “I’m seeing the true beauty of blissful innocence, le sigh,” or something like that, and I’m sitting there thinking:
a) If I miss my train because of these little fucks, I’m coming back here and I’m gonna try and see how many I can knee in the face before people realize it’s not an accident, and
b) Stop smiling, woman. That 10-year-old in the corner is shining a laser pointer on your crotch.
I try to mask a scowl while I skirt around the kids. The laser pointer bugs me not because it’s immature, but because I want to be able to still do that in public, and if I do, I’ll be arrested.
That said, the burdens of cynicism and misanthropy weigh heavily on the travel writer. One becomes less interested in discovering the beauty of the locale and more interested in finding flaws in them. And the world needs another misanthropic writer like it needs people. On top of that, I’ve become incredibly self-centered with my travel. It’s become mostly about seeing a sight or two, which I’ll stare at for the requisite 20 minutes, and then I’ll walk around and instead of taking it in, I’ll wonder if I’m far enough ahead of the couple walking behind me to fart. Then I wonder, suddenly paranoid, if the weather’s cold enough for my fart to give off steam, like when you breath out into cold air. Can they see what I’m doing across the square? I duck into an alley and let loose, trying to look at my butt while I do so, but I can’t see anything. I walk out of the alley, looking around to see if anyone’s noticed, and I try to find a cafe.
At the cafes, I’ll have a coffee if it’s before noon, and an overpriced beer if it’s after noon (which sounds alcoholic, but the sun sets here at four, so really I’m just having an evening drink), pausing occasionally to look up at the waiter, who is clearly pissed at me for spending 2 Euro and then sitting there for 2 hours, or to try and come up with a description of the je ne sais quoi of Belgian beers, but I feel like I’ve heard fermented donkey piss somewhere before, so I give up and go back to Trainspotting, in a scene where a guy asks his friend why he loves heroin so much.
“Ah don’t really know, Tam, ah jist dinnae. It kinday makes things seem mair real tae us. Life’s boring and futile. We start oaf wi high hopes, then we bottle it. We realise that we’re aw gaunnae die, withoot really findin oot the big answers. We develop aw they long-winded ideas which jist interpret the reality ay oor lives in different ways, withoot really extending oor body ay worthwhile knowledge, about the big things, the real things. Basically, we live a short, disappointing life; and then we die. We fill up oor lives wi shite, things like careers and relationships tae delude oorsels that it isnae aw totally pointless… Ma problem is, whenever ah sense the possibility, or realise the actuality ay attaining something that ah thought ah wanted, be it girlfriend, flat, job, education, money and so on, it jist seems so dull and sterile, that ah cannae value it any mair. Junk’s different though.”
-Trainspotting, pages 37-38.
EXACTLY! I find myself thinking. Then: oh fuck, I might have a problem. I may be turning into a horrible person, and I have absolutely no excuse for it. I mean, I don’t have an addiction to keep me entertained. That night I’ll finish the book while sitting alone at my hostel bar, trying as many different beers as I can. I’m pissed by the end of the book (in the British sense of the word “pissed,” not angry), and I realize alcoholism’s not going to work for me. I can’t take the hangovers. This beer is fermented donkey piss, I can TASTE the impurities, so I’m gonna wake up with a raging hangover in the morning.
I do, and I walk more through Bruges, which is quite pretty, but after noshing a schnitzel and sitting at another cafe, I realize I need to leave this fucking city sharpish. I’ll catch the slow train to Brussels, where my return train to London waits, leaving 10 hours from now. Maybe I’ll meet a French girl on the train like in Before Sunrise, and we’ll fall in love and she’ll infuse some meaning into my life.
I don’t meet a French girl. Instead, I try and sleep while a 40something manchild eyefucks me in the seat across from me. I wonder how to shout, “CALL THE POLICE!” In Flemish, but then I wonder if I’ve crossed into Wallonia, where they speak French. Great, I think, I’m gonna end up some creep’s dress because I’m monolingual. The train stops and he follows me off, but I hide in a newspaper kiosk and double back in the other direction.
I think of buying 12x18 flags for Belgium and Luxembourg when I get home. I do it for every country I go to. Then I realize this is kind of pointless, as my dorm doesn’t allow wall hangings. And besides, Belgium’s barely a country anyway. It has two different languages that are drawn along a fairly solid geographic line, and it doesn’t have an actual government. It’s common identity is so divided that the only common ground is just a love of waffles and chocolates, which, to be honest, is fairly indisputable territory anyway. Then I start thinking about how most countries are really just arbitrary borders set by treaties or thousands of tiny historical skirmishes, rather than set by a common national identity. Apparently, Michigan once fought a war with Ohio over Toledo. They can fucking keep it, I think, but I doubt anyone wants Toledo anymore.
I can’t separate my opinions on a country from my mood anymore. I’m tired and blue in Belgium, and it’s cold and rainy. This country’s got worse weather than Britain, I find myself thinking at one point, failing to take responsibility for visiting in December. Then I find myself railing against the total absence of free public bathrooms. You’re supposed to be EUROPEANS, I think, you’re supposed to have a healthy skepticism of total privatization. I throw 40p in a tray when I go into take a leak, and the woman sitting there collecting wants to hand me 5 cents change. ”No thanks,” I say. Statistically speaking, someone who has touched the coins they’ve handed you today has had genital herpes. They can’t POSSIBLY be making enough money to recoup the expense of having you sitting here getting fingerherp all day long, I think, so basically they’re just charging to spite us. ”Yeah, you can piss here. But I want you to dance around with your legs crossed, trying to hold it in, while you root through your pockets for exact change.”
Fucking country, I think.
Really. Belgium’s a beautiful place. People are friendly, everywhere smells nice, they just aren’t connecting with me like the morose resignation to a life of labor and rain and drink of the English.
Oh well, what the hell, I think. Traveling on my own might not be a good thing to do anymore. I can still do it with friends, but on my own, I’m a miserable shite. Now if you’ll pardon me, the coffee has worked its way through my system, and I have to find 35p for a toilet or else convince these baristas that they can sell what I’m about to do for 25 Euro a cup.