An ex-player with the Harmonie of St Suzanne left to study Veterinary Medicine at Waremme in Belgium. He joined the equivalent of the Harmonie there, the Ensemble Instrumentale Waremmien, (EIM) and being an enterprising sort of person, he organised an exchange visit. They came to visit us last year, and this year it was our turn to be entertained at Waremme. I have just had a fantastic weekend.
We started off from St Suzanne at 3:00 by coach on the Friday morning, and spent an "away-day" in Bruges, which is almost on the way to Waremme, but not quite. I'm sure you can find out all there is to know about Bruges from all the usual tourist guides, but let me confirm: Belgian beer is as good as they say, and so are the chocolates. We did all the normal tourist things; a boat trip on the canals, a visit to a small local brewery, traditional mussels and chips for lunch, and a guided tour of the town. And do visit the Church of Our Lady, where you can see the Madonna and Child, one of the few Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy. It is grace in marble, and the expression on the Madonna's face is special.
From Bruges to Liège (not far from Waremme) for an overnight at a youth hostel. There were 45 or so in our party, and we were split between 8 or so rooms, 4-6 people to a room. Now I presumed that the French are cool with assigning two couples, a single guy and a single woman to a tiny 6-bed, basic, youth-hostel room, because when the list of assignments of people to rooms was read out, nobody turned a hair.
I was exhausted, and not up for decision-making by committee, so I climbed up the wooden scaffolding to the top bunk that no-one else seemed to want, slid under the duvet, took off my trousers and t-shirt, lobbed them over the side, checked they had landed on my case, and slept in my underpants.
So what I want to know, is what's the etiquette for a morning greeting, when you've just climbed down from the bunk, arse-first in your underpants, like a monkey on a climbing frame, to greet the wife of 70-odd year old musician colleague? I just figured that a cheery "Bonjour" would have to do, while I rummaged in my case for a T-shirt, trousers and toiletries bag before disappearing for a much-needed shave and shower.
It turned out later, that perhaps there is no etiquette for such situations. The lady travelling singly also sharing the room told me that after I had crashed, everyone sat around Not Looking At Each Other, wondering how they were going to get to bed.
From Liège to Waremme where we were greeted by the wonderful people who were to be our hosts for the next two days. They played to greet us as we arrived, served us a wonderful barbequeue, and led us on a treasure hunt that showed off their town. We then split up to join our respective individual hosts who were putting us up for the night.
I spent a lovely evening in the company of musician colleagues, in the house of Danny (short for Danielle) and Francis, the conductor of the EIM. As part of a wonderful meal, Danny served us a starter of sweet, juicy melon, thin slivers of ham, and a liqueur I'd have sworn was port, but is in fact made from wine, alcohol and green walnuts. I have some walnut trees around, so I am going to try to make some. Here is the recipie, courtesy of Danny. You take:
20 green walnuts
7 litres red wine
1.5 Kg sugar
1 litre 95% alcohol.
You cut the nuts, mix in with all the other ingredients and let it steep for three months, shaking or agitating from time to time to dissolve all the sugar. Then filter it (a paper coffee filter will do) and there you have it. I'll let you know how I get on making it.
We finished off the evening telling rude jokes. I found this a bit difficult, since the punch lines often escaped me. But once someone had translated "chastity belt" into French for me ("ceinture de chastété) I was able to make a contribution in the form of a joke steeped in Arthurian legend, crusades, Guinnevere, merlin, and a magic chastity belt.
The next day we were off to the Château de Jehay for a joint concert performance. Waremme played first, we played second, and then we did a joint performance. Great fun.
Another fabulous lunch, then off to a cherry festival, since it's cherry harvest time. The Banda of St Suzanne played a short series of numbers, and we all had cherries to eat, and cherry beer. And normal beer, too. At the end of the afternoon the weather broke, so departure was in the rain.
So here I am again at home, with 175 photographs and no small number of short video clips, attempting the impossible, which is to explain to you what a fabulous weekend it was, what wonderful people our hosts were, and how they made the weekend very special.
Ex-Cep-Tion-ELLE thanks to Danny and Francis. Here, a farewell in the rain.