Saturday, August 27, 2011

French (music festivals) For Beginners

It's been years (and years, and years) since my last foray into the world of outdoor music festivals. They always seem like a good idea in theory--lots of new bands to scope out, an opportunity to spend hours in the sunshine, a chance to see what all the cool kids are wearing. In practice, however, they tend to be overly crowded, full of intoxicated nimwits, and a veritable desert in the vegan comestibles department. So, when my Aussie friend and fellow herbivore Lee invited me to Rock en Seine, I was reluctant to accept the proposed all-day fun-fest challenge. But that was before discovering Big Audio Dynamite was playing. A chance to see a guitar hero from my youth shredding it up middle-age style? Count me in!

First thing I noticed at the venue--the 300-year-old Parc de St. Cloud--was that the crowds filing in spanned the age spectrum from toddler to bald-old-man. Then I noticed all the food booths: Thai, Ethiopian, Senegalese, Mexican. What?! Then there were the drinking huts--calm little oases serving up affordable (by American festival standards) pints of beer (in reusable cups--none of that disposable crap), wine, tea, and juices. And the water: free! I could get used to these French music festivals.

The wine bar, where a big-ol' glass of Bordeaux cost €5. Totally worth it!

Mint tea and North African sweets stall.

This year's beer served in last year's (reusable) cup!

Liquid refreshment in hand, we went to check out the bands, catching just the last song of two different bands we wanted to see: Smith Westerns and Beat Mark. Around this time I noticed something else setting this French music festival apart from its American equivalent: the bands' start times. Weirdly, if a band was scheduled to go on at 5:30, it went on at 5:30. Huh? Once we got the hang of it, we actually saw full sets instead of single songs. The best bands of the day? Herman Dune, Cansei de Ser Sexy (CSS), and that beloved oldie but goodie, Big Audio Dynamite.

Brazilian wonderband, CSS.

Herman Dune: really, really good.

Tail end of Wolf Gang.

General Elektriks. They were OK.

I sat tight and listened keenly--then danced my arse off!

Bobbing one's head up and down for an hour our two really works up an appetite, so Lee and I went scouting for chow. First stop: the bio booth, for some slightly overpriced but delicious organic French fries. They also had a vegan wrap with veggies and quinoa inside, but I wanted something hot, so we scarfed our fries and worked our way over to the "world cuisine" section. I got pulled into Ethiopia's edible orbit, while Lee opted for his own African dining adventure in Senegal. The little veggie-filled pie thing Lee bought me didn't survive long enough for a photo, but if you ever have a chance to eat a savory Senegalese pie, I suggest going for it. FYI, the injera here was some of the tangiest, most delicious I've ever swallowed without chewing.

Bio booth. The €5 organic frites were good, but they should've cost €2.

Scary-ass huge pot of chili at the "Tex Mex" booth.

Should have gotten the veg pad thai!

Vegan Ethiopian offerings. It only needed a dash of salt; otherwise: perfect!

The Senegalese booth. Lee got veggies over rice and two savory pies, one of which he gave to me. In a word? Scrumptious.

Who eats foie gras at a music festival? Ickydoodles.

We spent the rest of the evening people-watching, dancing, dodging one of those huge inflated balls that always seem to make the rounds at big shows, and marveling at the clean bathrooms. We didn't stick around for the Foo Fighters, but we could hear "Learn to Fly" as we rode our Velib' bikes home in the dark.

Dude! Totally!

Cute hair, non?

The Statue of Liberty's long-lost French sister? Sophia would know!

The requisite outdoor concert Port-a-Potty shot.

Love when there's actually toilette papier in said Port-a-Potty.

Bon nuit a tous!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

36 Hours in Brussels

"Hey, look! It's ..."

"Bela Delosi."

"Uh, no. I was thinking of Salvador Dali, actually. And his name's not 'Bela Delosi'--it's 'Bela Lugosi.' Sheesh! I guess you weren't a Bauhaus fan, huh?"

"That moustache was drawn on afterward. That's not Dali."

And so went one of many squabbles hashed out over street art in colorful, graffiti-filled Brussels. In 36 hours, we squeezed in a lot more than simple, inane conversation. Over the course of a day and a half, we:

  • drank tangy, slightly vinegar-y Lambic ale at a bustling beer joint

  • got invited to a party by a Rockabilly-styled, vintage-store-owning Scottish transplant
  • admired 20th century sculpture in a public garden

  • communed with a banded pigeon

  • rode public Villo bikes to a grand park inhabited by wild parakeets

  • ate really lousy falafel sandwiches at a kebab place just before discovering a veg falafel place around the corner

  • wandered around slippery cobbled alleyways without falling even once
  • scored treasures at the flea market in the Ixelles district

  • munched mediocre frites with the one vegan sauce out of 20 they had available: ketchup
  • pricked up our ears for street musicians playing the accordion, saxophone, guitar, and flute

  • sat at outdoor cafes and listened as the world passed by in Flemish, English, and French
  • accidentally meandered through the local housing projects

  • laughed while watching screaming passengers spinning on a manic, twirling Ferris wheel
  • enjoyed a deliciously spicy Thai dinner, and washed it down with excellent house wine
  • gazed at the fanciful facades of many a Gothic church
  • discovered Dr. Bronner’s soap actually does exist in Europe (at Belgian natural food stores, anyway)
  • bumped into the crowd gathered around Manneken Pis, even though we tried to avoid it
  • bought the best vegan chocolate on the planet, aka Ritter Sport bar Marzipan
  • picked up dog poo, earning ourselves the imagined "good visitor" award from locals
  • pretend-ate poison berries

  • stared up at a gargantuan model of an iron atom

  • moseyed about Chinatown, stealing furtive glances at outdoor diners' plates as we passed

  • sipped overpriced carrot-apple-ginger melanges from a juice-bar chain
  • missed our chance to laze about in the hotel sauna
  • watched a light show projected against the ancient buildings in the main square

  • vowed to haunt the Magritte museum the next time we visit

  • marveled at king-sized loaves of bread for sale at the very few bakeries we encountered
  • cuddled cute cars

  • experienced documentary film-making failure at Laeken Park (see below)