Hobnobbing half a world away

27 10 2010

I’m guessing on the list of favorite European holiday destinations, Ghent isn’t exactly at the top. Even as we planned this trip, we had to tell people we were going to Belgium, or Brussels, because they just knitted their brows when we said Ghent.

We never did get to Brussels during our week in Belgium. We didn’t miss it. That’s because we were so enchanted by Ghent, and for one chilly, bright afternoon, Bruges.

Some scenes from Ghent and Bruges.

Of course, the hospitality of family and friends can warm you in even the coldest destinations and believe me, it was cold during our week in Ghent! Katie’s Belgian cousins, Filip, his partner Griet and their daughter Lolita, and Martin and his wife Christel, stoked our hearts with great family stories, terrific food and awesome Belgian beer.

Visiting family was the best part of our time in Ghent.

Not that Ghent is lacking for things to do. During our days there, we explored its narrow winding streets, some of which date to the Middle Ages, and vast open public squares. We visited museums about the history of Ghent, and daily life through the centuries. We explored the dark passages and torture chambers of the Gravensteen castle, which is more like a fortress built by the duke at the time to protect himself from his own people, who weren’t exactly enamored with his reign. We gaped at the hugeness of the two gothic cathedrals that dominate the downtown and climbed the narrow winding stairs of the belfry tower. We sampled a smidgen of Belgium’s 780 (!!!!!!) different beers and ate chocolate… oh, did we ever eat chocolate.

And we got a couple of chances to hobnob with the hoi-poloi.

Griet is an actress; last year she landed a role as a police officer in a Belgian tv comedy, Melting Pot CafĂ©. The show is a sort of a Belgian Corner Gas, in which some of the cultural divides between the country’s French and Flemish populations are played out in a small Brussels’ coffee shop and its neighboring stores and street scene.

The show is about to debut its third season on Belgium’s french tv network, and on Wednesday, we were able to accompany Griet and Filip to a Brussel’s theater for the premiere and reception. It was a road trip straight out of Entertainment Tonight!

Alas, no red carpet, and I was able to muddle my way through the two episodes they showed on the big screen, laughing at the appropriate jokes; but we did meet some of Griet’s colleagues on the show, including a young woman about to take her crack at Hollywood, the show’s director, who sort of frowned at my comparison of his show to Corner Gas (can’t say I blame him), a very funny Moroccan actor who looks like a darker-skinned version of John Torturro, and his director friend who was working the room looking for interest in his next film project.

Now this is my idea of product placement...

We also sampled a healthy amount of Bush beer (thank you product placement) and prowled the canapé offerings for the coveted boxes of frites.

Saturday, we kicked our hobnobbing up a notch, when we attended the World Soundtrack Awards, the gala closing event to the Ghent International Film Festival. It’s the tenth time the festival has recognized soundtrack composers and the awards have become a go-to event for many of them, who then present some of their scores with the Brussels’ Philharmonic Orchestra.

This year, we were treated to music by film composers like Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings), Elliot Goldenthal (Titus, Across the Universe), Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel, Motorcycle Diaries), Gabriel Yared (The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Stephen Warbeck (Shakespeare in Love). The latter was especially thrilling, as Shakespeare in Love is one of my all time favorite movies and soundtracks, and Katie and used one of its tracks at our wedding).

The stage is set for the 2010 World Soundtrack Awards.

And seeing as we were in Flanders, where cycling is never far from anyone’s thoughts, the awards were held in the velodrome that is the venue for Ghent’s famous Six Day track races!