Today was one of those days that you might call Survival Day here in Belgium. It’s a public holiday – the day after Pentecost – which means that all is closed. Complete shutdown.
Fine, I certainly think people need time off. But when it goes over more than a normal weekend, life suddenly becomes an exercise in Urban Survival.
Cash is first. Cash dispensers (ATMs) usually dry up on day three of any given long weekend, in central Brussels usually on Sunday nights I am told, so the first thing to do is to raid the hole in the wall. I normally don’t like to carry a lot of cash around for security reasons – cash in my wallet is in great danger of being spent – but since I’ve had quite a lot of problems with my VISA card lately, you can’t rely on your card being useful.
Then comes food and supplies. Supermarkets are usually shut on Sundays, basically with no exceptions when it comes to the usual chains, and they remain as shut on extra holidays. At the same time, all family will be in to eat every meal at home, you might want to get a little extra this-or-that for your extra time together, and oh maybe someone might drop by as well. So, next thing is to work out your prep list and try to foresee all the variables that come with having kiddies; for instance, sudden surges in milk consumption.
(I have many times considered buying a cow, which would take care of the need for mowing the lawn as well, but it probably couldn’t keep up with the demand in this family. In fact, I was delighted when we first moved here to see that our farming neighbour had three cows just across the fence, and I quickly asked him in my lousy Dutch if we couldn’t buy milk directly from him. He burst out laughing and laughing, and then gave me a basic biology lesson explaining why a cow without a calf doesn’t produce any milk. OK, I thought, I’m a city boy, fair cop; but then it turned out that he’d been sharing this amusing story about those crazy city-folks for foreigner newcomers with half the village.)
Then you need to make itiniary plans. Belgium has roughly ten million inhabitants, but I can assure you that there are at least twenty million cars out on the motorway around Brussels alone during any given rush hour during normal workdays. During long holidays, the Belgian roads are little else than oblong car parks. So if you plan on going somewhere – get out early. And no, traffic doesn’t get lighter during the day because everyone else would be heading out early too – we’ve tried that; the less said about that day, the better.
This time, I thought I had it all worked out. Every food storage area in our apartment was properly stocked. We were staying at home to relax. I had the cash I needed. But of course we ran out of milk anyway, and then, well, er, there’s no easy way of saying this, but… ehrm, let’s just skip the reasons, and say that we ran out of toilet paper, and leave it at that. And when you do, especially for the very reasons that cause you to run out of such items, you simply must go and get more.
Luckily, we have by now mapped the waterholes for such events. There’s a lovely little shop down in central Sint-Pieters-Leeuw called (simply) Deli Traiteur, which has assumed the mission of staying open whenever everyone else stays shut. It’s great business for them, and they’re pretty well stocked as well. AND they’re always nice and friendly. AND the shop is neat and inviting. AND they always happily take my VISA card.
I just checked their web site and it turns out that they have more than twenty branches all over Brussels, all with generous opening hours. I haven’t visited them all, of course, but if they’re as good as the one we go to, they’re well worth being your first call in case of holiday horror. They’re a bit expensive, which is why we don’t shop there regularly, but on a shutdown day, it’s worth every cent. Bedankt!
As a little irrelevant twist, our local Deli Traiteur this time was displaying a set of premium spices from the Swedish company Santa Maria – in a display box with all text in Swedish. Quite a strange sight. Which you won’t get to see here, of course, because I forgot to take my camera as usual.
(By the way, there’s a famous news photographer in the US, also named Jonathan Newton. Maybe all the photographic DNA from the gene pool of all Jonathan Newtons has been sucked out to him… that would explain one or two things. Any other Jonathan Newton out there who is as bad at taking pictures as I am who can confirm this?)