Belgium for Thanksgiving 2012, Part 4.

Europe sure does love its dead things. If I didn’t know better, I would think I was in Montana, what with all the mounted heads and bearskin rugs and antlers all over. Everywhere, all over.

I kept begging The Moomins for things. The answer was always no.

“Can I have this wet bowl of tiny horns?”

“How about two hares playing cards?”

I liked this restaurant tableau. “Come, come read our menu and enjoy our two pheasants fighting and a moldy-looking squirrel with a nut in its mouth!”

One night I passed the store of my dreams. They had the best dead things I’ve seen in a while. It’s good that both times I walked past it the store was closed, otherwise I would be the proud owner of many a piece of corpse-art.

Something else I saw at night: the real name of The Smurfs. Belgium is all about comics. They love ’em. I saw this charmer on the side of a building.

Is the Manneken Pis peeing beer? Or is the man too drunk to know that he’s drinking pee? I thought about that for a while. I regret that decision.

I walked past a magazine and comic-book shop one night and that is where I saw this.

Les Schtroumpfs. That’s a mouthful.

The flower shops in Belgium are amazing. They don’t just show the flowers off, they do whole window design statements with them. We came across this one in Tongeren. It had fabric lilies draped over the doorway with tiny led lights in them that lit up.

They had cascades of rose petals sliding down the window and itty-bitty bouquets of stripey roses at the base.

And they had a Saluki guarding the door and being adorable and lanky. Not actually related to the flower shop’s awesome flowers per se, but delightful nonetheless.

I made friends with a dog on one of the trains. It’s owner was looking out the window and she was trying to explain to the dog to join her in looking out the window because trains were going by. I tried to help by pointing my finger (“Look, dog! Sights to see!”), but the dog licked my finger because maybe there was a delicious treat on the end (there was not). Eventually the dog figured it out, but it took a while. It was a very sweet dachshund.

Another thing Belgium is famous for is chocolate and desserts. Hoo boy, did I see some drool-worthy sweeties, especially in Bruges. The Moomins insisted that we go to Bruges because she said it’s her fairy land. Now that I’ve been there and looked around, I can’t really argue with that.

They also had a charming Grand Place. No sculpture with a dude flinging a hand and lungfish and skull-dragons, so this will not be my top Grand Place, but still good.

According to Cricket when we were in London, we saw a ton of brick buildings with stars on their exteriors. Cricket told me that these are not just decorative, they actually help hold up the building. In Bruges, I saw some buildings that had those but they also told the date the building was built.

Anyway, sweets. Holy moly, so delicious and magical. Look at those loaves of marzipan and nougat. And the chocolate displays. They put a fruit tart all alone in a window like it’s a diamond tennis bracelet. Mmmmmmm.

There is an ancient candy that you can buy there called a cuberdon. It looks like a little frosted cone. By the way, by “ancient” I don’t mean they bury them for sixty years, I mean the recipe is mad old. Just clarifying. The authentic color and flavor is purple/raspberry, but they come in other flavors too. And therefore I had to try them.

(In that last photo they call them “squirrel noses”.) Cuberdons are super-sweet syrup which have been poured in those pointy-shaped molds and left to dry for five to six days. That’s what forms the leathery “skin” on the outside. When you bite into them, the syrup glorps out a little bit, and it is delicious but exceptionally sweet, so one cuberdon is plenty. And because they’re time and temperature-sensitive they are not found outside of Belgium. I looked up buying them here and you can’t.

There was also a old-fashioned candy-maker’s shop, and I walked by they started making candy! Right in front of me! I was so happy. I took pictures of the shape-maker devises in the window.

First, the two men pour molten hot sugar/water/glucose/flavoring on a cool metal table with square bars to prevent it from rolling off the table. Because it was cherry-flavored, they added red coloring and a bit of white coloring in the corner. And then they mixed and mixed and mixed.

After waiting for the stuff to gel up a bit, one of them took out the biggest shears ever and cut the white part from the red part.

After the shears, they put on nuclear oven mitts and attempted to shape the candy while it was still hot and malleable. Until I watched these guys, I never realized how much upper body strength is required to make this. You’ve got to heave the enormous cauldron full of sugary lava over to a metal table and pour it all on there without getting it all over yourself because you know it ain’t coming off ever, kiss your forearms goodbye. Then after it sets a bit, you have to wrangle this and it’s sticky as hell and hot and twenty pounds and it keeps being affected by gravity so you have to stay on top of it. It should be part of the P90X regimen. Impressive.

So the guys made a couple of long shapes and took it over to some silicone mats to assemble the design.

Oh look, a heart! That one guy started pulling and pulling until it got about a finger’s width thick and then broke it off, and sho’ nuff there’s a little heart in there. Awww.

They turned on a machine of rollers that helped in the reducing-the-width-thing and banged off foot-long pieces of this candy, which they then broke into bite-size pieces. I bought some. I normally don’t care for cherry-flavored candy, but it’s not overpoweringly flavored so it wasn’t like cough drops.

Finally, when we were in Brussels we walked down the fanciest street they got, I guess Fifth Avenue would be a good analogy. We walked past a shop that had what appeared to be giant hippos made from clay or maybe metal. When we walked inside The Moomins and I realized that they were made of chocolate. OMG, that’s fantastic. There was a sign that said Please Do Not Touch, but I was like, do they have a policy on licking? I did not lick, but I definitely thought about it.

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