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Brussels blog by some wire service journalists

Leaving Brussels, without shoes

I was eager to get out of Brussels for the weekend, and I threw my stuff in the car so hastily that I accidently left the house without any shoes – only the flip-flops I planned to wear on the beach.

A couple of days earlier, EU officials had announced that, just as people are hurting, they wanted a 4.9 percent increase in their budget. Then, to show how vital their work was, they  immediately left town en masse for a five-day Easter holiday.

Being out of touch seems to be a specialty in Brussels.  It’s not true of everyone, but a good number of EU officials have drivers and pinstriped suits and patent leather shoes and a strong sense of their own importance. Voters are to be avoided because they don’t always do what they’re told.

With all the eurocrats gone, my wife and I steered the old Saab across the non-border – only the smallest of signs marks the frontier as you speed past on the highway – and on toward northern France and a B&B on an overgrown farm in the middle of nowhere.  The pheasants called to each other deep into the night and woke us in the morning with their hooting.

Three days without shoes turns out to be no bad thing. I tiptoed through a field in my flip-flops to feed a horse an apple core. The horse, looking for more, examined my toes to see if they were edible.  I felt the wind on my feet, the grass between my toes and later, when we reached the beach in the little town of Wissant, the sand under my heels.

Being in the middle of nowhere is a good place to see things – as good, if not better, than the hub of the universe, which is how some officials think of Brussels.  You see the tractors in the fields: The faint smell of manure wafts through the open door and down the aisles of the supermarket.  Groups of cyclists wend their way on narrow roads between the yellow fields, finding a good sweat and beautiful countryside as important, at least for today, as an overly complicated law that takes too many years to pass.

Belgium, with its linguistic divide, feels like two countries, it’s true, but Europe feels like one. The B&B in France was full of Belgians. And while someone joked about the accent with which the Belgians speak French, the proprietress joked, too, about people from Brittany – like her husband.  The next day a waitress in Calais was rude to us because she thought we were English. But without the cross-channel ferry disgorging boatloads of Brits 100 yards from her restaurant, she’d be out of a job.

And so? We paid our bill and shuffled back to the beach. Hard to feel overly important in flip-flops.  

No one would argue otherwise: Officials who work for the EU are every bit as entitled to time off as anyone else – the person who runs a B&B or drives a tractor or waits on tables or writes news for a living. Some of those officials, I’m sure, headed not for their national capitals or resort hotels but for the middle of nowhere, and that’s good. And maybe even – we can only hope – a few of them forgot their shoes, as well.

                      — Don Melvin

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Filed under: Columns

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Don Melvin

Slobodan Lekic

Raf Casert

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