11 November 2006
Today is Saturday, and, like most students, I have left a number of errands that should have been run during the week until today. Now, I've already learned the hard way that EVERYTHING in Belgium is closed on Sundays, and so anything that needs to get done needs to get done on Saturday. I must admit that my purchases for this week are rather negligible--shampoo, a box of cereal, a candle, a bottle of wine to take to a friend's for dinner--and aren't really life-threatening should they go unfinished. But, still, I think that I might be able to forge ahead more happily with my work (yes, for those of you who are losing faith in ever seeing a post about my research, I am hard at work!) if I have these little things taken care of. But this morning I stepped out the door and found out--again, the hard way--that everything is closed. No, I didn't sleep through two days. Today is Armistice Day.
Now, rather than complain about the fact that my hair and my breakfast will have to wait a couple of more days, I thought I would say a few brief words about Armistice Day in Belgium. World War I was devastating for much of Belgium. The country was a battleground for five straight years, and the people who couldn't escape faced starvation and disease. In fact, our own Herbert Hoover, before he became president, ran the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) and was perhaps single-handedly responsible for saving the lives of millions of civilians. Today signs of Hoover's restoration is visible throughout the streets of Leuven: the Hooverplein, for example, sits next to KUL's Centrale Bibliotheek, rebuilt from utter ruin with funds provided by the CRB. The CRB was also responsible for establishing the prestigious Belgian American Education Foundation. And while most of WWI's veterans have passed away, many in Belgium's older generations still clearly remember the difficult times of WWI.
Now, having said this, I don't think I would have known it was Armistice Day if I hadn't attempted to run my errands. Aside from a note from our Fulbright Director in the monthly newsletter and the fact that there is a little more Vaughan Williams on the classical radio station today, I don't recall any mention of the Holiday. But this is, I think, the way of the Belgians: introverted and humble, even when it comes to such a meaningful celebration. So I am certainly happy to purchase my bottle of wine at the local convenience store if it means I am reminded of the day's importance to the people in my new home country.