It is the beginning of another month and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (to catch up on the previous installments click on the Ohmygod menu up top). As you will recall, I used to be a cycling tour guide in Europe for several years. Through that job (yes, it is a bit difficult to call it a “job”) I met countless interesting people and have a few compelling stories to tell, but most of them pale to the story of Ohmygod, one of the clients that I had for three weeks. Some may wonder about the moniker, but the name chose itself really; it is what I uttered repeatedly during just about every interaction with him.
In the previous installment (Part Fifty), after yet another completely disgusting embarrassment at dinner from Ohmygod, I tried to actively “ditch” him, which I had never done before in all of my years leading trips. The rest of the clan was in at least tacit agreement as they all followed me to one of my favorite bars—which was also likely the toughest spot in town to find as it was down a narrow, almost undetectable alley off one of the main pedestrian streets in Bruges. After a couple of beers, Adonis had lured me over to his little harem of French women with the promise of free beer. No sooner had I joined the group that I noticed, or rather heard, Ohmygod at the bar burping out the alphabet.
I had two choices: I could either walk up to Ohmygod (who, after belching the alphabet, was now belting out the O Canada with his beer-induced eructations) with some sort of desultory explanation of how we all ended up here without telling him. Or, I could ignore him entirely and embrace my new role as Cyrano de Bergerac for hire for free beer.
Yeah. Life was that good.
Perhaps needless to say, I chose the latter. I was not particularly proud of my choice, but given the alternative (which I had extrapolated into another entire night of baby-sitting Ohmygod), I thought it was really the only choice.
Besides, I was thirsty.
Truth be told? It was also kind of fun translating for Adonis as he was a pig-headed buffoon and had no idea what I was actually telling the objects of his lust. Having spent some time on a French basketball team, I had a few words at my disposal that, well, probably were not appropriate in any situation, let alone the current.
So he would spew his “magic” and I would first interpret creatively, then translate. Most of the time the gist of his original message would be conveyed, but with either a few extra thoughts or at least some colorful vocabulary. The overly attractive French women, however, seemed to be, at least initially, crediting the vulgarity to Adonis (it also helped that I would appear embarrassed, even shocked, as I would “faithfully” translate his utterances).
Yes, I know that I am going straight to hell, but honestly, it seems as though most of the fun people on earth are going to end up there, too. Sure, I will suffer for the rest of eternity, but there will be some great stories to share. Plus, since I had not actually killed Ohmygod (at least yet) I figure I have a legitimate argument for a modicum of leniency.
Yes. I am going with that.
Even though Adonis was pretty much a letch, I will say that he did keep the Belgian beer flowing. He also was more than willing to accept my recommendations since the most sophisticated (his word, not mine) he had ever remembered trying was Amstel (he was quick to point out that he was referring to regular Amstel, not the Amstel Light that is widespread in the States, and which at that time was only available in Europe–hence the sophistication).
I tried to keep an eye on Ohmygod, but after my third (or was it sixth?) beer, I really didn’t care anymore. I started to fantasize that we had entered a new phase in our relationship where we had tacitly agreed through mutual indifference that barring any egregious violations of previously established norms, we would simply ignore one another’s existence.
I said it was a fantasy….
Another beer later, unbeknownst to me (even though I apparently had translated the plan), all five women, Adonis, and I were headed off to a dance club. I could use the cliché “Lost in Translation” here but the truth of the matter was that I was bombed out of my mind and had virtually no clue about what was happening.
So I just went with it.
At some point during the escapade, I revolted and left. Or, more likely, I somehow lost the group and wandered back to the hotel. It is also entirely possible that there was some assistance provided by the Bruges police to ensure that I returned (relatively) unscathed to my room.
I really have no idea.
I do remember, however, feeling rather pathetic fulfilling the role that had become my lot in life. At one particular moment of clarity, I realized that I: a) might have a chance with one of the five women that Adonis might reject; b) that it was entirely possible that Adonis would select all five of them and I would be left to twist in the wind; c) I had turned into essentially a beer whore; and d) my life had sunk to new levels of loathing self-esteem.
So yes, it was a good night.
However I got back to my room, I woke up when the sun breached my window at 6:37 a.m. Through the searing pain, I realized that I had neglected to close the curtains and the sun’s laser beams quickly damaged both my retina and my psyche. I needed to get up, for I had neglected to pass out that morning’s route sheets to all the clients the night before. I had to assume that all of them (except for Adonis, of course) had an earlier night than did I and might have planned to get on the road around or before 9:00. Thus, the dutiful guide in me felt the need to rise before the earliest and meet everyone in the breakfast room to dole out the day’s agenda.
No, there is no “Guide of the Year” award, but nonetheless….
Had I known what time I had actually made it to sleep, I likely would have been more agitated, but in a perverted interpretation of the axiom “Ignorance is bliss” I decided once again to simply roll with it.
I made it to the breakfast room when it opened, precisely at 7:00, but of course, no one else was there (on the trips that I led over the years, it was rare for people to show up much before 9, much less 7. While the additional time gave me the opportunity to catch up on the finances of the trip, I opted to forgo that benefit and stared blankly into my cup of hot chocolate, apparently hoping to find a scintilla of truth within.
Eventually, each of the guests made their way down to the breakfast nook, and all of them, without fail, posed the following question (with only minor variations): “You were in rare form last night! How are you feeling this morning?” Each of them had their own little moniker attached to the end as well: “Champ,” “Big Boy,” “Mayor of Bruges,” “Translator for the Stars.”
I took my “medicine” but I made a vow at that point to look each one of them up in hell and remind them of this moment in the afterlife–I would have the last laugh! (I think.)
After the last of them left (with the exception, of course, of Adonis, who was a no show), I packed up all of my untouched receipts from the trip, slipped a route sheet under Adonis’s door, and headed back to my room. Checkout was at noon, and I was determined to use that time wisely.
I needed a nap.
I woke a couple of hours later, having gone up at least 30% but still well short of feeling 100%. That would just have to do though, as it was now approaching noon and I needed to get on the road to Gent. The ride was not all that long or arduous (50k–about 30 miles), but halfway along the route was the town of Eeklo, where I planned to have lunch.
This is a departure from my normal modus operandi of staying in town for lunch then heading out, but Eeklo is the only place where one can buy the day’s Beer of the Day, the Herbakkersbier. In fact, I have only been able to find it at one restaurant in town, which is conveniently right along the route.
I packed, grabbed my bike, and headed out. The route out of town is a bit challenging, particularly for those that have horrible senses of direction, like me. Bruges, like most European cities, is a hodgepodge of twisting, narrow streets that change their names and direction apparently on a whim. Luckily, I guess, the city’s system of canals is slightly more understandable, so once I found the right canal, I just stayed along it until I exited the city.
Right as I was about to join the bike path that would carry me a good part of the way to Eeklo, I saw two eerily familiar attractive women sitting at the side of the entrance to the path, and as I approached, they started waving. It turned out to be two of the French students from the bar (and disco) from the night before. As I got closer, their waving became more frantic, so when I finally reached them, I stopped.
But they kept waving, looking past me, ignoring my presence altogether.
I looked over my shoulder, and there was their prince, Adonis, riding his bike like a conquering hero. The two had come to the edge of town to say goodbye to him as he left.
If I had not been so dumbfounded, I would have likely thrown up.
Instinctively, I paused, waiting for their demigod to reach us. When he did, the French started flowing from the two women, and eventually, they stopped speaking waiting for a response from Adonis, who was simply smiling broadly, not understanding a word but knowing it was somehow glorifying him. After a pregnant pause, the three interlocutors instinctively and instantly turned to me, waiting for me to translate.
“They had a great time last night–they never thought it would be that fun.”
They started speaking again but fearing that I would indeed vomit if I translated any more, I interrupted to tell them that we needed to be in Eeklo to meet the others for lunch and we were already late. Yes, it was a blatant lie but Adonis had no idea and frankly, I had no intention of reprising my role of Cyrano.
Not waiting for a response, I pushed off and pedaled down the road. After maybe a hundred meters or so, I realized I should wait for Adonis since it was my job to ensure that all clients were either ahead of me or (worst case scenario) with me on the route. I tried not to look back and just wait, but after 30 seconds, I could not help it. I turned just in time to see a version of a group hug/embrace with the bicycle awkwardly placed in between.
A few moments later, Adonis joined me and we headed off to Eeklo, which luckily involved virtually no navigation–we just needed to stay on the canal’s parallel bike path. It soon became obvious that he was determined to recount the events that took place the previous night after I had “disappeared.” I was equally determined not to hear them, so each time he started to speak, I would simply pedal harder, causing him to struggle to keep up and stop talking. This odd yo-yo-ing continued for the next 20 kilometers as he never realized that I did not want to listen to his salacious escapades (that, yes, I helped make happen, but that is irrelevant I think).
Eventually, we made it to Eeklo and headed into town, to have lunch at the aforementioned restaurant. As we approached, I saw that the rest of the group (save Ohmygod) were still there, occupying a large table in the middle of the restaurant’s terrace, each with a Beer of the Day in front of them (it was easy to tell that they were all drinking a Herbakkersbier [the Beer of the Day] since as with all beers in Belgium, it had its own distinctive glass).
Not giving Adonis a chance to speak, immediately after parking our bikes, we joined the others and I started telling the story of how I came to learn of Eeklo’s most famous tale.
The town of Eeklo is literally centered around the story of the Herbakker. A few years ago, while tossing back a few of the famed local beer in the same restaurant, the waiter and a few patrons filled me in on the fable. Their English was far better than my Flemish, which is only due to the fact that I do not speak a single word of Flemish, but through their broken English and a little French, I think I got the gist of the story:
It seems as though, back in the Middle Ages/Renaissance, when a child in Eeklo was being particularly naughty, he would get a visit from the Herbakker. The Herbakker would then proceed to remove the child’s head and replace it with a cabbage, taking the child’s head (“herb” in Flemish, apparently) and bake it (“bakker” is baker in Flemish–not much of a stretch there). The duration of the baking depended on how naughty was the child–the worse the little devil was, the longer his head roasted away in the oven. Once the Herbakker had determined that the head was good to go, he would remove the cabbage and re-install the head, thus “curing” the child (who would presumably go on and be a responsible citizen–or a permanent drain on society, that part remains unclear).
Yes, that is the story that caused the town to erect a statue of the Herbakker in the middle of the main square.
My conclusion? When it comes to scaring the bejesus out of kids, the Europeans are far ahead of other societies.
As for the beer? Even though it is only possible to buy it in and around Eeklo, it is one of my favorites. It is considered a Belgian Strong Pale Ale with a slightly orange/caramel color. Fruity on the nose with Granny Smith and pineapple, it is slightly sweet on the palate with a bit of caramel and slight carbonation. It is not until you finish the first one that you realize the punch of an 8.5% beer. (Excellent. 90 Points.)
A mere minute or two after finishing my story, and while the rest of the group was still chuckling about the fable, Adonis’ right arm shot up and he shouted “Hey! Over here!”
I turned to look.
It was the two French women that we had encountered on the way out of Bruges. They smiled, ran over to our table, and sat down.