Sunday, August 22, 2004

Truth Is A Belgian Cheese

Lately, I've been talking to a lot of guys on WorldLeathermen from Belgium. It's fairly astonishing. When you click on "Who's Online Now," you get a list of countries, from Belize on down to Zaire, and the number of men from each country signed on. There are always several hundred men from Belgium signed on. Usually more than Australia, Netherlands, UK, and other alleged global poles of leather. And of course, the hottest man I've ever seen on the internet was a Belgian.


What's going on in Belgium?

Do they put something in the water there?

One of my childhood heroes was King Albert of Belgium, as he was portrayed in Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. He was handsome, tall, intelligent, and grave. The Belgian constitution makes the king the commander-in-chief of the army. And during World War I, King Albert made many visits to the front lines. In this, he was alone among the commanders-in-chief during the first world war. And, I think, subsequent wars. This, of course, made him beloved among his soldiers, and the Belgian people.

Between my junior and senior year in high school, I went to France with my french class. It was a great trip. Twenty-one days. We started in Paris, then went down to Geneva, around Lac Léman to Lausanne (where for the first time I got fucked, by an Egyptian businessman who picked me up in the men's room of a pizza parlor and wanted me to 'stay'; gosh, how would my life be different if I had taken him up on that offer?), through the Mont Blanc tunnel and into Italy, arriving in Nice, then up through Provence to the Pyranees and Carcassonne (the southwest of France is one of my favorite places in the world), to Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, Normandie, Caen, Rouen, and back to Paris. Anyway, I always had a knack for languages, and my french was just about better than anyone else on the trip, outside of the teachers. Particularly when I'm drunk--still the case--I can just prattle on all but effortlessly. And very often, my french interlocutors would refuse to believe I was american. Apparently I don't have an american accent when I speak french; I have a belgian accent. And, apparently, I look belgian. "Je ne suis pas Belge. Je suis Américain." I said this over and over again. One hot anarchist punk boy I was chatting with in Paris refused to believe I was American. "You don't have to be ashamed of being belgian," he told me. I showed him my passport. "Pfpftuiii! I could be back in an hour with a half-dozen passports that make me a citizen of as many countries. Admit it! You're a belgian! You should be proud of being a belgian!" This impressed on my young mind a fascination with Belgium. Was Belgium perhaps some sort of a spiritual homeland for me? The way the Colorado Rockies were for John Denver? ("Like coming home again to a place he'd never been...")

Belgians drink more beer per capita than any country in the world.

Belgium is very flat, and so practically indefensible. Hence, the history of Belgium is the history of being overrun by whatever European power happened to be ascendent. Kind of a right of passage of becoming a strong nation: conquering Belgium.

And then there's the Belgian Cheese.

There I was, sitting in my Epistomology class in college. Epistemology is the philosophical inquiry into knowledge. How do whe know? How do we know that we know something? That kind of thing.

The professor was very much an Existential-Phenomenologist. He had studied at the University of Louvain in Belgium. I liked him a lot. He was endeavoring to explain to us the Existential-Phenomenologist take on Truth. The E-P's have it that truth is both something that we ourselves create, and it's participatory. You make your own Truth, but at the same time, you are part of a project involving the whole human race, past and present, that endeavors to apprehend Truth. And so even though my truth is slightly different from your Truth, as my subjectivity is distinct from yours, together, we have a role in creating that great thing we call 'Truth.'

And we weren't quite getting it. Lots of blank stares greeted him. So he decided to offer an illustration.

"Truth," he said, "is a Belgian Cheese."

Imagine a huge wheel of cheese. Even though it's all one cheese, the flavor can be slightly inconsitent throughout. So if you were to carve out a slice from yourself, a thin wedge (your Truth!), your wedge wouldn't quite be like any other wedge that could be carved from the cheese, although it would be still the same cheese, and very similar in many respects. But my wedge of cheese is never going to be exactly the same experience as your wedge of cheese. Truth is both individual, and participatory.

Truth is a Belgian cheese.

So maybe, when the shop closes down for a week of maintenance next July, I'll head off to Belgium. (Like coming home again to a place he'd never been.) I'll dive into Belgian history, culture, and architecture. (Frites! Huitres! Biere!) And I'll fuck my way through that lowland nation with all these men I'm talking to on WorldLeathermen.

And I'll eat Belgian Cheese.

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