Monday, November 1, 2010

Sour Beer, White Cheese and Sport Finches: LambicLand Re-Launches, at Long Last.

It's a specific kind of devotion that leads you into the Brabantine countryside, where the roads thin out, English and French become as scarce as the hotels, and mass transit may be less than useful. To really explore Pajottenland, unless you speak Dutch, it helps to:

(a) rent a car, because working out the bus schedule and waiting at stations will kill your valuable café time, and
(b) practice your hand gestures. (Hold up empty tumbler so that flatcap-wearing barman can see. Point at tumbler. Hold up number of fingers representing how many glasses of lambic required.)

Tim Webb published the first edition of LambicLand, via his Cogan & Mater outfit, in 2004. It sold out. Two years later I couldn't find a copy anywhere, online or in Belgium. (A few pirates would sell used copies on Amazon for something like $80, but they don't count.) I think it was sometime in 2008 when I finally found one, against all odds, in a drawer at Brussels' Warm Water café.* By then it was four years old. The folks there were kind enough to sell it to me at cover price. It was in perfect condition and still smelled like the printers.

This time, as the Brussels-raconteur-turned-Latin-American-corresondent for Cogan & Mater, I get a free copy. Bias isn't an issue, since I don't really attempt objective book reviews here anyway. It's makes a lot more sense to say, "Here is yet another book you might find really useful." Written by Webb along with Chris "Podge" Pollard and Siobhan McGinn, the pattern will hold: Names, addresses, opening hours, contact information, favored lambics, photos, descriptions of the most random details, and deadpan jokes drier than the finest geuze.

The first edition was bilingual, in both English and Dutch. This one is in English only, perhaps a shrewd calculation based on the troubles of translation and the fact that many Dutch-speakers have been loyal to Cogan & Mater's English-only books. That's what they get for being so damned good at languages.

Naturally I have to point out that Brussels is an ideal base from which to explore Pajottenland, which surrounds the city on three sides. So it would be pretty savvy, I think, to own both LambicLand and Around Brussels in 80 Beers. Sleep in Brussels, breakfast and lunch in the countryside, then enjoy an evening pub crawl back in the city. And never step foot inside a boring place to drink.

Order them now and save yourself the trouble later. Have you heard that Christmas is approaching?

*The Warm Water (one of the places featured in Around Brussels, is a Marolles institution that specializes in Girardin lambic, Brusseleer dialect, and vegetarian grub including typical breakfasts made with local cheeses. It's just up the hill from one of the world's most interesting junk markets.

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