#164, Bruges, Belgium
Before setting foot in the medieval town-meets-Epcot Center world of Bruges, I'd heard it described as "the Venice of Northern Europe." Comparisons like this are always unnecessary and lead to more dangerously asinine comparisons like calling Jackson Heights "the Williamsburg of Queens." Let's just call Bruges, Bruges, and please can we move on to the mussels and Belgian beer and the architecture?
Now I had about two hours, cycling alone at dusk one fine June day while the church bells rang out from the tower, when I thought to myself, "I need to move here. Right now. I need to move here and write my novel here and see windmills every day." The brightly colored Dutch billy buildings, the network of labyrinthine streets, the cobblestones, the solitude - once you got away from the circus of the square - were transporting in the best way possible. Absolutely. I could get used to this.
Then about a year ago, I was excited to learn that Martin McDonagh, whose writing I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, had written a screenplay for a sort of noir hitman film based in Bruges called, er, In Bruges. The trailer hit all the right notes for me: dark and fast-paced with that peculiar vinegar-flavored humor that McDonagh's plays are known for. Instead of an idyllic medieval writer's retreat, the Bruges of the movie is basically a candy-colored tourist-infested hell imprisoning the two main characters, played brilliantly by Brendan Gleeson and, a guilty pleasure to admit, Colin Farrell.
In Bruges was one of those stories where setting truly played a major role, and I love getting wrapped up in stories (whether novels or films or even songs) where the story can not possibly be extracted from the setting. Try to imagine Roman Holiday set in Halifax and you'll see what I mean. And as far as choices go, I loved the underdog quality of this choice. If it was anyone other than Martin McDonagh, the proposal for a hitman film based in the rinky-dink sized medieval town of Bruges (usually not a good sign when everyone who hears the title asks, "Where's Bruges") would have been laughed out of the theatre, and not in a nice way. But it didn't. It got made, and I thoroughly enjoyed every gruesome minute of it.
Poor Belgium. Brussels is great, but "it's no Paris," Bruges is beautiful, but it has to be sold as "the Venice of Northern Europe." I'm here to tell you without shame that I love you, Belgium. I love your inferior cities, your mad architecture, your dark chocolate, and your mussels mariniere. I love who I have been in your squares and streets and what you stir up in my windmill-chasing soul. I'll probably never extract another number for you, Bruges, all the rest of the year, but with material this rich, who's counting?