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July 21, 2009

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Claude

First, let me do a small correction: the 21st of July is not Belgium's birthday but rather celebrates the anniversary of the day the first king, Leopold the 1st, oath to the country (Belgium existed before).
Second, for those poor expats missing the big day, let me give you my own review and first hand experience. I went to the city on my bike. It was only morning and not crowded yet (the army show was scheduled for the afternoon). Next to the parliament, the road was empty, all cars were banned and only a couple of bikers like me were allowed to zoom straight through the road blocks. Not too many pedestrians around. Suddenly we were faced with a wall of trotting horses mounted by "gendarmes" in full ceremony dress complete with huge bear-hide hats, red coats, spears and swords out: the king's escort! The front guy angrily yelled at us from up his beast, waving a spear: out of the way, out of the way! Quickly we retreated to the sidewalk. They passed us and behind the few dozens of horses, a big black merc with a plate number "1" appeared: the king himself accompanied by the queen, waving at us, people seemed a bit surprised of the encounter (nobody waved back so the royals looked funny). Right next to the car, secret police on foot, walking briskly with attaché-cases like jehovah's witnesses (I later learned that these were the latest gadgets in security: foldable kevlar sheets). A few blocks down the street, in a crowded area, someone suddenly crossed my path: the prime minister on foot (ya know, the one looking like a savant owl, Herman Van Rompuy). I ended up in the antiquity market place (Le Sablon). All over, army types demonstrating their wares in a big recruiting push: a Leopard tank moving back & forth to climb a tank carrier truck while belching thick black smoke, a few APC (armored personal carriers) of all shape and form welcoming people on board, a F16 jet fighter with children queuing to sit in the pilot seat, a Marchetti training plane stranded in the middle, guard dogs doing mock attacks in a corner. I indulged in climbing inside a cramped Pandur 6X6 APC to look at the electronic gadgetry: GPS screen, night vision & 360 zoomable infra red cameras (nice to watch girls around...), acoustic sniper detection kit coupled with a .50 automatic machine gun on a turret, battle management system... deadly toys. The soldiers were pretty open an candid about their job, about to depart to Kosovo on a peace keeping mission.
Further up the road, in our central parc, a suite of booth doing NATO marketing: I saw some stupid movie shot in a far away country (Afghanistan?) featuring a lady in a modest house enjoying the benefit of her new electric laundry machine and her eldest son happy to watch TV: I couldn't believe that the western alliance was still shooting such stupid cold war like propaganda movie to enlighten the third world!
Voilà! I rode back home, mulling over my good fortune of having survived the latest events.

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