... in belgium

What the kusttram is to Belgium, the Gaza marathon is to the Palestinian territories

04 Mar 2012 | 121 words | belgium coast gaza kusttram marathon running

So it turns out that, since last year, they have a marathon in the gaza strip. Even better, this is the only marathon which covers the entire coast of a state territory (much like Belgium is the only county in the world that has a tram running along it’s entire coastline).

The Volkskrant article that made me aware of the existence of the gaza marathon even claims that the coastline of the gaza strip is exactly 42K long, which after some quick fact-checking turns out to be only slightly wrong.

According to various news-reports, this year’s edition was quite a hellish task, with very low temperatures and a sand/rainstorm blowing into the faces of the competitors.

Marathon runner in a sandstorm

Belgium: l’économie de la débrouillardise?

02 Jan 2012 | 153 words | belgium economy

Wired has a short interview with Robert Neuwirth author of Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy which highlights some of the points made in the book (the main point being that combined the informal economy worldwide would be the second largest economy after the US). The interview hints at some fairly interesting observations such as merchant-driven product innovation and multiple layer interfaces between formal economy multinationals and their informal sales forces. Hopefully the book explores these in some more depth.

Midway through the interview wired has placed this map of the world which shows the size of each country’s underground economy, as a percentage of its GDP. While the map is not entirely credible (Iran and Indonesia having informal economies that account for less than 10% of GDP?) the most striking feature (for me) is the color of Belgium…

Map of countries by informal economy as percentage of GDP

Louvain la neuve != zanzibar

02 Jul 2008 | 265 words | belgium urbanism

Although the sign pictured below seems to suggest some kind of connection between a fast food store in Louvain la neuve and Zanzibar, i have so far failed to find one, which is unfortunate as this is about the most desolate place that you can imagine.

Catharina has called it a post-nuclear cityscape, and the brochure of the UCL mentions that the university was ‘implanted’ here in 1972, which is exactly how the city looks. According to wikipedia this is the result of inter Belgian strife in the 1906s:

Louvain-la-Neuve is a planned city in the municipality of Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. To a great extent, it still lives following the rhythms of the university that is its raison d’être. However, with the recent construction of L’Esplanade shopping complex, the Aula Magna exhibition centre and auditorium, as well as a large cinema complex, it is beginning to grow beyond its academic roots. Louvain-la-Neuve is a product of the linguistic quarrels that took place in Belgium during the sixties. After Flemish claims of discrimination at the Catholic University of Leuven, the decision was made to split the institution into the Dutch language Katholieke Universiteit Leuven which remained in Leuven, and the Université Catholique de Louvain. The administration decided to create a new town to host the French-speaking university. The chosen site was situated 30 km southeast of Brussels, in the French-speaking part of Belgium.

Our host have mentioned that this actually confuses foreigners a great deal and there has been many a scholar who ended up in Leuven when he was supposed to be in Louvain la Neuve.

Old people dumping ground

23 Oct 2006 | 341 words | kusttram belgium public transport coast

After having found the children’s deposit point in lille last weekend i went on to the belgian coast to take a ride along the coast in in the kusttram (‘coast-tram’). have wanted to do this for a while as i am (a) a sucker for public transport and (b) i really like the idea of having a tram that runs along almost the entire Belgian coast (not that it is that long of a coast with in total 66km).

Unlike almost everything else in begium the coast tram does even make sense. it does run every ten minutes and at least on this sunday was absolutely crowded. crowded with old people that is. if i was well mannered and would offer my seat to the first best old person having to stand in the tram i would not have had a seat for the 2 hours 20 minutes remaining after the 2nd stop (but then i am not well mannered and continue to sit). looks like the belgian coast is some kind of dumping ground for old people. wherever you look the coast is full of grey haired persons, occasionally interrupted by brits carrying away huge quantities of liquor and cigarettes. apparently they store the old people in enormous high rises that line almost the entire coastline. here is an impressive sattelite shot taken from google earth (note the shadows illustrating the height of the buildings):

And here is a shot of the same location taken from the tram:

Now that is form follows function to the max. storing the old people within easy walking distance from the beach, far away from the urban centers and build a tram (o.k. the tram seems to be older than most of these humble dwellings, but who cares) interconnecting all these silos so they can visit each other and walk up and down the coast. perfect. looks like as if this keeps them happy as well as they do not even seem to vote for the vlaams belang (like the rest of flanders does).

Back from Bruxelles

16 Sep 2005 | 402 words | brussels belgium colonialism cities

I was back in bruxelles yesterday after a way to lo long time. This city is definitely my favorite city in Europe as it manages to surprise me every time i am there, even if it is only for one rainy evening spent in an restaurant waiting for the night train to berlin (of course the fact that there actually is a night train connection to berlin makes Bruxelles stand out above such mediocre places as Amsterdam!). On the way from the restaurant to the Gare de midi i came across two remarkable things the first being a little store specialized in plastic model sets that proudly displayed a 1/35 reenactment of belgium’s not-so-glorious colonial past (please excuse the shitty quality of the night time phone cam pic):

belgians rule africans in 1/35

The second was the etablissement that i entered in order to get one last drink before boarding the train. by the outside of it (and i could not see much as it rained and my glasses were totally covered with spray water) it looked like some upscale minimalist bar: big steel framed glass windows, neutral withe lightening shining from a clean white interior with some kind of expressionistic painting on the long wall. once inside i realized that i had totally mistaken the place. instead of a bar i had entered a north african tea house and now i was getting confused and slightly hostile looks from the all male patrons. the place was unlike every tea house i have been to before. the interior design was straight from bauhaus, the espresso machines would make every coffee shop owner in berlin-mitte become jealous and there was indeed a more or less expressionist mural with a middle eastern or north african market scene on the wall facing the bar.

So instead of another drink i settled for a delicious peppermint tea had a chat with mohammed who would not believe my age and of whom in turn i would not believe that he was a student and watched a bit of al-jazeerha on the giant flat screen TV’s before heading out to catchmy train.

This is exactly why i love bruxelles so much: more often than not the visual representation of things completely defies what the way i am (we are?) conditioned….

update [27.05.06]: here is another shot of the (now slightly rearranged) window display that i took this morning:

What the visa?

Today i soend most of my day trying to get a schengen visa for programmer/activist from cote d’ivoire and that meant i had to make lots of phone calls to cote d’ivoire and while doing that i dialed wrong numbers a couple of times.

Now if you dial the wrong number locally people are usually pissed that you disturb them. not so in this case, each time i got connected with someone wrong, the people started me asking all kinds of questions about me or amsterdam or what i was wearing (sic!) and generally tried to keep me on the phone for as long as possible which is a pretty interesting way of wasting your time… Much better than talking to the people you really need to talk to as the staff of the belgian embassy in abidjan is extremely not-funny, inflexible, rude (they hung up on me twice) and non cooperative when it coes to getting a visa on time.

Bottom line is Yapi won’t come to what the hack, because the Dutch don’t know where their embassy is (they send him to the embassy in Ghana where he was told that instead he should have gone to the belgian embassy in abijan) and the Belgians are rude, not-funny and not felxible at all…

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: