There are times when the preposterous and the bizarre link up for some
truly surreal slices of life.
So my friend Eric gets some gigs playing guitar in a blues band, in and
around Liege, Belgium. Insisting that I go up with him from Paris for
a few days, while I'm still enjoying unemployment and refugee status,
I say, "d'accord!".
The night we get there, Italy is playing Norway in the World Cup, and
our host says, "Let's smoke this now, then we'll go for a few drinks before
Italy wins and the local Vinnies go out and riot."
"Come on, it's the second match of the prelim round, how could they get
worked up for that?" I answer.
"Two days ago Belgium beat Morocco and, in this other town, hundreds of
skinheads and hooligans fought pitched battles in a downtown square with
Moroccan immigrants, shooting at them with pellet guns and air riffles.
They do things like this around here!".
I'm smoking Moroccan hash and tobacco at this point, so I understand less
and less, and we go out -but we waste time checking out the hookers in
window displays by the train station, so when we finally sit down for
our first pints of Jupiler draught, it's show time: hundreds of cars,
honking and swerving, oozing drunken locals out of every window and sunroof,
screaming and waving Italian and Belgian flags, "Viva Italial" "Forza
Azzural" "A-Fucka-You Everybody Else"; this went on for over an hour!
What would happen if they won the Cup?
The next day we go to Maastricht, Holland. 15 minutes away driving GT-
Eurostyle! Maastricht is a beautiful town, ancient and neat, infamous
throughout Europe for the unity treaty that bears its name, but we're
here for another reason - the coffee shops! Not your American-style
coffee shop, mind you - sure, they sell coffee, too, but that's not their
raison d'être: they exist solely to provide a safe (!), clean (!)
place for people to legally buy small quantities of hashish and marijuana
(to smoke on the premises or take home).
That's extremely high quality hash and wacky weed: "Pollen," "Double Pollen,"
Moroccan hash, gold or red Lebanese, "Home-Run-Swing-In-The-Face" home-grown
Dutch sensimilla - "Skunk", they call it!
I repeat, all this is legal, up front, low key, no pressure, cool as ice,
and (best of all?) possibly spreading. A few weeks earlier, Germany
decriminalized possession of small quantities of cannabis-related
Interestingly, while the whole coffee-shop retail operation is legal,
there are only limited legal sources for them to get their supplies from.
Effectively, they buy from illegal sources, thereby sheltering the youth
from possibly mob-related suppliers (who might not want to limit
their business to just cannabis).
Another amusing factor, from an American point of view, was that the dozen
or so kids who were there, were just that - kids, 15 or 16 year olds.
Boys and girls smoking good pot in bongs and chillums provided by the
shop, drinking sodas (no booze) and watching the World Cup on TV - and
this is where it gets even weirder!
The World Cup match that day pitted Belgium against Holland. Now, pay
attention: We're watching this in Holland, two French guys too high to
care much or even know, barely able to remember the rules of soccer; along
with two not-quite-so-high Belgians who are hoping Belgium wins, but not
while we're on this side of the Dutch border.
You see, while we all know about the English killer fans and soccer hooligans,
it seems Holland has them just as bad, just as rabid, and just as drunk!
So Gerard the Walloon and his Flemish girlfriend Esther insist, demand,
we should leave - that we must leave at half-time regardless of the score
because we cannot take the chance of being caught on this side of the
border, speaking French, in a car with Belgian plates, should Belgium
Eric and I are so wasted and mellow at this point, we don't get it and
want to stay. The football playing is quite good, and the kids who run
the coffee shop are cool enough to have the TV sound turned off
and the stereo blasting guitar rock of one sort or another. The sun outside
is shining, there's a cool breeze coming in through the open windows;
we're slowly melting into the wooden chairs.
Also, even though I can't be quite sure at this point, I seem to be scoring
with one or both of the two mini-skirted teenage blondes smoking water
pipes at the next table. I mean, hell, this is a coffee shop in Holland
in 1994, so, even though I'm old enough to be their father they have to
"You just don't understand," moans Gerard, "We have to leave; if Belgium
wins and they see us, they'll beat us up and burn the car!" I look
around the room at the placid, long-haired, teenage hippies and the patchoulied
babes and I still can't see it.
"Not them, you idiot, the drunken Nazi skin-heads outside, that's who!".
Well, maybe he does know something, so Eric and I relent and we stagger
outside to get to the car, and off we go. Now, back at the coffee-shop
we didn't buy much - just a few grams of hash and weed- but considering
the potency, we had plenty left, and I refused to leave it. So here we
are, on an orgasmic high of colossal dimensions, flavored with potential
soccer violence paranoia, fleeing somnolent Maastricht while looking over
our shoulders for murderous cloggers with hardened tulip sticks, ready
to throw us in vats of boiling Gouda!
And when we finally see the border crossing, we realize we may be
going from Scylla into Charybdis, escaping the blood-thirsty Dutch football
hordes only to be busted for possession by Belgian border police. Ah,
but not to worry, they're all inside the barracks watching the match on
TV, and the few cars going our way don't even need to slow down. We go
through doing a healthy 80-85 mph in Gerard's Turbo VW Golf GTI.
When we get back to Liege, we run into the house, smoke a big, fat
tobacco/weed/hash joint, watch Belgium beat Holland 1-0, and go out for
draughts as the locals go through another round of their flag-waving,
falling out of cars, screaming drunk, soccer celebration routine again.
You think you had the World Cup in the U.S. this year? Man, you
should have been here for the action!!