In between personal, familial and financial failures, Mark Twain took time to see the world and insult the peoples, locales, and histories of the places he visited. It is in this tradition of being annoyingly unsatisfied and too smart for our own good that we present "Not So Innocent Abroad:" a deplorable, ethnocentric, at times hilarious, and always historically unreliable dump on every place we have ever visited.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Going to love you forever more.........

Waterloo, Belgium

Visiting the battlefield of Waterloo, where on 18 June 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte met defeat at the hands of allied British and Prussian armies under the command of the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshall Gebhard von Bl├╝cher respectively, was one of the three greatest experiences in my life. The other two were the day that I became an Uncle and the day I first had sex. If I had to actually rank them, Waterloo would win easily—sorry ladies, I’m sure you’d agree if I asked you to rank my bedroom performance or becoming my niece.

Why? My reason is very idiosyncratic. As a wee lad, I drove into Belgium with my family, yawning at the endless farms of the northeastern French and southwestern Belgian countryside. I was not particularly interested in history, except through my enduring love for the Indiana Jones movies, which were my favorites growing up (and still hold a special part of my soul—such as that shriveled and bitter piece of me continues to gasp and claw for life). But then I saw the pyramid on the horizon and I felt some stirrings of curiosity.

The Dutch King, William I, built a large mound in 1820 on the battlefield where his son, the Prince of Orange, was wounded during the battle (not mortally—pussbag) and placed a large Lion on top of it. When Wellington saw the battlefield afterward, he was extremely upset about the alteration, but he got over it—or maybe he didn’t, I don’t really know. Chances are he forgot all about it when a “doctor” dumped quicksilver in his ear in the mid-1820s to cure a mild infection—inflicting him with intense pain and deafness in that ear for the rest of his life (he lived until 1852!). To say I’m extremely grateful to have been born in a portion of the globe and in a century where such barbarisms are not practiced, but mocked, is like saying I like it when a fat man whips me while telling me I’m a bad boy—a truism.

So I spent a whole morning and early afternoon gazing on a patch of farm fields where on one day in 1815, the fate of Europe hung precariously in the balance. Had it not been for a patchwork force of British regulars, Dutch auxiliaries, a hodgepodge of units from around the British Empire, and a crusty and determined Prussian Prince, Napoleon may very well have returned to rule France leading to god knows how many additional years of ceaseless warfare and baguette rations. I was entranced, much like the first time I saw a woman naked. And, just as in that instance, not knowing how to fully explain it, I wanted to know more.

Thus began a love affair that never ended, though I did eventually abandon a youthful admiration of Bonaparte, I still maintain a healthy respect for Wellington. I am told that since my day, it now costs twelve Euros to get into the visitor center—back then you could still use whatever ridiculous currency one used in Belgium. We went to Brussels later, but I would not recommend that, you’ll just see a bunch of morons protesting whatever International body happens to be meeting in the Belgian capital that day. But definitely see the Battlefield at Waterloo—it’s a truly breathtaking experience.

Based off reminiscences from a trip to Italy, France, Belgium, and Great Britain in 1993.

For more on the Napoleonic period, of which I am something of an expert, see:

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