I had a lovely four days backpacking through Wallonia. My friends and I hiked from Franchimont through Spa and Wanne to Vielsalm, then I spent an evening and a day back in Spa and Namur, the latter being a small but ancient city that, not unlike Leuven, for one reason or another, I find myself drawn to, even though it also somehow depresses me every time I’m there.
It’s perhaps odd to some of my readers that I’m blogging so excitedly about as un-exotic a region as southern Belgium, when I seem to barely mention my travels to more electric places like Stockholm or Milan or truly geographically mighty locales like the Italian Alps. The reasons are many, from Wallonia’s influence upon the American memory of Europe and herself — after all, it was the site of the famed Ardenne Campaign, and I was struck and moved by how almost every hamlet we passed through had a memorial, great or small, for slain American soldiers — to its quiet cyclicism — the forests that are constantly re-planted and cut down for logging, the farming communities and aristocratic estates that have been there for nigh an aeon, the vast fields and rolling hills.
Speaking of revolutions, a quick word about the one in Egypt. I was in Spa when news broke of Mubarak’s resignation. I must confess, that truly caught me off guard: his decision to step-down in September seemed more in character, and indeed, was what I had predicted when the protests grew in scale, so I had not anticipated that he would give in this way, although of course one can easily postulate the forces that led to his decision. At any rate, part of me is excited for what the Egyptian people have managed to accomplish in the short-term, part of me is deeply ambivalent about its medium-term consequences, and part of me is hopeful for its long-term consequences but not in the least comfortable with the bumpy road that lies ahead.
Moreover, after Obama and Kyrgyzstan, to say nothing of the events in 2005 that ushered in my professional career as a journalist, I think I’m suffering from revolution fatigue, not to mention all the talk of domino effects and digital uprisings:
On the one hand, I remain an idealist, even an utopian, about both the spread of human rights, democracy (variously defined, of course), and the role of communication technology in this process. When all is said and done, I believe very much in progress, as well as in the beneficial potential of our tools to help achieve it. Simply put, it’s exciting and a blessing to be alive today.
On the other hand, first, I’m getting concerned by a tendency in this century to celebrate dramatic change, even though too often such change just results in superficial or incremental reform (as in the case of Obama); second, that the fixation on drama tends to overlook the more dangerous aspects of rapid social and political change (as in the case of Kyrgyzstan in 2010); and third, empirically-speaking, what are construed as chain reactions are usually co-incident independent events that may take their inspiration from each other but are fundamentally local, and that the digitzation of social change and uprising has both positive and negative sides, and besides, is actually just the latest phase of the much longer story of technology’s dialectic with its users.
So, I applaud the Egyptian people for what they have accomplished, and three cheers to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al for facilitating much of that achievement, but let’s now take a deep breath and think harder about the future. In the meantime, here are some photos of my wanderings in Wallonia. These were taken by my friend Jordi, one of my closest comrades here in Leuven, and you can see the rest by clicking on the photo above.
I’ll add my own later. Interspersed with his are some by myself. My photos can be identified by their lesser quality or their file name (prefixed by “p2”).
These are examples of the memorials scattered throughout the region, in these cases, in Stavelot and Longbierme:
This is the chateau where we stayed in Wanne, which, by the way, is apparently a famous cycling location:
This is my good friend Jordi, a very thoughtful and passionate fellow who has been instrumental to some of my best experiences of Belgium’s deep natural beauty and who’s quite handy with a map:
This is our buddy Pieter, who’s very pleasant company:
This is Goofy, a.k.a., GR-5, a guide dog who accompanied us for five hours on our way to Wanne, one of the highlights of our trip but who broke Pieter’s heart when she rejected his offer of waffles: