Brian & Ann's European Experience

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's 2005

New Year’s Eve – 2004

It’s 2:30pm on the first of January, 2005, and I am just starting to feel awake. Last night Ann and I accompanied Anja and Geert to the fabulous “Sporthal Pollepel” (The Ladle), a gymnasium about three basketball courts wide and deep, where 350 of Duffel’s finest citizens came to ring in the new year.

For a mere 75 Euros a person could gain entrance to the biggest party in town, which included hot and cold buffet, open bar, a stage with flashing lights, fog machine, DJ, and enough interesting characters to keep you entertained all night. And since the festivities commenced at 7:30, that was a tall order indeed.

At first, there was the usual posed pictures, the furtive glances around for sources of alcohol, and clumps of people all examining each other over the rims of their first drink. Most people were in a state of semi-dressiness, with the usual teenager or two who just couldn’t break away from their blue jeans, or the odd table of white trash for whom a black pair of jeans and knockoff Italian-designer shirt WAS “dressed up”.

Every now and then Ann and Anja would mutually gasp in horror and embarrassment as some poor fashion victim walked by in a blue leopard print jacket, or a belly-revealing get-up that accentuated the amount of tummy overbite. It was during these episodes that I was especially happy to be 1.) male and 2.) completely oblivious. Ann says she saved me from my own fashion faux pas by not allowing me to wear the red tie that I had selected for the evening. I believe her exact words were: “You look like a clown.”

Our table was strategically located between a corner of the dance floor, and the entrance of the food area. When they started calling tables to begin the buffet, ours was the fourth (of fifty) called, and we were among the first to raid the various tables. It truly was an enormous buffet. There were round folding-tables that could normally seat eight or ten, completely covered with all manner of consumables. There was the fish table, the lobster table, the meatballs and cherry sauce table, the cold cuts table, the tomatoes filled with mini-shrimp table, bread baskets, venison stew, fried fish table, it went on and on, over half the length of the gym. I was once again convinced that the Belgians eat better than any of their neighbors.

After dinner the real entertainment began. The DJ turned on the flashing stage lights, cranked up the fog machine, and deftly maneuvered his hands over the controls of the CD player. By this time it was almost 10:00pm and people were well into their fifth and sixth drinks of the evening. The dance floor quickly filled up and Geert and I rearranged our chairs so we would have a good view of the entertainment portion of the evening’s events.

Now, before we go into details about the dancing, let me give you a good understanding of the demographic. Duffel is home to 15,000 Belgian souls. It is what you would call, a small town. While it is only fifteen minutes from larger cities like Mechelen and Antwerp, it has a distinctly provincial feel to it and an abundance of green fields with roaming sheep and goats. Duffel is one of those places where a significant portion of the population may never live outside of the town limits.

Not surprisingly, many of this type of Duffelite could be found at the Pollepel on New Year’s Eve, instead of at some trendy club in Antwerp. The average age of the participants was between 30 and 50, and there were only a few “kids tables” where even the kids were teenagers, looking self-consciously bored as teenagers are wont to do.

About 15-20% of the people there were around Ann’s age, and I expected a lot more of the “running into people you hadn’t seen since high school and never really liked even then but feel obligated to give the recap of your life story to,” but Ann and Anja both only ran into one old acquaintance.

The dancing started, and the DJ demonstrated an understanding of his audience by sprinkling in a few trance and hip-hop songs among a majority of classic 70s dance hits, pop radio fare, and (strangely enough) remixed kids songs, each of which came with their own choreographed dance that is normally only seen performed by children just out of diapers.

However, since fully half of the audience had children (or grandchildren) of this age, the adults relished this opportunity to show off their choreographed dancing abilities without the usual distraction of the kids around, and it was truly a sight to see. An entire dance floor full of adults all waving their arms in the air and then getting down on their haunches as the singer instructs them “Now, walk like a goose!”

There were no less than seven of these choreographed songs played throughout the night and it led me to ponder the underlying psychology of coordinated group behavior. Anywhere but a dimly lit and fake-fog filled gymnasium, and these people would never dream of getting up in front of a crowd and hobbling around like a goose. These are the same people who don’t even sing the national anthem before sports events because it’s too corny.

But get a few drinks in them, give them one non-repeating yearly event, subtract their children and all self-consciousness, and the result is a dance floor full of middle-aged people all enjoying the fact that they are part of that special group: those who know the dance. And they love it. You can tell by the way that people stream to the dance floor whenever one of these begins, and the confident bearing of their heads after they have figured out the “turn turn, step, turn, kick,” routine.

Over the course of the evening we had ample time to gaze over the audience and pick out the most entertaining people to watch. These included:

-----Stick woman-----
This was the poor soul who wore the black dress with the unevenly cut bottom covered by a blue leopard print jacket. She looked like she was going to an extremely posh event: in Bedrock. With Barney Rubble. She was also, as you might have guessed, skinnier than a stick, and every time she moved a limb she gave off the optical illusion that she was dividing her mass in half. Especially entertaining while dancing.

-----Belly mama-----
A woman in her mid forties who obviously spent a lot of time at the gym and the tanning salon and wanted everyone to know it. She wore black pants, and a turquoise top that stopped an inch short of where her pants began. The amount of exposed belly when her arms were down was minimal, but she rarely danced with her arms down, as that would have defeated the purpose of displaying those orange-tinged ab muscles. She was a bit like Frankenstein, with the belly of a twenty year old, and the crow’s feet of a fifty year old.

-----“Pay My Bills”-----
This girl was a riot. She had a grey plaid skirt that she liked to grab fistfuls of and swing around and she danced around, like a can can dancer without a lot to work with though. Geert and I both came to the conclusion that she rode the little bus to school because she was more hyperactive than a Ritalin kid, had only one expression (a huge smile), and she loved to come up to all the sitting men at her table and run into them and pester them to try and get them to dance. She had a sleeveless t-shirt on that said “Pay My Bills” in very large letters, and she was built like a tank. When dancing in her proximity you had to keep her in your peripheral vision or you might end up knocked flat on your ass. Ann says she fell down on the dance floor right in front of her, but I missed this. I am sure however, that the smile never faltered.

-----Moustache Man-----
Anja loved this guy. He wore black jeans, and a black long-sleeve t-shirt with random bits of white on it that made him look like someone had very carefully spilled white paint on him. He was tall and skinny, had perfectly coiffed short hair, and a thin little mustache. But what made this guy so interesting was that he took the entire dancing affair very very seriously. The entire time he was out there shaking his tailfeather he kept this look of intense concentration. You get the impression that if he had let even one smile out it would have completely destroyed his careful rhythm.

-----Mullet Man-----
If the NFL were to recruit from Duffel, this guy would be their number one draft pick. He was at least six foot three or four, and built like a linebacker. You could see this clearly once he took his sport jacket off and was just dancing in his black sleeveless tee. What really gave this guy character though, besides the fact that he really came alive during the Nirvana and U2 songs, was his mullet. A gorgeous specimen of mullet beauty that extended past his shoulder muscles (which is saying a lot). He also resembled Meatloaf facially, which kind of made him scary when he really got into mouthing the words to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

-----Jerky girl-----
Some people just love to dance their own way. Jerky Girl was one of these. A thin girl of about 25 with hair just down to her chin, Jerky Girl loved to get on the dance floor and jerk spasmodically around a particular area of it. She had on pants and a tight, aqua colored, halter-ish top. Her pale arms made it easy to pick her out in the crowd.

-----Butt Woman-----
I save the best for last. Butt Woman. She started out as just an interesting anatomical study, a woman with solid arms and torso which connected to an incredibly round butt. She had on an embroidered top that had no straps, and she started off with a tight silver skirt that gave her posterior a look of brushed steel, but as this was too restrictive, she later emerged wearing tight white pants. Once she got out in her new duds she quickly out-danced every single person on the dance floor. She was such a good dancer that invariably wherever she went people would accord her generous amounts of space just to see what she would do. She had extreme balance and grace (considering her butt must have been affecting her center of gravity), and she could dance in a variety of different styles, the best of which was the entire complicated dance routine from a Detiny’s Child song that she performed with a friend. Ann refused to believe that the sole reason I was riveted was the fact that she moved such a stout frame around so gracefully, but I swear that was the truly incredible thing, and therefore Butt Woman wins my award for MVP of the Sporthal Pollepel 2005 New Year Bash.

Around 3:00am the ladies eventually ran out of power and it was time to go home. As usual for this time of year in Belgium, it was cold and drizzly, but we were so satisfied both gastronomically and spiritually from having had such a full New Year’s Eve, that we hardly noticed.


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