Sunday, 13 June 2010

A Visit to The White Rose: Tales of Luxembourg over a pint, with an Ex-pat Raconteur

Let’s get one thing straight from the start. David Robinson is a very knowledgeable, very personable and very informative individual who I am pleased to have chosen to guide me on my journey into and across Luxembourg.

What he is not (and I am sure that he would not disagree with this!) - is an author of the world renown - or ability - of, say, Umberto Eco who was our Italian host on this literary round the world trip.

However, in “An Expat’s Life, Luxembourg & The White Rose,” we do get a comprehensive account of the everyday life, the occasional tribulations (including unemployment) and the experiences of an Englishman who decided to leave the rat-race of the banking industry in the UK and try something different. And fair play to him for that.

In this book we hear about the minutiae of life in Luxembourg (always, of course, seen through the filter of an immigrant to the country). Some of this detail is fascinating – for example the accounts of his many trips to the ‘casements’: the underground tunnels of Luxembourg that linked the various fortifications surrounding this small country (many now not publicly accessible and inhabited by huge spiders!). Similarly, his description of the celebrations of ‘la fete Nationale’ – the Duke’s birthday in June – with its fireworks, its festivals and its music is very engaging.

I must say, however, that some of the detail was perhaps, well, too detailed… David’s in-depth description of the system for claiming unemployment benefits in Luxembourg, which spans more than one chapter, was (whilst no doubt helpful to people who happen to be unemployed in Luxembourg), not that relevant or interesting to many of the book’s readers – including myself.

Still, the individual element of this book – whilst sometimes too specific – is also part of its charm. It is written as though the author is chatting to you in the pub of the title ('The White Rose'), and the prose contains a number of conversational asides. Also, David has really done his research, and we learn a lot about both the history of this tiny state, and its contemporary idiosyncrasies (including its prevalence of ‘Salsa clubs’!). If I have one gripe (aside from his occasionally terrible puns - sorry David!), it is that we don’t hear enough about ‘The White Rose’ of the title. I had expected David to give this bar a personality of its own, along with a series of anecdotes related to it and its regulars, but the pub itself is strangely in the background…(unlike the way in which Robert Westgate brought ‘Le Texan’ bar to life in “Monaco Cool” earlier in this trip).

However, what we do get here, is a long (and this is quite a long book at 293 pages), chat with an expat raconteur about his experiences and excursions in Luxembourg. This book pretty much does what it says on the tin. As such I leave the world’s only surviving ‘Grand Duchy’.

And so I make my way back to Luxembourg City’s main rail station, and buy a ticket to Bruxelles-Central (taking care not to buy one for Bruxelles-Midi by mistake). The ticket costs a reasonable 34,60 Euro and 20 minutes later I am sat on a comfortable and clean train heading to the Belgian border.

I must admit I doze off for much of the 3 hour journey, however I do spend some time taking in the picturesque Belgian countryside: acres of green dotted with pretty villages until the urban sprawl of the outskirts of Brussels takes over. I arrive, refreshed, in Bruxelles-Central station (which, with its tall glass 1950s frontage, looks strangely like a John Lewis department store…) and ready for my trip to Belgium courtesy of Harry Pearson’s account of several trips to the country, entitled: “A Tall Man in a Low Land: Some Time Among The Belgians.”

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