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In which John Green visits Bruges (or as the Belgians and Dutch call it, Brugge) for a day, seeing the famous Belfort and other beautiful buildings along the way before meeting up with Nerdfighters from all over Belgium (and Germany and France). Along the way, he thinks about living amid history and what (if anything) we owe those who have died and those who will later be born. This video is part of a series called "Thoughts from Places."


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A Bunny
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((') (')
Good morning Hank; it's Friday.

I woke up last Sunday in Bruges.


Hmm. I wonder what happened the night before.

What starts with L and rhymes with mistake? ...Let's have another beer... take.

Got up anyway, took a shower, brushed my teeth, got dressed- wait, why aren't you brushing your teeth?

Cause I left my toothbrush in Amsterdam.

Right, so I headed out into Bruges with a burning need to disregard currency and acquire one, a toothbrush, and two, some of that fancy Belgian chocolate I'd heard so much about.

Fortunately, Bruges has a lot of stores; unfortunately most of them are closed on Sunday mornings, and I was starting to worry that I was going to have to do the non-ideal pre-modern thing of brushing one's teeth with one's finger when ah look! Chocolate! The woman wrapped up my chocolate for me in a fancy box as if I was not going to eat it right away.

Did you know, Hank, that the ancient Belgians used chocolate as a way of staving off bad breath... is a fact I just made up?

I found a lot of places that didn't sell toothbrushes like the French Fry Museum and a fancy shoe store and a book store with John Green books and the Concept Store which presumably only sells concepts; I wanted to buy utilitarianism, but it was closed.

I kept walking until at last I found Sam & Co, uw buurtwinkel. Hank, I know from my extensive knowledge of Dutch that "winkel" means "store"; I could only hope that "buurt" meant "toothbrush"... and it did. It did occur to me that I paid two euros for something that if you gave me one hundred years, I could not build from scratch.

Hank, I realize this is stating the obvious, but everything in Bruges is really fracking old. This is a school. And this is a Domino's. Parts of Bruges's famous belfry date back to 1240 meaning that this building is four hundred years older than the idea of gravity.

I heard a lot of people call Bruges "quaint" but while it did feel like an open-air history museum to me, there's nothing quaint about living amid history, grappling with the gifts and insufficiencies of your ancestors.

To live in Bruges is to be reminded every day that there were people before you were a person, which of course also reminds you that there will be people after. I think we owe both the dead and the not-yet-living precisely the same thing-- the daily awareness that human life is ours only in trust.

It's worth remembering that seven hundred years later, we don't remember the individuals who built the belfry or dug the canals; we don't remember their political affiliations or even their nationalistic identities; we remember them as a collective, just as we ourselves will be remembered as a collective for what we did and failed to do together.

Later I found myself in a park with Nerdfighters from all over Belgium, grateful to be part of a community that builds friendships while trying to make the world suck less.

In short, Hank, I felt grateful to the 13th century, but lucky to be alive in 2011, living in a world where with a series of ones and zeros, we can build our own relationships and our own monuments. Plus, toothbrushes are crazy cheap!

Hank, I'll see you on Monday.