Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Den or sty?

The other day when visiting Leuven with my friends Beatrice and Jean-Luc, one of the things we did was take a tour of the ‘Oude Markt’, the Old Market square. In the late sixties and early seventies, when I was attending secondary school in Leuven, you could drive your car and park it in the square. In the nineties all traffic, except bikes, was banned from it and the sidewalk terraces of the many pubs and bars took over. After all, Leuven is a university town AND the home town of the Stella Artois brewery. Over the last decades this local brewery has become one of largest, if not THE largest beer concern in the world. Today it is called Anheuse-Busch InBev and has breweries all over the world. One the company’s latest acquisition is the Mexican Corona brand.

The 'Oude Markt' in Leuven:
the longest open-air drinks (beer?) counter in the world.

Now what do go obtain when you put university students and beer together? That’s right: the longest open-air beer counter in the world! And that’s what the ‘Oude Markt’ is known as. On the day of our visit, the weather was nice and sunny and the students were really making the most of it. About one third of the numerous seats were taken … which proofs that there were still some students who were actually attending classes or studying in their ‘kot’. A ‘kot’ is the student’s slang word for their lodgings. The English translation can be either ‘den’ or ‘sty’. But I guess that one can safely assume that some of these ‘dens’ probably look like ‘sties’.

About half of these lodgings are let by the university. The other half belongs to private people, who have turned their house into some kind of a hostel, where several students live together. They each have their own room but have to share the bathroom, the kitchen and the sitting room. Often the house is run by a woman or a couple who are known as the ‘kotmadam’ or the ‘kotbaas’ (student slang for landlady and landlord). The real ‘kotmadam’, who considers her lodgers almost as her own children, provides breakfast and often also dinner, comfort and a shoulder to cry on in stress situations, caused by exams or a broken heart. The ‘kotmadam’ is a dying breed though and more and more students rent a house together, running it in group and sharing the costs.

The bronze statue of the 'kotmadam', holding her coffee pot 

and relaxing after a long day of looking after her students.

To honour the legendary ‘kotmadam’, a bronze statue has been erected on the ‘Oude Markt’. It’s a life-size woman, sitting on a bench, holding a large coffee pot in one hand (the students preferred beverage when they need to stay awake to study for their exams or after they have had too much beer the night before). The bronze woman is leaning back on the bench, as if exhausted and grateful for a moment of rest after looking after her ‘children’.

The statue sits in a very strategic place, overlooking the square and amongst the many hundreds of students who sit on the sidewalk terraces, drinking, laughing and enjoying life. A fitting tribute to a legendary breed of women! And although it has been there for several decades, the statue has never been vandalized. Irrefutable proof of the respect the students show towards their ‘kotmadam’.


VirginiaC said...

I enjoyed reading this post.
I especially loved the bronze statue and the story behind it.
Even though I have been hosting students in my home for many years, I don't think I will ever have a statue erected in my honour for my

The Broad said...

Such a beautiful statue and such a lovely story behind it. Thank you for such a very interesting post.

ladybird said...

Virginia, I'm sure your students were happy to stay with you. No statue maybe, but they will always remember the happy times they spent in your home.

Kathie, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Leuven and its traditions are so special and deserve a bit of international fame and recognition.

Louise said...

Martine, I am late with my comment as I have had little time to relax with my favourite blogs since I returned to Australia last Monday...this is a most enjoyable and informative post. Many thanks...Louisen

Jean said...

Student accommodation varied enormously when I was at university. Contrary to popular belief, the "sty" was less common than the "den" and most students valued their health sufficiently to keep the kitchen at least quite clean and tidy.
Maybe that was just down to my fellow students being a sad, overworked lot with more ideas on keeping clean than having fun or making mischief !!