ACB Talks to Gerald Loftus, new ACB member in Brussels
During your career as a U.S. diplomat for 23 years (1979-2002) you worked in the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. Your interests include cultural diplomacy, but also historic preservation. How did these come about?
When I was growing up in rural and suburban Pennsylvania, I was in the Scouts and something of an outdoorsman. I used to joke that I could equally have opted for the Forest Service or the Foreign Service. It was the latter, after several great experiences in my college years, a year's scholarship in Aberdeen, Scotland, a summer volunteering in Ramallah in the West Bank, a summer course in Ireland - which put me on a definite international path. A significant part of my career was spent in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2010, I came out of retirement to head a hybrid cultural institute in Morocco, the Tangier Legation TALIM. I wrote an illustrated book on it: "Lions at the Legation and Other Tales: Two Centuries of American Diplomatic Life in Tangier." 2021 is the bicentennial of the gift of the building to the United States by the Sultan of Morocco. I'd recommend Tangier and the Legation for a visit by ACB members. Discovering this beautiful piece of American history in the winding streets of the Medina is a revelation.
Are you surprised at how global your life has been?
I must say, I am thankful that my family felt strangely at home wherever we lived. Our adult children were born in-country during my first two assignments (Barbados and Tunisia), and grew up attending French schools (my wife is from Brittany). They've remained citizens of the world. Going down memory lane can sometimes be painful: I remember walking past our former home above the Consulate offices on the seafront of Oran, Algeria, only to see pigeons roosting in the shell of what had been a beautiful building.
Question: What are your main coping skills during these Corona times?
My wife’s delicious cooking, though we also keep our neighborhood restaurant in business. Walks in the countryside or driving to Wépion to buy strawberries – that was our “break out trip,” when leaving Brussels was finally permitted! Luckily during the June heat-wave, we got to spend a few days in the Ardennes. In all, we can’t complain. Being locked down in green Uccle is not so bad.
What are your three favorite places in Brussels?
- Long walks in the Forêt de Soignes.
- Museum Villa Empain (Fondation Boghossian) on Ave. Franklin Roosevelt.
- Sablon area, especially the quirky bar-resto La Fleur en Papier Doré.
How did your current role as political commentator come about?
My years as a diplomat, especially in francophone countries, was useful preparation for a role as a political commentator for Democrats Abroad relating to U.S. politics. But it requires a little prep: try explaining the complexity of the Electoral College and of filibuster in a foreign language, when it is hard enough in our native English! Thankfully, Belgians want to understand our complicated politics.