***I meant to post this a couple days ago when it was written. Sorry. I’ve actually been in Holland for the past three days now. Heading to Paris tomorrow. Updates will follow.***
Bruxelles… where was I… ah yes… dragging too much stuff through the cobbled streets of the center of the EU, staring at the city’s grandeur in the frigid night cold. After cramming my luggage through a tiny door in a small, cozy restaurant and stashing it behind an unused bar, I ascended a narrow staircase and emerged upon a band, huddled in a corner, filling every inch of the small space with speak easy music. But this time, the words were whispered and then would crescendo… in a husky French. Delighted fans huddled in chairs just in front of the band, their faces partially draped in shadow and partially lit by the soft red lights. This… is what made me fall in love with the French language. The strong sing-song of Italian has captured my heart, but French is now my secret, delicately throaty mistress.
And then Michel took me trudging on an even greater hike through Bruxelles… ample time for us to fall into the playful, brotherly-sisterly teasing and bickering that would come to define our relationship for my 4-day stay. Nearly an hour later (because by this time it was too late for the metro and buses) my luggage and I finally fell into the doorway of Michel’s… cold apartment. And that’s about as far as my luggage and I got. His apartment is jam packed in a disarray only a young college student could manage. I laughed. This would be interesting…
Somehow, I navigated my heavy luggage further into Michel’s apartment, further into his cluttered hole. I didn’t spot the couch, an oasis completely surrounded, but an inviting oasis nonetheless, until he pointed it out. It was mostly books and papers and cds and newspapers scattered and stacked everywhere. Michel is a journalism student, so I certainly understood the disarray… I just never got quite that bad.
After a quick email check, I quickly collapsed into a heap of blankets, drifting off into deeper sleep as my blankets slowly warmed me like an oven gradually coming to life.
The next morning Michel and I rushed off to the big demonstration he was all excited about. I meant to research more about what is going on, but I just haven’t had the chance to… but, from what I understand, Belgium has been without an official governing party for more than 150 days now and the people are speaking out for some leadership. Michel filled me in on the division inherent in Belgium. Belgium is actually a country of two nations, one French-speaking, the other, the Dutch-speaking Flemish. I was surprised to find out that the Flemish were considered the wealthier majority of the north and the French-speakers made up more of the second-class minority, located more in the south. I mean, geographically that makes sense, but, my American impression was that the French-speakers were the more haughty, snobby ones. Um… wrong.. in Belgium at least.
Anyways, back to the demonstration. Turns out there were more than 35,000 people… but a large majority of them were French-speakers, making a stand, wanting their voice to be heard in the new government. Michel told me there are Dutch communities is the north that don’t allow the spoken French word. I just simply didn’t know about this strong division in Belgium. There is so much about the whole subject I still don’t know. But, it just makes me wonder… perhaps, we should take more care with how we handle the surge of Spanish-speakers in America. French was the native language of Belgium and now it’s a more second-class language. Perhaps, in America, we should try to unite now with the Spanish-speakers before they outnumber us, turn the tables around, and make the native English, the second-class. It’s just a thought… I know many will scoff at such a preposterous idea… but, hey, I just left a country where something along those lines actually happened. America is not immune to the same fate… especially if we chose to sneer and write it off as impossible. Michel was really in his element during the demonstration. Snapping picture after picture… from all different angles. He was eating it up. He’ll go far in his career. I’m sure of it.
After the demonstration, Michel took me to an award presentation in his, for lack of a better word, quarter. It was a presentation for the quarters accomplished athletes, both youth and professional. Interestingly though, it started off with an improve group. I didn’t understand everything, but with Michel’s help and with the improv antics I got the gist of most of it. Michel explained the event was a bit of a political thing for the politicians of his quarter. But, that’s not all. The ceremony also honored a large number of elderly people, formerly renowned for their athletic talents on either a local and/or professional level. I couldn’t help but thank that you would NOT see that in an American athletic award ceremony.
After the award ceremony, Michel took me to meet Antoinette, a cser that had to turn down my request to stay because she was studying for a huge exam. I had made plans to meet with her for a drink the night before, but didn’t get a chance to because we went to see that live band. It turns out Michel and Antoinette knew each other though, so we rescheduled the visit. Antoinette is utterly charming with her huge grin, smiling eyes and a laugh that is both cute and sexy at the same time. She has a strong classic beauty… sorry guys she’s got a boyfriend that she’s crazy about. She also speaks English amazingly well. She lived in D.C. for several years growing up… as well as Singapore. At just 18, this young woman is rather alluring. I liked her a lot. We might meet up again in Paris this weekend. I’m not sure yet. Finally, it was time to collapse again into my slow-warming oven and go to sleep.
The light is a golden glow spilling out onto golden wheat and golden-green grass and shedding the day’s final warmth on a countryside of pastures filled with cows and sheep… just had to mention that. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I’m on my way to Holland as I write this. I had planned to go to Paris but there is a transportation strike going on… so I figured I would jog up to the Netherlands and check it out, and then try to go to Paris.
Back to Bruxelles. Well, actually Brugge. Next Michel used his day off on Monday to take me to Brugge. Michel really is an excellent host. He makes you, your comfort and your stay his top priority. His kindness is genuine and he is adoringly sweet. He likens himself to what we call a care bear in English… the name is more of a clever one in French though. He really has earned a place in my heart like that of a sweet, little brother.
Brugge is absolutely delightful and lovely. It’s known as the Venice of the North and it most certainly lives up to its name. It’s like an old world Europe that seems nearly completely preserved with just a few modern adaptations here and there. But, modern adaptations that seems to work into the city’s old-world charm instead of spreading over it like a virus. I love Brugge. I want to spend a Christmas in Brugge. It’s a fantastic place for lovers. I wandered around that charming little city all day just soaking up its loveliness. If you have the remote chance, go to Brugge… preferably on a romantic getaway.
After we got back from Brugge, Michel made sure we stopped in at the center of Brussels so I could see the splendor of the Grand Palais du Bruxelles. Splendor indeed. The Grand Palais by night is stunning. The entire square is stunning. The architecture, the warm orange glow, the crisp cool air… humanity used to devote so much artistry and time into all of its creations and architecture. Seeing it makes the heart ache… for something it seems we know of… but have lost… and this splendor before us is just a small, distorted reflection of what we feel we our hearts once knew.
My final day in Bruxelles I spent mostly catching up on some work. I did go out to briefly witness the big drunken fest of students for their yearly university fest. It’s really no different than anything you would find at your typical party college in the U.S… except wait, the entire center of the city shuts down and the roads are blocked so the students and their drunken debauchery can have the run of the streets, with caravans of trucks filled with kegs and students hoisting mugs up to filled with beer again and again. I got in, got some pics and got out. Wasn’t too interested in sticking around…
That evening Michel and I met up with Antoinette again. We went to this Moroccan restaurant called Adventure Valley. I loved the tropical ambience… it was a welcome escape from the cold. We sipped mint tea and laughed and talked and then finally decided to go home.
Michel had to go to class early this morning… I slept in because I stayed up late to do more work. I didn’t get to give a proper goodbye to Michel and I’m kind of sad about that. He did so much for me and he was so giving. I wish him many blessings in his future and I pray that he has the opportunity to enjoy a genuine kindness that he has shown me.
There is really so much more of Brussels that I didn’t get to see… as my train to Holland lurched away from the station I spied a beautiful church along with a cluster of steel globes that looked like a giant molecule science project.
Geez, these posts are sooooo long. I need to update on a daily basis to cut down the length…
You know, traveling is so bittersweet. New lands, new people and new experiences. All so exciting. But, each place you leave behind, you leave behind people and places you have come to love so quickly and in so many different ways. You leave behind people who have taken you into their homes and into their lives with no question and then make it feel as if they hate to see you go. The call to new adventure… and the trail of amazing people you have come to know… can tear at you in two separate directions. At times I’m filled with such amazing peace being out on my own, seeing the world, following my heart. But then at times I’m distressed, wondering when I’ll finally be content to call one place my home, my own.