Thursday, June 16, 2005

De tout le peuple de la Gaul

I stood leaning on a giant stack of paper goods in an aisle of a party supply warehouse waiting patiently as my mother and aunt discussed which color and how many meters of it would be needed for table cloth for their sister’s 60th birthday surprise party. And as I stifled a yawn I couldn’t help feeling somewhat cheated of the great American experience of traveling in Europe.

Well, cheated isn’t really the right word, in fact not at all. Really, no complaints.

Speaking the language is a definite bonus as well, not to mention the ease with which I slipped through customs with my EU passport. And I was glad to see familiar faces after 15 hours of traveling alone. The first five of which had been spent next a sour-faced old lady who promptly fell asleep, post-first beverage service leaving me to wonder how I was to make it to the bathroom (I finally just stepped over her, leaving her snoring and none-the-wiser that my ass had been just inches away from her face). After a two hour layover, the final seven hours were spent next to a balding older man who spent much time trying to discretely pick his nose.

And of course there’s the uniquely personalized guided tour of Brussels. Wandering with my mother half remembering the streets of her youth she points out the woods Napoleon planted for lumber to build boats as well as the road up which sits the prison in which my grandfather spent six months while the Germans occupied Belgium, for renting his apartment to a communist.

And we run errands with my aunt. Picking up my cousin at school, buying groceries and supplies for the aforementioned birthday party. My aunt, a veterinarian, stops to say hello to a client on the street only to end up feeling for a lump on the neck of the woman’s German Shepard. Meanwhile I stand back, holding a bag of strawberries and asparagus and the leash for my aunt’s own dog.

It suits me, this quiet tourism. Sitting on the veranda watching magpies and starlings and drinking coffee. Peeking into the windows of the butcher, the cheese shop, the baker. As my mother says passing by yet more tables where one pouvon boire un verre, there’s no doubt that le Belge, ils aim manger.

And what I though of as I landed, looking down on the flat green land: wondering at each individual act of conception that had to take place on this Gaulish landscape that has eventually led to my existence.

Responsible for my being are such intimate moments between people I don’t know living in such a foreign, ancient place.

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