Friday, September 28, 2012

The mean streets of Brussels

Maybe it’s just a cyclothymic week, but it feels like it’s just going too hard lately.

I gathered things together for my brief trip to London yesterday, checking that the olive tree was fed (new shoots emerging) and the perishables were away.  Rain gusted in bursts across the bridge; I tucked in another Dutch book.  It didn’t look like there was any way to postpone the test: better to just prepare as best I can. Turn down the temperature; check the windows, out.

Life probably settles closest to the right balance when I’m in Maastricht.  I practice my Dutch daily, ride my bike around town, go to exercise and the PT, visit with friends.  Britain is too often a whirlwind of train trips into London and driving to meetings; the US a long plane trip followed by jet lag.  But this time the bike is still in the shop, friends are quarreling, and there are too many unanswered questions on the development program

I take a quick diversion to my first Meet ‘n Greet, a monthly event at Café Zuid.  There’s a big group, perhaps with all of the arriving students, but the crowd turns out to be more professional than prep.  In quick succession I meet an art restorer, an organizer, an electronics salesman, a new hire at my old company.  The canapé's wheel by along with an hour: time to run.

I needn’t have bothered: the train to Liege runs every hour and I’m 40 minutes early.  Knots of laughing students tumble along the platforms, the sky turns blue, then black.  I wonder why the Dutch trains all look fresh and clean, while the Belgian ones are old, crusted with graffiti.  The conductors always look crisp, nonetheless.  We board.

Leige is spectacularly lit, ribs arching high above the tracks.  Trains glide through bound for France, Germany, north to Amsterdam.  An one for Brussels: I am really starting to fade and doze lightly waiting for the conductor to check the ticket.  The cities, the villages flicker past.

We reach Brussels Midi at ten, Google says that the hotel is two km away.  I engage a taxi driver who summons friends: they conclude that the hotel is too close for them to take me.  Straight on, a droit, left at the light, four, five blocks, voila. I give it a go, but it’s a straight shot out into the night along deserted streets.   Back to the taxi stand, another debate.  Absolument pas.  I understand the reason, the finality, and consider seeing if the brightly it Park Inn across the street might have a room.

Silly.  Just Do It.

Out.  Right.  Light.  Down the street.  The numbers crawl from 1 upwards, unevenly across the two sides of the street.  I need 178.  A gap in the numbers accompanies a vacant lot, weeds and garbage.  A teenager crosses the street, asks if I know the time.   I’m at 92.

I know I felt pretty vulnerable: empty street, grey hair, light shirt, suitcase dragging along behind.  Tourist, lost.  Stupidly I revert to how I handle baking animals: stop, steely eye contact, firm ‘No’, a slight gesture.  The kid hesitates, looks confused. A louder ‘no’, tip of the head, wait until he’s ahead before following behind.  I’m more frustrated with myself for being so dumb and with the taxi driver for causing this situation than anything else.  I feel, and probably look, angry.  126.

We lock step along the street, one block, two, three.  The only brightly lit façade turns out to be the hotel.  There hasn’t been a car, another person the whole way.  Just me and the confused kid. And I’m shaking as I get inside.  The clerk gives me an upgrade but opines that it’s likely too late to go out looking for an open restaurant.  d‘accord.

I operate from a philosophy of  relying on myself, assessing the risks, taking the best alternative, then sorting out the situation that it leads to.  It work great in business (so far).

‘not so hot at 10:30 near Gare Midi.


Textual Healer said...

I don't know how you keep your spirits up - especially with the IND breathing down your neck. Next time you pass through Brussels remember I have a spare couch and you are a welcome guest and we can catch up on ex pat grumbling :-)

David Hampton said...

When life's good, its very good :) I look forward to the moments. That said, it would be great to catch up again - I'll let you know when I'm back through. 'Glad to have you writing again as well: I enjoy your blog!