“so many good people in the same place”

Antwerp

Koen summed up the entire evening in a single phrase.

The Summer Solstice Celebration started suitably slow, the pace of preparations expanding to proper proportion within these longest days of summer. Although I had moved the start time up a bit (hoping to make the trip from Brussels more feasible), no one noticed. 🙂 The first guest arrived an hour “late,” and Steven filtered in last, only four hours after the scheduled start (an hour earlier than last time!)

I had been anxious for days whether we’d even break out of the single digits (so many of my friends had other plans), but the first few hours at the Elcker-Ik Centrum passed peacefully while I busied myself with the veggie pasta, listening to the CD from Winter Solstice: a bridge from the dawn of winter to the peak of spring. In a measured fashion, guests began to arrive and the noise of chatter incrementally rose until the music was barely detectable beneath the buzz. The party really started with the arrival of Mahtab (Princess of the Grin) and Maryam & Maryam with their infamous Iranian rice and a delightful range of supplements. Combined with everyone else’s contributions, the feasting commenced: did we ever eat! (and eat!)

The only hint of any kind of separation occurred over the meal: the Iranians at one table, the lesbians at another….I sat with two (straight) Belgian guys. (Make of it what you will, wink!) Right after we had all settled in I got up to take a phone call, when I returned from the hall the tables had been circled! At whose initiation I have no idea, but I read it as proof that what brings us all together is a widely-shared impulse to belong with each other, no matter the differences.

Topi (lost in her own neighborhood? Hello?!), Eva, and Natalie arrived just as most of us were finishing the meal. (Thank heavens for Armando, the local tele-navigationer.) The need for introductions facilitated the transition to the entertainment portion of the evening’s festivities.

Robyn’s rendition (in Fula) of a West African story illustrated two proverbs:

The forest recognizes no one; and no man can know another man, but a man can know his own heart.

The telling foreshadowed the range of talent and content yet to come, the language’s sounds a rich vocal mix of speech and song, with gesture playing a significant part. Armando followed with a tribute to Jacques Brel, getting us all to join in singing the chorus of the popular translation into English:

We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.
But the hills that we climbed
were just seasons out of time.

Aaron (can you tell he’s a diplomat?!) improvised a speech on the theme suggested by Natalie, “God is love.” Caroline read two short poems in Portuguese, the first about the sea. The bubbles she blew after the second poem delighted everyone, especially Mahtab, who blew them for the rest of the evening. 🙂 I don’t know if Anneleen had decided in advance what she would play on the clarinet, but its deep notes rumbled like ocean tide.

Gudron mimed chasing – and capturing – a fly. Or at least that’s what I saw! Then Maryam offered a Persian song, concerning a broken heart on the floor about which one must tread carefully. As safe and insulated as we felt in our togetherness, global life nibbled at the edges of our comraderie. Earlier in the evening Amin had received a phone call from his mother, who had just been exposed to tear gas in Tehran.

“Interesting music,” Koen teased me about my performance choices, “very sentimental.” Well, come on! It was an ‘until I see you again’ kind of party! I interpreted The Wind (Cat Stevens), Hammer and a Nail (Indigo Girls), and Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow (Fleetwood Mac) into ASL.

After the show, mingling and more mingling for a comfortably long time. Most found room for one or two of the five dessert cakes. People were inclined to talk and talk, rather than dance (we did squeeze in a few numbers eventually). My Affinity with Stone book went around. What a joy to read the new (and re-read the old) this morning; I’ll carry your words with me always.

Background:
space out of time

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