a great spirit for life


What is that noise?
I was writing in The Indian Room when the sound penetrated my concentration. There were at least 100 horse drawn carriages calumping along The Stone Way to Mechelen (Mechelsesteenweg). “These Flemish,” I thought to myself, “are something!”
Sunday was A Day Without Cars, and also braderij, a regular fair but with the addition of local organizations presenting themselves to the community. The event and the weather were absolutely fitting for the last day of summer, the eve of the autumn equinox.
Saturday night, two wise women took me out to The Red Dragon, showing me a picturesque alley (not, btw, a dead end, rather a quiet way for walking), telling me tale(s) of the Antwerp hand, showing off an architectural treasure trove in one of the high rent districts, filling me up with hot chocolate, and giving me a taste of “very Belgium” de Koninck’s in a bowl.
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I had such a pleasant social evening that I went to bed thinking I needn’t go out in the world. Then came dawn.
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Shortly before the horses, Jose had called from Hoboken with the sounds of a mechanical organ reverberating through the phone. Leaning over the balcony straining for every last glimpse of the equine procession, it was obvious the day was gorgeous and only a fool would waste it. I stopped in at the fitness club to sign up (last day of the special deal), and Nabila “I’m a Morrocan girl” surprised me with membership presents – now I am a walking advertisement for Passage. (They have a sauna!)
The street festival was in high gear by the time I arrived; I walked its length grinning. Among the piles of wares a kaleidoscope of ethnicities murmured in diverse tongues. Performances, impromptu and planned, were staged at regular intervals. My first surprise was discovering that the rock song being broadcast from the church grounds was being sung live to a generation that preceded the rock era by more than a few decades. 🙂 Then there were the Golden Star Country Dancers, a comedic marching band of three, a pair of aliens (really!), and – yes, even in Belgium – an Elvis impersonator!
I spoke with the guy who lives with the granddaughter of the organ builder for several minutes. 🙂 The 100th anniversary next month will bring some fifteen of these original beasts together: now that is gonna be something to experience! Even the one by itself was delightful, now I am looking forward to the symphony.
Jose snuck away from the music school booth (to secure batteries for my camera, an important mission in its own right), which enabled me to eat pancakes at the Communist House. Yes, I know its sacriligious for an American to mingle with communists, but they win high praise in Hoboken for providing real, tangible, affordable health care to everyone, period. I have not gotten all the European political distinctions sorted out yet: the Communists are different than the Socialists and the Liberal Democrats are not the same as the Democrats in the U.S. although maybe all of these folk are somehow lumped in under the umbrella “Democrat” in the U.S.? Then again, some of the Liberal Democrats here would probably qualify as moderate U.S. Republicans, and the far right parties here align with the fundamentalist Christian wing of U.S. Republicans? I am not planning on getting this sorted out all too quickly but I am going to make the effort. The politics is more sober here – more intent on practical challenges and policy distinctions than the vicious sporting contest it is in the U.S.
From the festivities, I headed directly down to Antwerp’s Center to meet Annmarie and Arlette. Oh Arlette! What fun we have in store! 😉 We had a rousing discussion about languages, particularly the autonomy of sign languages from spoken languages. We meandered through conversation to a spontaneous pasta dinner and called it quits only after hours of half-baked plotting.
My dominant impression so far is of a people with a high degree of social concern and an equal passion for individual pleasure – not just their own, but as a social good which should be shared.
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