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Amber Paulen

6 Days in Belgium

We took off to Brussels with very few objectives in mind:

#1. To hang out with good friends.
#2. To eat fries.
#3. To drink Belgian beer.
#4. To smoke.
#5. To visit the Atomium.
#6. To patronize an English bookshop.

After all, I’ve spent months on a couch in Brussels before, below dreary winter skies spitting water like rain hitting a fan, noticeable enough to be annoying. And because of those months, Brussels this time was steeped in some déjà vu, a spiraling memory worm like an auger prying up the person of ten years ago who, in retrospect, inhabited a bubble, or maybe bubbles are symptoms of youth. In reality, I remembered little about the sidewalks I pounded out and the buildings I passed, but I remembered the feeling that something big was happening to me, that Brussels was new despite its wore out skies.

Those low clouds slung over the roofs of tall buildings and even when the sun showed itself for an afternoon, it was a light vacant of heat and brightness. The quality of the winter sun in Italy is sharp and white, bald and baring, and comes in at an acute angle, blinding. While Brussels thrives under a thick shag carpet. Over and over I was reminded of D.H. Lawrence’s Constance Chatterley gazing into the industrial heart of England: overcast darkened the coal smoke billowing from mines. I saw Industrial Brussels and her men coming home to their tenements, smeared with ash from the factories.

But Brussels is also a city of contradictions. Her fine lines are influenced by Horta’s art nouveau and her presentation, like the Christmas Market, is influenced by surrealism. The result—in architecture and adornments—is uncanny, lending the city a quirkiness enhanced by splashes of European cosmopolitan and vintage. Nothing like Rome, a city that defines itself on the hefty past ideals of the art of grandeur.

In Brussels we ate fries, drank Belgian beer, smoked pot, visited the Atomium and patronized a few English bookshops. The fries were delicious as were the beer and the pot, while the Atomium rose from the fantastical twilight of the wooded suburbs. The sharply lit spheres behind the blurred black sketch of bare trees, boasted of a questionable future. In the overcast Northern forests at twilight, fairy tales were born. The quality of lack of light is mystical and mysterious. Hovering between the half-day and the long nights, the vision wobbles as if it weren’t pegged to two eyes connected to the brain; the vision splays realities that resist composition.

And we hung out with good friends after too long a time, and now that they are living in Brussels again, we’ll see them again soon. Thank you Kim and Ryan and Jennifer!


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