April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment
To see a city on a map is only a series of points & lines with a monument here & there, blank segments that are homes, businesses, restaurants & public spaces. Green stands for a park. A complication of streets with names that mostly end in straat, changing names as we move along a bend: Pieter van Hobockenstraat to Prinsstraat then onto Blindestraat. A pleasure of the way the street names fluctuate is without any noticeable difference in the way the street feels as it’s walked through. Always moving from the center of where we’re staying while we’re there & moving thru the center of a place that begins & ends our visit. The visit then begins & ends walking on the street filled with people that may be like you, seeing it all for a first time, probably in most cases, we’re beside people who’ve seen it all before, they move fast to a daily path where a life will continue in a smaller city that’s so un-American, so uncellphoned, so full of magnificent buildings. The curious cell-phone absence makes it difficult to remember what our friends in the states have to talk about all the time, easily a way anyone can go beyond where you are right now. The maze of streets that should be more confusing then they are, left us wondering about all the passers-by who are unafraid to look you in the eye, who perhaps try to notice wherefrom you’ve emerged, seeing how different you are, as our foreignness never leaves, the identity that’s invisible to us, as it’s revealed to them, that barely pronounce what anomalies might be hidden within us. It could be the way we walk, our codes of demeanor. Placing these differences requires an imagination that one’s afraid to venture too far with, such a venture yields little reward & you’ll never really know what others see when you’re looking at them the same way. The streets require & ask for another stretch of imaginative powers that offer better rewards in the center & periphery, more than in a treasured city of architectural insistence. This place here, reaching so far back, before we had the power we currently imagine holding. This feeling for the past is just that, a feeling for the past that a handful of buildings offer & how that’s weighed with an evaluation of our past, with their European one, that was once a shared past & is now separated by proximal distances over the seas. It is up to us to decide to love each place, our home & theirs that’s far away, home for what it is & not what it’s not. A place where all dreams of a people are of a similar universal reach, the same future moving into what hasn’t been yet, aspirations for what hasn’t been thought of, leaping towards more. As one walks & wanders a life-like image befalls & grasps you away from the temporary oblivion, a fear of not returning home. This could be a search or a query of a land, each bit of masonry that might reveal a thought that hasn’t been cast in the same set of scenes before. A search for what cannot be found, never named & always a force to remain opened & keeping a push to keep flowing. A late medieval cathedral that easily engages the mind through a suffering of Christ, the ecclesiastical riches to a now secularized admiration of piety, 1/2 real & 1/2 fictive.
Cut encloisterments reaching for the wet clouded sky over the death-throes of virginal platitudes. Human arrogance & the twin hegemonies of commerce & faith converge & aren’t always unlocked, encrusted with age & sunken in the walkways of centuries of working & leisured feet. The moving places of a people in public even in Belgium, hides another place where people are behind walls, sleeping, bathing, sexed with each-other & to themselves. We can’t always see the whole cobblestoned truth & nor do we care to see every left-over repast. Then too, certain corners of the old town center are affixed with a haloed Mother & child of God, where a public/private conversation can be had with the floating effigy, this must’ve been for easy street-side soul-searching, where the sin is to be taken out of the day, taken out of the place. These statues now are maybe quickly thought of as a dalliance of worshipful aggrandizement. A knotted cluster of crucifixes, icons, churches & leaded glass held together with easily looked over carved flourishments, ledges & thorned ironwork, always next to the bright altars of commerce. The 16th century was a busy time for the Belgians, a time it’s said, bent under the Spanish crown. Yet, a brisk combing of a Spanish past sorted from all these bricks makes for any of the “Black Legend” impossible to identify. So, again we’re in the darkened streets, back to sorting into a past, along with continuing to hear a Belgian-Dutch language unsounding like French, more like the Germanic edge of consonants, trilling R’s & the famous throaty G sound, all heard passing by you & never directly to you, as the faces change from the pale white to the tightly head-covered women who are not embarrassed to to be making a contemporary step away from the older Christian regulations & away from a one-way secular stringency that contrives to fashion its reactionary grip within the range of its insipid complaints, along with its bald nationalism that nauseates itself & is expressed in the anti-Muslim/mosque posters that are plastered here & there. Over this racist banality, Islamic ladies enforce their veils defiantly enough to make a visible claim that: ‘We are here & clothed in our faith!” We too as the foreign others grow to love the valiance of this modesty that discards an irrationally affixed vanity. Then from these noticeable cultural differences, moving through another street to pass by benign graffiti that lets itself impose erratic personal control on a public that’s waiting for a fresh now, instead of only yesterday. Graffiti is as much a rebellion it also has the urgency of an obligation, a requirement of errant expression, this its anodyne blessing on the place, not eluding any religious structure to cover with its graphical habiliment. From conformity to non-conformity & back again. Everyone voices English with ease, to let us know what an importance the language of English is to the rest of the world, a mediating language. We are made to feel at ease with this & then only slightly unnerved that we can’t master Flemish as fluently as they’ve learned our tongue, hard to tell if their bilingual skill is resented, a mild tone of hesitancy coupled with a polite point of contact with someone else…