Today he flashes into the corner of my eye while I am walking the dog. Well, falshes. Rather shuffle: An older, completely bent man, who manfully tries to descend a small slope to cross our highway, the roccade of Rabat. I stand still and look breathlessly at the scene. First the down the low slope, turned into a slippery slide by the rain, half sliding but controlled he gets down. Bag in hand and with that incredibly curved back, with one gentle step to the edge of the highway. The curvature makes me wonder if he is able to oversee the traffic situation. He shows a limitless confidence at his own pace. He walks quietly on the highway. Just until he has to wait for arriving cars. You feel that no one overlooks him. When the cars have passed he again walks a lane. Calmly he navigates safely between the raging traffic until he arrives at the other side. There is a moment when I consider going to him and taking him on the arm. Unnecessary goodwill from me. And so I stare breathlessly and motionless at his actions. An impressive moment. Once he is over, I can continue and my thoughts wander to Brussels.
Nowhere a city that knows how to interpret the voice of a country like Brussels for Belgium. The beauty of Belgium and its intense desolation, they both have a place. The split of Belgium can be felt on the street where the Walloon and Flemish try to assert themselves or in the incredible forest of double bureaucracy, in which once beautiful squares are endlessly decayed and get lost until the Belgian bureaucrats find it back in a common goal. Or not. A city where the romanticism of the old houses splashes and parks will let you relax in robust natural beauty. Where the great Europe of now and once has its domicile, which gives the city its own grandeur.
I am devoted to this Brussels. And I have not even lived there for so long. A half year internship almost three decades ago. Living in a room that really did justice to the Flemish term ‘kot’ in the Dutch sense. Somewhere three high with a carpet in the room that makes me think afterwards: “What was it that gave off such an odor?” But as a student you smell it and then you live with it. Next to me lived an African who, when he cooked, immersed the whole floor in his African scents. In Brussels my world became bigger again, and I became more worldly.
I recently returned. Visiting my ‘partner in crime’ from that time. We were inseparable, usually after work in the bars and discos, together with a large group of international interns who covered some continents. Life got new dimensions. I can remember that I even attended a performance of a ska band with a few Englishmen in a community just outside Brussels where I was completely out of place in my clothes and with my rich hair, with these nice bald skinheads. Superb performance.
Friends from the Netherlands came to visit, it also gave them an adventure in another city. With one of them, suffering form a head like a bus shelter, after a night of drinks and music, I walked the mist from our minds in Cinquantinaire Park and then listened, while smoking cigarettes in the car, to Tears for Fears.
After the internship I have regularly visited Brussels. Like in Amsterdam, Paris and now also Rabat, I was able to entertain myself on my own, strolling through the streets, sitting on a terrace with a coffee and a newspaper, giving life while the people passed me by.
The moment you approach the edges of Brussels via the motorway to slowly enter the heart of the city via the tunnels: No city gives me this zindering. It is a strange mixture of the adventure that always stared at Brussels, the magic of the city, the memories, the nostalgia of what once was.
One memory is still sharp to me. In those first days in the city, still on my own, the internship had not started yet, I decided to go out. Without a preconceived plan. I know that I stepped into a museum. Something I still do far too little. I completely forgot which museum it was. There was an exhibition about modern art. And while walking, my eyes stayed with two or three pieces. They hit me. Got something loose. I could define what I saw in it. I casually passed many other works. Nothing happened. Fully loaded I came out of that museum, while only three works of art had touched me. No idea of who or what. A completely meaningless moment. For me, however, the moment when I learned to stand still and to look at what I like, what touches me and to develop my own story.
That old little ultimate curved male who crossed our highway in Rabat made me stand still and stare as I did almost three decades ago for a modern work of art in a museum somewhere in Brussels. It all came together for a moment and brought the memories of what once was all the way up again. Thanks to that old curved man in Rabat and my beautiful dreary Brussels.