Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Missing home

It's been an extended stay here in the U.S., all thanks administrative congestion spurred by those glorious summer vacations that I lusted over before jumping the proverbial pond. Two months have passed without frittes, fiets, and my Flemish family, and to make myself smile a bit (or to invoke unnecessary despair), I've decided to list the things I miss. Most are silly and many are mundane, but these anecdotes combined describe the completeness of a life I've created from scratch. Longing for the regularity of Belgium and Europe oddly makes me think I've nearly succeeded in becoming European, if for no other reason than I call it home.

Cobblestones: the bane of my existence given my typical clumsiness. I miss the uneven, archaic bricks lining Grote Markt and the daily stumble that accompanies my walks to and from the Faculty.

Canals: I miss the inexplicable paranoia that plagues my late-night bike rides home. The canals that add so much vivacity to Leuven seem to pose a certain, largely invented, peril while pedaling post-Stella. My worries are 100% unwarranted given the iron guardrails, and truthfully, the uneven cobblestones, ruthless buses, and other bikers pose much more real threats. Nonetheless, terrifying scenarios of my bike and I tumbling into the canals at 4:30am haunt my (otherwise very exciting) bike rides.

My dog: Sadly, my dog is in fact not mine, but I like to think that the shaggy, gray and white haired dog living at the Young Amadeus Flower Shop looks forward to me passing every day. Sure, I bribe his affection with treats and extended scratches behind his floppy ears - I'm not proud, I want that dog to love me.

Inspirational Walks around Stadspark: Feeling cooped up in the sterile offices of the faculty, I often find myself circling Stadspark's gravel paths. The weather seldom cooperates and gray, drizzly skies usually accompany my wanderings. With a kelly green American-sized to-go coffee cup in hand, I make the most of the fresh air and let my mind wander. These late morning/mid afternoon strolls are responsible for many (temporary) moments of brilliance.

Colruyt: At first sight, there is little to love about the industrious, shoebox of a grocery store. After a Saturday morning shopping with your housemates, the store's charm increases exponentially. The Costco-meets-Whole Foods concept of Colruyt is a bit puzzling and the concrete flooring offers a cold, sterile vibe; gratuitous samples, namely in the Wine aisle, certainly make returning beer crates with 4 boys infinitely more enjoyable.

Mechelse Shopping Street: The silver-only jewelry shop, the façade of the overpriced footwear vendor, the random English-country wearables store, the ornate outdoor tree and flower displays at Young Amadeus, my hairdresser's black-clad staff, Zoff' cafés chic and cozy interior, the cheese shop's impeccable cleanliness, the Walvis' morning crew sweeping melted ice into the drains - my head swings continually from left to right as I walk down Mechelsestraat each weekday morning. Everyday I feel like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and if the Flemish didn't repudiate anything French, I'd likely skip down the brick lane singing "Bon Jour" as I passed. Disney-dreams aside, a friendly nod from the handsome Italian chef at Zoff and the planned walking pattern to avoid fishy water put a spring in my step and make my cheeks glow rosy with neighborhood charm.

The smell of sugar: Belgium is not a place for dieting. Bakeries and pastry shops are around every corner and a coffee without a cookie is sacrilege. More than the warm appleflaps (apple turnovers) at the bakery near the de Meulenaere's house in Genk, I miss the smell of sugar in the evenings. After closing shop at 2pm and preparing the next day's treats, the bakers set their timers and pop a new crop of goodies into the ovens just after dinner time. The sweet scent lingers in the air right around 10pm, just in time for my brain to concoct dreams of chocolate croissants and cherry tarts.

"Yooooo": Belgian greetings, much like the Flemish language, are goofy. Its like overextending the first syllable of yogurt, Yosemite, or yonder and adding a hint of a football crowd's lament after a missed shot on goal. This greeting met me at the office, on the street with a bike bell ringing, and most often, as I walked into the living room at Mechelse 154. There I'd find any consortium of Bram, Jeroen, Joris, Marco, Thomas mixed with the regular visitors (Alexander, Michael, Hans, and the girlfriends).

Whistling: This is not a talent I can list on my C.V. In fact, learning to whistle was my new year's project for 2011; little progress can be measured, though not for lack of practice. My office mate and colleague, however, puts hummingbirds to shame. Out of respect for our work environment, he delays his masterful concerts until I've left for a coffee, an inspirational walk or the library, but his tunes both follow me down the corridors and welcome me back as I climb the three flights of stairs to our door.


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