Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Visitors Galore- Brussels, Summer 2013

For all its oddities, 2013 has been a banner year for visits. Scots, Spaniards, Germans, Frenchies, Greeks, and Americans descendant of all these nationalities have cozied up on our sofas. Amazingly, four waves of family visitors have also endured my infamous "death marches" in and around Brussels. My roommate and I, come to think of it, have hosted someone nearly every week since we returned from the holidays last January. Its been an impressive run. 

Some friends here dread visitors, fearing the bane of touring Brussels’ most famous (or ridiculous) landmarks, beer venues, and chocolate shops for the umpteenth time. Sure, Mannekin Pis looses its luster after the first visit and the Brussels Cathedral pales in comparison to more impressive gothic structures scattered about Flanders and northern France. But for me, traipsing around my adopted (temporary?) hometown is a chance to rebalance. 

three things i love: sues, tj and mer du nord

justice palace, place poelaert brussel

aliens a la magritte

Turns out that traveling or living abroad is a complicated, emotional experience. Some say you're running away from something when you leave, some say you're running towards something or running down a dream or love or whatever. Personally, I like to save my running for the trails (yes, there is lots of green space in and near Brussels- and hills, too!) and the football pitch. But the more compelling thing, the thing less present in our mind but more emotionally taxing, is that we compartmentalize certain parts of who we are to adapt to the new place, the new culture, the new life. Reconciling all these pieces of who we are is sometimes burdensome and on both ends- for the people who knew us longer or longer ago, and for the people who more recently came into our lives. Not to say that we change who we are to adapt, but that locations, events, the unknown bring specific elements of us to the fore and suppress other traits.

three more beautiful things: matt, leah and mussels

When visitors come, though, pieces come together. Parts of what I was in Chicago or in Madrid or in Murcia meld with what's here, what my life is now. It's bizarre, but thats Belgium in a word- the  place you visit a 5 meter tall bug on a needle100 meter tall metal balls, more than 100 animated and grafittied pencils, and a collection of child-sized statues sculpted in a "business position."  But the point is that all these pieces are not for naught, and when friends and family cross continents and oceans, we bring out our best selves to match this beautiful and strange place and we have a forum to share what we're becoming that maybe doesn't make sense in any other context. After all, aren't we just pieces of the people/places we love?