The sun shines up in the sky. With my headphones on I am listening to Duke Ellington. The music flows nicely and I almost feel like dancing. I feel like making some space in my white studio and move my body around. It’s Sunday afternoon. It’s not raining although this is Belgium; Brussels, to be more specific. It calls for celebration! Remember: whenever you’re in Belgium you should celebrate every sunny day, you should bring libations (of the many kinds of beer - they’re legion here) to the sky and be thankful.
They say Brussels is the capital of Europe. Perhaps it is, taking into account that most of the European administrative institutions are here. Walking on the street you’d be able to hear quite a number of languages being spoken. There’s French, there’s Flemish, English, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, German, North-African languages, Polish, etc. And if you listen closely, sometimes you can hear Romanian too. For I am Romanian.
They also say Brussels is the Balkans of the North because it’s chaotic, lively, dirty, careless. It’s one of the most contradictory cities I’ve lived in. It’s a challenge being here. My life has the same speed as the speed of the city and this is a city that moves at the speed of the world. This is a city that moves fast. It cuts through history and cultures, through people’s stories, through their lives and brings them together adjusting them to its own pace. A good number of years ago, talking about the ‘American melting pot’, king Baudouin said that we should refer to the United States not as a ‘melting pot’ ‘cause the cultures that get in contact there are not melting, are not becoming a sort of homogeneous mixture but they are rather a mosaic, they complete each other, they continue each other. I guess the time has come for Brussels to be characterized in a similar way. But is this really the case? Is there a mosaic rather than a ‘melting pot’. Who knows? This is a toughy, a biggy. Quite difficult to figure it out. Who decides what is ‘recorded’ by the ‘social history’? What is going to be transmitted to the next generations? What will be considered as valuable, as worthy, as culturally significant? There are so many things to chose from, so many alternatives, so many possibilities.
Why should I be special? Why do I want to be special? Duke Ellington’s piano keeps knitting at the background of my thoughts. Just look at me! … This is where I think about the world, this is where I get my ideas and this is on what my thoughts are based. I used to say that I like the country side but I can only think in a city. I love nature but in its proximity I feel impotent. I cannot ‘create’ anything. Its vastness is too much for me; I lose myself in it. Whereas in the city I have to delimit myself from the others, I have to assert myself, I have to be myself, with my fears and emotions, with my love and hatred, with my regrets and sorrows. And I write about them. This is what I create.
And then, when you think about it!…
‘I feel like an alien’, he said. ‘I do not belong here. After all these years I still have a bit of that bloody English accent and people still think I am some sort of English freak. But if I go back now, I am not going to fit there either. You know, when I went to London last time, I took a taxi from the airport and the first thing that the taxi driver asked me was: which part of North-America I come from… This is what he asked me. What was I to tell him? That I was born a Londoner and that I moved years and years ago? Am I really a Canadian? What was I supposed to tell him?’
‘I know what you mean! I know exactly what you mean! This is what happens to me too. I have troubles locating what represents home for me, where I belong. And thus, ha!, I come to think that I belong to the whole world. I am a cosmopolitan!’
‘That’s easy to say but what does it mean exactly? If we eat Thai dishes, drink single malt scotch and treat ourselves with Belgian chocolates while watching American movies sitting on a comfy sofa made in China for Ikea, does it mean we are part of the big mosaic?’
‘No, no! It’s not about this. Or, perhaps, it’s not just about this. It’s our common history, it’s the history of mankind. Nothing much happens only locally nowadays because nations are somehow spread throughout the world. Some more than others, but this is the general tendency, anyway…’
‘Last summer I went back to Scotland’, she started. ‘I really liked it. I didn’t visit my friends and family there in the last few months. I graduated in Edinburgh, you see, and then I decided that I want to travel through Europe so I took up this position that I was offered which implied lots of travelling, here and there, to the branches of the company which were spread all throughout Europe. And the thing is that I spent quite a lot of time in France. And I learned French and I liked it very much. Very, very much. And now, guess what? I went to Scotland thinking I’ll try to find a way to stay there, ‘cause I wanted to settle down, find someone and live my life. But what do you know? After a month I realized that there’s something missing. I missed French. In Edinburgh people are very kind and nice and I was really looking forward to being there for a considerable period of time… But then, this French business… I do not know how but I grew to like it so much! And I can express myself fully only in it… All my plans were screwed up. I had to come back… But I do not regret it.’
‘I do not know what to do. Please help me! Please!’, she said getting rid of her tears with her small fingers.
‘What can I do? I would like to help you but what can I do? He’s a jerk. Try not to think about him…’
‘But I cannot! I am thinking about him all the time and I am sure he thinks about me too. I do not know if I love him, though. I do not know if I can allow myself to love him.’
‘What do you mean?’, I asked puzzled. ‘If you cannot help yourself thinking about him, it means you feel something for him. If it is love what you feel then what do you mean when you say that you cannot allow yourself to love him?’
‘I don’t know… I don’t know… Perhaps it’s something Turkish. Perhaps it has to do with my family and their ideas about me having a boyfriend. You know, my mother used to say that men are not to be trusted but taken advantage of. That’s what she said. Is this true?’
What could I have answered her? Should I have tried to convince her that’s not true? Should I have tried to tell her that the time has come for her to take decisions and see the world through her own eyes? I do not know what is Turkish and what not, but I know that any adult person should be able to take decisions which can change their life.
‘Stop throwing the blame on traditions or family histories. This is you now…’ I pointed at her. ‘This is you here and now. This is your life! You are the one who has to make something out of it. It does not really matter where you come from. If you chose to live in the West, try to understand the way things work here. People think differently. They see things in a different way than you do, than you used to do, than your family is used to… Be objective! It does not matter where you come from…’ I was going to give her the same kind of speech that I used to give her when she’s in trouble. But this time I did not want to go any further. I just sat there sipping my beer and looking at her.
She stood up then she bent toward me and said:
‘It does! To me it does matter where I come from! Thanks a lot for your help!’ She picked up her purse and off she went.
I am looking out the windows of the studio they are really huge I listen to music try to think and make sense of it all try to grasp it try to understand where do I stand and what to make of this world of this world with me in it with you in it with us all of us with our histories and our stories with highs and lows with laughs and curses and on it goes with emails and chat sessions coffees at Great NorthWestern Coffee Co. teas at the Chinese House those porcupines at De Viering are really cute watching the news darn more people died in Ghaza today a volcano erupted hundreds are dead another plane crashed where are my Chinese sticks I love you I love you you are everything I wanted at least for now a g a ten at yahoo dot com yes that’s right you should send me an email what does aga ten stand for well it’s a long story will probably tell you about it some other time or perhaps write about it write write write I have to write I have to spill it out I have to say what I think ‘cause I have to see myself what I think who let the dog out yes mother yes I will I do not have a job yet but I am doing ok for the moment will keep studying and trying to get scholarships the occasional window cleaning and library work yes I know it’s not going to be like this for too long I know I am not a kid anymore or am I you know Freud from Irving’s the hotel New Hampshire said that opportunities come and go and you should grab them grab them all with both your hands even if they are more than you can carry it’s better like this ‘cause you’ll find one day that they stop coming they stop coming you’re left on your own only with what you managed to do with the time that was given to you no I do not believe in fate there is no such thing as faith and there is no such thing as afterlife this is it this is all we have got and we have to make the best out of it what is the good life who the hell knows I only hope I am doing the right thing I do not want to hurt anyone alone but not lonely alone but not lonely love is the answer
And then, every couple of years I find some time to go home, to visit my parents. Every couple of years I find myself again in that little (and I mean - really little) village, in Romania where nothing happens. Things follow their path there, unchanged for decades. There is no computer there. Heck, there isn’t even a phone line! There’s just the earth, the sky and the sun. Those people succeed in coping with something I find frightening. They live in nature, by nature, through nature. Their fingers stroke the earth and caress it. Mine are only happy sliding on the keyboard of my laptop. I brag about being ‘of the world’, about being part of this mosaic which is the modern world, forever in move, forever changing. They are silent and live like this for centuries. They have their joy and happiness. They laugh and cry like children.
I wonder what a ‘melting pot’ is… Or a mosaic…