BXL-KGX-BIO

Since the last blog post, I have reached some groundbreaking conclusions. Namely, an epiphany in the metro, a comment on Belgians and musings on snowmen.

The station is almost deserted. 2am. I would feel alone if it wasn’t so deafening. An inescapable cacophony of musical notes is blasting from the speakers (which I still have not located). All night long. And I shouldn’t be there to hear it! The cunning idea behind the orchestral accompaniment to your late night journeys is literally to blast any loitering youths out of sight, mind and trouble. What’s more, it actually seems to work. I am the only youth in sight. Loitering, naturally. It’s OAP central here, bopping to Beethoven in the early hours… sort of.

Laughter has been a key ingredient in the whole Belgian melting pot of life abroad. It’s like the equivalent of a very large pinch of salt in a strange foreign broth… This saltiness was particularly necessary on receipt of the message: “You will recognise me : dark hair but white beard.” Starbucks, Gare Centrale, 9am and I’m expecting to find a mysterious Belgian perched on a stool like Hercule Poirot, cigar and espresso in hand. Of course it turns out that almost everyone in Brussels had donned/grown a white beard. I proceeded to ask several of them what their names were (my French small talk enjoyed an outing), by this stage totally blaze about the social/cultural/general awkwardness of blatantly stalking several old men in succession… Obviously the one remaining possible candidate (in the corner tucking into a chunky muffin) was in fact Mathieu, a kindly Belgian gentleman who I was meeting to submit a piece of translation work.

Stations seem to be the place for them. Clutching a comic strip, bowler hat in place, headed for Ghent. The ultimate Belgian! I gleefully thought, and simply couldn’t resist out my not-so-discreet camera. Turns out he was particularly photogenic and ended up sitting a few seats away. It was like a lesson in portraiture. He was clearly loving the comic, a shy smile creeping across his lips and reaching the friendly creases of his eyes. I’d like to say he was posing for my long lens which peered through the gap between the seats, but it seems this was a genuine specimen – and zoom in I did! (Please scroll down for the tragic moment of realisation…)  As a slight aside to my admittedly bizarre paparazzi treatment of this innocent passenger, it is an appropriate occasion to raise awareness and concern. Who are comics for? Children. Who actually reads them? Grown adults. Should they? No. Does it even matter? I’d like to say yes, but no. It’s just extremely odd. I realise there are several fingers pointing back at me…

The snow has been snowier than ever. I have never felt colder in my life. Thinking is difficult, speaking even worse. -9 degrees, 7 layers, glasses frost up, suffocation by scarves, is my nose still there? It’s serious. Arriving back in London was farcical – a flurry of snow and it’s a danger zone. Home sweet home. Then the curious snowman arrived, peering up at our living room with his mournful stony eyes and oversized carrot nose. There’s something strangely human in his size and posture. I’m keen to invite him in. But it would mean certain death. How coldhearted – icy. He melts. A sad sodden scarf sits in a pool of muddy grass.

The transition to Spain has been a significant gear change… like the pain of moving from snowmen and snow to muddy puddles and sunshine. (N.B. that’s not a slight on cultural differences and not all Belgians are snowmen, but people here have given a warmer welcome). Well, that’s all for Belgian Waffle – this blog ought to be re-named Spanish tortilla or something culturally appropriate. Fling any suggestions my way. As a side to this gastronomic thread, please do send over your best soup recetas. Don’t leave me in a dark dungeon of a dubious ‘mixed veg’ broth. Which reminds me… my first purchase in Spain was a lamp. Not because the kitchen is dim. In fact, it is blindingly bright, not unlike being at the dentist or in a DIY store. Brings out your wincing-like-a-mole face. What is it with the Spanish and fluorescent lighting? (not rhetorical). I fear, however, that the improved ambiance-enhancing light fitting is a slippery slope. Literally.  It is a denial-friendly golden glow, hiding any festering food remains, offering a potential skidding-on-banana-skins dimness. VIVA ESPAÑA.

10 days down and so far I have encountered: some awkward lift rides, a rainstorm, my own sleep-talking in French, a hyper Spanish choir, two viejos on permanent exercise bikes in a park, many middle-aged señoras up to their ears in fur, more staring on the metro and a family dressed up as a chicken (father), egg (mother) and a chick (baby in pushchair) – no qualms, embarrassment or explanation.

Next time: Harriet will actually cut to the chase and tell you how she is spending her days in Bilbao.

How are YOU spending your days?

(not rhetorical)

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                 Caught on camera: the horrifying moment when Belgian spied the spy.

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