It’s hit me. Finally. It hadn’t yet, until now.
I was in Brussels for the weekend with the Katies. We’d planned on going to the south of Holland for the weekend to see the deltas of Zeeland and stay at a town we had been told was “really nice.” Middelburg, we saw on the map, was way down there, so we got up early on Saturday and started driving south in my new company rental Ford Fiesta.
We though it was weird when stopped in Delft for a quick coffee stop and realized we were already halfway there.
“Wow,” Katie said, “this place is deceptively tiny.”
“No, no, it must be as the crow flies,” said other Katie. “It can’t be that small!”
We sipped our breakfast casually on that boat in the Delft canal, reasoning that we were ahead of schedule and could afford to take it easy. But even after driving through Gouda and about a dozen other little Dutch towns in that early September breeze, we had no idea what kind of strange we were dealing with. By 11 in the morning we’d already driven into Middelurg and seen it’s “nice” squares and churches and had been wholly underwhelmed by the dijks we’d seen along the drive.
“Are we sure we drove the right way to see the dijks?” Katie asked.
“There was low-lying land to our left and ocean to our right,” I said. “I don’t know where we could possibly have gone wrong.”
“Well, at least it’s really nice, isn’t it guys?” said other Katie. Which was true. But we couldn’t have been less interested in staying the entire afternoon there, let alone spending the night. We looked at each other for a bit while standing by the center square.
“We’re can’t be too far from Antwerp, right?” Katie offered.
“Yeah,” I said, considering the plan. “Or Bruge.”
“I’ve heard Bruge is nice,” Katie said.
“Yeah, but I wonder what Antwerp looks like,” said Katie. So we went to Antwerp.
But Belgium is a small place too and an hour later we had crossed the border without much ceremony. Once in Antwerp we exited the freeway following signs for “centrum” but landed in a nasty-looking part of town that reminded me of some ghetto in Moscow, even though I’ve never been there.
“I think it looks more like a ghetto in Warsaw,” Katie said, “but with more Turks.” Which was true. There were a shitload of Turks in that neighborhood.
When we found the center of Antwerp and sat for a beer it was still early. We gazed out at the grey facades, the trickling fountains and the scores of old people. The soft rain that was starting to come down didn’t help make the dreary main square of Antwerp any cheerier, even though it was “really nice.” But the beer was good.
After an hour Katie looked at me with a coy smile and said, “I wonder what Brussels looks like?” Other Katie tightened her lips and giggled and I knew I must’ve smiled too. So we continued to Brussels and after a fast night of Belgian beer and chocolate fondue pouring from fountains in the windows of chocolateries, we still managed to find a hostel in Brussels. Properly intoxicated and laughing our asses off constantly, we collapsed onto a couple of mattresses.
I had woken up with a Katie on either side of me, fully clothed and all limbs accounted for. With no imminent scandal and a ravenous hunger actively collapsing the structure of my stomach, I went downstairs to the free breakfast that that hostel offers. Also, I felt like reading some Ken Kesey, but having recently finished Sometimes a Great Notion I was willing to settle for The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test.
At the breakfast in the youth hostel the next morning a tall kid with darkish skin and long dreadlocks approached my seat by the corner window, wanting to know where I was from.
“Brazil,” I answered instinctively, a response I’d memorized and trained to come out seamlessly such as to offer no hint of American-ness. A traveler’s answer. No American here, Mr. Traveling-man. Don’t hate me just because I speak English.
Sad, but true these days.
“Are you traveling around Belgium?” He inquired with a Mediterranean tan and a traveler’s beard. Greek, from the sound of it, except for the dark skin and the dreadlocks. I paused and gave my answer some thought because I felt it coming out before I had actually said it:
“No, I live in Amsterdam.” The words hit me much harder than they hit him. I didn’t pay much attention to the typical discussion that must’ve followed.
I live in Amsterdam.
Sweet Jesus, life is good. So many languages. So much desire. So much love to have and to give. An education to be envied. Opportunity at every door and they are either unlocked or smashed open, but always available. An iron will to succeed that is unrivaled. Developed talent coming out my ears. And then…
A travel bug in Paris.
An infection in New Zealand, spread by southeast Asia and Australia.
A full blown epidemic in London and Geneva that lead straight to freedom and then Amsterdam.
And now: Europe at my fingertips.
How did I ever get this far?