This past weekend I took the opportunity–translation classes not yet being in session, and my Flemish class going on an excursion I would have to pay for to a place I had already been–to go to Brussels, which is not so very far from Antwerp, and visit My Personal Francophone.
I say “took the opportunity”, but the truth is I would have had to find a way to make it possible, even if all the trains and buses were out of commission and there were no more taxis–because, as My Personal Francophone had personally and specifically asked me what I was doing on September 8, and had told me he had A Surprise For Me that evening, and had even, when I asked “Will I need to bring nice clothes for the surprise?”, replied “that might not be a bad idea,” and this time HE was asking ME to dress up–because all of these things were true, I decided that even if I had to hike out into the fields outside the city and kidnap a cow and ride into Brussels on it, I would get there, somehow.
“This surprise better be worth it,” I grumbled as I waited in line at the ticket counter behind some Spanish immigrants, a Flemish-speaking couple, and a slow-moving student to buy a train pass at the station. The clerk carefully reviewed my application, took out his stapler for the student discount papers, got ready to charge me for the pass…and then asked, “Where’s your photo?”
“Photo?” I stupidly asked. I knew I shouldn’t have ignored the Flemish pages of the railroad website…
Half an hour later I got back in line at the ticket counter, clutching my glossy sheet of passport-sized photos, taken at the photo booth only after I got change for my 20 by buying a few pieces of overpriced candy at the shop near the train tracks, hoping I would make it on time for the next train, and also that this would be the correct train and not take me past farms and fields and tiny towns with a church and two houses, like the wrong train I’d taken to come register for classes a week ago…
That evening, as we sat and drank the first of several beers with his friends, and Belgium overran Wales 2-0, and the bar dog came and jumped up on my lap, I thought maybe the trip had been worth it, after all.
The following morning, when My Personal Francophone came in and woke me by putting Tchaikovsky on the stereo and a fresh mug of hot coffee with a cookie next to me, I knew it had been worth it, even if the surprise I had to dress up for was a play in French, or a museum exhibit about bacon. I was absolutely confirmed in that discovery when he left the room briefly only to return with a tray of fresh-baked croissants from the corner bakery. “Le petit dejeuner au lit pour Madamoiselle!” he said cheerfully.
As the uncharacteristically sunny Belgian morning poured in through the windows, I wondered what, exactly, in this life, I had done to be so lucky. I’ve asked myself that a lot over these past–has it really already been two weeks!–and when I go up onto the illegal rooftop terrace of my apartment and study my Flemish and look over the city rooftops this evening, I’ll ask myself that again.
But that’s this evening. I asked myself the same question twice on Saturday, once when awakened by Tchaikovsky and speculoos, and once more when standing in front of the very large surprise that evening, which was neither a play in French nor a museum exhibit about bacon.
The Theatre de la Monnaie, in the center of downtown Brussels, whose ornately columned façade dates to the 19th century (young, for something European!), and whose concert halls have housed many recitals and performances, including the Vivaldi we were there to hear and see a troupe of musicians/actors/dancers play and perform.
“Do you like it?” My Personal Francophone asked, looking at me somewhat worriedly as I gaped at the brilliant paintings and gold scrolling on the ceiling of the theater.
“Wow,” I said, the vertigo of it all taking my breath away. “Just…wow.” Below us the performers started to tune their instruments, the acoustics of the great hall carrying the smallest sound of the strings to our ears. I thought, here I am in Brussels, in a beautiful theater that has been filled with who knows what great works and who knows how many generations of audiences…if anyone had told me, two years ago in Salamanca, that I would be here now, I would never have believed them.
And I didn’t even have to ride into the city on a cow.