I’m laughing as I contemplate my words of today. Is this merely an advertisement – something that would show up in the “Help Wanted” section of the newspaper? Also, I like including a photo or two in my posts. The obvious choice would be a picture of a woman. But who?
Okay … I found an image. The first thing you readers will see is the title and this woman. Maybe you’ll think she’s the one. Except all I know is that she lives somewhere in the world.
Enough analysis, dear man …
I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life. But this morning I got it one more time that I’m not willing to settle. If “The One” never shows up then I will remain single till the end comes. Oh, I feel good saying that!
Look at that face. Look at those eyes. Laugh lines. A real smile. Yep … that’s who I’m looking for. Someone who’s in love with life. Someone who brightens easily.
I bet she sometimes skips down the street. She’s often mistaken for a kid despite her long flow of years. There’s a lilt in her voice. A wonder in her words. A sense of “What if?” What if we do and say whatever is yearning for expression? Possibility.
I don’t know how old she is. I suppose 60 and up would be good since we don’t know how many years I have left on the planet. Or how many years she has.
She loves music. She hums along to songs. And she dances. It would be particularly wonderful if she loved techno music but my small brain wonders how many women in their 60s do that. But really it doesn’t matter how many. I just need one!
She needs to love Ghent because I’m not going anywhere. Is she in Ghent right now? I bet she is. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.
She enjoys sex. Not just the physical union but the passion, the communion, the sense of touching something together that’s vast. And don’t forget cuddling and foot rubbing.
And … she loves to be of service. Her family is the world. She sees the suffering of other human beings and responds with compassion.
I could list a whole bunch of adjectives describing my future beloved but you get the idea.
As I look back on the Bruce Springsteen concert last Thursday, there’s a loved song he didn’t sing. It’s one of my two favourites.
There is such sadness here … racial violence, vacant stores on Main Street, companies closing, young people leaving.
There’s the love of your home. Saying goodbye to all you’ve known. A chapter ending. Years later you remember.
Here are the lyrics:
I was eight years old And running with a dime in my hand To the bus stop to pick Up a paper for my old man I’d sit on his lap in that big old Buick And steer as we drove through town He’d tousle my hair And say, “Son, take a good look around This is your hometown This is your hometown This is your hometown This is your hometown”
In ’65 tension was running high At my high school There was a lot of fights Between the black and white There was nothing you could do Two cars at a light on a Saturday night In the back seat there was a gun Words were passed in a shotgun blast Troubled times had come To my hometown To my hometown To my hometown To my hometown
Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows And vacant stores Seems like there ain’t nobody Wants to come down here no more They’re closing down the textile mill Across the railroad tracks Foreman says, “These jobs are going, boys And they ain’t coming back To your hometown To your hometown To your hometown To your hometown”
Last night me and Kate we laid in bed Talking about getting out Packing up our bags, maybe heading south I’m thirty-five, we got a boy of our own now Last night I sat him up behind the wheel And said, “Son, take a good look around This is your hometown”
This is your hometown … your hometown
And here is the song, performed by Bruce and the E Street Band in London in 2013. Especially listen to the last minute, to the audience joining in.
I wonder what was in the heart of each person who sang along
Here I roll … on the train out of Brussels towards Ghent – only forty minutes. I’m going home.
I’ve recovered a lot from Saturday’s dancing. Thirty-six hours later there’s still a residue of fatigue. And I don’t care – I danced!
Now home on the Oudburg. I slept for awhile. I unpacked. I washed my compression stockings. I went back to bed.
My neighbour Dirk has left me two cards under the door. The first is a bunch of people dancing. He says I’m the one in the middle:
The second one says “Chapeau!”, congratulating me for my senior wiggling. Thank you, Dirk.
Hunger has brought me to McDonald’s, the best I can do today.
I’m looking out the window at folks sitting on the terrace. A dad is having his young kids pose for a picture. They offer him thumbs up and big smiles.
St. Nicholas Church across the way reminds me of why I love Ghent … but the people far outshine the architecture.
Right in front of me is a 30-something fellow and a woman who appears to be his mom. She’s unsteady on her feet. Her hair is really short. Could it be it’s growing back after cancer radiation? It looks like she’s having trouble swallowing her milkshake. He stands close. Few words between them but the contact is there. Nice.
Five young boys amble by. They’re kicking and shoving each other, grinning all the while. Eventually they disappear beyond yonder building. The shoves are still there.
As darkness fell, lights brightened the trees … and we danced like there was no tomorrow.
Then the wall …
The body said “Stop this immediately and go home!” I listened. I never made it back to the main stage for a photo but the spot where I was dancing gives you a good sense of things.
But no more. I slumped to my locker and then ten minutes to the 10:30 bus stop (not 12:27).
The electronic sign said 11 minutes to the 260. Then, to my half-shut eyes there slowly appeared a sequence of numbers – something like 9, 8, 6, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 5 … Maybe you get the idea but I sure didn’t. Perhaps if I wasn’t exhausted I could have coped better with the never-arriving bus. I started looking for a rock I could throw at the sign.
Anyway, by 11:15 I was pulling the covers up to my neck.
Okay … I’m really tired. I’m on the terrace of Delizia, coaxing energy from my latté. The lovely woman running the show just placed a metal object on my table and it took me thirty seconds to figure out what it was. Voilà:
So what, oh what is today going to be? Lifting a finger feels like an effort. What about all the other muscles of the body? The Core Festival opens in twenty minutes. I’ll take my time walking there. We’ll see what is revealed.
I’m lounging in the shade, earplugs inserted, watching Glints roam the stage and rev up the crowd. On the big screen I see lots of folks bouncing up and down.
I’m jealous … because I have nothing. I’m ready with my Africa map t-shirt and dancing running shoes but all my tissues are sagging. I don’t know how I’ll feel in two hours but there are no cool moves in the bod in current time.
A young couple just came up to me, loving my Africa shirt. We talked for a few minutes about dancing and Ghent and Antwerp. I’m smiling. Still pooped but people show me that it’s not important. They are.
Two teenaged girls come by. They love my shirt too. They live in Ghent and ask me to wear Africa during Patershol Feesten – the August festival in my neighbourhood. “Sure, I’ll do that.” > “Good. We’ll find you.” The Feesten is from August 11 to 13. Guess I’ll have a stinky shirt by the last day.
This is so eerie. I left the Core Festival mid-afternoon because my body was done. Not a minute of dancing today. I’ve just slept for two hours at the Airbnb and still I’m weary. It’s 8:30.
Today didn’t follow the expected script, or even a weird and wonderful variation. And I can live with that.
Let’s start with Five. When I imagined this weekend, I knew I had to produce a result: be the Zoom host for an internet call on Friday at 2:00 pm, when I’d have a late night after the Springsteen concert on Thursday. And between the two moments was a train trip between Amsterdam and Brussels.
I’ll continue reminiscing about yesterday in a moment. But now is pretty precious. I’m eating breakfast in Simit House. The young server is delightful. She so much wants me to enjoy the Turkish foods spread before me. Her name is Yagmur.
I tell her about the Springsteen concert. She hasn’t heard of him. I ask her to look up the YouTube video of “Badlands”. “I’ll play it right now!” And she did.
The next thing I knew, on came “Dancing in the Dark” and I was standing in front of the folks at the next table … gyrating. They applauded. Life is good.
Okay. Where was I?
I remember thinking “Uh oh … I’m exhausted. How am I going to get the job done in Brussels?” No doubt my lips set hard and I knew I would.
I caught an early train from Amsterdam and I thought I’d given myself enough of a cushion. I exited at the Brussels Noord station and started looking for a “Buses” sign. None to be seen by these tired eyes. Somebody said “Over there. Go back through the station.” I wandered in that general direction and found myself on a street corner. A bus floated by but I didn’t know where to stand.
Thanks to the kindness of another stranger I was pointed in the right direction. Bus 260 stops here and will be along in fifteen minutes. My hand gripped tighter on the suitcase handle as two buses approached. The first one bore a number other than 260 and the second had no sign.
A minute later both buses took off. And the rear window of the second bus showed “260”. The next one would be along in an hour. (Sigh)
I finally got to my Airbnb and scrambled to get my laptop set up. I’d found out weeks ago that Hendrick has good internet. I was settled and ready at 1:50!
I had two Zoom calls yesterday. Thank God I didn’t have a job to do for the second one.
No food since 8:00 am and not much sleep was a bad combo. I shuffled down the street with my cell phone till life presented me with De Klok in the town of Meise.
Half an hour later my lips touched the most exquisite pasta I’ve had outside of Italy. Veggie linguini that likely was made in heaven. Eye-opening olive oil and vegetables al dente. I took small portions rolled lovingly onto my spoon. O my God! I was steps away from a four-lane highway full of zooming metal objects. But really … I was somewhere unknown.
I thanked the chef and told him about me in Italy. He’s from Sicily. We shook hands and smiled.
I wonder how I got home. I only had one beer, a groovy 10% Belgian one named … ?
Interlude: I just spent ten minutes on Google trying to find the name of the beer I had last night. Quite obsessive of me. And … success.
Back to today. I’m sitting on a bench under the trees of Ossegem Park. A DJ is doing her thing. Actually I have no idea how she manages the sounds that are twiddling my fingertips. Twenty people are standing in front of the stage, talking rather than moving. But it’s only 1:20. The Core Festival opened at noon. Much more to come.
Now I’ve been dancing in the sun for awhile, wearing my new and improved costume. Here’s what I look like:
I’ve got a few thumbs up for my shirt. My dancing? Not so much. But who cares?
I wore my hiking boots again and they’re getting caught on the wood again. Tomorrow it’s running shoes.
I’m officially tired right now and a Coca-Cola Zero and I are having a good time under the trees. Soon it’ll be time to explore a new stage. There are four.
I discovered a stage with a dirt dance floor! My feet are like bunnies (well, mature rabbits). I feel 70 again. There were hundreds of us moving up, down and sideways. We were packed in but my arms wiggled high, and occasionally there was enough room sideways.
I found a late bus towards home – the 251 leaves the park at 12:27. The last 260 goes at 10:30. I must remember to wave at the 251 driver.
I was just thinking of bringing today’s blog to a close when three enthusiastic teenagers came up to me, asking for a photo for some publication. “Best dressed festival goers” – that’s me!
I told them I was too shy and then immediately posed with my arm over the fellow’s shoulder. So I’m basically famous.
Tomorrow I’ll post a photo of tonight’s main stage but I’m done writing for a Saturday.
For three hours 50,000 of us loved the man onstage. He’s 73 and frolics like a kid. He holds the hands of children and older women as he strolls the front row. He squeezes the strings with inspired guitar solos.
He is Springsteen
I missed Clarence Clemons and his soaring saxophone solos … but his nephew was brilliant. Jake stepped in after Clarence died in 2011.
I loved watching Max on drums, Garry on bass guitar, Roy on piano, Nils on lead guitar and Steve singing with Bruce. Nils’ guitar solo was the stuff of magic. It’s all such a part of my history.
I talked to the folks beside and the older couple in the row above. All true devotées.
I wanted to get up and dance to “No Surrender”, “Badlands” and “Born to Run” but it was clear that the people above were not going to stand.
So … I danced in my seat.
It used to be that I’d stand and throw everything around no matter what, thinking that to do otherwise would be suppressing myself. I still do that when I’m not blocking anyone’s view, but not last night.
I was dancing low, shivering and shaking, playing the piano parts on my thighs. My head flopped and rolled, twisted and plummeted, soared with the high notes. Yes!
At the end Bruce reappeared, on a darkened stage, with an acoustic guitar. He treated us to a sweet rendition of “I’ll See You in My Dreams”.
And then goodnight
As fans spilled down the stairs around me, an usher came up to me. He said that he really enjoyed my dancing. We smiled and talked.
Now I’m on the train to Brussels. Feeling bleary. Feeling nourished by the music. The whole enchilada.
Before I get to today, there’s late yesterday. Amsterdam has a Red Light District. Signs advertise “Peep Show”, “Erotic Boutique” and “Live Sex”. Vertical windows are decorated with red curtains, which are mostly closed during the day. But then there’s the night:
This is Oudezijds Achterburgwal. I resisted the services being offered, other than sipping my cappuccino. I sat in a row of chairs within touching distance of the crowds walking by. I was curious to see how many people would pass in front of me in a minute. I probably did the test ten times and I’d guess the average was fifty. That’s a lot of folks who want to be in the neighbourhood of sex!
In this photo, there’s an arm being extended to the fellow on the right side who’s looking left:
I made eye contact with many semi-nude women. Almost all of them quickly averted their eyes. Gosh … guess I’m not young and sexy anymore!
I’ve walked past at least one hundred homes with a bench in front, on the edge of the sidewalk. And I’ve wondered: “Am I allowed to sit here?”
This morning a fellow emerged from his house, and I asked him. Big smile in response and an offer to clean the bench so I could sit down! Two of his friends walked by, and he asked them. The consensus? Yes. If someone doesn’t want me to park my ass, they’ll say so.
Thus assured, I sat down, looked at the guy and said, “Coffee please.” Four huge smiles erupted into the universe.
Now I’m sitting on a bench in Amsterdam centrum. I’m cold. My hood is up. I appear to be the only one warming my head. Oh, there are a few ball caps but that’s it. Lots of women are walking around with bare bellies and legs. A few men wearing t-shirts and shorts. And I get it … this isn’t good or bad.
There are so many cyclists and I haven’t seen any adults wearing a helmet. Lots of talking on their cell phones. Packages carried under the arm. I even saw a fellow carrying a flexible pipe that was three times as long as his bicycle.
Smoking seems far more common than in Canada. And many young people are vaping.
A new world for this young man.
I went to an art museum this afternoon. I didn’t like it. I saw huge horizontal paintings of well-dressed men – twenty or thirty of them at a time. They were all trying to impress. In one painting, everyone had a weapon. I focused on the only kid on site. He had a spear far taller than him:
Almost all of the women painted looked so suppressed. And then there was this one “work of art” that depicted a massacre in great detail.
I’d had enough and made a quick exit.
Tonight will be a delightful contrast to sourness. I’m sitting in Johan Cruijff Arena twitching in anticipation of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Oh my God, I’m here! I set this up months ago, well before I knew whether I’d get a Belgian visa.
Life works! Here are two pics of what all the fuss is about:
I’m sitting on the dock, listening to a small tourist ship squeaking against rubber tires.
To my right is an astonishing pink boat, festooned with lots of Dutch, musical notes and small china figurines. I’ll take a photo on my way back.
I’m alone. Except for whoever’s hammering in some unseen workshop. I like being alone.
On another dock, I saw the cargo ship Layla. Beneath the name was written “St. John’s”.
“O my God – a vessel from Newfoundland, Canada. I’ve been there!” Except Google research revealed that its home port was St. John’s, Antigua. More of the world.
Earlier this morning I walked through the same park as two days ago on my way to breakfast. Do you remember the photo of four folks sitting on four chairs at the edge of the water? Today that was me. I thought of their bums and so many others from yesteryear.
I watched a young man doing push-ups as his girlfriend looked on admiringly. Soon after they were meditating.
I ate at Lunchroom Benny’s, a fabulous Moroccan place with a waiter whose eyes smiled. Amazing pancakes, each folded up, accompanied by goat cheese, tiny nuts and honey.
On my way to the docks I walked on the other side of the lake. An elderly woman was coaxing the world’s slowest dog. I’m sure he or she was smiling while ignoring the pleas to speed up.
Further along the path, I looked across the lake to see the chair I’d been sitting in. An earlier me … and I thought of all the chapters that have been my life. May there be many more.
From over the water I heard kids playing at recess. Later I found the school. Everybody was still at recess, it seemed, and all were moving, except one very young couple enthralled with each other. And there was a football game:
“Bruce, you’re writing too much! Nobody’s going to read all this”
“Too bad … I’m writing it”
Now I’m sitting with my cappuccino … with a great view of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, and more importantly, of people. Look at these cyclists, each with a story to tell:
And then there’s the car with eyelashes:
What a great spot! I’m looking into so many faces. Plus there are seagulls. Time for a second cappuccino.
Okay, this is amazing. I am witness to hundreds of cyclists doing subtle slow motion maneuvers that I can’t do. I celebrate life.
Now I’m looking at maybe fifty gulls circling overhead. I’d say that I’m home except that Ghent got there before Amsterdam.
Now my feet have led me back to Anne Frank’s home. No Google Maps. I’m sitting across the canal from Prinsengracht 263. Over there, between the sidewalk and the canal, ordinary people are having a beer on a terrace, facing the water. Behind them … so many selfies at Anne’s door.
It’s 4:00 pm and it feels like I’m done with writing for the day. But here are three more pics. The first one shows us lots of Amsterdam residents who have just left the pub and need to rest:
I suppose you’re expecting a vivid travelogue about the wonders of Amsterdam centrum. Well … not yet.
There’s lots to laugh about so far today. What else can I do? Actually it started last night after I left Pllek.
I was standing at the bus stop for number 35, as patient as a tourist can be. It didn’t take long.
“Oh good. Here comes the 35 … and there goes the 35!”
I was in the correct place and the driver just kept on truckin’. I walked up to a fellow waiting for another bus. “What’s with that?!” > He smiled. “If you don’t wave your hand, they won’t stop.”
All righty then. When in Rome …
Today started inauspiciously. I woke up nauseous. Yuck.
I headed to the bathroom with my utilities bag. I reached in for this and that. And cut the middle finger of my left hand with my razor. I stared in wonder at the blood flowing freely. Years ago, I had a blood clot in my leg. Since then I’ve been on a blood thinner. So if I cut myself, the red stuff comes out easily.
I reached for a tissue and pressed hard. After a few minutes of that, I called out to Harry to see if he had a bandage. No answer. So I kept pressing.
“So, is this going to be my day – stuck in the bathroom?” No chance. I switched to squeezing the tissue with my left thumb. Now liberated, my right hand could perform my usual morning activities.
So … I washed and rung dry my compression stockings, shaved, washed my hair and other necessary places in the sink, put on my clothes.
I was fascinated by what I could do with one hand. The blood flow was easing, Harry had a bandage, and all was right with the world.
And now for Amsterdam centrum …
I went to church … the Basiliek van de Heilige Nicolaas. At the entrance I saw a sign in Dutch which basically said “No tourists”. Once I’d refocused, I saw they meant during Masses, and one was starting in five minutes. I stayed.
Here’s a photo I took after the Mass:
The priest’s voice echoed in the sanctuary. There was a transmission of goodness. Even though I’m not Christian, I felt the spiritual energy … of love, of togetherness.
The Lord be with you … And with your spirit
Let us pray to theLord … Lord hear our prayer
There were astonishing paintings of Jesus approaching his crucifixion. See the man in white raising his hammer to impale Jesus’ hand with the nail:
Afterwards I talked to Johan, one of the church volunteers. He talked of his years in Thailand working with orphaned children whose parents had died from HIV AIDS. There are heroes everywhere.
Weeks ago I Googled the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and found out that tickets were sold out for the days that I’m here. I was sad.
This afternoon I roamed towards Prinsengracht 263, where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis for two years. The modern Anne Frank tourist destination was two doors down.
I sat on a bench in front of 263 and felt into the terror she must have felt in 1940. I stayed there for almost an hour as hundreds of tourists posed for selfies. It looked like very few people were touched by the enormity of such evil and heartbreak. Maybe I’m wrong about this but I don’t think so.
Anne and her family were just a few folks out of millions who suffered at the hands of Hitler. All this incredible pain … that I’ve never had to live with.