Just This

There is something that holds in the air

There is something that flows down the walls

It is unstoppable and gentle and real

It is beyond and within at the same time

It cannot be named and it is known to all

I Wonder Who’s Running the Show

Life keeps amazing me.  How do so many precious moments land gracefully on my lap, without me doing anything?  Perhaps I’ll just rest in the mystery of it all.

It was two days ago.  I was sitting on the terrace of Café Rosario near St. Nicholas Church, watching the trams curve by the Post Hotel and head straight to me.

After breakfast, I started walking towards Albert Heijn, a grocery store.  My friend Marieke was coming over in the evening and I wanted to have a bowl of chocolate yummies for her to nibble on.

And then a far less lovely thought: in my strolling today so far, I hadn’t seen a single seagull.  If you’ve read my stuff recently, you know I have a gull fetish.

I changed course.  Wings are sweeter than chocolate.

The most famous gathering place in Ghent is the Graslei, a wide cobbled stretch beside the Leie River.  It’s perfect for hundreds of bums to plunk themselves down so that their nearby minds can cuddle with other ones.

This day I was the only sitter.  After a few minutes, I spotted a single gull far, far away.  But at least he or she was there.

My peripheral vision revealed a woman putting out a sign by the tiny entrance to the Post Hotel.  It included the magical word “breakfast” even though I was no longer hungry.  I walked towards the door which obligingly opened as I approached.

Then up a winding stone staircase, surrounded by the past.  “And then, to my wondering eyes should appear” The Cobbler.  Voilà:

The faces welcoming me were real.  Two lovely servers.  As I took in the spirit of the room, I saw a well-dressed grey-haired man hanging on the far wall.  I asked one of the servers who that was.  She said the architect of the building, which originally was the post office.  The other woman said “No, the architect hangs on the other wall.”

I jumped up to explore the other face.  A woman had been sitting at a table near mine and she got up too, confirming that the architect was on the side wall.

We got talking, about me having recently moved to Ghent from Canada, and her being the owner of the hotel with her husband!

Her name is Greet.  Its pronunciation is a bridge too far for this recent North American.  Oh well, I’ll rearrange my tongue and throat over the coming months.

Greet offered to show me some of the hotel’s rooms.  “Yes!  Thank you.”  Here’s the light bathing one of them:


It was a sanctuary.  A place to look in the mirror and see who’s there.

Then there was a suite containing an interior balcony that looked down on the bedroom.  I thought of Romeo and Juliet.

Also a tower suite with windows stretching in a circle.  The upstairs bedroom was being cleaned when we visited but the downstairs living room held my gaze.

This morning I came back to The Cobbler because I hadn’t taken a photo of this sweet spot for human beings.  I’m lounging with my latté as I tap.

Greet just came by with a tiny box of chocolates for me.  What I sense in this room from the three people who work here is a natural kindness.  Rather than being kind to get some result, they’re simply living in the moments of being nice people.

Dear Cobbler, I shall return

Reading Words of Love

My neighbour Dirk Tanghe is a passionate man.  He lives life big.  And he has big books, like this one:

Oscar Wilde was a playwright in the 1800s.  He loved a young man named Bosie who was 16 years younger.  He was imprisoned for this illicit bond.  Two Loves reveals letters that Oscar wrote to Bosie.  Let the words speak.  Let Oscar’s soul touch ours.

Leave behind any thoughts about homosexuality, about age, about “appropriateness”.  This is universal.

Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should have been made no less for music of song than for madness of kisses.

You are the divine thing I want, the thing of grace and genius.

[Love] repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him.

Be happy to have filled with an immortal love the soul of a man who now weeps in hell, and yet carries heaven in his heart.  I love you, I love you, my heart is a rose which your love has brought to bloom.  My life is a desert fanned by the delicious breeze of your breath, and whose cool springs are your eyes.

Love me always, love me always.  You have been the supreme, the perfect love of my life.  There can be no other.

O sweetest of all boys, most loved of all loves, my soul clings to your soul, my life is your life, and in all the worlds of pain and pleasure you are my ideal of admiration and joy.

A day in prison on which one does not weep is a day on which one’s heart is hard, not a day on which one’s heart is happy.

I feel that my only hope of again doing beautiful work in art is being with you … you can really recreate in me that energy and sense of joyous power on which art depends.

Painting Kindness

My friend Steph posted on Facebook yesterday.  She shared images of “kind” graffiti.  Here’s one:

It got me thinking.  Ghent has Graffiti Street, a winding lane that offers artists the chance to express their essence.  In time, older works are painted over by fresh creations.  Oh …how impermanent this life is!

I wandered over this morning.  Here are a few things I found:

I am being welcomed!  I’m not sure to what but that doesn’t matter.  “I’m glad you’re here.”

Yes.  “Please look down and find the beauty in this artist’s work.  I really want you to see what I see.”

These painted tiles were placed way above those who stroll by.  “This time look up.  And please … see the people you love.”

And then, sitting beside the words, are the colours.  This is not a fence.  It’s a gateway.  Feel the invitation to pass through, to sit on the bench with a new or known loved one.

Now the artist: Klaas paints all over Ghent.  It’s his passion.  He told me about the two steam trains.  Over the next few hours, they will be transformed into eyes.  And the black shapes at the bottom will become the mouth, formed by silhouettes of folks walking Graffiti Street.  Cool.

And further down the road, another artist will paint over Klaas’ face.  I have a feeling that my friend will smile … and find another canvas.

Who Has Walked Here?

Yesterday my post started with a photo of the Zuivelbrug bridge.  Here’s another:

I see a cap, a top hat and a bowler hat.  Mostly that fashion is no more.  I see an ancient building marked “105” that I walk by every day.

So many people over the centuries have stood on the Zuivelbrug, in one of its incarnations.  They’ve chatted with their friends.  They’ve looked over the railing at the little black ducks.  Perhaps they’ve got down on one knee and asked their loved one to marry.

Where are they now?  Their bodies are no longer here but do their spirits return to reminisce about the Leie?  Do they remember the bad jokes shared with a giggle?  Do they remember plagues that brought their beloveds low?

Those who have gone before … so easily they are invisible to us modern folks.  Their joys and sorrows so similar to our own.  Their backs hurting under a heavy load … just like us.

Did earlier ones gaze up in wonder at the sculptures embedded in 105?  I know I do.  Perhaps those quiet moments bind me to the dreamers of centuries past.  My long ago sisters and brothers.

I imagine my feet on the cobblestones, covering the lingering footsteps of prior humans.  “Thanks for coming to see us,” I hear.  You’re most welcome.

May my eyes soften so I see we Gentians entwining

And so I glimpse the fullness of past residents

The Sadness of Absence

There were warning signs yesterday.  Twice I stood on the Zuivelbrug, the bridge over the Leie near my home … and there were no seagulls.

I love watching them fly, especially when they soar unflappably.  But where were my friends yesterday?

I think of a quote I love:

If you love something, set it free

If it comes back, it’s yours

If it doesn’t, it never was

Those words have rung true down the years, with friends romantic and not.  So often I’ve felt the need to grab on and hold tight.  That would be squeezing the life out of them. 


And so it is with the gulls.  Often I sit on my back terrace and watch for the wings above.  If you look at the photo, see if you can enlarge it.  Look through the willow and you’ll see a slanted roof.  I’m on the other side of the slant – facing the river but not seeing it.


The glassed building is the Ghent River Hotel.  Below the circular openings in the brick is the Leie.

I feel the yearning to unite with the birds, to be one with them.  To feel the lift below my wings.  To smile into the wind.  To dip and dive with the touch of a feather.

I was frantic as the sun descended yesterday.  Clutching with all my might.  I had a Zoom call at 7:30 and I sat rigid on my terrace as the time approached.  “Seagulls!  Now!”

O the error of my ways …

After the call, the darkness was full.  In my intensity of need, I decided to go to bed early and get up before sunrise, when the gulls fly left to right down the Leie.

And so I did.  In my robe, down jacket and slippers I sat on the terrace as pink filled the bottom of the sky.  I waited … No one came but the pigeons.

And then, right over my head (!) a blurred whiteness zoomed.  I caught the wingtips as the gull disappeared beyond the rooftop.

My reaction was instant.  It was a non-sexual orgasm, a jolt, a shudder.  My friend!

And what if tomorrow is friendless?  I would be sad but the vision of the long wings would remain.

And true companions reappear

The Vertical and the Horizontal

I like geometry.  Lines fascinate me.  I wonder what they say.

I wrote a post recently about curves.  There are so many cool ones in Ghent.  But what about straight lines?  Do we neglect them because they’ve not of nature?  No.  Nothing and no one should be omitted.

The vertical draws our eyes to the sky, and to the depths of the Earth.  It stretches us gently up and down.  It teaches us to be upright in life, to have unassailable integrity.  We are kind.  We use the moment to contribute.  And … the heights we reach draw others up.  People see us when we stand tall.

The horizontal flows to the horizon and beyond.  It encircles the planet to find brothers and sisters in China.  You may be 4’11” (150 cm) and me 5’10” (178 cm) but our eyes are level, perfect for looking deeply into each other.

You have your gifts and faults.  They’re different than the stew that is me.  Both are delicious.  You are essential in the evolution of consciousness here.  So am I.  The world “equal” doesn’t fit but we each have a place.  We stand together, back to back, looking outwards to see how we can serve.

And … what is the magical point where the vertical and horizontal meet?  Who invented that?  What majesties are invisible to our puny eyes, and perhaps always will be?

How can we speak of the mystery?  How can we embrace a mist that melts away in the sunshine?

I don’t know

There is much that I don’t know

Life As Tennis

I love tennis.  I love the back-and-forth strokes – powerful blasts to the corners of the court, or slices that twist away from the opponent, or soft drop shots that just fall over the net.

It’s mano à mano or womano à womano.  No team to fall back on.  And if you lose, you’re out of the tournament – no second chance.

It’s so stark.  It’s easy to lose more matches than you win.  And you have to win every match to win the tournament.

In life, as in tennis, we lose a lot.  This goes wrong, that goes bad, you can’t remember how to do something, moments loom above you like a dark cloud, you give your all and then everything falls apart.

So in the face of such loss, what do you do?  It would be good to follow the example of Aryna Sabalenka – the woman on the right in the photo.

It was yesterday.  Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan had just defeated Sabalenka from Belarus in the finals of a big tennis tournament in the United States.  It’s hard to tell who won and who lost.  Rybakina was the better player on the day but the revelation is Sabalenka.  She’s light and laughing, a tremendous competitor who knows that in any match full of respect and caring, tennis wins.  Kindness wins.

Gracious in defeat.  Whether it’s unrequited love, being passed over for a promotion or collapsing a hundred metres from the finish line, a sweetness may bubble up within the not knowing, the not doing, the failing.

May I hold my head high in future moments of despair

May I smile when someone is far better at something than I am

May I allow life in all its ups and downs to caress me

The Anouk Turnock Trio

Last night at Café Fatima three musicians graced my ears.  But there was more.  I sat at a table close to the stage with the moms of two of those musicians.

Anouk has a haunting voice, revealing a layer of spirit beyond vocal quality.  Her songs were of the floating type, taking me away to worlds I now can’t remember. All disappeared in the course of the evening.

The lead guitarist melted into his instrument as fingers found the strings in aching melodies.  The standup bass player caressed his own strings as he plucked the journey of low notes.

Then there were the smiles among the three.  Notes of appreciation and laughter, at times beckoning each other to take the lead.

Anouk sang about being fragile.  Later she gave us a wandering song a capella, accompanied only by her snapping fingers.  We the audience roared our approval as the last note faded away.

Anouk’s mom beamed next to me.  She told me beforehand how proud she was of her daughter.  The mom and dad of lead guitarist Gilles sat at our table as well, only a metre from their son’s left hand.

Another couple joined us.  They’ve been married for over 50 years.  The man and I shared memories of Canada’s Rocky Mountains.  But we were home in Fatima.

The small pub was packed.  A line of people stood at the bar, cheering on their friends.  Even being a stranger, I was a part of something immense.  I was included.  I was laughed with.

A fresh version of family sat in Fatima last night:

We were together in the music

We were together with the musicians

We were together with each other


The best things in life are undercover, I think … peeking out, inviting to be unveiled.

Here’s the Burgstraat – a lovely street in Gent.  I wonder if it hides any secrets.  And will I have the eyes to see?

Hidden number one: the church

Actually it’s not really hidden.  Just turn your head way to the left or right, and voilà – the Church of the Carmelite Fathers.

“Another amazing Belgian church,” you say, as your mind proceeds towards the next stunning building.  Please don’t.  The photo doesn’t show it but the church door is open.  Come in.

Hidden number two: the sanctuary

First of all it’s dark inside but then you open the heavy door … and the world stretches to the light. All is silent.

So many faces, carved in wood or stone, beings of centuries ago reflecting on life just like you and I do.

Hidden number three: the park

Behind the church, awaiting those who meditate on nature’s loveliness, is a park. A kind volunteer leads me down corridors of the past and soon another door graces me – this time with green and blue and pink and white. I stumble a bit and let the majesty fall around me.

There are expanses of green grass and orange brick. Places to sit and love each other, places to see the mirror of you.

Hidden number four: the small

Easily missed if the brain rushes. So don’t rush. Here are the tiny things.

And so life beckons us onward …