Ghent

Let’s go back in time and still enjoy each other in the present moment. Shall we meander together through the streets of Ghent? I think so.

Belgium offers many places to sit and talk. Like Italy, families come out, filling the squares and their sidewalk cafés. There is much to discuss and many people to watch.

We sat on a terrazza at lunch. Old men chattered away merrily in Flemish, which is incomprehensible to me. No matter. At the next table, a black woman with a delightful British accent hurried her family along. Perhaps there was a lot of shopping to do.

I wanted to pay for the meal and saw once more that in Belgium there’s really no tipping. It looked like the friendly young man serving us could have used some extra cash for school. It’s still mindboggling to me that a meal of ninety Euros would be paid with exactly that. I pulled out a five Euro bill and the fellow’s eyes widened. I told him that such a tip in Canada for his good service would be considered an insult. All at the table listened in wonder.

We sat near the canal for a long time. Two women dangled their feet over the water, their arms around each other. Young boys chased back and forth. Across the way, a island stage was being dismantled, now that the Ghent Festival had said goodbye to 2019. And many, many folks strolled by with their loved ones.

Lydia and Lore wanted to visit their favourite jewelry shop, and I tagged along. Jo and Baziel took their traditional position on a nearby bench. Inside, the hostess looked familiar, and so did the displays. After she was done with a customer, she looked at me and said in English “I remember you. You’re Bruce.” Indeed I was. “You sang your national song to us.” Indeed, I had … in December. A few minutes later I repeated the performance. Two of the three women I met back then were there in front of me. “Our friend will be sorry she missed you.” Ahh … So lovely to be seen.

I ate a Belgian waffle slathered in chocolate. An hour later, my stomach protested. As we explored downtown Ghent, I watched the dull pain. It was large, but not as large as the old city and its human beings. And I’m glad that’s true.

Bye, bye Ghent. Until December then, and another rendezvous with lovely bejewelled ladies.

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