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

What Will I Do in a Place Like This?

What will I do in a place like this?

Lie on the cobbles and watch the sky open

Slalom through the willows, my arms wide

Talk to myself of the world’s wonders

Stand alone, arms dangling, heart at rest

Welcome all who come by

Who will I meet in a place like this ?

An old man with no English and a huge smile

A teacher holding hands with three little kids

Gulls hanging high above the Leie

A five-year-old girl with eyes that see the centuries

The next love of my life

When will I come to a place like this?

At daybreak as the world wakens

When my spot on the bench feels my arrival

When hunger of a different kind gnaws at me

When my feet tell me to

As the lights of evening shine on us all


And …

Why does my heart soar in a place like this?

The Lievekaai in Ghent

Brecht Plays The Beatles

Well it’s today, and I was all set to talk about my sweet experience at the Gregor Samsa Bookshop last night.  But first to get my hair cut.

Julia in Canada has been my hairstylist for over twenty years but she’s there and I’m here.  Anouk is finishing up with another client and another woman just washed my hair.

As my hair sung, she asked me if I’d like a drink.  Huh?  In a hairstyling place?  “If I had my choice, I’d pick a beer!” > “Sure.”  Sure?  And here came a Duvel.  Belgium offers me daily wonders.

Back to last night: Harry’s bookshop on the Oudburg welcomed Brecht, and Brecht welcomed us with soulful tunes on his electric guitar from later Beatles albums – Revolver, Rubber Soul and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. We the fifteen lovers of John and Paul and George and Ringo sunk into our chairs.

The books on their shelves trembled a bit as Brecht smiled … “while [his] guitar gently weeps”. He lost himself in Eleanor Rigby, Penny Lane and In My Life. I had asked Brecht beforehand if I could sing along and he sweetly said no. As his music unwound, I was happy to just drink in his melodies and harmonies. Full and complete.

The space is magical. Just two tiny lights illuminating Brecht’s guitar and the ancient wooden ceiling. The soft rub of my upholstered chair. Setting my wine glass just so beside an author long dead. Many thousands of pages nearby, filled with the best that a human being had to give.

The seating was the opposite of what you see in the photo. Brecht sat at the back of the room. I imagined folks walking by on the cobblestones behind me peering through the window at the marriage of fiction and music.

Harry’s is a place to gather, to feel cozy, to let the tune go deep inside and become you. A sip here … a sigh there. It is enough.

Julie’s House

Here’s a skill-testing question for you:

Under what circumstances would I write a positive post about a restaurant that I walked into an hour ago and walked out of ten minutes later?

Julie’s House opened at 9:00 am.  People were already flooding in – people with reservations.  Soon Julie’s would be full with folks who had reserved ahead.  Except for a counter … and I didn’t want to sit there.

The cool thing is that two women employees did their darndest to find a solution for me, but full is full.  I smiled at both of them as I went in search of another source of breakfast.

A few days ago, I sat in this lovely spot in Julie’s, sipping my latté and watching Peter cut a cake into slices.  My croissant had just come out of the oven and the raspberry (strawberry?) jam sunk into the hidden places.  An earlier smile.

There is the brick arch, sunlight flooding in, families walking by on the street.  All was well.  And Peter made me feel welcome, as did a female employee whose name I didn’t learn.

I lingered, soaking in the song “Martha” by Tom Waits, feeling the slow … feeling at home.

I looked down at my napkin.  I decided to follow instructions:

The sign on Julie’s window said it all: You are welcome here.  Please join us.

I will … again and again

On the Bike

Cycling is a long story for me … pretty much the ecstasy and the agony. I remember the wind in my hair, the flowing on the level, the grunts on the ups and the “Whee!” on the downs.

If you were with me in 2018, you heard about another down: I started the Tour du Canada – a cross-country bicycle ride. I lasted four days. I fell three times, I was terrified of the trucks passing three metres to my left, I went deep into a Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD). And the fear is still with me.

I had my bike shipped across the ocean. Today Betty stands in my bedroom, far above any road. “What were you thinking, Bruce, bringing your bike to Ghent? You’ll never ride Betty again.” So negative.

I now live in a cycling city. Witness this lot near the Gent Sint-Pieters train station:

If all these people get on their bikes, why not me? I’ve overcome many things in my life. Why call this one insurmountable?

Which brings me to today. I’m visiting my friend Lydia and her family near Ronse, Belgium. Lydia is off seeing a friend today. I wanted to sit in a pub and she recommended De Harmonie in the main square of Ronse. So I walked.

And here I am. I ambled up to the bar and sat down. The couple next to me and the bartender welcomed … in English. Above me was a TV screen, happily showing live the first cycling race of the season: the Omloop het Niewsblad – 207.3 kilometres. As I started enjoying an Orval beer and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, the riders had 50 k to go.

O my God … I was back in my Canadian living room of long ago, enjoying the European cycling classics: Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Flanders.

Behind me and around me were cheering Belgian beer drinkers. And when I looked up the race on Google, I found that Omloop finishes in Ninove – a town 36 k from De Harmonie!. I can go see these races, not just stare at the screen. Ohhh …

Here I am returning to the cello, to the keyboard, to the guitar, to batik.

Why not cycling?


My first encounter with this word was when I was perhaps ten.  Mom and dad had sent me to a summer camp on the eastern shore of Lake Simcoe, north of my home in Toronto.  It was my first time away from them … and I was terrified.  I was basically scared of life and everyone in it.  That included adult leaders and other campers.  I didn’t know how to swim, I wasn’t any good at baseball and even a hike through the woods seemed dangerous.

There I was at night in a cabin, not at all snug in my bunk bed, surrounded by breathing boys.  They all seemed to be asleep, but I sure wasn’t.  I wanted my mom.  So I decided to go find her.  I whipped on my clothes, tiptoed across the floor and out of the cabin.  I walked to the beach.  I knew if I turned left at the shore, I’d end up in Toronto with my parents.

I don’t how many miles of Lake Simcoe shoreline I walked, but eventually adults with flashlights found me.  I was a mess, and I don’t remember what happened after that.


Many years later in Grade 12, I sat in the guidance counsellor’s office.  Grade 13 was next and it was expected that I’d go to university.  “You’re so good in Math, Bruce.  You should be an accountant.  The University of Toronto has an excellent Commerce and Finance program that will lead you to a fine career.”  As a teenager, my future penchant for independent thinking was in embryo: “Yes sir,” I replied.

So there was the academic year of 1967-1968, with me sitting amidst a bevy of eager commercial hopefuls.  While others no doubt dreamed of financial independence and a bungalow in the suburbs, I was a further mess.   Principles of economics, balance sheets and actuarial science.  I could become an actuary, living in luxury within a respected insurance company, using Math to assess various risks of insuring someone.  I remember something called “A double dot N” (two letters of the alphabet) but right now I have no idea what that means.

Sitting in lectures, or having lunch with my upwardly mobile classmates, I sensed the same sadness that I felt in that cabin.  “What am I doing here?  Can’t I just go home?”


Today I feel at home.  I have many friends who meet me in the eyes.  Together we discover the beauty of connection.  But there are no doubt millions of humans who feel solitary in a strange land:

Nobody really sees me … really sees who I am
I don’t make a difference to anyone
My best years are behind me
I’m in a party, surrounded by people talking, and I feel so alone
Nobody talks about their hopes and dreams, about what is truly important to them
My friends are full of opinions – about politics, sports teams, social problems
There’s all the stuff I need to do every day, and no time left for me
There’s all the people in my life that I need to be with, and no time left for me
Where are my true companions, those who will share the journey?
Where is a purpose that I can hang my hat on, and pursue with joy?
Where’s the juice?


We all need home


“Freedom From Fear”
Norman Rockwell

Yesterday’s energy was surging, exploding, seeking the brand new in the far reaches of existence.  The step had rhythm, the arms were pumping, and I sang a happy tune.  “Come join me,” I said, ” and we will discover together in the light of day.”  My eyes were fierce and my arms far flung.  My voice rose on the wind and I pointed to the blazing sun.

Today … I rest.  There is slumber, my eyes closing, my breath slow and easy.  I look out at each of you with soft eyes and my arms flow around you.  

I’m laughing at the difference.  They’re both parts of what I bring to the world.  They’re friends, certainly not opponents.  I applaud them both.  

Three years ago, as I sat in meditation on a three-month silent retreat, music kept slipping inside me.  Fragments of one song in particular took up residence in my mind.  Not once did I sing out the words but they swept through me, and I could feel them reaching out to my fellow yogis in the meditation hall.  Today I remember a phrase here, a phrase there: “Sleep my child and peace attend thee”, “Hill and dale in slumber keeping”, “Breathes a pure and holy feeling”.  Ahh …

Just now, for the first time, I Googled “All Through The Night”.  The entries were dominated by a Cyndi Lauper song, not at all the one I remembered.  But resting beneath all the fame and fortune was a link to a “lullaby”.  Time for my phone again: “a quiet song that is sung to children to help them go to sleep”.  Today I feel like a child, safe at home with mom and dad pulling the covers up under my chin.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping
All through the night

Angels watching, e’er around thee
All through the night
Midnight slumber close surround thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping
All through the night

While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O’er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night

Angels watching ever round thee
All through the night
In thy slumbers close surround thee
All through the night
They will of all fears disarm thee
No forebodings should alarm thee
They will let no peril harm thee
All through the night

Though I roam a minstrel lonely
All through the night
My true harp shall praise sing only
All through the night
Love’s young dream, alas, is over
Yet my strains of love shall hover
Near the presence of my lover
All through the night

Hark, a solemn bell is ringing
Clear through the night
Thou, my love, art heavenward winging
Home through the night
Earthly dust from off thee shaken
Soul immortal shalt thou awaken
With thy last dim journey taken
Home through the night

An Unbounded View

I’m sitting in my red man chair, looking across my living room and out into the world. The sun is preparing to say goodbye. The field of winter wheat beyond stretches to trees bordering the faraway creek. It’s home I see.

The tall panes of glass reveal a young tree in the foreground and a slope of newly-mown grass. It’s quiet out there.

Awhile ago, the windows showed me the soaring of a hawk … such lovely curves in the sky. I stared. Then my airborne friend flew to the left and out of my world. I was sad. “Come back, new companion!” I cried inside my head, but it was not my call to make. I know the hawk is somewhere nearby, and his path through the air is still etched in my mind. There is “hawkness” here, the remembrance of gracious flying. And that’s enough.

On the left edge of the photo, you’ll glimpse the dome covering my nyger seed feeder. Birdies come and go in search of the good stuff. The male goldfinches are so yellow! Sometimes the feeder (and its nearby sunflower seed cousin) are frantic with the wings of visitors. Sometimes the feeders hang limp and alone. Such rhythms.

Way to the north is the left and right expanse of Harrietsville Drive. Cars are so tiny from my living room. And they look so slow. I wonder who’s going where, who’s happy and who’s tormented … all brothers and sisters of mine.

See the glass on the window sill? It’s full of little pebbles of couscous. I see them as the citizens of Belmont, my village of 2800 souls. It’s convenient to wish them all well in one spot. The glass is dead centre in my view.

It’s nice being home.

Finding Home with Disney

So I bought a fancy new TV. It comes with apps installed, one of which is Disney Plus. I remember loving Disney movies all the way from Bambi to Frozen 2. But I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered after shelling out $90.00 for the year.

I wish you could see my face … my astonishment at the stories, the clarity of the picture and the wondrous computer-generated graphics.

My first foray into the programming was the film Strange Magic:

A realm is divided between a land of fairies and light, and a land of bog creatures and darkness, living in the dark forest. Primrose flowers, which are a crucial ingredient to love potions, mark the border between the lands. Marianne is a fairy princess and heir to the throne of the Fairy Kingdom, and is engaged to be married to Roland, a handsome warrior who disappoints her when she discovers him kissing another fairy on their wedding day. Marianne vows to never fall in love again. In the dark forest, the Bog King also shares the same view on love.

Spoiler Alert

Marianne and the Bog King, after much blustering and many harsh words, eventually fall in love … a state of being that has been absent from the dark forest. Residents there share in the emergence of tenderness. The sombre opens to sweetness. The feeling of home melts through the muted tones of night.


Today was the tale of One Strange Rock, also known as Planet Earth. Again, the visuals were stunning. Again, I was beckoned into an exploration of “home”. Peggy, a US astronaut, has gone way beyond Iowa in her thinking:

It was like I had lived my whole life in a semi-dark room and then somebody flipped on the light.

As a kid, Peggy dreamed of becoming a pilot. Her sister tried to set her straight. You can’t do that. Be a stewardess. But Peggy saw a wider future.

Home is our whole planet. And back on the family farm, Peggy’s mom and dad watch a light move across the starlit night. Here she comes. There she goes. And within the mystery of my TV screen, I go with her.

Day Forty-Two: Home

It’s been such a long road, and now I’m back in my world of orange brick and red walls.

I arrived home late yesterday afternoon. In Senegal I had lost my house key but I knew there was a spare on my back patio, under the statue of the Buddha. Before seeking entrance, I stood on the street and looked at my dear sanctuary. I knew it very well … and yet I didn’t. I felt disoriented after weeks of other lands, other cultures.

I tipped Mr. Buddha and there sat the key. Reaching down, I discovered that it was firmly attached to the paving stone beneath. I stared. I whipped out a credit card and tried to pry the key loose. No go. My next thought was to knock on a neighbour’s door and ask for a flat screwdriver. As I walked down the driveway, I glanced back at the open garage and realized that my toolbox was sitting in there, complete with the instrument I needed. How strange … what was dulling my mind?

I knew there was a concert at the Cuckoo’s Nest folk club in London last night. Despite the long journey, I felt drawn to go. I didn’t even care who was playing. As I walked in, there was a deep breathing. Something was easy here, familiar. I sat down and looked around. My eyes were drawn to the huge stone fireplace. Many a time I’d heard melodies and harmonies while the stone framed the performers. I smiled a wee bit.

Then there were the big windows looking out on the night, with stained glass panels at the top. Another sigh. Finally the long wooden bar stretched out, reminding me of previous escapades in this very room with the Belgian beer Delirium Tremens.

The Andrew Collins Trio enchanted us with their instrumental treasures, including a Bach masterpiece arranged for two mandolins and the deep tones of a mandocello.

All was right with the world. The tunes and the wood and the stone were welcoming me home. I slumped in my chair and closed my eyes.

Forty-two days are done.