My life is curving … bending across the surface of the Earth as Belgium becomes my home.

I’m at home within the gracious dance as we spin with our arms held wide.  The corners of life are being shaved away, leaving just ovals.

My heart trills when a curve shows itself to me.  Close to home, a tram is sensed only by its bell … and then it sweeps past me.

I remember being on my bike and breathing into the downhill that zooms to the left, the force pushing me outwards as my body holds the balance.

The cobblestones on the Vrijdagmatkt have an ancient story to tell, laid by hand so many years ago.  There is a centre here, and a radiation.

In the morning light the pointed gables of the Baudelostraat join in the roundness.  Some wandering being says “Let’s go the long way and see what’s there.”

I stood outside this restaurant today with the owner.  Friday’s grand opening shone in her eyes. The metal rolls and the limp branches told me this could be another home.

It’s quiet here in the curving

Can you hear the music?


I think of people who work in office cubicles all day, staring at their screens, only seeing the tops of other employees’ heads as they pass by.

I think of packed downtown streets full to the brim with humans in a hurry to get somewhere, their heads tilted down to smaller screens.

I think of a living room full of partygoers – some group conversation of negligible topics and the occasional person sitting off to the side.

Loneliness is alive … and ill.

We need together, not alone.  We need connection.

I imagine four hands.  I wonder what they can do together.  On the surface they look the same but look closer … their particularities are distinct.  Each is magic in the world.

I see them at the piano.  The thrill of a melody well played.  The sweetness of harmonies down below.  Two hands lead and two hands follow.  Then, just for fun, they switch.  All in the wonder of musical union.

See the hands

Feel the piece

Come close

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.

Coming Home to the Music

Something is brewing inside.  I need to pull the bow across the strings of the cello.  I need to feel the notes vibrating.  I need to sit on a bench in Park Sluizeken and send my melodies to the Oudburg, a few metres away.

I received an e-mail yesterday from Arpeggio Music:

“Dear Bruce,

We have already a rental cello available for you. You can collect the instrument in our shop.”

So there we have it. I begin. I walked over to Arpeggio today and there was my instrument. I bought a stand to store the cello, a little light to hang on the music stand, and a wooden plate with a hole for the cello’s spike.

The cello was embraced by a fabric case. Sixty years ago such a case had a handle that allowed me to carry the cello on my hip. Today that handle was missing.

Instead there were straps for me to carry it like a backpack. I felt centered, balanced, with future melodies touching me from behind.

As I strolled home from Arpeggio, I felt young. Young enough for a cool fantasy trip. I imagined that all and sundry were looking my way, seeing a man with white hair. He was clearly a professional cellist, wise in the way of symphonies, probably walking to his concert. He was easy in the fingerings, at home in the riffs of notes and the soaring melodies.

Or … he was some Canadian guy who hadn’t played for a very long time, a fellow who has much to learn. The first story was more fun.

I picked my route home, allowing to pass by the marvelous jewelry shop called Garderobe, hosted by my friend Lucrece. She smiled to see the cello attached to my back. Lucrece cheered me on as I winged across the Atlantic from Canada to Belgium.

And now to home …

My cello and me. Perhaps I’ll name her. Tomorrow I will play her.

A Singing Bowl

It’s a quiet thing from Tibet.  When I meditate, it sits there peacefully, the mallet resting in the bowl.  At the end of my meditation time, I tap the side … three times.

There’s something magical about lingering between taps, till the sound is no more.  It reminds me of giving a speech.  When my words are done, I pause at the podium until I know it’s time to walk away.  There’s a gap within which there is completion.  Same with the singing bowl.

The singing comes when you sweep the mallet around and around the lip.  Sweet … but it’s not my sweet.  I tap instead.

Should I release the idea of “quality” in my tapping?  Any old strike will do?  Well, I could do that, but it doesn’t feel right.  There’s a communion when the tone hangs long in the air.  I intend to reach that state of relating, to experience the freedom that comes with precision.

Tapping near the lip creates an extra tinny sound at the beginning.  It fades quickly to a slow vibration but it’s not what I want.  It is indeed extra … beyond the essence of things.

Hitting hard halfway down the bowl produces a jolt, rather than a caress.  The tone lasts a long time, but I still find myself shaking my head “No.”

Hitting soft halfway down begins the flow almost immediately.  It allows me to hear the nuances of quieting music.  A quiet that fades to empty space.  I nod approval.  It feels “appropriate” without that word being offered by anything other than the Divine.

At the last, when the third tone has faded away to nothing, I lean close to my friend.  The song continues.  And I smile.

Lagrime di San Pietro (The Tears of St. Peter)

Where do I start? This was one of the most astonishing musical experiences of my life. The venue was Koerner Hall in Toronto and the twenty-one singers compose the Los Angeles Master Chorale. I bought this (front row!) ticket a few months ago, and yesterday my memory was that I was going to see some Spanish singer who was backed up by a choir. Wrong! First of all it’s Italian, and the words are the name of a piece composed by Orlando di Lasso in the 1500’s, based on the poetry of Luigi Tansillo.

The story centres on the apostle Peter, who just before the crucifixion told the Roman authorities three times that he didn’t know Jesus. Peter’s remorse was deep and stayed with him for the remaining thirty years of his life. What especially haunted him was the look of sadness and love coming from Jesus when Peter cast him aside. “It was a simple and sacred turn of the head.”

Before the performance, the director and conductor sat before us. Di Lasso was dying as he composed this work and was angry with God for extending his life month by month. His body was breaking down, as we often saw in the twisted agony of the singers. The Renaissance was ending along with di Lasso, and the world was transforming into something new, including opera and Shakespeare.

Peter Sellars, the director, told us that Lagrime di San Pietro was essentially “umperformable”, as in it being extremely difficult music. The members of the Chorale have memorized all of the seven parts for all of the 75 minutes of singing … pretty much impossible. The piece was also umperformable from the perspective of the Catholic Church – blasphemous, and likely to result in di Lasso’s imprisonment if he hadn’t died first.

Listen to Tansillo’s poetry and see if you can remember a time of deep remorse in your life:

The anguish and the shame but greater grew
In Peter’s heart as morning slowly came
No one was there to see him, well he knew
Yet he himself was to himself a shame
Exposed to all men’s gaze, or screened from view
A noble heart will feel the pang the same
A prey to shame the sinning soul will be
Though none but heaven and earth its shame can see

The twenty-one faces were so often contorted. The arms reached high … and low. Astounding harmonies came from all quarters of the stage. We the audience, I do believe, were stunned.

Imagine the performers all lying on their backs, still singing. Then they raise their arms to the heavens, hands hanging in the air. Imagine couples embracing, caressing, singing to each other with mouths only inches away, finishing with a tender kiss. Imagine two rows of human beings facing each other, moving so slowly closer, reaching out and finally touching. There is much to imagine.

At the beginning of the evening, the master of ceremonies told us that there were just a few tickets left for tomorrow afternoon’s performance. After a standing ovation which must have lasted five minutes, I sat down in my seat, whipped out this phone, and got myself a repeat place amid all this beauty. And in the front row again!

How did I ever write all these words about tonight? Immensity like this brings me to silence of the mouth and, I thought, the fingers. These digits apparently have a mind of their own.

What are you doing at 2:00 pm Eastern tomorrow afternoon? I’m in seat AA16. As of a few seconds ago, AA17 is empty. Go for it.

Day Nine: Just Like Home

I lay in bed this morning, watching the breeze flutter the leaves outside my window. Just like home. Nearby the mosquito netting billowed … ever so softly. The hush flowing through the tree was familiar. So was the growling of my stomach.

But then there’s all the rest …

Around 2:00 the morning before, I awoke to a choir of male voices, singing melody and harmonies in another language. Within the fogginess, I wondered if this was real. I still don’t know.

At 6:30 am or so, an hour before sunrise, another song is sung. The Muslim imam climbs the steps of the Toubacouta mosque and begins his long nasal notes. No words come to my ears but the tune easily enters in. There’s no doubt a holy message wafting over the village as he calls the faithful to prayer.

A piercing tone comes. It has to be man-made. It sounds so mechanical, like one of those kids’ whistles that squeals at different pitches as you work the plunger. But fear not … it’s completely natural – a bird unknown to North Americans. And unseen by this one.

Roosters and chickens make themselves known throughout the day. I’m able to make animal sounds, such as horses, cows, sheep, dogs, cats and assorted feathered creatures. Yesterday afternoon, I sat on Jo and Lydia’s patio and called back to the scurrying birds. The roosters looked confused. My fellow humans laughed.

Goats are everywhere in Toubacouta. Short little bleats come and go in the air. The brayings of the many wild donkeys last longer and somehow bring to mind science fiction novels. No doubt Stephen King could make good use of a few of them in his pages.

While dozing this morning, I was assaulted by raucous clapping. It sounded like The Price Is Right was happening outside my door. I haven’t seen any TVs in Senegal and this noise sounded so foreign to the flow of life in Africa. And after only three days here, it was foreign to me.

So … the feeling of home is broadening. It’s not about a particular continent, a particular culture. It’s where I can sink into, whatever the sounds around me.

Just like home.

The Man

I’m sitting in a Grade 9 classroom at my local high school, facing about fifteen teens.  My job is to talk about writing.  On one level, I don’t know what to say.  But there are other levels.

What are the dreams of these young people?  What are their passions?  Maybe I can say something that will open their eyes to their heart, whether that’s about writing or playing piano or acting in Mary Poppins.

Let’s see what I have to say:


I was at Hugh’s Room on Sunday night awaiting my hero.  What I didn’t know was whether he was awaiting me.  Gordon Lightfoot’s music has moved me since the 1960’s, when I hung out at a coffee house in Yorkville in Toronto.

This was a tribute concert for Gord.  At the table, my server winked at me when I asked if he was coming tonight.  Oh my God!  I knew it wasn’t a “come hither” look.  Gordon was really going to grace us with his presence.

No sign of the man up to intermission.  Maybe six singers gave us their cool interpretations of Lightfoot songs, such as Did She Mention My Name?

Did she mention my name just in passing?
And when the talk ran high, did the look in her eyes seem far away?

I was moved, and at the same time felt the need to visit a certain room downstairs.  As I stood at the urinal, I told my neighbour how I had all my fingers crossed that Lightfoot would show up.

“He’s here!”

(Stunned silence)

“He’s sitting at a back table, on the right, having dinner with his friends.”

I threw myself up the stairs and casually slowed past the back right tables in the hall.  There was a fellow with his back to me, hair flowing well below his shoulders.  I moved past him and then snuck a glance backward.  The man himself, looking awfully ordinary, not the stuff of legend.

I was sitting across the room from Lightfoot, and as the performers continued to interpret his words in the second half, I often looked back at him.  Sometimes he was alone with his friends.  Sometimes the paparazzi crowded around, seeking photos, handshakes, contact.  C’mon, folks – leave him alone.  Let him eat in peace.

Then there were the moments when Lightfoot seemed to be feeling into his songs, as voiced by far younger musicians.  One of my favourite pieces is Song For A Winter’s Night:

The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon the page
The words of love you sent me

If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you

When Laura Spink settled into the first phrases of the song, Gord lowered his head to his arms.  As she toned the delicate words of love, he remained still on the table.  At the final chord, he raised himself and applauded.  What was the dear man thinking as she sang?  Was it a lover long gone?  Was it sadness?  Was it peace?  To be watching him as the story unfolded was a blessing.

Lightfoot is an ordinary human being and an extraordinary poet.  We are the richer for him being with us.


Back to the teens.  I was only partway through my post as the bell came close.  I was happy … so happy.  I had talked to them as I typed away, sharing the decisions I was making on the fly.  I told them that my biggest word in writing is “trust”.  I know that good words will come from my fingers.  It may take time, but they’ll be there.  What I write needs to “sing” to me, or there’s no sense in creating it.  Other fine words are “real” and “natural”.  Nothing forced.  Sitting back at times and letting what wants to emerge bubble out.

I encouraged these young folks to listen inside for their passion.  For some of them, it’s clear already, not so for others.  And be willing to let that passion morph into something else if it wants to.  Write or sing or dance or play or build what pleases you and intend that your creations contribute to human beings.

I know that I’m on the planet to love people and make them laugh.  May all of us see why we’re here.


Couple Love

I went to another house concert last night.  It was folk music – the songs of stories.  I listened to marvelous lyrics and voices … and I watched love unfold.

I’ll make up names for the stars of the show, and no, I don’t mean the performers.  Lillian and Mike are our hosts.  Most Wednesday evenings, they open their home to all who have ears to hear.  While the musicians were playing last night, this lovely couple sat close to each other, touching.  They held hands.  I think we should all do that.  Every so often, I’d sneak a glance over to them, and a tiny smile would show up on my lips.

Each week, Todd plays a first set on the keyboard.  His fingers float and caress.  After a few creations, he asks us to welcome “the amazing” Erica, she of the haunting voice.  Often at the end of a song, she’ll lean over and kiss the side of Todd’s head.  I’m sure that Lillian and Mike were in the background, nodding.

Jake’s voice has deteriorated.  It’s raspy.  I never heard him when the flow was sweet, and that’s just fine.  Last night, in the third set, he joined the evening headliners for a rendition of Comfortably Numb from Pink Floyd.  Jake didn’t hold back:

There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb

As Jake gave us his all, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Julia.  She was beaming at her hubby and soon joined in with a delicate harmony to his melody.  The room fell into the beauty of it all.

Love lives
We take turns, you and me
One with the top line, the other with the bottom
So deeply in tune

Finding Home

Most Wednesday evenings, I go to a house concert, generously hosted by Christine and John. Jake does a first set on the piano, followed by the feature performer of the evening.

Not only does Jake entertain us, he teaches. Last night, he talked about “home”, the resolution of notes that sooner or later leads to a feeling of completion. Take John Lennon’s Imagine, for instance. Early in the song, we’re flowing upwards:

Imagine all the people, living for today

But at the end, John brings us down again with a sweet message, and we know we’re “there” … we’re comfy … we’re home:

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Jake played the tune Misty for us, written by Erroll Garner. It’s a haunting melody and, at the same time, it wanders around, away from home, toying with us. For it seems that our dear human ears (and souls) want to go home. As Jake’s fingers caress the keys, it feels like I’m being seduced, drawn in and let go, again and again. Only at the last note do I breathe the sigh of “yes”.

Some songs are long ballads, where home shows up at the end of every four-line stanza. Take Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair:

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one that lives there
For once she was a true love of mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without any seam or fine needlework
And then she’ll be a true love of mine

Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Where water ne’er sprung nor drop of rain fell
For once she was a true love of mine

The rhythm is hypnotic but there’s a sameness there that I yearn to break out of.


I guess it’s all in the ear of the beholder
Are we nomads?
Are we homebodies?
Or do we dance between the two?