'As early as the first chapter of 'Made in Europe' - an ideal cultural travel guide, incidentally - I came across Jacques Brel, a Belgian 'with a troubled relationship with his country of birth'. I read how he considered Flanders to be 'farmers in a bourgeois bog'. Not very promising for my stay in Antwerp…
Fortunately, though, there were also declarations of love for the Lowlands. After everything I was able to see and do during those four weeks, thanks to the Flemish Literature Fund - Bruegel and beer, fries and festivals ('Het betere boek' in Ghent), music (a concert in Roma) and dance (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui), Rubens and Rockox, plants in the botanical garden and prints in the Plantin-Moretus Museum - now I can truly say: I really like Belgium!
I began each day with a run in the park then breakfasted with something nice from the Domestic bakery and two newspapers. That way, I learned a lot of expressions, such as ‘wittebroodsweken’ [the white bread weeks, or honeymoon period] and ‘huisje, tuintje en alle dagen kerst’ [house and garden and Christmas every day, or happily settled]. Well, as no ‘vervelende kiezeltjes', or stumbling blocks cropped up, I'm hoping that, from now on, Antwerp will not be a ‘ver-van-mijn-bedshow’, or far-flung destination, and one day I can come back to number 40 Steenbokstraat with another nice project.
This visit was not just ‘tussen de soep en de patatten’ [between the soup and the fries, or on the hop], though, so I also had plenty of time for reading (thank you for the recommendations, Michiel!) And working.
Back in Munich and after the terror attacks in Paris, I'd like to quote Pieter Steinz again. With reference to Brel, he wonders not only what it means to be Belgian, but also what it means to be European. I can only hope that the art 'that binds our continent' prevails and not the rhetoric of war.