Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rue Haute, Brussels

Today is the 50th anniversary of the independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo from Belgium. A big day, though I haven't heard much in terms of commemorative events. Last weekend we were at multicultural festival Matongé en Couleurs, Matongé being a locus of those originally from the Congo.

Here, dust floats in the living room. A mixture concocted by an African urban fairy, of 6-month degraded cardboard and minute particles of Bamako dust. I'm putting the finishing touches on a repacked box sent from Mali to Brussels. I work on the roll of packing tape, eyes wide open but blindly trying to find the edge. Like the universe, it does not seem to have a beginning or an end. So I give it to J here, among whose talents includes being a massage therapist. Sensitive fingers find the invisible.

I left Berlin last Saturday, after a flurry of heartwarming visits from friends near and far. One from Stockholm and another from Düsseldorf, both old friends from Vancouver. A German who I met in Almaty some years back. And K, who embodies my entire stay in Damascus. We happened upon a Lebanese-operated Mediterranean restaurant on Kastanieallé, our Lebanese waiter so happy for conversation and helping us with some Arabic language questions. K and I reminisced over all the drama and the soap operas that swirled around us back in Damascus, and despite the current sense of distance, somehow continue to swirl. Syrians say that everyone has two homelands - our own and Syria. Perhaps that mindset is behind the Syrian who, rather unbidden, calls K five times a day now in Berlin. We are close in our hearts, but at the same time, he must have a good mobile phone plan.

I meet K's Damascus roomate here in Brussels. Luxembourgian to Italian-Spanish parentage, with still room for 4 years of Arabic in her head, she is a polyglot. We go through her Facebook friends - do I know this guy, she asks? I confirm his identity. I met him and other Swedes at the HIV blood test clinic on my second day in Damascus. Like the packing tape roll, things come full circle.

Still, it is often a feeling of transition for me here in Brussels. This is aided by their sofa, which is the exact same model as my own. A material foreshadowing of something to come, or in the case of last September, something I just left. Those that know my relationship with my sofa know that it is an especially fond one. I can close my eyes and simply put, relax and be home again. There is something about the density ratio of foam solids and air bubbles that provides my body the right amount of softness and support.

S+J are the ones I travelled to Mali with in December, so now this is the 3rd time I've seen them this trip. However, each time has been in a different setting as now they have moved. It seems that they are in a different apartment every time I see them, but we find no evident correlation. They are in the process of opening up their Ethiopian coffee house on Rue Haute. It will also be here that they sell the goods that they purchased in Africa.

I crash in Brussels like an ocean wave meets the beach, each time erasing any traces of memories I had of the city. For a not terribly large city, the shops change often. I suggest to S+J to imprint their logo on their café coffee cups, as a sign of some stability.

There is a small seed in my box from Mali. A gift from the fairy. Pale yellow, about the size of a large oatmeal flake. In the middle, something that looks like a seed within, the same size as a sunflower seed kernel. J thinks I should plant it and see what happens.

Back on Canada Day, tomorrow. A good day to remember when I am supposed to be back.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


With my new after-10 am month pass I am now roving around Berlin and squeezing as much as I can out of it. Today will be an escapade out to Pfauerinsel - Peacock Island - a former love nest of the elite on the ritzy south-west area of the city. Two or three trains (depending on the S-bahn gods of timing and chance), a bus, a ferry, and what looks like an hour's walk will land me to a temporary pavilion of Olafur Eliasson.

Spent some time yesterday as a legitimate card-carrying reading-room member of the Stadtsbibliotek Berlin, a library designed by Hans Scharoun. It is truly an immense interior landscape, like the Grand Canyon turned inside out somehow. Currently some 2 million books are inaccessible due to asbestos - 1/6 of their collections - and this perhaps in tandem with the sudden onslaught of Summer relieves the library of many of its potential users. I pick up a book requested last week, a response to a footnote in a book I read in Muscat. And in response to another footnote, in a book on Eliasson, I head to the inside-the-library cafeteria (heaven!) for some light summer reading by Bruno Latour, Making Things Public - Atmospheres of Democracy.

The climate of the interior is really very foreign to me. Either I pack gloves or sunscreen, always one or the other. Today is the latter, the sun is fully shining down and tomorrow they say 31 degrees.