10 March, 2008

day thirteen. brussels and home.

i had been to brussels once before, for a night on the way from amsterdam or to amsterdam, i cant remember. what i do remember is loving the town and wishing i had more time there. jan started by taking me to a tiny pasta place next to the opera, which was about a quarter the size of vienna's. i had spaghetti with truffle oil and sausage, a sign of the good food to come.

the first night i was there, we decided to go and hear some music. according to jan, not many of his professional musician friends like to go hear live music. and i can see why. you spend so much work time in clubs, why would you want to spend your down time there too... but i get so much out of being in the same room as anyone performing, that i eat it up and it fires me up. so we went and saw the cuban guitarist ray cabrera and his band. we got there late, so we sat in the front row. now i was the person i laugh at or try to ignore at my own shows. clumsily trying to squeeze in without being noticed by the person onstage. hah! we see you. always.

i loved hearing music where i didnt understand the words, which made me realize how much i had been enjoying being in countries where i didnt really understand anything anyone around me was saying. when your living is words, sometimes its nice to return words to just sounds, not meanings and references and histories.

the next day, we started earlier and went to a fleamarket in the old part of the city. it was surrounded by streets filled with antique shops brimming with amazing stuff. thats one of the things i love most about traveling: going into antique stores. it gives me ideas for my current house, it gives me ideas for my future house, it fires my imagination for the who and when and what of an object. plus, the more jumbled the store, the more juxtaposed the junk, the more i like it. i want to see a door frame on its side next to a sink next to an entire row of theater seats with antique helmets in a case behind. these stores reminded me alot of the antique stores and salvage warehouses of new orleans. something old and waterlogged about the style, not the dry, wheat harvest and open space aesthetic you see in most american shops.

in the afternoon, we went to the museum of musical instruments. it was incredibly thorough, with instruments from every family you could think of, from most continents. and each exhibit had a sound portion, of course, which was also overwhelming. imagine hearing 30 second clips of a hundred instruments in an hour. whoa.

i found myself looking more and more at the tags for the instruments and hoping to see "north america" on any of them. as much as i love being in europe- the food, transportation, people are much nicer- i have found as i have gotten older i have a real soft spot for america. not the politicians or the flag and the heaviness of all that, but the feeling of america. the best way i can describe it is the SPACE of america, the promise of america. i get nostalgic for every mountain, highway, canyon, forest in my country and the inspiration of someplace so big and beautiful and wild and open, unfinished always and wide enough for everything (if also wide in the pants).

brussels has a huge catholic cathedral ("are there any other kind?" asked jan thoughtfully but belgian-like), and last night we went to an organ concert there of music by the composer olivier messiaen. messiaen dabbled in a form of serialism he invented, but was influenced equally by his big time catholic faith and birdsong. in fact he considered himself as much an ornithologist as anything else. the cathedral was totally dark, except for a spotlight on the giantic pipe organ on the wall. we sat right beneath it. what an instrument! i had no idea what i was in for, being new to messiaen and not too familiar with the pipe organ reperatory.

i love it when the music you are listening to outside of your body, the music you hear that is made by someone else matches so perfectly your interior life, your state of mind, that it becomes a seamless experience. what you are hearing and what you are thinking and what you are feeling are all the same, coalescing into the singular sound in front of you. i will forever listen to messiaen and come back to this moment: this moment of regret, disappointment, of confusion, of being a traveler but longing for something to feel like ground i can stand on, for desperately needing someone i can count on, for putting my hopes and desires on someone who couldnt sustain them, let alone their own. this time that finds me still feeling like more around me needs to fall apart and strip down. as lost as i feel in this moment, i think i will have to get even more lost before whatever it is that i am supposed to do on the otherside can become clear. the rumble of the pipes, the squeal of the upper register, the solid stone of the cathedral sending all of it back to me, growing somehow closer to something inevitable.


  1. It's funny you mention the having a soft spot for america as you get older. I have found myself feeling that over the last couple years...as I soon, too soon, approach 30. Most people I feel never leave where they grew up, or they travel overseas but have never even seen past the few states surrounding them. Being able to explore the Western USA was such an amazing expereince....its a different world. If I look beyond all that is really going on in this country and just focus on the depth of what the USA is and stands for. That is truly what moves me. Wow- now if that doesn't sound corny I don't know what does!

  2. "i love it when the music you are listening to outside of your body, the music you hear that is made by someone else matches so perfectly your interior life, your state of mind, that it becomes a seamless experience."

    This sentence really touched me. That's such a rare experience, for everything to be so perfectly aligned. It can be heartbreaking and uplifting all at once.

    I used to live in New Orleans, and I remember after Katrina I was able to maintain a disconnect for weeks. Then, I went back about two months after and I headed to the Marigny to think things over. I walked down those deserted streets and out of nowhere came this lonesome trombone. It was wrenching and hopeful and painful, and it twisted around my heart. In that moment, I felt the agony of losing my home and the city tugging at my feet, urging me to stay even though I could not.

    It was so perfect that it still hurts to think on sometimes.

  3. i know... i wish traveling outside the US was easier, an opportunity that more people could have... it definitely helps me see whats great about where i live...

  4. katie... i know the marigny well. i stayed there when i made "birds" and when i went back in 06 to write. one of my favorite feelings is riding a bike at night in NOLA. it's like the houses come alive, animate themselves along the sidewalk. i've never experienced anything like it...

  5. I know what you mean...sometimes it's like everything along the route is reaching out to greet you. The light in that neighborhood is crazy, especially in the evenings. I used to bike and walk around there a lot at night. It cleared my head. Even the air is different in nola. It feels like you're taking something of substance into your lungs. I haven't been as productive creatively anywhere else, and I think it's because I've missed those outings.