Where do I start describing the European tour? I guess I start at the beginning. I have so many things I want to write about, but I think I’m just going to lay them out here, as they come to mind. I’ll do up to Venice today, and more tomorrow. How’s that? For the love of vino, go pour yourself a coffee and put on your favorite song.
Music is so important on trips, isn’t it? Especially when you’re by yourself, which I was for two days. If anyone’s interested, I made an iTunes iMix of what was hot on my iPod this trip. They’re not really so much traveling tunes, and for the most part they’re not Euro-styled tunes, either. They’re just what my brain wanted to hear while looking out train windows. (If you download anything from that list, get “I Hear Them All” by the Old Crow Medicine Show – those kids can write songs. This song, I swear, they will be known by this song in thirty, forty years. They might be our Woody Guthrie, or at least this song might be. I love it.)
So, let me start by saying, traveling with a banjo is a bitch. It is not, I repeat, NOT like traveling with a guitar which weighs about as much as a butterfly’s wing in comparison to that behemoth, the banjo (I know this because later I picked up Emily’s guitar, and it almost flew out of my hands). And Lala was so worried about traveling with it, since dude, if it were tossed around and damaged by baggage handlers, where would she have gotten a quick-like replacement banjo? And she lurves her banjo, natch. So there was stress around carrying it. Luckily, American Airlines let her gate-check it for the first two flights, from San Francisco to New York, and then to Brussels.
Also, she had to bring her lap-steel guitar, so it made sense to bring a suitcase big enough to pack it into, so she was only carrying three things, a suitcase, her banjo and her carryon backpack. It really did make sense, although I wanted to hurl the gigantor suitcase over ever bridge we crossed. That sumbitch was HUGE. We took turns carrying either the banjo or dragging the suitcase that ate Oakland. I am a saintly wife for that, I’ll tell you.
In Brussels, a good 15 hours after we started traveling, we got on a train and headed for Brussels Central Station. You can see Lala is starting to get tired. Our bodies said it was night, but it was suddenly seven in the morning.
We had a whole twelve hours to kill in Brussels before our flight out that night to Venice, so we wandered. Y’all know that’s what I do, so we started early.
First, smile for the camera! This is also what I do.
Immediately, we wandered into Grand Place, through the grand square and out the back side into the – could it be? – the gay district.
Why, yes, it was. Of course, it was early in the morning, but we could see that such an area existed, which greatly cheered us.
This also cheered us:
Folk dancers from somewhere or another. In Grand Place, they were having a folk festival, and all countries appeared to be represented by someone. These were girls, maybe twelve and thirteen years old, wearing these heads. They were on their way to dance in the square a block away, but running across them in the streets as they WENT to dance was more alarming than the dance turned out to be. I found them grotesquely and eerily beautiful.
Of course, seeing that kind of thing in the morning leads to harder things. The coffee we’d had really wasn’t working that well for us, so by 11am or so, we were seated in the square with this in front of us:
Yes, a beer sampler (with a watch that you can’t read to prove the time of day). And friends, the beer really IS better in Belgium. That second one from the left is ten percent beer. Dude. And the cherry beer was insanely good, and I generally hate flavored beers, and all things cherry in particular.
We had lunch.
Lala had lamb, because she hates sheep (it was GOOD), and I had the Brussels Mussels:
Note the sweater! Came in handy, y’all were right.
This was my view from where I sat, looking at the window in the building in front of me:
Lala, looking at the pedestrian street behind me, had a different view: we noticed as we sat there, having our early lunch, that a certain type of male did a certain thing as he walked by. The males of about forty to fifty years old, with families trailing behind or next to them, all did the exact same thing: looked over at us, gaped, and then looked wistful.
This fellow did the same, and then sat down. He spoke French, so I don’t know exactly what he was saying, but I could imagine. We were great pals.
So we puttered around Brussels. We’d walk, and then sit and drink more beer or coffee. We were setting the tone for the rest of the trip. I don’t think we really saw anything of Artistic Merit. We were going to go to the Beer Museum, but really. Did we need to? I thought not.
From the journal:
I’m sitting at our third café this morning (we keep moving around the square), with Lala, who is sketching. We’re tired but happy. A brass band is playing while a streetcleaner drones by. The cleaning truck is a lurid green with red stripes, and the workers wear the same color green shirts, bright orange pants, and amazingly tall green and orange striped boots. It’s wet and cool. The brass band just played a rousing rendition of YMCA. I was the only one in the square doing the arm motions.
Following this entry is a little sketch of the view in the square. Which I won’t show you, because I’m a writer, not an artist.
Can we please jump out of Europe for a moment? I just want to tell you where I am. I’m listening to the Kings of Convenience in our living room. It’s damp and foggy out, still early morning, the sun coming up over the eucalyptus trees down the culdesac. The dogs don’t understand jet lag and have no idea why I’m up this early. Harriet is snoring on the couch to my left hand, Miss Idaho is sleeping on a pillow to my right, and Clara is curled up like a tiny little puppy on the other sofa. She actually got up on the sofa, got off, went and found her blanket, pulled it up with her, arranged it, and then fell asleep on top of it. Clara makes her own bed. Border collies, damn. All are snoozing, and fall is coming, and there’s knitting later today while I watch the Amazing Race. I miss Lala like hell (I don’t like having her SO far away – it’s worse than if she were just in Idaho, say). But this is a mighty fine place to be.
I adore you, you know. The big You, the readers you, the ones I know from commenting or from blogs, and the ones I don’t know, the faithful lurkers. I thought about y’all while I was gone. I wanted to tell you about it. Those of you who read all the time, who will read all these silly words, this is for you.
Sappy me. It’s that damn Old Crow song, it’s playing now. I’m really trying to get you to listen to it, can you tell?
Okay, back to Brussels. We collected our luggage from the train station, and trained an hour south to Charleoi, where the small airport that serviced RyanAir was. We struggled off the train and onto the bus that took us to the airport.
By now we’d been up for 24 hours. We were tired. What to do? More beer!
Lala likes the Belgians.
People, this is my blog. Therefore, you generally see the photos that are flattering, because I get to choose. That’s just the way it goes. However, you have to see this. I was very tired. I went like this:
And then a second later, apparently, I went like this:
I was out for at least half-an-hour. I don’t know how Lala stayed awake to watch the bags, but she did, and that 30 minute nap got me through the next eight hours of awakeness on our trip to Venice, which shall be the next chapter.