At this time of tragedy in Brussels, I want to send all of my thoughts and love to the people of this fantastic city.
During college I was privileged to spend a semester studying and exploring in Brussels, Belgium. I maintained a blog, entitled Apocrypha of Brussels, during those six months. Brussels quickly became like a second home to me and I sincerely believe that part of my heart remained there. As a goodbye, I wrote a love letter to the city.
Below you will find a re-post of that love letter from 2011.
I thought I had experienced heart break or at least had some idea of how it felt. Heart break was overwhelming, crushing even, to the point where every passing thought brought upon memories you wanted to banish. At least heart break was the term I used when I would feel such desperation. I know now that I’d never felt real heart break, not in its purest form.
I have fallen in love. How do I know it’s love? How do I know this isn’t just a fleeting fling I’ll forget in a few months? I know this love is true. This love is not an obsession. It is not terrifying or overpowering. This love is not made up of the passion or romance witnessed in films. This love, my love, is simple and honest.
My love was not sudden. I fell slowly, finding my amour to be foreign, harsh, and dull at first. Through accidental adventures, crazy nights, gastronomic delights, and the humdrum of daily motions, love emerged. Behind the sometimes rude, lazy, and annoying exterior, there were things I admired. The idiosyncrasies of my amour ensured that the element of surprise remained strong in our relationship.
The first signs of love appeared when I would sigh out in accepting admiration, “Oh Brussels.” Yet, it was not until our first separation that I realized I had unwittingly fallen in love with my temporary home. Previous departures from Brussels had been daylong treks and usually kept me within the Belgian border, always close to my beloved city. The venture that made me realize I was in love took me to Amsterdam, a 3-4 hour train ride away. I may have only been gone for two days, but it felt like forever. The train ride home was agonizing and every stop that wasn’t Brussels made me twinge with anxiety. When would I be reunited with Brussels? Why did I ever leave? How can I get back faster? Gare du Midi/Zuidstation was announced and I felt a sigh of relief. Finally I was back! Never did I find such satisfaction in riding the 3 tram to Churchill or pulling out my MOBIB card. How joyous I found the simple act of walking down my street to my home. Everything was right. Everything was simple. I belonged and I was with my amour again.
From the day I returned from Amsterdam until the depressing day of my long-term departure, my love for Brussels only grew. Every step radiated with deep appreciation and respect. Even the nuisances made me smile and laugh with joy at the eccentric nature of the Brussels that I loved so much. STIB/MVIB strikes? Bah — just another chance to wander the streets of Brussels and find new and interesting buildings. Poverty? Social divisions between immigrants and Belgian nationals? Oh, that’s just another example of the diverse Bruxellois population and a great lead in for how the Belgian federal model needs to better address issues of immigrant education and multiculturalism. Anything thrown my way was spun into a positive attribute or became just another way for me to talk about my amour.
Now, after a week of separation, my dreams are still occupied by scenes from Brussels. I have to jolt myself awake each morning and remember that right outside my window is not the city I came to adore. Mc Donner’s and Bois de la Cambre are not right down the street. L’Atelier and Frites Flagey are not a few tram stops away. The urine smell of the Bourse and the sweaty smell of Delirium on a weekend night won’t be gracing my olfactory organ any time soon. I will not be able to grumble about tourists clogging the sidewalk or give in to my inner-litterer at Place Luxe on a Thursday night. Gone are the days of a 3euro beer of good quality and the .50euro waffles outside of L’Université Libre de Bruxelles. All of these things and more I had to abandon in order to return to the land of the Stars and the Stripes.
Perhaps you are thinking that I only fell in love because I was living in a dream world or that I didn’t stay in Brussels long enough for the honeymoon to end. I say false! My relationship with Brussels was rocky, but what strong, lasting relationship isn’t from time to time? There was even a period where all I wanted was to be rid of Brussels and never set eyes on it again. Oh – how we laugh about that now.
Someone once told me that they knew they had found the one, because while apart they could think of no one else. Another person told me that they knew they were in love when the little annoyances weren’t really bothersome, but just another part of the one they adored. I know Brussels and I are in love for both of the above reasons. Never was I one to believe that distance makes the heart grow fonder, because separation only brought new and exciting distractions. This time, however, nothing has distracted me. There isn’t a city batting its eyes at me or at least not that I notice. My every thought remains, belongs to Brussels. Also, I used to be unable to forgive nuisances and hold them up as reasons why a relationship could never last. With Brussels, I embrace its ticks and bothersome qualities.* For these reasons I know Brussels and I will last. I also know that we will soon be reunited. When love is as true as this what is a mere 3,657 miles (5,885 km)?
*I’m even willing to convert to the metric system and finally understand the meaning of a km.