Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Belgium, 18.6.90: Bright Poppies and Purgatorial Trains

Just passed through Leuven, Belgium, 8 A.M. I awoke about 6:30 after a fitful night of half-rest as the train rocked, then got up at 7:30 when I smelled coffee. Steve had bought some from a conductor.

The countryside is flatter than that around Lübeck yesterday, of course—very pretty, non-industrial. Every house has its bit of well-tended garden—the thrifty Belgians of lore. Gallia est omnis divisa in tres partes, Caesar said, and what has that to do with anything, except that I recall the Belgian tribes figured largely in Caesar.

Some of the fields have verges of poppies—the poppies of Flanders Field—bright scarlet. It’s overcast but not dark, a haze over the small fields of grain. Each parcel of land appears to be divided into several small grain fields and several pasture areas, which may have a mix of a few Holstein cows, a pig or two, a few grazing sheep.

The farmhouses are fascinating—dark red brick, red-tile or thatched roofs, connecting buildings of the same construction. They appear ancient (in many cases) and well cared-for, but not fussily so—history lived in and loved because it’s just there and still useful, unselfconscious preservation, the best sort. In contrast to Lübeck, which was too touristy and museumized.

Most of the small towns we pass through have high church steeples. Now coming into what appears to be called Scharbeek—the terrain grows a bit more industrial and ugly as we go east (or south?).

I woke up repeating the Canterbury Tales’ prologue to myself. Just said my line re: Caesar to Steve and was roundly ignored . . . .

8:25—just arrived in North Brussels. Very drab-looking, dirty, modern. Signs in both French and Flemish—Te Koop/ á Vendre . . . .

9:45 A.M. Arrived right on time in Oostende. Walked in light rain to embarkation point of jet foil, and sitting now in the uncomfortable waiting room after an uncomfortable breakfast of dry bread and thin slice of cheese, served by a surly and sore-lipped Belgian girl.

No comments: