Postcards from Belgium

Getting off the boat in Duinkerken-France often has anticipation in it. What am I going to see? Has it changed? Will I still feel at home? Is Belgium still there where I left it the last time I visited?
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I cross the France/Belgium border and can truly see that Belgium is still Belgium. Towards the coast big skies with dotted houses in the landscape.
Between hound and wolf, the hour before the sun goes under, the houses are bading in red, angry white clouds above them. Hovering. Rain to come.
On my way to my sister’s house for the night, before officially starting my tour of April 2012.
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In the morning, fog veils trees and fields. A silent world. On the outskirts of my home town of Kortrijk, the town I grew up in.
The next morning the fog has gone, stormy brisk weather ahead. On the little farming roads in Bellegem.
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How weather can influence our moods. It looks so much more vibrant when the fog clears. The world starts making sounds again.
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Belgium like it is. Red roofs, parks, trees starting to bloom. I see my town with the eyes of an accidental tourist. Not so accidental though.
The Beguinage of Kortrijk is one of my favorite spots to visit when I go home. There, I’ve said it: “Home”. But not really any longer home.
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I know of little spots that lots of locals have no clue about. An alley here, a little chapel there, for all to see, if we look. I’m divided. Two persons. One that feels right at home in England, and a person that looks with eyes of a stranger to things lifelong familiar. I miss my dad.
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Kortrijk was the town where in 1302 the French King got beat up by flemish noble men and footfolk. The Battle of the Gilden Spurs.
It seems that one knight was left behind, still riding his horse fiercely and bold.
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In Marke, on the other side of town, the driveway to the castle still holds the beautiful view. At the end a farm, behind the farm the river Lys.
It’s my turf. I know it all. How the river slowly searches it’s way to France. Where once flax made you rich. The river was used to work with the flax, I still remember that rotten egg smell.
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Tilting my camera I see the church spire of Bissegem.
The little towns at the edge of Kortrijk all have their own intimate stories in my mind. Stories long gone now, people gone, I am glad that the core of things stays the same. Lots of change already, I wonder what my dad would think about the new town. It has been ten years, ten years of longing to have one last chat with him.
Ten years where new rulers changed and scaped the city, my old world is vanishing bit by bit.
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Other things stay the same. The small chapel on the Morinnestreet, the farmer plowing his field.
Me on my way to my grandmother’s house.
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With the Astrid Boulevard in front of it. How many hours did we spend here… Playing in the park, cowboy and indian around the little pond called Het Walleke.
Floating with my iron doll pram on the surface of the water, being a general on a lion back… Memeetje coming to find us for supper and being crossed once more because she hated it to see us on those lions.
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Her house number was 127. It still is. A new family now lives in it, not knowing any of the stories I have. Here too smells I can bring up in my memory, odd. One never forgets the smells from childhood. I wonder if the door will open and if Memeetje will wave at me. The little iron fence is gone now, a new urban garden has been put in.
I need to silence the voice inside that tells me to ring the bell… Maybe on my next visit. I would give anything to go in one more time… To see if Memeetje would have liked what they did to the house she built a long time ago. I need to jump back into the present.
Into my new life… Cinderella no longer has the pumpkin… She’s a princess now! Fairy tales do come true. Right, on with life!

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Look up! Look up!

Up is the direction where one finds surprises. When strolling through my Belgian hometown. My sister commented yesterday that it is weird to see the town through my eyes. The touristy eyes, because I don’t live there anymore. It’s a bit of sad thing if we don’t recognize worth seeing things in the cities and places we live. I try to find the touristy way of looking wherever I go or am. Photocatseyes… Thanks to my sister for making me think about this one for a while. I think that photocatseyes are in fact the eyes of my father. He looked at things in another way. He saw. He did not only look. It’s a life lesson, look to really see…
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Then you can notice the books that the virgin lady is standing on. I am just a bit too low to see if it is a representation of Mary or Johanna van Constantinopel, patroness of the Beguinage in Kortrijk. Amazing how that small wooden statue has survived centuries and bombardments in WWII. It needs a drip of paint though!
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Walking around brings back memories of a long gone childhood. I knew all these streets like my backpocket of my favorite jeans.
The white building with the green door is now an art academy, but used to be the home of the horsed guards. In a time when guards still relied on horses to get around. We are talking Napoleonitic times here. History in a nutshell.
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The Holy Mary street. Littered with old grand houses. Some in better condition then others. A tired lady with an equally tired dog walk in the shadow.
I want to yell to her: Come over here, in the sun… Walk in the sun! Why stay in the shadow? Break free… Of course, the lady might have hot flashes, in which case she would prefer the shadow. Not everyone crosses the street with the sole purpose to walk in the sun. I do. Mostly. Not in Tucson or in Phoenix. But Belgium, hec yeah, sunny side it is.
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Looking up discovering new things I had not seen before. Dates, carvings…
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Angels in all sorts and sizes. I find it sad that people don’t put carvings on houses anymore. Houses have become straight blocks, no frills.
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Passing by the fact that often, the statues told us who lived behind the doors. I am standing at the convent of the Paulines. Cisterciencer sisters belonging to the Order of Vincentius a Paulo. Now still a school, the buildings started their long life around the 15th century. Owned by the Gentlemen of Vichte.
In 1572 nuns from Wevelgem needed refuge at the start of the 80 year war, they flocked to the Beguinage in Kortrijk and later in the now present house.
Wow, history does not walk, it runs. From century to century.
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Just across the Paulines convent and the old library building, the church of Saint Mary. 12th century, medieval stands strong. I wished we would have kept all our medieval buildings. I have said it before. Not many people share my idea. We toss the old things to go to new, breaking out with one hand what two hands never will be able to take back.
The Saint Mary street is also the street of the Antique stores. I am talking real antique here, for fat wallets. Extremely fat wallets. If mine would be bulging, I would go in and go for the little religious statues.
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They call my name. And I listen and hear them. In my mind I see a carpenter carving it out, bit by bit… Then color it in. To live for centuries. In and out hiding, going with the flow of religious tolerance or intolerance.
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Maybe passing by them as a kid and admiring them from the outside is the reason why up to this day I love all kinds of religious imagery. I like the statues better then the real life religious people. Statues don’t hurt each other. Religious people do. Often. In a bad way.
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Look up to the blue sky…
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Look down to the new licence plates in Belgium. To conform to European standards. My dad had 301 RE. His whole life.
I wished I could walk around town with him… like I am doing now with my husband. Admiring the lovely things the old town has on offer…

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