I wish I could start writing about Brussels all over again. I wonder whether
I’d still have to explain that it was actually Mechelen we went to and never
Brussels though we did have a golden afternoon in Brussels that ended on a high
look-out – the city, framed by dirty baby-boy blue with pink stains in it, to our
feet. Ashen but ready to rise as we walked back down into it. Also, I would
like to mention the golden masonry around every single of the lavish guildhalls
encircling the grandiose market square upright and proud like the men that
once walked in and out of these into freedom over the tired scarred backs of black
men and women. And I would like to ask why the statues in this city are of black
marble and naked children. I wouldn’t mind retelling the story of how if felt to
touch the cold snout of the watchful dog that didn’t feel cold because it had been
rubbed golden – the real stuff. Fortune. Fleeting, therefore ever more precious.
Not mine to own and so easy to obtain, if only. The other big square once be-
longed to the river Senne until it fell into disdain. So it was covered up, then,
by a busy street: everything valuable hidden away and no gold outside the old
Stock Exchange which is now closed despite stairs as long and wide as a beach,
pillars that could carry the city’s dreams. They had to carry the city’s sorrows
after last year’s bomb attacks – people had chosen to gather here above a buried
river on chewing gum clotted tarmac that had been reclaimed from cars only two
years previously by rebellious picnicers. It had seen blankets, bunting, barbecues
and water guns that have made way for armoured vehicles, maybe temporarily.
We made our way to Mechelen later and it was good not to see guns and stay in a
friend’s friendly house with a frozen garden that hosts chicken, a raspberry hedge,
a pool and occasionally kingfishers and woodpeckers. Also a cat, one night, as
black as the other, unfrightened by the thin ice beneath its paws. This is Fear Age
and we will stay strong, too. We will be pillars to each other, here where we find
ourselves in a room of five languages – though it was me who hadn’t thought of
Gujarati until reminded and the graveness of that grinds my heart into bonemeal.
Staying strong and looking my own blindness in the eye. Willing to see the hidden.
Un-covering the mis-take; dare getting up and re-taking it. In Mechelen they have
uncovered the River Melaan that had been filled with earth a hundred years ago
and turned into a car park. They have opened a museum in the old barracks from
which over twenty-five thousand people were deported by train to Ausschwitz. A
train carriage still stands outside the museum today. It’s easy to look. But it’s
never easy. That’s what I would like to write about our trip to Brussels last week.