Empty mussel shells, at dinner.
Ask me where I see myself in ten years, and I can give you two answers with absolute certainty, depending on the day.
I will be a traveler, visiting places all over the globe, immersing myself in different cultures, meeting interesting people and writing all about it.
Or, I will be married with kids in a nice home with a big kitchen to bake and a outdoor patio and garden to entertain.
My goal is to somehow do both, but they seem to be complete opposites. It is my common quandry: I want to have it all.
For now I am living the traveler's route, and I have stumbled onto my second dream, right here in Brussels, Belgium. I am staying with Gerda, the Danish woman I met in Polish classes, who works in Brussels as a translator for the European Union. She lives with her husband Morten and daughters Anna, 15, and Katrine, 7, in a four-story home with a garden in the back. This family is my fantasy in real life.
Take this Sunday morning. Gerda made some fresh bread. Morten went out to get some danishes (which I learned are not really Danish). We ate breakfast in our pajamas and told funny stories until Anna and Katrine got into a dramatic argument about a toy which reminded me of the days when my own sister used to make me cry on a daily basis. And now as I write this post, I am listening to the girls practice piano: First Katrine who stumbles along the song she needs to practice this week, and then Anna who fills the entire home with her graceful and beautiful song. If this is not the perfect vision of home, I am unsure what is.
Gerda and Morten have been incredible hosts. They took me to a Danish Christmas fair, laughing that it is not very typical "Belgian." However, I wanted to see how they live and it was fun to see this hokey fair selling traditional food and decorations, kids running around with face paint, all to benefit the church. We got some Danish licorice, which I had to spit out, it was so horrible. (This a typical reaction of the non-Danish). They had purchased some tickets for the lottery, and Katrine was very upset when we did not win the toy she wanted, huffing and puffing with a sour face, walking ahead and kicking her feet in the mud. How unfair life can be for a 7-year-old!
The family is multi-lingual, languages changing like the breeze. Katrine speaks only Danish and French, so she looked at me suspiciously for the most of the day. I started taking some pictures of her and her toys and then did she start smiling at me. Her favorite thing to do is eat, and when her parents said we were going to a restaurant, she squealed with joy.
We went out for Belgium's specialty: mussels and fries (apparently, the french fry was actually invented here). And nothing shocked me more than seeing this 7-year-old pry ugly, slimy fish out of shells and eating them with delight. She even requested the adult portion instead of the kids portion, but her parents said no. My own mussels were pretty tasty and I even dipped my french fries in mayonaise--this the choice condiment around here. It was not as bad as expected though I wouldn't make a habit of eating fat dipped in fat.
And what would Belgium be without chocolate! Gerda showed me her favorite chocolate shop, which had samples for the taking. I had about three pieces in three minutes. As we walked through the city, there was one shop after the other, offering delicious delights but we were so full that it wasn't worth the indulgence. Instead we opted for hot chocolate, which wasn't the "good stuff," I was told, but made my stomach feel nice and warm. At the table was a stack of coasters. On the back of one was written something like "Do you want to fuck?"
Katrine, who couldn't read it, layed out all the coasters on the table and we all played a memory game, searching for the one with the obscenity.
"I don't know why we bother getting her real toys," Gerda laughed. We played a few times until Katrine cheated (acting like she didn't, of course!). And with a full belly, a pleasant buzz with the company, we went home and I slept like a baby.
Mmmm...chocolate. That's Gerda buying some.
French fries and mayo.