Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rural Beauty

I have a favorite local hideaway spot. A place where I go to be reminded how wonderful the simplicity of rural life is. 

A silver lining to not owning a GPS is stumbling upon accidental gems, in this case, Café des Etangs. I’m not certain if I was charmed more by the bar and its location, or by the humble proprietors, Michel and Natalie. Like the owners, the structure exudes warmth and welcome. The café’s name hints at the surroundings, “etangs” translates to “pond” in English. The terrace outside offers a beautiful view and a dozen tables overlooking the interconnecting ponds of St. Denis. The patrons are varied. It’s not unlikely to find yourself sitting alongside fisherman downing a Juplier before they head back to catch their dinner.  Their numerous tents dot the lake’s perimeter. On several occasions, especially Sundays, I’ve found myself in the company of senior citizens passing time with a deck of cards. And one day after hiking around St. Denis we were surrounded by celebrities and paparazzi! Our visit was at the same time a film crew was shooting a wedding scene for a popular Belgian reality TV series. The bride was sitting alongside her parents in a beautifully decorated horse drawn carriage. It was amusing to watch the TV crew wait for their instructions to proceed down the hill to the Abbaye of St. Denis. The groom along with a procession of people in ornate French costumes were waiting to welcome the bride and her parents. To pass time, the driver of the carriage enjoyed small glasses of cold beer while he waited in the hot sun. My husband and I, along with Natalie and Michel, were the only people there to witness this unique event.

Entering the café you’re most likely greeted by Michel or Natalie because they live over the bar. Their guests feel the genuine warmth that can only come from being in someone’s home. The space is dimly lit and lined with wooden tables and chairs. Overhead are tunes of classic rock. A small sun room overlooks a gated garden area. Our family tends to sit towards the back of the café, where the chalk board easel and dart board are set up, an added touch, but an important indication. It tells visitors like me, kids are welcome too!

Two important elements tucked in a corner provide insight into one of the owners, Michel. The piano is a hint to his love for music. He’s been the guitarist for a local band called the Flying Cervelazzz for nearly 30 years. I’ve seen them perform both at the Mons and Jurbise Beer Fests. His casual attire for the performances stayed true to his personality- dark jeans, boots, and a collard button down dress shirt. On both occasions his petite, smiling wife Natalie was there greeting family and friends. At both concerts, I witnessed the crowd come alive as they watched and listened to this local institution. They have a following, including our family!

The second hint of Michel’s interest sits on the piano, a statue of a Gilles. If you haven’t seen a Gilles, you will want to mark your calendar for March 2-4, 2014. Unique to Belgium, they are honorable participants of the carnival of Binche; which dates back to the 14th century.  Their purpose is to entertain during the days leading up to Ash Wednesday.  Historically they are male, natives, and are between 3-60 years old. They are dressed in colorful attire with a signature wax mask and wooden shoes. Their heads are topped with tiny white caps that tie around their chin. On the last day of carnival (also known as Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras) they dance through town with wooden sticks with bells in hopes of scaring off evil spirits.

Afterwards, the Gilles can be seen carrying baskets filled with oranges that are thrown into the crowds.It’s considered good luck to catch an orange thrown by a Gilles. The fact Café des Etangs happens to be owned by a guitar playing Gille makes me think I’m already lucky. No oranges required.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Not A Typical Love Story...

The night I fell in love with someone nearly half my age wasn’t planned. After all, I’ve been happily married for 17 years.  Our marriage has produced off-spring; four daughters.  I most certainly didn’t expect a pop icon to introduce me to this new love.

Our meeting made me feel the angst and confused emotions that usually pick on unsuspecting 15 year old's.  I tossed and turned in bed while scrambled words tumbled around in my confused state.  How could I let this happen?  I knew you were trouble when you walked in.  I’m 40, I should know better!  It was difficult falling asleep, I worried you or I might come to our senses and this feeling would flee before morning.  

As the sun rose, I was happy to see nothing had changed, including my tormented emotions that refused to budge.  Like a carefree child that frolics merrily in wonder one minute, and then loses sight of a parent and becomes lost and scared the next, my words too, were lost.  The more I tried to compartmentalize these mischievous letters, the more they retreated in fear.  

The night prior that had set my nerves ablaze pushed its way to the forefront of my brain.     

Our meeting was inevitable.  We were both in London, attending the same concert, and we both knew intangible elements were missing from our existence.  It’s as though an unidentifiable force placed us within the same room.  Not just any room, a venue filled with 15,000 others.  Really, what are the chances we would be assigned the same seat?

I noted how eager you were as you made your way down the aisle to find your chair.  I wondered if this was your first concert.  You were surrounded by a gaggle of loud preteen emotions.  Girls that tried to mimic the young pop star we had all come to see smelled like vanilla and cotton candy.  Their homemade signs were adorned with glittering hearts confessing their love and devotion.  As the scent of fresh glue drifted overhead, I watched as you stood in awe.   And our eyes met.

I gifted you my seat. I could see you needed this, whatever “this” was, more than me.  As you took your place, the joy that leaped from your smile made giving up mine worthwhile.  As I slowly backed away, I noticed how you inhaled the joyful sounds of youth.  You beamed like a child when confetti magically fell from the sky.  Your heart raced remembering emotions that had long left your body.  I watched in disbelief as the lyrics washed over you.  Reminding you of first loves, heart aches, and anticipation.  And as you looked back at me, I couldn’t help but let myself go.  Our spirits merged.   My inner girl collided with the grown up I’d become.  

Taylor Swift’s Red Tour concert was the perfect backdrop to our fairytale encounter. Red, a color that represents a multitude of emotions my youthful spirit remembered well, and an emotion my grown up state had left behind.  Seemingly lost in the dizzying commotion of raising four growing girls, I had forgotten the plethora of emotions that fall under Red’s umbrella: Love, Passion, Hate, Hurt, Joy, Frustration, Fear, etc… All of these feelings and more bottled into one bursting emotion!  I began to remember the years when allowances were spent on frivolous things like gel pens, candy grams, and nail polish.  A time when fashion came over form.  And a time when a ringing phone signified one word, possibilities. 

Our love story may not go down in history books, as a matter of fact, it may just be ours alone.  How many people would understand this magical encounter? A night when my persistent preteen heart weaseled its way into an unsuspecting 40 year old.  We merged and it was beautiful…and potentially, lasting.   

 Nostalgia is comforting, especially when you know the future is bright based on the lessons learned at “15” and “22”.  I look forward to watching my four daughters live through their Red years.  If they're lucky, they too might have a night where their old world collides with their new one.  And if we're ALL lucky, the two worlds just might decide to "Stay Stay Stay"  within us, forever....

“We were both young when I first saw you.  I close my eyes and the flashback starts….”