Wednesday, June 14, 2006

BRIDGES ...

I received this postcard from my friend Vicki who lives in London. She has recently been on a trip to Brugge, in Belgium. 'Brugge' means bridges which describes the old city of Brugge perfectly. No cars are allowed in this area and as you travel the canals, you can see the beautiful bridges serving as links between the roads for pedestrians only. It adds new meaning to the word ‘quaint.’ While living in Holland, we went on a week’s vacation to Belgium. We drove from the North to the South with the main focus of the trip being on food. Daniel researched the area and put together a gastronomic tour.

The interesting thing about this trip is that I had serious concerns about whether to go on it or not. I had been working with a guy from England who had a brilliant business concept. There were so many English ex-pats living in Holland, that he started a business of delivering the English Sunday papers to the door. What made this such a good proposition was the fact that English newspapers were in very small supply in Holland. If they were available in your area, you would have to get to the store really early on a Sunday morning in the hope of finding any left on the shelf.

With the close proximity of the two countries, Dave would pick up the papers on Saturday night, (and English magazines), take the ferry from England to Holland and from there, we had a network of delivery people who would pick up the orders which had been packed in the back of the van while crossing the channel. Lots of very happy English people would wake up on Sunday morning and find their newspapers and magazines waiting on their doorsteps.

I’d heard about his business, started using the service and saw a great opportunity to enhance the service he was providing. I contacted him and asked him if he would be interested in letting me work with him to get this business into ship shape.

I worked like a slave for him for a good few months and things started coming together really well. Unfortunately for me, Dave chose to forget to tell me the truth about his illegal status in the country, the fact that he was living off government income therefore was not meant to be generating his own income. Needless to say, I walked away very quickly which brings me back to the reason why I felt we maybe should not have been going on this trip. I had decided that the payment due to me from Dave was going to fund this trip. We had not had a honeymoon because we had left South Africa a month after we got married in 1993. It was now 1996 and time for a vacation – a 5 star one at that.

My Mom was staying with us at the time and she convinced me that we needed this break and that we really should go. Daniel was adamant that we went as well. I eventually agreed and set out on the trip with my heart and soul in it.

We got into the luxury car we rented and off we went – headed for Belgium. Our first stop was in Brugge. We parked in a public parking area and then walked the short distance to our hotel. As we left the parking area, a lamp in a store window caught my eye.

We went in and I fell in love with this lamp. I loved the feel of it and there was just something very compelling that drew me to it. When the guy told us what it cost, I gulped and said that as much as I loved it, it was a little steep at this early stage of our trip. We left the store.

Our hotel was gorgeous with all the ancient charm you only experience in Europe. The open window shows our exact room. The food we ate everywhere was spectacular and there are something like 400 Beers in the Belgian range. Daniel was a happy tourist.

We were on top of the world. For some reason, a month or two prior to this trip, I had lost a whole lot of weight without even trying. At that stage of my life, I did not have a weight problem. It was pre my MD diagnosis, so I went from a pretty good figure to feeling really skinny, and it felt nice. I had lost enough weight to the extent of needing to buy a whole lot of news clothes for this trip. Every day was a real treat from the start. Getting up and dressed into new clothes, feeling good about myself, very much in love – life felt real good. Everywhere we went interesting and fun little things happened to us.

On our first morning, Daniel went to the window which overlooked a canal. As can be seen in the pic, the water is literally on the other side of your bedroom wall. He drew back the curtains, opened the windows wide and was greeted by a boat full of tourists just under the window. He waved to them, and in response, they all jumped up in the boat and started clapping and singing Eh Macarena. It was hilarious. The next thing, there was Daniel and me dancing away in the window for the tourists doing our pathetic interpretation of Eh Macarena.

All throughout the day, I kept thinking of the lamp and telling Daniel every time I did. I really felt as if this lamp was calling me, like it was meant to be mine. When it was time to leave, Daniel told me to stay in the hotel while he took the luggage to the car. I waited in the room, soaking up the magical time we had shared in this little space on the planet. Our time in this hotel had been just so very special.

I heard Daniel coming up the stairs and he came into the room carrying a box. “You didn’t!” I said.

“I did. Who knows if we will ever see anything like this again and I think it will be a special reminder of the amazing time we have had here.”

I was overwhelmed and started crying. “Thank you, thank you, and thank you!” I said.

Daniel unpacked the lamp and asked me if I noticed anything in particular about it. I studied it but said that nothing stood out other than the fact that I just love it. He went on to show me that the base, made from pewter was in fact a tree. When he had gone back to buy it, the man in the store pointed this out to Daniel and explained that it was symbolic of a fertility tree and as he packed it up, he jokingly wished Daniel good luck in that department.

Our last visit in Brugge was to a church where among a host of very interesting displays, stood Michelangelo’s Madonna. It had ropes around it preventing viewers from getting too close. Even at a distance, this masterpiece took my breath away. It is truly hard to describe its magnificence. The look on the Madonna’s face reflects serenity like I had never seen before and have not seen since. I stood for the longest time taking in all this beauty and really felt like I had been touched by an angel. I walked away feeling quite emotional and all my sadness that I carried around with me at that time of my life came to the surface. I longed to have a child but had been told this was unlikely due to a whole lot of stuff that I don’t feel like going into the details of in this story. I left the church thinking that by not having a child, I might never know the emotions and bliss depicted in this piece of art that I had been fortunate enough to have seen. I said a prayer on the way out of the curch.

Not wanting to put a damper on the rest of the day, I quickly let go of the space I was in and we headed for the car. Time to move on. We drove and ate and slept and walked and laughed and saw beautiful things wherever we went. I can honestly say that the only unpleasant experience for me the whole week was having to endure Daniel’s passion for Alanis Morissette’s ‘You ought to know.’ It got to the point where I held the tape out the window and threatened him that if I had to endure one more mile of an angry, screeching woman, I would throw it out the window. I concede that ‘Thank you’ eventually redeemed her for me.

Another highlight of the trip was our stay at the Chateau de Hassonville. We arrived just before lunch and when we walked into the hotel we were not made to feel very welcome. We realized very quickly that we were inappropriately dressed, as this location did not attract jeans, t-shirts and sandals. We did however go on to enjoy a superb lunch and we knew everyone who was looking down their noses at us would eat their attitudes when we would return later for dinner dressed up to the nines. Daniel’s research had given us enough information to know that dinner was a serious occasion at this hotel and we pulled out all the stops. The sommelier was particularly snooty and irritating and we planned our revenge for this dude, big time!

When we walked into the dining room that evening, Monsieur Snooty de la Max did a double take. All of a sudden he treated us like real hotel guests who had passed the dress code test. While enjoying the complimentary horse d’oeuvres Daniel asked Monsieur Snooty if we could have a bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Rose. Off he shuffled in his long black apron to the deep cellars of the chateau. When he returned, Monsieur Snooty all but leopard crawled his way back to us. Daniel had stumped him. The Monsieur was devastated about the fact that they did not have any of this world renowned champagne. With a renewed friendly approach, he offered in its place a Louis Roederer Rose. Daniel graciously accepted and assured him that this was not a problem for us and that he had full confidence in Monsieur’s recommendation. For the remainder of the evening, Monsieur Snooty became Monsieur tres Friendly and pretty much loosened up enough to hang out at our table with us. Although I do not drink, I enjoyed the Rose immensely and this was the meal that made me understand the commentary of connoisseurs who speak of the blending and subtleties and fragrances and textures and the sheer delights of superb food and wine.

Fairly soon after this trip, I traveled to the States with my Mom to visit my sister and to celebrate my niece’s 21st birthday. While enjoying lunch at her apartment the day after Thanksgiving 1996, I had to rush to the bathroom to throw up. This had been happening quite frequently since we got back from Belgium and as my sister and niece both run very strict no-smoking zone households, I decided that this would be the perfect time to kick the habit which I was convinced had made me ill.

My niece however suggested that I do a pregnancy test. I looked at her as if she was crazy but said, OK. When it showed up as positive, I insisted on them going out to buy another one because this was crazy. They came back with two and within a very short space of time; I was looking at three positive results. I had done enough of these tests over the years to know that this was the real deal.

On my return to Holland I went for a scan and a viable pregnancy was confirmed. It was calculated that without a doubt, conception had taken place in the week we had been in Belgium.

Although I would never do it, I have always wanted to have ‘MADE IN BELGIUM’ tattooed under Ross’ foot.

Added later: I have no clue as to why the spacing, alignment and other technical aspects of blogging seem to go crazy half way through my posting. If you are reading this, then I really thank you for visiting or perhaps even coming back in spite of the fact that I am technologically challenged!

 
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