13 June 2007

Glaieuls du Chatelain

One of the first times I came to Brussels, M. and I decided to go exploring in the city. Friends had recommended Place du Chatelain as a chic, beautiful plaza, so we took the walk. I remember that it seemed very far away, and that when we arrived, it was a big disappointment, because it was basically just a big, oval parking lot, with a few boutique stores surrounding it. Granted, it was a Sunday afternoon, and it was a gray day, but still, we had expected something at least pleasant.

Today, I have just come back from Chatelain, where all of its vibrant magic was in full swing. The thing to know--which we didn't on our first visit--is that once a week the parking lot transforms into a fabulous market, and that the market is open only on Wednesdays. It's not the chaotic, bargain-basement market of Midi, or the quotidian market of Parvis St. Gilles, but an upscale charmer of a market, with expensive, luscious fruits piled carefully into baskets, artesanal breads, fancy olives and cheeses and fresh cookies, stands where you can eat Thai or Morrocan or Japanese, stands that sell glasses of chilled white wine, and acres of opulent flowers.

I met a friend there for lunch, and on my way back I was considering just how sharp the contrast was between that gray disappointment that I couldn't have located on a map, and today's joyful feeling of knowing where I was and where I was going, enjoying the smells and colors and sun. After I had Pad Thai with my friend, we each bought a half-kilo of gleaming cherries, and then she went back to work, while I strolled the stalls. Besides the cherries, I bought a soft mound of chèvre rolled in red and black pepper, a galette to munch on (sort of a cross between a Belgian waffle and a cookie), olives stuffed with garlic, and an armful of hot-orange gladiolas.

Speaking of the gladiolas, on my way home, I stopped in a nearby bookshop, and bought a tiny little book, a short story by Maupassant. I picked it up because I thought it might make a good read for practicing my French. And when I opened to the first page I saw that the first words were a date: my birthday. With that, I knew it should be mine. But back to the flowers: the nice ladies at the bookstore asked me about my flowers, where I had gotten them, and how much they cost. I was thrilled to have not only understood the questions but to have been able to answer. In turn, I asked them a question: what are these flowers called? Turns out that in French they are called glaieuls. I repeated after her, inserting a "d," like in English, but she said it again, and I said, "ah, sans le d! En anglais, c'est gladiola."

I also stopped at a computer store, a Mac Reseller, to ask about getting an iSight and a router. This conversation was also carried on in French! (Which is the only reason I am blathering on about this otherwise irrelevant detail.) Did you know that the iSight is no longer made? I didn't, but it makes sense, since the new macs have an incorporated camera. I'll have to find another webcam. Anyway, I once again managed to have this relatively (for me) complicated conversation in French, and so I am thrilled that a year of classes are showing some results. I have my final exam tomorrow, and the oral on Tuesday.

But the point of this post isn't really speaking French. It's more about the nice feeling of being in a place, of getting to know its beautiful corners, and making it my own. For me, it has been harder to do in Brussels than in Barcelona, where I feel that beauty is always spilling at my feet. Here, I have to look for it, and celebrate it where I can. And when it comes in the form of some hot-orange gladiolas, so much the better.

No comments: