Another week in the life.
Wait, wasn’t my last post about time moving quickly? Sheeyit, I guess it’s a theme because where did those last couple weeks go?
Do we all agree time goes faster when you’re in a routine? When it’s all familiar, unthreatening, and you have a good idea of what they next day is going to be like, that’s when the years act like months, the months look like weeks, and the weeks barely fit on your watchface.
When I started traveling I didn’t know where I would sleep that night, where my next meal would come from, and what anything would be like. After a year of this feeling it was only three weeks in. That’s an extreme example, and even then, the months started squirting away like that unripe cherry tomato on your plate at the fancy restaurant. (Just use your fingers next time.)
I thought I have enough uncertainty these days to keep them crawling, but I guess even if a day lasts a long time, it can be part of a fast week. Can I even remember last week?
Monday… Oh yeah, I had the day off so took the bike ride between Flemish farm fields to have lunch with K in our sandwich place, with kinda weird amateur drawings on the walls: a horse’s head, a duck flying, and a serious-looking baby with a bowl of spaghetti overturned on his head, noodles leaking down his neck and their misspelled slogan “no nonsens pasta.”
It had been closed for renovations by a new owner, and we were eager to see the new version. They put on nice tablecloths, removed the perchy bar, and painted it off-white, slightly violet and whatever. We weren’t sure if we liked the random old stuff, but now…the funkiness is gone, man! It’s basically just like a million other “proper” restaurants in Belgium/Western Europe/The West. Boooooring.
Faux-elegance is a stand-in for actual personality. (And real elegance is even worse, like boasting of that lack of personality.)
Tuesday my first class was late enough that I could go to the gym first. The gym is my best local site for people-watching, and I am enjoying learning the different crowds.
-During the day: is quiet, like a singles’ club on really off-hours. A few folks peering around, looking for each other, and showing off for the wrong audiences. Some beefy lad pumps iron for housewives who look more frightened that titillated by his grunts. Or that lady I mentioned awhile back, the blond in tight black spandex who comes and does lunges behind my bench. (Remember her? She got embarrassed after I caught her farting.)
-Early evening: is the working folk, efficiently checking Exercise off their To-Do List. They move faster, are in better shape, and don’t talk.
-Weekends and holidays: (unless it’s warm weather) are like the bars on Friday night, without the beer. It is preening, strutting, and pissing contests among the males. A stage crowded with solo acts. Highly entertaining.
-Weekday morning, opening hour 8:00 AM: was a new one for me. Turns out that’s Senior Time. Silver Citizens crowd the stationary bikes and circulate, a few at a time, among the rest. One distinguished fellow came to row next to me, and when I finished, a little lady with finely brushed hair and one of the squarest jaws I’ve ever seen came and took my place. She looked at him, he didn’t look much at her. When he got up and moved on, another retired fellow took his place. This one looked at her, but she didn’t look at him.
I love humans. We are all children on the playground. Or maybe sniffing dogs.
Work on Tuesday and Wednesday was functional but forced. Like when I tried to get new (to me) students to use the language in ways they weren’t used to from past teachers, and just looked at me in confusion. I’m still on the learning curve…and feel like a bit of a fraud. I fear I am less of a teacher, and more of a conversation partner who guides a bit and corrects your grammar. Wow, that would be annoying in real life, yet people pay beaucoup bucks for it in private.
Especially for the intensive lessons! They pay a boatload of cash to spend all day with a private teacher…we even go to lunch with them, speaking only in the target language. I had a kid (23) on Wednesday who was there to learn coffee vocabulary, since he’s going to coffee school in London next month.
Okay, we’ll talk about coffee. Only as soon as I started, he mentioned that no, he wasn’t interested in that at all, he’d learn it at the school, where he was going just for kicks. Okay then. So we talked about other stuff. Like “tell me about your home town” which provided a glimpse into Belgian xenophobia. That was awkward.
“In my town there are a lot of…strangers.”
“Okay, what do you mean by ‘strangers’?”
(Searching look. Probably realizing I am an immigrant.) “You know…foreign…Arab… You know, terrorists.” He continued “you can’t look at them, or they get angry.”
“Hmm. Are there a lot of fights?”
“No. Not for ten years.”
I am gratified that I still find it shocking when someone dismisses and judges an entire macro-group of people, even though it is a very common behavior. So common in fact, that I’m going to do it right now.
There is a lot of anti-immigrant feeling in Belgium. I’ll save my theories on why for another day, but I have to mention that sometimes I want to drive to the immigrant neighborhoods and twist some ears. On the news last week was a mass brawl between immigrants from Turkey and (I think it was) Azerbaijan. Started by a damn soccer game.
I’m sorry, but guys…GUYS! You can’t do that! You can’t come to a country where people, you know, behave themselves, and get in a gigantic brawl, throwing stones and shit, because your f-ing soccer team played! (Not even if your great-grandfather was killed by his great-grandfather. Sit down.) You wonder why Belgians talk about you like that?
Obvious disclaimer: not all Belgians nor non-Belgians act in either of those ways, in fact, most don’t.
I got home Tuesday and Wednesday at quarter to nine at night, in time to scarf a bowl of cereal (there was no slot in the schedules for dinner) and go to bed. That’s okay sometimes, but pretty quickly I find myself saying “I gotta quit this job.” Especially after I realized today that I paid 57% of my earnings in taxes and fees already? And there are more coming at the end of the year? Can that be right?
The air is getting colder and the sun is gone by six. Fingers on handlebars feel locked solid and the skin on the knuckles dries and cracks. Cheekbones feel prominent as the skin on top stretches tight in the chill, and even at 8:30 PM the streets are abandoned, humans huddling together for warmth in front of cold television screens that never lived.
(Did I mention you should get rid of your TV? The two Secrets to Wellbeing that I’ve discovered amidst all my profound cluelessness are to give up your TV and automobile; both are toxic to the human spirit. But that’s a soapbox for another time.)
Thursday was back to Brussels for the follow-up “Consolidation Day” to formally end my teacher training. I was eager to go, to see and catch up with my little teacher cohort. We were originally 9, but 4 had to teach, and 1 has already left the country, but it was nice to see the other three and hear that I’m not the only one…
The day was run by the internally famous regional head honcho, a rather severe woman whose flat looks and minimal expressions (that seem disapproving) leave people stumbling and stuttering in an attempt to figure out what she wants from them. How do I please this person?!?
Maybe it was having a small group, or that she was just back from vacation, I don’t know, but she was in rare form. We went over a new tool to use in class, and in a demo lesson Dolly Parton came up as an example. So here was the stern, inscrutable, and much-feared Chief Director of Something-Or-Other for Western Europe discussing Dolly’s boobs in the Causative: “Yes, she has had her boobs done.” It was awesome.