From the 8th story balcony of Rudy’s apartment, I find a temporary reprieve from the hustle of the city below. The wailing of sirens and booming of carspeakers arrive as though channeled from another world that can’t quite touch us here. Above, airplanes drift toward the airport like lifeless birds. In the distance, landmarks seem to compete for attention: the financial tower, the Atomium, St. Mary’s Church, the Justice Palace… with an endless array of houses and shops to fill in the empty spaces.
This city is an international hodgepodge of business and tourism. The skyscrapers are sleek and modern and tall. The streets are filled with people buying clothes, eating waffles and fries, following tour guides.
I see a man who I’ve seen almost every day I’ve been here. He’s wearing an old army coat and he looks perpetually drunk. From what I can tell, he spends his days listening to the street performers and drifting through the city. He has a whistle around his neck, which he occasionally uses to share his approval of a performance. Sometimes, it comes as a startling blast that shakes a musician from their groove. A few days ago, I saw him being hassled by the police.
He’s not the only one who has some antipathy toward the police. A gifted slide guitar player says: “I’d like to dedicate this song to the police of Brussels:” and proceeds to play ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police. Yes, the police appear to be everywhere. They’re in the grand square on horseback, here and there on foot, and their squad cars are ubiquitous. A friendly gnome selling his hand-crafted jewelry on the street tells me he’s allowed to sell or perform, but not both. Later I see him studying a citation he’s received.
And then there’s Papy Blues. I have to wonder if he gets trouble from the police. He just seems too friendly and happy to really have problems with anyone. Of all the street performers I’ve seen, he’s the biggest hit with the public. People stop in their tracks when they hear his gleeful falsetto—there always seems to be a crowd around him. How does he do it? How does he conjur up the energy? Does it come naturally?
A wizard takes my hand, places it on the magical green orb at the end of his staff, and blesses me. It feels wonderful to be blessed, in whatever form it happens to come. May the force be with you!
Between listening to street performers and soaking in the grandeur of the city’s architecture, the greatest blessing of the city has been its churches. Whenever I find myself succombing to the city’s restless hunger, I step inside these temples for refuge. Within, the noise of the city is peripheral, a haze which cannot touch the center. I sit in the silence, sometimes reflecting on the imagery surrounding me, sometimes simply content to be in a safe and calm place. Today I heard quiet organ music playing from hidden speakers, and I couldn’t help but reflect on the monolithic enormity of Christianity in European culture. The music and the beliefs and the symbols and the conflicts all weaving through time in a vast tragicomedy which seems far from over. And yet, in the Church, there is peace and silence. How?
My gnome friend tells me there is a Hare Krishna castle in the East (of Belgium). I have to go, he says, they treat their cows with such love. I’d love to see cows being treated compassionately, and I’d love to see Bhakti Yoga in action. I’ve researched the castle online and they have a museum of devotional sculptures, as well as a guest hostel. I love the way Indian art captures stillness in motion and motion in stillness… infinity and unity married in the fractal figures of gods with branching arms and heads. The image of Shiva dancing in the ring of fire, the heartbeat of the Universe, creation and destruction as a cosmic dance, life as art and art as life…
As I walked through the botanical gardens today, a cat hit the catwalk, posed for a few pictures, then nuzzled up against me. As suddenly as she came, she went. I love cats.
So that’s life. Beautiful moments come and then they’re gone. Desire lingers, grows, suddenly there’s nothing but confusion and dissatisfaction. Then the turmoil subsides and carefree contentment returns. So what’s it all about? What is this funny thing called enlightenment?
I can still hear Umi singing: “Enlightenment… don’t know/ what it is…”