The World Photo Tour, now in The Netherlands…
It’s nice here where I am now, it’s warm and cosy. A little town at dawn. A beautiful little house on a little street. A little calm. I have nice smelling lilies on the table, a guitar-man gently plays bossa, while his wife reads a book. This is our chill-out night. But until telling you more about Harrie and what he does when he’s not working and about Jessica and her little projects of changing our ways, I must start back where I left, and that was in Bruxelles, almost 100 km ago.
Bruxelles leftovers, off to Antwerpen
Having met Mihaela Militaru and Laurentiu Gavra at the European Parliament and having some routine-dialogue with some of the MP’s – Petru Luhan and Elena Basescu, after later meeting with Gabriela Cretu and all the young gang around her for a pint, the following night I spent at a high-school friend – Remus Danila. Last time I met him was in Vaslui, my home town, and back then it wasn’t necessarily a pleasant meeting. We did have a bit of an argument over the global politics and rulers, may them be seen or hidden. And again, this time in Bruxelles, we shared ideas on the subject. I kind of see it now, but it’s still hard for me to believe that there aren’t some people with a plan for some hundreds of years ahead. Remus on the other hand strongly believes that we actually have no idea where this world is going. That, apart from total disaster, a close end on which we both agreed. That coming from a broker at one of Belgium’s biggest banks! And the same idea occurs in other people’s thoughts, people that I’ve met along my walk. Something big is around the corner, and it’s not at all something good. In between global politics and personal relationships status sharing, I dragged Remus around Bruxelles city centre for some night shots of this diverse, cosmopolitan (but not multicultural), rich in beautiful architecture and street art, but segregated, noisy and dirty capital of Europe.
In the morning, after having seen so many banners around with the Stanley Kubrick: Photographer exhibition, I went for it. My expectations were met by the Art Museum galleries and exceeded by the spring star: Stanley Kubrick’s photos, in huge displays. The man that gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Lolita and The Shining, also left some staggering photographic reports, like, for instance, the jazz world of New York, or Portugal as few imagine it to be. Or has been. All in all, money well spent. In return, you get an amazing flash-back filled with emotion through the eyes of one of the best directors we had. It was definitely money well spent and if you happen to be in Bruxelles anytime until July, trust me – you can miss The Atomium, you can miss the European Parliament, but you cannot miss such a visual treat!
Back on the streets, leaving the René Magritte Museum, I went back at my uncle, aunt and cousin for another night before saying goodbye. All amazing guys – my uncle – working on building sites, with a genuine interest for nature and hiking, my aunt teaching Maths – at the same time being busy editing Maths pieces and books and my cousin – studying languages at Francisco Ferrer. I thank them now for their amazing generosity. On which list I must add Remus and my relative’s friend, Nelu. Obviously, although repeating myself, a special mention goes to my uncle who dared to walk with me into Bruxelles for half of my journey that day – nothing but 34 km!
After leaving Bruxelles, I headed towards Antwerpen – well, actually, not straight, just in one day. The 54 kilometers between Bruxelles and Antwerpen got divided in 42 in the first day, to my host in Kruibecke – Joost Laureyssens – and another 12 the following day. But before reaching Joost, I did take the time to see The National Botanic Garden of Belgium. My next long break for some battery charging happened in Temse, where I was lucky enough to enter the pub just in time for some cake and free beer, as it was someone’s birthday. But more of a cause to celebrate was the winning of the Tour of Flanders by a Flemish hero cyclist Tom Boonen. As the favorite crossed the finish line, it was like Brazilians were celebrating a goal at football.
I reached Joost’s place, in Kruibecke, before dusk, giving us enough time – him to ask more about my project and me – to answer, eat, take a shower and do some office jobs. In the morning, with Joost gone for work, I spent the breakfast with his house-mate who’s name – silly me – I simply forgot to write down – it wasn’t the most common of names… But we did have a pleasant conversation on Belgium topics. One of them being the delicate subject of immigrants. Mainly about the islamists ones. And mainly about how they’re not necessarily so much ‘islamists’ where they come from, but once in Belgium, for instance, they are so ‘in your face’, if not even provocative. We talked about how Bruxelles, although a melting pot of nationalities, is not made of the same mixture one would expect to find in such a place, but rather of separated communities that most of the times keep mostly for themselves.
Antwerpen. Closer to Holland. The MAS Museum. The red light district. The Train Station. Diamond Land.
Off to Antwerpen then! After approaching the city from South-West, I had to cross the Schelde, an old tunnel underneath the river-bed (no, there are no bridges in Antwerpen), getting to and from the crossing-level requiring a descending on these old wooden escalators. Once in Antwerpen, I spent some time around the city-centre and then I went to my host – Geoff Greig – an American working here in the IT consilting business. I was amazed by how much Geoff travelled! He knew a lot about a lot of places. And it was he who introduced me to the local pride of the Antwerpians – well, pride mixed with a bit of arrogance, to the extent that most of them consider Antwerp The City in Belgium, whereas the rest they descibe as just being a ‘parking lot’. After a game of basketball (it was only 12 km I did that day and I still had the energy – not to play, but at least to enjoy being outside and taking more pictures), we headed back to his place, where more of the Belgian beer followed. Some tripels, some milder ones, and we called it a night.
In the morning I went out as I wanted to see the MAS Museum – Joost’s house-mate told me it’s a must-see – and I must tell, you, it is! Not you regular museum, but definitely fascinating. 10-levels high, each level with its own specific, and at the top a lovely panorama – Antwerpen in the world and the world in Antwerpen! Profound instalations, meaningful media, rare and amazing artefacts from all over the world, all packaged-up in a building covered in Indian red stone. Out of all, the On Life and Death and Displays of Power levels were the ones that got to me.
And just for the heck of it, out of curiosity, I then wandered around the red light district which is immediately South of the museum, as I have never seen something like it before. And it was quite disturbing. I mean… the ‘ladies’… doing their job… standing in the windows, smiling, waving, knocking in the windows, calling you inside. Only men on the streets. Didn’t went too familiar with the place nor the inhabitants, so a shady photo of it was all I got as obiously everyone was hiding… Strange enough, no-one seems to be proud of being there… :)
After that, my Antwerp-discovering afternoon continued with the train station – a master-piece of architecture, voted the 4th most beautiful in the world. And it was there where I was in diamond land as well. Although it wasn’t at all impressive. Well, at least, it wasn’t what I expected. Being the diamond capital of the world, I was somehow envisioning something else, not cheap shops with cheap marketing techniques for little tiny diamonds.
At Geoff’s indication, I did not leave Antwerpen without trying the special fries from the local frituurs. And what’s special about them is that they fry the potatoes twice. Bottom of the line: sorry, Geoff! Not for me. Too much oil.
In The Netherlands. In Roosendaal.
I left Geoff the following morning and set out to cross to The Netherlands – on this very strange cloudy-sunny-windy-rainy day – which I did, in the end. The night found me in Roosendaal, a little town close to the Belgian border. I needed to wait for my host to come back from work, somewhere in Utrecht, so I laid my bones and made my throne in Heksenketel (The Witch Kettle), where barman Michiel van Vulpen and his fellow friends kept a nice company till late at night. A night which continued at Max van Hoek, a 28 years-old enthusiastic sales-person. We talked and talked – about his job (you’d be amazed by how many kinds of product labels are out there), about CouchSurfing and the CouchSurfing community, about my journey…
The following day, I hooked-up with my next host in Roosendaal – Jessica Bredero. Together with Harrie, Jessica is a part of this really nice old married couple. Big love. Nice, normal, life. Beautiful house, rebuilt on what used to be a caffee. The main eating room became a kitchen. The old beer cellar became a little recording studio. The deposit room became a living room fitted for small theatre acts and all kinds of performances. Free entry, on a donate-money-if-you-want basis. All the money goes to charity, finally benefiting some children in Peru. Happens evey-now and then, with shows and story-telling from local aspiring artists. And in all this house, my room is in the renovated attic – every little boy’s dream!
Harrie works in the IT department of this company that produces sugar. He told me a lot about the ever-growing demand from China and India and how that made the sugar-price sky-rocketing in the past few years. When he’s not at work, Harrie plays the guitar, either home, or in a band I got to see practicing. A nice Harrogate-time reminder. :) Vintage, they call it. Old Angry Men is my vote for the name of the band! :) Mainly a cover-band. Bruce Springsteen. Lionel Richie, Bob Marley, R.E.M., Ray Charles, David Bowie. that zone. Still finding the chemistry, as Harrie just joined them a few months ago, for a bit of fun, for a bit of anger-releasing moments on guitar, for the hope of some song-writing some day. Keeping the spirit alive in any possible way! Up until two years ago, Harrie wore his hair to his shoulders. And he only agreed to give in to the pressure from his boss after having the boss fundraise 1.250 euros in return. For the same children in Peru. The money was sent and the hair was gone.
Jessica handles what Harrie cannot. And that means the house. And organizing the artistic nights. And everything else. And I wasn’t at all surprised when, without even the smallest amount of anti-feminism, Jessica expressed the following idea: ‘If a man provides enough, why would I go and have a job? I take care of the house. Why would I take a job when there are a lot of students that come out of university on a job-market that is already occupied? It’s the students and young people that need jobs. I think that in times like these, we have to change our ways.’. And those ways include even the way we buy things. As in when we don’t necessarily need them…
For instance, she gave a ladder example – on a street with 300 houses there may be as many as 100 ladders in those houses. Most of the times sitting around, unused. And most of the times, anyone in need of a ladder in the other 200 houses would just go ahead and buy a new one, jsut because he can afford one. Jessica proposes we should share more. And not in a commie perspective. But on a small scale, sharing should be encouraged. I couldn’t agree more. We are too clinged to over-production, consumption, and what seems to be like a race towards the depletion of any resource on the planet. Plus, as humanity in its total, we don’t seem to have a plan for where we are going. Not for 200, not for 50, nor for 30 years. How smart is that from the most intelligent beigns on this planet?
After a long and rather interesting conversation the other night, Harrie advised me I should stop walking once I find love. The story goes on.
Sadly, after staying with me for more than 7 years, after being trashed around, filled to the limit of explosion, my backpack ceased to exist. A new one took its place. Welcome aboard! Long live!