The Belgian government hasn’t yet decided to grant me residence. They want to confirm that I’ve truly been married the last nine years and that my husband can afford me. No, I’m not kidding.
When I got the news, I confess my feelings were hurt. After all, I’m a very vocal fan of the little land. I’ve studied here, brought tourists, spent money. I’ve tried to adopt a lot of the local habits: trash talking the Dutch, eating my waffles plain, dutifully visiting my in-laws every Sunday. I’ve learned to make due with one warm meal a day. Almost. I watch Flemish sitcoms about football. I correct people about the origin of fries and eat mayonnaise like it’s ketchup. It’s only a matter of time before my Canadian passive aggressiveness evolves into full out Euro-confrontation. But none of it matters. All they care about is how much money we have. No, wait, how much money my husband has.
While they deliberate, I’m not allowed to travel or leave the country. This is like telling Shakespeare not to rhyme. While hubby is called away on adventures in the Cayman Islands and the Middle East, I remain in his land where I’m currently taking classes to learn his language. Yes, that’s love.
I am trying to make the best of things. It’s my own little writing residency. It’s a country retreat. I’ve been walking the dog a lot, and it turns out there are three nature reserves all within a 30 minute walk from our house that I didn’t know about. In a country as compressed as Belgium, the sudden expanse of space is startling.
I grew up in an urban planned suburban city in a cookie cutter cul de sac where all the houses have been coordinated and built at the exact same time. I’ve lived near a nude beach, a camel farm, and Central Park. But based on what I’ve discovered the last few days, perhaps this is the most unexpected locale of all.
We live in a green area. There are lots of houses here of a good size inhabited by healthy looking (mostly white) families. Let’s call them the bourgeois. But it’s a sleepy place despite its proximity to the city. There is farmland nearby, schools. A Belgian version of Wisteria lane, perhaps.
But after walking around the last few days, here’s what else appears to be a short stroll away: a helipad, a castle, a forest, a military domain, an airfield, wild deer, llamas, a camel, old German bunkers, an anti-tank canal, thatched roofs, lilypads, gay Dutchmen, horses, a golf course, blue spruce, Douglas fir, bamboo, holly, a 100 year old train station, a Maserati (or two?), a field of heather, sand dunes, a herd of sheep along with nomadic shepherd, and a beehive.
Turns out that while I may not be able to romp around the world these days, it’s still worth being a flanneur in my own backyard.
And aside from the exercise, it’s been inspiring learning about my new home on my own. When I walk, things slow down in a good way. I forget the to do list, the map, how long or how fast we go, and marvel at the little things.
I don’t know how long I stood counting the stripes on the first bumble bee of the season. And I’m sure the neighbors were a little worried as I inspected the birth of a pussy willow. It’s like being a kid again and losing track of time not because you’ve been distracted or swamped, but because it just seemed to stop.
Does this mean I forgive Belgium for not welcoming me with open arms? I’m not sure. But I’m no longer as fervently counting down the days until my passport is usable again. And when they finally do approve my residency, I know I’ll feel that much more at home.