Wanderlust

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.

Kalmthoutse Heide

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.

Hop, skip, and a jump away

Short stroll away

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.

Flemish Wisteria Lane?

Backyard playground

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.

the anti-tank canal and bunker

Thatched roof

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.

Camel?

bamboo along the way

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.

Neighborhood heather

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.

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14 thoughts on “Wanderlust

  1. I so enjoyed reading this! Be glad that you can stay whilst the decision is pending and that you don’t have to leave the country whilst they ‘review the situation’. They will soon come to their senses.

    Meanwhile, enjoy the beautiful country you live in and take root.

    x

  2. I very much relate to the wonder of making discoveries so close to home. When I first moved into the woods, it took me awhile to understand the value of those long, slow walks that you describe here. I discovered a path from the end of my road down to the river. I discovered a hidden little street with a few very sweet, shuttered and window-boxed houses in a row. These things made me feel better about where I lived. For an adventurous and curious spirit, it seems important to have one’s eyes always open, even just in the backyard.

    • it is exactly as you say. And it does/did take time. Now I wonder about all things I didn’t see when I lived in other places.

  3. Oh, how I envy your time and your walks! And I’m glad you’re enjoying those moments. To me, that’s the real stuff of life, you know? The pieces of a neighbourhood glimpsed on a weekend walk, that time to really appreciate and enjoy what’s around us. Delicious!

    • and the best part for me is, I can do it on a weekday! I hope you are getting out and catching the first signs of spring. I never took that for granted in Vancouver.

  4. Oh yes… a deep sense of place is so satisfying, no?! There’s breadth and there’s depth and you’re so lucky to have experienced them both. Many, many extraordinary places and now just one but very deeply. Love the photos! (Some of those look familiar. Did I send you photos from the autumn?!) So has being closer to where you are made you feel differently about it? Or not really?

    • Deeply and over time! I wish I’d known about some of these other places when you were here, but still am happy you got a glimpse. The last photo is yours, hope you don’t mind. It’s clearly the best one.
      Yes, being experientially closer to where I am has made it feel different. I think the only other place in my life where I was able to do this much idle exploring was when I lived in my childhood home. You know, cause being able to do it is a function of time and space and cause, and I’ve never had all three. It makes me second guess a lot of my old old assumptions from way back. It also makes me realize how privileged I am and will be seen to be living here. It sounds worse than I mean but its good to discover this place outside of hubby’s experience- then it feels more like my own. It’s like a funny little rebellion in a way. Like when I walked home from school when I was a kid and would dawdle home and explore- my own childish way of asserting my independence in a way.

      • I once received a phone call, very unexpectedly, from a lost love who said he was having a hard time adjusting to a new town and decided that day to drive down a few roads he hadn’t yet seen to a grocery store he hadn’t yet shopped at– which, he said, prompted him to call me. “It was something you would’ve done,” he said. I do believe that there is something deeply therapeutic–perhaps for the little rebellion in it, as you say–in making private discoveries, in having my own little secrets with my place.

      • “… its good to discover this place outside of hubby’s experience- then it feels more like my own.”

        This makes perfect sense to me. I totally understand what you’re saying here. I have a friend who met her husband very shortly after moving to a new state/province but she had a hard time for a while because everything there was “his” – his friends, his routines, his memories, his sense of place. I think it made it hard for her to feel she was on an equal footing – a partner rather than a girlfriend. I’m grateful you finally have time, space and cause to make your home your own and I’m proud of you for doing it.

        It reminds me of slow food… maybe there is slow living too.

        Oh, and I don’t mind at all you used the photo! (How bad is it that I didn’t connect the dots? Um, if my photo is on the blog obviously I sent them to you. I think I need a holiday.)

  5. Did you know I use yours as an example to all my friends of what I describe as a “truly equal marriage”? Where despite the outcome, you give to each other and of yourselves… for the sake of the friendship and journey together. You have fortitude I would never have, and an ability to find beauty in details I have forgotten how to do. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Ah, but you have tremendous fortitude. And I look forward to reminding you of all that quirky beauty out there.
      i’ll let hubby know about our role model responsibility- he’ll be thrilled!

  6. Pingback: A Life of Luxury: Choices, Trade offs, and the Benefits of Busyness. | Mother Sugar

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