Friday the 1st
Friday the 1st! It’s the start of Summer. The turn of the season is indefinite down to the light drizzle falling from the white sky – after all, this is Belgium. The weather remains at a constant cool temperature, floating at an average of 17 degrees. The rain is soft but unrelenting, the wind is forgiving. The sky is not blue or pretty but the coat of clouds keeps the warmth inside its covering without preventing the sun from shining until late in the evening. The past month of June was recorded as the wettest since 1837. Here, it rains at long intervals, and whilst it is not heavy, it is still enough to set the surrounding pastures and fields underwater. We have been a little bit unlucky with the weather this year, but this will not damper our holiday plans or the mood of the Belgians!
I had barely enough energy to force myself out of bed this morning. I was wonderfully comfortable and my legs were limp from the previous days exertion. We had not arrived home until 4:00 that morning and it was not yet 10:00! All excuses aside, my parents were on their way to retrieve me, for the day was still in its prime and tiredness is no reason to stay in bed. After taking leave from Marieke for the final time, we had brunch at an old favourite named Bakkerij Onder de Toren. Many years ago, when we lived in Edegem, we would frequent this cafe weekly, if not twice. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, dad and I would cycle to the Bakery Under the Tower, so named due to its location near the Basilica of Edegem. The store front was one large window decked with an assortment of pastries glistening with sugar coatings and colourful candied fruit which seemed to glow in contrast to the golden crusted cakes. Above this window, the bricks formed the shape of a steeple, a unique design feature in conjunction with the cafe theme that starkly contrasted the straight buildings on its either side. Every weekend, dad and I would purchase a variety of rolls and deck our outdoor table with a Dutch Breakfast consisting of meats, cheeses, spreads and freshly squeezed orange juice.
We arrived at our family friend’s city house in Antwerp that afternoon. It was some meters from our hotel and did not take long to find in the adjacent and conjunctive streets that rippled from the central Grand Place and Cathedral. From the outside, the apartment was almost hard to spot as the door melted into weathered walls of the same colour and looked a typical building from the 16th century. The inside, however, was transformed. This house had been their project over the last two years and had been entirely renovated on the inside to the point that it was unrecognisable as the construction sight we had seen last year. Three levels were furnished with tessellating wooden boards on the higher stories, a stone floored kitchen, and a tiled marble hallway to correspond with the original glory of the building. A neutral colour scheme for the walls and furniture was implemented with a minimalist touch to convey modernity and bring warmth to the space. The high ceiling supported wooden chandeliers above the dining table and was decorated with ornate architraves like flowers. The classical architectural style was maintained but modernised in features such as a charcoal coloured fireplace, ball-tapered banister beams on the steep staircase, the cast-iron radiator, mounted canvasses with artwork from the same era and their grandmothers’ writing desk. I was duly impressed by the eye for detail employed in the interior design – it would not look out of place in a museum.
Cedric and I were sent to retrieve dinner from the local Italian two streets away. The shop floor of Mario’s was cluttered with apparatus for rolling and stretching pasta, and we caught the third generation owner in the process of doing so when we arrived to pick up the cannelloni. Unlike many food shops I had been drawn to during my exploration of the city, the display was bland and unremarkable but provided a window into the craft of pasta making. The humble shop was made to be functional, hence Italian made oils, sausages, cheeses and pasta sauce were visible in the open kitchen counter at the centre of the store. The second level of the property was used as a restaurant open only at lunch time, but take away was available on order which only needed to be warmed in the oven at home. How clever! This business concept was not one I had come across at home and it evidently had much success considering it had prospered for three generations so far. The food was delicious too! Fresh and authentic, the meal was gobbled down quickly and no one bothered in being discrete when wiping their plate clean of the marinara sauce with a slice of baguette.
The grey clouds hung low over the city but appeared to have no more to offer, much to the relief of the many football fans eager to step out into the evening light. Cedric and I braved the daunting sky with optimism as we made our way to the cobblestone plane which was often used as a gathering place for events, such as the Sinksenfoor Carnival which I had visited last year. A week earlier, we had swiftly entered the gated space into a crowd of some thousand soccer supporters that emanated vibrant energy and excitement! This time, the progression into the fan park was much slower and almost uneasy due to the excessive security that checked each bag and stared down every individual. Cedric explained that the same scrutiny had been employed before the game against Hungary due to the terrorist attack in Turkey that occurred earlier that week. Soon we were lost in a congested sea of red, yellow and black. The supporters piled onto our pack causing my view to grow increasingly impaired (mind, this did not bother me too much considering I normally don’t follow sport). The tension was building and the sombre crowd were kept on the edge of their seats as the ball was once, twice, three times tried in the direction of the goal but each time rebounded into the scattering of players occupying the field. Gasps and quiet yelps of surprise broke the silence in reaction to the intense game – and then, the ball was passed from one side of the field to Nainggolan at the second post and into the goal! Everybody celebrated! Music played and streamers were shot into the sky. Flame shooters above the stage burst and burst again. Beer was catapulted into the air and sprayed onto the ecstatic football fans. The game was off to a strong start and the Belgians were gunning for a win!
We crept sideways in the hope that we would see a little bit better and came to stand behind a man whom clearly had had a little much to drink. He turned to me and made a comment as to the progress of the game – oh you’re from the Netherlands! He could hear an accent in my voice and I thought it easier to go along with his assumption rather than explain my situation. He said he had lost his friends in the crowd and offered me his beer. Before we new it the crowd was in uproar! Not two of the Red Devils or the goalie could put themselves in the path of the ball fast enough and it skimmed past the defensive and into the goal. The Welsh had scored and the viewers were back in a state of stress. Quiet and concentrated, the Belgians are evidently a polite and discrete people even in their sporting pursuits. Half time, and the score was 1-1. The mood remained tense and the crowd was on the edge of their toes ready for the rest of the match, but their heels quickly sunk as Wales scored again, and again. Unfortunately, today was not their day. Belgium had given their last performance in the Euro Cup 2016 and the Red Devils walked away with their heads hung as the foreboding sky let the skies weep upon its people.