Europe 03.07.16

Sunday the 3rd

We haven’t yet had breakfast and the talk is already concerned with politics, in particular the incoming results of the Australian Federal Election. Our current situation in the far eastern countryside leaves us off the grid bar for weak wifi connection, hence we are struggling to discover the results of yesterday’s polling. It appears to be a hung parliament but the counting of the postal votes has been postponed until this upcoming Tuesday due to the lack of a clear frontrunner thus far. The cold buffet of breads and charcuterie put a cap on our conversation and I was allocated the role of distributing another round of tasteless filter coffee.

The return route to Antwerp was tedious due to the misdirection of our satellite navigation near the entrance to the city. Stuck in peak traffic from the summer holiday influx into the city centre delayed our arrival by longer than half an hour, which is substantial for an estimated distance of two kilometres in a walkable region. The same time was expended waiting for a parking place to come free in the lot underneath the Hilton Hotel which we had returned to for the umpteenth time this holiday. With only thirty minutes to spare before our next engagement, dad and I retired to the hotel bar whilst mum powdered her nose upstairs in the room.

We were scheduled to see the other half of our extended family at the North Quarter of the wharf. The waterline was occupied by a series of shipping warehouses which had been repurposed to house trendy restaurants and exhibitions for the summer festival currently underway. The complex was stencilled with block letters spelling its name, Bocadero, and its exterior dusted with sand to the edge of each doorway to give the impression of a beach. We found our relatives in the first of a series of resident bars sipping on sangria and eating crumbed calamari tapas. The open-air bar conjoined with a hall five times the breadth of the deck whereon we had made ourselves comfortable, which today played host to a Flamenco Festival. As both my mother and her sister had leisurely practiced this style of dance during their youth, their excitement was to be expected. Inside, the seasonal venue was packed like sardines! (I am not one to typically use tasteless cliches so understand the extent to which this venue was so very really fucking busy). From our vantage point at the edge of the hall scanning across its length to the other, I saw a sea of heads. Disgruntled bodies were made to shuffle their way from the billet office to the drinks tent to the tapas area to the toilets to the cava float – and many a sangria was spilled in the process of trying to squeeze through the stubborn crowds. Parents escorted their daughters dressed in long layered skirts, a image reminiscent of my mother and aunt when they were likewise students of flamenco dance. My aunt, who had volunteered behind the bar, was dressed in a traditional turquoise flamenco skirt pattered with cobalt blue flowers which matched those in her hair. The same blue colour recurred in a complementary cropped wrap with flared sleeves, hanging earrings, a beaded necklace and lace diadem. The dancers on stage wore beautiful outfits as they performed to the awe of the audience, hypnotised where they stood congregated on the dance floor below. As soon as the performance had reached intermission, the people rose from their heels on the parquet and danced to the live band in whichever style they pleased. My uncle lead me in a simple tango between the percussive stomps of the professional dancers whilst dad took my aunt in attempt to outperform us.

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Our dancing had worked up an appetite! The raucous hubbub echoing within the overcrowded venue subsided the second we stepped outside into the fresh air which wafted from the Antwerp Schelde. Our restaurant reservation at Bibiza was only a few doors down from the Flamenco Festival. This pop-up was the brainchild of Kevin de Backer, famed winner of the Gold Fork 2014, and a branch of his flagship restaurant B23. I joined my cousins at the end of the table and ordered beef cannelloni drizzled in red wine jus with a side of tartare. By the time we had finished, the sun was casting its reflection into the waters of the river and the staining the clouds a vibrant orange. It was a picturesque sight of a different side of Belgium.

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