Europe 04.07.16

Monday the 4th

This morning I braved the halls of the Vinck Heymans Verzorgingstehuis – the aged care home wherein my grandma resides. My attitude towards the palliative care facility may appear somewhat melodramatic (I am aware and I admit), but I am sensitive to the flaws of the human condition and last year could not maintain my composure as I walked through those halls. To have to witness the sad existence of individuals with just as little time as ability left to their disposal is confronting. It does not sit well with me that people have to suffer in this context as any, but that is not to say that all aged living is unpleasant! I know my grandma is happy where she is, although she may not know where that is most of the time. The corridors were decorated with Euro Cup memorabilia and banners were spanned across the ceiling at such a height that dad had to dance underneath them. My grandma’s face radiated with surprise as we entered her room! She was well dressed in a purple skirt and matching cardigan. “Amai, it feels so good to see you!” she exclaimed as we departed, followed by a chorus from her companions claiming that now she ought to be content. And she was.

We were unlucky to find that Cafe Kamiel, our go-to around the corner of the home on Arthur Goemaereleistraat, had changed its operating hours for the holiday season and was closed until this afternoon. This meant we were in for a bit of a walk, but this was no inconvenience as it was a nice day and dad was twirling my grandma in all directions in her wheelchair. The stillness on the streets was unmistakable, being that many of the shops are closed on Monday which we observed in Antwerp also. This is quite different from cafe culture in Australia, which is seven days a week from 6:00am to facilitate the bustling workers on their way to work, and often this is even the busiest period of the day! In stark contrast, this morning my parents and I struggled to find a restaurant open for breakfast and still nothing was open some hours later as we searched for a coffee spot away from the clinical congestion of the cafeteria. Instead, we settled in Panos! This bakery occupied more street corners than McDonalds in Belgium and offered a variety of crispy pastries, baguette sandwiches and good coffee. It was the second time today we had sat at Panos and although it was not as cozy or ambient as Cafe Kamiel, it was nonetheless great to get the family together to see grandma. My mum’s sister and brother were soon to join, and when we went to take farewell I was relieved to know that soon she might not know we had visited and would not be back for another year.

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Imagine a tavern from 1857. On one side, a tall bar with marble top under which wooden stools with long cylindrical legs bear the weight of the clumsy pub goers. On the other, a wooden bench with leather upholstery built into the wall to seat the patrons at the bare dining tables. Low lanterns lit the checkerboard floor and gleamed off spirit bottles and polished glasses, thereby brightening the heavy brown colour scheme inside the tavern. Our lunch spot, De Lindekes, was named after the ten trees planted in its courtyard. My aunt recalled how she frequented this cafe in her youth. More than thirty years ago, she and her husband visited De Lindekes to drink and dance! We were here for a humble lunch of flemish specialities such as a warm goats cheese salad or shrimp and tomato. We might only have arrived at this restaurant due to our other preferences being closed on Monday, yet the symbolic resonance of my parent’s and aunt’s experience here in their youths made a reminiscent backdrop for our final meal together.

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The warm glow of the sun on our backs as we walked back to the house make us reluctant to have to step in the car for another stiff journey back to the Netherlands. But we had already overstayed our time in Antwerp and had committed to visiting the rest of our family so it was time we were on our way once more. At the Raddison Blu Palace Hotel we were relieved to find the weather had maintained its tranquil beauty and the sun would continue to shine until it set in the sea late that evening. We invited Oma to dinner at the Zeemeeuw, a seaside brasserie built onto the sand and decorated in beachy paraphernalia. Life buoys, fishing nets, hooks and pulleys from retired boats hung from the ceiling and the white boarded walls in imitation of the hull of a ship. The execution of the maritime theme was made flawless by the reflection of the sun on the blue water horizon visible from where we dined. It had definitely been an unlucky and uncharacteristic season so far but we were hopeful the change of the wind would continue to favour us for our last week here.

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