American Author, Caron Kamps Widden, Reflects On Life, Writing Novels and the Musings of Living and Traveling Around the Country and Abroad.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Life On My Other Lane
I live in two countries, two cities, with two harbors, two homes, two time-zones, on two continents, with two languages (although three languages are spoken in one)....you get the drift. I live in one place more than the other, which will flip in September, and then I will live in the other place more than the other one. Okay, now I'm confusing even myself. So, on my recent trip (from Connecticut) over to my other life (in Belgium), I decided that instead of touring, or getting settled, or trying to find places, or meeting people, or buying things we need, or working on my language skills, or whatever else I've been doing on previous trips (four in all this year, the longest being a month-long stay) -- this time, I was going over to just see what it feels like to 'live' in Belgium. First of all, this was the first time I've flown over and not suffered from jet-lag after my overnight flight. For some reason, I was able to sleep fairly well on the flight (maybe because my husband bumped me up to business class, which by the way, I must say, for the record, life is better in rows 1-6...I mean, come on, they even serve you hot fudge sundaes). But, I don't think it's because of the extra rest or the larger seat, it's more to do with the fact that I've been to my new home away from home so many times now, that it's finally beginning to 'feel' like home, and therefore, I'm not emotionally drained or overwhelmed or scared or nervous, I'm just home when I walk through the door. I know how to get there, I understand a lot of what people are saying around me (in Dutch, French, and sometimes German) or I get the gist anyway, by how they express themselves and through body language. A man came up to me while I was sitting on a bench below our flat reading, and asked me in Flemish (I can now tell the difference between Flemish and Dutch) if the long, barge-like boat tied down in front of me was a floating bed and breakfast, and if I was the innkeeper. Yes, it's a hotel, I told him, but No, I was not it's owner. I said this all in English and he completely understood me and thanked me in his own language. I knew he understood, because he walked closer to the boat and entered the phone number for reservations painted on the side into his cell phone and began asking questions. Soon, the boat's captain came out from below and welcomed him aboard to take a look at the rooms. I heard the word, slaapkamer, which means 'bedroom' in Flemish and Dutch. I went back to reading my book, and several more times, Dutch speaking people stopped to ask me the way to a museum or a restaurant or just to comment on the beautiful weather. I could communicate just fine, because I felt relaxed enough to understand what they needed. There was something different happening. The fact that people were assuming I was a local and could help them, was because I looked comfortable in my environment. I've always said, never judge a new place for at least a year, it takes that long to become accustomed to the area and the way things are done (and after so many moves, it really is true). So, even though I don't yet live full-time in Antwerp, Belgium, I've become one of its citizens, available to answer questions and help my fellow residents (Twerps). Mr. Life On The Lane and I spent time together after he finished work each day, going for walks and stopping for a bite at restaurants, that for once, were not a place someone had told us about, but instead, just looked good to us for whatever reason. We found little shops that were not part of the tourist areas, where we could buy furniture, magazines, flowers, sporting goods, comfortable shoes for a cobblestone city, office supplies, cooking supplies, tea, herbs...really anything we needed. We found smaller parks where locals were playing basketball and soccer and alleyways filled with outdoor cafes. I felt, for the first time, like we were blending in, receiving friendly glances and smiles from our fellow Antwerpians. On the weekend, we did what we always do, a movie, church, breakfast out, cooked meals together and a nice drive to another town for lunch. That other town, just happened to be Brugge. But, we went about our time there like any other Saturday afternoon in Connecticut. We parked where we always park, just near the central square and walked around for a while, bought some chocolates for the drive home and found a lovely sidewalk cafe to have lunch. We could have been at the Spectrum in Irvine, California or Quincy Market in Boston for all we knew...it was just another Saturday, hanging out together where we live. Boy, did that feel good. So, even in a foreign country, with other languages, and different food, life can feel just about the same. Home is where you hang your hat, my dad always said...and he was so right. Couples hold hands, children laugh and play, the elderly chat about the old days, young people hang out together -- everyone trying to enjoy the day. It's nice to know, that when my life becomes more often in Belgium and less often in the states, it will feel comfortable, like home, like I belong. Leef uw leven zonder spijt -- live your life without regret.