Wednesday, December 14, 2011

All is Calm, All is Bright

Our little town in the states was all lit up with holiday decorations as we strolled down Main Street along with our fellow citizens for the Holiday Walk, the kick-off to shopping and celebrating, which happens every year, on a Friday evening, right after Thanksgiving week. There were carolers and ice sculptors and Santa Claus and horse-drawn carriages...and even a movie star and his new girlfriend (we are a small town, but just charming enough to draw even those with an entourage).  All bundled up in my new white scarf, black suede boots and cozy down jacket, listening to a carol or two and dipping into Books on the Common to buy a few gifts, I found myself getting in the mood for Christmas.  How can you not get in the mood, with half the town out in the cold winter air, singing songs and greeting friends, children with their eyes wide open as Santa goes by on a sled through town.  I mean, come on, it felt like that scene in Funny Farm with Chevy Chase, where he and his wife decide to sell their house in New England after their dreams of moving to the country, so Chevy can write the great American novel, are a total bust.  When they find a potential buyer, they talk the whole town (and promise to pay each citizen $50 to depict 'small town' values) into bringing to life, a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.  I love that movie.  And I love that our little town reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting and that it's not an act.  It is, indeed, a sweet little New England town, right down to the white painted houses, black shutters, the town post office where everyone chats while they are in line to buy stamps, the diner, the ice cream shop and the gazebo in the park.  It's like a movie set, and sometimes I think someone might yell, "Cut!"  And the movie is a wrap.  Is is possible to be in love with a town?  Well, my heart flutters every time I go home, so it must be love.  Or maybe I just appreciate it because I live in another country most of the time these days.  Or maybe I see it differently, because I live in another country.  Antwerp has its charms as well.  We flew back to Antwerp a few days after our walk along Main Street, arriving on a Saturday morning, the city still sleeping as we drove along the Scheldt River to our flat overlooking a small harbor.  The moon was setting over the city, and holiday lights were still sparkling as the day began to peak through the overcast skies.  The riverfront had been transformed into a winter wonderland, tidy merchant shacks had been set up and there was a giant Ferris wheel, lit up and rotating slowly nearby the castle (yes, we have our very own castle in Antwerp...) and there was even a makeshift ice rink complete with bales of hay to sit and rest upon between laps.  Tiny white lights were strewn all along the sidewalks and I felt like we were getting the pre-opening-night-sneak-peak as we drove by, the only folks around, those who were setting everything up for the first day of celebration -- which was that day.  We were a bit punchy from the overnight flight, so when we arrived at our building, we got a burst of energy and cleaned our whole apartment and pulled out the few holiday decorations that we'd had shipped over when we moved into our flat.  Our goofy Charlie Brown style faux-Christmas tree, it's branches all bent and decrepit, magically came to life as we found a few ornaments and a string of lights.  Voila!  Christmas in Belgium.  We napped a bit and then walked down to the river to join in the festivities with our other fellow-citizens...and I must say, it was all too familiar to our sweet little New England village celebration.  Santa was there to thrill the children, the street vendors were selling hand-knit hats, warm macaroons (just like my grandmother made), hot chocolate, wooden toys, and of course, waffles, chocolates and beer.  Even the castle had a tree inside its courtyard, near the statue of Jesus on the cross.  It was lovely, and we felt welcomed back to our other hometown, in northwest Flanders where friends were greeting each other much the same way they were in our small town in Connecticut, a kiss or two or three on the cheek, with a hello! how are you?  Merry Christmas!  Only, in Dutch of course.  My life on the lane is calm and bright, happy and merry, and just as festive on both sides of the pond.  Gelukkige Kerstmis, Seizoenen Groet!  Merry Christmas, Season's Greetings!
Grote Markt, Antwerpen
Shopping along the Scheldt River

Ice Skating Under Twinkling Lights

Antwerpen, BE

Ice Skating in Antwerpen

Carolers in Ridgefield, CT

Cheerful Storefront in Connecticut

Grote Markt, Antwerpen

Antwerpen Lit Up

Het Steen, Antwerpen's Petite Castle

Window Shopping in Ridgefield

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