An American In Brussels

Trust me. I can say a few words about how this grey-haired man is exhausted from what is only the early days of his European Tour. I was there, every minute…waiting for the train in Bruges and sitting in the hot humid air of Brussels Midi station wondering whether he should jump into a taxi or sit at a spaghetti restaurant across from the train station.

The guy decided to go to the restaurant and share a beer with his wife. He was unnerved. He knew nothing about the geography of Brussels. They took a taxi to the B & B they had found on an online booking service. When they got there, it was three flights up to a room that was very artistic, but lacked a desk, chairs and a fan. It was humid in Brussels that afternoon.

They spent a night there. He sweated through most of the dark hours. They took a walk and found the Grand Place.

It was the night before his birthday.

They made an unusual choice to depart the B & B and take a room at the Marriott. Not something he had planned to do…he wanted small hotels, European-style. But, he didn’t want to sweat another night.

They booked a room at the Marriott. Once they were allowed into their room, this tired old man took a nap.

Now, a little history:

This man, after he passed his mid 60’s, began to feel that each birthday had to include something somewhat unusual.

On his 67th birthday, they were in Paris. They climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. On the 67th step, they stopped and embraced.

On his 68th birthday, they were in Dorset, England. They went to Salisbury Cathedral. They walked 68 steps down the central aisle of the nave, stopped and embraced.

Some years passed. They didn’t find themselves in a foreign country on his birthday, so it was all low-key. Should we take 69 steps toward the local post office and stop and embrace?

That wasn’t going to do it for him. So, how did it all play out today in Brussels…a city he knew very little about. The answer was beneath their feet.

The cobblestones!

He chose a side street with a beautiful cobblestone pavement. They tiptoed 71 tiles (cobblestones?) and stopped and embraced.

Then it began to rain very hard. They ran to the restaurant that was enthusiastically recommend.

As he ate his cod dish, he was already thinking about number 72.

[All photos are mine]

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Don’t Cry For Me, Puerto Rico: My Final Postcard

BreakWaves

If you want to use Google Earth to find me, just enter 18.44 N and 66.01 W.  That’s me, sitting at the beach bar waiting for an order of nachos.

I’ve licked my last stamp and stuck it to the corner of this postcard.  I won’t be writing to you anymore–from this place.  This is my last day.

So, I’ve spent seven days at Condado Beach.  I admit that I’ve done nothing that several million other tourists, before and after me, haven’t already done.  I didn’t find an undiscovered gem.  I didn’t walk a virgin path.  In fact, I’ve done less than most people who come here given our limited budget.  I’ll be washing the sand off my feet soon and in the morning we’ll take a taxi to the airport.

I only purchased one tee-shirt and eight postcards.  That’s really good for me.  Oh, I almost forgot, there is a new refrigerator magnet in our luggage.

I’ll be honest.  I really don’t want to go home just yet.  I found this island fascinating, fun and full of potential as the salve I need right now.

I’ve shared what I’ve done, but what about the places unseen and people I never talked to?  Those are left for the next time.

I can only think of those brief moments, scenes, people and impressions that I chanced to experience in this too brief a time:

A pretty teenage girl stood in a small park.  I asked if I could photograph her.  She was wary.  In five seconds, her family appeared.  I talked fast.  I snapped quick.  I walked on.

SanJuanGirl

Inside a church, there was a small wedding.  maybe nine people witnessed besides the videographer and the priest–and me.  The bride wore scarlet.

The cobblestone streets of the Old City were said to come here as ballast in the ships that sailed centuries ago.  The ballast for the return trip to Europe?  Gold.

CobblestoneStreetOldSanJuan

The buildings of Old San Juan were pink and mint green and yellow and pastel hues I couldn’t name.

SanJuanSquare

There were homeless men on the streets, each one had a dog or two to assuage their loneliness.

I passed a small baseball park where Roberto Clemente played his first professional games.  There was a man on the beach with the entire (?) 23rd Psalm tattooed on his stomach.  There was room for all the text.

There was a young woman on the same beach in a slight bikini.  Her perfect shape and beautiful dark skin would have stopped a bus-load of Baptist ministers.

The graffiti on the walls reminded me of New York City in the 1970’s.  The tree frogs along Ashford Avenue sounded too perfect to be real–but they were.

***

My last thoughts?  They are like the last thoughts of these islanders.  My final memory is of a place where memories live, tears fall and dead rest.

Out on a large wind-swept lawn, with a historical site and light house, is a cemetery.  The San Juan Cemetery sits inside a 16-foot stone wall (the wall that protected the Old City for centuries).  The plots gleam white in the sun.  White and bright enough to bring tears to your eyes.  Beyond the thick wall, the sea waves crash against the rocks.  You look at the white cemetery, the white breaking waves and your eyes moves to the horizon.  There the sea makes a perfect line as it meets the sky.  Surely, the spirits of those who rest here must sit on their stones and admire the view of the moon-lit ocean.  As I stand on the high ground above, on the lawn where kite fliers run and laugh, I’m sure the spirits are down there in the daylight and watching the sea..watching the horizon..looking for the Final Boat that will take them away to whatever heaven they believe in.

SanJuanCemetery1

I’m thinking these things but I’m finding my words are inadequate in describing this wondrous place.

I don’t think anyone down in the cemetery, watching their kites or watching the sea needs my tears.

They don’t have to cry for me, either.