Lost in La Grand Place
I have no real idea where I am anymore. That was fast.
According to our free walking tour guide Yasser—a tall, built, bronze Brazilian studying abroad in Belgium who goes by the brilliant nickname “Yass” who had a legend to passionately pass on around every street corner—Brussels is known as center of Europe.
One one hand, I know there is no way this city lies smack in the middle of the European continent. My train ride from Paris was not long enough.
On the other hand, I trust Yass. I trust his word, perhaps because it’s all I really have to go on at this point. I’m willing to weave his potentially figurative turn of phrase into the narrative tapestry of my Eurotrip. Without Yass’ take on Brussels, I’d simply be sun-baked and full of beer, frites, and waffles.
I do not particularly think of myself as an insular person. I have the self-image of a man who is quieter and softer internally than he externally projects, but I’m no hermit. If I were, I do not think would have gotten where I am right now. However, I’ve been traveling for a week now, completely untethered from any semblance of base upon which to constitute or fortify myself.
After Paris, my knowledge of the European cities I am exploring becomes rather inconsistent, to say the least. My knowledge of the languages spoken in these cities is limited and embarrassing. My wifi, my connection to the cloud that makes this world small enough for me to hold it in the palms of my hand, is only guaranteed to be inconsistent at best.
Seven days. Two cities, two hostels. Four friends and this funny tour guide, Yasser, who shepherded a group of perhaps eighteen English-speaking tourists around Brussels in order to lend a rich historical context to our time in this old and oft-overlooked city. This is just the beginning.
I always conceived of my Eurotrip as a sort of victory lap to the marathon that was my term studying abroad an ocean away from home. I realize now that my thinking actually applied wholly to my life-long dream come true five days in Paris. See, that is where my foresight ended. I gave up on pre-writing and put down my pen, too enamored with and exhilarated by such a monumental plot point in the epic tale of my European adventure.
Much to my surprise, I am finding this surprising unknowing rather relaxing—enchanting, even. I feel so present. All I have is where I am and who I am with. It’s simple and oddly tangible. As each moment comes and goes, all I have is now—how very zen! How Eat, Pray, Love of me! All I need now is Javier Bardem!
Instead, I have Yasser and his legends of Brussels, most notably that of the Mannekin Pis, a statue of a little boy peeing into a basin near the old town center. According to Yasser, in his excited if slightly broken English, “there is legend” that the Manneken Pis saved the city from a bombing when he innocently happened upon a lit stick of dynamite on a full bladder. Naturally, he urinated on the fuse and saved Brussels. For this, the Manneken Pis is the pride of the city. Europe is a sort of fractured fairytale, isn’t it?
As our walking tour continued through Brussels’ beautiful Warandepark, a mother trying to keep track of her three children turned to our party of five. She recalled us saying we were students from Boston. “I graduated from BU,” she said. For some odd reason, I flipped out. “Oh my gosh! We all go to BU! That’s so funny! How exciting! When did you graduate!?” My great big world was coming into context, and I rushed to bridge gaps from Boston to Brussels, to color in the blank spots in my personal world picture, to make sense of my surrender to spring serendipity and sunlit sightseeing.
The conversation lasted a few seconds past my desperate burst of interrogations. Once the friendly mother moved out of ear-shot, Teresa laughed at me. What the hell did I get so excited about? What discovery did I think I was on the brink of? I laughed at me and my momentary madness.
For me, connection is control. Sense feels safe. My world is most comfortable when I can see deep into the spaces between the myriad moments of my mostly mundane life. When I can relate moment a to moment b, everything begins to equate. When I can relate person x to person y, I see a bigger picture. And this picture is as big and beautiful as a night sky full of stars arranged in multitudinous majestic constellations, each possessing its own myth and magic. Everything connects. Everything continues the story. This is the math behind my romanticism. It is this comfort in which I find the strength to pick up my pen and write my story, to live the wide-eyed way I do.
Or not. Once, during an acting exercise, I was prompted to finish the statement, “I am at my best when…” For the life of me, I cannot place this moment in my memory—was it before London, at BU, or after, at LAMDA? Regardless, I remember my knee-jerk reflexive answer was, “when I don’t know what the fuck is going on.” Considering the language, it was probably pre-England.
I know myself to be best when outside my comfort zone. One of my great challenges is maintaining a proactive lifestyle even when I settle into another one of life’s inherent routines. Perhaps this lends itself to a deluded poet’s predilection for volatility and drama. Perhaps it simply means I will do well with the insecurity and instability of life as an artist.
However, habit and habitat are two different things. Romance is my habit. Poetry is my habit. Storytelling is my habit. I indulge in these habits as often as I do the bad habit of biting my nails—if not more. I will forever apply these habits to my way of life regardless of my habitat. I will live my life as I know how no matter where I am and how little I know. I will explore and discover and put pieces together until I have a mosaic all my own to show the world.
At this point, I need not worry about pre-writing. My last director at LAMDA, James, a brilliant British man who mumbles his way through his precise, personal approach to theatremaking, encouraged me away from what he identified as a preference for time. “You’re focused on time, having time, you are more comfortable when you have more time, and you can just have faith in what you’re good at rather than looking for time. You can have the confidence that when you go out there, you’ll be there, all of you, and you can just talk.” That is my idea of magic, and I am too trained an actor to not to immediately take a note that good, so here goes nothing.
Last night, after two bars, a bit of whiskey and a couple beers each, me and my five friends went to sit out on the cobblestones of Grand Place, Brussel’s old town center. Yasser assured us “this is the most beautiful square in all of Europe.” Again, I trust Yass and his word. We sat under the big, beautiful night sky full of stars and shared laughs. We reclined upon each other to rest our heads and look up at all of the lights—old gothic towers shining as bright as the moon suspended high above all else, surrounded by constellations of stars each with their own myth and magic.
I played “Drunk in Love” on my iPhone—my music’s the one thing it’s good for sans Wifi. I stood up in the middle of the square that sits in the center of “the center of Europe” and, much to the embarrassed chagrin of my friends, I began to perform the physical theatre piece I devised a week prior at LAMDA. I deliriously danced my way through its eight beats, each an extrapolation of a moment of my life. Beyoncé belted on and on until I came to my last beat—‘the present moment,’—fell to the ground out of breath, and laid my head on Christian’s chest to rest. I catch my breath and relax.
The stars are there. I am here. This is the story of the space between and this story writes itself.