Sunday, April 3, 2016

Easter in Brussels

Since I moved abroad, during holidays either I go home or my parents visit me. This year I decided to stay in Brussels, as I’m going to celebrate some family birthdays at home a little later. When I started writing down this chronicle of the Holy Week in Brussels, I couldn’t imagine what would have happened. The plan was working until Friday morning, going to the church on Thursday evening, Friday afternoon, and Sunday morning, and going to Bruges by train with a colleague on Easter Sunday. Obviously only part of the plan was exploited.

centro commerciale addobbato per Pasqua, qualche anno fa
The Palm weekend has been quite busy with (German) church music. On Saturday, I actively took part to a concert (playing and singing in the choir, here the description in Italian), preceded by a whole weekend in a monastery in the Eifel region. On Palm Sunday, I accompanied with the organ both masses, the second one together with the brass band, whose conductor will soon leave Brussels to go back to Germany with his family. This will represent a great loss for the musical life of the two German-speaking churches in town.

The working week began as usual. On Tuesday morning, before going to the metro station, I checked the news and the world stopped. Everybody knows what happened in Brussels that morning. I spent hours reassuring relatives and friends that I was safe and checking that my colleagues and friends in town were safe as well. I must admit that I was touched by the interest of so many people… but Italy. The embassy never contacted me to know whether I was alive or not, even though I’m regularly registered as resident. I went from denial (cannot be true, not Brussels, every other place is more likely a target than Brussels, which symbolises the whole Europe) to anxiety. Finally I partly reached the Belgian resilience. However, not that quickly. Because I’m Italian. The fast come back to normality surprised me even more than the attacks themselves. The way the news were shown helped a lot. In Italy, we are fond of drama. Here, not. We have been spared the most dramatic images. The reaction was not of violence, but irony. I will probably never understand Belgians, but I deeply admire them!

Manneken Peace. La reazione belga in tempi non sospetti.
Maundy Thursday. I went to work on foot. It’s 4.5 km one way, 9 km a day. I needed to walk after two days locked at home. The city was pretty much unchanged, stuck in traffic jams. The metro was partly disrupted but run already in many stations, with additional security checks. The university was almost deserted, without students, but most of my colleagues were present. The ecumenic service planned in the German church was a kind of dinner. When I saw the tables, I felt overwhelmed and I left. Despite the great welcome of the community, I’m a foreigner. It is too difficult to translate thoughts and feeling in another language. Too different ways to think and react. Good Friday. On the morning I worked from home. In the afternoon I attended the catholic service in the German church. I particularly appreciated the sermon, which helped me to feel finally “ready” to prepare myself for Easter. Easter Saturday was spent on baking and cooking. On Sunday early morning, despite the time change, I went to the ecumenic service at 6 am. No public transit available. I walked through the dark and quiet district where I live. No cars, but singing birds. Under heavy rain. Eventually, candles in the church preceded the sun. That’s Easter!  It followed a late lunch with friends, not far from a busy square of Brussels, with the usual flea market. Like nothing has happened. I spent Easter Monday at home, working and cleaning.

The first week of Spring Holidays brought two surprises at work. First, an award certificate for the funding I received in Austria. (Ah, Vienna! Where a PhD is addressed like a baron and a research project is awarded like a royal privilege). Second, the book I co-authored, about Italian women living abroad. These are signs that it’s time to move on. Next week I should fly to Italy and they are doing their best to reopen the airport. Scrolling down my Fb posts, I realised that on March 22nd 2013 I signed the rental agreement for my first apartment in Brussels, the formal beginning of this experience. What I did and learned in the past three yrs I didn't do in the previous 33. On March 22nd 2016 I realised that I still hate Brussels, like the first day, and this won’t change. However, at the same time, I developed a kind of affection for Belgium. I cannot say I will miss it, but at least I acknowledge the importance this place has had in my life.  

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