Before coming to Paris, I hadn’t been able, nor taken the time, to pinpoint what exactly makes something memorable.
Events from the past- the small glimmers that continue to be reoccurring themes in my everyday life- more often than not confuse me as to why they keep forcing themselves up. Some major, some minuscule, but always memorable, these events always force playback. They seem to tap on my eyelids at the most arbitrary of times, showing me things I wouldn’t have seen before, and making me remember all the things I’ve seen before. So, of course while studying abroad, my eyes seems to be perpetually widened.
A few days ago, we went to Belgium for the day. Even before getting on the early morning train, I knew that this would be a day that would reappear later. When the sun came up on the train to Lille, France, everyone has no issue with heaving up heavy eyelids to stare at the countryside around us. A horizon that wasn’t over a city landscape was something we hadn’t seen in a while, and I imagine that everyone would need less coffee in the morning if they always got to wake up to something like it.
We then transferred to a bus, and chatter got louder as we crossed into Belgium. The hour passed quickly, and soon enough we were climbing out and into the February air. We shuffled in small chaperone groups to get our first taste of the city of Brugge, and I immediately felt like I was walking into a film set. The buildings seemed to narrow above us, all while keeping an atmosphere of a tiny village. This, mixed with the smell of melting chocolate, the buzz of bars with sounds elevated by Belgium beer, and the clinking of our shoes on scattered cobblestone made me feel as if in two short hours we had found a completely new planet.
Although the day had a set schedule, every event still felt like an arbitrary experience. We took a tour through a brewery, and Johan, our tour guide, laughed at us for only really knowing English, but still took us to the top of the building to get a view of his city. The brick of the tops of buildings seemed a more vibrant red against a grey sky, and the new languages under us seemed to echo around them. We were then left with a few hours to wander around the city, and we used the time to try waffles, mochas, beer, and chocolates. The chocolate stores were extravagant to say the least, and each walk into them seemed to introduce a new flavour from the last, including lavender, Earl Grey, meringue, espresso, gin and tonic, cannabis (Miss you, Colorado), and many others.
One of my favourite books is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. That night that we returned to Belgium, I skimmed my favourite parts, digging through dogeared pages and underlined passages to try to find a way to describe how I felt. It’s hard for all of his words not to stick out, but I found myself re-reading a specific sentence over and over again, as if each time I read it I would somehow find a new word:
“It was one of the best days of my life, a day during which I lived my life and didn’t think about my life at all.”
And now I think I have a better understanding of why those glimmers tap on my eyelids. They’re not panicked; they’re not prompting me to remember every single detail that’s going on around me right that second. They’re not expecting me to write down or take photos of everything, and they’re not expecting me to understand right then and there. Instead, they’re gently pushing me forward, giving me an understanding of what’s happened, what’s happening now, and when you go forward lightly, how the two can perfectly coincide.
“And how can you say I love you to someone you love? I rolled onto my side and fell asleep next to her. Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you, Oskar. It’s always necessary.”
-Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close