The next morning things seemed all wrong again:  at breakfast there were American businesspeople with their personal digital assistants lying casually on the table next to their plates.

Artevelde, as I knew it, was obscure; I had never come across another American in the time that I lived there, and if I had I would’ve expected it to be a stray backpacker, not a business type.  Fortunately they all left quickly, as though on a common schedule, and I was able to enjoy my coffee in peace before setting off to look once again for remnants of the Artevelde of old.

The day was overcast as I made my way into the city.  Approaching The Church from the opposite side I was amazed to find the entire square in front of it dug up.  Gone were the french-fry shacks that used to sit on all of these corners and parking areas.  And what had happened to all the cafes in the streets ringing the square?  Down below, on the canal, I was treated to a rare sight: an empty lot (like most old European cities, Artevelde was densely populated and every square inch of the inner city, if not a public park, generally was occupied by a building, parking area, or some other utility).  But here it was just overgrown with shrubs and grass, and a fetching red water bottle sitting on a graffiti-splattered concrete ruin in front of it all.  A great photo-op it was, and I started fumbling for my camera, distracted by a sound of something mechanical, something snorting and pneumatic, approaching me from behind.  I turned to find the inexplicable—a female jogger in shorts and spandex running alongside the canal.  Joggers! Cell phones!  What had become of this place?  When I lived here such a display was unheard of—you might occasionally see young lovers in the park on a summer day, the women in sun dresses and the men stripped down to undershirts, but never this.  And to top it off she sauntered over and snatched the red bottle away, ruining my shot.

My hopes of taking refuge over coffee in a familiar safe spot were soon dashed—the Forward! café was closed.  Since when was the Forward! not open for a mid-morning coffee?  Chastened, I ended up at a bar (bars were always open in the morning) in my old neighborhood, where I was treated to an old familiar stand-by.  It was the old drip coffee that I had grown to love, where the coffee was sandwiched into a disposable plastic receptacle placed on top of the cup and filled with boiling water.  This was always common in workers’ cafes and bars, and there would always be a small cookie or chocolate on the saucer next to the cup.  And so it still was, eighteen years later, in Café Zum Zum!  What a brilliant pleasure.  To top it off, soon enough it began to rain!


On to Part III, Page 2
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