IV : Descending

The rain was heavier as evening came on and I gave up on my project of proving that I once had partaken of life in this city. 

I wandered back in the direction of the hotel, again along the Dear, to a point where an odd old structure stood over the water.  It looked to date from the middle ages, with two squat, witch’s hat-shaped towers on either side of a main structure with cascading step gables.  Clearly historic, the structure was dwarfed by two massive apartment block towers on the other side of a busy thoroughfare -- simple rectangles that had been stood up on end with all the charm of communist-era Eastern European block housing. 

As a gesture of commemoration, a tip of the hat as it were, one of these new edifices was graced by a painted silhouette of the medieval pointed tower below (although to me this reference registered as a kind of final insult, roughly analogous to the American sports teams who appropriate cartoon arte_images in mockery of the natives whose culture and imagery has already been thoroughly marginalized).

I could see clearly now that what I’d been experiencing was not new—in fact it was centuries old.

The monuments of the past may survive, but only to be mocked or emasculated by gutting their interiors or recasting their armor, rendering them silly islands by allowing their newfangled surroundings to render them tokens and outcasts.  In this sense I ought to have taken comfort in my own lack of significance. But being prey to human nature, I knew I had wanted to delight in the Artevelde of old.  It wasn’t enough to simply pay a visit to a changed city.  Deep down I had longed for something more: a type of time-travel.  I wanted to return to the place that none of my friends or family knew or cared to know about -- the city
obscured by fog and the sound of an odd tongue, the misfit with a recessive Iberian gene lodged in the heart of Europe, full of overlooked gems. 

By now I had fully descended from my initial blissful hovering -- I was back to the damp, wet paving stones of the new ArteveldePerhaps the city I had known was gone forever.

As the sun went down and the sky began to unleash heavy rain, I relinquished this idea.  I was wet and hungry and knew I would be leaving town the next day.  I wandered for some time in this downpour, though, trying to find my way back.  When I happened upon the old familiar train station, I knew I was not far from the hotel.  Up the street I ducked into a little pita shop where I fumbled with the local dialect while trying to order.  Then the friendly Turkish proprietor sat me down at a table in front of the television.  The final game of the European Championships was on.

Before long he put a cold pintje and a heaping plate of kip en friet met samurai saus
down in front of me, and, grinning, clapped me on the back.  I knew then that everything was going to be o.k. -- there was no place on earth I would rather be than right here, right now.

< END >

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