… Ring in the New

05012011345.jpgHere we are in Belgium. Having been weather-watching in three countries for a couple of weeks, the time was right early in the New Year. We packed, hitched up Lotte and set off from Obernai on 2 January, filled up the car with fuel in Luxembourg (still so much cheaper it’s worth the wait), spent a night in a motorway lodge just over the border in Belgium, crossed the Ardennes in a light snow flurry, and arrived here at the Batiment in Deux-Acren the day before yesterday.

The four of us have been settling into our new home – we have a good-sized room, it’s warm, we have two desks, and plenty space to spread our stuff. Lotte is safely tucked away in a large garage where she has been reunited with Brenda the trailer (remember Brenda?!). The stuff we brought here in October last year is fine, including the touring bicycles and most of our gardening tools, although some of the indoor plants and the acers may have suffered a bit from the cold and some unwanted attention from the batiment cats.

It’s quite a strange place, is Belgium. Lessines, the nearest town to the south, is the birthplace of René Magritte, and has as its byword ‘Un parfum de surrealisme’. There’s a scent of surrealism about quite a lot of things around here. Santa’s homage to Breughel’s Fall of Icarus, for example (the original picture is in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Brussels, is the subject of an Auden poem, and the print I once sent Dee across Europe to fetch used to hang above the fireplace in what was my study at 14 Lewiston).

Some people might find the batiment a bit unusual too. We are actually living in a building which used to be a herb-drying factory. This floor has been converted into living space. There are a number of bedrooms, a communal kitchen, living area, food storage, dining and office space. Five people live here on a semi-permanent basis (Wilf and Gelise, Nic, Binamé and Ferry). Since they are mostly musicians and film-makers there is quite a lot of coming and going on tour and to Brussels for work. There is also a steady stream of visitors, band members and itinerant friends.

It’s a bit strange for us, coming from a house where we rattled about on our own, via a caravan where we manoevred carefully and quietly around, to a place where there is always someone about, often the noise of other people’s conversation (in various languages), occasionally loud and not always harmonious music, different smells (men, meat, fags…) Having to time our showers to avoid clashing with someone else’s bathroom time.

05012011346.jpgBut there are some real positives. In effect this is a community that works a bit like a core and extended family – some of the principles are that everyone is welcome, there’s always a bed and a meal, people contribute what they can. They are all kind and supportive, of one another, and of us. There’s a lot we can learn here about living with other people. And the beer is very good indeed, if also sometimes a bit surreal.

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