Hobbits are notorious stay-at-homes. It takes a wizard to pry them away from their hearths, and urgent need. Bilbo in one generation and Frodo in the next took their place in the front lines of the war between good and evil, light and darkness.
I have turned into a Hobbit in my old age. I left my home with serious misgivings (see https://115journals.com/2013/11/28/the-septuagenarian-hobbit/) and the journey proved not to be an unmitigated pleasure (see https://115journals.com/2013/12/14/septugenarian-hobbit-part-2/). After three months of apprehensive planning, I find myself back in my brother Rob’s house in the Bois Fort district of Brussels. I was last here 20 years ago and before that 20 years earlier than that. We are, truth to tell, a little concerned about the next trip.
I am here at Rob’s invitation. As soon as he knew he had to have his knee “changed” -his English has grown creative in his 45 years here- he called to ask me over. Not right after the surgery but two weeks later when he would be better. Oh, foolish hope.
I owed Rob. He flew the other way in September 2001 at short notice to help me pull out of a steep decline following surgery. It took him one day to get me to eat, two to get me out of bed to eat and three to get me out to eat. To my credit, I have already inspired him to get behind the wheel of his van, clutch and all. It is his left knee that was changed. And today, we have done 16 leg lifts about an inch off the mat. It hurt one of us terribly.
I had two concerns when I set out. First of all, my brother is a force of nature. His ex-wives and girl friends, all of whom drop in on a regular basis attest to that. He is funny and charming and generous and kind and spontaneous and outrageous and alarming. You never know what he will come up with next, He claimed that a broken leg would slow him down to my speed for a change. Not a chance! He jumps out of the little white van and I have to go rushing after him waving his crutch.
The other concern I had was dealing with the language. He speaks French with, apparently, an odd accent. Some of his friends speak English. Some don’t. I can sort of follow along, recognizing enough words to guess at the meaning and he often translates. What I didn’t reckon with is Flemish. It looks as if it’s an Anglo Saxon language, but just when I need the French translation, there isn’t one.
For example, there are 2 washers and dryers in this house. At a certain point, I had all implements engaged and while I could get clothes clean, I couldn’t get them dry. I chose “Kast droog” I chose “Extra droog”. At a certain point, I realized there was a button which said “Laag” or “Faible”. I disengaged it. An hour later the clothes were still wet. Then I saw a little drawer on the left above the door. I opened it and found a rectangular tray, 5 inches deep brimming over with water and a notation – in 5 languages, including English- commanding me to empty the tray after every load. My brother limped downstairs. He emptied the tray down the floor drain. And low and behold, there was one in the other dryer as well. The “woman” didn’t know about them, he opined. “I never do the washing,” I heard him say as he started up the stairs. Just now I went down to check them. They were full again after one load. I’m pretty sure the woman knows.
To be continued (Sorry my fingers got away from me again. I wanted to save not publish. See you in the morning.)