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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Foreign Desk
Down and Out of Mind in Brussels and Bruxelles
by Michael Standaert |
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A Letter Home…

September 18th, 2001

Dear Ma and Pa,

You will be happy (am always assuming aren't I?) that I have met a nice Belgian girl here in the fabled city of Brussels. Belgian, not in the strictest sense, but I believe she was born here or at least came here recently from the former Belgian colony of Congo, formerly the Belgian Congo, and then something else, and maybe perhaps named another thing, and now called the Democratic Republic of Congo. How Democratic or Republican is hard to say, and I don't mean Republican in the American sense of the word, though she has assured me there are elephants back where she is from, so there are similarities. Besides elephants, there is a reeking presence of death and decay, and I saw somewhere that around two-million of her countrymen have perished through war in the last decade. Seems like all the countries around hers' are using all the weapons we and everyone else sells them to fight over rotting jungle. Congo. Look it up. It is somewhere in Africa. I think there is an old globe in my old room.
     She doesn't speak much English. Though she does say, "I like you, Krabs," quite often, which is fine by me. She also speaks Swahili and Lingali and told me a few words but I forget them at this late, middling, or early hour, depending on what square foot of earth you preside over at this moment. But most of all she speaks French, and my Kansas accent pronouncing French words seems to turn her on. I met her at a bar on the corner after cracking my brain open with various bottles of champagnes and whiskeys - you should have seen your sweet son dance. Lambada, twist, Charleston, mashed potato, waltz - all in one motion - at least it felt like that under the shadow of the booze. To be truthfully honest, because I am an honest farm-raised boy raised by honest loving parents, I recall meeting her, though I do not remember what I said to her or how I got her to come with me, but I do remember waking up next to her, and she is actually still here in this room, ten days later. Our hours are spent sweating and exerting in a blissful pleasure I never had in my virginal days before joining up and shipping out to Germany last year. I'm sure you know by now that I have gone AWOL, and I am sure you are disappointed in your only son, but it was hellish boredom there on that base, drilling, washing, drilling, swilling, playing cards, drilling, wiping my ass, drilling, going to Berlin for the day, drilling…Dad, you were in the Army, you know how it is. But you did have Vietnam, which was a little less boring that Germany with no Cold War, and no real war in general. Up until a few days ago, that is. I feel like joining up again and fighting the Muslim horde! I saw the pictures on TV, and am mad as hell. But I don't think it would be too easy to do, getting back into the Army. Besides, I have larger fish to spackle. I am thinking of moving to DR. Congo and using all my old farming knowledge to raise some corn and hopefully a groovily large family. A new pioneer! Can you believe it? I know how to shoot now, so I will at least be able to protect my little girl and my brood.
     As I was getting at, she, Monique (sorry, forgot to tell you her name…very Français), woke up next to me and I next to her that fateful day with the morning light draped over our bodies, mine sparkling white, hers' the deepest of ebonies 'Ooh, la la!' as the French say. We were and are, Yin and Yang. Hey, that may be a good name to change to. Yang Krabs. Or, Krab Yang may be better (no sense in getting the authorities wise on my whereabouts). What a woman she is! Strong, she is. And the most beautiful girl I have seen! Her face is like a African goddess' statue. Her hair is long and black and like wool! I get goosebumps writing about it, and she is just sitting here two feet from me, eyeing me with some trepidation, wondering who and what I am writing to. I don't know myself, so I may leave this letter here and flow back to her arms and the warm bed, her velvet skin and her tasty places that I am discovering a wonderful taste and affinity for.
     I am writing this last time to let you know that I am safe and healthy and not in a military prison somewhere rotting out my life. I will conquer the jungle and make a happy life for myself. Please don't try to find me, or turn me in. It would ruin the path I have chosen. By the way, we are getting married, Monique and I, tomorrow. And she is Catholic! (that's what I said!) so you need not worry about my religious instincts or lack of faith…I am even thinking of opening a Sunday school next to the farm when we move to the beating heart of darkness. Wish me luck, if nothing else.

     Your living son,

     Krab Yang.


Say Hello, Dali…
I met Krab Yang one night at the Blue Note, a club off Avenue Louise in the south-central section of Brussels. There was a benefit show being performed for children in Armenia so they could get money for musical instruments to play in the hills when the hunger pangs didn't clamor too much in their bellies. Being one not to pass up a good shoe, or a benefit concert of any kind, I kindly accepted the leaflet from the man on the street and entered the slightly shady and blue-shaded premises. I should mention that I had been to the Blue Note a couple times before, lured inside one late evening by the tempting flood of polka-type music that oozed out the front door. Since that first night, and previous nights haunting the lair, I have nicknamed it the Dali Bar. Once inside that first night I discovered the polka music was a sham, pumped out of a speaker just inside the door. LIVE MUSIC were the words scribbled, in English, on the blackboard outside, and not being one to pass up anything live (or deadly), I entered.      
     The barmaid struck me eye first off, all buxom blonde and brass-eyed, a corset setting off her bosom which gravitated toward the night sky, cross-laced in the fashion of an Octoberfest beer-maiden. But when I say this, I must say Octoberfest beer-maiden circa 1979. She was quite old now, but still her eyes shone and her bee-fucked lips pouted roundly and her laugh-like-a-cough retained remains of a girlish optimism. Later I found out she owned the place, but this night I was welcomed in out of the cold and rain and sat on a stool, plied with half-English questions and overfull Belgian lagers. On the television off to one side was playing 'The Cartoon Network' and every time I came back, it was playing 'The Cartoon Network'…Road Runner splatting rocky dust, Chicken and Cow doing the chicken and cow things, old 'Ren and Stimpy' re-runs, and even older black and white cartoons with characters in black-face. Clocks drip. Crickets decay. The Stop Sign Flashes Green. A man waddled up and shook my hand with his limp claw. Another, a spitting image of a beet-red bloodied ham-hock in a Western style bar-vest, grinned and dried glasses behind the bar with an old shirt. I turned to a man who looked like Woody Allen after contracting malaria in the filming of Bananas and said, 'what about the live music?' And he agreed. There was advertising, and false though true, it could be remedied. He waved to the ham-hock and the ham set down the towel and strode over to where the dance floor started and where a set of drums magically appeared and a piano grand and open, sat in the corner. I hadn't noticed them before.
     Ham sang Sinatra and battered the keys with his hoofs while Woody went bananas on the drums. Old men, tired and drunk, shimmered out to the dance floor like may flies to lights. A transvestite sat next to me, and after I turned down the offer of very odd sex, I joined them on the dance-pavement. More Sinatra. Some old Dixieland Bix Bierderbeke jazz (I didn't know they knew!) broke through…ah…Davenport Blues. I felt oddly at home.
     The next time I wandered in off the streets, a week later, the Octoberfestblonde was there, alone with an old man sitting at a table in the middle of the bar. They were both dressed to the nines, twenties and hundreds. Her in a blue glitter-dress. He in Mafia smelling suit. In front of them was a plate piled high with oysters. I had never eaten more than four or five oysters in living memory. They pushed them on me. Ten. Twenty. My belly was full enough already of lagers and white beers and oh those Duvels', those lucky Duvels'. I was about to split and they did, out to the veranda, which was behind where the dance floor had magically presented itself the week before. We lay on the lawn chairs, soaking in the dawn light like devil-may-care vampires, drinking the last of a champagne bottle and toasting the end of the world.
     Krab Yang. In the Blue Note, full of every shape of humankind except the Armenian children our ticket price went toward, Krab didn't seem to stick out so much as shout out like a deer leaping into your headlights on a 3AM country road. And he had the same look as that deer the first time I met him. Tranquilized. Caught in some unseen light, waiting for it to hit. I thought I was the only American around until I heard him order a Hamm's. I hadn't seen a Hamm's, let alone a Budweiser the whole month I was in Brussels. In the land where every town and nearly every other house has its own brewery or brew kit, finding mass-produced American beer is about like trying to find the Lost City of Gold. It just doesn't exist.
     Yang. I watched him for a while, trying not to bring much notice that I was a Yank myself, and trying to discern where he hailed from. I was thinking Midwest, until he greeted me with a toothy broadside and I knew he was. Kansas. Dorothy dropped out of the tornado, straight into the lap of Brussels. Which isn't too much of a stretch from the Emerald City. Both are equally surreal, at once sham and at the same time a powerful schizophrenic powerhouse. If you look at Belgium, one half speaks Flemish (which some Dutch say sounds like how little children speak Dutch) and they are called, rightly, Flemish (though the real Dutch use much more phlegm in their pronunciations). The other half, in the south, speak French. But they are not called, Frenchish, but Walloon. Makes perfect sense when you think about it. There are two governments, one for the Walloons and the other for the Flemish. Brussels, in the heart of it all, is a confused, muttering schizophrenic bit of both, though the Walloon side of the brain seems to win out at the heart of the city. On top of all that, the European Union is housed here, at least three weeks out of every month. One week of every month, the entire Euro Parliament packs its desks, cell-phones, limos, mistresses, files, family and friends and moves to Strausbourg, a German sounding city in southeastern France. I know you are laughing, but it is true. Only the French would insist on having the institution that is working toward a closer, more unified Europe (as opposed to the skull-cracking, bayoneting, and bullet riddling one we saw during the first half of last-century), be on its soil le France at least a little while each month.
     Rene Magritte, the famous Belgian surrealist painter, when asked about his surrealism, replied "I'm not a surrealist. That is the way Belgium actually is." What a perfect place to set up a surreal government, the European Union. Made up currently of fifteen states, eagerly or not so eagerly awaiting the joining of other states (depending on your national interests), without its own armed forces (though most are within NATO), without a constitution, without any real sense of direction, though one of the most powerful trading blocks in the world, a mishmash of culture, language, custom, animosity, friendship, bickering and cooperation - Brussels makes perfect sense to be the capital of this quasi-government full of bureaucratic mayhem, regulation, blah, blah, blah…
     Krab. I almost forgot about Krab. He introduced himself, flashing that white cheese at me, full of optimism and sheer joy at just being alive. He told me the story, after finding I was not of any official status, of bailing on the Army in Germany, and meeting his Belgian-Congolese girlfriend here in the Congolese section of Brussels. He showed me the letter to his parents and explained his dream, a new pioneer, setting out into the unknown, ready to build out of chaos something of his own hand. The band in the background played 'Waltzing Matilda' for some reason (maybe there was an Aussie contingent present, though I didn't see anyone who looked like Paul Hogan), while Krab Yang divulged his life story and his future story. I couldn't help being proud of my wayward countryman, his verve, his energy, the past behind him and only the future shinning like a beacon in the fog. Before he left he gave me a wedding invitation. I didn't go.

A Wedding Invitation…

You are invited to the wedding of Krab Yang and Monique Mozabaki, soon to be Monique Yang, on October Thirty First, in the year of our Lord, Two-Thousand and One.
     Next to the statue of the peeing Belgian boy near the Grand Place, Brussels, high noon. The ceremony will be preformed by Father Emanuel Van Hogenboom. Following the ceremony you are invited to the reception at the Blue Note, off Avenue Louise at four o'clock in the afternoon. A traditional Belgian dish of horsemeat will be served, but for those vegetarians or otherwise disposed toward not eating horse, Kansas corn-on-the-cob, broccoli quiche and hamburgers will be served. For dessert, Belgian waffles. Please wear costumes to commemorate All Hollows Eve.

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