Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In tribute to Belgium

Once, I spent a week in Belgium. Belgium is a beautiful country and there is so much to love. I loved the medieval cobblestones and castles. I loved the ancient canals. I loved the beer and I loved the painting I was there to study.

I don't know a lick of French and I know even less Dutch. I loved everything about that week but my very favorite activity had nothing to do with the intentions I described on my graduate school travel funds request form. It was to order street-vendor chocolate crepes, turn over my pre-Euro francs, receive my gift and express my gratitude. Merci. The ritual was cemented with the merci; its utterance was capstone to the transaction and prelude to my mouth's delights. Merci. I'm sure any Belgian street vendor would have understood a plain 'thank you' in English (American Tourist dialect). But that would have had no poetry. 'Thank you' would have been only serviceable, but it would have offered no honor to the magical moment in that liminal week out of time. And please, harbor no doubt that the moment before biting delicately into a hot crepe of Belgian chocolate is magical.

That there can be ceremony in spoken word I have always believed, just as my almost-daily writings here are testament to my belief in the written word. And so it is with that faith in my heart that I have spent my morning commutes all this week engaged in the exercise of fake-sneezing.

E has been taking Spanish lessons as part of her preschool activities and on Monday they learned to say ¡Salud! in response to a person's sneeze. All this past weekend, my mother tried to get E to repeat the phrase gezundheit but come Monday its mystique paled against the more accessible and simultaneously more boisterous ¡Salud!

I fake-sneeze until my nose almost tickles with real sneezes so that my elder daughter feels the magic on her own tongue, the power of a foreign word, the shape-shifting of adopting a bite of other language. I fake-sneeze and I remember the spell of the chocolate. Pin It