Wed 30 April 2014
Małgorzata Rejmer blogs from Hasselt & Genk (1): 'Have you seen a deer?'
The Polish author Małgorzata Rejmer was invited for citybooks Hasselt-Genk. During her residency in the two cities she blogged about her daily experiences. Belgium was not what she expected it to be!
> Click here to read the original Polish text
(1) Arrival in Hasselt: ‘Have you seen a deer?’
For almost two years I have lived in Bucharest, meanwhile Belgian Hasselt is not Romania nor Poland, Hasselt is not Ploiesti nor Ostrołęka. Hasselt looks as if the Germans made the Swedes work and, under a kind patronage of Belgium, with the blessing of Mango and BoConcept, created the space to play Monopoly Deluxe. In Hasselt God painted the façades and Jesus laid the paving. Hasselt has reached perfection.
I did not come to Hasselt from another city, or another country, I have come from another galaxy. I have visited thirty European countries yet nowhere have I felt so strongly the contrast between the Western and Eastern Europe. You know what an average Pole thinks about the province? Same like a famous Polish poet, Andrzej Bursa: “I don't give a fuck about small towns”. An average Pole thinks so, because he has managed to get out of a province and settle in a big city.
But an Average Belgian lives in a Neverland where each bush is trimmed, each lawn is carefully mown and each centimetre of the pavement is well developed. I'm looking at those pavements. Provincial Poland is paved with concrete setts, provincial Belgium – with granite.
I'm drowning Polish complexes in a coffee in a local café. The waiter cheated me on 1 Euro when I was paying my bill, but I thought – OK, doesn't matter, he made a mistake. I go to a shop, buy a bottle of water for 3 Euro, stare at it. For real, 3 Euro? I'm asking a young salesman. For sure. The second day, in a similar shop, I bought an identical bottle of water for 72 cents. Handing the change to a smiling cashier I remembered yesterday seller's nervous looks.
So I'm not in Neverland after all. Somewhere here, under these mown lawns, under these perfectly even, granite pavement extends an underwater network of veins, flows and cracks.
Have you seen a deer?
I needed a moment to think. Yes, I said, I saw a deer. When I was approaching the park a deer flashed before my eyes.
I wasn't even surprised then, I thought – Western Europe, they have their whims, so they are breeding deer in a park. We are breeding completely common squirrels and we aren't complaining.
So when I saw a deer running in a distance, I sat on a bench and only after a moment I was surprised to see a police car driving up to me. A young policeman wound the window and looked through it.
Have you seen a deer, ma'am?
Yes, I answered.
It was a very frightened deer, I wanted to add, but the policemen sped up ad were gone.
I felt sad, as if for a moment I understood the deer's fear, an illegal deer chased by the Belgian police.
I'm reading an Internet forum for Poles living in Belgium. Somebody's writing about high suicide rate in Belgium.
It makes me wonder.
I'm looking up detailed statistics on the Web. Indeed, Flanders has the highest suicide rate in Europe among young man aged 18-26 years.
Why do young Belgians want to get away from Neverland to the other side on such a huge scale?
Who will answer my question? I'm walking around the smooth, dispassionate Hasselt and for a moment I feel hopeless. I'm a hunter with no game. After a moment I notice a young hipster with a beard, he can be a story, I'm thinking, and I begin following him. I'm curious where he will lead me. The hipster circles the streets, shuffling his ratty sneakers and finally he sits in a garden of a chic pub where similarly hipster friends await him on comfy cushions. I expected a different place. I continue the hunt.
Małgorzata Rejmer is currently writing her citybook about Hasselt and Genk. Keep an eye on the website to find out when you can read and listen to her story in Polish, and in the Dutch, English and French translations!
Photo © SawomirKlimkowski
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