As I made my way thru the pedestrian madness inside the Brussels Zuid train station out into the grey gloom of the Belgian sky, I wondered which universe I had woke up in that morning. Do you ever feel like you wake up and something is not quite the same as the day before and the day before that? As if you see the people and buildings around you but there is a certain mental flicker, like a brief moment of static on a television broadcast. Lips moving, figures dashing left and right, cars aligned in a queue during a lunch-time rush hour, faceless contractors unloading tools from ordinary white vans. Such was the array of impulses pelting my senses from odd angles as I made my way towards Brasserie Cantillon.
If there is a day of the year that my mind and heart circle on the calendar to the point of wearing thru the paper, it is Cantillon Day. It is not a day you will see announced by the mayor, any tourism website, or by the brewery itself (and if there is, it is with a different context than my own). It is a day that resides entirely within the boundaries of my inner poetic license. I cannot nor shall not ever feel this day literally.
I raised the hood of my rainjacket over my head as I dodged thru the cars jockeying for position at a busy intersection across from the train station. Since my last visit a year ago, the echoes of this day had become a ping from a distant satellite. Like a solitary astronomer in some remote observatory high in the mountains, searching the sky for my favorite stars and constellations, I would wait for that ping each day. And it would come… like clockwork. A ping so steadfast as to assure that the universe must be in the order in which it was meant to be. Who knows why things happen the way they do, but this morning, the echoes were not encapsulated by a ping but the fluttering, swirling, and tickling of a million butterfly wings.
On the approach to the brewery, my eyes scanned the streets. Despite the lack of sun, my heightened sense of perception caught glimpses, like sparkles of light, of places marked in my internal star map. On this day, the neighborhood around Cantillon felt bleak, worn down by COVID and the weather. The inside of the brewery was no different. It was solemn. The employees felt rather humorless behind the tiring presence of their surgical masks. The sitting area was filled with boxes awaiting shipment instead of bustling with merry drinkers making sour faces at the delicious Lambics. My mind could hear the music of conversations and laughter as if played thru a scratchy record player phasing in and out as I alternated between reality and memory.
I placed my order for six bottles, already envisioning where I was going to store them. I lined them up in my mind, admiring them like a work of art knowing the contradictory nature of a beer collection. They are meant to drink, not look at. I will drink them one day, but that day must be of such copious worth as to write its own story. To go from bottle to something transcendental. A moment shared and sung about in the legends of one’s life.
While I waited for my order to be prepared, I walked over to the sitting area. An ache pierced me as I found the barrel, the penultimate pilgrimage of my visit to Cantillon, buried beneath several boxes. The quietude of the main hall seemed to stifle the frequencies of my voice as I tried to ask if they could move them. My voice shifted up and down trying to find the right volume that didn’t feel like I was either interrupting church or being swallowed up by rows and rows of oak barrels. When I managed to get my message across, the sympathy expressed by the lady behind the counter seemed to be betrayed by her rather agitated demeanor as she hurried over to move the boxes. COVID Times are wearing us all out and the unfriendliness of masks is hiding our souls.
I prepared the shrine, lining up the six future memories, the normal Lambic Gueuze, Lambic Kriek, Rose Gambrinus, Grand Cru Bruocsella, Saint Lamvinus, and the Vigneronne. I stood there transfixed, pondering the future, pondering how life tests us, how it can never be expected, but only appreciated. How it must be lived with your heart on the line or simply fade away. In that fleeting moment of taking the picture, as the light was registered by the camera sensors and converted into digital code, I saw the barrel as it was two years ago on this day, and every moment of my life since that day lit up the synapses of my brain with a jolt as my phone emitted the clicking sound of a successful photo. Tears suddenly welled up in my eyes in a way I couldn’t comprehend. I looked around suddenly feeling the oblique sensation of the universe. How could I be sure when I walked out the Cantillon door that I would be leaving the exact way I came? That the corner at the end of the street is the same one I stood at just minutes ago? Somewhere in the distance was my apartment, containing all my things. Were they still there? My feet held fast to their spot in the universe, a paradox of wanting to be somewhere else and being exactly where they want to be at the same time. Out of the corner of my eye, I espied a blue flicker by the door. My heart leapt. My feet released their grip. I carefully filled my backpack with the bottles, approached the door, and took a deep breath.