Less than a week

September 19th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

in a hotel and already I’ve got mes vieilles habitudes: little rituals, like lines traced in salt or sand, to ward off the chaos of travel. Like the instinct to keep your belongings close, and keep close track of them, vitamins and water and a cell phone in plain sight on the nightstand, your backpack pulled close to your bed. As if it were possible, to establish around your person, a magical perimeter against unpredictability, a place for you and the home you carry with you.

Breakfast begins with eggs—all in one basket, labeled RAW in four languages—at one end of the hot bar (the other items, uniformly unappetizing, are ravioli, the kind of beans Brits put on toast, and pallid, wizened hot dogs standing in for sausage). A little open boiler is chugging away, and you lower the eggs into the water, past the jostling white froth, with a wire holder whose handle folds over the boiler lip. In the time it takes you to find a seat among the hordes of aged German tour groups with your juice, toast, and cereal, your eggs are perfectly soft-boiled. There is one waitress for the whole room, who beelines between clearing tables and taking names at the door. She’s courteous as a matter of course but a darling if you speak French.

The Hotel Astrid, where the Fulbright Commission has put us up for the week of our search for more permanent housing, is on a small downtown “square” called the Place du Samedi (Zaterdagplein). I say “square” because although it is likelier than “plaza” to connote a noncommercial urban public space in English, there is nothing four-sided or regular about it; place is much more amorphous—a glorified intersection, perhaps, with some central point of interest. From my room at the end of the hall I have a slantwise view of a church down the street, with its unscrubbed Baroque façade and a homeless man slumped into his winter jacket,

but not of the nearby, much larger cathedral Sainte-Catherine, which lends a name to the equally larger “square” behind, anchoring its near end as it zooms off past blocks of seafood bistros with neon cursive signs toward the bright exclamation of a fountain.

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