For me, it’s been a rough start to life in Brussels. I have been here since December 2nd and been sick for the better part of the time. It began with bronchitis, and now my husband and I are wondering if I am actually allergic to the mold and its various floating spores that we have found in several nooks and more obvious crannies around our apartment. In other words, it is possible that I am allergic to Brussels.
Being an introvert, I have not completely minded being apartment-bound for so long. On the other hand, I am typically an active person, and I crave time outdoors to fill my soul. Not moving and feeling exhausted all of the time has definitely been a challenge. Even when I do leave my indoor refuge, I feel like of like a voyeur, watching life happen around me without feeling like I am actually a part of it.
I know that John Muir has his famous quote about all things being connected, but I often feel like I am moving through this world on a separate thread to an entirely unique web. If I can just keep my own threads floating nearby and just beyond touching any neighboring webs, I am ok.
This floating can be lonely. An introvert I may be, but I still find that I crave companionship and connection.
January in Europe seems to be the time of sales. After much convincing and a final text from my husband to get out on the town, I took myself on a mini shopping foray this past Monday afternoon. I went downtown and popped in and out of clothing stores. By the end, I was exhausted and wound up even more sick than I had been. I realized also that I experienced very little joy in being one of dozens of people picking through discounted items of clothing in large stores, all anonymous, all void of connection. I felt invisible.
I spent the next several days resting, coughing, and blowing my nose nonstop. I only left the apartment to get groceries from a nearby store and to visit the clinic at the university where my husband is a student to try to learn more about my enduring health condition.
I had met the clinic doctor a few weeks earlier, when I was diagnosed with bronchitis. He was hilarious. When he saw my last name Lewis and the misspelling of my first name as Monica, he asked if I was Monica Lewinski and if I was hiding out in Europe. I responded that I was and thanked him for blowing my cover. He asked if I would be writing my memoirs from my time in the White House in order to make some extra money. I said I was hoping to be hired by the Trump campaign. And so it went on like this for a little while, quite entertaining despite my discomfort.
On this visit, he suggested that my sinuses were inflamed and explained that I had set up a five-star hotel in my nasal passage, perfect conditions for bacteria to thrive. I told him I prided myself on being the ultimate host. He said that time would tell what was going on with my sinuses. He thought it more likely that I was experiencing inflammation and an infection. If it were allergies, we would have to figure out what it was I was allergic to in Brussels.
Some people are affected by the dry air, he told me, and he recommended a humidifier or putting a cup of water out to add moisture to the air. I explained that we had mold in our apartment and so we probably didn’t need more humidity and moisture. It could also be pollution in the air, he said. If it’s mold, there are spores everywhere.
Great. I might actually be allergic to Brussels.
He wrote out a prescription for a nasal steroid spray and requested that I come back to visit him in a week’s time. While I wouldn’t say I had made a new friend, it was still somewhat nice to see a familiar face. Plus, a visit to the doctor in Belgium costs 25 euros, 17 euros of which will be reimbursed. This same visit would have cost me well over $200 in the United States, most likely being paid as part of an enormous deductible. Just sayin’.
Yesterday, I decided it was time to take myself out but just for a short venture. I took the tram to a street I like in the Ixelles neighborhood and popped in and out of much smaller, boutique shops. There, I could interact with the staff and also not feel completely overwhelmed.
I stopped by a shop that my husband found with beautiful earrings and statues of ghanesh, Buddha, and Shiva. My husband had bought me a pair of earrings with stems that were too thick for my teeny ears to bear. I asked the shopkeeper if it might be possible to swap them out for thinner ones. He assured me it was no problem and brought out a box of different sized stems to swap them out right then and there.
We struck up a conversation. I asked if he was from Brussels, and he said he had lived here all his life. I asked what he liked most about the city.
Le printemps (the springtime), he replied. Il va commencer dans deux mois (it will begin in two months).
I hope so, I responded (in french, but I though you might be over the constant translating). I miss the sun.
Where are you from? he asked. I told him I was from the desert in Arizona, so I was always cold.
Earrings finished and in my ears, I pointed to a shelf with two small statues of Shiva on top.
I asked the price and if I could look at them. He asked me how I knew about Shiva. I told him I had been studying yoga but that I didn’t really know Shiva.
He is the destroyer, yes? I asked.
He is that, but he is also able to help you concentrate and create. Many artists come in wanting a Shiva.
Oh, that makes sense. I am a musician. Perhaps, Shiva can help me create as well.
The shopkeeper, who I later learned was named Raj, told me that Shiva is the only Hindu god who is able to reach into your soul.
Shiva helps with interior work, he explained. Ghanesh will never enter into your being. You can only pray to Ghanesh, but it is different with Shiva.
I told him that I was also on the path of learning about my inner world.
I left the shop feeling buoyant. It felt so good to connect with another human being, if only for a brief moment.
I came home, thinking about Shiva and connection. I wouldn’t say that the threads of my personal web have reached out to intermingle with those around it just yet, but perhaps there was a small brush with silken neighbors.
It’s a start.