A festive vibe energizes the city. I’m on the number four headed towards the Nationale Bank stop. The passengers are filled with excitement despite the drizzle accumulating on the ancient tram windows. Darkness fell hours ago. I check my phone. 6:07 p.m. This is winter in Antwerp, days before Christmas.
The tram eases to the stop. I descend the steps and walk on the glistening cobbles. The darts of moisture are in that in-between-stage, as any seasoned expat knows – it would be self-indulgent/wimpy to open an umbrella, but I left my hat at home. I glare at the rain piercing through the spotlights cast by the lamp posts. I am debating. A woman pushes past me, her hair flowing with perfection under her red umbrella and I take it as justification. I reach into my purse and my pink Parisian umbrella opens with an efficient pop!
I take a left and a right, avoiding the bike paths, waiting patiently under scaffolding, and march along Mechelsesteenweg towards the art exhibition. I find the building with ease – the wide, picturesque windows are lined in art nouveau architectural details of black. Behind the glass, the rooms glow with promise and enchantment. A man with a long tie and dismissive eye inhales his cigarette on the stoop. He moves to the side as I approach. I grasp the handle with wonder.
My friend, Brigitte Meuwissen, is the hostess for the occasion – she’s a talented photographer and her artwork in on display at the Martin van Blerk Gallery. She turns and greets me with a warm embrace.
Brigitte is tall with a wide grin and eyes the sparkle. She introduces me to both of her daughters. Grown and beautiful, they both epitomize curiosity and excitement, much like Brigitte. Questions, laughter, and appreciation dance between the conversation. I like them immediately. One of them hands me a long-stemmed glass filled with pink wine.
“The tour was just beginning – please join,” Brigitte says, and we are launched into a journey.
Her photos – her artwork – are displayed along the walls in the glow of the gallery. “So there are three colors – blue, red, and green – that I try to highlight in my work.” I nod. This is my first time in an art gallery, although I am a frequent visitor to art museums. She shows us photos of lonely, vast open skies. I tell her they remind me of West Texas and she nods with appreciation.
“These photos were taken in California, but I know what you mean – the earth is so flat, the sky. . . it goes on and on and on forever.”
We pace further and I gaze at an ocean – its waves and horizon are in parallel colors and energy of blue and white. A single, tiny surfer floats in the right corner – barely visible in the vastness of the ocean and sky, but yet – he is there. She points to the details and I’m entranced by her voice, her narrative.
She points to photo of a sunrise over the ocean. “You see. . . the energy of the sun is so powerful. Everyone should experience the beauty of a sunrise once a year.”
We move towards the back of the gallery and under a bright light shines a fascinating piece, unlike the rest. It’s a mixed media piece. A dash of black paint with a lining of gold foil clouds a photograph of a rainbow. The bright colors shine from the background. No other pieces in the gallery have flashes of paint. Brigitte smiles proud. “It’s my art – I can do what I want!” she explains, and I stand before the piece.
“This piece represents how even in the dark times everything can have a golden lining. The black represents the dark, but the gold is the lining, and the rainbow and the cloud still shine in the background,” I eye the black. It is dark. Looming. Close. But the golden flashes of foil are shining. And then there’s the rainbow – soft, almost fading, but still. . . attainable.
I am mesmerized. “The paint, it’s very textured,” I manage.
“Yes, that’s my style,” she responds.
We turn a corner and she points to three square bold canvases painted in blue, red, and green. Bold colors. Rich colors. Intense colors.
“These colors are my inspiration,” she explains. “The blue,” she begins, “the blue is Life.”
“Blue is the color of sky and water,” I say.
“Yes, indeed,” she responds. “Blue gives us a feeling of coming home. It is something we look forward to. A blue sky is a good day and the clouds are painting the dreams.”
I think of why I like living in Belgium. In America I feel like it is all about the job, the house, the car. . .and maybe it’s like that here too. . . but really. . . I feel like all Belgians need to be happy is a beautiful, sunny day. A glass of Belgian beer or rose’ and a patio to soak it all in. Blue skies mean happiness.
“Okay, what about the red?” I ask.
“The red, well – that’s the color of love, of passion, of hope.”
I think of how energized I felt just a few months ago – when the whole country was ablaze with the colors of autumn – red, orange, and yellows shining from the trees – inviting, invigorating, enticing. I love Belgium in the autumn.
“The green is the color of peace, tranquility, this is why we feel calm when we walk through the woods,” Brigitte invites.
I think about my many runs through the woods of Te Boelaar park and Boekenberg Park by my home. How I love seeing my garden grow and blossom throughout the seasons. “They” are always preaching about connecting to nature. I pass through the park every day because it is a short cut to pick my kids up from school. Do I feel better after seeing the green of the park? Yes, of course I do. . .
We conclude the tour and I notice that she’s wearing a green headband in her curly hair. I embrace her, congratulate her on her courage and success, and sign her visitors’ book. A few days later I’m applying my makeup on the winter solstice. The shutters above my boudoir are open and I gaze at the wintry grey morning behind shadows of barren trees. I sigh. A slate of dismal darkness is breathing defeat into my day, but by the time I’m blow drying my hair the sky has transformed into a symphony of blues and pinks. The sun is rising at 8:44 a.m. in December with gusto! The sky is beautiful, and I’m witnessing it in all its glory. I embrace the hopes for the day it promises. Just as Brigitte suggested – I turn my eyes to the sunrise, and I was filled with hope, even on this shortest, darkest day of the year.
Thank you, Brigitte for the beauty of your art and for encouraging me to look at the world in a different view – as any great artist strives to do.