Where there was once a lively roundabout with an entrance to the lush Tenbosch Park (more akin to a botanical garden really), there is now a tree whose broad, leafy branches extend just far enough to marginally obstruct my view of Lake Michigan. Where through an open window, damp gusts of wind delivered floral scents and the hum of conversation from outdoor diners at Mito and CŎCĪNA, now a cool lake breeze carries with it the smell of backyard grilling and the unmistakable roar of a Harley motorcycle from the busy Lincoln Memorial Drive down the hill.
For two years, we called Brussels, Belgium home, but after a trans-Atlantic, mid-pandemic move on July 3rd, we have returned to what was previously and will again be our home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Even though it was anticipated and scheduled for a long time, this move happened fast. I mentally prepared for the packing, returning of my Belgian residence card, and the final closing of the door to our Rue Washington apartment, but the excitement of returning to Milwaukee, a city we love, in closer proximity to family and friends is layered with an awareness that we are turning the page on what was a wonderful chapter of our lives.
More recent memories of Brussels are associated with my desk in our apartment where I could look out the window during the long, slow months of quarantine, and savor time exercising outside on walks through the neighborhood and runs in the Bois de la Cambre and Sonian Forest. There are distinct moments and personal observations I have preserved for myself as our time in Belgium came to an end.
Walking through our neighborhood on bright spring days, I was always drawn to the park next door, finishing with at least one loop through the grounds to admire the flowers that bloomed bright and fragrant. I didn’t take for granted our close proximity to this hidden jewel nor the friendly demeanor of the park attendants who greeted visitors at the entrance.
Driving home through our neighborhood on a dreary winter evening, I was suddenly struck by the absence of foliage. It occurred to me all of the trees lining the streets had been pruned, leaving behind only the bare, worn trunks and short-stubbed branches. I wondered if/when the trees would recover. A few months later, it again suddenly occurred to me that the warmth of spring had brought the quick regrowth of the leaves on these same trees that modestly brightened our street. I didn’t take for granted these signs of the changing seasons.
Most days, I’d look out the window while seated at my desk and observe the punctual appearance of our neighbor from across the street who emerged from her apartment every couple of hours to pace along the sidewalk or sit on the bench while smoking her cigarette. I had not noticed her routine before the lock-down. Did she increase her cigarette intake during the pandemic as an excuse to escape outdoors?
One particular day, I found myself looking out the window across the street into the tailor’s store where I caught a glimpse of a simple but captivating interaction. In what stood out to me as an uncommon gesture, a man who was picking up his items, tipped his Trilby hat (yes, I looked up the style) in appreciation to the clerk as he departed and went on his way. When was the last time I saw someone tip their hat to express thanks?
On Valentine’s Day, I watched and listened as a raucous wedding party crowded the park and roundabout in celebration of their friends’ nuptials, setting off fireworks at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
On April 24th, I watched from our apartment windows as people gathered in the roundabout around the monument to the Armenian Genocide to pay their respects. On a later date, I observed a lone man arrive around midday on a Sunday, remove his hat, make the sign of the rosary, and slowly back away to the sidewalk for a moment of reflection.
Whether our windows were open or closed, the cries and laughter of children echoed from the park during the day while later in the evening, the excited exclamations of diners could be heard as they enjoyed their meal with family and friends on the restaurants’ sidewalk patios.
Whether it was sunny or rainy, the shrill sound of a whistle being blown followed by a loud summons announced to all in the vicinity the nightly closing of the park and locking of the gates. More than once I recalled the commotion when a straggler or two didn’t make it out in time.
During our final months in Belgium, I listened as the 8 PM clapping for essential workers trailed off and I could hear the familiar sound of church bells ringing in the distance.
During our first months in Milwaukee, I’ve listened from our balcony as the cicadas’ monotonous hum signaled the end of the day, knowing that with the sunset would come the ringing of a more annoying buzz in my ear as the mosquitos emerged.
Summer humidity, sticky and oppressive, greeted us upon arrival at the airport and made me thankful to again have air conditioning, but I’m relieved when we can open our windows and embrace the cool evening breeze.
I’ve refamiliarized myself with the definition of “Midwest nice” and introduced myself to our neighbors who knocked on our door to say hello on the day we moved in.
I’ve ordered take out from more recently opened restaurants around the city and noticed new art and sculptures adorning downtown while mourning the businesses that have had to close and festivals that are cancelled.
While on my peaceful morning runs along the McKinley marina and weekend bike rides on the Oak Leaf Trail, I’ve admired the city skyline and diversity of people enjoying outdoor recreation in the city.
Saying goodbye to Brussels wasn’t easy, but calling Milwaukee home feels pretty good. I know that no matter where I live, I will appreciate the joy in getting to know my neighborhood and community a little better each day. So here is to Milwaukee and all that is to come in the city and on its trails.
The blog has traveled to Milwaukee with me and will continue from our new home, but don’t be surprised to see a few more recaps and posts coming from our final month in Belgium before I direct my attention to exploring The Good Land.