Belgium


Yesterday evening was a sad time. It’s difficult to feel particularly useful while sitting in an unremarkable place, and with no talent that is productive during a tragedy. It’s hard to even express a public feeling of sorrow when whether you do or not has little immediate effect.

Still, not expressing sorrow feels callous, and Paris does have meaning for me.  I lived in Europe, off and on, for over twenty years. My first memories are of England (which isn’t Paris, but is close enough for a Chunnel day trip from Brussels), and my husband’s final assignment with the U.S. Army was at Daumerie Kaserne by Chièvres, Belgium (still not Paris, but again, close enough for day trips with the kids).  A friend lives in Paris. Although I’ve never lived in Paris, I’ve strolled there, avoided rivers of traffic, ridden le Métro, sipped hot chocolate (I’m not a coffee drinker), done the tourist routine, and eaten prix fixe meals. The attack happened someplace that was, for me, working on becoming an everyday place.

One of my favorite pictures isn’t of an instantly recognizable landmark. The one I like is a sign for a picnic area.  It still makes me laugh.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Despite the feeling of immediacy concerning the shootings, explosions, and dread execution of concert-goers, I’m also saddened by the attack in Beirut. By the downing of the Russian plane. By the refugees fleeing these bastards who’ll kill anyone, anywhere, and use anyone to do it. I’m sickened by the deaths of innocent people who are near the combatants of our self-appointed enemy who choose to hide in hospitals, and our myopia in attacking such a place. It’s all so desperately tragic and all I can do is say I’m heartsick.

The only cold encouragement is remembering that London wasn’t beaten by the Irish Republican Army bombings in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. London was changed — and I can’t see an unattended bag without thinking about it — but it’s still there. Paris will still be there, too.

I hope the terror abates soon.

Coalport Countryware One set of my many teapots shown in an inventory photo taken before moving from Germany to Belgium. 1st generation digital photo

Coalport Countryware
One set of my many teapots shown in an inventory photo taken before moving from Germany to Belgium.
1st generation digital photo

The other day while I was catching up on email digests, a conversation on a writing list caught my eye. Someone asked about “tea” and I gave a quick response because I have a passing familiarity with it, although more as a drink than as a meal. My Air Force dad was assigned to a military unit in England when I was little and, while we lived there, the daughter of my mom’s cleaning lady was my babysitter. Occasionally I was sent over to their house and would play with my babysitter’s younger brothers. Despite this vague familiarity with English family life, and later exposure through all the English mystery novels I’ve read, my language training would prove to be inadequate.

1951  Mom pouring me milk while we're having our tea.

1951 Mom pouring me milk while we’re having our tea.

Fast-forward a long ways from my childhood but not quite up to the present.

Before my husband retired from federal service, we lived in Belgium where my husband worked closely with others assigned to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO’s military headquarters, otherwise known as SHAPE. SHAPE, like NATO, is multi-national so the possibility of having friends who weren’t American was high. I expected communication difficulties with the non-English-speaking people — I certainly didn’t speak all the languages of NATO, and I didn’t think everyone else would speak English — but I didn’t expect any problems communicating with the British.

 

Our daughters, sitting on the haynets they'd stuffed, at the SHAPE riding club when it was at Bauffe, Belgium. 1st generation digital photo

Our daughters, sitting on the haynets they’d stuffed, at the SHAPE riding club when it was at Bauffe, Belgium.
1st generation digital photo

Our daughters were members of the SHAPE riding club, so I was out at the stables a lot. I helped out, too, doing little chores not requiring expert horsey-knowledge. I could fill hay nets, put saddles away, pick hooves if no one else were available, and even stay on top of a horse although I’m not an expert rider. One day, one of the English women asked if I would be around that afternoon. As I petted her black Labrador, I said I would be. She then asked me if I would give her mare, Anna, her tea.

I was perplexed. I knew that some of the horses had special feed, but I didn’t know that Anna also had a special drink. As far as I had seen, all the horses drank only water. I looked at the woman and said, fine, I could do that, but that I didn’t know where this tea was kept or how to make it. She looked at me as if I had suddenly gone simple. Maybe petting dogs was the limit of my talents?

“Her tea.” she said, emphasizing the word “tea.” “At about five o’clock?”

It took a minute, in which I’m sure I fell in her estimation of whether or not I ought to be let out on my own, but then, with her emphasis on five o’clock, roughly the time when the horses were given their evening meal, it clicked. The woman wanted me to give the mare her supper.

While we Americans think of “tea” (as a meal) as something frilly and fancy — such as, afternoon tea — apparently, in general usage in England, it is meant as “supper.” For horses, that would be a cup or so of oats and a nice net of hay, a task well within my capabilities.

I’m sure that once the linguistic light dawned on me, I stammered a bit, then said, great, I’d give Anna her “tea.” The woman gave me a look as if she were reconsidering, then turned, and calling her dog, went on her way.

In my life overseas, I had yet another language lesson, but, more importantly, Anna had her tea.

Me, in 1999, performing one of the riding stable tasks for which I am qualified -- poop scooping. 1st generation digital photo

Me, in 1999, performing one of the riding stable tasks for which I am qualified — poop scooping.
1st generation digital photo