Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Books, books, books

After my classes, I walked past this little second hand bookshop opposite the church, called “Het Ivoren Aapje” (The Ivory Monkey, named after a book written in the 19th century about life in Brussels). Outside, on a table were some books, and one, for some reason, caught my attention. It’s been ages since I bought a Dutch book, but what can I say? Maybe teaching my mother tongue has made me love it again.
There was no price on the book, so I walked in – immediately overwhelmed by that sweet, comforting smell of old books. The owner and someone else were hidden behind piles of books, playing chess.
Me : Excuse me, how much is this book?
He : One!
“Damn”, I thought, “this is one of those shops where you’re not allowed to buy just one book. They sell by the kilo or something.”
Me : Umm, yeah, just this one.....
He : Well...One!!
Me : (still in teaching mode) Yes, this is “ONE” book. (followed by an awkward smile, and the feeling that I was definitely missing something here)
He : So it is! So it’s ONE Euro!
Me : Ah, ok...!
I felt I had walked straight into one of Ionesco’s absurd plays.
But I mean, seriously, who would thing of “one Euro” when someone tells you the price of something?

Anyway, this experience kicked my love for books into fifth gear again, and I decided to check out the Dutch library of Brussels. After living here for almost 7 years, I must admit I haven’t been to it once. Shame on me. I had a quick look around, and decided to go for a useful visit : check out the Dutch courses and text books (where I bumped into a few of my colleagues).
All in all, the visit to the library was a strange, but nice experience. It’s like this bubble of Dutch in an otherwise 95% French-speaking city. I even found it weird to ask for information in Dutch – when I walk around, shop, etc in Brussels, I automatically switch to French. I didn’t do so the first six months I lived here, but after a while you just get tired of a) having to repeat everything in French anyway and b) getting unfriendly looks because you have the nerve to speak Dutch, and assume everybody will understand you.
So you realize “Ok, this is my capital city, and (almost) nobody speaks my language.” And that’s even more absurd than Ionesco.
Like the second hand bookshop this morning though, even absurdity can be charming.

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