letter from brussels

The taxi driver looked twenty years older than the boyish photo on his driving permit. He had the radio on loud: playing west side story. And his car was a beaten-up 1980s Mercedes. The permit, the songs, the car.

Each room in the hotel is named after a city or place. ‘Dunedin.’ ‘Stonehenge.’ ‘Lake Wanaka.’ My room is called ‘Moscow.’ Gold. Orange. Brown. Grey.

“There’s a cafe around the corner,” said the concierge. “There’s a dog statue here. Turn left. It’s called fin de siecle.”

“Ha! Fin de siecle. Are there oil portraits and decadent wall hangings?”

“No,” he said.

And there is, indeed, a dog statue at the corner. The dog is posed in the act of pissing on a bollard. When I passed the pissing dog, a fat man-cow was patting the dog’s head and laughing. A woman-cow took a photograph.

In the square, a dowdy woman in a mustard dress played clarinet: backed by a bulky CD player. A boy splashed water in the fountain with his feet. Boys wearing thawbs and nikes gathered to play music on their phones and, as far as I could tell, to punch each others’ arms.

Back at the fin de siecle: an american couple line up their four drinks on the table. The woman, in black polka-dot dress, does her lipstick. She picks up one of the four drinks.

“Ready!” she says.

Tossing her hair, she smiles: sitting up very straight, looking neither left nor right. He holds his cellphone low, near his crotch: the 4 megapixel cellphone camera a 21st century extension of American manhood.

“Perfect!” he says.

A transsexual walks past, tripping on a homeless man who was sitting on his bag, fiddling with a defunct cellphone. The homeless man yells at the transsexual. Behind me, one waitress shouts at the other one.

“He wants a coffee with milk!! Cafe au lait! Coffee with milk!”