Leaving Brussels

Leaving a place is always interesting.  While things are changing around you, you look forwards and backwards in time, trying to read the direction you have been coming from, to get some kind of clue about where you might be going next.

Living here hasn’t all been easy, though everything looked different after I got the new job.  Until that point, my frustrations with my current job were magnified, and it seemed as if the job hunt was going to be endless.  And while it’s a commonplace (because true) to say that what you will miss the most is friends, I actually think also that there’s something about Brussels the place.

I’ve said before that it’s big enough not to be boring, and small enough not to be stressful.  I still think so.  Though the de facto capital of Europe is tatty in places, shabby in others – lots of dog turds, holes in the pavement, that kind of thing – it has a certain charm, with its tall apartment buildings, decorated metro stations, magnificent historic centre, and seeming ability to function since before I got here without a national government.  There have been things that I will appreciate in time to come, such as growing nearly-fluent in French (while picking up only the Flemish that amused me, I’m afraid to say).  And there have been the things that have saddened me: one hard thing to handle has been the constant churn of young interns and employees, whose work contracts are just long enough that you can become good friends and then miss them when they are gone.  But one thing that has been nice is to get to know people from all over Europe and the world.  In the UK, spending most of my time with existing friends and Quakers has meant a very Anglophone, Anglocentric life, up until this last year.

2010 now seems a long time ago; there will shortly be two big moves between then and now.  It’s taken a long time to understand how much about my life has changed since the end of my engagement and since I stopped working as a teacher.  I no longer work to excess, instead preferring to plan and use my time efficiently, but not to bring work home.  That has been a lesson well-learned.  There are things I have missed badly about the life I had before, but one of them hasn’t been money.  Money has been tight in Brussels, and luxuries like saving are simply impossible when your salary falls by around 80%; on the other hand, I’ve lived within my means and still had a good time.  Travel for work has given me the opportunity to take a few days off and get a cheap train ticket, and not owning a car has saved me thousands of pounds a year.

And London will be strange, a new place.  My parents no longer live there, my sister is back there having been living in other cities for much of the last few years.  Many of my friends have married and/or had children since I last lived in London in 2007, and the most recent arrival has come in the last few days.  I like this idea of a fresh start, back in London with a bike, half the possessions I had before, and a nearly blank slate.  I also can’t help thinking that some stability would be nice.  It’s been a year here, and I’ll be leaving a lot of good friends scattered in cities all over Europe, from Brussels to Istanbul.  It’ll be six months on my current contract, and then where?

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