Splitting apart in Brussels

Just over a decade ago I sought out a chambre in Brussels so that T & I might save on the daily rate we’d been forking out for over a week. My French was limited to what I remembered from inadequate study: how to say my name. Thanks to a more recent acquaintance, I was able to lament having dropped my tennis racket, which only came in handy as a joke since I never really played the game.

Loaded with this less than rudimentary knowledge, T’s notes from her time in high school, a phrase book, and the newly acquired ability to politely order a falafel with spicy sauce, I managed to get a monthly rental agreement for a room overlooking the street from three stories up. The building was near the top of a T-stem. An abattoir across the intersection, centered at the very top of the T, doubled as a flea market on Wednesdays. In a gallery next to that, Von Hagens’ Körperwelten was housed (one familiar with the exhibit might recall large promotional placards featuring a skinless horse and rider). That street was otherwise lined with butcher shops, ours with tenant buildings and the pommes frites and falafel place next to our new landlord.

We’d only moved in that weekend when, on Sunday night, or more specifically, Monday morning at about midnight, T & I heard somebody enjoying the echo of his voice in the open shelter outside where I’d snagged my new, used radio for five euros the previous Wednesday. It was a lovely little portable AM/FM/SW, unfortunately lost to my travels, not unlike the glasses I only wore when I visited the Musée du Cinéma, but had in my pocket the day I was crawling around the dungeon-dusty cubby holes in the basilica. A few weeks after my first foreign flea market purchase I would tune in to a program on which a new friend and local promoter from the Ivory Coast by way of Paris would get one of the songs from my demo-disc broadcast.

The howling alone illustrated our bewitching hour night-crier fairly well: alone and drunk and staggering, and in awe of the sound of his own inebriation. This went on long enough for T to decide to take matters into her own hands. She got out of bed, went to the window and opened it, stuck her head as far out as she could, and after craning it to the left to see if she could get a glimpse of the offender exhaled, “Oh my god! They’re herding in the cattle.”

And then, as if her realization and my awareness had triggered the response, they began to wail, one after the other. T professed being able to observe cows screaming as they were being led forward, reacting to the slaughter that would soon be theirs. This went on until just prior to sunup, allowing us an hour or so of non-bleating sleep.

Monday and, to a lesser extent, Tuesday harbored the blood; the smell was strong enough that I imagined its ghostly presence beneath my feet, the sidewalk retold the sticky floor of the movie theater from my adolescence, remnants of spilled Pepsi and popcorn. Business in the flesh exchange district was hopping until the next flea market.

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Hausburgstr. 30, Berlin, 1938
Flash forward to my second of many apartments in Friedrichshain. I’d been chosen to round out a trio of housemates, though I was their alternate choice; after a carefully scheduled interview process, my two new roomies had picked someone who in the meantime had made other plans, maybe his feelings weren’t mutual. Their loss was my gain. I moved in across the street from what’d gained ink in Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz:

…must be the slaughter-pens, there is a sound of smacking, clattering, squealing, screaming, rattling, grunting. Steaming boilers and vats send vapor into the room. The dead animals are dipped in the boiling water, then scalded and taken out very white, a man scrapes off the epidermis with a knife, the animal grows whiter still…

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Is Cologne really cutting it out, or just circumventing circumcision? Most nations with this practice in predominance base it upon vernacular religious principles, unlike the nation where I was sharply unsheathed who’ve – cough – transfigured it into a secular, standard practice. The industry standard. Hence-so it will certainly remain. Are the Ruhr-Germans ahead of the carve on this one?

The flesh is the flesh. Partake of its savor or indulge in its passion, whether raw or really cooking, baby. Like glans through the outer-mass, so are the graze of our knives.

Hausburgstr. 30, Berlin, 2012: a few years down the road and a few after I left it. The Schlachthof, long since put to sleep, is to the right, out of the picture.

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