In the back of one of my notebooks there is a sentence I scribbled in a frenzy after I heard someone say it on NPR like five years ago. "When you care about only what you care about, you won't change." I don't remember who said it, or even the context in which he said it, but I liked it then, and I like it now.
Did we care about Belgium before we went there on a magic underwater train? Not particularly. Because I don't know, what's in Belgium? More Europey-looking stuff, which, not to be snobbishly bored or anything, but it's not really worth the expense to go somewhere else just to experience European charm when it's right outside our door. So what is in Belgium? Well, it turns out, a lotta stuff we didn't know we cared about until we cared about it.
Like the artist René Magritte. There's a whole museum of his stuff in Brussels, and when we passed it we thought, "Uh. who's that?" But Marc's dad (who was with us) wanted to go in, so, okay, let's find out! We went in and found ourselves staring joyfully at the bright, wonderful paintings of a kindred spirit. We wandered around eagerly and kept returning to each other in delighted amazement. Who knew? We love Magritte!
What else is cool in Belgium?
Well, there's this toy museum on a quiet side-street on the outskirts of town and apparently no one cares because it was completely empty when we went to see what it had to offer. And I'll tell you it had so much to offer we were overwhelmed with baffled wonder. It was like wandering around a creaky old mansion packed to the nines with old toys. Actually, it wasn't like that, it was that. No labels, no information panels, no tidy aisles or professional displays. No gift shop. Just a three-story house absolutely crammed with antique toys. And there was an old dog wandering around like our personal tour guide. It cannot be described, that place. It was the feeling of childhood and time travel and a strange old man's attic and the love of teddy bears worn bare and the melancholy of abandoned toys and who knew? we care about dusty old toys now, and forever.
And now we care deeply about waffles, chocolate, and fries. Waffles, done like they must do waffles in Heaven, and chocolate with such artistry you're convinced a passionate chocolatier stirred magic spells into your truffle, and fries which deserve their world fame because they are served topped with caramelized onions and why must that only happen in Belgium?
As moving day approaches, I am thinking that we could, and maybe we should, spend the next few years traveling to places we don't necessarily want to see. Towns no normal tourist visits, and tiny museums no one cares about are always the highlights of our travels. Over the years I have, for example, acquired a deep appreciation for pencils. And learned that I would hate to be a salt factory worker in the 19th century. And that a lot of culinary care goes into making all the variants of mustard at the store. And that a giant raft made from balsa wood can certainly travel from South America to Polynesia (and oh! what if you did that?!). And how sugar was made and sold in giant cones in Victorian England. I've marveled at collections of real shrunken heads --and learned that they were such popular souvenirs that natives started making them out of monkeys to meet demand. And I've vividly imagined what it must have been like to be stuck on the arctic ship Fram in the frozen sea for three whole years. ...I feel like I could go on indefinitely. Should I stop now? Are you bored?
I guess all I'm saying is that it seems that travel is the best way to learn to care about something we didn't care about before. And since there's an endless list of quirky destinations out there, that means there's also an endless number of things to discover in ourselves.