Indulgence is a bad word, isn’t it? It is selfish and lacks self-control – concepts we tend to frown upon. Which is exactly what makes indulging so sweet: allowing yourself to enjoy something that you would rather not anyone knew about. To me such secret guilty pleasures are extremely valuable. They belong only to me, and the few people I choose to let in on them. They provide a brief retreat from the usual hustle and bustle, a private pause in my busy life.
Now indulging has gotten more difficult for me lately. I have always enjoyed a strong black coffee with Belgian chocolate in the afternoon. I keep my own 1-person cafetiere and my own carefully selected coffee at work, and a choice of delectable chocolate in the back of a desk drawer. Everyone is used to me making my coffee in the kitchen and traipsing around with my cafetiere, but very few people know about the chocolate stash. I have always found it shameful somehow that I crave chocolate. Something to do with the expectation on women to be watching their weight I think. But now scientists have confirmed that people who eat chocolate regularly have a healthier body mass index and are slimmer. That throws my guilt right out of the window.
Luckily for me, that still leaves a glass of wine or a tripel beer once I put my feet up at night, taking a pillow day occasionally, and a few other things I am not ready to share.
Even allowing myself to do nothing is a luxury. It is also difficult, so I am not sure it falls under indulgence. I told myself this morning not to do any chores at all today, and instead allow myself to relax. That was an impossible mission, so I am excused for not completing it with full colours. I did manage to laze away the whole afternoon though, which has put me in a wonderfully dozy state of mind. Unwound. Whereas I could have ironed clothes, washed windows, taken the glass to the recycling bin… which is all still waiting to be done some time … back to indulgence!
I live in a hilly area in England, which is never prettier than when covered in snow. The snow muffles the usual sounds of daily life, making the air strangely still. I find myself in a pristine landscape, where I am the first one to leave tracks.
Later, I bring my feet back to life on the floor heating and pour myself a Tripel Karmeliet beer.
When I landed in Brussels for the first time in 11 years I didn’t recognize anything. I had expected to feel home, the way I had when I landed here during the months of commuting between London and Belgium before making the move west. Since then I have been back and forth with cars full of family, dog, and lots of stuff (the stuff mostly of the edible and drinkable kind, strictly going west) but never by plane. This being the first business trip in all those years time was finally more valuable than space and so I found myself in a bright, busy could-be-anywhere airport.
That all changed at night. Many things do. I made it into Leuven town centre on a nostalgia trip, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The hurdles on my path were so many I had begun to believe the whole idea was jinxed. The first was: I was seriously sleep deprived and a part of me was screaming to just go to bed in that lovely loft room. Hunger however was worse so I had to have dinner. Easy: eat at the hotel, then go to bed before anyone notices. Problem number two: the hotel restaurant was closed, and the hotel was just out of town. Problem number three: I had let my colleagues, who had the good sense to go home at a reasonable time, lock my coat in the office and so had no coat to brave the frost that night. Desperation set in.
I did the lost girl thing to the hotel receptionist, which is not my usual style but desperation is the mother of resourcefulness. And hark: he could lend me a nice warm coat, only slightly oversized, a bike, and a set of bike lights; he showed me how to work the bike lock and gave me directions. The answer to all my problems! I’d forgotten how well suited a bike is to seeing a town. Just the right speed and hop on and off as you like. London is finally cottoning on, but in Belgium we’ve known this for yonks.
Leuven town centre still looks very much as I remembered it. The historic buildings of course ensure the cityscape does not change. But I even found many cafes and restaurants we used to frequent as students way back then: one where they had good spaghetti, one where we’d occasionally splash out on a steak, and many cafes that bring back memories of evenings out with fellow students. The drowning Margriet statue is still there, as is the experimental theatre cafe that still seems to attract the more obscure “Culture” fanatics. They had huge screens in there now that were displaying some experimental video work.
I ended my pilgrimage in a restaurant with its own house brewery, enjoying a delicious pheasant with chicory and wine poached pear accompanied by the house Troubadour blond beer. Which I had never heard of but enjoyed greatly. Not a bad workday night.
We decided to sit down with a beer and enjoy the atmosphere before strolling back along the river and rejoin the mayhem. We found a table with a marvelous view over the river and the quay opposite and ordered 2 Kriek Boon beers. One 500 ml for two – just a little bit more than if we’d ordered two separate ones. The place is cosy and a bit naff, with an old stove in the room and a few low slung oldfashioned wing chairs in the corner. Every chair is taken, many by Dutch day trippers.
When the beer arrives all of its 0.5l comes in one huge glass. The waitress, thinking of the shopping she still has to do or the party she is going to in the evening – anything to take her mind off what she is actually doing right now, tries to argue with me that this is what I have ordered and I should just make do. All I want is for her to bring me another small Kriek Boon, and we’ll have both. Never too much of a good thing, especially one you just can’t get anywhere else. Rolling her eyes she speeds off and eventually returns with another beer for the morons. Wonderful.
When it is time to leave I shake out my smallest euro coins and build a pile that pays our bill. The Dutch guys behind us are grinning. My husband is shrinking. I pretend not to notice. I never claimed I was a nice person.