Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tales of the road, part 6

Wednesday February 3, 2011

It's 1:11am in Berlin and my friend Henry is snoring like a banshee if banshees snored and I put on my headphones and write. Thirteen days into my travels some familiar music is nice, and putting words on "paper" is solace.

Four days/a lifetime ago, Sunday, In Brugges, I fought my instinct to just keep moving and after a battle with my intrinsic restlessness, I stayed another day. The reward was carillon bells and street scenes of grandparents and grandchildren partaking of simple joys and a huge pot of mussels Belgian style, like eating the ocean undiluted.

In the quiet time I thought back to a conversation with Patricia, the ex-pat American owner of the Jazz Bar who has lived in Belgium 20 years. She told me of her son who had dropped out of art school in Ghent and run way to live with Patricia's family in LA, where he is considered rude and overly opinionated and (God forbid) godless. There, he was asked if he believed in God, and answered Of course I don't, who believes in God? The family in LA being half Mexican Catholics, well, there's the rub.

Atheism in the US seems to be coming out of the closet the last few years despite the lingering posturing of the hard religious right, the remnants of the old Moral Majority. Recent writings by Chistopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and others have been best sellers, and even Ricky Gervais has weighed in on disbelief. Nonetheless, it remains de rigeur in the US to profess belief outwardly, regardless of one's true thoughts.

Not so in Europe, as illustrated by the story of Patricia's son. The irony is that these European cities full of atheists are full of churches - some of the most stunning, resplendent, imposing churches to be found, churches whose spires and bells loom over entire cities.

This day in Brugges I viewed a Groetmuseum display of entirely religious art, Flemish primitive painters, they're called, and the disconnect was front and center - the disconnect between the private beliefs of these Belgian and French and British and German museum patrons and the subject matter. Their forebears had a passion for the Passion, judgment and damnation and all the trappings. Today's viewers gave a lot of studious looks, and held quiet conversations, but there were no discernable moments of ecstasy or conversion taking place.

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