Travel Writing: Never Judge a Market by its Tents – Brussels, Belgium

Brussels is a city abounding with enough architecture to make your head turn at every corner. Storefronts with modern and angular stone are paired with balconies of romantic iron curves inspired by the widely celebrated Art Nouveau style.

At any moment, taking a breath will fill your nose with a startling sweetness; the smell of freshly-baked Belgian waffles. Bright yellow waffle carts are parked on almost every street. I learned that before your eyes can spot one of these trucks, your nose will find it first.

The weekends fill the squares with open-air markets under low-hanging red and green tents. For me, the word “market” implies that the sellers offer trinkets and snacks. But this bazaar was of a different caliber. Fine silverware and china were priced so steeply that the sellers must have had no concern whether they sold a single piece. Some tents were spilling over with ornate jewelry and others filled tables with yellowed maps and dusty first-edition books.

I approached a svelte blonde woman dressed in a fur coat who was tending to her display. I asked for the price of an unassuming leather watch, hoping I picked one of the less expensive pieces in her tent. She took her time removing the watch from the box and stroked it like it was made of gold. I could make out creases in the leather.

She seemed to be making calculations in her head for an eternity until she finally said, “This piece? It’s very nice.” Did I see her nose rise higher in the air? “I will say 35 Euro.” I tried to gracefully decline without making it obvious that I didn’t have more than five Euros in my pocket. Her expression told me she assumed it anyway.

Across the path, I spied a line of silver pieces that looked like thick bangles. A portly man in a tweed driving cap was stationed comfortably behind his wares. “How much for the bracelets?” I inquired, pointing to a row of shiny bands through the glass case. He erupted with hefty laughter, the kind that was only funny for one side of the conversation. “Bracelets?” He raised his bushy brows, “Those are napkin rings.”

I laughed lightly, but this didn’t seem to diffuse what he saw as an unforgivable rookie mistake. I casually walked away along the cobblestones to the sound of his chortling.

I felt that I had stepped into the setting of one of my favorite books. The sweet-smelling air reminded me that however unaccustomed I may be to Belgian humor, this market under red and green tents was nothing short of magical.

[Michelle Rosinski- @its_michelle29]

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