Thursday, August 31, 2006

Memories of Liege..

Medieval city of staircases and prince-bishops, ghosts of tapestries past, and post-industrial anomie. A city with many names: Liege (French), Luttich (German), Liuk (Flemish/Dutch). The city breathes out smoke, and sucks in history. Sizeable Arab and Italian populations give the city a cosmopolitan air, but nowhere is there glamour. I fall in love with the jazz on its streets (especially in the Carré), late into the night watching musicians enter, kiss each other and unzip saxophones, while I sip biere Trappiste with new friends I only half understand. An Italian guy with fat fingers bangs out standards on an electric piano with effortless grace, while a guy I will know later as Mimi plays guitar with such fluidity I lose my breath. Miles was here just before he died (last year).

In the afternoons, prostitutes stand in patent leather pleasure gear on the cobblestones behind the cathedral or lurk in lurid green windows in a slightly rancid corner of my memory. My Corsican philosophy professor meets his belle after class, smoking Lucky Strikes, a Woody Allen movie transferred to the continent. I am reading Derrida in French, Paul Auster in English, and becoming European. A man runs amok in the square by the Cathedral, holding a meaningless placard. He disappears into the Cathedral shouting. Here, the Church is still a place from which people come and to which people go. A fellow philosophy student has fallen in love with Rilke (ten years later, so will I). She is anxious, nervous, radiating energy and insight. She wears tiny spectacles. I cannot remember her name. She runs up a huge flight of steps four times (up the Montagne de Bueren) to exhaust herself. I fall in with a group living in a medieval house: Flo the philosopher (an Ingrid Bergman lookalike), George the edgy Greek (with a passion for the ancient Greek alphabet), Olivier, Flo’s beau. We drink wine round the table and eat winter food. Trips to Bruges, to see off the lover-that-was on her way back to the UK; trysts in the octagonal tower on her return. The nuns walk gracefully across lawns, swans float tragically in the river.

Jean-Marc would visit; another nervy chap with flowing ginger hair and a bawdy poetic imagination and a red plastic gadget that rolls perfect cigarettes. He spends most of his time smoking and drinking. I go to stay with him for a night; he lives in the suburbs with his grandmother. Underneath his bon-viveur image, a sadness lurks, a lack of orientation in the world and a sense of decaying spirit. I get stoned out of my skull playing blues duets with Phillippe, in some poor suburb a bus away, kissing everyone (all his male friends) hello and goodbye. Walking to the Outremeuse across the river Рstreets oozing character and secret cultures РTchantches the puppet and masonic meetings. The delight of discovering Tous A Zanzibar Рa factory where every evening is a warehouse party of many-roomed dimensions, with a fabulous cooperative restaurant (complete with papier-mach̩ divers splashing through the watery ceiling), where artisans and the bourgeois meet to eat lovingly prepared food. I hear about Soyinka for the first time, spending afternoons watching rugby and playing Trivial Pursuit with Professor James Gibbs, the Kongi scholar.

And, the most visual memory of all: living high above the city at the top of Thiers de la Fontaine, walking 200 steps down and 200 steps up every day past Atget-esque images of continental buildings coated in gloom, I have my own private eyrie down onto the citadel. Far below, a neon Nissan sign blinks on, then off.

Liege, city of memories, of battles, of love now gone, of things finished and unfinished. A magical grimy space that holds regions of my memories, locked up until I walk its streets again.


the flying monkeys 11:14 pm  

Excellent post. Your words paint a picture, its like reading a book in bed on a saturday morning. Hang on! You actually made me think it was another day! You old devil!

I love most Medieval city's however, Liege is exceptional, being the melting pot of Northern and Southern European culture.

Anonymous,  11:41 pm  


Shango,  6:11 am  


For once, I have not a single detraction.

afrofunkycool 7:23 pm  

Have you read any book by Bruce Chatwin. You both seem to have the eye!

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