Framboise in the Park
The wind picked up and the clouds engaged more frequently while the weather performed as April should upon the streets of Brussels. I enjoyed the crisp air and tinge upon the skin after cresting the hill above our squatted home (we were mooching off the infinite hospitality of a Greek friend of a friend). The sun still won out midday as we walked downhill a couple miles towards the only determined activity for the day: jazz and drinks at La Brocante, an iconic Brussels beer bar with decent brunch, alleged oysters (unfortunately my favorite food group was not available that day), and a menu long on Gueuze and Kriek. It bustled with locals and tourists alike, celebrating the Sabbath with various libations in one hand and menu in the other, planning the next line of attack on unsuspecting livers. After a short wait we secured an alley table with clear view of a stage vacated by Gypsies rotating the block.
An energizing wind rushed the patio spritzing drops of water on my arm. I noticed the surrounding tables join in my confusion as we all searched the bright blue sky for the culprit. Nothing in sight, we returned to our ostentatious glasses harboring various shades of gold. My own shouldered a heavy froth within chaliced walls, “Westmalle” marking the center of the parabola in iconic typeface. Above my descending head, the jazz assembled from four corners, bringing the essentials of any ragtag group: guitars, fiddle, accordion, percussion. Camembert, apples, arugula, and cherry tomatoes arranged in a creamy, crunchy, bittersweet salad arrived at our table and drew the focus, clouding the band members to background as they warmed up, determined distribution of future donations, and eventually found their tune. The guitarist in center led the folky Cajun progressions resembling something I heard down Bourbon Street years before. I smiled for the unlikely Frenchiness of both places: Brussels surrounded by Dutch and New Orleans surrounded by English. People walked by on the cobbles and broke into irresistible jigs - knees high, elbows out, shoulders rocking and eyes bright. We watched scenes of the Nutcracker as various ethnicities interpreted the music.
The occasional gust carried smells of Sunday Brunch from tables in a city on break. I slurped the creamy remnants of Westmalle as a new glass seamlessly appeared in my other hand: Biere d’ Abbaye Guldenburg, De Ranke’s hoppy Triple. The waiter warned me of the bitterness but should have pointed out the gravity - over eight percent. A complex bouquet of honey, citrus, and spices complemented a tangy, winey palate, finishing dry and lingering with citrus. Halfway through the glass I noticed my focus drifting towards a shade of cloudy watercolor. The jazzy notes accentuated this feeling of total relaxation. It was one of two things: magic or the rapid accumulation of two high gravity beers in my stomach. Same difference. The ragged men finished their set and walked through the crowd for some deserved change. We dropped a few coins in a wide-brimmed felt hat, received a smile and nod, and exchanged salutations of French gratitude.
With a bottle of Rose de Gambrinus from Cantillon in hand, Parc de Bruxelles beckoned as the weather held out. Noticing that the bottle had both a crown cap and cork I went on the prowl for a corkscrew (we left the corkscrew at home). After exhausting all options among the drunks in the park, I humbled myself to ask a bartender nearby if he could spare his own. My anxiety proved unfound as he opened it indifferently, handing it back with a “here you go brother.” The nose emanated strong raspberry aromas, as if a crate of fruit filled the bottle. I poured two glasses, watching the ruby liquid bubble and reflect pink in the evening shafts of light breaking the virgin leafed branches. The flavor was beautifully complex, and is really unbelievable unless you drink it. Somehow the liquid carried tart raspberry, oak, farmhouse funk, iron, and floral hibiscus in one sip. It finished dry and subtly tart, fresh raspberry never ceding the high ground. The raspberries of my Grandmother’s garden - fingers bloody from thorns, fruit staining guilty lips red from a few workingman snacks - stung my memory in a piercing deposited by their flavor.