Streamlined

When I told my Belgian friend Johan that my sister Constance and I would be staying in the hotel across from the Guillemins train station, he said, “You will see the most amazing train station in Belgium.”  Guillemins was near the historic heart of Liege.

I was looking forward to seeing something old and elegant, like Grand Central Station in New York.  It was not at all what I expected.

We arrived in the afternoon.  Sunlight streamed in through skylights, highlighting an amazing structure of steel, glass, and white concrete.

Our eyes were drawn by graceful lines and patterns inside and out.

It was like beaming into our own episode of Star Trek.

After a wonderful visit with our dear friends, we had to catch a very early train out of Liege.

Sleepy-eyed, we left our warm beds to board the 5:30AM train to Paris.

One glimpse of the station lighting up the darkness was enough to stir our senses and wake us up.

Night or day, Guillemins is an inspiration.

A work of art.

True, it was not what we expected.

No stained glass.

No iron grillwork

No weathered stone that echoed with footsteps from the past.

Life is a blend of new and old.  We treasure tradition, but new and unexpected can be a good thing too.

And the trains still run on time.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: From Lines to Patterns.
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The Christmas Gang

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There is an ancient British tradition called Ganging, from the Anglo-Saxon word gangen, meaning ‘to go.’ For fifteen hundred years, in what evolved from a solemn prayer ritual, village folk would gather to go ‘beat the boundary.’ They walked all around the parish to impress upon the youngsters’ memories the place they called home. Their elders dunked them in dividing streams, knocked their heads against bordering trees, and made them climb over the roofs of houses built across the line so they would never forget.

Our family has a gentler holiday tradition, a celebration as much as a reminder. Our Christmas tree is nothing like those featured in House Beautiful. It’s topped with a Star of David, as we also celebrate Hanukkah. The oldest ornament, a cellulose umbrella, decorated my great grandmother’s tree. We carefully hang Grandma Rhea’s handmade ornaments, dioramas inside blown eggs dressed in velvet. My children’s contributions are made of Popsicle sticks, glitter, and clothespins. The marshmallow snowman has grown sticky and yellow, with a tiny bite taken on the sly from its backside, but it makes me smile, and bookmarks an era.

I hang up the key to the house where I grew up, and recall my childhood, running barefoot through the back alleys of Detroit. The little Polish dancer wears the same costume my dashing husband wore performing with his dance group Polanie. The glass pen celebrates the year my first book was published. A tiny guitar marks the year my husband broke his leg and, instead of sulking on the couch, taught himself to play guitar. It hangs near Eli’s tiny oboe, and Bea’s violin and clarinet. A small glass bottle contains ash from Mt. St. Helens, collected from my pants cuff in 1980, when I was caught bird watching in Eastern Washington during the eruption.

Each Christmas, we carefully remove our ornaments from their tissue paper cocoons. As we hang them on the tree, we retell the stories. It’s like a crazy quilt, where scraps of colorful memories are pieced together and, voila! E pluribus unum! From the contributions of individuals we have compiled a portrait of one family, and from the many generations we have pieced together one history.

Ganging, or beating the boundary, is a tradition that teaches children their limits and sets rigid boundaries. Instead of knocking our children’s heads against a tree, let’s invite them to help create an empowering communal story among the branches of the family tree, free of boundaries and limitations, celebrating their lives, so full of possibility.

©2017Naomi Baltuck