I recently visited Brussels and a few of its museums. I learned about musical instruments, the history of the Belgian federation, gender and society in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Belgium, sewers and the men who work in them, and the unaccompanied young migrants who arrive in Belgium every day. I often sat in museum cafés to read and write.
At a history museum’s white-and-green minimalist café, I watched a group of fifteen women gather at a long rectangular table. They subdivided into smaller groups and chatted and laughed. They looked elegant, clean, healthy, and pre- or fully retired. Some leaned forward onto the table in anticipation of what their neighbour might say; others placed their hands in prayer position on their chest as they nodded in agreement.
They looked familiar. I had seen this type of gathering in a café near Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts. Senior women gathered ritualistically over tea and cookies to exchange news and opinions. In my imaginary, they were artistic—if not in practice, then in appreciation. They were philanthropic—if not by interest, then by familial habit.
I felt unlike them.
But in that museum café in Brussels, sipping on coffee too strong to call good, perhaps, I thought to myself, I too should join a circle of museum/cultural amateurs.