Thierry Tapeworm's hideout:
La Frite Dorée:
Our vibrant street market:
I was overwhelmingly excited when I saw our house for the first time at the proximity of shops (most houses I looked at were in the arse end of some field or other), but failed to investigate more precisely what shops they were. No matter. At least we have Zizi. And Damien is tremendously convenient, what with being three doors away and never shutting, even on Christmas day, if you can cope with the constant barrage of compliments. And there's always the barber..
There's a big unit on the corner of our pulsatingly exciting shopping street that has been empty and in renovation for a while and I have been fantasising* to myself about what I would most like to move in there:
1. Patisserie Valerie
3. Pain Quotidien
4. Peyton & Byrne
6. Rose Bakery
etc etc. The CFO tormented me for ages saying it was going to be the first Belgian Starbucks. Bastard.
So what did it eventually become? Another kebab shop. Yeah. Transitional. Dog shit, kebab shops, the surliest, greyest bars des écureuils** imaginable. Much of the time a walk round the quartier puts me in the blackest of moods, pining for Cheshire Street or Marylebone.
But when the sun comes out something oddly magical happens and the parc du caca and the benches outside Zizi are transformed into something from Un Deux Trois Soleil, or at least how I remember Un Deux Trois Soleil, which doesn't seem to be supported by anything I can find about it on line. They say: impenetrable, gloomy, weird. I remember: sunshine, solidarity, lots of système D. Anyway, you wander down the street for an ice cream, or just for air, at any time up to and including eleven at night in summer, and see everyone you know doing exactly the same. And then we all sit around on the benches watching children poke each other with twigs and chat and lounge, and everyone knows each other at least by sight and there are fifty three nationalities: There's Mami, who comes from Congo via Lyon, Dominique and Geraldine who are both 100% Belge, the Germano-Moroccan couple, the Ukrainian contingent, Frederico and Riccardo who walk the weepette sometimes (even though they are hard ass teenagers) are Portugese, the Irish woman, Cathy who is half Belgian half Chinese, the other Emma who is Italian and this week was marked, no, illuminated, by the arrival of a lovely, beautiful Mexican boy, all by himself playing with a tennis ball in the park and seducing the weepette. I went all giggly and pink.
THIS is why I wanted to live in Belgium; because most of us are foreign and those that aren't live in a made up country, and we all want people to talk to. As a stilted, middle class girl from York (most parochial and white city in Britain TM) this is just perfect. It's everything I want. The constrast with Paris, where I pounded the same paths of the Parc Monceau with the spawn every soul-destroying day, dicing with the evil park keeper and his whistle of despair, is striking. In a year only one person talked to me, and she was English. People occasionally hit my child (true! for playing with a spade that didn't belong to him), but I didn't have a single conversation. It's no wonder that after a few weeks here in Brussels I was envangelising like crazy to everyone I know about this strange, grey city.
All this to say that on days like we've had this week, when the sun is finally out and the teenage glue sniffers have sloped away to find somewhere darker and more edgy to posture, I like it here. Yay! Strike up Les Negresses Vertes! Voilà l'été (briefly)!
Springtime in Brussels, where black and white, Flem and Walloon, weepette and tortoise exist in peaceful harmoneeee. Until they eat each other.
*I have tried to keep my fantasies semi-realistic, so do not allow myself to imagine, say, Liberty or Browns Shoes. Besides, the unit is far too small.
** This is Waffle house shorthand for the kind of bar where everyone starts their first beer at 7 and has an obese pitbull under the table and where morose silence reigns supreme.