01 June 2009
Letter from Brussels
We are getting our annual spell of summer weather. The sky is just like the one in the Magritte painting here ("Black Magic"). On Sunday I take long walk in the morning. It is still cool enough to walk on the sunny side of the street, so I do: this rarest of treats. At the carrefour of the rue du Bailli and rue Simonis there are four cafés. All of them always have tables out on the pavement. I pass by at just after 10, and most of the tables were already taken. Fortunately, my intentions are elsewhere....
I continue down the rue Faider and cut over to avenue Louise. With hardly any traffic this tree-lined street becomes very pleasant. Sadly, Place Stéphanie is littered with debris -- it looks like a real tip. The sun highlights every scrap, and without the trees, the stretch from there to Place Louise feels dirty and dusty. It's ironic as this is where all of the "chi-chi" shops are. In Brussels, at least, a reminder: you can shop at MaxMara but it doesn't make you any cleaner than anyone else.
I turn off a side street and head for my favourite café, with the Sunday paper. Without the BF it isn't the same -- he's in the UK for the weekend -- but I've never minded solitude. I send him a text message while waiting for my cappucino.
By noon the terrace is starting to get the full sun: time to pay up. I am stuck on the sudoku anyway. Î swing down through the Petit Sablon, still walking in the sunshine. Despite the tourists, this neighbourhood remains one of my favourites. Often you can hear students from the conservatory practicing their instruments. The music floats overhead, from the windows of surrounding apartments. This used to be a graveyard -- something the tour guides don't tell you.
Along rue Royale preparations are underway for the 20k race later in the afternoon. In Place Royale, all the windows facing the square are covered with the same blue-sky Magritte motif. It's in honour of the opening of the new Magritte Musuem, part of the Musuem of Fine Arts. Today this motif matches the sky.... an effect Magritte would approve of.
I'd been planning to indulge myself with a browse through the English bookstore, but I arrive to find it closed. Oh well. These things happen. I nip into a Delhaize "Express" to grab some mint for a salad. This is a real luxury -- the grocery store, not the mint; just a few years ago none of the chains could open on a Sunday. If you ran out of milk or forgot to buy mint you had to take your chances with a corner store, or haul your a** out of bed to get to a market by noon -- nice in theory, difficult in practice. I buy the mint and get to the bus stop just as my bus pulls up.
On the way back we pass some workers outside the big bank on rue Ravenstein. They are putting up a sign: BNP Paribas, with a green logo. This is the third time this bank has changed names since I came here. The bank's old name, "Fortis," is on the line below -- an afterthought, or a concession. I predict it will be phased out within 12 months... Plus ça change.