Luchtvaartsquare, Brussels

img_8327I’m ambivalent about Brussels; it’s both grand and squalid. Over the years I’ve been robbed and I’ve been abused here. Some of my negative feelings are my own fault, of course: I still have the scar on my elbow from when I got my front wheel stuck in a tramline, and nobody forced me to spend two summers in a tiny, mouse-infested bedsit where a small basin was both my kitchen sink and my bath. In hindsight, I’m not sure which astonishes me more now: that I tolerated it (how on earth did I stay clean? Or – img_8341cringe – did I not?) or that others, like the very old Polish count or the North African family, lived there permanently. Oh yuk – the little partition on the half-landing that served as the WC for the top floor residents! The landlady, Mme Vandy, with her pretensions to a literary salon, Le Vers a Soif. (Which I thought of as Le Ver a Soif.) The noisy, spitting trams outside my window. But I also visited the Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts regularly and developed a taste for early Flemish painting, and at the end of my first stay I cycled to Amsterdam and have been cycling ever since. So, squalid but formative.

Later – better-groomed and better-off – I discovered the wonderful art nouveau buildings of Brussels, but it didn’t erase my earlier experience. And a brief walk around Bruxelles Midi after breakfast this morning isn’t going to change my mind.

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