Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Les Scrupules de Bruxelles.

The day before our 21st wedding anniversary Husband asks if I’ve booked a table for dinner, as usual.

“Sod that,” I say. “Let’s go to Paris.”

“Paris?” he says.

“I love Paris,” I say.

“Or Brussels,” he says.

“Not Brussels,” I say. “Paris is for lovers, Brussels is for lunch.”

On the morning of our anniversary I give him the present I bought two days before: a new party shirt, in a square gift box, wrapped in blue tissue paper, and a card. And he gives me... the very same thing he gave me last year. “I got you a card, though,” he says. “It must be in the house somewhere. And I paid for Brussels.”

We get to Brussels on Friday afternoon. The place is quiet except for lots of armed police and beggars. A pale Syrian boy sits crossed-legged in the street. A vacant-eyed woman slumps on steps with a sleeping child. I hold out a Euro for each of them and their gratitude is humbling.

"I need more Euros," I tell Husband.

“We can’t give them all away," he says, handing me another.

I know this, but I reason that if I give them all Euros I might feel slightly less terrible about being incredibly fortunate, and British.

From a quiet side street we are funnelled toward the Grand’ Place, then separated, men from women, frisked, asked questions, and eventually spewed into the ancient beating heart of the city. And it is a grand place indeed. In stark contrast to the deserted streets around it, here, there is colour and light and music, with people who smile and laugh and kiss... because they are pissed.

“The whole world is here,” I say.

“It’s the beer festival,” says Husband.

“Did you know that when you booked it?” I ask.

“Er,” he says. “No. It was £100 each to go to Brussels, including the Eurostar, whereas Paris was £250 each.” Then he adds, “funny thing, when I told the Frogs in the office, they said, ‘it’s cheap, yes, but it’s still Brussels.’”

We eat lunch in the square, sitting next to four British men and a woman all dressed as green dinosaurs. Kids, really. One of them, nearest to me, is a bit of a character, and he's having trouble with his drink, which is huge.

“It’s a litre of Kriek,” he tells me, sipping it gingerly.

‘Why?” I say.

“Well,” he says, unsuccessfully trying to focus on my face, “it was a big night last night, so, you know.”

“Right,” I say, “that makes perfect sense, then.”

On Saturday we check out of the hotel and head off into the city. We eat breakfast in an elegant arcade, with Magritte’s bowler-hatted motif everywhere.

“Where are the Magrittes?” I ask Husband.

“Not far,” he says. “In the Museum of Fine Art. Why, do you want to go and look?”

I do, and I say so, which rather takes him aback. “I’m having my bluff called,” he says.

The gallery is empty. I look for the painting of the man with the apple. I see the man with the bird, and the man with the pipe; I can’t see the man with the apple anywhere. I read that Magritte saw his mother just after she drowned herself and her face was obscured by her dress. Some psychologists think this is why he was obsessed with painting faceless people.

Suddenly I am standing in front of L'Empire des Lumières, with its stunning pool of lamplight. It stops me dead in my tracks, because it’s really beautiful, and a bit desolate, and more than a little melancholy, just like the city itself.

Love E x


P.S. My baby is home! Eldest has been away for weeks. With the others back at school, I now have a whole week with him all to myself.


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