Recently Brussels was cowardly attacked by terrorists. This is the city where I was born and grew up. I propose a brief and personal tribute to this very attractive city that I cherish. I know many of the blog’s readers from are also from Brussels, so don’t hesitate to share your preferences (books, comics, movies, songs). Jacques Brel’s songs are among my best memories of Brussels. They marked my teenage years. He has a song entitled “Bruxelles (Brussels)”, but I prefer “Mon Enfance (My Childhood)”.
Another song by Brel which immortalizes Brussels is “Madeleine”. A young man is waiting for Madeleine, lilacs in hands, hoping to get on the 33 streetcar and eat fries together at Eugene’s. But she is not coming and it’s raining on the lilacs. A song allowing me a tender wink to my mother. For each song, I provide two links: one to the original in French with English subtitles and one to an English adaptation from the musical “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”. But he grew up in Brussels!
“Le Siège de Bruxelles” by Jacques Neyrinck (« Brussels’ Siege » – not available in English) is an anticipation novel which I read with pleasure and a little smile shortly after its publication in 1996. The events take place in 2007: Belgium has become a failed state with the monarchy as ultimate bulwark. An authoritarian party dominates the Northern part of the country – Flanders – and would like to swallow Brussels, the capital city with a large Muslim ghetto. The conflict erupts and the European Union, stretched between its Germanic and Latin members, is trying to remain at the helm, while Asian NGOs are taking care of the wounded. Prescient? Not exactly, but (re-)reading the book in light of the recent events should be interesting.
“Expo 58” by the excellent British novelist Jonathan Coe brings us inside the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, a golden age when Belgium was happy. The Atomium is seen through a British lens since the hero, Thomas Foley, whose mother is Belgian, is sent to keep an eye on the Britannia, the English pavilion’s pub. It looks like a spy novel at the heart of the Cold War, it sometimes sounds like a romance. But with a fine dose of humor, we end up, beyond the false ingenuity of the charming Belgian hostesses, with a brilliant novel about missed opportunities.
Brussels is of course one of the cradles of the comic strip culture and I am a big fan of many Belgian authors. But many comic strips heroes travel around the world, like Tintin. So, if I need to pick one typical comic strip from Brussels, my vote goes to « Quick & Flupke » by Hergé: two Brussels kids and their shenanigans pursued by the neighborhood’s police officer #15, representative of an old school police with a casual approach (maybe too casual some will say after the recent attacks…).
If you liked Brel’s streetcar # 33, « Quick & Flupke » gentle cops, then you will also have liked the “Formidable” clip by Stromae in the early morning drizzle at the Louise roundabout in central Brussels. You won’t be alone: 140 million You Tube views and counting. The opportunity for me to take my hat off to Brussels and its artists. Any other Brussels’ favorites? Muriel suggested the song « Bruxelles » by Dutch singer Dick Annegarn. I had heard of it, but didn’t know it very well. It’s very nice.