Intolerants Rant: Truly. Madly. Deeply. An Open Love Letter to Brussels
I wanted to like you the first time we met. Really. I did. I tried to revel in your vacuous corners and diplomatic-inspired boulevards. I tried to wrap my head around the idea that you didn’t seem to have architecture worth oohing and aahing over. I also made attempts to forgive you for your lack of culinary culture. Your inability to provide a meal that would make me first squeal with delight and then groan with pleasure.
Ah, how young and innocent I was then. Naive. Unknowing.
We all know Paris will always be the city of light and that London takes the lead in terms of mod and funk. We’re aware that Berlin is the emerging star of urban grit and Amster-be-damned wins the award for embracing a sort of hipster cool. Don’t worry about them Brussels, because you have become something entirely different to me. You have a little bit of what all of those cities have to offer and none of it at all. You’re a shapeshifter. A game changer. And though it took a four year hiatus – cut me some slack, I needed the distance – for me to revisit you and receive a proper tour, I figured it all out after receiving the right kind of introduction.
The sort of introduction that teaches you the importance of second chances.
When we encountered each other that second time around I found myself charmed by everything you revealed over the course of the weekend. Wandering down narrowed streets in your downtown core I gazed up at century-old buildings and I admired art-deco accents. I received an overdose of street art as I moved between neighbourhoods and took in all of your sights. I was won over. Smitten even. Even though your skies were dreary, your streets were dirty and I had to force my through several throngs of hyperactive tourists (over what? A peeing boy? Ah, I love your sense of humour) I began to love you anyhow. I allowed myself to fall under your spell and I’ve been tumbling – rollicking and rolling hand over foot – ever since. This fatal attraction causes me to stand up for you, you know. I find myself singing your graces even though I know how small, raucous and divided you were. Still are. Will continue to be.
Oh Brussels, how you put on one hell of a show! Dressing the right way and saying all the right things. You let me take advantage of you and so I did, walking all over you during the course of a couple days and seeing almost everything that needed to be seen. On that particular trip I ate food that made me weep with joy; salted tears dripping onto porcelain and migrating down the edges of my beautifully decorated plate. I ate those tears. Recycled them and turned them into something new. On that trip, and in the many that followed, I took your hand as we dabbled in art and design. You taught me about Belgian labels and how fashion forward you in fact are. You showed me your quirky underbelly. Took me to places where the tourists don’t normally go.
And so, I would like to thank you for that.
Now while it hasn’t been all rainbows and roses, it has still been one hell of a journey. Not only have you been transparent in showing me your best side but you’ve allowed me to scratch at your veneer so I could get a glimpse at what lay under the surface. Admittedly, I braced myself in the event that all I uncovered was grime, shadows and a beautiful bureaucratic mess.
But thankfully I didn’t. I haven’t and hopefully never will.
Since that time, almost six years gone, you have grown on me. You’ve gotten under my skin. Our relationship has evolved to the point where I can’t imagine life without you. My God, how boring would that be? You’re not at all ostentatious and yet you have that je ne sais quoi about you. It’s like you vibrate at a lower frequency, flying under the radar, because you know you can’t compete with Europe’s bigger centres and so you don’t even try. Instead you adopt a comely and flippant attitude where you shrug your shoulders and infer with a wave of a hand: I really don’t give a damn what you think of me.
While all those things draw me to you, you have two qualities I admire most. The first is that you don’t harbour one ounce of jealousy when I go out in the world and have love affairs of grand proportions. You encourage my shameless dalliances in fact, my rowdy and effete run-ins with Paris and New York, my licentiousness and debauchery in Beirut and Bangkok. Encouraging of such episodes, you stand there with open arms and take on my hedonistic depravity. You wait patiently. You’re forgiving. You accept me as I am.
You know there’s no point in trying to keep me in one place because I’m not that kind of girl.
The other quality I admire to a fault is that you always seem to be transitioning. You’re trying hard to transform yourself and figure out who you are. Taking steps to reinvent yourself, you’re sorting out what it is you want. Where you belong. You sit quietly in the middle of a country that draws knives over things like identity, belonging, language and allegiance and yet you remain calm and collected, unabashedly indifferent even, while you wait for the fates to decide on which side of the fence you’ll eventually fall.
Brussels, my darling, you’re a city on edge. Of what? I’m not all that sure and I have a feeling you don’t either. And though you’re moody, abrasive, unpredictable and rather unromantic, I’m wholly committed to sticking it out for the long haul and taking a leap of faith.
I’m dedicated to standing at the edge and looking out over the fringe, see what we’ve missed while biding our time in the center.