Like many expats, Brussels was not a choice of love but one of reason. I came here for work. I had tried first to find a job in which I would combine my passions for Europe and for politics in Amsterdam, a city I fell madly in love with at first sight. But there was no job for me there. I tried in Paris too but it also turned out unsuccessful. I didn’t want to work in the Euro-bubble of Brussels because I thought Europe should be everywhere. Being surrounded by people who live and breathe Europe didn’t seem to be the best way to give a push forward to Europe and be its advocate. I wanted to spread the word to the world. I wanted to share my love for Europe with people who wouldn’t have a clear idea of what it consists in. But I also wanted to live from this passion. That’s how I ended up in Brussels. I’ve been here for six years now.
At first, Brussels drove me crazy. Nothing worked. The general mess exasperated me. But little by little, I found those little flaws endearing and funny. I like this chaos now because it’s always surprising. When Parisians visit me in my lovely Brussels and I see them getting upset à la parisienne at the malfunctioning of the city, it makes me smile. I tell them then: “welcome to Brussels”, with a big smile on my face, tell them not to be bothered, to relax, and to cheer and enjoy. Brussels is surreal. It’s part of its charm.
A beauty to discover
After a year and a half, I understood I was here to stay. I had explored the city. Even if it didn’t have the stunning beauty of Paris or the simple beauty of Amsterdam, it was beautiful too. Brussels’s beauty is full of flaws and surprises. For who knows how to look, Brussels contains a flock of hidden treasures. For example, on a sunny day, you look up and notice this gorgeous little art nouveau house, which you’ve passed by every day but never paid attention to.
I like the capital-village aspect of Brussels. Human-sized capital, Brussels has the best of both worlds: big enough so as never to be bored but small enough not to feel dehumanised by the anonymity of big cities. When I go out in Brussels, I always meet people I know, but not too many –that would be smothering- just enough to feel warm.
During a single night in Brussels, I can use the four languages I speak, a delight for language lovers. And being able to make plans on how to save the world around a beer with Greeks, Brits, Spanish, Italians, Poles, and Germans, is one of the most beautiful adventures one can experience. It happens to me every day.
Brussels and I had been living together for three years when one day it stroke me. It was a beautiful day and I told myself that I liked this city more and more. Since then, I often get this feeling. I look up, notice a lovely little detail that I had so far ignored, I take a deep breath of humid air, and tell her: Brussels, every day that goes by I love you more and more.
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22 July 2011. I’m in Brussels. Tweets of Norwegian friends inform me that a bomb has exploded in the centre of Oslo. Another tweet from them later informs me that there’s also been a shooting at the Norwegian Labour party youth conference. At this stage, we still don’t know what happened exactly. As I watch the news giving more details about the events, I feel a mix of anger and despair. I know this feeling too well.
25 July 1995. I’m in Paris. I hear there have been bombs in the busiest metro station of Paris. My family and I are aghast. My aunt commutes through this station to go to work. She was fine. Since then, seeing armed soldiers in the Parisian metro’s corridors has become usual. But I never got used to it.
11 September 2001. I’m in a car with my father somewhere between Grenoble and Paris. He’s just helped me find an apartment in Grenoble where I’m about to move. It’s around 2pm. We hear on the radio that a plane has crashed in one of the Twin towers in New York. Analysts say that’s when the 21st century really started, just as WWI was the real beginning of the 20th century.
11 March 2004. I’m living in Amsterdam in a shared flat with 12 other people. 8 of them are Spanish. I look at their mortified faces as they watch the Spanish national television relate the bomb attacks in trains close to Madrid.
7 July 2005. I’m still in Amsterdam. It’s early. I get out of bed, turn on the TV and soon realise there’s been bomb attacks in the London Tube. My boyfriend is still asleep. One of my best friends lives in London.
We all remember where we were during these events. I always get the same weird confused sensation: a mix of incomprehension, helplessness and pessimism for the future of humanity. I try to avoid anger. Violence begets violence. And violence is never a solution.