For three weeks, a Brussels-based creative will share their view of the world. USCHI COP is doctor of linguistics, founder of the feminist makers collective Hyster-x and writer of short stories, poetry, columns and soon a first novel.
We are startled by the silence. My sister and I are in the garden of our new house in Anderlecht enjoying the spring sunshine. The whistling of birds, the rustling of our fifteen-metre-high cypress tree, and besides that: nothing. Where are the ambulances, the planes flying so low that your ears hurt, the screams of the people who seem to be celebrating weddings in their cars? Along the increasingly hipper canal, the sounds of the trams passing by were the soundtrack of our lives at home. The double-decker buses passed by our façade close enough that the tourists on the top floor could read along as I sat on the sofa leafing through the newspaper.
We call it “old Brussels”. Anderlecht is indeed one of the city's earliest inhabited areas but for us, it is more the grocery on the corner – Crèmerie Saint-Guidon with the blue and white awning – where people can buy not just cheese but also sandwiches with dried sausage, Friture René and De Witte Hoed van Donderbichke and not to mention the Art Nouveau façades that make the 1930s tangible again. For two Dansaert Flemings from Antwerp, it feels real, le vieux Bruxelles, quoi.
My sister turns around on her folding chair, says she has to get used to it. I, on the other hand, feel a bliss descending with the silence, but soon after that comes the uneasiness: we have bought this peace. I marvel again at the growing inequality. The way the middle class, that is us, can buy space and privilege in a city like this. Those who cannot do so flee to other places, further and further away from the centre. While what attracted me was precisely that mix of people – Brusselians, expats, Flemish natives, Walloons and other nationalities.
For an early Sunday dinner, we walk to Le Belle Vue, a friendly brasserie where the kitchen is open from 8am to 10pm. In recent weeks, we have been coming here more and more often, for the chicons au gratin and the comfy pastries. We talk about our renovation work. The linoleum has been removed exposing the wooden floor that needs to be sanded, and we are installing wooden windows in the same colour as the façade tiles. Authenticity is a luxury here too; renovation is more expensive if you want to preserve, conserve. I look around Le Belle Vue, with its ugly 1980s floor, the cheap wooden chairs, only the light boxes on the ceiling betraying a former glory. A great contrast to our hangouts in the city centre, with their brand new designer arches, convenient power outlets, unisex toilets and bespoke coffee. I glance sideways at my sister, who tastefully slips her puree into the sauce. Are we announcing the gentrification of Anderlecht?
The patron winks at us. In Le Belle Vue we are welcome in any case, regardless of our history, our privilege. Everyone in the café gets free cheese. Jocelyn divides the bowls among the tables; the customer who has been nursing a single cup of coffee for two hours gets one too. Authenticity may be a luxury, but here at Le Belle Vue, luxury is still for everyone.
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