Looking back at the Blogger dashboard, I realise that it’s nearly a month since my last blog post. What to write about in a week that does not provide anything as worthy of humour (and downright praise) as Colruyt? I was pretty pleased to find another Belgian expat blogger was as impressed as me – so impressed, in fact, that she wrote about it, hilariously, not once but twice.
So, no time to blog in a month? I must have been pretty busy, right? Not necessarily. Work’s been OK; a bit samey, what with sitting behind the same computer going over the same research to write different chapters of the same report. What I have been doing a lot is going to the cinema. There’s a great range of cinemas in Brussels. Many of them are multiplexes showing the usual range of Hollywood pap, but there are two or three golden exceptions, the arthouse cinemas. Arenberg shows a range of obscure contemporary international cinema; Flagey (part of a larger arts centre in a wonderful Art Deco building that’s meant to look like a ship) has a mixture of unreleased films and old classics; and my favourite of all, Cinematek, seems to be the Belgian equivalent of the BFI in London. It’s a dream: a superbly curated programme, arranged in seasons, some of which are grouped around a particular actor or director (Pacino, Ingrid Bergman, John Ford), others of which are genre or national groupings (Neuer Deutscher Film, Belgorama, Let’s Sing and Dance, British silent cinema). The best thing about it is the price; somehow they are able to let people in for €3 (€1 if you’re a student or a young person, a group I sadly don’t fall into any more) and still turn a profit. There is no popcorn, no concession stand, and no let-up in the quality of the programme. Even in the weeks since I discovered it, I’ve been to see the following: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, West Side Story, An American in Paris, Manneken Pis, Talk Radio, and R U There, and that’s having rejected about ten others solely on the grounds that I didn’t fancy the walk that day. This is an excellent town to go and see films in; everywhere should have a cinema like the Cinematek.
Also a couple more gigs: Lambchop last night, who were very pleasant-sounding and very skilled, but HEAVENS ABOVE, DOES KURT WAGNER NEED TO STOP MUMBLING AND SING PROPERLY OR WHAT? They could have done with some more of their more uptempo stuff as well. Blitzen Trapper, however, were excellent; another band I probably should have heard of before, they were a beautifully polished sextet playing close-harmonied folk rock. The venue was fantastic, as well – a great big proper theatre with squidgy red velvet seats and an icosahedron shape. Apparently when they open the whole thing it seats three thousand. I’m going to go again in January for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and again in February for PJ Harvey – anyone reading who fancies a trip to Brussels, these are perfect excuses and the Eurostar can be done for about €70 return if you book on the Belgian site!
Other than pretty much constant trips to the cinema, I’ve been rediscovering my love for The Wire, largely down to the great good fortune of having two flatmates who have never watched it before. I’ve also had some nice evenings visiting a family friend that lives here, have had supper with a former colleague from my Immanuel days, and last weekend took another trip to Mechelen, a town that’s about half an hour from Brussels by train, on the line towards Antwerp. It’s a lot like the other towns I have been to in Flanders: small, quiet, affluent and pretty, with a strong line in beautiful old buildings, including the magnificent St Rumbold’s Cathedral. It was a lot like Bruges, only perhaps not as packed with tourists. Considering Belgium’s long misfortune of serving as Europe’s battlefield, it’s perhaps surprising to find so much well-preserved architecture, but the place really does have the air of having left the Middle Ages about ten minutes ago. I went on my own the first time, and then with my flatmate the second, and both times spent pleasant afternoons wandering around in the cold, taking in the autumnal atmosphere, eating frites, drinking Belgian beer until slightly squiffy, trying out the camera on my new phone (very good), climbing the cathedral tower (572 steps past giant bells that appeared to work like a giant clockwork musical box!), walking along the riverside, and eating pancakes with a delicious gloopy cherry mush in the middle.
Overall it has been an interesting time, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that while it’s easy to make acquaintances when you’re in a new country, it’s pretty hard making friends. A few promising starts seem to have come to nothing, and people that seemed interested/interesting have stopped answering texts and emails after a couple of meet-ups. So the mood at the moment is an odd mix between delight at re-discovering how sociable I can be, and an aching feeling as I miss the people that really care. It makes it all the sweeter that I’ll get to see some of them (/you!) in London next weekend.