Brussels of an odd September

Flower Carpet, Grand Place, Brussels, August 2014

I wake up in the morning of an odd, almost surrealist, September. Mysteriously healed from yet another Kunderan comic love, I am possessed, since this morning, by the echo in my head of Tindersticks’ music. “We don’t want nothing we can live without / We don’t want nothing that don’t belong to us…in this fire of autumn, this fire of autumn”. This bright autumn in the centre of Europe, which under other circumstances would be grey and rainy, you don’t belong to me. I live without the weight of your existence. Je m’en fous!

by Maya

The days of inspiration begin in such a way, almost a bit mysteriously, here; paradoxically, in an unorthodox surrealist way. Like Magritte’s paintings; After so many years of living in the painter’s birthplace and source of inspiration, I feel as if I reside almost permanently in his skin. I observe the schizophrenic abrupt alternating colours of the sky and of the seasons, the shadows on the old suffocating narrow sidewalks, the people of a thousand sorts struggling to fit on them, the transformed art nouveau an art déco buildings, the seashells-symbols in the mysterious streets of a revived centre, as I listen to the sounds and the thousand different languages of the city. Of a discreet low-tone, but of acute contrasts and contradictions, city, which leaves the unread and the unsuspected traveller ignoring its secrets and its symbolisms, almost indifferent and disappointed.

Je m’en fous then, I go out in the sunny playful September to suck its coulours and cede to its temptations. I begin my day with a café allongé in the centre of the coulourful and busy Matongé area which gathers the community of Congo African immigrants. “Smile, you are…in the Matonge”, I am welcomed by the area’s shopping mall. Even my favourite Lilliput café / chocolaterie Maison Renardy, with retro small tables and bistro chairs, looks like a Magritte symbolic object; on the first sight of it, indifferently thrown in a disorderly constructed, sometimes abandoned, space where African grocery stores get mysteriously tangled with bad quality antique stores, Lebanese confectioneries, light stores, public launderettes, jazz bars of a forgotten era, cannabis dealers and the cult cinema Vendôme. The surrealist images provoke my travelling thought and mesmerise me.

Maison Renardy

A poster on the opposite sidewalk reminds me that, during the Brussels Art Days festival, Brussels’ galleries host art lovers for a tour at their premises and along the pathways of art. I take the map and choose the trendy area of Avenue Louise and Châtelain. I discover with surprise how many hidden galleries are active in the area which has been hosting me for almost eight years! I head for the Aeroplastics gallery; the title of its exhibition attracts my attention and awakes forgotten feelings – “Taking the time of a piece of odalisque”. The heavy wooden door of the building hides a myriad of treasures behind it. In a typical, masterfully refurbished, three-storey neoclassical maison de maître of the late 18th beginning of 19th century, the old element flirts with the new. The modern collections hosted, with a strong erotic symbolic element, allure and seduce the visitor. The colours, the lyricism, the sensual images of the works are absolutely harmonised with the cosy wooden floors, the impressive wooden staircase, the numerous rooms, and invite the visitor to an epicurean journey of the senses.

Image “Prendre le temps d’un morceau d’odalisque” from the Aeroplastis Gallery collection

Thinking of the continuation of my tour, I don’t let the journey carry me away. I cannot miss the Design Market at the refurbished royal depot (Tour&Taxis) at the northern part of the city. The furniture and the objects of all sorts of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s make me nostalgic for a past I have never lived. I wander aimlessly and indolently amongst armchairs, dining tables, jewellery, books, floor lamps and I let my imagination capture a myriad of lives that I could have lived but never have. In the royal depot’s corridors I come across the cooking atelier of Yves Mattagne, the awarded with Michelin stars chef, which reminds me that one previous August I had tasted his creations at an outdoor popular gourmet picnic at the centre of a square.

Design Market, Tour&Taxis

This memory upsets my guts! Admittedly unfair towards Yves Mattagne’s sophisticated tastes, but I develop a craving for a chicken bagel with black truffle sauce at the trendy café JAT’. JAT’s appearance caused a highly pleasant surprise and provoked an almost euphoric explosion, especially amongst the Mediterranean population of Brussels (and to me!), who for years had been complaining that the concept of a cafeteria as space of small talk and creative laziness was missing. I associate the absolutely beautiful within their lack of uniformity “whatever” furniture of previous eras with the merchandise of the market which, a while ago, had made me travel in time.

My journey continues in the narrow alleys of the Ixelles area, upon my return to the southern side of the city, at Hôtel Le Berger. What a more mysterious stop in the path of the senses a passionate autumn like this one? I push the heavy crimson curtain of the small hotel’s entrance and I enter the plateau of a movie, I figure. This mythical hotel of the ’30s, a nest for illegal lovers, still maintains two lifts. One going up and one going down…in order to avoid fatal encounters and maintain unprecedented ephemeral heartbeats. The narrow wooden staircase, as if possessed by shadows, leads me to the refurbished rooms which still maintain wallpapers, open bathtubs with mirrors on strategic spots and artefacts of explicit erotic theme. Every September the rooms host the Second Life Festival where second-hand clothes, shoes, bags, wigs and all sorts of trumpery of a different era are made available. The kitchen and the Vini Divini restaurant are run by the Italian chef Vincenzo Marino. We, a group of friends, gather at the bar for the hotel’s aperitivo. The sensual atmosphere encourages sometimes quiet confessions and sometimes noisy laughter. I take my usual gin&tonic (a lot of gin, a little tonic!) which sweetly makes me dizzy, and I let the music cease time under the retro twilight.

Detail at Hôtel Le Berger. Selfie of the beloved leopard at the bar

Good mood leads our beautiful company late at night at the museum of fine arts BOZAR for the established electronic music festival BOZAR Electronic. The museum, always faithful to the principle art-for-all, palpitates at the frenzied tempo of well-known DJs’ music. The crowd, of all ages, cool and with no complexes, lets itself at the pulse and the flame of the autumnal moment. The tension rises and I, looking timidly at the blue-eyed boy who is persistently staring at me, wonder how a city manages to exist alive at the present under the pulse of the past gazing at the future. How is it possible that the past-present-future be reconciled in a museum’s hall and, this September, become one. Je m’en fous, I’m thinking, I cede to temptation and smile confidently at the beautiful boy!

Against my cynical comic love, this September, and every September, in the Belgian capital I recommend:

  • Maison Renardy (Chaussée de Wavre 111B, 1050 Ixelles) for its good coffee, its home-made carré amande chocolate and the jazz music early in the morning.
  • Galerie Aeroplastics (Rue Blanche 32, 1060 St-Gilles) for a journey of the senses, September exhibition “Prendre le temps d’un morceau d’odalisque”.
  • Design Market (Tour&Taxis, Avenue du Port 86c, 1000 Bruxelles) in the context of the Design September activities.

  • JAT’ café (Rue de Namur 28, 1000 Bruxelles) for its original bagels and its trendy clientele.
  • EAT! for an outdoor gourmet meal in the woods Bois de la Cambre.

  • Second Life Festival στο Hôtel Le Berger (Rue du Berger 24, 1050 Ixelles) for a journey in the past combined with a cocktail at the hotel’s bar.

  • BOZAR Electronic Arts festival at the museum of fine arts BOZAR (Rue Ravenstein 23, 1000 Bruxelles).


Maya studied law at the University of Bristol and International and European Law at the University of Sheffield. Since 2007 she has been living in Brussels. She works at an office with a big window with a view. Once she also worked in an office with no window and no view. When she is not struggling with her law, she observes the schizophrenic alternating colours of the sky out of her window, reads literature, writes, watches movies, travels and ardently practices yoga. At times she wrote articles in legal journals and book reviews in literary magazines. She is inspired by urban images, roofs of buildings in central Europe, train stations, book covers, coffee at the terrace, hotel lobbies, lives that she could have lived but has not lived and comic unrequited loves.


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