In January 2015 we moved to live in Brussels for what turned out to be three years.
In 2014, Mrs SC was given the opportunity to top off her career in Swedish Customs with a secondment to the World Customs Organisation based in Brussels. I would follow along as family.
When the idea of us moving to work and live in Brussels first came up, I was enthusiastic. Not only for my wife, but for myself. I retained from my youth an image of myself as a traveller. As someone who worked a period in one country, then moved on to work in another. And it’s true, I used to do that. In my 20s. But this was happening after I’d lived exclusively in Sweden for 30 odd years. When we actually moved, I realised I really wasn’t such a seasoned traveller after all. More un-seasoned.
Agneta had a proper job with office hours and out-of-office hours, with colleagues, and with business trips to different places abroad. Not me. I stayed in Brussels and carried on working from home as I had been working from home in Sweden already for some years. That was a part of it. Another part was that I’d become comfortable with myself in Sweden. Brussels was uncomfortable. It took me several months to get over myself and embrace the situation.
In my personal mythology, I fell ill in the winter and returned to Sweden to welcomed the spring there. Then I gave myself a talking to and travelled back to Brussels in a more cheery frame of mind in April 2015. There’s a blog post about overcoming photo-block I published in June 2015 which figures in my memory as the moment I finally took the camera out and started taking pictures again.
Those things happened, but the myth is also an after-construction. I’ve just been looking through my photos from January and early February 2015, the first weeks in Brussels. These pictures show I spent time exploring with the camera even then.
Juggling at Gare du Nord
The Gare du Nord is a tall traffic interchange to the north west of Brussels. Tall in the sense that the railway station is a good story-and-half above ground level while the building reaches down, I think, two floors underground to different metro lines. The main ground floor of the building, with ticket offices and kiosks, is about half a storey above ground level. There’s an exit down steps to a bus interchange out of doors.
The ground floor concourse itself is not crowded much of the time ouside rush hour, and there are empty corners. In one I came across a street acrobat practising his skittle juggling. I’m sure, at other times of the year, in better weather, he’d out in a park somewhere. But one February morning he’d found this sheltered place without many passers-by and with a good, high clearance where he could stand and focus. He was concentrating so hard he didn’t notice me taking these photos.
I have an affinity with jugglers. For many years, working as a school teacher and a researcher, I used to describe myself as juggling two (or three, or more) different jobs. Sometimes I felt proud of being able to keep all my balls in the air, all my plates spinning. And then I’d drop something and everything else would follow in an almighty pile up. Which didn’t make me happy. (Understatement.) This juggler didn’t drop anything while I was taking my photos.
In a bubble
Later the same day I took this picture of the reflection of a tall building. I don’t know where it is, but I’m going to guess not far from the Brussels Gare du Nord. To my eye, the older building in the reflection seems enclosed by the second, modernist building, as though in a protective bubble. This is a trick of the reflection. The modernist building is behind the old one. I’m almost sure.
The first few nights in Brussels, before our furniture arrived from Sweden, we stayed in a rather grand hotel near the centre, which opened onto a light well. I took photos here of the office building opposite our window and down below, the restaurant area for the hotel, which occupied the floor of the light well. From the restaurant looking up I also took a picture of the skylight. (Click on one of the pictures to see the gallery in a full screen slide show.)
Then later, by the canal, there was a furniture shop that advertised its wares with this tethered, flying-in-the-wind installation of chairs.
A house for the Sackville-Bagginses
I also started becoming aware of the amazing variety of architectural design you can see in town houses in Brussels. This house for example with its Art Nouveau hobbit hole on the first floor, looks like it was designed for the Sackville-Bagginses, Bilbo Baggins’ detested relations. Next door (not actually next door – only on this page) is a tumbledown house that was rare to see, but which I managed to find and photograph the same day.
And no initial photo collection from Brussels would be complete without these two interiors from a fin-de-siecle bar. A tourist trap, probably, but also an original bar which still serves local beers to local people.
Finally (after a superhuman struggle with Photoshop), here’s an animation of the juggler for your delectation. Scroll down for Read more… and Comment options!