Brussels Writers Series VII – A(nother) Love Song for Ixelles

Brussels, to me, is like jazz – sometimes slow, sometimes fast, beautiful, ugly, with unexpected twists and outbursts here and there but always with a steady backbone of airtight rhythm and waltzing melodies in the pocket. This city is a living rhapsody with nineteen movements and it’s played differently every time you hear it. Listen as you ride the metro. That’s the basic rhythm. Then watch the people come in and out in droves at South or Central station. They’re piano improvisations that happen when they’re meant to. Observe the street artists. Those are the melodies in the pocket. Bop your head a little. You’ll get it soon enough, and if you’re like me, you’ll fall in love.




Perhaps I love Brussels too much for my own good. Whenever I have the good fortune of traveling around Europe, chances are I’ll talk to a fellow backpacker – sometimes traveling solo, sometimes a couple, and occasionally in a pack of three or four – who will tell me they’re traveling all over Europe. They say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to Madrid, Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam,…’ I let it get to me every time: they’re literally making a circle around Brussels. I always encourage them to visit the place that CNN and Fox News have taught them so much about, but my instinct tells me they rarely do.

I feel so strongly about my city that, during my MA in Creative Writing at the University of Essex, I once wrote the beginning of a novel that shows ‘my’ Brussels, just as a reaction to a certain book (whose author and title, out of respect, shall remain unnamed) that showed this town in unfavorable light. My poor professor and co-students had no idea what was coming to them when we discussed ‘how we feel about this book’ and I got the floor. I decided that this would-be novel should be called ‘XL’ (an amicable clin-d’oeil to Zadie Smith’s ‘NW’), which in Dutch and French is a homophone for Ixelles, the municipality where I grew up. The main character, ‘loosely’ based on me, keeps talking about wanting to write a love song for Ixelles. While this love song hasn’t materialized yet, let me try to illustrate why my municipality deserves one.

If Brussels is like jazz, then Ixelles is like Slim Gaillard mixed with Charlie Parker. There is jazz in Ixelles, both literally (at the Sounds Jazz Club and Le Chat-Pitre, for example) and figuratively: it’s a place that represents every facet of Brussels. You’ve got your rich, your poor, and everything in between. You’ve got your European Dream in action with French, Italians, Portuguese, Polish, etcetera. You’ve got North-Africans and Congolese people in Matongé. There are glorious areas, ugly areas, there’s culture – at Flagey, I saw the best minds of other generations feed my madness – there’s nightlife, Dutch speakers, French speakers, cinema, nature, Ixelles has got it all.



I’ll be the first to admit that I might have formed a bit of an Ixellian bubble. That said, the center of Brussels – its eponymous municipality – is equally close to my heart. I’ve spent countless hours there, digging records at The Collector, or seeing free gigs at Celtica and at Rock Classic. I’ve gone bar hopping between Place de l’Agora and Place Saint-Géry, questing for Amélie Nothomb at Le Cercueil.



I bought my guitar strings at Key Music on Rue du Midi (still do), and, since 2016, regularly attend meetings of the Brussels Writers’ Circle on that same Rue du Midi. I work part time at Kanal, the new museum right on the edge of the municipalities of Brussels and Molenbeek, and take acting classes in Anderlecht. Speaking of which, like any good Brusselaar, I’m a proud supporter of both RSC Anderlecht and Union Saint-Gilloise, two local soccer teams in the Belgian First Division (though in a derby I’d be for Union any time).



In other words, the city of Brussels is more to me than just the place where I grew up. It’s ingrained in me. I’m a Brusselian and an Ixellian before being Belgian, before being American, before being a writer, poet, rock-n-roll fan, occasional songwriter.

On a recent trip to Poland, I realized that I had the same kind of preconceived ideas about Warsaw that euro-trippers have about Brussels (you know: lame, boring, bureaucratic). I did my best to put those notions aside and try and appreciate what Warsaw has to offer. Trust me when I say that it can be done.

Brussels is like peace: it’s something beautiful, something that everyone can benefit from and that we all need to work towards sustaining, and yes, it’s something that we don’t always realize the true value of, but most of all, what I’m saying is this:

Give Brussels a chance.


Good to know

An anthology by Brussels Writers – The Circle – will be launched on the 22nd of November at Waterstones in Brussels, and is also available online here.