into Brussels was not much of a problem. I drove in from France
and amongst the few things that signalled I had crossed the border
was the change in typeface on the signs. But the weather also changed
as I reached my first Belgian gas station to purchase a map of Brussels.
The sunniness of Dieppe, where I had spent a delightful day, was
a memory. Playing right into stereotypes of the flat country (blame
chez les Belges), the drizzle began as I overtook a silver
Belgium had that impression of being a paradox:
a country that had a next to non-existent international profile
but spawned highly imaginative people, in particular, fashion designers.
The fact that EU bureaucrats were
based here did little to boost its reputation as a city to which
Europeans must descend upon, but it was known amongst cognoscenti
as one of the socializing hotspots of the Continent. Why this mixture?
The most ready explanation for the paradox is
the absence of a Belgian national brand. Hercules Poirot, Tintin,
great beer and wafflesthe first of the four not even a
Belgian creationare arguably the best-known foreign projections
of this nation, but the reality is different, as I would discover.
There is a small 10 million population which is mobile and cosmopolitan,
attempting in enclaves to reverse the invisibility of the country
through being outstanding in their professions. But there is no concerted,
coordinated effort to tell people, This is Belgium, or
if there is, then it had not taken hold at Lucire.
|There is a small population
which is mobile and cosmopolitan, attempting in enclaves to
reverse the invisibility of the country through being outstanding
in their professions
I called Megan from the gas station. I still find
cellular phones irrelevant, a leash for a man who enjoys freedom too
much. But she had willingly maintained her New Zealand number as a
lifeline to her office and buyers Down Under, even though she is fast
adopting a Belgian outlook to fashion design. She is, after all, based
here in Brussels for half (if not more) of the year, having found
retailers and making it more her home. Of New Zealands designers,
Megan Tuffery has become more international than her compatriots because
she is truly immersed in a culture other than her own.
And where better than to be immersed in a country
known for cutting-edge fashion designwhile spending the remainder
of the year in another known for its beauty?
She answered my call, probably unimpressed by my
lack of European geographic knowledge as I told her how I wound up
in Brussels ahead of schedule. But it was the first time that I had
been in the Benelux countries and Dieppe had been overrun by English
tourists. The perfect hostess, she told me I would still be welcome.
TOP OF PAGE: The
rain stops in Brussels. TOP AND
CENTRE: Entrance to the Palais de Justice, an exquisite
and possibly the largest nineteenth-century construction in the
world. The Palais is 105 m high and
houses the Supreme Court of Law for Belgium. ABOVE:
A street beside the Palais du Justice.