Bar Musings: L’Athénée, Ixelles

On busy summer nights and afternoons the Athenée is just a terrace, one of a couple on the hill, quartier St. Boniface. Although it is one of the more bohemian spots, in summer the lines blur as tourists and natives try to find a place anywhere, so the atmosphere is pretty random and anonymous. The waitresses are usually dressed in black with fashionably deranged hair and red lipstick and on those aforementioned nights they are so busy that just a look at their faces at the end of a shift is enough to keep anyone from wanting to ever work as one.

Someone brings an upright bass, another plays the guitar which should have a notion of spontaneity and allegria, but they are painfully aware of themselves and avoid eye-contact. „These are not my people“ I think to myself after the 3rd lap of trying to convince myself otherwise.

Weekday mornings are a totally different story. You enter the bar with its ripped leather benches, wooden chairs and indoor plants which create a muddy twilight while a slender, petite barmaid greets you with a very warm and honest smile. The feel is that of a mellow, slow-waning hangover, the ones of the more pleasant kind. People are reading the papers, drinking coffee or orange juice, sometimes the occasional eye-opener beer.

Being in a very cranky and distraught mood one day when we were in between two AirBnB stays, looking for an apartment, unsure if living in Brussels even was the right idea, I longed for that particular scenery, so we went.

That day, a slender, petite barmaid and the man himself were standing in front of the bar and they were friendly, like I expected. Two little kittens were prancing around a woman who seemed to be a regular. She stood up and we sat down there, at the table just across the bar, which I was under the impression was kind of inappropriate for me to do, but I desperately longed for the company of those two fluffy, cute, innocent beings. The man stayed friendly nonetheless and explained they were „petit frère et sœur“ in his calm and lighthearted voice, dropping his attempts to take some pictures of them, which I had clearly interrupted.

I was so glad to play a little with the kittens, I happily endured the awkwardness of being tongue-tied, unable to answer anything substantial, very likely seeming rude or plain stupid. When we left, we talked ourselves into the illusion of „going there more often now“, which we, of course, didn’t do.

Bar Musings: L’Athénée, Ixelles

A Probability of Anna

For the third time in two days, I saw a probability of a grown-up Anna. It could not have been her in any case, not in an ad, not yesterday on the street and not today in the Bar Du Matin, but it felt good to see a 3D template carrying her likeness, aged.

She didn’t know how to do anything and was as depressed and disillusioned as we all seemed to be when I last met her. We hadn’t spoken for some years, went to different schools; there we sat one afternoon in her parents house, exchanging the sad crumbs of our bleak teenage years without any common ground to stand upon left.

The garden in front of that large, old house was part bent tree & flowers romanticism, part machinery, oil, junkyard dirt from her fathers workshop. My favorite memory of it was one of her birthdays in September. A flash of that day always comes to my mind when I ask myself if warm late summers were only a product of my imagination, a bad „in the old days, we used to have“-habit. No, because it was already September, it was warm, I wore my Mamas skirt which I was so proud of.

Anna told me about an ailment that had befallen her, fumbling the medicine bottle on her desk. She would feel week and swoon sometimes. She still had my cassette recorder, which she wouldn’t even give back to me that day. „Oh, no… come on, another time!“. I gave in and even got talked into saying something dirty she had wanted me to say into the microphone, which she had a habit of doing and like usual, her mother had just walked in, hearing me say something about „f*cked up hookers“ which she, like usual identified as my idea.

I left and never saw her again. I wish I had been a stronger person, able to cheer us both up instead of running away from her depression. I wish we still had each other, proving the greek lady in a tavern my grandfather went to with us wrong when she said to us „in our culture we say, you“ waving her finger between us „blond and black hair, that does never fit in the end“.

What I perceived as big choices, a lifestyle, a huge unbridgeable gap between her and me (and really everyone I grew up with) I can now identify as unimportant. The spell of a small town – the one who wants to rise above it all and leave is still caught in its narrow minded dualism. Three times in two days. It could have never been her. Anna has a scar on her forehead from a fight with me in first grade.

A Probability of Anna

Reevaluating my attitude towards small art spaces

Whenever I come across small, artist-driven, sit in the window, full exposure atelier-look gallery vernissages, events or gatherings of some sort, I pass them by without hesitation not even wanting to wonder what the hoopla might be about.
I figured quite a while ago that, during my university years, I had attended enough of all kinds of life changing, pseudo- intellectual expositions, fueled by overinflated adolescence, self-mistaken for ingenuity, whose perpetrators claim to uniqueness and infinite wisdom reveals little more than the inside of their rainbow-bubble explanations – Plop!, there is nothing to it.

Last sunday however, strolling homeward after buying some chicken at the nearest boucherie, I was addressed by a young man, wearing the whole artisan-summer out fit, including shawl, hat and what not. On the sidewalk, in wooden chairs, a table aside with some drinks and snacks, he was sitting there with a couple of others, among them the artist. He offerd me a glass, assuming I could use or at least I would not refuse one.
Well, he was right.
With the plastic-glass in my hand, exchanging a few friendly words, I felt obliged to go inside. Having been treated so friendly, I neither wanted to be perceived as impolite nor did I feel the indifference or reluctancy I was normally affected by in close proximity to venues like this.
In the small, whitewashed exhibition room there was a huge modern painting mostly abstract (acrylic paint, I suppose) with a few elements of frottage and collage, partially overpainted and some sculptural objects made of roughly cut boards with magnified images of insects applied and vases on top, all of them modified in some way. The latter were done by Sylvie Rodriguez, who by now had followed me inside. I asked her if she would like to explain some of the artwork and her approach to it. She did so, very kindly and sufficiently slow so I could follow her explanations (French)!
I enlisted myself in the mailing list for upcoming, presumingly bi-monthly events, finished my glass, said good-bye and went my way, with a lighter mood than before.

Bottomline: I am very glad I laid all my prejudgmental shit aside and accepted the invitation, the offered drink surely did help though. I had fun, met new people in my hood, had a good conversation, a glass of champagne and furthermore it does help sometimes to let go of an old belief in order to reevaluate oneself, making room for new things to come.

And last but not least, whoever has the guts to stand up for themselves, following their call as an artist, trying to spread their work deserves respect because they are actually changing the world by generating communication thus nurturing a more compassionate community-orientated approach to life.

Unbreakable Bugs
Sylvie Rodriguez & Sabine Wannenmacher
Rue A.Hennebicq 29, 1060 Bruxelles-Saint Gilles

Reevaluating my attitude towards small art spaces


My perception, order of conduct
Dreams and illusions, magic, endlessness
To find them as the keys
Lying next to this old box
Cold golden filigree , I ran my fingers across
Will it be empty or full of my dreams
In the end they are the same thing



A maze in grace

It was already too late to welcome the day with a good morning. I looked out off the window, onto the corner. Getting up, taking a shower almost consumed a lifetime, although it felt more like an out of body experience. After the first waves of caffeine entered my brain I felt congruent enough with the world.

On the corner, this boy, it is his corner. He is a bit retarded or at least constantly bored, notoriously unattended. He is often with one of his younger sidekicks, if not, like today, he tends to forget about people. Consequently he does make love to the lantern post, or noises barely resembling a song, making lyrics up because he has not memorized either the words or the melody. This time he rubs himself against the before mentioned post, kissing it.

Amused, I also envied him for the freedom to scratch his itches whenever he wanted, living in the world of his, without the fear of being judged. The caffeine finally put me nearest to functional as I could expect. Now, I was ready to go outside. I needed a baguette, some fruits and veggies. Shoes, shoulderbag, my keys, down I went, before I would decide otherwise.

On sticky, heavy summer days, when the winds are on strike and air exchange is practically non existent, I am always reluctant, frightened to get trapped in the city, a living entity sucking you dry or at the very least implementing an illusion of mutual dependancy.

Anyway, I was outside and felt like I could get shit done, almost adventurous!
So instead of making a small run to my usual and nearest boulangerie and/or corner-store
I figured I could try sth different today, laying out a more elaborate route in my head. In this case I’d have to cross Avenue du Roi. Than via the roundabout of Place de Rochefort with the entrance to ‘Parc de Forest’ tangent to it, right onto Wielemanns-Ceuppenslaan.
Here the cars usually kiss their bumpers, being shoveled from St. Gilles in the direction of Canal Bruxelles-Charleroi.
It was summer season thus the traffic was léger, so side-walking a main axis was not as hazardous to my respiratory system as in the winter, when the steady stream of smog hovers over the street competing with the stream of vehicles.
A while back, I had noticed a cornershop with a different range of fruit and vegetable in good quality, outside and inside of the store. The shop itself was stuffed with all kinds of beans, lentils and peas, a wide range of spices, a good variety of different flours,curry paste and food preparations. A fridge with fish and different african items I didn’t know. Given the circumstances everything was proper. There were two men working. One topping up the shelves, the other behind the counter, both industrious and friendly.
While getting there, I would come by two boulangeries/patisseries with bread and pastry in sufficient quality. It was settled!

Reality check: First bakery-closed, the second: “plus de baguette – désolé.“ Okay, I could still change the route on my way back and still pass by two or three bakeries, no reason to feel agitated. I reached the store I favored for today. Outside only a few plantain, some roots and stuff, okay it had been hot the whole week,
I stepped inside. Bummer, a magenta-brownish something resembling more a nutsack than eggplants, the shelves half-filled and the source of the sour-sweet smell must have been either the freezer or the man leaning over the counter, dully grinning. Where were the two gentle men, that had kept this store in shape?
I left the store somewhat disgusted, mildly annoyed.

Out on the street I had to figure out a plan B. I was not ready to give up so I crossed the street went to the nearest cornerstore with the usual goods on display in standard quality, minus the higher prizes compared to my hood.
I chose some cucumbers, des jeunes ognions, some peaches, limes, tomatos. The friendly, elderly man beside me shook his head pointing at the peppers murmuring in arabic what I understood to be a perfectly justifiable lament on the prize for quality value. I nodded, smiled and gestured him to go in first, he smiled and I followed him into the store.
The young man behind the counter served the old man without altering his sloppy, inattentive behavior, which the old man silently and unpretentiously objected. The empty words of respect bounced off of him, the old man had already spoken his verdict – guilty of superficiality and indifference. Our eyes met on his way out,
I was next. Like expected, the shopman did not even stop talking to one of his coworkers or buddies that had just entered the store; he shoveled and stuffed every item in one plastic bag, handing it to me. 5,80 Euro, I payed and left without a word.

Needless to say that on my way back the only bakery I found open was also out of question. I observed the man inside through the window, fumbling his nose while texting, Yak! Sometimes it is hard to say if somebody is actually living off the store or if it is just another kind of laundry shop. I was pissed, went home, scored my baguette at my usual bread dealer.
Thanks for nothing, – congés anuéls.

A maze in grace