A blog about Belgian culture in London. A blog about the arts in London, Brussels and Milan, from a Belgian point of view.

Posts from the UK Category

This is the third, and last, part of my description of “Brumidon”. Just like Friday, if this sentence leaves you flabbergasted, you may need to read this and this.

These are the things and ideas/values from London I would import into my “ideal country”, in addition to my friends, of course.

The sense that I am “at the centre of it”
I moved to London for its “centrality”. It is often the place where you’ll find the best art in Europe, be it music, painting or theatre, but also some of the most exciting bars and restaurants, and the coolest shops (even if in that regard Milan wasn’t too bad).
I work in very central London (Holborn/Covent Garden) and I – stupidly perhaps – get an adrenaline kick in the morning from the hustle and bustle of traffic, and from thinking “I am in London”.

London, Thames

London, Thames (Photo

The international character
I run no risk of losing my Italian language skills in London. My hairdresser is from Genova, the guy who sells me sushi at my local Abokado is from Puglia, one of my very good friends moved from Milan to London six months before me … and the Italian expat community is large and welcoming. And it’s not only the Italians I can meet easily: my London friends hail from France, Ireland, Australia, Greece, etc. Some days it feels like being an Erasmus student again – a most delightful feeling.

English (as it is spoken in the UK)
It’s always been my favourite language (since I’ve started learning any, that is). Being able to speak English every day, with native speakers, is a source of joy for me.

The humour
The irony, the banter, the teasing, the wit: call it as you want, it pervades all aspects of life in the UK. And it makes it so much better.

London, Clissold Park in Stoke Newington

London, Clissold Park in Stoke Newington

The open-mindedness
There is a sense of freedom when you live in London. When it comes to fashion or behaviour, everything is permitted, no one ever raises a brow, provided you don’t create actual nuisance. Imperturbable and unperturbed, British people mind their own business.

I am probably known for having a slight tendency to overdress. Unlike in Italy, where people scrutinise (dissect?) your outfit, or in Belgium, where the consensus seems to be that you should not stand out, in London I feel free to dress exactly as I want. Bring on glitter! Bring on colour! Bring on elaborate dresses and high heels in the office, even though the de facto uniform is chequered shirts + jeans + trainers (for the men).

The general good working, the efficiency
Buses that run 24/7, fast customer service that actually is a service, : London works. Which is good, given its size and the number of inhabitants (nearly as many as the whole of Belgium).

London, Trafalgar Square

London, Trafalgar Square (Photo by David Iliff, License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Some food
The UK is not particularly renowned for its own gastronomic culture (yes, this is a euphemism). Things have greatly improved over the past 15 years though, and TV cooking shows and cooking classes are all the rage. There are a number of British specialities I go mad about, like cream tea (the prospect of eating scones with clotted cream and thick jam invariably makes me ecstatic), but the nicest thing about food in London is that the choice is endless. Whatever continent your taste buds fancy eating from tonight, you will find something to satisfy you.

Exactly one year ago, I bought a one-way ticket to London. I am therefore technically celebrating my first anniversary in London today, and this will be a post with which art and being Belgian have little to do, or perhaps a lot. It is an unusual post in that it will be quite personal.

I was born in a small town (a village) in the suburbs of Brussels, from parents who have lived in that very town their whole life and only speak French.

Perhaps in reaction to my family, I decided I would learn languages – I currently know 5 of them -, and that I wanted to live abroad, to make things more exciting, and to a certain extent, more challenging (“Pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliqué?” somehow seems to be a motto of mine).

Now aged 30, I consider myself “fluent” in three places, by which I mean that I not only speak the local language, but that I also know their traditions, and the values each of theses cherish. I have devised a personal “proof of fluency” test: being able to swear back in the street at someone who insults you (in the unlikely event of this happening) and being able to use the local public transport systems confidently (as in: knowing if you need to press the door button in order for the tube doors to open). Currently, I pass this test in three cities: Brussels, Milan and London.

I have lived in other places, including Edinburgh (as an exchange student) and Strasbourg (as an intern at the Council of Europe), but these stays have been too short for me to have really absorbed the local “essence”.

My cats, Tosca and Mirza (= The Prettiest)

My cats, Tosca and Mirza (= The Prettiest)

(I didn’t really know which picture to choose to illustrate this post (pictures of me on the web are a no-go), so I have opted for a photo of my cats – both of whom have flown to cats’ heaven now, sadly. I think they’re the prettiest.)

What about art, in all this? I moved to Milan for love (how banal), but ended up finding a job I was passionate about, at an opera house “making history since 1778”. And if I decided to leave everything for London, it was mainly for the art that this city has to offer. The National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert have a lot to answer for, in my case…

I would like to stress that I choose to mainly speak about cities, rather countries. This is because I know that I would have gained very different experiences if I had lived 5 years in Naples instead of Milan. Ditto with London: just as New York is not the US, London does not equal England or the UK – it is sui generis.

Recently I have caught myself dreaming about living in a sort of ideal place, which would include the best of my three cities. Mainly it’s the various friends that I would like to “bundle” (although I have many more friends, in many more countries).

In addition to them, there are a few things, and a few ideas and values, which I would import from Brussels, Milan and London into my “ideal country”. I tried to fit all of these into one post, but it proved too long and I have decided to split this into three posts, one for each of the coming days. So: à demain/a domani!

Forget Paris’ Père Lachaise, forget Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale, this is the real thing. Abney Park, in Stoke Newington (London), is the kind of cemetery you usually only see in film: gothic, romantic, deliciously decadent.

Best enjoyed in autumn. (Like, now, for instance).