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In Brussels

  Thu 11th August 2011

Setting the tone at the outset, I was offered a drink immediately we arrived at the venue, a place run by three amiable Flemish chainsmokers. We wound up the rehearsals at about 10pm. Félix invited us to a bar round the corner. I assumed she'd like this idea but she hardly drinks and wanted to go home, which caused a battle of wills.

"But you can start drinking after the performance. You'll have three days to drink." I felt mothered. "But look, they're such nice people and we could just have a chat for an hour without it all being about the show," which was as polite a way as I could find of saying "I'll be buggered if you think I'm going to sit in your flat with a cup of mint tea on my first night in Brussels." She went home and I went on an unsuccessful search for the gallery staff, ending up somewhere else, determined to stay out in any case. The following morning she apologised for being so "horrible"; I apologised for being intransigent, inwardly disappointed that we wouldn't be enjoying the pleasures of Belgian beer together.

On the night, the gallery was crowded, with people almost encroaching on the set; those who couldn't get in were peering in from the street. It was a humid night and all three of us became progressively redder, glossed with sweat. I acquired some muddled colours on my arms and chest, bruises acquired from my Table Piece no. 12 (2009) which involves expending considerable violence on a table and some oranges.

We decanted onto the street with our endlessly refilled glasses. Then it was round the corner to another gallery for a show opening, in which car tyres were scattered across the floor, forcing a loping gait to get to the drink pictures. Our last stop was to another bar where we had more drinks and a bop. At some point in the early hours, the owner brought out a sumptuous buffet of delicious Middle Eastern food. Chatting to Félix, I somehow ended up mentioning the rather attractive female member of l'equipe. "No it's OK, I prefer Marijke," I said. "Marijke's spoken for, if I may speak for her." Oops.

As part of our recuperation, we went to see a baffling installation by Joachim Schmid. We were met in a hotel foyer and taken up to one of the bedrooms. The green furniture and wallpaper hovered between outdated and trendy, and a pair of paint-spattered trousers lay on the bed. I am unable to illuminate this critically. The 1966 film version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf made more sense. We watched it in a cinema with a curvilinear 30s Art Deco bar serving almost one hundred Belgian beers. My experience of the bar, however, remained a purely architectural one, as Shelley steered us instead into O'Riley's opposite, whose offerings are of the calibre of Guinness and Stella.

I did however, manage to explore several of the city's incomparable bars and beers. Brussels allows something which should be normal but which is impossible in England: go out at midnight, at the weekend, in the suburbs, and sit in a bar, skipping the ridiculous performance of masculinity which results in blood on the pavement. Instead, I was drinking lambic beer and listening to what I might venture to call funky house (whilst fearing that using that term might date me as an ageing raver). Back in town, a female bar owner from Asturias and I chatted by cobbling together a lingua franca from her mixture of French and Spanish, and mine of French and Portuguese. She asked me about what had been happening in Tottenham. Not having seen a newspaper all week I made what must have seemed an odd comment about Spurs's chances in the Champions League.

Before coming back I had one of the best haircuts I've ever had, from a Turk who deftly wielded scissors and a cut-throat razor to leave me looking what I would call "attractively severe". Some fractionally less narcissistic photos of the actual show will be in the column on the right once I receive the CD from Brussels.

In Brussels

6 comments

Comment from: smallbeds [Visitor]

I’m dead jealous, and not just of your haircut. Congratulations, Looby: sounds like you stormed it.

Fri 12th August 2011 @ 12:55
Comment from: [Member]

Thank you! Seemed to go OK, and I must keep the momentum going now. It’s a good way to spend time and get paid for it.

Fri 12th August 2011 @ 16:40
Comment from: Sarsparilla [Visitor]

Fine photo!

Sat 13th August 2011 @ 18:19
Comment from: [Member]

Thank you, although the credit is due to the the early twenties girls at the next table for that - beer drinkers both.

Nice to hear from you V.

Sat 13th August 2011 @ 18:54
Comment from: heybartender [Visitor]

Belated congrats. I have been away from blogging and fellow bloggers for far too long. Extremely jealous of your trip (the beer sounds fantastic), and eagerly awaiting photos.

Thu 25th August 2011 @ 04:12
Comment from: [Member]

The beer was heavenly. What’s so great that is that it isn’t a niche, “craft", upper middle class drink, it’s the everyday drink of young and old, available all over the city.

Photos are, allegedly, on their way to me, but appear to have got stuck over the Norfolk coast somewhere.

Thu 25th August 2011 @ 09:04


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There are plenty of bastards who drink moderately. Of course, I don't consider them to be people. They are not our comrades.
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