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NEW WALK :: secret street art :: Saturday 28 September
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STREET ART :: the street art gallery opposite Audrey Hepburn's house
My secret hell: how not to celebrate car free day
It sounded like a good idea at the time. My book on The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels had just been published in French so I was naturally flattered to take part in a bike tour during which I would talk about the book.
The tour was being organised by Vivacité radio station on the day before car-free day. It sounded like the perfect opportunity. I have loved car free day from the day it was launched. It turns the city into a wonderfully quiet place where people get around by every kind of transport except the car.
I was expecting that the interview would involve a gentle ride around town, with frequent stops to talk about Brussels. It turned out that they had something competely different in mind.
I arrived to find that I was going to join a peleton of serious Belgian cyclists who were about to set off on a 31 kilometre ride around Brussels. Now, I am a reasonably enthusiastic cyclist, but no one would call me the Bradley Wiggins of Brussels. My heart sank when I saw that the route involved the long climb up Boulevard du Jardin Botanique and another stiff heave up to the Parc du Cinquantenaire.
It got worse. I was given a bike that was the wrong size. Then told to put on a backpack which contained a radio transmitter and fifty heavy batteries. I was going to have to do the interview while cycling through Brussels, wearing headphones all the time so that I could follow the live broadcast.
We set off with two cool police cyclists leading the way, followed by a dozen or so cyclists, followed by the Vivacité broadcasting van. The interviewer cycled alongside me to ask various questions along the way. It was barely possible to hear the questions because of the loud French pop music that Vivacité likes to play. I was struggling to breathe on one steep hill when I was asked to explain the meaning of the Brussels dialect expression Schieven architek.
Anyone listening to Radio Vivacité at around 16.00 would have heard me say something along the lines of - C'est puff quelqu'un a qui gasp l'on ne oh thank heavens, someone is giving me a push peut pas we made it faire confiance.
You do not realise how many hills there are in Brussels until you have cycled through the city with a radio transmitter strapped to your back while trying to explain why you consider Flagey the best place in town for frites. Next time I have to do an interview, I am going to be sitting on a chair in a studio sipping a glass of wine.
The programme was presented by Adrien Joveneau who has written an excellent guide to cycle trails in Belgium titled Le Beau Vélo Ravel.
My secret street art: Rue Keyenveld 49
The latest work in the Rue Keyenveld 49 street art project went up on 19 June. The French street artist Rubbish has decorated the grey concrete wall with faces and bees made from black sticky plastic. Take a look as soon as you can because it is due to be replaced by a new work in September.
Lost street art »
My secret comic wall: The Ark
A striking new comic art mural was unveiled last April on the side wall of a house in Ixelles. Titled The Ark, it is based on the comic book fantasies of Brussels illustrator François Schuiten. The work was commissioned by the urban renewal organisation Atrium Flagey to provide a vision of the city of the future. Schuiten has already created a mural in downtown Brussels and decorated the underground tram station at Porte de Hal.
More street art in the Chaussée d'Ixelles »
My secret thoughts: the Belgians get a new king
On 21 July, Belgian National Day, the Belgians got a new monarch as Philippe I took over from Albert II as King of the Belgians. It was a relatively modest event compared to the massive fuss that surrounded the birth of a royal child in Britain the following day.
Read the full story here »
My secret art: Zinneke Expo
Brussels can be such fun sometimes. This striped car has been installed outside Gare Centrale as part of an exhibition connected in some way with the next Zinneke parade in May 2014. Some 20 artists have been commissioned to create a work near Central Station based on the theme "temptation". The Zinneke organisers held a poll in which 3,000 people voted for temptation as the theme rather than "enough".
My secret view: Parking 58
When they built Parking 58, it was a symbol of a new Brussels built for cars. Launched for the 1958 Brussels Expo, it showed Belgians the shape of things to come. No more tramping around on foot or piling into crowded trams. The car was the future.
It now looks a bit tatty. The concrete is crumbling away and the lifts are not as shiny as they once were. They now talk about tearing the whole thing down. But some people argue that it should be preserved, not least because of the unexpected view from the top deck, which is totally stunning.
The most visionary proposal is to create an urban park on the top floor where downtown residents can go to enjoy the sun. It's a brilliant suggestion that would give Brussels something similar to New York's High Line. It may never happen, so enjoy the view while it lasts.
No. 248 in The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels
My secret sign: Rue du Prince Royal
When the artist René Magritte was asked by a critic if he described himslf as a Surrealist, he replied: "No, I just paint what I see in Belgium." You can see his point. Here are two road signs in two different languages with two completely different messages. How is an ordinary human being supposed to survive in this city without going slowly insane?
My secret street art: Bonom
Bonom is the Banksy of Brussels. Since 2006, he has been spraying animals and dinosaur skeletons in some of the city's most inaccessible places. A giant Tyrannosaurus skeleton appeared on a wall opposite Bozar at the end of 2008. An elephant popped up overnight on a wall of the National Library in February 2009.
Like many people, I have sometimes speculated about the identity of Bonom. I imagined him as a Belgian. He is brave, like Tintin, but also melancholy, like Magritte or Brel. He knows the city will never respect his art, but he carries on regardless.
Now we know his identity. He revealed it recently in an interview with the city paper Brussel deze Week. It turns out that I was wrong. He is a French artist called Vincent Glowinski. He told the paper that he had stopped spraying drawings because the police knew his identity.
But a few days ago, a new work appeared on a high wall above Avenue Louise. It showed a naked woman masturbating. Many people thought it was Bonom's work. He said nothing.
Now a new work has appeared on the side of a block of flats near the Porte de Hal. It represents a skeletal old man who also appears to be masturbating. Bonom remains silent.
His delicate drawings sometimes last less than an hour before someone comes along with a bucket of caustic chemicals to wash it away. Yet Bonom is slowly conquering Brussels with his strange bestiary, creating an alternative history for this slate grey city filled with dull modern buildings.
My secret vote: local elections
Here in Brussels, Belgians have just gone to the polling stations to vote for new city councillors. The campaigns have been interesting to follow, with virtually every candidate promising an almost identical list of policies. They all promise us cleaner streets, safer neighbourhoods, better schools. And we, the voters, know that things will go on much the same as always once the new councillors are comfortably installed in the town halls.
The reality of life in Brussels is seen in the Rue de la Paix, where road works have dragged on interminably, destroying the livability of one of the neighourhood's most appealing streets. We have watched in dismay as the construction workers have turned a lively urban street into a scarred landscape of earth mounds, trenches and fallen signs.
Some shopkeepers have simply pulled down the shutters in despair. But there is also a fighting spirit in Brussels which means that some people find creative ways to fight back. The fashion designer Nina Meert has created a window display that takes its inspiration from the road works. So the mannequins stand in the window surrounded by planners' drawings, battered road signs and concrete drain pipes, a subtle way of mocking the administrative incompetence that is such a depressing feature of Brussels civic life.
Waiting in line in the cold school hall to cast my vote, I noticed a large Tintin mural on the wall above the polling booths. A plaque nearby explained that Hergé, the famous Belgian cartoonist, has attended this school from 1913 to 1919, while the Germany army occupied the city. It made the voting experience somehow richer.
My secret rooftop: Institute Saint Louis
Here is one of the most striking views in Brussels seen from the roof terrace of the St Louis University. I like the contrast of old and new, and the way the sloping line of the shiny glass office building to the left is almost a continuation of the roofline of the grey Brussels town house.
Photographs: Marie-France Plissart
My secret hotel: Le Berger
Oh, la la! An old Ixelles hotel where couples once rented rooms
by the hour has been tastefully renovated.
My secret secondhand shop: Les Enfants d'Edouard
Les Enfants dâ€™Edouard has been selling womenâ€™s designer clothes at sharply reduced prices in this grand town house for the past 40 years. The menâ€™s shop, a little less grand, is next door.
Avenue Louise 175 and 177
My secret story: how it all started
In 2008, I read an article that made me very unhappy. It said that Tripadvisor, the travel website used by millions, had asked its users to vote for the most boring city in Europe. The answer they gave was Brussels.
I had recently taken over as editor of The Bulletin, the city magazine of Brussels, so this was a double blow. I was living in the most boring city in Europe and editing a magazine about the most boring city in Europe.
I thought about this for a while and reached the conclusion that I must be the most boring editor in Europe.