This striped car was installed outside Gare Centrale as part of an exhibition connected with the Zinneke parade in May 2014. Some 20 artists were commissioned to create a work near Central Station based on the theme "temptation". The car has gone now, but I have kept this picture as an example of how Brussels can sometimes turn into a strange and surprising city.
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.
When The Guardian asked me to write an article about Mons, I was off like a shot. Mons is one of my favourite little towns in Belgium. It’s quite a sleepy place mind you. Not many tourists visit it compared with Ghent or Bruges. But it has an old-fashioned charm that feels quite French.
Mons is in the news this year as one of the two European Capitals of Culture in 2015. It has a fantastic programme of events beginning with a launch party on 24 January which looks really fantastic. Here is what I told The Guardian.
And here is a more personal list of my 10 hidden secrets of Mons
This used to be a gloomy commuter corridor, but the architects MA2 have transformed the long tunnel leading from Central Station’s booking hall to the metro. The lighting has been improved and the walls covered with metal sheets printed with moody black-and-white Belgian scenes by photographer Daniel Deltour. Even the street musicians sound better in the bright new space.
My secret passage :: Gare Centrale
22 March 2016 :: Down but not out
mysecretbrussels the best of food, music, culture and life
Words by Jacques Brel written in chalk on Place de la Bourse
Once again a city has been hit by a terror attack. Once again lives have been brutally shattered. Once again people are struggling to cope with enormous and incomprehensible sadness.
The attack on Brussels seemed particularly heartless because Brussels is essentially a peaceful city. It is a tolerant city of one million people who are mostly trying to get along together. It is a city of discussion, not a city of hatred.
Some people enjoy criticising Brussels. It is something you have put up with if you live here. But Brussels is not a hellhole. And at times like this you can see the solidarity coming through.
In the aftermatch of the attacks, people were offering to donate blood (even though it wasn't needed). Taxi drivers were turing off their meters when they picked up stranded people. Hotels were offering rooms for the night for free.
But the damage is done. It will never be the same in this city. This is undoubtedly a dark day in the history of Brussels and Belgium. It's our 9/11 moment.
But it would be wrong to give up hope. The Belgian people have a unique way of standing up to terror and oppression. I think it is likely they will come through this without losing their cool.
Brussels is down. But it is not out. Come back one day when it is safe to do so. You will discover a special kind of place like nowhere else.
"My country! I did not think enough of it. I almost ignored it. I did not see that I loved it. But since they torment her, the monsters, I see her everywhere. I breathe her in the streets of the city, in the shadow of our palace. She lives in me. I live in her. I will die for her singing."
Gabrielle Petit, 1916
Gabrielle Petit did die for her little country. Maybe not singing. She was shot as a spy, like the British nurse Edith Cavell, on 1 April 1916. She is commemorated by a statue on Place St Jean in the centre of Brussels, not far from Grand'Place.
I like this quotation, because I think it sums up the mood in the Brussels streets at this moment. We don't think about our country, or our city, until the monsters take it over. But then we realise how important it is to us, not as a symbol of national pride, not really, but as something much more basic. It is where we live and breathe. It is home.
The Hidden Secrets of Brussels
an online urban guide for the curious
This is a site about Brussels, a city that sometimes to be nothing more than a chaotic intersection of roads and railways and tramlines, a place where everyone is passing through on the way to somewhere else.
But it turns to be a city of many secret places that most people know nothing about.
The aim of this website is to steer you away from the more obvious tourist sights so that you can discover the hidden places that reveal the soul of the city.
Hidden Secrets :: my books on secret Belgium >
New Stories ::
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO :: I love you Brussels. I hate you Brussels.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET :: my hidden restaurants revealed
A SMALL TOWN IN BELGIUM :: Aarschot - where nothing ever happens
ROMANTIC RENDEZ-VOUS :: the secret love hotel
BRUSSELS DOWNTOWN WALK :: where to go now the cars have gone
LOVE BITES :: the 10 most romantic things to do in Brussels
STREET ART UNCOVERED :: the secret art that no one sees
Brussels commuter by graphic artist Nena Peeters at Gare du Nord
Street art at Gare de la Chapelle by Leuven artist DinDin
Mad about Mons
24 January to 31 December 2015
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 street artist :: Bonom
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10 walking tours in Brussels based on the bestselling guide
"I was touched by the city that you showed us. I have lived here for a year and I have always felt that there is more to Brussels than I could describe, show or touch. Even though I have read hundreds of books about Brussels. I loved the gorgeous photo exhibition, and the abandoned old fountain lined with rubbish made me cry. Brussels is a magnificent old city, but it's a pity it's not visible on a daily basis. Like the narrow street near the Rue de Flandres that isn't even on Google maps. Every citizen should be obliged to try to see Brussels through your eyes."
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