#AfterMaalbeek in my own words.
It is 22 March 2016. On the Internet I encounter the behaviour on the Maalbeek station. It is a part of Brussels I had not known before or not for a long time. I do know that it is close to the EU quarter.
When I read my friend Emma Thomson’s words on the terrorist side of the issue - she is a student in sociology and psychology - I do the one thing I can control. And that is to turn it into a teaching moment. As I have done for the past twenty and more years. As it was done for me.
I do not know how you were taught about Europe. If you live it and breathe it.
A short month before - 26 February 2016 - BREXIT came very strongly upon the agenda. This is when the United Kingdom makes up its mind whether it is to leave or remain in the European Union as we now know it.
It stirred me up and left me unable to sleep. I wondered what Ian Duncan Smith and his compeers were up to - and when Boris Johnston came into it - I felt a sinking sensation. Of helplessness perhaps.
I sat there early in the morning - trying to take it all in the best way that I could. Using closed captions - yellow; pink; blue; green; white - to make the words and the context seem real.
I have learnt that the less highly educated tend to support a Brexit. In the counties - there is a town versus gown type of stand-off. There was an Intelligence Squared debate featuring Nigel Farage who is a Member for the European Parliament.
And what a mess that organisation is! It has turned off a great many people away from democracy. When your member - say for East England - makes decisions - they can be very far off, very abstract.
There is that whole “For the Europeans who wanted to be here in the first place” - and every week my close ones would ask me - and that is essentially what I said.
The train of course was bad enough - but what about the airport? Brussels Airport is but a small one. So many come through it. Even more with the migrant crisis which had been playing on our hearts, minds and souls since September 2015.
Belgian pralines are very fine. Different words for the same food. The French, Swiss and Belgians do pralines - and much else - very very differently!
Perhaps I can explain how a chocolate is crushed and then apply it to a person. I think you would understand better that way.
It is 6 April 2016. At 1500h I go to a chocolate shop because my close one wants sweets. Many different hard and soft sweets. I have in my mind that I like hard sweets which are suckable - for example - Polos peppermint and coloured. “The sweets with a hole” - yes - the English version of LifeSavers - which are at the counter.
My close one finds liquorice and nougat of the Dutch sort. Of course I remember that Maalbeek is Dutch too and I mostly write Belgian places the French way - this is learning; this is choice! Dutch sweets in general … I ask my close one about his Dutch playmates and schoolmates and what they would have to eat at lunch. And, yes, they did share. No Common Agricultural Policy or anything like that, your Honour!
For me it is very easy to crush a chocolate. I avoid pralines almost like the plague. American ones in particular tend to be very nutty in their composition. French ones are mostly very soft. And Swiss ones … they do represent the Platonic ideal, don’t they?
I am one who likes their chocolates moulded, especially into seashells and other work. Twenty-five years ago now - in December 1991 - I discovered chocolate making for the first time. We had lots of Chrismassy moulds and we would pour the mixed dark and light and white chocolate into moulding.
The point is coming up here. Squeeze the icing sugar and make sure that just enough is in there - not too much; not too little. And make sure it hardens up in some way.
I imagine that Magnat does this. Did some checking and confirming as I must. When I see a chocolate “Made in the EU” - that’s not good enough for me. It hasn’t been good enough for me since the European Union claimed that name with only 15 nations - including Austria and Finland for the first time on the 1st of January 1995.
I learnt by the end of that year to look - really look - at chocolate. That year my step grandmother bought me Fazermint chocolates for a prize or a gift in speechmaking. This particular inducement made me look at the box. Now I’m sure you as readers know how important it can be to look at the box. And being an aspiring linguistics student, I saw that there were any up to 15 languages.
A month before the speeches and during the preparations, I wrote a story set in the Gulf of Finland in Tallinn, Estonia. That was the furtherest and the boldest I had been yet. I could do this because I was in the set of some intrepid Yorkshirewomen - students and staff both. Yes, it is very important to get into character! I do think of this in a very theatrical way.
I really had not seen Estonian written before. The half of my remit which was to do with Baltic languages was observed more in the breach, especially in and during the time of the Dayton Accord. That moved me - and it moved me hard - probably more so than the decline and fall of the Soviet Union.
As you will realise, many of the Baltic countries became independent in this same 1991. I now have a wonderful friend and activist partner called Ivanova Smith. He carries his Chewies around with him during advocacy activities in Washington State. When I read that Tumblr, I nod my head. The way I got to know them was through a cartoon depicting Latvian orphans which was coloured red, green, yellow and blue.
So many puzzle pieces! Now that is a fighting logo and it was used well in the graphic design of Ivanova Smith.
Now this day I turned on the radio and listened to Croatian and Macedonian before changing channels to a music programme which takes us over remote and regional locations in the service of opportunity. I understood about the Prime Minister and the gun laws.
Now remember - in Switzerland, for instance, guns seem to be the property of the people. And they are not exactly kept under lock and key.
There is a certain Yiayia in my life who looks under magnets and sees … well, I don’t know strictly what, and it isn’t either wise or nice to speculate. It is some kind of looking or listening device. What vigilance can lead us into, especially among the edges, the margins!
I would like to talk about “hyper”. The late, the great, Umberto Eco took us into this postmodernist paradise [!!!!] of hyperreality. I think this is my first memory of Umberto Eco - The Name of the Rose was bought into the house by one of my Tantes. She was fond of challenging reading because her father had been. And after a few years the pattern was that Umberto Eco would come into the house.
In April 1998 - some 18 years ago now - I would attempt to read Foucault’s Pendulum. It was very easy going for me at first, especially the computers and the codes. And the desktop publishing, too, was very familiar. I also was getting into the way the monks think.
Another book which was so influential for me at that time - and perhaps September 1997 - was The Keys to this Blood. It was written by Malachi Martin, another Jesuit who is no longer with us and who died some time this century. It was when I got into the third part that I learnt some very important things which have defined my relationship with Europe ever since.
Now I am thinking of Eco and some soccer games - Italia 1990 was big. Another entree into my life would have been opera. This grandfather was very fond of opera. And it was also the time of the Three Tenors - Carreras and Pavarotti. Now this was not a genre I understood at all or felt any natural draw to.
We were encouraged to sing small. I thought sometimes I was in an opera buffa if I had had access to the concept then. I felt as I was listening to the radio documentary - a sense of deprivation - as I was not especially encouraged to sing. It was deviant behaviour. I was not then close enough to other families, to other children, who liked and appreciated any sort of music. It was then a preserve of older and elder neighbours.
An opera buffa is often deeply comical. One that affected and inspired me in early adult life would be probably La Boheme. Now I must be very careful and not sing it as if it were Rent - that musical has a lot of cornucopia of the time; the place; the style. Buffa, as I understand it, is a style of great contrasts and much movement.
Contrast and movement - this seems to be lacking in so many people’s perspectives of Maalbeek and the Brussels Airport - even a fortnight later. It has often taken me months and years to articulate many things, to integrate them into daily life. This is the challenge; this is the struggle!
The forensic and intelligence work - Belgium’s intelligence has gone down in a big way. A deep disappointment to those who grew up with Tintin and with Maigret and whoever else represents in fiction. Eighteen years ago I learnt many things about wish-fulfilment - daring, hoping that something would move - something would come true - that I would make it true.
Dreams can be such passive, such voluble material. And the dream of Europe - while it is not dead - I do not like to think that it is only sleeping. If it were sleeping - it would be corpulent and somnolent. There were great sick men only across the Bosphorus after all!
Again, with the migration crisis. This was my field for so long. So many times stirred to impotence.
These cold spring times remind me of Kosovo. It cut across my shoulders as an undergraduate, where the non-government organisations were concerned and would concur with certain important ideals and realities. I am thinking of course of CARE and the two men who were stolen away - no, kidnapped.
April 1999 was where it all ended and began. I was very busy and reasonably happy with my work. There were elements of my personal life which were budding and which I might never have given nor got the chance to experience otherwise.
When we writers make settings, we scout, we reconnoitre. Warburton was such a setting. Throughout the months of 1999 I worked on so many scenes. The characters did their things. A lot of it is set in a backyard garden and another backyard garden. Mainly I worked in the forest - which had its privations, its prohibitions. It had its soil, its ground, its growth patterns, its changes over time.
And all we have is time, yes? When we have time and fantasies thereof…
Fantasy would seem to be an element outside of time.
What I can remember, what I can imagine, on which I could expand…
There are so many things which are real now that once we could only have conceptualised as fantasy or fantastic. Or indeed fabulous, which is probably closer to the root of the word and the matter.
I will let you work out where the cherry liquors come from. There is a Singaporean website which would give you a close clue, a reading.
And there’s a reason for Brussels being so poorly developed. It’s called brusselisation - and is sort of meant to be a byword for sloppy urban planning. Buildings go up everywhere - especially in the Maalbeek Quarter.
And there are nice elements like the park, which I would highly recommend if you were getting to know Brussels for the first time. There are these lakes which no-one ever seems to go into.
There are developments which would seem to be outrageous to any reasonable person. These tall buildings give succour to ghettos. And I mean that they very easily hide people that have a reason to be hid or not, like some of the terrorists.
This year for the first time I watched Schindler’s List. It had been heavy for me for the two decades prior to that. And then I watched Son of Saul. One of the elements which affected me in a big way while watching Schindler’s List would be the tunnels - I thought I’d been used to that from Les Miserables - getting through the Kazimierz and Krakow tunnels was a very mucky and a very brave business. Especially for the small boy who loved Danusha. And going down the Warsaw cobbles is another brave business. Another pick; another stick.
“Like windblown refugees”. When you consider some of the other forces by which refuge is affected/effected - and, yes, both words really do apply. One of these forces would be the sun. Unblown refugees? Especially in this season and the way the sunspots and the fronts are getting.
Brussels you think of as this moderate, temperate place. With the occasional cloud. It is very good for getting outdoors and hanging out on the balcony with bicycles and washing and pot plants or maybe the vertical type of plant which is grown by a guy called Joost instead of a wall or fence line.
[Don’t be too suspicious about the sorts of plants that Joost or Annette may grow - there are plenty of cut species and street flower shops to look at - we are not in Amsterdam, after all].
The other thing at the other end of life which I wished to cover was something about voluntary euthanasia and how a lot of young people are going for it. I was going to say “like rabbits”. That would probably be moderately tasteless and throw your temperate minds off like they were during the 22nd of March. Anyway, the euthanasia happens every day and takes a few weeks/months and permission is meant to be acquired from your doctor or similar professional.
Another Brusselisation I would like to talk about directly is the eighty percent of French children who are now going to school in Belgium. I think usually in the French/Wallooon part - though the Flemings are not averse to torture as we have learnt through history and through current times. And when I learnt about this first from Sophie’s THE WALL it blew my tiny mind in a way that it had not been blown before - and in a way that it probably should have the last fifteen years [1987 - 2012]. One does have cause to think about what would happen if one’s life and one’s education were ever so slightly different; what would happen if the winds all blew.
And, no, not all of the other 20 percent are in Anglophone countries. The fossilisation of psychoanalysis has come to a sclerotic level that every organisation and supranatural would be complaining about. If I could knock on every door and see that the children were safe and comfortable, I really would.
It is, after all, the right thing to do. One’s morality often gets blunted and shunted when it comes to international affairs. It’s been something that I’ve been fighting all my life, sometimes with more resources, sometimes in the depths of despair and scarcity.
The economic life of Brussels goes on as best as it can, barely touched. The travel and tourism life is somehow compromised. There is that whole If it’s Tuesday then it must be Belgium effect. The Bourses of my youth are now held together by sticky tape and hedge funds and much much worse. Money that was never there is in the hands of people who are never there. I thought we called that sort of thing insurance fraud. And sometimes we call it a stock market crash.
How ever did it take Belgians so long to find a government? Experts tell me that it is another manifestation of the linguistic split that has been going since 1830 and had been embedded into the modern nation. Throw a spear or a stick through that and now you try counting the scars. Counting the scars would not be the same as embedding the hurts inside and outside. There are frankly so many walking wounded in this sense and in others.
Of course that is another significant compromise to any semblance of a moral and ethical life. At least the terrorists are moral, by some measures. They have loyalty; they have family; they have a country.
The big tie up was 13 November 2015. When you see the entertainment centre of Paris on your TV up close and personal for the first time since you were a young teenager - and to concerts and football games that you never thought you would go to [even though your cousins most probably do]. It is of course a sad and sombre moment, backed with anger and all the comicontant symbols and symptoms of grief. It is of course a grief that may never really go away.
And of course, you have dealt with grief before. It is in some ways the thing that binds your health and wealth, the way that you measure and value it. Of course it was never really intended for this purpose, but since when have things gone in a modicum of the way things were intended to be? You don’t have plans; you don’t make intentions. And even though you conceive they were for other people.
Anomie is a very useful sociological concept. I am thinking of Comte and Durkheim and those guys who effectively made the Paris school. Those people who were before or contemporaneous with Marx.
“How would you advise your 12-year-old self?” is a question asked nearly every week. And the answers are nearly always revealing. Of course in many ways my 12-year-old self had it right. She knew how to deal with a plurality of opinion and option. Of course having it right is not doing it right - not by a long chalk, and I do think that she realised this in some fashion. Maybe doing it right took up way too much energy.
The phlegmatic part of my temperament is something that has come up in recent years. Since the last two years or so in particular. I start the year a sanguine. Insouciant and other temperamental instruments like that. In my original form I am piquant like Sriracha sauce. The years have watered that down - some. Not completely; not what would I say was a whole lot.
It’s hard work making and breaking an original. I sincerely hope you appreciate that in all your personal and professional creative endeavours. I see why we work, play and rest in the moulds, whether they were given us or whether we fit into them. I hope your personal praline shells would survive the onslaught.
What can we learn; what can we teach; what can we give? The question I’ve been asking for 25 years - how can I/we/you/they help? And it is something to see the directions in which this help and its forms have been going into. You see the very obvious examples of heroism; the times and places and situations of quiet desperation and determination. And the ways in which a villain could turn into a victim.
Those particular moulds aren’t going to go away, you see.
What if we didn’t think in moulds any more? Many of my conceptualists would say that it was the frame which mattered so hard. And others would talk about how the map is never ever the territory even though it does give us a good guide to what it was and what it could be.
Remembering Isherwood and his camera - a great guide to the world of cabaret. You wonder where we all are at night - balancing the personal and political the way we all do. And our necks are crofted.
This Scottish woman constructed a way of life when she was 17 and with the help of her Aunt Morgan and several animals … did the way she grew up in India leave open to such a form of chicanery? This early life determinism is of course widely criticised, especially when practised in such a lazy way in our literature classes. And our art classes.
Theatre at least allows you to engage with the object as an object. Object relations theory makes good bedfellows out of atomistic co-sleepers. And you wonder how different our world of psychoanalysis would be if Brussels were the centre of it instead of say, Vienna, or Prague.
Hint: probably more awesome people like Bion. He knew children and he especially knew groups.
And then we wouldn’t have to crib our books and ideas from America, the way I had done for way too long. We think ourselves so sensible; so trendy; so progressive. So, ahem, logical. Logic has a funny way of defeating people when it ought really to stick to bad or at least badly phrased ideas.
Have a linguistics session on academia.edu. There were so many -nyms in there. So many -nyms that i went numb. The truth was that the comments didn’t quite work as far as scrolling went and I was working on a dead computer at that point.
Then this Queenslander sort of invited me to his party. Actually, I invited myself, and my Ugandan friend Brian came too. We met very mathematically. And I am remembering Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - the version set in West Germany for space’s sake.
And wasn’t there a line about Slugworth and cheating? If I had that voice in my head somewhere.
This thought about the Fizzy Lifting Drinks. They are no longer in my life as such, even though various cans and bottles in a sweet shop. Why I did not go the Iron Bru route … and as for energy drinks and their ersatz equivalents … I’d be knocking them over in a minute.
The direction of the binge really is something. We now binge on TV shows like The Making of a Murderer. You wonder with all these CCTV scanners … how to get a terrorist. And if the videos would serve as mainly or only a distraction. And it never is just a video any more. You get this grainy image and then you make a reaction GIF of how someone is thinking or feeling or acting. And then you put yourself in as or through a filter.
My girlish self really appreciated Photoshop and its filters. For instance Clouds were a great favourite. I wasn’t always one for taking pictures of the real ones, or videos. A timelapse would have been a good thing. Though there is the risk of standing way too long in the sun or wind and being murdered or mugged or well … terrorised.
Had been around a variety of plane and train spotters in my time. And again, in Brussels, there is room for this casual nerdy and geekery. It is accepted and included in a way I never could do. The way I pulled my intestines out for easy examination is one of my regrets though it did take nearly a decade to process. It is a wonder I have guts for everyone to see and that they are at last and at least semi-transparent. Thank you.