Before boarding our train the whole family would still go for a short walk outside, in the streets of Schaerbeek. It would be a cautious walk, with all the kids holding hands and with my mother clutching her handbag, because you never knew what could happen in the big city! Especially in these rather sombre streets of the station quarter, where I particularly remember a quite daunting avenue, alongside a little gloomy park, with old stately houses covered with sooth - all exuding an air of “grandeur déchue”.
I would wander through lively streets full of Turkish and Moroccan shops and restaurants, I would fixedly stare at the pavement while crossing the infamous red district street near the railway, a street filled with slowly advancing cars and with loitering men avidly looking into the neon lit windows which ignominiously displayed bored women in sultry poses .
It was a true treasure trove – and coming back home in my sparsely furnished flat, I would sit on the ground, with my back to the wall, looking out of the rooftops through the opposite window, and listen listen – to those so touchingly human and humble and yet dazzlingly brilliant Bach cantatas, to Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg variations, to the divine and melancholy Monteverdi, to the gay and frivolous Mozart simmering underneath with umbral sadness.
Just as I myself was simmering with all the contradictory longings and anxieties of a 25 year old who has just arrived in the city ... .
In some neighbourhoods you can still sense the atmosphere of the village Schaarbeek once was, before being swallowed up by the big city. In other streets, with a nostalgic suburban feel, you can spot the fading traces of once buzzing small industries and artisan shops. Elsewhere you can get startled by unexpected railway beds surging out of old brick tunnels and then continuing amidst park-like bushes in the middle of a gsplendid residential lane. Schaarbeek’s rich bourgeois period did leave many grand art nouveau houses and a great park too. Some of the streets have remained neat and uppity, others have fallen victim to urban decay and grime, but always, always one is curious to see what is around the next corner.
No, one never gets bored when taking a walk in Schaerbeek, especially when dazzling winter light sets ablaze rusty tram rails and grimy windows alike.