Sunday, 15 March 2009

Another post about cookies

Our subsidies partly depend on how many people come to Krikri events. As a poetry organisation, and a polypoetry organisation at that, audience numbers are not always our strong point. But the exhibition had almost 200 visitors spread out over the week.
Since almost everyone who came to the book fair also stopped by at infusoria, it was tough on the publishers participating in the book fair. They had been hoping to sell a lot of books but as you can guess from the visitor numbers, they didn't. Spreading the book fair over three venues didn’t help. For a small exhibition, though, the numbers were ideal: enough for it to feel worthwhile without the space getting noisy and crowded. The right numbers to be able to spend time talking to people or letting them look round without distraction. But some people are so nice I reckon we deserve a double subsidy for them:

- that art student on Thursday who went running from one work to another, squealing “ooh, what’s this, tell me about this one! Why is it a poem? Oh, wait, I see.”
- a woman on Friday night who took the trouble to offer a lot of intelligent and perceptive comments.
- a woman who came in two minutes after I opened on Saturday afternoon saying “I’ve heard so many good things about this…” and left saying it was “extremement beau” (self-congratulation time, everyone).
- the baker on the corner. He hasn’t been to the exhibition but he gave me Moroccan cookies on credit on Saturday morning because he couldn’t change a ten-euro note.

... so next time you're wandering round Molenbeek all cookieless, the bakery on the Parvis St-Jean-Baptiste will make everything happy ever after.

I feel like I’m in the anti-Brussels. I’ve hated the city with a passion for three years: taking the train here from Ghent, it strikes me almost every time how miserable everyone looks and how generally unfriendly they are. And when I take the Eurostar, I get out in London and think ‘wow, look at all the smiley people’ (no seriously, in London). Brussels is filthy, corrupt and lacking in urban planning: it is theoretically one of the richest cities in Europe, but something like 17% of people live below the poverty line. Closer to the other end of the social spectrum, friends who work for the European institutions tell me there is a huge amount of mental illness, alcohol abuse etc. up there in the shiny buildings.

The Maison des Cultures rocks, though. The people who work here weren’t immediately positive about the exhibition, but once we had set up and they saw we weren’t going to flake out on them, they were lovely. It seems to be a fantastic place for community arts as well: I’ve seen an Indian dance class, photography lessons, huge installations made by children, a rehearsal for an opera they are making from scratch, posters for a pop-up book workshop and Mozart’s Requiem, sculptures being carved outside from trees that fell down in a storm…
… and the baker gave me cookies. Nothing can make my day like free cookies.


  1. Helen, you've never lived in Brussels. You don't see its good points - you don't look for them. All I can say is that I have a very different impression of the city from you.

  2. Hi Leila,
    I liked everything about Molenbeek except Jelle getting his car broken into, and even that was lovely when the neighbours came to speak to him. Knowing how much poverty there is and seeing the apparent misery on many people’s faces in the centre of Brussels never stops shocking me though, the beautiful parks and Art Nouveau buildings in other parts of the city can’t cancel that out.
    I remember doing a poetry walk with some kids in the Marolles a few years ago (for a Recyclart workshop). I was writing down the little flashes of beauty I saw everywhere and they were writing about how grim the place was, it made me think.
    I’m glad you’ve had a better experience of Brussels than me – I’d hate for you to have been living there all this time if you didn’t like it and you’re right that I would probably like it better if I lived there (I’d have to, for my sanity). I met so many lovely people in Molenbeek last month. Even if they can’t cancel out the bad stuff, from my perspective - which is one among millions - they certainly make up for it.
    PS Thanks for coming out last night, it was great to see you both :)