Expat Time Summer Issue

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expat time Essential lifestyle and business insights for foreign nationals in Belgium

INTERVIEW “ People, profit, the planet: everything goes together” Dr Audrey-Flore Ngomsik CSR specialist & founder Trianon Scientific Communication

IN THIS ISSUE Making chocolate fairer, one bite at a time Tourism experts on the Covid-19 recovery Discover Spa in all its natural splendour

Summer 2021 • n°34

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83 I SUMMER 2017

New horizons


s the summer draws closer and the Covid-19 vaccination programme continues to spread, it’s time to look at holiday options. While some foreign travel is on the horizon, we’re all likely to be spending part of our free time further exploring Belgium. With that in mind, we talk to the country’s regional tourism offices to learn how they’ve adapted since the beginning of the pandemic and pick up some tips for new places to discover closer to home. For our cover interview we meet French scientist Dr Audrey-Flore Ngomsik and hear about her global journey in sustainability, CSR, diversity and inclusion. Belgian chocolate maker Thierry Noesen is equally passionate about preserving the environment, as we discover in our business feature. His company Belvas is pioneering a fair-trade project in Ivory Coast that tackles the problem of child labour and low market prices. In Expat Time’s regular travel spot, we visit the Ardennes and focus on the fantastic range of outdoor activities in the Spa region. For everyone fortunate enough to enjoy outdoor space at home, our tech correspondent presents some of the latest accessories that will transform your backyard, while our start-up feature meets an expat who specialises in urban gardens. So, here’s to us all recharging our batteries and enjoying the summer, whether at home or abroad.

Dave Deruytter Head of expatriates & non-residents ING Belgium expattime@ing.be ing.be/expat Expat Time blog: expattime.be

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ar t





Meet four expats living in Belgium



INTERVIEW Dr Audrey-Flore Ngomsik on applying science to sustainability


FINANCE In the digital transformation, can banks keep up with customer demands?


BUSINESS A Belgian chocolatier is taking action on a fairer deal for Ivorian cocoa farmers



ENTREPRENEUR American Joe Ingenito has urban gardening down to a fine art




Editor • Sarah Crew Deputy editor • Sally Tipper Art director • Liesbet Jacobs

TECHNOLOGY Transform your terrace with the latest accessories

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EXPLORE Visit Spa to indulge in some outdoor adventures




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Project coordinator • Thomas Buytaert

LIFESTYLE After a tough year, Belgium’s tourist offices are looking to bounce right back

Contributors • Derek Blyth • Lisa Bradshaw • Paula Dear • Ronald Meeus Cover • Dr Audrey-Flore Ngomsik, by Bart Dewaele Sales executive • Humberto Cardoso Aires Expat Time is a publication of ING BELGIUM SA/NV, Marnixlaan 24, 1000 Brussel, RPR Brussel VAT BE 403.200.393 and Ackroyd Publications SA/NV Editorial • Ackroyd Publications and ING BELGIUM Publisher • Hans De Loore,


AGENDA Cultural highlights in Brussels and beyond

33 WHAT’S NEW The hottest food and fashion for a cool summer

34 LAST WORD Derek Blyth muses on life in Belgium

Cantersteen 47, 1000 Brussels

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Profiles •

Get connected Four expats tell us about their lives in Belgium

Benedetta Dentemaro “ These days I value the basic things that make us human”

Benedetta is from Puglia in Italy and lives in Brussels

“I came to Brussels in 2005 to live the European dream. I’m an EU civil servant: it’s a competitive and demanding environment but very stimulating and rewarding. I feel part of the EU integration process. Before the Covid-19 restrictions, I enjoyed Brussels’ nightlife, cinema in the original language and the capital’s connections with the world. I love multicultural events and I organise the annual Grand Bal d’Italie gala, which promotes “Italianness” within the international community in Belgium. But during lockdown, I have been struggling. As I live on my own, my job tends to fill the space normally occupied by social relations and sport. When you’re teleworking, you have to draw a line between professional and private, which is tiny if you don’t have family here. And not everyone feels comfortable meeting in person, even outdoors. I’ve had enough of video chats and online gym classes. Of course, I die at the idea of jumping on a plane or on the dance floor. But these days I value the basic things that make us human and decent, like a haircut or breakfast at a cafe with a friend.”

Bartek Matczak

“ Before Covid-19, I loved walking to the office and simply watching people” “At university, I did internships in Germany, Finland and Liechtenstein. Then, after graduating, I joined an American company’s office in my hometown, Warsaw, and enjoyed a secondment to Italy. In 2014, I took a long-term assignment in Dubai. After almost five years, I decided to find a job in Europe. I was approached by ING Belgium and a few months later we arrived in our new host country. I’m the bank’s senior process advisor. It’s a very satisfying job; I’m able to learn and undertake rewarding projects that impact on customers’ experience. I like to challenge the status quo. While some Belgian colleagues find comfort in the things they know, we are able to find common ground. Having multiple perspectives in the room really helps to determine the best solution. Before Covid-19, I loved walking to the office and simply watching people. The hardest thing about working full-time from home is the lack of that moment between finishing work and going home. Having rituals like virtual coffee with colleagues, dressing up as if it was a regular day in the office and a clearly defined agenda have helped me adopt the new reality. Still, I am looking forward to freely travelling without PCR tests and without the need to wear a mask. Last year, we had to postpone a camping trip to Scotland. So maybe in 2021, we will finally be able to go and see if Nessie is still there!”


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Bartek, from Poland, lives with his wife, Paula, and sevenyear-old daughter, Maria, in Etterbeek


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Morten Petersen

“ Living in Brussels gives you an opportunity to live your culture and mix with Belgians” “I lived and worked in Switzerland and France before moving to Belgium in 1992. I moved here when my Swedish employer asked me to establish and head a Brussels-based sales company to cover the Benelux market. While I knew Belgium from many earlier business trips, I discovered the easy living of the Belgian people in contrast to the complexity of the political systems. Living in Brussels is easy as an expat; it gives you an opportunity to both live your culture and mix with Belgians. I run my own public policy consultancy practice specialised in trade and related environmental policies. As an amateur cyclist, my big adventure is a fantastic charity project that raises some €10 million every year across Europe. As country and team manager for Team Rynkeby-Granini Belgium, I gather amateur cyclists, supporters and sponsors to make a 1,200km cycling trip to Paris. We meet up with almost 2,200 cyclists departing from 59 other cities in eight European countries and aim to collect over €100,000 for our two fantastic Belgian charities, KickCancer and Belgian Kids’ Fund, which support research on critical child illnesses. I’m looking forward to the summer when I can cycle (without getting wet), meet friends and my social network for something as basic as a coffee or a beer at a table in public, and be spontaneous!”

Morten is Danish and lives in WoluweSaint-Lambert with his wife and daughter

Anushree Chembukhar “ During lockdown we got to spend quality time with our daughter”

Anushree is from India and recently acquired Belgian nationality. She lives in Sterrebeek with her husband and daughter

“I left India over 10 years ago and lived in the UK before moving to Belgium in 2017. My husband, Nishant, had an opportunity to work with Toyota Motor Europe as an R&D engineer. Belgium has been a very positive experience for us. It’s a well-connected country within Europe and people are friendly and warm. Our daughter, Kiara, was born here and it’s been a beautiful experience. I currently work as a contract manager with Toyota Material. It’s challenging and a fast-paced role as we deal with various customers on a global level. But every day is a different experience and I enjoy the variation that keeps it interesting. Colleagues are very friendly and the team I work with is great. It’s been a tough transition as working parents, especially during lockdown. We struggled when day care was closed; it was difficult managing a toddler in the house and working at the same time. On a positive note, we also got to spend some good quality time with Kiara. I am hoping that the restrictions are relaxed and that we can plan a short trip, at least within Belgium. Of course, this should be done by following all the regulations.” Would you like to tell your story on these pages? Get in touch at expattime@ing.be expat time • summer • 2021 •


Interview •

People, planet, profit Dr Audrey-Flore Ngomsik explains why sustainability in business is about much more than ‘saving the planet’ ✶ By Paula Dear

Photos by Bart Dewaele


wo decades ago, back when “nobody cared”, Dr Audrey-Flore Ngomsik was already applying sustainability to science. Initially taking an environmental slant, she used her knowledge – including a PhD in physical and analytical chemistry – to help companies de-pollute, later developing ways for them to prevent pollution at source.


– but for Dr Ngomsik they are one and the same and boil down to this: looking after people and the planet may well be the right thing to do, but it’s also the profitable one.

Influenced by her father’s job as a judge, then as an advocate for people working in poor conditions, as a manager and leader Dr Ngomsik says she has always focused on getting the culture right for the organisation’s employees.

The Parisian scientist, whose work and wanderlust has taken her to Malaysia, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland, has brought her experience from the academic and corporate worlds to SMEs via her new Brussels-based firm Trianon Scientific Communication, a management consulting agency specialising in CSR. Co-founded with a partner, the company offers to help businesses “incorporate CSR into their DNA” and increase earnings as a result.

Early in her career the dots were joined and she realised that the concept of sustainability goes beyond making ambitious speeches. Buzzwords now swirl around the sustainability sphere – be it corporate social responsibility (CSR), green innovation, diversity and inclusion or ethical business practices

Her passion for diversity and inclusion – and, more importantly, belonging – has also seen her become active in the Brussels Binder, a collective of women experts that aims to improve the gender balance in policy debates. She talks to ING’s Dave Deruytter about some of the things she’s found in Belgium, including

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Interview •

the need for nuance, the silent joy of a monastic weekend, and “discovering I was black”.

“ Sustainability is not the way you spend your money, it’s the way you earn it”

When, how and why did you start mixing science and sustainability? I started looking at it when nobody cared, 20 years ago, by doing green chemistry. I was de-polluting what companies were putting into nature, and then I moved upstream to help them produce without polluting. As I grew, I realised that sustainability is not only about “saving the planet” – people, profit, the planet, everything goes together. And as director of a company, I saw that it’s completely possible to do it. It’s something I’ve been implementing from the beginning of my career, even when it wasn’t called CSR. As a leader, I always made sure my employees were OK, that they were trained, that they felt engaged, that the culture was right. And then really working with my stakeholders – for example, to make sure a certain percentage of my procurement is local. Through your actions, you make your whole ecosystem sustainable along with you, and you realise that in the long term it brings you a really good return on investment.

What kind of scientist did you want to be? I was always more of an applied scientist. I knew I’d work in companies. Take one example – if nobody had worked on discovering UV, infrared etc, we wouldn’t remote controls and wouldn’t have the microwave. I would have been the one to find the application. And it’s also what I wanted to do with sustainable development. I’m not very patient so I really wanted to see customers have the innovation in their hands and watch how they react; it gives me joy.


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of your employees means reduced absenteeism, so it’s also a saving. All of it is linked. It took a while, but people have started to realise it.

What key things should people focus on? How do you help companies be more sustainable? We target smaller companies and educate them, to show what it means for their business. We show them how much money they can save, with software we invented to calculate it using their own data. Then we show them what could be improved to be more sustainable within their operation. If they don’t have the resources, we help them to implement, and we follow up. Our experience has shown that the first step is to understand that sustainability is a way of having a competitive advantage. And the last step is that you need to communicate your journey. Even if you say, “I will achieve 30% waste reduction in two years” and you only reach 20%, you have to say it.

Why should companies take the social side of their responsibility seriously? They’re starting to get the environmental aspect. When I work with companies, the first step is to educate them that it’s not only about the environment. If you have diversity, you innovate more. You know your customer better, so you expand your portfolio. If you want to be more environmentally sustainable, you need to take all the actions you can by being diverse; if everybody’s the same you don’t take those actions. And there are hands-on consequences because if the culture is better, that means you have less staff turnover. Taking care

First, remember that CSR, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion are not different things. CSR is not for “hippies”, it’s a real business concept. During the Covid lockdown, the companies that were the most sustainable fared better. Companies also need to realise that sustainability is absolutely not the way you spend your money, it’s the way you earn it. Having factories where people work in bad conditions, and then giving money to an association to make up for it? That’s not sustainability. And as consumers, we need to realise that sustainability is not bad, it’s a way of innovating, of consuming differently. There are companies making money by renting clothes, which wasn’t possible 10 years ago. We, as consumers, have power. When we ask for less plastic in the shop, that has an effect. There were companies who during the George Floyd protests said they were against racism and people shamed them because they were not living what they claimed. That had and continues to have an impact.

Diversity and inclusion has many aspects – is there a key to it? We need better representation. You cannot become what you don’t see. But the aspect that I’m more passionate about is belonging. Diversity is a fact – on my board I will put, say, 50% women, that is data. But if there’s no belonging, what does it mean? I have a voice, because I speak loudly... I can be allowed to speak, but it doesn’t mean

that you hear me. Belonging means we listen to you, and we want to at least try to understand.

the crisis?” So we started by writing the blog Science by Trianon so people would realise that it’s not that difficult.

You started Trianon just before the first Covid lockdown. How was that?

And Brussels is a great place to create companies. People talk about the taxes and everything but there’s lots of support around. It’s not centralised so nothing is easy to find! But I’m a newsletter addict so each time I go to a new country I subscribe to everything to figure out what’s happening.

We thought it was the right time because people would have to reinvent themselves, and would have time to think, “how am I going to get out of

“ If you have diversity, you innovate more”

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Interview •

“ I wanted to see customers have an innovation in their hands and watch how they react”

What brought you to Brussels?

What are Belgium’s pros and cons?

My husband will tell you that I have a problem as a human. I don’t anchor anywhere. I enjoy moving. I like being a foreigner, because the way the country welcomes you tells you who the people are. I had lots of friends who lived in Brussels and told me, “you should try it, you’ll like the city”. So Belgium was on the list.

I like the internationality of Brussels. It’s a neutral country for me and my [German] husband. And what I really like in Belgium is that all the cities are cities. I grew up in Paris; in France (in my very Parisian mind) there are five cities and all the rest is countryside. In Belgium, I have the impression that I could live in all the cities I have visited – they have culture, they have transport. What I like the least… I do understand regionality but the Walloons and the Flemish, for me it’s strange – your difference should be your force to be together. The other thing is that I am a very direct person. In Belgium, people work around things, they never go frontal. Voilà, it’s a different way of working, and I had to learn it.

How would you rate the country on diversity and inclusion? Despite all the things that I like here, I discovered I was black in Belgium. I think there is a problem with the way the history is taught at school. I’ve been to the new Africa Museum [in Tervuren] and it’s terrible. I was surprised during the George Floyd thing that people asked me “why is it a problem all of a sudden?” I said, “it’s not all of a sudden, it’s everywhere all the time”. When we look at Belgian TV the representation is not there. I’m starting to realise it’s systemic. I’m French, I’m European, I’m black, I’m educated, but I still don’t feel represented, which is weird.


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What do you like doing outside of work?

Tell us more about your creative writing

I’m a planner. It’s very important for me to make quality time with my partner. I like meeting friends; I really like listening to them. I like creative writing, and I’m a culture addict. For holidays, I’m a city girl so you won’t see me on the beach. I go to the countryside sometimes because my husband likes it. Sometimes you need to just calm down. I will do crazy things like going to a monastery – you can do that in Belgium for a weekend. You don’t speak, you just have the calm and you stop your brain for a couple of days.

I go to a workshop and write mainly essays and short stories. It’s good for my mental health; my brain is always thinking and writing allows you to take a step back. I also like to write to people. I’m the only person who sends letters on the planet! I think it’s important to tell the people you like that you like them, and why. Also, I write to my husband when I’m angry! I put it on his desk when we have a disagreement. I say, “I’m unhappy because of this”, so we can discuss it.

“ I don’t anchor anywhere. I enjoy moving. I like being a foreigner”

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Finance •

At your service Driven by the pandemic, banks are having to rapidly adapt their services in line with changing customer expectations

ΠBy Dave Deruytter


e’ve all had to adapt in large and small ways since March last year, embracing new technologies in our daily lives. And when it comes to banking, customers have rapidly come to expect certain digital services and products as standard. Customers can already do a lot with their banking app, but there is more to come as banks work on diversifying what they offer. Viewing an account balance and transactions at a glance, at any time, is the very least that clients expect, alongside making instant transfers and paying via contactless or a QR code. Banks are beginning to provide personalised resources through their apps too: services such as assistance with budgeting and financial planning, discounts from partner companies, or more sophisticated services like managing subscriptions. Secure voice or video calls with customer services and financial advisors are becoming more common, while online advice


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incorporating artificial intelligence is another growth area. Given this leap in both technology and customer expectations, why do we still need bank branches, or even cash? In practice, both have become of much less use. But as long as not everyone uses a smartphone or online banking, there will be a demand for cash. And for the big projects in life, like buying a home or organising your pension and investments, trust is important, and inperson meetings are hard to beat when establishing that relationship. When it comes to the way we work, more and more companies, particularly in the service industry, are allowing their staff to work from home, many of them full-time. Even after a year of hybrid working, it remains to be seen whether this can be a positive long-term move for businesses, customers and employees. In banking, too, teleworking has changed the way we interact with our customers. As we explored in our last edition, the housing market has also been affected by the pandemic and the resultant

effect on work patterns. The type of property people are looking for has evolved, with worries about commuting distances less important than the desire for outdoor space and room for a home office. Increased remote working means, in theory, an increase in flexibility and the option to work from anywhere. Financial advisers need to be

© Getty /MStudioImages

able to offer informed support in this changing environment. Their availability by phone or video, including outside working hours, will have a significant impact on customer satisfaction. It’s clear that the pandemic has accelerated technological, economic and societal evolutions that were

already in progress. As life gradually begins to return to a kind of normality, among the many uncertainties we can be sure that plenty of these changes are here to stay. Driven by customers’ evolving needs and expectations, banks must continue to adapt their services and offer a product that reflects the times we live in.

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Business •

The true cost of cocoa A Belgian chocolate company is pioneering sustainable farming in Ivory Coast ✶ By Sarah Crew


elgium has long enjoyed a reputation for chocolate, from luxury brands with global recognition to artisan confectioners who never tire of dreaming up new flavours. But behind the sweet finished product is a bitter story of poverty. And nowhere is this truer than in the West African countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana, which between them produce two-thirds of the world’s cocoa. Here, cocoa farmers’ enduring economic hardship results in the immoral and dangerous practice of child labour. At its root is the inequality between the price paid for cocoa beans and the profits made by manufacturers and retailers. That’s why Belgian chocolate maker Thierry Noesen is pioneering a ground-breaking €2 million project in Ivory Coast that will serve as a bridge between farmers and chocolate companies. The KimVas enterprise centres on building a cocoa processing plant that aims “to create a positive global impact for the local population as well as for the planet”.

The bean-to-bar initiative is a collaboration between Noesen’s company, Belvas, and Ivory Coast’s cocoa cooperative union, Ecookim, as well as public and private partners including Belgium’s philanthropic King Baudouin Foundation (KBF). Belvas, based in the Hainaut town of Ghislenghien, is the European leader in fair-trade and organic chocolate; the company has won international awards for its sustainable practices. Founder and director Noesen has long been on a mission to bring about change in his industry. “When I bought a small chocolate factory in 2005, I immediately changed everything to fair-trade, I didn’t even ask the customers,” he recalls. Over the past 15 years, Noesen has become even more aware of the plight of cocoa farmers and their families. When Belvas gained organic certification, he sourced cocoa from Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. “These countries were ahead of the rest of the world in going organic and they got

“ If the whole industry was fair-trade and I disappeared, that would be a good thing”

Belvas director Thierry Noesen in Daloa, Ivory Coast


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“ The major groups have their own programmes, but they’re not about helping the farmer”

good prices for their products,” he says. Child labour was not a serious issue in the region, “because as soon as parents have enough money, they know it’s better that their children go to school.” After participating in various cooperatives in Latin America, he turned his focus to Ivory Coast, which, along with neighbouring Ghana, has the highest rates of child labour. “We knew that the real way to do something was create a proper revenue,” he says. For the past two years, Belvas has been involved in Direct Cocoa, a collaborative project with farmers that targets child labour, crop diversification, higher premium organic production and educational programmes that include empowering local women. To further reduce poverty, Noesen recognised the need for the country to be involved in the more lucrative parts of the industry. “If you really want to give farmers a better price, then do some steps of the cocoa process over there for real added value,” he says. “This means not just selling the cocoa bean, but cleaning, drying, roasting, to get what we call cocoa mass, which is a paste that comes out of cocoa.” To meet the challenge of improving the global image of Ivory Coast chocolate, beans are extra roasted to produce a more robust flavour. Noesen has set a deadline of the end of the year to have the KimVas factory up and running in Daloa in the centre of the

country. The site has the advantage of being located a few hours from a city with a university agronomy department that’s keen to be involved in the project. Machinery for the plant was bought from a chocolate factory in Germany that closed last year, while a pre-fab building is under construction in Belgium and is due to be shipped this summer. Building a processing plant has important environmental advantages as well as an economic impact, Noesen says. “It’s a great model for the planet, as shipping cocoa mass halves the volume to be transported compared to shipping beans. When you process beans, you lose 25% of the volume in water, and the peel on the bean can be used as a natural compost in the fields.” Cocoa mass also doesn’t require expat time • summer • 2021 •


Business •

chemical pesticides during transport unlike beans, which have to be treated to avoid insect infestation.

are living seems not to be a driver within the cocoa industry to keep the prices at fair levels.”

But the Covid-19 pandemic has put pressure on cocoa farmers by reducing global demand for chocolate through the enforced closure of airport outlets, specialist boutiques and restaurants. Since 1 April, the price for the raw material has dropped by 25%. Noesen: “Of course, Belvas keeps its guaranteed price to our partner farmers at the old level, so their revenue is safe. But we are very angry about this market evolution. The extreme poverty in which the cocoa farmers

By paying a premium, Belvas has already contributed €400,000 in additional revenue for farmers. “If the whole industry was fair-trade and I disappeared, that would be a good thing,” he says. The demand for fair-trade products is increasing, which Noesen sees as a positive consumer-driven trend – but he is critical of the greenwashing prevalent in the industry. “There are new labels arriving on the market that don’t offer farmers even half the value of fair-trade,” he points out. “The major

“ As soon as parents have enough money, they know it’s better that their children go to school”


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industrial groups have their own programmes, but they’re not about helping the farmer.” Aware now more than ever of the complexities of the global cocoa industry, Noesen is writing a book about his work and experience amid his ongoing commitment to “changing the chocolate world, one bite at a time”. It’s a sentiment reflected in the new project’s name. Belvas (“Belgium” plus “Value Added for the South”) is combined with Kim, inspired by the word for “together” in the dialect of the Senufo language group spoken in Ivory Coast. “I’m sure anyone else would do the same in my situation when you understand how much impact you can have over there,” he says. This mission is one reason why KimVas was awarded a grant of €200,000 by the KBF as part of its Business Partnerships Facility, a five-year, €12 million programme launched in 2019 and financed by the Belgian government’s directorate-general for development cooperation. The aim is to encourage private business initiatives with a strong social impact to achieve one or more of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals in developing countries in the South. “Truly committed local companies like Ecookim are among African partners the foundation is keen to work with,” a KBF spokesperson says. “They are taking more and more responsibility and making real decisions in the management of their resources, their territories and the communities living

there.” The foundation maintains oversight of BPF projects like KimVas, providing and paying for technical support if necessary. In 2020, 24% of the €12.5 million in grants it provided in total to developing countries went on stimulating local entrepreneurship.

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Entrepreneur •

Start me up ao



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American Joe Ingenito runs a landscape gardening business in Brussels with a largely expat clientele


fter moving from San Francisco to Brussels in 2005, I launched Urban Gardens in 2008 with an ad in The Bulletin when it was a weekly magazine. As a sole proprietor, only employing seasonal consultants, it has been quite rewarding over the years to see the business grow from nothing. Our concept is to bring high-quality, maintainable design to private and commercial settings. We specialise in greening urban spaces with the creative use of containers, planting, paving and vertical gardens.

“ As a sole proprietor, it has been rewarding to see the business grow from nothing”


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We provide one-time design and installation, consultations, general garden care and regular maintenance to refresh outdoor spaces with colour and interest for every season. I do a lot of terrace work and try to bring nature to the urban environment. For container gardening, I like mixing edibles with annuals. I think geraniums are still one of the best reliable annuals available. Even though they’re quite common, they can be used with other plants for a truly unique look. Mix them and other flowering annuals with herbs, grasses and leafy vegetables such as rainbow chard. When planting in pots, use the largest size possible – your plants will be happier and you can have a greater variety and mix. Layer the pots by size and height to create a natural feel. During lockdown, people have been spending more time at home and appreciating their outside space. Lack of light is one of the biggest problem for gardens in Brussels, but with proper orientation and use of plants, terraces can be more lush than many gardens. Even if you have a garden, I recommend growing produce in a raised bed for better drainage and to prevent soil being compacted, and it makes it easier

to control pests such as snails. The best tip for preventing plants from getting stressed and more susceptible to disease is to not under- or over-water. Remove diseased leaves or pests and only water at the base of the plant, into the soil, and avoid water on the leaves. I think everyone should think of sustainable practices in their everyday lives whenever possible, not just in gardening. I try to build it into all my projects with awareness of rainwater collection, low-maintenance plants suitable for Brussels, and the re-use of materials. In a recent project, a client wanted to get rid of two old wrought iron lamp posts lying in the garden, but we recycled them by adding a planter box on top, transforming them into raised planters. urbangardens.be

Would you like to introduce your business on these pages? Get in touch with us at expattime@ing.be

Technology •

Digital world The latest technology and accessories

THE TERRACE Specialist manufacturers have been producing outdoor TVs for some time. But with this set, Samsung is the first mainstream brand to dive into the niche. If it’s worth its premium price to you, the Terrace is the ideal TV to install in your outside seating area. And to keep it there, even during winter, as it’s built to withstand temperatures of -20° (and if you keep it turned on, Samsung assures us it can handle -31°, should temperatures drop that low). Throughout the year, it’s protected from conditions such as dust and splashing water. With its exceptionally high brightness level (2,000 nits), it’s also quite capable of keeping its image viewable in bright sunlight. That price, though. From €4,000


PHILIPS HUE OUTDOOR Lighting company Signify extended its Philips Hue range of smart lights a few years ago with outside lighting, and has been further expanding it ever since. Right now, it’s selling dozens of weather-resistant wall lighting, path lighting, garden spots and other outside fixtures. All of these, of course, are just as smart as the interior lights it has been selling for almost a decade, with an app that allows you to change brightness, colour and hue, in 16 million colours and 50,000 shades of white. The main difference between the outside and traditional inside lighting is their sense of direction: they bundle their light, so it accentuates the facade of your house or certain corners of your garden. From €120


SONOS ROAM Sonos already had a speaker for outside use with Move, a weather- and shock-resistant speaker that lets you play your music through your Sonos home network or – for the first time – straight through the Bluetooth connection on your mobile device. The Move was too heavy to take further than your own backyard, but Sonos has extended its outside range with the Roam, an ultra-portable miniature speaker weighing only 450g. So you can mount it on your bike, stuff it in your backpack or take it to the beach. Its battery will last 10 hours and can be wirelessly charged through the Qi standard. It’s also water- and dust-proof. And when you return home, it seamlessly reconnects with your Sonos system. €179


BOWERS & WILKINS PI7 For a while, Apple and Samsung had the market for wireless earbuds to themselves. But traditional audio brands are catching up. Bowers & Wilkins’ PI7 set offers a well-balanced, wellrounded sound. They’re also IP54-rated, meaning they can handle a rain shower or sweat during exercise. They have a battery life of four hours, with an extra 16 from the charging case. €400

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Explore •

© Office du Tourisme Spa

Escape to…

SPA With its reputation as the pearl of the Ardennes – Belgium’s vital green belt – Spa needs little introduction thanks to its world-famous natural springs. Water is the source of its history, and it courses through the surrounding valleys and villages too. Rivers, lakes and springs are just some of the attractions of this diverse forest region in the province of Liège. The town itself is a perfect base for exploring nearby Aywaille, Malmedy and Stavelot, whether you’re in search of relaxation, nature, sport or culture.



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Spa was the first town in Belgium to create a network of walks, and it remains a hub of signposted paths leading into dense forests; there’s also a tour of the springs that envelop the town. Free interactive maps can be downloaded via the app Cirkwi. For trail fans, the Extratrail routes are multi-distance loops crisscrossing varied terrain. The Fagnes de Malchamps nature reserve, 5km south of Spa, is a protected zone that extends to the edge of the forest in the Berinzenne domain, a paradise for walkers. The Ninglinspo, near Aywaille, is Belgium’s only mountain stream and boasts dramatic waterfalls and dams with rapids around huge blocks of quartzite (we recommend a hiking map). The Amblève valley offers walks through pretty hamlets and relics of the former mineral industry. There are plenty of the region’s RaVel cycling routes here too. Following the Ourthe river, the Mery-Comblain-Esneux trail passes the Gombe quarry, while the trail from Sart-Station (Jalhay) to Stavelot borders the Spa-Francorchamps track and crosses the route of the LiègeBastogne-Liège cycle race.

While Spa is the gateway to the Haute Fagnes natural park in East Belgium, it’s also close to a wealth of tourism sites. The ruined castle of Franchimont (pictured below) dates from the 11th century, rising above a rocky outcrop overlooking the Hoëgne, a tributary of the Vesdre river. Stavelot is a municipality rich in culture and folklore. Activities include outdoor sports and a renovated abbey housing museums and exhibitions. The ancient abbey – a major local attraction and one of the oldest monastic foundations in Belgium – is circled by beautiful landscaped gardens; a cafe serves regional food and drink. The town of Malmedy is known for its Carnival folklore and the Malmundarium heritage site is currently showing an exhibition dedicated to the mythical Beetle car.










Spa’s popularity dates from the latter half of the 18th century, when royalty were among those who flocked here for the town’s curative mineral springs and thermal baths. Although its glory days are in the past, the picturesque centre features a cluster of neoclassical architecture, including the world’s oldest casino and an abandoned 19th-century building that once housed the famous baths. The main mineral spring, Pouhon Pierre le Grand, now contains a permanent exhibition of art by Miró and Chagall, while a modern wing serves as a tourist office. The town’s cultural centre, formerly the Leopold II Gallery, is a bustling flea market on Sunday mornings. For a spot of urban greenery, head to the Parc de Sept Heures along the banks of the Wayai stream. The modern wellness centre, Les Thermes de Spa, is a two-minute uphill ride in a cable car. It offers a range of health and beauty treatments, and its large indoor/outdoor pool reveals a fabulous view of the valley below.




berinzenne.be ravel.wallonie.be ovatourisme.be

expat time • summer • 2021 •


Lifestyle •

✶ By Lisa Bradshaw


t’s no secret that 2020 was a disastrous year for the tourism industry, and no less so in Belgium than in the rest of the world. The country’s three regions are gearing up for a slightly better, albeit still uncertain, summer this year, with each doing its best to attract local holidaymakers as international travel remains stalled. The situation for tourism in the capital last year was “catastrophic”, says Jeroen Roppe of Visit Brussels. Some 80% of the city’s tourists come from abroad, compared to 50 to 60% in the other regions. As international tourism slowed to a stop, Visit Brussels launched the Brussels Health Safety Label to get Belgians to visit their capital city and give a boost to the local


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tourism sector. The label was given to hotels, restaurants and attractions that conformed to coronavirus measures. It was one of the first concrete measures that the agency took following the lockdown, says Roppe. “It continues to be a success today because it reassures people. They need signs that they can visit the city in safe conditions.” But Brussels fell victim to an almost immediate phenomenon: when measures were relaxed, Belgians took to the forests, countryside and coast, not to the cities. They wanted, in fact, to escape the cities, which they had come to see as claustrophobic. Belgians going on holiday prefer large, open spaces, Roppe admits, “so it was difficult to attract Belgian tourists.” Visit Brussels also had to completely change its mar-

© WBT/Olivier Legardien

Belgium’s tourist agencies have responded to the coronavirus crisis with creativity and resilience

© Belga/Eric Lalmand

The road less travelled Cycling Through Water in Limburg (above); walking in the Hautes Fagnes (opposite); the GR long-distance footpath (below)

© Christophe Vandercam

keting perspective, which focuses most of its budget on international tourists. Brussels’ loss was Wallonia’s gain, as it saw 90% of its visitors last year come from inside Belgium. “They were from all the regions, including people who live in Wallonia,” says Pierre Coenegrachts, deputy CEO of Visit Wallonia. “About 40% of them had never been to the area they were visiting before. A lot of people go on holiday abroad, and they don’t even know their own country.” And Wallonia had the goods to deliver to people looking for outdoor activities and fresh air. “They discovered hiking and biking along the lakes and the rivers,” says Coenegrachts. “They went to the abbeys in Orval and Chimay, and

they discovered the German-speaking part of the country. So this was interesting because it was an opportunity for the sector to get the attention of this captive audience.”

“ Crisis has brought our industry together and that is something we need to keep alive”

The Visit Wallonia brand was launched during this period, so that all touristic activities could advertise themselves under the same name. The region also launched a campaign, including financial incentives, to help guesthouses, tourist attractions and the hospitality industry increase their digital presence. “We realised that 40% of the operators in the tourism sector in Wallonia didn’t even have a proper website,” says Coenegrachts. Being able to reserve online has become the Covid norm for practically anything visi-

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© visit.brussels /Eric Danhier

© visit.brussels /Jean-Paul Rémy

Lifestyle •

© visit.brussels /Eric Danhier

“ Belgians couldn’t get out soon enough, and the neighbours didn’t want in!” head of the regional tourism bureau, De Wilde has weathered both the financial crisis and the terrorist attacks of 2016. Still, he says, “in the weeks before the lockdown, we began to understand that this could be the biggest crisis we had ever seen.” tors want to do. “We suggested that they develop their own websites and master plans for the coming months. That worked quite well; we have more than 700 partners who started allowing booking online.” This is going to be invaluable this summer as well, he says. “We think it’s going to be necessary to book tickets online for


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everything, from a museum to canoeing down the river.” Peter De Wilde of Visit Flanders, meanwhile, saw the crisis coming well ahead of time. With local offices around the world, including in China, they were getting reports about what the near future could hold. In his years at the

They weren’t wrong. Immediate contingency plans called for a shift in budget from Asia to Europe, which in February then shifted again to general promotion of the region rather than specific tourist options for 2020. As the summer approached, they hoped that local tourism would make up for

The experts’ picks Jeroen Roppe, Visit Brussels Roppe is keen to recommend the Roger Raveel retrospective at Bozar fine arts centre. There are 150 works spanning 70 years in the life of one of the greatest Belgian artists of the 20th century. He also points visitors to the architectural gem Villa Empain in Ixelles and its current exhibition Icons, a look at how representations of the divine have inspired both believers and artists.

bozar.be villaempain.com

Pierre Coenegrachts, Visit Wallonia Coenegrachts points out that his region is the place to enjoy the great outdoors. He recommends Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure, Belgium’s largest system of lakes. It boasts 65 kilometres of shoreline – the same as the Belgian coast. Visitors can bike, hike, canoe, golf and swim. He’d also like more expats to explore the area around Spa. Known as Belgium’s centre of car racing, it’s also the heart of the Ardennes, with beautiful forests and rivers, as well as those eponymous mineral baths.

The deserted centre of Brussels during lockdown in March 2020

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Peter De Wilde, Visit Flanders De Wilde has plenty of culture and heritage to recommend. In Ghent, a new visitor centre in Sint-Baafs cathedral has been built around Belgium’s greatest artistic masterpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, complete with an augmented reality experience. De Wilde also points visitors to three contemporary art trails taking place this summer: Bruges Triennial, Beaufort 21 at the coast and Paradise in Kortrijk. Finally, he insists that anyone who can ride a bike should head to Limburg, specifically to the Cycling Through Water and Cycling Through the Trees attractions.





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the lack of international tourists. But it didn’t.“Belgians, along with the Swiss, are the most travel-minded people in the world,” says De Wilde. “When the government opened up the borders in the summer, people began booking straight away. Then we were counting on the Dutch and the French and the Germans to come and save us. But they did spend their holidays domestically. So it was a double whammy – Belgians couldn’t get out soon enough, and the neighbours didn’t want in!” Flanders lost about €17 billion in tourist revenue in 2020.

sintbaafskathedraal.be triennalebrugge.be beaufort21.be paradisekortrijk.be visitlimburg.be

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© Belga/Bruno Fahy

Lifestyle •

“ People need signs that they can visit the city in safe conditions”

© visit.brussels /Eric Danhier

© visit.brussels/Eric Danhier

Cancelled flights at Brussels Airport (above) and Covid-secure tour guides in the city centre (below)

The region did notice, however, that its green areas and nature reserves got a lot more visitors than usual. Holiday homes in Limburg and at the coast, De Wilde notes, “were booked solid”. This year could see a similar trend, but Flanders will increase its international campaigns in the middle of the summer, once most Belgians are vaccinated. It will be focused on the region’s “art cities”, which include Ghent, Antwerp and Mechelen. “We are going to focus on the identity of each city and on how each one is the perfect size for exploring.” Brussels, meanwhile, is doing the opposite. If Belgians want green space, it will remind them how much it has. “Brussels is one of the greenest capitals in the world,” says Roppe. “More than half of the region is green. Most


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Belgians don’t realise that.” Its summer campaign also focuses on Brussels as a bike-friendly city. “When you look at how much the infrastructure has improved over the last couple of years, it’s quite impressive.” All three bureaus respond the same way when asked what they learned from the experience: that people are resilient. “As a government agency, it doesn’t work to go and tell people what to do,” says De Wilde. “You have to listen to what they need. There is a fundamental difference there. There is such great creativity in the human response to these situations that you just need to tap into. Crisis can bring people together. What I have seen is that it has brought our industry together. And that is something we need to keep alive.”

© Stad Brugge/Matthias Desmet

What’s happening

BRUGES TRIENNIAL This is the third edition of the Bruges Triennial, which brings local and international artists together to stage monumental art interventions around the city. The theme of this year’s mostly open-air edition is Trauma – something we can all relate to considering the past 15 months. The artists were asked to consider the less-than-pictureperfect situations, history and stories behind all those beautiful historic facades. The result is a dynamic interaction between old and new, imagination and reality.

Until 24 October triennalebrugge.be

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Agenda •


CONTEMPORARY ART Brussels is a European hub for contemporary art, and nothing proves that more than this summer’s cultural calendar. Among the many opportunities to dive into the work of some of the world’s most brilliant artists is Art Brussels Week (pictured), a reinvention of one of Europe’s most prestigious art fairs for Covid times. More than 25 galleries open for special shows, and visitors will have access to a digital viewing room that hosts galleries from abroad. Another highlight in Brussels is the Roger Raveel exhibition at Bozar, an excellent retrospective of the Belgian artist’s ground-breaking works. There’s also P(ART)course, an open-air art parcours across three Brussels communes.

A new piece by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is reason enough to celebrate, but The Goldberg Variations is particularly exciting: the Brussels choreographer is performing the solo herself. A great fan of JS Bach, she follows up her Brandenburg Concertos with an interpretation of his composition for keyboard and its 30 variations. She calls on movements from some of her most iconic works but also leaves room for improvisation; no two performances are necessarily alike.

1-18 September lamonnaie.be

Art Brussels Week: Until 14 June, artbrussels.com P(ART)course: Until 27 June, partcours-parkunst.com Roger Raveel: Until 21 July, bozar.be

AGENDA EVENTS • Icons This exhibition at the lovely Villa Empain in Ixelles explores how iconography has inspired both believers and artists for centuries. Until 24 October, villaempain.com • Microplastics An artist and two scientists collaborated on a photo exhibition that will open visitors’ eyes to how invasive tiny microplastics


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GUSTAV KLIMT: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE There’s hardly a more recognisable artist than Gustav Klimt, whose colourful patterned figures continue to spark the imagination. The Austrian symbolist’s most legendary works, such as The Kiss, have become synonymous with the throes of passion in our collective consciousness. This event blows his beautiful gold patterns and florals up to massive size on video screens and sets some of them to music, bringing them to life through animation. Visitors will also learn about Klimt’s life, his early work in architectural decoration and his pioneering role in Art Nouveau.

Until 5 September expo-klimt.be

really are when it comes to sea life. Until 19 June, sewermuseum.brussels • Garden Room Belgian artist Anne Daems brings together the spaces in which we live with our need for nature in Bozar’s Board Lounge, utterly transforming it. Until 31 October, bozar.be • Divine Lightning: 900 Years of the Norbertines Leuven’s Park Abbey opens after an extensive renovation

to its 900-year-old buildings and hosts an exhibition on the monks who have long lived there. Until 1 August, visitleuven.be • From Peking to Hankow: A Belgian Adventure in China Train World offers this exhibition on the Belgians who built China’s first cross-country rail line – when Wuhan was called Hankow. Until 10 October, trainworld.be


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AFROPOLITAN WEEKEND MYSTIC LAMB VISITOR CENTRE The coronavirus crisis was devastating for Ghent’s Van Eyck Year, with the cornerstone exhibition – a highlight on the European cultural calendar last year – having to be cancelled halfway through its run. Fortunately, Van Eyck’s greatest masterpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (also known as the Ghent Altarpiece), is permanently at home in Ghent. A new visitor centre has been built around the many-panelled piece in Sint-Baafs cathedral, complete with a history of the celebrated work and the cathedral for which it was painted. Augmented reality glasses put visitors directly in the scene of the cathedral’s paintings.

Coined by London-based writer and photographer Taiye Selasi, the term “Afropolitan” refers to globe-trotting people of African descent who have no fixed national and cultural identity and more than one answer to where “home” is. Bozar’s Afropolitan Festival explores this concept through talks, performances, exhibitions and more. This year, the power of women in the 21st century is central to the programme.

WATOU ARTS FESTIVAL It’s off the beaten path, which is all the more reason to experience this parcours of art installations staged across this nice little town on the Belgian-French border. Curators and artists are expert at using the nooks and crannies of the town’s old architecture to place artistic interventions, making them fanciful, mysterious or sometimes downright creepy. Brush up on your Dutch to read the poetry also staged along the way at this 40th edition of the festival.

9-11 July bozar.be

7 July to 5 September kunstenfestivalwatou.be


• Ghent Fine Arts Museum The museum has restructured its permanent collection and brought dozens of works out of storage, dedicating spaces to Belgian artists such as Frans Masereel, Raoul De Keyser and Constant Permeke. mskgent.be • Poes (Cat) Ypres’ city museum presents an exhibition on a creature that continues to fascinate us: the simple housecat. Discover how

our relationship with cats has changed over the centuries and in other cultures. Until 16 January, ypermuseum.be • Kegeljan 2.1 Namur dedicates 2021 to Franz Kegeljan, a painter who provided a complete visual archive of the city, from pre-history to his death 100 years ago. tinyurl.com/Kegeljan

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Agenda •


ARNE QUINZE: MY SECRET GARDEN The city of Mons dismantled Belgian artist Arne Quinze’s monolithic public art work The Passenger last month. While it was always meant to be temporary, it had become a beloved sight over the year in the centre of this former European Capital of Culture. But Mons is making up for it with the major Quinze retrospective My Secret Garden, which bursts forth from the BAM fine arts museum and into the streets. The exhibition explores the relationship between nature and culture, a tension that has inspired the artist’s work for 25 years.

Each summer the romantic ruin of Villers Abbey hosts a theatrical open-air performance, and this year’s is an adaptation of family favourite Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The 1943 classic tale by the legendary French writer and aviator is a poetic and philosophical work in the guise of a children’s story. This outdoor version is a welcome return to the Cistercian abbey for theatre company Del Diffusion after it was forced to cancel last summer’s event. The 2021 production has been adapted to respect security measures.

13 July-8 August lepetitprince2021.be

Until 29 August bam.mons.be

NATIONAL OPEN PHOTOGRAPHY PRIZE Charleroi’s celebrated Photography Museum hosts several exhibitions this summer, with a highlight being the National Open Photography Prize. A jury chose 11 photographs from more than 400 anonymous entries, awarding prizes to some and showing them all in an intimate exhibition. A much bigger show is Noor/Pulse, a selection of work by members of the Amsterdam-based Noor collective of journalists, photographers, artists and filmmakers. Largely focused on media and documentary photography, Noor put together this exhibition according to themes including migration and the climate crisis.

Until 19 September museephoto.be

EVENTS WITH ING • Euro 2020: Belgium vs Denmark 17 June, 18.00 • Expat Pension webinar 17 June, 18.00, ing.be/seminars • Euro 2020: Belgium vs Finland 21 June, 21.00 • Euro 2020: Final 11 July, 21.00


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What’s new The latest openings, launches and gift ideas

FASHION La Petite Chemise India was the inspiration for this range of easy-to-wear cotton shirts for kids aged two to eight; each piece is unique. From €48

ACCESSORIES Lore Van Keer The Belgian jeweller’s striking gold and silver pieces are inspired by the natural movements, patterns and lines found at the edge of the sea. From €140




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FOOD Beleaf The plant-based label has launched a range of vegan yoghurts made with Spanish almonds in a variety of fruity flavours. Available in Delhaize. From €1.29



DRINK Kiss My Inspired by their grandparents’ recipes, Niels and Wouter Vandekerkhove’s modern range of spirits and premixed drinks are crying out for a picnic or apero. Think rhubarb, blackberries and pink lemonade. From €15.80

What’s better than ice cream? Ice cream infused with booze. That’s the simple concept behind Liq, in supermarkets now. Made with local ingredients, there are several to choose from, including Salted Caramel Macadamia Bourbon and Vanilla Cherry Kasteel Rouge. From €5.99


kissmydrinks.com expat time • summer • 2021 •


Last word •

Give me liberty, or give me steak-frites Brussels author Derek Blyth reflects on life in Belgium


arlier this year, we looked on in horror as protestors stormed the American Congress building in Washington DC. And some of us wondered if the same could happen here in Belgium.

Our little country did have its revolution back in 1830. It was, as you might expect, an odd uprising that broke out in the Brussels opera house, of all places. Not so much the hungry poor rising up; more the people in the dress circle booing the soprano. Anyway, the revolt spilled out into the streets during four days of fighting. According to some historians, the Belgian freedom fighters paused each day at midday to go home for lunch. A nice steak and a glass of wine, followed by a snooze, then back to the barricades. And so a nation was born. But could we see history repeat itself? I wondered as I watched the TV footage from Washington. “It would be rather difficult,” a Belgian friend pointed out. “You’d have to agree which government you wanted to bring down. You could go for the federal government. Or the Flemish. Or you could storm the Walloon parliament building, but that’s in Namur. Or the French community parliament in Brussels, if you could find it.” He wasn’t finished. You might, depending on your grievance, decide to attack the Brussels regional parliament. Or you could, if you were German-speaking, decide that the East Cantons parliament in Eupen was the one to topple.

Don’t even think about calling someone. They’ll just tell you to call someone else


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“And then of course you could storm the European Parliament,” he concluded. You might be fired up by the country’s bad record on climate change, he went on. But you’d soon discover that there are several government ministers responsible for climate. Three in Brussels. One in Namur. “And guess how many health ministers we have? Eight,” he said with a sigh. I was reminded of an incident a few years ago. A hole mysteriously appeared in our street in Brussels. It wasn’t a big hole, but it was big enough. People began to use it as a convenient rubbish tip. One morning, I spotted a ski boot down there. The municipal workers came and put a barrier around the hole. But then a car hit the barrier and knocked it into the hole. The seasons came and went. Summer turned to autumn. The hole filled with dead leaves and beer cans. The ski boot disappeared under a heap of rubbish. Hundreds of years from now, archaeologists will dig up the boot and decide there must have once been a ski resort on the slopes of Ixelles. I thought about calling someone to report the hole. But who do you call in Belgium? Would that be the commune, the region, the ministry of roads? “Don’t even think about calling someone,” my cynical Belgian friend told me. “They’ll just tell you to call someone else.” And so my question has been answered. We will never get a revolution in Belgium, because no one knows who is responsible. And anyway, it’s lunch time.


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