32 there to here
Brussels identities from A to Z
“I’m very happy to give birth in Brussels!” says Gloria Congedo, 38. “In spite of what people say, I find health care facilities here in Brussels really great.” Any moment now, she will be bringing a second son into the world, in a hospital in Brussels, as before.
tupid It a l i a n woman!” I saw onlookers think when they witnessed me tumbling down the escalator in Brussels’ Central Station. That’s what happened to me when I first arrived here in February 2001, much too heavily packed. One of my monstrously big cases fell on me as I lay dying on the ground. OK, so I was injured, but I didn’t want to go to hospital; I went to a party that night instead. I wanted to get to know people straight away. I met many people that evening, even though in the end I was taken to hospital. I still bear the scars of that accident... I came here from Lecce in Puglia, down in the heel of Italy’s boot, to work in the European Parliament, for a lobby group. That job, to me, was a trampolino di lancio (a springboard) – in Lecce I was already a consultant and I had been a European project manager before, but by coming to live in Brussels I realised what a precious experience this would be. The European Parliament, the cosmopolitan surroundings: it all made a huge impression on me. I just couldn’t get enough: sometimes, I left the Parliament at 1 am and was back already at 7 am.
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In praise of: "Brussels is a miniature version of Europe, of the world even. In the different neighbourhoods, you can sometimes actually smell the cultural differences. The Chaussée de Haecht smells like Turkish food, and walking through Matonge, with all of its African spices and scents, is bliss. You can eat any dish from around the world in Brussels. "I love to go to Au Stekerlapatte in the Marolles (4 Rue des Prêtres). As I am pregnant, it’s been a while, but I go there often and always eat the same dish: Jambonneau rôti, a typically Belgian meal. Generally, I love Belgian cuisine. Though some things make me frown. I love mussels, but I wouldn’t think of eating fries with them! " I love to cook, always Italian. In Brussels, I have no problem finding the right ingredients – Italian foodstores abound... My favourite is Antichi Sapori Pugliesi in Evere right near Nato, where my husband works, with products from my native region. (1211 Chaussée de Haecht)
It’s not easy to understand all those institutions, even though I studied law... I immediately felt free and happy in Brussels. In Italy, people with power and fame often have an attitude – they are unattainable to mere mortals. What a relief that in the European Parliament all these important people turned out to act quite normally. The environment was much less official than what I was used to in Italy. The foreseen six months became two years, and by then I really had acquired a taste for this city. I came from a small town of about 100,000 inhabitants, and now I found myself in a small world city, a melting pot of people from everywhere. At every party I went to all the world was present – or at least, the whole of Europe. In the European Parliament, it was always fun to see how all these communities kept their own customs: Spaniards and Italians came to lunch around 2 pm, while the Swedes were already present at 11 am. Now Europe has enlarged so much, there is more uniformity – there has to be, otherwise things cannot be organised anymore.” Brussels feels like travelling all the time in your own city. I’ve been living here for years now, but still I’m not familiar with all the neighbourhoods, and the city still has the ability to surprise me. All these linguistic communities: how wonderful! Brussels really inspired me to learn languages: I studied English, French and Spanish. And I’ll be studying Dutch as well: my children will learn it in school, and I want to be able to talk to them in their school language. There aren’t that many cities like Brussels, certainly not in Europe. You could say that London is just as cosmopolitan, but then that is such a big city that people from different cultural communities
Gloria with her husband Giovanni, centre, on their wedding day, with Brussels mayor Freddy Thielemans
really never meet. Here, it’s a jolly mix. But what is a problem in Brussels is mobility. More and more traffic jams, with the resulting pollution, and you can’t really get around by metro – this needs to be improved. I moved a lot as a child. My father had a high position in banking, and it’s an Italian tradition for people in those positions to be moved around a lot – so that they can’t build up their own little power base. So every 18 months, my family moved to another Italian city, with our entire belongings – you see, there’s a background to those enormous suitcases of mine.... Moving places is in my blood. But what’s difficult for me, and also typically Brussels, is that the friends you make here, and who really form your new family, are part of the mobile set themselves: after a while, they leave. Having to let people go: that is hard for me. I was always the one who moved and said farewell to others. But that’s life in Brussels. Of course the presence of the EU has a huge impact on Brussels. You can already tell by the real estate
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“The European Parliament, the cosmopolitan surroundings: I just couldn’t
prices. But Brussels is still an affordable city, as long as you know where to look. From one street to another, you can find yourself in another price range. We decided to buy a house, as we plan on staying here – certainly now that we have children. And I like it like that. The only things I miss, are the sun and the sea. So I take Vitamin D, and we often go to a spa to at least have a little bit the feeling that we’re at the seaside.” !
get enough” Interview by Veerle Devos & Kristof Dams Image by Jean-Michel Van Lippevelde