22 11 2015 – Shutdown Day Two

On Saturday, Brussels woke up to a chilly morning, dark skies and cold rain – an almost welcome change from the unusually warm weather of late. It made me long for my favourite layering; it  also made the Christmas decorations, already up in some shop windows since mid-November, seem less unseasonable.

But this Saturday, Brussels also woke up to an unprecedented  lockdown, following an increase of the terror threat level from 3 (high) to 4 (maximum), as a result of “relatively precise information of a risk of attacks”, according to Prime Minister Michel, and amidst fears of an ”imminent attack”.

The city centre was taken over by the army, the metro service suspended, all sporting events and concerts cancelled, and people warned to exercise caution, avoid public transport, crowded areas and tourist destinations. Shopping malls were evacuated, restaurants and cafes asked to close as a precaution.

So, all unnecessary activities cancelled, I hastened to the grocer’s for the essentials, slightly changing my usual route to avoid ”crowded areas” as far as possible. There was tension and weary smiles – and fear; kept under control, masked under those weary smiles but it was there alright.

Sunday has dawned with the thread level remaining at maximum,  to be reassessed during the day. No sweat, the cold weather makes it a perfect day for cocooning.  And yet…

While I fully respect the authorities’ decision aiming to protect the population, I can’t help thinking that between mourning the dead and learning to live in fear,  even from the relative safety of our home, the underlying tragedy is that the extremists have won the battle. For locking down an entire city may indeed prevent unnecessary bloodshed but it also shakes and shatters one of the core principles of a free society – individual freedom (of movement).

This weekend Brussels has forever lost her innocence, that illusion of safety cheerfully wrapped around delicious chocolate and heavenly smelling waffles. So now that the bubble has burst, can we still hope that sanity will eventually prevail? Is there anything else to do but keep calm and carry on? Has the time come to realise that – inevitably – religion almost always functions as the alibi of fanatics and as long as it is used as a weapon, there will always be all manners of warfare?

I will carry these thoughts tomorrow morning to work, as I go through identity controls on entering the ”high risk” area of the European Quarter.

Meanwhile, I leave you with these rosy images of a sweeter past.




Religion to me has always been the wound, not the bandage. – Dennis Potter

Far East Brussels Style

An ornately decorated Chinese Pavilion and a bright red Japanese Pagoda. Two unexpected structures that appear suddenly, as if to disturb the green monotony of the lush gardens that surround the Royal Estate of Laeken. Or perhaps, to confirm Brussels’ reputation of being a city of surrealism.



Constructed by order of the ”Builder King” Leopold II who, during his visit to the World Exhibition held in Paris in 1900, became so captivated by the exotic wonders of the ”Tour du  Monde” display of Oriental architecture, that decided there and then to bring some of it closer to home.

Thus the idea of building an open-air museum consisting of various exotic pavilions was born. A year later, Paris architect Alexandre Marcel (1860-1928) was commissioned to build a ‘Japanese tower’ followed by a ‘Chinese pavilion’, which would become a luxurious Chinese restaurant.

None of the buildings where ever used for the purpose they were built. The King’s idea of an open-air museum was quickly abandoned, the buildings were handed over to the Belgian State and today they are managed by the Royal Museums of Art and History.

The pagoda comes with its very own Japanese garden; inside, the halls that lead up to the tower are lined with some incredibly detailed tinted glass panels which tell terrifying stories of war, snippets of samurai and geisha lives, complete with dragons and tigers; sculpted panels decorated in Yokohama; and larger-than-life vases.














The Chinese pavilion owes its ornate exterior to woodwork imported directly from Shanghai. Step inside however, and you are back in a Brussels’ aristocratic mansion with high ceilings, chandeliers and art nouveau influences evident even in the bathroom.




This smaller, plainer structure behind the Chinese Pavilion was built for the coaches and automobiles of the would-be diners of the restaurant. Like its fancier neighbours, it  was never used for the purpose it was built; it became the Museum of Japanese Art, instead.


Attention: all three buildings are currently closed for renovation, until further notice.

For more information, please check the website of The  Royal Museums of Art & History.

Museums of the Far East
Avenue Van Praet 44

Shared image credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

02 June 2012



[… at that instant, another sensation swept through me as quick as lightning. I was conscious of the presence of the Count, and of his being as if lapped in a storm of fury.

As my eyes opened involuntarily I saw his strong hand grasp the slender neck of the fair woman and with giant’s power draw it back, the blue eyes transformed with fury, the white teeth champing with rage, and the fair cheeks blazing red with passion.

But the Count! Never did I imagine such wrath and fury, even to the demons of the pit. His eyes were positively blazing. The red light in them was lurid, as if the flames of hell-fire blazed behind them. 

“How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you’ll have to deal with me.”…]

Nosferatu drawing by Konstantinos Implikian

Excerpt from Bram Stoker’s Dracula