The early evening light bathing Place de Bethléem carries flecks of sunlight. Since moving to Brussels, I’ve had to arrange my timetable according to the sun. In other words, as soon as I glimpse a rare hint of a sunbeam, I drop whatever work I am doing and rush out for a walk. After all, there’s no telling when the grey Brussels sky will grant you your next glimmer of sunlight.
In the middle of Place de Bethléem, across the street from the red brick school building, the paved, vaguely ovaloid area is crowded with the neighbourhood children playing. The square is filled with excited, happy shrieks as a football is being kicked and bicycles or tricycles slalom among the miniature footballers. Some are taking it in turns to have a ride on a skateboard. Others are sitting with dolls, while others again are teasing their dogs who are barking in fun, eager to be included in their humans’ games.
On the low stone walls surrounding this daily improvised playground, sit the mothers. Many are wearing hijabs, others sleeveless tops or jeans. While keeping an eye on their children, they are chatting among themselves. Many in Arabic, others in French. I also hear snippets of Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Italian, Greek and the odd bit of Flemish. We’re in the Saint-Gilles area where, I am told, live about one hundred and thirty different nationalities.
There is a Greek café, where they serve the most exquisite coffee, and three Greek restaurants. And then there’s Posto al Sole, where you can eat generous portions of scrumptious pasta or pizza, made by a friendly team of Moroccans who apparently spent some time in Naples before opening the restaurant on Place de Bethléem. You’re greeted with the warmth reserved to old friends in composite sentences of French, Italian and English, then seated at one of the square wooden tables with checked oil cloths and dark red paper napkins. In the small front room, you spear olives onto a toothpick, waiting for your meal, entertained by the histrionics of the Moroccan pizzaiolo who stretches, pummels and tosses the thin circle of pizza dough into the air several times, before flattening it and sliding it into the wood fire oven. Whatever you order, it tastes wholesome and comforting. If you’re feeling brave enough or – like me – have just come off the Eurostar and foregone train sandwiches, then you can undertake to share a pizza demi mètre. That’s right. A rectangle of pizza half a metre long, served on a board that takes up the whole table. You can ask for two different toppings. And so you and your companion start cutting each into his/her end of the pizza… and meet in the middle – that’s if your stomach capacity allows you to reach the middle.
Italian food, prepared by Moroccans, in Brussels. You can’t beat that.