While the last rays of sun filter through to the square below and the market stalls pack up their unsold wares, well-to-do ladies and gents drink Italian bubbles on the pavement. They debate the best address for sushi and enthusiastically discuss the stock sale of this, that or the other fashion designer. A little further, their fellow citizens sit with laptops open. They are looking after themselves with organic apple juice while they update their Facebook pages. Welcome to Bobo Brussels, the city of bourgeois bohemians.
Linguistically and territorially, the Bobos are divided into Dansaert Flemish and Chatelain Frenchspeakers, named after the streets where their lifestyles can be deduced from the contents of the shop windows and their prices. They are usually hard-and-fast career makers but consider themselves fundamentally alternative, green and independent. Their children have read the Little Prince by the time they’re six and they are proud of the fact they pay lots in tax, sings the French singer-songwriter Renaud with some degree of sarcasm.
Sounds reasonable. But what I find most conspicuous is that these men and women have chosen Brussels. Carrying a degree like a free pass to another life, free of compromise, they still embraced the city, warts and all. They applauded its diversity and caressed its scars, somewhat naïve in their conviction that the love and care of deliberate civility could cure this place of all its ailments. The reality is somewhat less conducive. After small successes follow unfortunate regressions and above all, often sur place. Giving up, however, is not an option. In the meantime, they have seen their children born here, and hence also their own fate bound to that of the city.
The Bobos persist, despite regularly banging their heads against Brussels. They see the city in their own terms: as an opportunity, a bubble of oxygen, an escape. A city of freedom too, that belongs to no one, property of neither lion nor rooster.
These men and women found Brussels and invented her anew. As a bobbing island of youth, fantasy and diversity, in a tired nation that, on its one hundred and eightieth birthday, doubts its own right to exist. However, beyond the country, the city or its history, they also reinvented themselves here in versions that become more and more grotesque as the evening progresses and the empty wine bottles stack up.
Some fled the whip of regional unemployment and collective depression. Others ran from the suffocation of introverted, suburban small mindedness. They have jettisoned yesterday and acquired now and later, without so much as looking over their shoulder. With great tolerance, fed by their studies, foreign friends and regular travel abroad.
The city feels like a heavy burden at times but theirs is more resilient than others. Bobo Brussels is full of potential. It is a light version of the metropolis, one which most resembles the image depicted by the glossies, travel guides and in-flight magazines. Washed, shaven and dressed up. People explore in Mini Coopers, dine in newly opened restaurants and reside in more or less renovated merchants’ houses that were bought years ago for peanuts. It is fantastic but somehow photoshopped and reconstructed. And yet still real.