“anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”
― søren kierkegaard
This is, I hope, my final post in my Brussels Lockdown series.
An uneasy peace has returned to the streets this weekend. In comparison with last week, the streets were busier, but not as one might expect at this time of the year.
A notable exception being the long long queues outside Primark which I recall from last year. Is it possible that some people have been living here on the street, camping out all year, in the hope of that one bargain in the sale?
In contrast, many of the other shops were quieter than usual, some of the entrances to the City2 shopping centre were closed off, and taped up, to allow the guards to more diligently screen those wishing to shop within.
Or perhaps, as in this case, to practice their dance moves?
Soldiers patrolled the mall, and the approaches to, and platforms of, the metro.
Scanners, such as those used at the airport were deployed. Liquids were not banned and their appeared to be no Fastrack for frequent flyers or those with other reasons to feel privileged, no, here, today, we were all alike. In fact, we were (treated) like cattle.
The soldiers seemed more relaxed this week. Except when I pointed my Nikon in their direction, when some, fearing exposure, would pull their scarves up over their face and turn away. But unlike the other day, not once was I challenged and asked to delete anything. I had a minor scare when taking my camera out of my bag, and taking off the lens cap, made a loud metallic noise, not unlike a weapon being primed (I imagined, I wouldn’t know), which made people look around in fear. Thankfully the soldiers knew better. Their training helping their undoubted anxiety.
I walked down the escalator to the Metro, a young heavily armed soldier by my side, I smiled, he smiled back. We looked away. What is there to say?
I’m writing this post on the move with the WordPress app on my iPad. My ‘grown up’ camera (curiously my iPad insisted, with Siri’s help no doubt, on replacing camera with ‘camper’) is resting at home, my battered, screen shattered, old iPhone has given up, it’s battery exhausted. Yes, it knows the game’s up, knows it will be retired and replaced by a younger, slimmer, (deceptively) more exciting model in only a few days.
Today’s photos were shot, edited and posted from my iPad, so they’re perhaps not as polished as I might like. In fact, some are frankly poor.
But, I do think they tell the story. Thursday evening, in many places, used to be the time of the week when the wage slaves received their pay packets bulging with rapidly depreciating notes. The streets would be packed with life, noise, and yes, a degree of drunken debauchery.
Not here. Not today. Not yet.
I’ll be back.
Which, reminds me (ha) you may wonder why there is a poorly cropped shot of headless Politie officers? Well, for the first time in my life, I was stopped whilst shooting taking photographs and instructed (firmly but politely) to press the delete button. Does that make me a paparazzi, a real photographer, or just plain stupid for taking a full frontal group shot with a leather encased tablet?
On 7 July 2005, London was brought to its collective knees by a series of bomb blasts that cost several people their lives and injured scores of others.
The very next day, despite the horror, the carnage, the public transport system was up and running again. I know. I was there, and I rode the tube on 8 July like many other Londoners, whether residents, visitors or tourists. We got back to our daily lives with a collective sense of defiance to those who wanted to terrorise us. We got on with it.
Here in Brussels, the streets, at least in the centre of the city, have been silenced. The underground Metro system closed, the buses and trams, that are supposed to be running relatively normally, are (at least in my experience) as rare as hen’s teeth. And taxis, where are they? They don’t stop, whatever their destination it appears to be someone else’s business. Frustration is rife.
Today, schools and museums and other public places were closed.
The gallery below shows images I captured this morning, as I made my way to my workplace. I think they need little explanation?
Closed (so is the ATM and the supermarket)
(Still) out of service
This evening, the Prime Minister announced that what has has become known as the ‘Brussels Lockdown’ will continue, maybe even until Wednesday.
This evening, I walked from Brussel Centraal station to my home in Molenbeek via the Grand Place. There were more journalists and soldiers than ordinary people, whether locals or visitors. Fact. As you can see from these that images I captured during that cold and frustrating walk.
Scribbles become typed…
Steppin’ out – hurrah!
Where is everyone?
Making the news (again…)
The twitterverse has been divided and complex, there are some who tweet defiantly that local people are carrying on their lives as usual and suggest that the media are exaggerating.
On Sunday, the twitterverse responded to requests made by the Federal Police, keen to stop rumours spreading or to make sure their operations were not compromised, by tweeting assorted kitty photos as reported by the BBC here.
Well, I have no idea who is exaggerating or indeed understating, all I can tell you is that the Metro has been closed for three days, schools are closed, troops line the streets, the people are most definitely not in the centre of the city, the buses do not run on time, if at all, and it took me three times as long to get to work as usual this morning.
This morning, I gave an interview to John Hockenberry on ‘The Takeaway’ show on WNYC in the USA, I tried to explain what I see, I tried to be balanced and to explain that people, the people of Brussels are not afraid.
What I can’t see is why a city at the heart of Europe, the host of the NATO headquarters has felt it appropriate to respond in this way.
You can listen to that interview by clicking here.
Paris, as far as I can see, where the recent atrocities actually took place has not clamped down on its population in the way we have seen in Brussels.
So far, as I write four people have been charged. One man remains at large. A capital city locked down.
My question is whether this is a proportionate response to a genuine threat of serious and present danger of a terror strike or an over reaction that in effect, without any bloodshed, has give the terrorists what they want?
Should any country have to shut down its vital Metro system for five days and close schools across the capital? Really?
People I have met, here in Molenbeek and further afield are not scared, they are frustrated.
All this for one remaining fugitive?
In my view this is not sustainable and someone, somewhere, should be asked some very searching questions.